Tag Archives: pond

December 30– getting near the end

Aw heck, once again it’s been a week since I’ve  had the chance to sit down and update the ol ObserVA.  As  you might expect, the past week has been full of family and holiday cheer, and not a whole lot of obervating.  In fact, all of these photos are from last Tuesday, which in addition to being  a gorgeous, (relatively) warm winter day, was also the day in which my trusty Canon Elph camera crapped out on me 😦

But I digress– let’s go in the wayback machine to last Tuesday, December 24, Xmas eve.  The day started, as so many Tuesdays do, with a tofu delivery run to Charlottesville.  It was a pretty short delivery, as several places were closed, and once I was done, I did a quick hike in the Monticello woods to check out a couple of places where I had previously found oyster mushrooms.  As the photos below show, it was a nice walk on a pleasant early winter day, but as I didn’t find any mushrooms, I didn’t tarry for too long.Image

Nice view of C’ville from the mountains just south of town.Image

I got home with lots of afternoon to spare.  On the radio, I had been listening to a doctor talking about seasonal affective disorder, who claimed that the best way to combat the condition was to soak up as much natural daylight as possible, to take maximum advantage of every bit of every sunny day at this time of year.  Well I had nothing to do for the rest of the afternoon, so I decided to take his advice to heart, and spend the rest of the afternoon outdoors.

As I was turning into the driveway, I encountered Free Willy, the rebel rooster.  About a month ago, we decided to cull our entire flock of chickens, turn them into meat.  As it turned out, about 5 or 6 of them escaped the axe, including of course everyone’s favorite survivor rooster.  In the next couple of weeks (due to insufficient oversight on the part of the chicken team), the hens that avoided the slaughter became food for hungry wildlife.  That is, all but ol’ Reb, the ultimate survivor.  I hear that these days he’s moved into the dairy barn at night, and spends his lonely days at the compost pile.  Long may he live!Image

Although there weren’t any oyster mushrooms around C’ville, a quick walk through the Twin Oaks woods revealed that there were a whole bunch in our forest.  For the first time this fall/winter, I was able to pick a whole plastic bag full of ’em!  Image


lots and lots of pretty oysters!Image

After unloading the tofu truck, I spent a couple of hours gathering up mycelium-infused logs from several spots in the woods (always being careful to leave more logs than I took from any one spot) and gathering them together in a pile in the woods right outside of my house.  I was going to document the process, but this was the exact moment when my trusty camera, my companion for the year, kicked the bucket.  Fortunately, I was able to borrow my son’s camera for the day (which is actually much nicer than mine), but I suppose I’ll have to buy a new one now.  Alas.

So now I’ve got a big ol’ pile of oyster logs just a few steps from my kitchen that I hope will provide me with a steady supply of wild mushrooms for years to come.Image

Here’s one of the logs that I filled with oyster plugs this spring, just bursting with baby mushrooms.  I don’t know if the stump project was successful, but I am optimistic about the logs that I seeded.Image

Once I was done with that, there was still an hour or so of daylight, so I took a bike and went for a ride.  What a gorgeous sky!  What a gorgeous day!Image

Beautiful sky and clouds on a pleasant winter afternoon.Image

I think I’ve probably posted several photos of this sycamore tree in the Twin Oaks courtyard, but I just can’t get over how beautiful it looks all lit up in the late afternoon winter sunshine.Image

reflection of sauna and trees in the pond, turned 180 degrees.  Wooo, artistic!Image

Took a bike for a ride around the half block right around sunset, determined to enjoy every bit of sunshine this afternoon.  Got a very nice series of photos along Old Mountain Road right as the sun was going down and everything was all turning red.Image

Xmas eve sunset.Image

Another leafless tree all lit up with sunset colors.Image

Trespassed on a neighbor’s field in order to find the spot where I could see clear to the southwest horizon, in order to enjoy every possible second of the sunset.Image

Dramatic cloud colors just after the sun went down, as I sped back home on my bike.Image

So those photos were all from last Tuesday, Xmas eve.  Since then, there hasn’t been much change.  A bit of sun, a bit of rain, a bit of frost.  No snow, nothing dramatic.  All around, nature seems to be settling down into winter dormancy, getting ready for a new year.  And I’m feeling a mixture of emotions– satisfaction and a bit of pride that I was able to keep up the journal for the year without getting overly distracted/discouraged/just plain lazy; relieved that I will no longer have the self-imposed pressure of keeping it up; and more than a bit sad that it’s coming to an end.  I suppose I’ll put up one more post to finish out the year, then it’s on to the next project, whatever it may be.  I’ll spare the emotional farewell for now, but just want to finish this post by thanking everyone who’s read along so far.  Look for one more post early in January, once I’ve recovered from tomorrow night’s NYE debauch.


Just a few pics from this morning.  It was another cold one last night, don’t know the exact temp., but well below freezing.  Just before 9, I was walking down to the courtyard for my town trip, and the garden … Continue reading

November 23 – coming home, looking ’round

Last Wednesday, I flew back from to Richmond, then drove back to Twin Oaks. Despite having a lot of indexing work that’s been keeping me indoors, I have managed over the past couple of days to get out and about here and there, to take a look around and see how the season is unfolding.

During the week I was in Maine, the forest trees around Twin Oaks lost pretty much all of their leaves and fall colors.  The woods here have taken on a very wintry aspect, which is pretty much they way they’re going to look until next April.  There was no rain at all during the week I was gone, and at this point, we’ve gone about a month without any measurable precipitation.   I’m not expecting that there will be any mushrooms around, although I’m not entirely ruling out a flush of late-season oysters if and when we ever get rain again.

Here’s how the woods are looking these days.Image

Friday was an unusually warm and humid day, despite being overcast and windy, it was actually warm enough to walk around in a thin cotton shirt and still be completely comfortable.  I liked the look of the naked gray sycamore tree against the gray sky.  The intricate architecture of trunk and branch is much more noticeable now that nearly all the leaves are gone.Image

A couple of photos from my back yard on Friday afternoon.  Some of the fruit trees and bushes are still hanging on to a little bit of leafy foliage.Image

and the blueberry bushes, in particular, have turned a lovely bright red color.  Notice the fig tree next to the blueberry bush, completely bare and leafless.Image

Saturday was another beautiful day, sunny, cool, and comfortable.  There is a major cold front moving in, so Saturday was the last really pleasant day we’re going to have for a while.  The day’s ultimate frisbee game was well-attended, and the late afternoon sun on the line of sycamore trees was quite dramatic.Image

Another shot of the treeline, all lit up with slanty late afternoon sunlight.Image

I left the game a little early to stoke the sauna; as I came to the top of the hill, I saw the trees all along the edge of the forest lit up all dramatic-like.  Image

Just a few minutes before sunset.Image

Sometimes the most dramatic sunset colors aren’t of the setting sun at all, but the intense color and light effects created by the few moments of sunlight.Image

Heading down to the sauna, I was particularly impressed with the reflection of trees and sky in the mirror-still pond.Image

All in all, it was a very pretty end of a very pleasant day.Image

I stoked up the wood stove in the sauna.  As I waited for the fire to heat it up to a proper sweaty temperature, I sat on the front deck of the sauna and watched the sunset colors in the sky, the reflection of trees and sky in the pond.  I particularly like this “mirror image” shot.Image

November 4 – fading colors

The fall colors this year were almost like the autumns I remember from New England– the peak of color was quite spectacular, and then in a matter of days it was pretty much over.  The bright reds and golds of the maple trees held on for a couple of days into November, but just like that they’re mostly gone, and now the beech and oak trees, with their less flamboyant yellows and rusty oranges, are hanging on.  After about 10 days of above-freezing nights, we had a freeze last night, and it looks like frost is in the forecast for about half of the nights this week–sadly, we’re pretty well finished with all the lovely unseasonable days in the mid-70’s.

Most of these photos are from a short walk I made this morning, just down to the courtyard and back home, doing a bit of obervating while running errands.  In this one, you can see that most of our summer garden crops are done for the year– the sweet potatoes have all been picked, and all that’s left is winter cover crops.Image

looking out over the pond– there’s still some color in the forest, but much less than just a few days ago.Image

On my way back to the house, I went down to visit the pond.  Our swimming season is definitely over, but sauna season is just starting up, so it’s still going to get plenty of use this year!Image

there’s the sauna (and its reflection), all ready for the cold weather.Image

This is some sort of ornamental grass planted by a past pond manager that has thrived in its present location.  The white grass heads were pretty spectacular all lit up with the slanted autumn sunlight.Image

Lots of yellow and brown sycamore leaves all around the pond.  These will probably fall from the tree within the next day or two.Image

Sometime in the next week, I’ll get around to turning off the pond’s aeration pump for the winter, which will shut down this waterfall.  Already, all of the ferns from the spring and summer are dead, just withered brown vegetation.Image

Old barn against a gray sky, has a definite November look to it.Image

Passing from the pond to the woods behind my house, going through a low-lying sheltered spot where the bright leaves have held on for a day or two longer than in more exposed locations.Image

While the maples are pretty much done for the year, and the oak trees aren’t really all that spectacular (mostly just rust brown leaves), the beech trees are the main attraction at present, none more so than this particular individual.Image

Interesting cloud formation above the trees up on the ridgeline.  If you compare this photo with some of the ones I took last week, you can see how much the general look of the woods has changed in just a few days. Image

September 16 – summer’s end

Just a moment ago, I was talking with my partner Mala, discussing how difficult it is to regain momentum on a project once it’s been lost.  It’s been over a week since I’ve sat down to update this journal; some days I feel like I could just call it quits, that maybe I’ve written as much as I have to write.  But I don’t think I’m quite there yet, life is still going on all around, and I think I have to re-commit to seeing this through until the end of the year.

This past week has definitely had an end of summer feel to it.  As recently as last Thursday the weather was as hot and muggy as anything we experienced in mid-summer.  It’s been over a month since we’ve had a good drenching rain, and it’s finally starting to show up in the vegetation, or maybe all the plants are just looking kind of beat because it’s the end of the season.  Here’s a shot that I took just a couple of days ago, you can see that the overall aspect of the trees is still quite green, although it’s more of the muted darker greens of late summer.Image

For the most part, I haven’t been in the woods much.  Partly I can blame it on work; yet another index, blah blah blah.  But I could make time if I really had to.  Mostly, it’s been the heat and dryness that’s dampened some of my enthusiasm for exploring.  I’ve been a bit disappointed that this drought has overlapped with what should be one of the best times of year for finding mushrooms.  For the most part, as I’ve walked around the community, I haven’t seen much new growth, although there certainly has been some here and there.  Like these Grisettes…Image

..or this impressive flush of oysters I found on one of my most reliable logs, in the woods just behind our dining hall.  So there have been a few ok finds, but I’m definitely looking forward to getting a proper soaking and seeing what comes up.Image

This past Thursday, September 12th, was the day the season broke.  It was the last of the really hot dry days, with thunderstorms threatening all afternoon.  Finally, right around dinnertime, we got about 5 minutes of wind and heavy rain, then another 15 minutes of drizzle.  Just enough to dampen the dry ground, but in a matter of minutes the temperature dropped about 20 degrees.  That day felt very much like summer.  Every day since has felt very much like autumn.  Since Thursday night, I’ve been sleeping every night with the window closed, I brought a comforter to the bed, and have been using it!

All summer, some of us had been planning a return visit to the quarry south of C’ville, for some swimming and zip-line adventures.  After a couple of false starts, we finally made it happen last Saturday, just a couple of days after the end of swimming season.  It was a clear sunny day, windy and cool, and wasn’t about to spend the day at that quarry without swimming, although I must admit we had to force things a bit.  The quarry was every bit as lovely as it was earlier in the summer:Image

When I was there earlier, there were dozens of people in and out of the water, and most of the quarry fish were well out of sight.  On this peaceful afternoon, with just a few of us there, the fish were numerous and curious.  Image

I tossed some bits of hamburger bun to the fish, and they went crazy for it!Image

There were several enormous koi carp deep in the pool.  They came close to the surface when I was feeding the fish, but never came all the way up.  It made me think that maybe there might be some even larger ones that just stay way down at the bottom!Image

took a short walk through the woods to the lower quarry, which is even more visually striking, but it was too cool a day to jump in.Image

I was hoping to find some mushrooms, but they were all dried up and shrivelled.  I did come across this very impressive purple wildflower growing right on the edge of the trail.Image

Here’s a closeup of the same flower.  Pretty!Image

And on the way back, I came across several of these mottled red leaves, a sure sign that autumn is right around the corner. Image

Despite the chilly air temperatures, we all took advantage of the zip line–wicked fun!  The water actually wasn’t all that cold, but it was pretty nippy when you stepped out, especially if the wind was blowing.Image

The owner of the quarry is an architect, who is designing a building for a nearby community (which is how we know him).  The wood and glass building at the top of the cliff is his office, or his “un-cubicle” as he calls it.  It’s really the most lovely office you could possibly imagine, with floor-to-ceiling windows and a view out over the quarry.  And if even that is too much indoors, he can take a few steps out of his door to this little sitting area.  Not bad…Image

September 5-6 – home again, again

We arrived back at Twin Oaks on Wednesday night.  Over the past few days, in between unpacking, getting back into the work scene, and spending time with some old friends who are visiting the community, I’ve had a bit of time here and there to get out and do some obervating.  Here’s some of what I’ve seen, in no particular order:

In the West Virginia Allegheny highlands, summer had already begun to turn into fall, with touches of yellow and orange in the trees.  Back here in central Virginia, it is still very much summer, and aside from the odd withered leaf here and there, the trees are still quite green.  On my first morning back, I took this shot of the thriving rows of corn and sweet potato in our garden, against a decidedly summer-y background. Image

That first Thursday, like all the days since, was sunny and dry, not at all humid, and pleasantly warm.  In a way, it’s ideal weather, just hot enough to splash around in the pond, and only uncomfortable if you’re in direct sun during the middle of the day.  At night, it’s been cool enough that I’ve slept with the windows closed and, just last night, I even broke out a comforter to drape over the bed!  But, back to Thursday afternoon….

For some reason, at Twin Oaks, you tend to see lots of snakes, mostly black snakes and copperheads, in the late spring/early summer– May and June– and not so many the rest of the year.  This year was no different, so it was a bit of a pleasant surprise to come across this little green guy slithering across the path right in the middle of the Twin Oaks courtyard. Image

Here’s a close-up.  Such a handsome fellow!Image

I called the boys over to check out the snake, and they were suitably impressed.  I like the idea of raising country kids who aren’t fearful of snakes/bugs/bats/etc., and aren’t filled with the desire to shoot them on sight, but basically appreciative and empathetic to the various critters who share our home.Image

Thursday wound up being a very pond-y afternoon, with most of the community kids– and many of the parents– enjoying a long afternoon jumping in in the water.  I didn’t take any photos while I was down there (too many nekkid folks), but got this shot as I was heading back up the hill, which captures well the pleasures of late summer.Image

Friday morning, and I was up very early in the morning to let out the chickens.  The early morning light was quite lovely, as this photo attests.  Every year, one of our older members grows a banana tree, which gets larger and more impressive all through the spring and summer.  Then, every year before it can actually set fruit, it gets killed by frost sometime in October.  At this time of year, it gives a cool tropical look to our Virginia farm.Image

The fig trees in our backyard started to produce copious amounts of ripe figs while I was off in Louisville.  I was hoping to come home to a crazy overload of figs, but it seems like voracious packs of kids and other communards have been keeping up with the ripening, watching the trees closely, and picking each fruit as it turns big and purple.  It seems like this year the fig season won’t come to a glorious climax, as it has in the past; rather we’ll just keep on eating them as they come ripe, and everyone will get some.Image

Next to our fig trees is the kiwi arbor, which is also laden with fruit.  I’ve been keeping an eye on the kiwi fruits, ready to pounce as soon as they ripen, which is just now beginning to happen.  Here are some beautiful little kiwis, right on the edge of edibility:


…and here is one which was ripe enough to eat.  Just this morning, I found two of them, so it looks like kiwi season is going to officially begin any day now.


On Friday afternoon, and again this morning, I was able to take a couple short walks through the woods to see how things have progressed in the ol’ fungal kingdom.  It seems like it hasn’t rained much if at all while I was gone, and the forest floor is dry and crunchy.  Although there seems to be a little bit of new mushroom growth, mostly I am seeing the same ‘shrooms that were around a week ago, but kind of dried out and looking the worse for wear:


I didn’t see any fresh, new chanterelles, but did see many of these little red ones, looking as though they’ve seen better days.


And, in several places in the woods, I saw (and smelled!) nasty black mushy piles of rot where large numbers of mushrooms had grown, died, and decomposed.  I’m guessing it all happened while I was gone, as it seems like I would have noticed the clumps of mushrooms when they were growing.  This is just one photo– I saw at least five clumps like this just in the woods immediately beyond my yard.Image

As far as fresh new fungal growth, I encountered many large boletes, which were for the most part foul-smelling and did not seem likely to be edible…


Also, this beautiful red aminita growing out of its volva like a baby bird hatching from an egg– also inedible but quite pretty:


..some sort of tongue-like fungal growth sprouting from one of the tree stumps that I innoculated with oyster spawn earlier this year.  I’m not sure what this is, but I’ll be keeping en eye on it as it grows…


…and a choice clump of what I’m almost entirely sure is Amanita rubescens (the Blusher mushroom) .  This is one of the few edible Amanitas, and I’ve been seeing them all over the community this spring and summer.  I’ve been avoiding eating them, due to being extremely wary of eating any form of Amanita, but the more I read about this species, the more sure I am about my identification, and they are considered quite a choice edible.Image

So I went ahead and harvested a couple of the best-looking caps.  I’m going to make a spore print so as to help me be 100% certain of my identification, then when I’m satisfied I know exactly what I have, I’m going to try cooking ’em up.  Wish me luck!


Outside of the many types of mushroom I encountered, I’m definitely noticing that the vegetation on the trees is starting to look pretty beat-up.  Most of the leaves, which came out in mid-late April, have done their photosynthetic job, and it’s increasingly looking like the the trees are ready to let them go.  From the looks of this tree (and many like it), it won’t be long before we start getting some fall colors here in central Virginia. Image

but for now, I’ll sign off with this purty photo of the pond, clear, cool and refreshing on a picture perfect early September day… Image

August 20 – prettifyin’ the pond

Here’s how it was meant to go:  I, along with three other friends, were going to spend Tuesday and Thursday canoeing and camping along the Rappahannock River, my reward for all the long days of shutting myself inside in front of an index last week.  At 9:00 Tuesday morning, with the canoes on top of the car and all of our food and camping gear packed, the FDA showed up for a surprise inspection of the community’s tofu hut.  One of my friends, in fact who had been organizing the trip, is an essential part of our tofu business, and wouldn’t be able to leave until the guv’mint was satisfied.  So I found myself with six hours to kill, waiting around for the feds to do their thing.

There were  a couple of jobs at the pond which I had been neglecting, since I had been so busy with indexing.  A previous pond manager once mentioned that the hardest and most frustrating part of the job involved staying on top of the waves of unwanted vegetation that spilled forth every summer, and she’s right.  The plants grow and spread, fighting any attempt to create any semblance of order down there.  Here’s the pond as I found it on Tuesday, pretty but over grown.  Image

My tasks were twofold; first I had to cut back the brambles, ivy, and trees from where they were growing up, around, and over the solar hot water tank that needed to be exposed to the sun so that people could take hot showers when they stepped out of the pond.  This was accomplished with a lot of cursing, sweating, and getting scratched up by brambles.  The second task, which was a bit more well-documented, had to to with our flow forms.

In order to provide flow and aeration to the pond water, the folks who originally built the pond installed a system which pumps water out of the pond, into a ‘bio pool’ above, where it flows through a gravel field, then down a series of ‘flow forms,’ where the water gets sloshed back and forth as through it were flowing through a cascading mountain stream.  It is quite a pretty sight, although if no one is on top of the forms, they can get so overgrown that there is no back and forth sloshing action, just straight down through a tunnel of algae, ferns, slime, and ivy.  Here’s what it looked like when I started working on it:Image

You can hardly see the flow forms, as they’re so crowded with vegetation.Image

Here’s one of the forms, bits of concrete emerging from the mess.Image

Look at all that nasty brown slime!Image

Here’s the same photo, minutes later, after the top form had been cleaned out.Image

And here’s the whole cascading lot of them, all clean and pretty, with the water sloshing back and forth as it was meant to.Image

At about 2:00, my friend came to tell me that the FDA’s departure was imminent, so I went back to the house to change and get a couple of things for the trip.  On the ancient beech tree just outside of my door, I noticed these crazy orange mushrooms growing in a mass.  Like the other ones I saw earlier, I think they are poisonous jack-o-lantern mushrooms, beautiful to look at, but terribly poisonous.  Image

They sure do look cool, though.Image

Half an hour later, we were all back at the car, with the canoes up top and the camping gear packed, ready to head out, six hours later than we had initially planned, but still in high spirits.  Just before we started out, I noticed this bright yellow goldfinch among the mature sunflowers, chomping away at their seeds.  Quite a lovely sight.Image

Hanging upside down to get at the seeds.ImageThen, moments later, we were off, on our way to the river!  But that’s a different post for a different day…