Tag Archives: river

August 20 -21 – canoodling!

On Tuesday afternoon, as I wrote in the previous post, it took most of the day to get free of the FDA, finish packing the car, and get to the river.  We had to re-plan the trip, since instead of a full two days, we had more like a few hours in the afternoon and another full day.  So we decided to canoe the Rivanna river instead, which is closer and meant we would be on the river a full hour sooner than the Rappahannock.  It was about 5 by the time we finally were at the boat launch with the canoes fully packed, ready for some paddling.  Despite the delays, spirits were definitely high as we hit the river.Image

Setting off down the Rivanna, looking downstream…Image

…and back upstream to the boat launch. Image

The Rivanna river flows along the edge of Charlottesville, underneath a couple of major highways, and close to shopping malls and neighborhoods.  However, from the river, you can’t see many buildings or roads, just a couple of bridges, and a few places where you can see houses through the trees.  We did see lots of water birds that first day, including several great blue herons, one of which I managed to get a decent photo of.Image

Before long, the river passed underneath the Highway 64 bridge, covered with booming semi trucks and stop and to traffic (oh how thankful I was to be on the river in a canoe and not in a car on the highway!) and we were out of the city.   Along the way, I was able to spot a few mushrooms growing on the waterlogged trunks strewn along the bank; the oysters below were the best of the lot, and they made a tasty addition to dinner that night.Image

I’ve done a fair amount of canoeing in my time, although the vast majority of it has either been in Maine, on lakes and ponds, or in Florida, on swampy flatwater rivers.  I hadn’t done a lot of paddling on rivers that actually had rocks and rapids, and during that first day, I had to do some fast learning.  The rapids on the Rivanna aren’t anything too terrible, mostly class I and II, with one drop that was rated class III (although my more experienced friend in the other canoe was skeptical of that rating).  Whatever the rating, there were definitely some thrilling moments, as I tried–sometimes successfully– to navigate our canoe between and over the rocks and through the frothy bits.  The rapids in the picture below weren’t the most impressive ones we encountered, just the ones I managed to take a picture of (mostly, I was far too focused on not sinking the canoe to take pictures). Image

And as the afternoon wore on into late afternoon, we started looking for a decent sandbar or bank to pull up on and camp, only we weren’t finding anything but steep, muddy banks, covered with thick vegetation.  As the sun started to set, we began looking for anything that would serve as a camp, even an uncomfortable gravelly one.  Fortunately, just as I was starting to worry that we would have to spend a wet night in the canoes, we came across a perfect campsite, a bar of soft dry sand with plenty of driftwood for a fire.  It was clear that we weren’t the first people to have camped there, and we were very thankful to find it.  Fortunately, there was a full moon, so we had no problem making camp and cooking dinner at night.

The next morning, after a sandy night of drifting in and out of sleep, I got up soon after dawn to the sight of mist rising off of the river, and the delightful knowledge that we had a full day of paddling ahead of us.  Image

With a bit more light, I took a few photos of our fortuitous campsite.Image

The tent wasn’t entirely necessary, as it didn’t rain, but it kept the bugs out while we slept.Image

The sandbar provided plenty of space for sleeping and morning meditation.  I’m not sure what the ground cover plant was– it looked like cucumber plants, and had scratchy stems that would catch at your skin or clothes, but wasn’t actually thorny.Image

This is my preferred morning meditation– delicious sausages roasting over an open fire, could any breakfast be better?!?Image

And then we were back on the river.  Most of the time, both banks were forested, with occasional fields and even more occasional houses, ridiculous mansions spread out over acres of lawn.  For most of the way, the banks were pretty low on both sides, but occasionally (as in the photo below) one side or the other would rise in wooded hillsides.Image

Along those sections, the banks of the river were often steep, with rocky, ivy-covered bluffs.Image


I think this is the most massive chunk of white quartz I’ve ever seen.Image

The day passed as through in a dream, lovely and warm.  During the middle of the day, it was hot enough to enjoy frequent dips in the river, but never so hot that paddling was uncomfortable.  Puffy clouds alternated sun and shade, and a gentle breeze stirred the air, making for near-perfect canoeing conditions.  By the middle of the day we had all achieved a state of complete relaxation and contentment.Image

We saw plenty of critters, mostly birds.  There were a surprising lot of raptors along the river, hawks, eagles, and what I believe to be osprey.  Several times we saw the flash of white feathers that made me think we were seeing bald eagles.  Then we came across this individual in a treetop, its unmistakable profile confirming that we were indeed seeing bald eagles.  It was hard to tell when we were seeing different individuals, or the same one flying up and down the river, but it seemed like we were seeing lots of different hawks and eagles; for much of the trip we were coming across one or more of them at nearly every bend of the river.   Image

On several occasions, we saw birds diving from the trees to catch fish, and came upon one successful hunter with a large fish in its talons.  As we drifted closer, I tried to take a photo, only the zoom on my camera could only do so much.  This bird looked like an osprey to me, it definitely wasn’t a bald eagle (wrong profile, too small), and it was quite pleased with itself.Image

Here’s another picture, which I took from almost directly underneath the bird.Image

Other animal encounters on the river included many many dozen turtles, sunning themselves on logs.  Some of them were quite big, and we also saw a number of cute baby turtles, no bigger than a silver dollar, sometimes perched on the backs of the bigger ones.Image

And a family of geese, which for the better part of the day stayed just downstream from us.  They would float on the river until we had almost caught up, then loudly fly away for a half mile or so, then start floating again until we were nearby.   They repeated this for most of the day, then just before our pull-out point, they gave up on the game and calmly let us pass them.Image

The pull-out point at Palmyra came all too soon, and I was sad to see the boat ramp.  In total, it was about 25 miles on the river, from Darden Towe park to Palmyra.  There’s already talk about doing a day trip this fall on the remaining 17 miles of the Rivanna to where it empties into the James river.  Hopefully, I’ll be part of that trip.  I’m pretty convinced that observations of Virginia nature and wildlife, when done from a canoe floating gently down the river, are the most pleasant observations of all!Image


July 23-24 – stayin’ hot and headin’ north

I’m sitting and writing right now at my siblings’ building in Brooklyn, where we’ve relocated for a few days, a “visit the family and get the hell out of Virginia for a week” vacation.  But before I get too far along, let’s get in the way back machine and travel all the way back to last Monday (the 23rd), with some random notes and observations…

On Monday, another hot dry day, I had the afternoon free, and feeling a bit negligent about dropping the ball on this journal, I took a little stroll through the yard and off into the woods.  My journey began with a delightful discovery– all of this hot sunny weather has had one positive outcome:  figs!  The fig trees in my back yard have been putting out fruit for a couple of months now, and just this weekend they started to get ripe.  On Sunday, I picked my first fig of the year, and on Monday, then again on Tuesday, there were several more.  So delicious– I think figs might be my absolute #1 favorite thing we grow at Twin Oaks.Image

The Japanese beetles have continued to breed like mad.  Most days, I’ve had a chance to gather up a bowl of beetles and feed them to the chickens at Tupelo, but I’ve skipped a few days, and it definitely makes a difference.Image

Butterflies in the back yard, one bush in particular was covered with them.Image

Most of them were the yellow and black variety pictured above, but there was one  bright orange individual of a different species.  As I tried to take a photo of it, it started to fly away, the resulting picture came out looking pretty nifty.Image


As I walked into the woods, trying to figure out whether any mushrooms had survived the past 10 days of heat and rainlessness, I came across several specimens that may have been edible several days ago, but were presently in pretty bad shape, like this indigo milky.Image

or this green Russula, which would have made good eating several days ago.Image

I spotted this large shelf mushroom far off through the woods.  The sunlight came through the forest canopy so as to illuminate them, they were glowing brightly.  I think they may have been something edible at some point, but at this point they were all tough and woody and dried out.Image

A word on spiders.  For much of the season, as I walk through the woods, either on our trails or just bushwhacking, I’ve had to wave a “spider stick” in front of me, to keep me from blundering through one web after another.  As the summer has gone on, the webs have become more and more numerous; the walk I took today, which was the first time I’d been out in the woods for over a week, was downright spider-iffic.  Even constantly swinging a spider stick to break webs, I still kept walking into webs, and a couple of times I had to pull a spider out of my hair or off of my face.  Which is pretty unpleasant, even knowing that there are no poisonous web spiders in Virginia (there are black widows, but they don’t string webs between trees).  The spiders we have, though are pretty intimidating looking.  I had tried many times to photograph one of them, and just today figured out a way to trick my camera into focusing on one of them.  I believe they may be some species of Gasteracantha, but I’m certainly no expert on spider ID.  I just know they are one crazy looking bug, and it’s kind of unnerving to have one crawling around on your face, even if you know it isn’t poisonous.Image

one freaky looking spider.Image

I’m still finding lots of coral mushrooms in the woods, but you can see that the recent hot dry weather has taken a toll on them.  The ones below, like most of the mushrooms I encountered today, definitely was looking dried out and heat-stressed.Image

walking along a tractor path used by the forestry crew for cutting trees in the winter.  The green grassy looking plant looked almost like some sort of bamboo.  When I lived in California, I did some work with invasive plant removal, and it was interesting to see how logging paths were a vector for invasive plants that would grow along the paths and then spread out into the woods.  It doesn’t look like these plants are spreading beyond the path itself, but you can definitely see how non-native plants use logging roads and paths to push their way into otherwise impenetrable forest.Image

Deep into the woods, I started to come across some remnant chanterelle patches.  The first one I spotted was extremely heat stressed.Image

but then, I started to spot some others that were in surprisingly good shape.  I didn’t expect to find chanterelles under these conditions, but wound up filling my basket with them.Image

My prize find of the day was this enormous, bug free bolete.  I’m not sure what type it was, but I’m pretty sure it was one of the edible ones.Image

One mushroom I’ve continued to see lots of, even in the summer heat, is the Old Man of the Woods bolete.  What these particular mushrooms lack in gastronomic value, they make up for in sheer interestingness of appearance.Image

look at the weird texture on the cap of this one!Image

Along the way, I stopped in at my ‘dipping hole’ along the creek to splash some water on myself.  I wanted to do some more raking and dumping of rocks, but was running short of time by this point.  After nearly two weeks without rain, the creek was looking pretty low.  Image

Finally, just before I left the woods, I came across this flush of white oyster mushrooms, also in surprisingly good shape.  The brown specks on them were bits of sawdust, from ants (termites?) that were eating away at the stump above, and washed right off.  These oysters (along with the chanterelles I found) all wound up in omelets on Wednesday morning.Image

Tuesday AM.  I snapped this picture as I was heading out to C’ville to deliver tofu early in the morning.  The sky was actually much prettier than the photo shows, but I guess it kind of gets the idea across.Image

Tuesday after dinner, going for a walk with the boys.  I guess it’s a testament to such a wet spring and early summer that, even after so many hot dry rainless days, the countryside is still so green and shows no sign of drought.  Hopefully we’ll start getting rain again before things really start drying out.Image

On Wednesday morning, the whole family loaded up the station wagon and started driving north, to visit my brother and sister in New York.  We stopped for lunch just about an hour into the trip at spot where the road crossed over the Rappahannock River.  We parked along the side of the road, where a large convenient pullout vied in a battle of mixed messages with several prominent no parking signs.  I figured that if they had that many No Parking signs, there must have been something nice down there.  So we parked and followed a path down to a lovely sandy beach along the side of the river where we picnicked and splashed around before packing up and driving the rest of the way to the big city.  ImageAnd now I’m in New York, where I may try to do some more observaing, despite being in the midst of the greatest metropolitan area in the ol’ US of A.  We’ll see what the next few days have in store…

May 8 – after the storm

Wow that was a lot of rain!  It kept going off and on most of the night and all through today, although today was more drizzle than storm.  I took a trip to town, which involved driving along and over the South Anna River.

The lower cowfield, the one closest to the river, was covered in muddy standing water, as seen from the road.Image

You can’t see it, but there is a dam under all that water.  Usually, there is a small waterfall where the river flows over the dam.  When the water is low, it doesn’t even flow over it.  When the water is high, the waterfall can be pretty impressive, churning up a brown froth.  When the water is even higher, the waterfall is more of a ripple, a standing wave.  And when the water is really high (as it was this afternoon), you can’t even see where the dam is.Image

Yanceyville road was officially closed, at the spot where backed-up river water floods the road.  But I think that by the time I was down there, the water level had receded a bit from this morning, as it was actually not that hard to drive through.Image

On one side of the road, a neighbor’s woods were standing in backed-up river water…Image

And on the other side, the field was a shallow lake.Image

Earlier today, I had the uncommon pleasure of finding and eating a species of edible mushroom that I had previously not identified.  This one is a “platterful” mushroom, and I would rate it’s flavor as “pretty good, nothing too amazing, but worth eating if you can find a decent specimen.”  My son Sami was more impressed, saying it was the best-tasting mushroom he had ever eaten.ImageNow this one is intriguing to me.  I’ve been seeing them all over, and I’m going to try using a mushroom ID book to figure out just what it is, as soon as I’ve posted this.Image

Walking in the woods this afternoon, I came across this weird looking flower, a pink lady’s slipper, which makes a regular springtime appearance at Twin Oaks each year.Image

In the Kaweah back yard, the irises have been blooming like mad, despite the drenching they received over the past 24 hours.Image

There are light purple ones, purple and yellow ones, and bright white ones.  All told, they make quite a sight in the backyard.  We’ll see how long they last…Image


Later in the afternoon, I took a trip to Acorn community with the kids.  While they took a bubble bath, I wandered around looking for more mushrooms, and found these crazy clusters growing out of a sawdust-strewn old wood lot, a spot where they had split and stacked firewood in years past.  After doing a bit of research, I think it’s an edible mushroom, H. capnoides (http://www.mushroomexpert.com/hypholoma_capnoides.html), but I’d need to do more research before I was ready to start eating it.Image

Here’s a cluster that had come loose, either because someone picked them, or something.  Image

There were about five separate clusters of these mushrooms growing out of the ground, pushing the old decomposed wood up and to the side.Image

On the way back from Acorn, we had to cross the S. Anna River once more.  Although not quite at flood stage (there was a safe few feet between the top of the river and the bridge), it was certainly running high.Image

April 10 – in the swing of spring


In the winter, it sometimes felt that nature was on perma-pause, that as I went out day after day, there really wasn’t much new to see, and I had to push myself to notice differences between one week and the next. Not the case now– today was another exceptionally hot, dry, sunny day (high of 93 this afternoon!), and all around the community flower buds were bursting into bloom, leaf buds splitting open to reveal the freshest new growth, the plant world exploding like a time lapse photo. Hard to keep up, to observe and process things in any systematic way when every tree, shrub, bush, and weed you see looks entirely different than it did a few days ago.


Recounting an odd thing that I saw last night, in the early evening, going down to a bonfire party.  First off, I saw several bats flying over the pond, feasting on all the newly active insect life– the first bats I’ve seen this year.  Then, around 10:00 PM, someone spotted a large crayfish crawling across the grass towards the fire.  It was an impressive blackish beast– probably 6 or 7 inches long, by far the longest crawdad I’ve ever seen in Virginia, more like a little lobster than the inch-long things I see in the creek sometimes.  What was it doing out last night?  Where did it come from?  Why was it crawling through the grass towards the fire? It was one of the more random things I’ve ever seen at Twin Oaks!

This afternoon, I headed on down to the South Anna river and went on a canoe trip with all the kids– a raucous outing with a lot of splashing and jumping in and out of the river.  I didn’t take many pictures (as naked kids, cameras, and blogs don’t really go well together), but here’s one, which gives a sense of what the river’s looking like these days.


While we were canoeing downriver, at one point we startled a large great blue heron which took off over the trees, looking for all the world like some holdover from the Jurassic era.  At another point, I saw a muskratty-looking mammal scurry up the bank and into the woods, but it was too far away to get a good look.

All of the fruit bushes in my back yard have begun to flower and leaf out.  Sometime soon, I’ll spend a day just photographing the back yard and everything going on there; for now, here’s a cool photo from one of our blueberry bushes.  Each of those little buds will turn into a delicious blueberry come summer!Image

The leaves on the maple trees have started opening up.  This happened just today– yesterday all the leaf buds  were closed up tight, and this evening there are tiny little clusters of maple leaves growing out of the end of every branch.  The bushes and vines have been getting leaves for a couple weeks now, but as of today it’s happening on the larger trees as well.Image

I finished the day up at Tupelo, where the plum tree over the driveway has started flowering and leafing out simultaneously.  I feel like in the past the flowering has happened first, but the heat has come on so suddenly that everything is just happening at the same time.  As the sun set, I swung in a hanging chair on the Tupelo porch, warm in t-shirt and shorts, watching the light fade through the trees and the bats cartwheeling through the clearing, breathing in the intoxicating scents pouring off of this plum tree.Image


Mar 30- shorts and t-shirt

Warmest day of the year so far, and for the first time I went for a walk in shorts and a t-shirt.  Walked down to the river, where the overall look of the forest was about the same as a month ago when I was last here. Image

looking closer, however, there were more signs of the arrival of spring.  In the ‘floodplain’ bit of the woods, the flat area just above the river banks, these tiny wildflowers were plentiful, sometimes growing singly, sometimes in pairs or small clusters.  Image


Tufts of new green grass were muscling their way through last year’s brown detritus.Image

And a little hoppy toad was exploring the forest near a mostly-dry but still kind of swampy creekbed.  Image

Although this bush is just starting to open its leaf buds, the vine growing along its branches is beginning to burst with new growth. Image

I was examining stumps on my way up from the river, looking for any signs of new fungal activity.  No ‘shrooms, but one of the stumps was covered with pointy knobs of wood, unlike anything I have seen before.  I don’t know if this is a natural growth pattern, or a response to disease or insects, or what, but it was very interesting looking.Image

Like the back of a dinosaur or mythical spiny beast, or the profile of some treeless, remote mountain range…Image


March 12- along the Rivanna

Rained all night, and it was still dumping down rain when I woke up before dawn (the downside of daylight savings time) to load the tofu truck, in the rain.  Drove to Charlottesville in the rain, and made my delivery rounds in the rain.  Then, just before lunchtime, it all blew away, ushering in the most sunny pleasant late winter/early spring day one could hope for.  So I parked the truck behind a strip mall and climbed down through the woods to the Rivanna Trail, which follows the river along its east side.  The river was muddy brown, running fast, swollen with all that rain on top of all the snowmelt of the past week.Image


Numerous branches and chunks of trees were floating down the river, a couple times I spotted entire trunks.  Definitely not a day for a nice dip!Image

The trail passed over many small creeks flowing in from the side; when I hiked this trail before (in early Jan– one of my first entries of the year), they were just trickling along; today they were impressive muddy torrents.  Fortunately the trail was well-maintained, with sturdy footbridges over the creeks, otherwise it would have made for some dicey fords!Image

As in the forests of Twin Oaks, there was plenty of bright green moss all over, ecstatic with warmer temperatures and abundant moisture. Image

I especially enjoyed the green blanket-like covering on these sunny rocks just above the river.


Most of the trail passed through mature hardwood forest, but there were a number of small clearings, mostly in places where power transmission lines passed overhead.  In these spots there was an abundance of newly-grown mullein, also known as the “toilet paper plant.”  I even had an opportunity to use some, but I’m sure no one wants to know the details!Image

There were also signs that the fungal drought of late winter may be ending.  I found another patch of wood ear fungus, which I discovered has a pretty fascinating Wikipedia page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auricularia_auricula-judae) and is definitely edible.  I took it home, but haven’t tried it yet.  I also came across some baby oysters, the first fresh ones I’ve seen in over a month.  They seemed too small to pick, and they were so cute growing out of the top of a tree stump that had snapped off that I left ’em to grow some more.



Further along, I came across this spring erupting rather copiously from the top of a small rock face and splashing joyfully down the rock, watering a hanging garden of little green weeds of some type.  It was an extremely spring-like scene, not the sort of thing you would see in early January!Image

Just a few steps further, some steps led down to another rock outcropping with a nice view across the river.  It seemed as good a place as any to rest for a few minutes, declare a successful outing, and walk back to the truck.


In other non-related seasonal news, I spotted yesterday my first wasp, an ominous sign; and today I heard spring peeper frogs for the first time, a much more auspicious “first.”

Feb 22– gray day

Another day, cold & grey, as February rolls on.  I took the kids to Charlottesville for their homeschool ‘class’ this morning, then got breakfast and ate it on the bank of the Rivanna River.  As befitting the season, everything looked a bit grey– river, trees, sky, but it was pleasant to watch the birds, fly past, flitting up and down the river.  I didn’t have the time to walk more than a few hundred yards on the trail, but would like to come back some day and do a longer walk– as you can see below, it’s quite a beckoning trail…



When I went back to pick up the kids, I saw this planting outside of the building: “Eco-tulips,”  and indeed the tulips appear to be coming up.  It’s still going to be a while before the Eco-tulip blooms, but the little green tops have broken through the half-frozen soil, and on a cold & grey late February day, you take what you can find.