Tag Archives: sunset

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

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.

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 3 – the warm November sun

And now it’s November, a month with a very different feel than the last one.  October has mostly positive connotations for everyone– a break from summer heat, Oktoberfest, fall foliage, an exuberant month that culminates in the final outdoor holiday of the year.  November brings to mind different associations, gray skies and bare trees, the approach of regular frosts, a holiday all about warm kitchens and gathering together indoors, that insidious Guns-n-Roses song.

So far, this November has certainly not followed that storyline.  So far, every day this month has been unseasonably warm and extremely pleasant.  It’s still It’s remained a bit too dry for my tastes, but since this year’s mostly poor mushroom season is pretty much winding down, I might as well just enjoy the sunshine.

Most of these photos are from Friday morning, November first.  Around mid-morning, I heard that the door to the chicken coop had blown shut, so I went down to re-open it.  Afterwards, I had the rest of the morning free, so I went for a bit of a stroll, past the paddock where our youngest calves live.Image

The previous day was indeed the high point of fall foliage for the year.  The previous night had been quite windy, so there were noticeably less leaves on the trees and noticeably more on the ground, although the colors are still pretty sweet.Image

I made my way along the edge of the cow pastures, enjoying the warm colorful morning.Image

As I walked, I attracted the attention of our mostly tame beefie steers, who sauntered up the hill thinking maybe I had some grain for them.Image

These beefies are all 2 to 3 years old, and will be turned into meat sometime in the next couple of months.  I wonder if they sense that their days are numbered, if so, they certainly don’t seem to show much anxiety about it.Image

This fellow was very curious about the camera, and wanted to lick it.Image

Moving on, to rockiest spot on our land.  I’ve been told that it’s the only place on the farm where you can stand on a large exposed rock and touch a different large exposed rock.  Not exactly the Boulder flatirons, but it’s what we’ve got.Image

More pretty fall colors in the lower cow pasture.Image

Forest edge, from the same spot.Image

This low-lying part of our property is a spot I like to visit at least once every month or two, as I often find oyster or other mushrooms.  On this visit, I found some dried-up old oysters, and a fresh pile of animal shit.Image

Not far away, I checked on a log where I had found a bearded tooth Hericum mushroom last year, and was pleased to discover that a new one had grown back in the same spot.  These fun mushrooms are as tasty as they are weird-looking.Image

Here’s a close-up of the same mushroom  IMG_3366

This particular log was quite fungally active– at the other end was a colony of puffballs, a bit too old to be worth harvesting.IMG_3369

and in the middle, these strange orange mushrooms, which I think might be the dreaded deadly galerina.

IMG_3368

So that was Friday.  On Saturday, I started the day driving into Louisa for my regular Saturday chores.  The fall colors I saw along the way, especially where people had big maple trees in their front yards, were just spectacular.  Of course, as I was leaving the house I neglected to bring my camera, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.  The sunset on Saturday night was quite pretty, and I did have my camera on hand for that.  Here’s the view looking east, with the clouds all lit up like cotton candy.

IMG_3374

 

and here’s the view to the west.  A really beautiful sunset.IMG_3377

July 28-30 – stayin’ cool and headin’ south

Back at home now, after my week long trip up to the big city and back.  Before going up to NY, I wasn’t quite sure if I there would be much in the way of nature observing opportunities.  It’s true that “nature” is everywhere, even in the city there are birds, bugs, atmospheric conditions.  But New York is certainly a place where the built, human, environment so overwhelms the natural one that it’s hard, outside of the changes in weather, to get a sense of “nature.”  In the winter it’s cold and bleak, in the summer it’s hot; the parks are green and the trees have leaves.  But, even in the parks, any greenery you see is tended and landscaped, only in the vacant lots and wastelands is “nature” (mostly in the form of non-native weeds) allowed to do its thing.  I did have some nice outdoor experiences while up there, primarily a Saturday trip to Governor’s Island, an awesome new park in the middle of New York Harbor, at the confluence of the Hudson and East rivers.  Beautiful views of the city, and a spectacular pleasant summer day.

Image

I was excited about our trip home, as we had been planning on taking our time, meandering through the mountains a bit, and camping along the way.  It didn’t take long to feel like I was back in a more natural environment.  In Clinton, NJ, just about an hour out of the city, we stopped for lunch, and discovered a lovely picnic area just behind the parking lot of a deli.  There was a surprisingly clean-looking creek flowing nearby, with a sign saying that it had been stocked with trout.  What a difference a few miles makes!

Image

Image

Another hour’s drive into Pennsylvania, and we decided to call it a day at Blue Rocks Family Campground.  The primary natural feature of this location is the blue rocks boulder field, a mile-long stretch of rocks and rubble, upon which the boys and I had an excellent time climbing and exploring.

Image

Later, I was able to get some kid-free time and set off hiking for a couple of hours.  The campground was just a mile off of the Appalachian Trail (one of the reasons we chose it), and there was a spur trail that left the camp heading uphill.  The region had received some rain recently (indeed, it was storming just an hour before we pulled into the campground), so the ground was pretty wet and squishy, with numerous streams crossing over.  I was so glad to be free of the city that I walked barefoot, although I was aware of Pennsylvania’s AT reputation as an endless rockfield.  Muddy bits like this on the trail made me glad of my decision.Image

It only took a short while to climb up to the white-blazed Appalachian trail.  By the looks of the wide, heavily traveled treadway, this section gets plenty of use.

Image

On my way up, I saw the same unusual sight that I’ve seen in Virginia– there were lots of chanterelles growing in the compacted soil right in the middle of the trail, and not so many growing in the soft forest litter to the side.  Many of them had been trampled by unconscious hikers, and the ones that hadn’t been stepped on were all muddy and unappealing.

Image

Stone staircase near the top of the ridge.  This section of trail was in fact pretty rocky, but nothing my farm-toughened feet couldn’t handle!

Image

The hike to the Pulpit Rock lookout was about one and a half miles, and the view, while not spectacular by AT standards, was enjoyable enough.  The blue rocks boulder field is prominent on the right side of this photo.  Although I didn’t see anyone on the way up, there were a handful of folks at the lookout, some of whom had brought up several glass bottles of hard cider, which they generously passed around.Image

As I was exploring the immediate area around the lookout, I came across this copperhead curled up in a little crack in the rocks.  I’m so glad I saw it before stepping on it, for otherwise you would be reading a very different post right now!

Image

Just another random AT photo, taken on the way down.  The grassy plant along the edge of the trail is similar to the one growing along the logging trails at Twin Oaks Community.  It looks almost like some sort of tiny bamboo, and I’m guessing it’s some sort of invasive exotic.

Image

Not many mushrooms today.  Aside from the muddy chanterelles, I saw some overgrown platterfuls and a couple of withered flushes of oysters, long past edibility.  By far, the choice find of the day was this gorgeous chicken of the woods, which I discovered along the trail just a quarter mile or so from our campsite.

Image

It tasted as good as it looked– fried up in some butter, then simmered in tomato sauce for a while and served over noodles.  A treat for kids and adults alike!

Image

After dinner, further explorations in the boulder field with my son Sami.  I think the boys could have spent days just climbing around on the rocks.

Image

From where we were camped, the sunset was blocked by mountains, but the sky to the east, reflecting the colors of the sunset, was equally dramatic.  One of my favorite things about camping out is the opportunity to be outdoors in the mountains in the late afternoon and early morning, magical times that you always miss when only going out for day trips.  When you’re camping, you can just have your dinner, then sit out on a rock enjoying the slow transition from day to night…

Image

Image

Day 2

My oh my what a night!  To start with, just before it got dark, we decided to change campsites in order to pitch our tent on a platform right at the edge of the boulder field (our designated campsite was kind of muddy and gravelly).  Although our tent was a little bit bigger than the platform, we figured it wouldn’t be a problem if it hung over a couple inches on each side.  Unfortunately, it was impossible to stake down the tent when it was set like this.  And during the night, when a sudden drenching thunderstorm blew in, the walls of the tent sagged down onto our faces, seriously compromising the “waterproof” nature of the tent.  The rainstorm was followed by a steadily increasing wind, blowing down across the boulder field, which had increased to gale force by dawn.  I couldn’t possibly sleep with a moist tent alternately flapping around all around me and slapping me in the face, so I got up in the pre-dawn light to explore the boulder field and surrounding forests.Image

Somehow, amazingly, the rest of the family was able to sleep in, even with gusts of wind that nearly lifted the tent clean off of the platform!Image

After breaking camp, we took a winding drive through the mountains of central Pennsylvania, making our way by early afternoon to Hancock, Maryland, a spot where just about two miles separates the Potomac River from the Mason/Dixon line.  After a picnic lunch along the river, I rented bikes for an hour and set off with the boys to explore the nearby rail trail.  Although the ground was dry (I don’t think they got any of the past couple days storms), the forests surrounding the old C&O Canal towpath were bright green. Image

In other places, the forest opened up, revealing views of the surrounding hills and mountains, also thickly forested.Image

A couple of miles up the trail, we came to this odd round brick building, which looked like it may have once been the chimney of a larger structure, most of which is now gone.  Image

unsurprisingly, we saw lots of deer in PA and MD.  Along the bike route, we saw several little fawns with their momma, and later on, this one fawn all alone.  So cute!Image

We ended the day camping at a little campground between the canal trail and the Potomac river itself.  Although it wasn’t an especially hot afternoon, it still felt nice to take a dip in the river, far enough upstream from the city so that the water looked and felt clean, and I didn’t have to worry too much about poisoning myself.Image

Here’s a spot where a side stream, flowing into the Potomac, crosses under the railroad line, through a small tunnel that must be at least 100 years old, or older.  I thought the twin reflections of the tunnel entrance and exit were especially interesting.Image

Day 3

The next morning, we made our way to Harper’s Ferry, where the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers join forces.  I’m not sure why the joined river bears the name Potomac, as the Shenandoah definitely seems like the more voluminous of the two tributaries, and appears to be the primary upstream route.  But that’s history, I guess.

Image

The center of this little town, as anyone who’s been there knows, is quite scenic and historic.  I took some photos, mostly of the boys, that don’t seem quite appropriate for this journal, although I do like this view of the Virginia Mountains across the river, through the window of the old stone church.Image

We took a short hike along the AT as it heads out of town, on a trail that was quite dry and dusty, with a surprising lot of broken glass underfoot.  The glass looked kind of old, as though the trail was passing through an old dumping area from years ago.  We looped back along the canal, much of which was bright green with algae, and filled with wading birds and turtles.Image

I especially liked the color contrast between the green of the canal and the blue-gray plumage of this egret.Image

After spending an afternoon at Harper’s Ferry, we loaded back in the car and drove the final few hours back to Twin Oaks.  But that’s a story for a different post.