Tag Archives: winter

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

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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.

December 23 – merry solstice!

And just like that, the Winter solstice, the shortest day of the year and official beginning of winter, has come and gone.  It’s been a wet, blustery, decidedly un-winterlike few days.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s go back a few days…

to Saturday afternoon, just after lunch.  With a free hour before ultimate frisbee, I was going to take a little walk to explore the woods over on the river side of the property.  At this point, we’d had over 48 hours without frost, for the first time in weeks, and I was curious to see if this spell of near-tropical weather had made any difference in the landscape.  At the time I took this photo, it was just past one in the afternoon, but as you can see, the shadows were already long on the shortest day of the year.  I was, if you can believe it, dressed in shorts and a thin cotton long-sleeve t-shirt; the temperature (on the first day of winter) was close to 70 degrees!

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Not much green in the forest, save for these rhododendrons.

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On a damp, north-facing slope, I came across the best-looking oyster mushrooms I’d seen in weeks.  I’ve been trying to complain too much about the scarcity of oysters this fall, but by comparison, I had filled grocery bags with oysters on multiple occasions last November and December.  These were the first oysters this fall I’ve found that were worth picking.Image

pretty, pretty oyster mushroom.

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Another nearby stump had a whole cluster of beautiful orange shelf mushrooms growing on it.  Very striking color of shelf fungus. Image

I walked for a while through the riparian forest, traveling fairly easily through forest that would have been very unpleasant and difficult to navigate a few months back.  Eventually, I came to a waterlogged part of the woods looked to be quite the muddy, quicksand-y quagmire, and I turned back towards higher ground.

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With a few days of warm weather, I’m starting to see a few mushrooms that haven’t come out for quite some time.  These orange ones are most likely deadly poisonous, but I thought they looked cool.Image

Sunny winter solstice landscape.

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At one point, I was examining some large crow feathers I found on the ground, and next to them was this stick that looked like it had some weird alien message carved into it.Image

Passing through the beefy field.  Already this season, we’ve turned a couple of the steers into meat, and these guys probably won’t last the winter.Image

It was such a delightful change of pace to really enjoy the warmth and sunshine; I didn’t even mind the incongruity of walking around in shorts on the first day of winter.Image

About a week ago, we slaughtered our first steer of the season here on the farm.  Although we do save some of the organs (liver, heart, tongue), there’s still a lot of cow innards that we don’t use.  Mostly, we dig a great big pit and spend the winter filling it with offal, then cover it up in the spring when we’re done slaughtering.  Quite a sight to come across!Image

By the time the afternoon frisbee game got underway, clouds had begun to roll in, darkening what had been a ridiculously lovely solstice day.  It was still the warmest frisbee game we’d had in the past six weeks.Image

The first oysters I’d harvested in weeks.  Not a huge quantity, but I was pretty pleased just to have these few.Image

I also came across several logs in the woods full of oyster mycelium, with tiny mushrooms just starting to grow.  I have been stacking these logs in a pile in the woods just a few steps from my back yard, hoping to create a little oyster patch that is easily accessible from my kitchen.  Here are a couple of baby wild oysters growing alongside some little ones growing from a log that I inoculated this spring. Image

Another shot of basically the same thing, taken from a different angle.

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Sunday was forecast to be even warmer, sunny with temps in the mid-70’s!  I was looking forward to an unbelievable day.  As it turned out, we got torrential rain in the morning– a weird line of thunderstorms that looked and felt just like a summer shower.  Definitely weird weather for the first day of winter.  Well over an inch of rain by noon, when I took this photo of the back yard.Image

The rain and over-freezing temperatures continued all day and overnight.  This morning, I figured the conditions were as good for oyster mushrooms as they were likely to be, so I put on my raincoat and stepped out into the wet.  Here’s the streambed just off of my back yard, which is often dry but was full of water this rainy morning.

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 As expected, I came across several logs sprouting abundant young oysters.  Many of them were too small to be worth harvesting, but I did take careful note of where they were growing, and I hope to come back and pick them before the next frost, forecast for Tuesday night (and just about every night after that for the rest of the season).

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I also carried more logs back to my mushroom pile, which has been growing by the hour.

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Here’s the current state of my wild oyster mushroom project.  I’ll probably sterilize a bunch of sawdust and dump it in-between all the gaps in the logs.Image

Afterward, I took a walk through an area of our forest that had recently been thinned by the forestry team, just to see if there were any oysters growing on the trunks or stumps that were being harvested (there weren’t).  Out in the woods, I came across this very cool sight, where a dead standing tree had been cut at from both sides, leaving an eight-foot high wooden spike pointing into the sky.Image

 

Here’s the same thing, photo taken from the side.  I hope they leave it in place, as it’s very cool looking.

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I also spent some time examining some logs that have been stacked for cutting and splitting, noticing all the brand new fungal growth that’s sprouted up just in the past week.  All sorts of cool colors and shapes in the warm wet conditions.  I haven’t seen any cut pieces with oysters growing on them this year, but I have noticed them in the past. I figure that such pieces are too valuable to simply burn for warmth, instead it would make more sense to put them in the mushroom pile I’m growing.  I’ll keep looking as the forestry season progresses.

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a close-up.  Lots of fungal growth just in the past 24 hours or so.

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December 19 – farewell frigid fall; welcome warm winter

We’re getting close to what, technically, should be the last day of autumn (the day before the solstice), but it hasn’t felt much like fall for the past month.  This year, it seemed like winter moved in early and decided to stick around; we have had frost nearly every night for the past month, and the past few days have been gray, breezy, and raw.  This morning was no exception; the leaves that I’m using to mulch the garden (and the one chard plant that has inexplicably survived the fall) were covered in a layer of frost.  As they have been most days this month. Image

here’s a closer photo.Image

But, oddly enough, today was also  first day of what is forecast to be a fairly dramatic warm spell.   This afternoon was the warmest it’s been in months, and the next few days (including the first day of winter) are supposed to be even more pleasant– temps in the 70s with no frost this weekend!  It messes up the narrative somewhat, but after so much cold weather so early in the season, I’m happy to take some sunshine and warmth.

Just after lunchtime, it was warm enough to walk around comfortably in just a long sleeve shirt, so I took advantage of some free time to do some exploratin’ in the sun-drenched, leafless, forest.Image

Not much color out in the woods today, just the brown of leaves on the ground, the gray of tree trunks, and the gray of this old cabin on our property.Image

We had a bit of freezing rain a couple of nights back, just enough to put a tiny trickle of water in this creekbed.  A chain of tiny pools in the forest, linked by tiny cascades and waterfalls.Image

At one point, I came across a tree that had fallen sometime in the past year, that was being devoured by some sort of orange fungus, lit up all dramatic in the late fall sunlight.Image

Here’s a closer photo of the fungus.  It really was that color!Image

As the leaves have fallen from the trees, it’s been nice to once again see and appreciate the revealed shapes of the trees themselves.  This is especially true of the beech trees, and this open bit of woods is the greatest concentration of beech trees on the land.Image

Just a pretty shot of beech trees all contrast-y against a bright blue late fall sky.Image

I crossed over the creek right at this spot where, years ago, one beech tree fell into another one.  Somehow, they both lived, and joined together into a single trunk.Image

And, across the creek, a spot where a single birch fell or was knocked over, but managed to survive and turn three of its lower branches into trunks.Image

I saw some sort of bird fly out of this hole, but it was gone before I could get close or figure out what it was.  It was a small bird of some sort.Image

A spot where it seems like two trees grew together, wrapped their branches around one another, and went on growing.Image

A fallen log with the remnants of some polypore, which has probably been there for months, rotting away.Image

On closer inspection, I think that it may have at one point been an enormous chicken of the woods, which has turned white after months of exposure and frost.Image

Further along, I walked through a depression that holds an intermittent stream, one which runs during and immediately after storms, but most of the time is just muddy.  I came across several spots where pine needles had been picked up by the runoff from recent rains and deposited in ‘liquid-y’ shapes and patterns as the water receded.  It made for some very interesting patterns on the forest floor.Image

Not too far off, an old stump in a state of advanced decomposition, covered with unusual dark brown fungi.Image

And inside of  the equally-decomposed trunk of the tree, a pile of curiously round gray pellets that could be some sort of animal crap, but looked more mineral-y and less organic-y than one would expect.Image

At this time of year, even close to mid-day, the sun is low on the horizon in the south, which creates interesting light effects whichever way you turn.  It’s harder to photograph the way things are lit up when you’re facing into the sun, but this captures some of the effect.Image

A close-up of the same scene, dramatic backlighting bringing out unexpected color.Image

After kicking about on the other side of the creek for an hour or so, I jumped back over to the ‘civilized’ side at this crossing, trying without success to keep my feet dry.  A pleasant enough walk to mark the end of frigid fall and the beginning of  our curious winter warm spell.Image

March 18- down but not out

I’m aware, of course, that it’s still technically winter, so I wasn’t too surprised that yesterday was cold and gray, and wasn’t even too surprised to see some sort of unpleasant slushy-half snow dropping from the sky.  St. Pat’s day is kind of a big holiday in my family, so I was hoping for a nicer day, but being mid-March, you can’t exactly count on it.

But I must admit I was a bit surprised when I looked out my window this morning and saw this:Image

Kind of pretty, kind of just yukky and muddy.  I don’t know that the temperature ever dropped much below freezing, and by the time I stepped outside this morning, the ground was a soupy mess of melting snow and mud.  I was definitely thankful for those dealing with the cows or chickens or other essential outdoor jobs this morning, and even more thankful today was not my day to split wood or take care of the chickens.Image

The daffodils seemed depressed.  Can a flower be depressed?Image

This red-budded plant had just begun to flower outside of our dining hall.  Now it’s covered with snow.  Tomorrow, it will probably be 60 degrees and it will flower again.  March is odd.Image

I had a couple of tasks to take care of down in the courtyard.  On the way home, I took the ‘scenic route’ around the pond, enjoying the aesthetics of a wintry landscape that (with any luck) we won’t be experiencing again for quite a few months.Image

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March 16– thunderstorm, rainbow, and fog…

Today we had our first spring thunderstorm of the year– lightning, thunder, heavy rain, the whole bit.  As you can see in the photo below, a thunderstorm is a difficult thing to photograph in a way that gives any sense of what it feels like to actually be in it; the smells, the contrast between the warm air and cold rain, the look of a sky that is dark gray on one side, while still sunny on the other.Image

The storm swiftly passed overhead, west to east, clouds sliding away and revealing a low, late-afternoon sun, perfect rainbow conditions.  I ran outside with my camera and didn’t have to look long to see a full 180-degree double rainbow.  Getting a decent photo was a different thing, and by the time I made it to a clearing where you could actually see the sky, half of it had disappeared.  Still, it was quite a sight.  My youngest kid, who turns four on the 17th, commented that although he’s seen rainbows in books and movies and whatnot, it’s the first time he has really been aware of seeing a real one in person.  Image

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The day ended with the sun lighting up water dripping from the leaves and trees,  and eerie tendrils of wispy fog gathering in the woods, collecting in low spots and drainages, the kind of fog that you might see in a horror movie but rarely in real life.  I guess that between the thunder and lightning, the rainbow, and the fog, the entire afternoon had a kind of otherworldly feeling.Image

March 15– beware the Ides

 

Over the past couple days, I had occasion to travel up to Baltimore to speak in a couple of classes at Goucher college.  So I didn’t get to observe much in the way of central Virginia nature.  I did observe a couple things– first, that Baltimore, although not all that far north of Virginia, is certainly a lot colder than around here, or at least it was yesterday!   And on the campus of Goucher, I saw a couple of enormous shelf mushrooms that looked like something out of a Paul Stamets book (I don’t know what sort they were, but they looked kind of like this: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_iKawzGKhsv0/S80bXBWxNcI/AAAAAAAAFuo/IdHgsMVU-ZU/s1600/GiantShelfFungus.jpg)

I was quite happy to get back to sunny central Virginia yesterday afternoon.  Today wasn’t quite as sunny, but I took a stroll around the community to see how things have been going in my absence.

The ground has dried out a bit from the crazy snow and rain of last week, but there are still places where the forest floor bears the imprint of the cascades of water that must have been moving along at the height of the storm.  Image

All over one part of the forest, this little plant was starting to poke its way up through the leaves.  I’m not sure what it is, but there certainly was a lot of it.Image

I got to thinking about how, once the leaves come out, it will be a bit sad that all of the vegetative growth of the warm season will obscure the shape of the trees, especially the smooth-barked birch trees that are so abundant in our woods.  This intertwined pair is growing just a couple hundred feet from my house (which you can see in the lower left). Image

Walking along the edge of high south field, it is plain to see that the tender green grass of spring is beginning to poke up over the dead yellow thatch of winter, although it hasn’t completely broken through yet.IMG_2600

A few years ago, a frequent visitor to Twin Oaks from North Carolina was planning on moving to Colorado.  He was growing pitcher plants, carnivorous plants that are native to North Carolina swamps.  He figured that they might do well here (and certainly wouldn’t in Colorado), so he planted a couple on the edge of our pond’s biopool.  This afternoon, I went up to see how they lasted the winter, and to weed them, which I try to do a couple times a year.  I saw that they are still alive, although in rough shape (as might be expected in mid-March), and that someone had already weeded them earlier this winter, or perhaps last fall.  I’ll check back in on them when it warms up and they grow their pitchers, maybe even see them catch some bugs.Image

 

And that’s the Ides of March at Twin Oaks, with the early signs of spring poking through everywhere you look, but the general look and feel of the landscape is still pretty late-wintery, still more yellow, gray, and brown in the color scheme than green, but a feeling in the air that things will change soon.Image

March 13- March flowers

What was that quote about Frebruary showers?..

We’re starting to get a pretty nice floral display at Twin Oaks, one which will keep getting better over the next couple months.  The crocuses continue to bloom, and I’m spotting new patches, some that are just starting to flower and some that I’m just seeing for the first time.  The daffodils are starting to bloom all around the community, although it will still be a while before they peak.  The ground-smothering periwinkle ivy has started opening up into delicate purple flowers.  And, in a sure sign that spring is arriving, the cherry trees and bushes are starting to blossom.  The bush cherries in the Morningstar orchard opened just this morning, the first of the fruit trees and bushes at Twin Oaks to flower!Image

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