Tag Archives: woods

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

June 27 – A thousand words…

…the worth of a photo, as they say.  Today, I foolishly left the card of my camera in the computer, where I had been downloading images for a previous post.  So, on my daily outing when I reached to take a photo, I got the dreaded “No memory card” message.  I guess I’ll just have to describe the day with some evocative prose.

My friend Sherri is visiting from Montana, with her many children.  She was interested in seeing some Virginia nature, maybe some big ol’ east coast forests.  I had been planning on a trip to Montpelier to see the old-growth woods there.  Then I looked at the forecast–93 degrees and muggggggggy!  So I re-thought the outing, and decided it would make more sense to head to Shenandoah to spend the day splashing around in one of the many cold clear creeks that tumble out of the mountains.  On the morning of our big adventure, we awoke to an oddly persistent fog and drizzle, even up to the time when, on a hot summer day, we should start feeling the heat.  I was sure it was just a morning fluke, so we piled all of her and my kids into a big ol’ Suburban, and we set off through the gloom.  As we got a bit closer to the mountains, the temperature dropped and the sun remained resolutely hidden.  At the last moment, as we passed the intersection for Montpelier, I decided to postpone the splashin’ around in the creek until we got a better idea of whether the weather held any sunshine for us.

So we made an hour-long detour to Montpelier, where the kids enjoyed an epic game of hide-and-seek in the formal walled garden.  A nice feature of this garden is that you can relax on a grassy slope overlooking the carefully cropped hedges and planted beds of flowers inside the wall, while looking out to the very Virginian horse pastures and wooded hills & mountains off in the distance.  The low gray sky and intermittent drizzle made me feel like I was in England, or in Maine.  It definitely felt more like a northern New England day than central Virginia.  Once the kids had managed to burn off a few thousand calories of energy, I tried leading everyone on a short walk through the nearby old-growth forest, but all the young-uns were totally amped up and screaming, and it just seemed wrong to bring such frantic screamy energy into such a peaceful place as the Montpelier woods.  Plus, my younger son was starting to pester me about when we were going to go to the mountains, so we all went back to the enormous SUV and kept on truckin’ .

It took another 45 minutes or so to get to the trailhead, and by that point the kids were literally bouncing off of eachother and the inside of the truck.  The trailhead I had chosen, Graves Mill, is an obscure one;  it had been about 12 years since I was last there, and there was no signage anywhere until the moment you reach the parking area, where a tiny country lane dead-ends at a wall of trees.  I had to stop and consult the atlas a few times to make sure I wasn’t getting us all lost.  As soon as we killed the engine, hordes of children leapt out and began chasing one another up and down the trail.  I was greatly relieved to see we were the only vehicle at the trailhead, and didn’t have to worry about disturbing anyone’s “wilderness experience.”  The trail here follows the headwaters of the Rapidan River, which is more of a big creek than a river this far up.  The water was, as advertised, clear and cold, with lots of little cascades and waist-deep pools; there was a lovely spot with a gravel beach just about 100 yards in where we had a picnic while the kids climbed on the rocks, narrowly avoiding (I hope) extensive patches of poison ivy and stinging nettle.  There was still no sun and the temperature never broke 75 all day, but having come this far, nothing was  going to stop us from splashing and wading in and out of the creek, up and down little waterfalls, over and around mossy boulders.  Altogether, we never made it more than a half-mile from the van, but covering trail distance on a day like this was entirely beside the point.  It was enjoyable hiking with a friend from the western US, pointing out oak, maple, tulip, and beech trees that grow far larger than any deciduous trees in Montana, and always a treat to spend a summer day splashing and swimming, even if it felt more like early May than the end of June .  Toward the end of the afternoon, we even got a few minutes of direct sunlight.

I was, as always, hoping to encounter some fungal treasures, but wasn’t able to see much.  In contrast with the woods at Twin Oaks, which have some underbrush but you can usually see the forest floor, the forests of Shenandoah present a wall of greenery, layers of shrubs, vines, and ground cover.  In many places, it’s hard to see more than 10 feet off of the path.  I think this is even more the case where the trail follows an old road, as is the case with many of the low-elevation creekside trails I’ve been hiking lately.  There could be dozens of mushrooms within 50 feet of the trail, and you could walk right by without seeing anything but wall of green.  Our most interesting find was a pair of brownish yellowish boletes which, when broken open, immediately turned an intense shade of bright blue.

Driving home through late afternoon sunlight, the bright greens of Virginia farm and mountain, the views that were hidden by mist on our way in suddenly so vivid, I felt very pleased and satisfied with the aesthetic qualities of the state I’ve chosen to live in.  It’s more of a pastoral beauty, lacking the dramatic untouched wildernesses of New England or out west.  Still, the countryside just east of Shenandoah park sure is easy on the eyes in the slanted light of a bright summer afternoon after weeks and weeks of rain.  Not a bad day, I just wish I had thought to bring a working camera…