Ramble On

Monday, June 30, 2008

Of frogs, hawks, hummingbirds, and deer

Here’s our final entry for June – the summer is fully underway at the Hawksbill Cabin. We await the completion of our pool repairs, but the two other large projects are coming to a close. July will be a busy work and travel month, so the pace of entries will slow, even though our interest in sharing this experience will not wane! A final logistics note, we will be changing our mobile phone carrier to one with better coverage in the cabin area – this may temporarily reduce the number of phone-cam postings.

On our arrival Friday night last weekend, we were greeted by a chorus of deep-voiced frogs over in the hollow. These were booming grunts, nothing like the high-pitched songs of the spring frogs. As I unloaded the car, I wanted to reach for a flashlight; sometimes it sounded like there were a couple of men walking down the road talking. The singing of the frogs was varied and sounded like a conversation.

The next wildlife encounter involved our nesting hawks. There are two previous entries about these birds at:
The adults are staying away from the nest for longer and longer periods. But they must stay nearby, as they appear almost instantly any time a blue jay lights in their tree, or a crow flies through the neighborhood. And last night, I saw the male arrive with a small prey bird to feed the nestlings.
We still have not managed to catch the nestlings in a photo suitable for posting. We watched the nest carefully over the weekend and have been able to identify three nestlings – they are probably about 2/3 adult size now, so the largest of them may be able to fly by next weekend. During the day, they jostle about in the nests –we can hear these squabbles down below. And they venture out now onto the neighboring branches, never more than 6 or 8 feet from the nest.
Our vantage point, directly below, obscures them for photography purposes. But we have been able to get a good look at them through the binoculars from time to time.

Another wildlife treat over the weekend was the appearance of a humming bird in the yard. This little creature showed up while I was out watching the hawks. It flew up out of the hollow and buzzed into the pine boughs of the hawks’ tree, then out and along the tree tops of some of our dogwoods. It stopped by the hostas, not yet in bloom, then onto the back of the house (headed for the bee balm, maybe, or the lilies). That was a pleasant surprise.

Final nature highlight of the day was a sighting of the large doe that lives in our neighborhood. I had a glimpse of her last weekend during one of the storms as she moved from the hollow along our driveway to the woods behind us. I think this is the same doe that had two fawns with her last year – they weren’t with her this time, although I saw the three of them together once during the early Spring.
Yesterday morning she was out on the road, walking along the front of our lots. She crossed the creek and climbed part way up the hill before something startled her, and she headed back into the hollow. A few minutes later I saw her by the stream before she headed deeper into the hollow.
That’s all for the cabin posting today. It’s kind of like an outdoor lifestyle out there. More to come.

Friday, June 27, 2008

TNT: Terry's 'new' Truck

It's been a couple of weeks now, but one day our Hawksbill Pines neighbor Terry told us he was buying a new truck - he'd found it in Alexandria and the guy he was buying it from was selling at a bargain price he couldn't resist.

The vehicle is a late sixties vintage and in remarkably good shape.

He plans to retag it for farm use and use it to run errands; and offered to let us use it from time to time. He may park it under our carport.

Mary loves to drive a truck, I should mention.

On another note, here is a nice Ford Ranger that showed up in our Alexandria neighborhood over the last few weeks. Most of the time when I have seen it, it has been dressed up with a canoe on top, sometimes not. Anyway, this is the idea I have when I think of the truck I may buy someday.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

British Searching for the Stanley Fire Updates

Sorry friends, the Google results you are hitting are for a wildfire in Stanley, Virginia, USA...

I think you are looking for:

The original post here was: http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2008/04/stanley-fire-update.html

Summer Flowers Inaugural - Bee Balm

Last year about this time, we had our first look at the cabin, before deciding we'd have a go at purchasing it. Among the highlights of that first visit was this patch of Bee Balm in the backyard near the shed, which was just in full bloom. The first flower of the year showed up last weekend, pictured here.

Since then I noticed we have a couple of plantings; one has been removed due to the pool construction. There is another patch near the garage, however, and we may take some of the seed heads back to Alexandria this Fall. And of course, we'll give some to our neighbors out yonder.

Of particular interest is the fact that this plant has medicinal qualities, according to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beebalm ) - the leaves are used to make a tea that treats mouth and throat infections, as well as minor skin infections and wounds. In fact, the oil that provides this benefit is a major ingredient in modern mouthwash. There is also a reference to treating stomach cramps and flatulence.

It has also been used as a spice for game, having a flavor similar to oregano.

I found the name of the flower recently by leafing through a Blue Ridge "lifestyle" magazine published out of Georgia - the photo I saw there was of a hummingbird hovering in front of it - apparently these are a very attractive flower for the birds.

Later in the summer, when the patch is in full bloom, I'll post another photo. Also, will plan to include a post on a Luray Business called the Apple Cottage at that time, an organic-oriented enterprise in town that sells teas, herbs, and aromatherapies.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Revisiting where we've been - that wtf moment

When I was looking at a couple of the blog posts this month - the progress on the pool, where I show the elevation photo of the cabin from poolside, for example, or where we show the new roof and chimney - both posts from just this week, in fact...I can't help but think about where we've been with this thing in just less than a year since we bought the place last August.

I last documented this reminder in a post last December: http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2007/12/wtf-moment.html

But here for convenience are the photos of what we had to do after we found out about the termites - example of termite damage first, then the first of many big projects. (Henry, we found out about the snakes after...)

It really is an incredible job that Jesse has done. For readers in the Valley area - he's a talented resource for your building projects (or rebuilding projects, as in our case!)

Pool Equipment Begins Arriving!

It is a real sign of progress to see the big projects coming together as they are right now - even with the daily torrential downpours that have turned Virginia into the Florida of my youth. Speaking of summertime in Florida - we used to go to the pool a lot...and very soon, we'll be able to enjoy the restored Hawksbill Cabin pool.

There is electrical work going on in parallel with the pool repairs, but on Sunday afternoon, Daris and some of his Uncle D's installers were out at the pool to unload some equipment and discuss the installation of the new pool liner.

Here is the new pump sitting on the pad we put in to hold it and some other pool equipment. The footer from yesterday's entry is on the otherside of this fence.

Also, here are some odds and ends - the tracks that will be installed to hold the new liner, some hose for the pumps, and one of several skimmers. The pool will be equipped with four skimmers, and we are adding lighting and a ladder.

Seems like it won't be long now!

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Big Projects are Really Coming Together

A few weeks ago, when I was walking down to the pool to show Daris around, one of the logs in the little stairway came out of place. We decided that we needed to add this to the project Jesse was working on - the brick terrace. Here are the old logs, lying in one of our poison ivy patches.

And the second photo here is of the new steps in progress - designed from retired railroad ties. We are going to put a four-inch concrete pad in each tread of the stair way. Here you can see where the area around the stairs is overrun with another kind of ivy, with some hostas and a magnolia mixed in - not to mention the old barbeque that is not in working order.

The next two photos are of the steps down to the pool level, after you enter the gate. We removed all the old planters that were here to give more room. I think the stairs may be a little steep, but there was nothing here before, so it is an improvement.

And here is one of the new footer at the base of the retaining wall - again replacing the planter that was there before. Two notes on this one: 1) there was a four inch layer of concrete under this wall bolstered by the planter, so we were glad to find that out in the progress before putting the new footer in; and 2) because we couldn't bring a truck in for this job, the guys had to wheelbarrow 80 times with the concrete for this footer!

Here is a quick perspective on where the new footer is, and a picture of the retaining wall. That's the Hawksbill Cabin in the back - original stone portion! Pool is not in the picture, but it would be in the foreground.
Tomorrow's entry - pool equipment arriving!

A Homebrewer's Hop Garden

Somewhere in this (Alexandria) house, I have a book titled "The Homebrewer's Bible" - I bought it a few years ago with good intentions. On that occasion, we'd visited a Marine Colonel who was retiring. He regaled us with stories of the service and we had a great dinner, followed by apertifs and cigars...but one of the highlights leading up to dinner and during it was the two or three varieites of homebrew he hap on hand to share.

I'm a fan - we often receive a bottle or two from friends who make a special batch for the holidays. Then there is Stan, one of my USAF/Berlin buddies here in Northern Virginia, who makes a batch a week, often trading recipes with the local brew pubs, who taps a couple of bottles whenever I manage to get by his house.

So I've harbored this long time thought that I might like to try it - and if I got into it, I might like to grow some of the sacred ingredients. My thoughts are focused on hops, the flowering vine that imparts a special flavor to beer; it is a thought that traces back to visiting Hop Kiln Vineyard in Sonoma in the early 90's.

We visited a neighbor in the Hawksbill Pines neighborhood last week, enjoying a glass of wine and some fresh strawberries from his organic garden. He also grows a variety of vegetables and fruits - they have about 7 acres total, although not all of it, and not even the majority of it, is cultivated. Everything is grown organically and they supplement their grocery bill with cabbage (here), corn, strawberries and blueberries.

The best surprise was when he told me he had put in six hop vines - to Northwestern varieties, I believe both from Willamette. There is an organic commitment in this garden, so the plot is tilled with compost, and the vines had already grown to the line and were beginning to climb out. Not long now they will begin to bud and flower, yielding this noble ingredient of a favorite pastime - beer.
Here's the obligatory wikipedia link to Hops: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hops

Friday, June 20, 2008

What's up there

I am going to change cell service soon to something that works out in the cabin's neck of the woods. Turns out I have a bunch of old cabin photos stored on the current service's web site, and I need to move them...I've been using the blog as a way to save them while documenting our projects and the cabin lifestyle.

These three are of the new standing seam metal roof just after installation, with detail of the cut out features over the brick terrace and window. Also, here is a view of the chimney - since we installed the new heat, this is not needed anymore.

Bringing the outside in

By way of an update, when we visited last week, Jesse had completed the brick terrace portion of the outdoor projects. The work included smoothing out and patching the gravel foundation for the terrace and relaying the bricks. Next steps include putting in new steps down to the pool and clearing out the planter at the base of the retaining wall, then repointing that wall.

These first two photos show the front door - a heavy dutch door, and the view out towards the terrace from the main room of the cabin. The floor of the main room is also brick, laid in the same herring bone fashion. It was a tenet of midcentury modernism to bring the outside in, often with walls of windows that opened to the outdoors. Although our windows don't work the repetition of the brick pattern accomplishes this.

Here are a couple of views of the newly relaid terrace, first looking out to the yard and drive. That's Sofie at the end, settling down for a nap - this is the spot where she saw her first deer, so now she spends a lot of time keeping vigilant from there.

The second photo looks in the same direction, showing our outdoor breakfast set up and the wall of windows in the main room.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Afghani Prayer Rug

Now that we are hearing about the return of Taliban attacks in Afghanistan (politics is not a topic of the blog, although media criticism is a possibility - the Taliban activity is still not newsworthy enough for the front page of the Washington Post) - my thoughts turn to these prayer rugs I saw at the Eastern Market in DC last summer.

My USAF service in the '80's was characterized by several Cold War events; the Soviet Afghan War was one of the major ones. So I took a careful look at these rugs, studying the Soviet weapon images of RPGs and AK-47s. I considered buying one for a moment.

Imagine my delight a few weeks ago visiting my sister's family and finding out that my brother-in-law purchased one of these rugs during one of his two deployments to Afghanistan. Here is the very nice example that now decorates the Hawksbill Cabin. Note the pretty blue dye on the map, and all the legends about the weapons and reference to Sept. 11.

Thanks Sean and Nancy!

Spring Flowers - 2008 Final

Here are my last two photos of spring flowers from around the Alexandria and Stanley homes. Since the day lillies and crepe myrtles - flowers I associate with summer - are already in bloom, it's time to move on.

Here is a peonie from the cabin, one of three varieties we discovered out there. There are also pale pink, almost white, plants, and a deeper red one.

Here is what is locally known as candy corn. I'd never seen these before, but they were all over the valley a few weeks ago. I noted one additional variation, in an all-white coloration.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

About those butterfly chairs

Last winter, when the leaves were off the trees and all the critters were hibernating, we took a walk around our lots and into the surrounding woods. In an overgrown junk heap near the pool and woods, we found the frames of two butterfly chairs, and later found a third that had been carted off into the woods near Beaver Run.

It turns out that these chairs were frequently used in the 1950s and 1960s and became a symbolism of modernism because of their minimalist design and "form over function" theme. According to Wikipedia, they were designed by an Argentinian named Jorge Ferrari Hardoy in 1938, and were based on an earlier wood-frame design that used a similar hammock or sling concept for seating.

We rescued the three chairs, deciding that recycling them back into usage by the pool would save us some money and also fit in with the Midcentury Modern concept we have maintained during the restoration of the cabin.
Here are two photos of the repairs in progress. We've found a web source for the fabric slings and will be placing an order for that in a few weeks...as the pool comes on line we'll have these chairs up and ready for lounging.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Then there were three nesting hawks

A quick update on our nesting sharp-shinned hawks - over the weekend there was a lot of activity in the nest as the parents came and went. The original post is at http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2008/05/nesting-hawks.html.

Most of the time the nest is well enough hidden in the big pine that I still have not managed to get a photograph of it or the hawks when they are there. After a rain on Saturday, the branches were weighed down so I could catch movement up there from time to time, but never had the clear shot for a photograph.

The adult birds continue the call/respond behaviors, but the range from the nest is growing farther and farther. When we first encountered them, the male would sound a call from inside of 200 yards; now it sounds like he could be as far away as 500 yards. Not every time now, but still frequently, the female will either respond with a call or she will fly out of the nest in the direction of the call.

As the male occasionally flew by the nest, just as he was parallel or overhead he would make his call. I also was able to hear the sound of at least one nestling, although I haven't seen it or any sign of it yet. The little voice seemed to be a response to the calls, but I need to observe a bit longer to be sure about this.

Mary and I think these developments are aimed at helping the young learn that they will need to leave the nest and learn to fly. Will put up a new post next week assuming we learn more about them. Next week I will have my camera binocs with me and hopefully will be able to post a photo.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Big Project 3 - The Brick Terrace

We await the manufacture of the new pool liner and completion of the other critical steps in the pool repair, our first major project of 2008; and Jesse has completed about 90 percent of the interior paneling and associated steps of project 2; we have project 3, our final big project of the year, already getting under way. This project’s focus is on repaving the brick terrace at the front of the house and repointing the retaining wall below it. It is work that we identified early on as needed and worked to get into the project queue as early as we could.

The brick terrace begins at the end of the gravel paths in the gardens and extends across the front of the house, past it on the wooded side. It totals about 40 feet in length, and it is approximately 10 feet wide, ending in an edge over the retaining wall and overlooking the pool. I enjoy sitting out here in the mornings with a cup of coffee – all four seasons – as there is good sun and the view looks down towards Beaver Run and the woods. Besides the great outdoor environment, it’s a good vantage point for wildlife viewing, including our nesting hawk pair and the pileated woodpeckers that live in the hollow.

The bricks were laid in a basketweave pattern, which was also used for the flooring in the main part of the cabin. In fact, the design is meant to give the illusion that the front room extends to the outside, or brings the outside in, when combined with the windowed wall of the house. (For additional information on brick paving, I found this website on a Google search: http://www.pavingexpert.com/blocks.htm#desn , which includes pattern descriptions, how-to’s, and construction methodologies.)
Over the years, the lack of maintenance on the roof and the absence of gutters along the back edge had led to extensive run-off erosion along the woods side of the house. That water ran onto the terrace and settled into the brick work, eventually flowing out through the stone wall. While the former owners repaved one of the 10 by 10 sections where the most significant settling had occurred, we don’t anticipate it was done well – there is not a good track record on these do-it-yourself projects – so at best all the little project did was postpone a larger one. In addition to the settling in this section, mortar cracks had appeared in the stone work below on the retaining wall.

On the other side of the terrace, there are hints of things that aren’t there any more – a couple of sawed-off beams suggest that some sort of staircase was built into the retaining wall, leading to a brick landing in the garden. More settling in the bricks has occurred over here, and the retaining wall on this corner needs attention around the old stairs.

The bricks here are so displaced by the damage that they can shelter wildlife. One morning in the early spring, as things were beginning to warm up on a day where the temperatures would reach 80, I saw a garter snake lounging in the sun…for non-herpetologists, these are non-venomous and generally not aggressive snakes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garter_snake) that are notable for bright yellow stripes that run lengthwise along their bodies. In my case the one I saw was a dark green and the yellow stripes were brilliant in the sun.

This is the one species of snake I can tolerate pretty easily, as a grade school friend caught one and kept it for a pet for a time, feeding it gold fish from a local pet store. To reassure future visitors, any snake with lengthwise stripes – not just at the Hawksbill Cabin, but in North America, generally – can be assumed to be non-venomous.

I understand that while the work on our paneling project has been winding down and only odds and ends are left, Jesse began work on the terrace this week. So we’ll see how things are going when we get out there this weekend.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Spring Flowers, episode 7

A quick post today - the hydrangeas in the backyard of the Alexandria house are in bloom. I was out there the other night and noticed them.

Last year, a rainstorm blew through and knocked them all down, and since we seem to be in a storm year this year, thought I might snap these photos for posterity.

We were fortunate to inherit these legacy plants - they decorate the backyard landscape around the deck, and there are two plants along the drive. They are hardy in this climate and come back year after year.

For the most part they are shaded blue, but in a few parts of the yard they are pink. This has to do with the chemical composition of the soil they are planted in. The motocam is not likely to be able to pick up the subtle color variation in these.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Memorial Day Hike - Hawksbill Summit

On Memorial Day weekend, we set out for our first hike of the year up in the Park. After stopping in to visit some of our friends in town, and breakfast at the Brookside restaurant (right near SNP HQ on 211), we made our way to the Upper Hawksbill trailhead for the short hike to the summit.

Along the way, we bought our annual pass to SNP – a difference this year is that you can buy a pass for this Park only, which we did – in the past we’ve bought passes for all NPS parks. We also made a stop at one of the Skyline Drive overlooks to snap this photo of Old Rag.

Here’s the Hawksbill Summit hike description from http://www.ajheatwole.com/guide/log2/log23.htm
“HIKE: Hawksbill Summit. Round trip 2.1 miles; total climb about 520 feet; time required 2:00. A fairly easy hike on a graded trail and a fire road. Good views from the summit. …The trail goes into the woods from the drinking fountain. After a short steep stretch you have a steady, easy climb through young oak forest….”

The summit is the highest point in SNP, we enjoy going up there several times a year. Also, the peak is directly to the east of us at the Hawksbill Cabin, we see it every time we are driving home.

There is a lesser peak that I have yet to learn the name of – shown in this photo. Clearly this one is about 500 feet shorter than Hawksbill, although from the valley, the perspective makes it appear the same height.

Another photo, this time a gratuitous view of the Valley towards Luray, and one of Mary on the outcroppings with her new sport pack, which we picked up earlier in the day from Evergreen Outfitters. For these short hikes, we travel lightly, mainly only packing water and snacks – so the small pack is just right for us.

On the way back down to the trailhead, we detoured off the main path for a moment to take a look at the Appalachian Trail, which runs along this ridge on the west side here. There is a short detour on the AT here, as an ongoing Hawk restoration project protects some nesting sites on the ridge.

As we reached the trailhead, we encountered a deer foraging through the forest. In this part of the Park they are pretty domesticated, unphased by humans nearby for the most part, unless there are sudden movements or loud noises. You often run into them at this trailhead or just inside the woods at the start of the hike.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Pool Plan - Background on our swimming pool repairs

Uncle D tells us he's had to come back over for more pool measurements and confirmations while the new liner is being fabricated. This reminded me that I should post on the current condition of the pool while we are waiting for repair materials.

I was searching through some of the cabin documentation to make sense of all the projects we've already gone through out there and came across the original realtor photos of the place.

Here is one of the pool, before Britt and Lori undertook to repair it. I'd estimate that the photo was taken last March as they prepared to put the house on the market - despite the condition shown here, the do-it-yourself approach to fixing that pool was a disaster.

Here is a more recent picture of the pool as it is today, not quite the same view but giving an idea of its current appearance. While the "now" photo looks like an overall improvement, we've learned that so many mistakes were made during the attempt to repair the pool, that we seriously considered filling it in.

Among the errors: draining the pool and sandblasting the plaster finish. This single activity was the most damaging. Since the pool was hand built - it is a concrete masonry box, basically, with plaster covering the concrete masonry units (CMUs) - the effect of this activities was to cause the plaster to pull away from the CMU walls, embedding cracks in them so that the pool no longer holds water. The plaster skin is like the shell on a hard boiled egg after you roll it on a table now.

Our diagnositc continues. After the sandblasting, a layer of latex UGL was painted on - this is a hydrolic paint that we use in the basement on foundation walls - some roof patch (leftover from an ill-fated, do-it-yourself attempt to repair the roof), and a layer of waterproof roof paint over that.

Each of the steps above, from the first wrong one of sandblasting, only made the situation worse. The first estimate we had for repairs involved chipping away the old plaster and replacing it with new - an idea that was just too expensive to contemplate. A second person we contacted wouldn't even consider working on a pool built in this manner.

Finally, there's Uncle D, who recently opened the store in Luray...he proposed a liner solution that has really made a repair and renovation economically possible. We have a couple of small preparatory actions to get done - pouring a footer for the pool equipment and getting new power out there to run it, but all said, the job is going to come in for significantly less than the first estimate.

We really were that close to filling it in.

Monday, June 9, 2008

NJ Road Trip - Final

A final post on the weekend road trip and then back to the Hawksbill Cabin.

We certainly got our fill of NJ activities during the trip – great visits with relatives, the little hike along the trout stream, a drive down to Long Branch (exit 105), a hot dog on the shore, etc. But one of the treats was a trip to Alstede Farm in Chester (www.alstedefarms.com).

Upon first getting out of the car I saw this hay mountain – over the last month the hay harvest has been on in the Luray and Stanley area, a bountiful year it seems to me, but I never saw anyone make a mountain like this one. So I had to climb and take a photo across the fields, here looking over at their peach orchard.

It just happened to be strawberry festival – so we picked up one of these pecks (if it is a quart, my bad). There were lots of other products here, including gourmet firewood, nursery raised plants, etc. And also a little heard of miniature goats, about five of them, including a tiny kid. You could even catch a hayride to a pick-your-own strawberry field.

Makes me look forward to the festivals in Luray and New Market coming up in August and September.

NJ Road Trip part 2

Just a quick wrap on the write up on NJ trout streams - here's a photo of Mary and Larry looking out at some of the pools in the river we visited and hiked. Since we were taking our walk in the afternoon, after 3pm, the sun had started to descend in the sky, and some of the trout were beginning to rise in front of rocks in the stream.

We saw a couple get into a little skirmish for a prime spot, and the river started to come alive in general. Alas the limitations of the motocam - the zooms of the fish did not come out, nor did the photo of the lounging snake, perched on a rock in the river. (Sorry, but a wiki search has not revealed the species of the uniquely colored, reddish brown snake...)

Also, a treat - one of Larry's paintings. He is a landscape painter whose work has focused on the Cape Cod area for a few years. He was putting his summer trip to the Cape together and showed us the canvases that will be on display in the galleries this summer. The road trip up will take place this week - besides the drive and load in and out of paintings, there is a significant surfing stop (he is a long time surfer, having started in the late 60's and early 70's down on the shore - Long Branch area, which is close by Asbury Park for Springsteen fans.
Here is a bio with some additional paintings: http://www.kendallartgallery.com/bio-szycher.htm

I have one more post about the road trip, will add it later in the week.