Ramble On

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Summer Flowers - Curly Willow

Actually this entry is about a tree...this photo is one of a curly willow in the backyard in Alexandria. The story here is that this tree has been grown from a branch, really no more than a twig, that was part of the decoration in a flower arrangement we received a few years ago. From that, we have a tree of nearly ten feet in five or six years.

These trees have been planted recently at the Hains Point Golf Course in DC, and at a neighboring apartment complex in Alexandria, and they have all grown fast and succeeded in their environments.

My plan is to start a few cuttings of this and plant them near the stream at Beaver Run, which runs through one of our lots and cuts across in front of us at the bottom of the hill. This stream collects a lot of water from the neighboring hills and eventually feeds Hawksbill Creek, the Shenandoah, the Potomac, and ultimately Chesapeake Bay. I want to put a couple of good riparian plants in there to help protect the watershed.

There's more info on the watershed topic at http://www.purewaterforum.org/?p=93 -

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Pool 'Bot Naming Poll - Runoff

Thanks to everyone who voted for our Pool 'bot's new name. Now it is time for a runoff vote on the top three vote getters...Dude, Robo Pool Cop, and Wallie. Please vote, this time you can only vote for one. The poll is over there ----> in the right hand column.

Friday, August 29, 2008

World Wide Web

While the blog is approaching the one year anniversary of its start, it's really been an interesting learning experience. Besides the learning part of it, the discipline of writing 200 or more words in the morning before work for now almost 200 entries has been fun. And last month, I added some statistics tools so that I could have a look at what kind of traffic this boring old thing attracts...really, it's an honor that people from all over the world are reading.

The tools are a Site Meter and Cluster Map, and they are both over in the right hand column, at the bottom. The Site Meter keeps the traffic count on a continuous basis, but the Map will accumulate location hits on a monthly basis, and start over. But here is a snapshot of the traffic from Site Meter for August: first graph is by continent share, second by country. There were visitors from all continents except Antarctica (the data granularity doesn't indicate this, so I verified on the Cluster Map - there were visitors from South America and Australia)...and there is a wide range of countries represented.

In the words of World Party, from the Goodbye, Jumbo CD - "Thank you world."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Not a political post...

We abstain from political commentary here on the Hawksbill Cabin blog, but media criticism is sometimes a topic. If you post a comment, be sure to steer clear of overtly political stuff.

Last night during the DNC Convention, a poignant film in honor of our veterans was shown. (Disclosure: I did some campaign events with the Virginia Veterans for Kerry in 2004.) My wife and I watch the Convention on PBS (second disclosure: we met as volunteers during the 1992 Clinton campaign) - I tire of the navel gazing on most of the cable coverage.

I think the film did a great job of staying away from political discourse, focusing instead on the sacrifice so many are making, and the fact that when they return from very challenging service they need help from us all to return to a normal, American life. The news stories that we continue to see about appalling conditions in medical facilities; about the need to be sure that medical care is there when needed, including the types of counseling they'll need; the support the families need when the troops are away (there is a remote Army base in Alaska, where the troops have served three Iraq tours in many cases, can you imagine the hardships these families face? And that is typical in the lower 48 as well)...this film was a call to action to pay attention to this issue and let's be sure to get it right.

Towards the end of the film, I did a quick cable check and found that it was being aired on PBS, CNN, MSNBC...but not Fox. Instead, Karl Rove and Bill O'Reilly were blathering about something. They clearly weren't supporting the troops last night, in any case. So, a rhetorical question...when they say "Fair and Balanced" what are they really talking about? How much air time these two blowhards take up?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Page County Fair 2008 Part 2 and Final

While we are still getting to know our neighbors and make friends out in the Valley, the Page County Fair (and the Heritage Festival in October, and the Festival of Spring in May) makes for a great occasion to celebrate a lifestyle that is really growing on us. This is the last of two blog entries on the Fair.

There is plenty of livestock to be seen, as I shared yesterday. This year, I don’t have any of the prize-winning bulls or calves, but later when we are at the Fairgrounds for the Heritage Festival, I’ll take some photos of the sponsor boards and the sales records for the 4H-ers that compete raising these animals.
Here are some llamas, which lately have been showing up at the farms in the valley. While some breeds are prized for their fur, for the most part they share the pastures with flocks of sheep, where they are good guard animals.
It is pretty striking to see one or two of these taller animals out across a field. But whenever we drive by one, I can’t resist quoting Napoleon Dynamite, “Lucy! Come and get some ham! You fat pig!” (Not to disparage pigs-please don’t take offense-love the pigs).

Local businesses also show their wares at the Fair, and our friends from Uncle D’s had told us about their plans to have a booth in Page County and in Shenandoah County – a busy late summer few weeks. Here they are at the booth. Their first year has been very good, and Mary and I can attest to how great their work is…I’m planning to spend a good part of next week enjoying our pool in fact.

As the summer wanes, their business will turn to pool services and closings, and hot tubs. We’ve been thinking about this as a possible addition to our situation at the cabin – I’d like a sauna or hot tub out there, and was thinking about the benefits of wood-burning ones versus the conventional ones. I’m still tossed up about it, and of course, Uncle D has some great models to choose from. But it’s not highest on our list of Fall projects – at least not yet.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Page County Fair 2008 - Part 1

While I stayed in Alexandria last weekend, Mary was out at the cabin to do some errands and relax. She got by the Page County Fair for some fun, and brought back photos of a couple of the things she did and saw. I’ll post them on these next two entries.

She took this one of a brightly-colored carnival ride while she was on the midway. Even though we don’t take in any of these amusements at the fair I always like to walk through the midway…brings back some pretty good memories. The ones that come to mind first today are of Oktoberfest in Munich – I went down there twice from Berlin on two separate 3-day trips in 1985. One word: Lowenbrau! Four words: Triple-loop roller coaster! Alas, that was a long time ago.

The big deal at the Page County Fair for me is to see the FFA and 4-H projects, where the kids have taken on raising livestock. Here are photos of some sheep and pigs (pigs are good luck, hopefully these will bring some for the readers).

Last photo, in the plants projects hall, here are some photos of hay bales – this is a pretty interesting exhibition because it includes other types of produce contests, such as beans, cucumbers, and the like.

On a cross-country trip in 2006 I stopped in at the County Fair at Goodland, Kansas. I spent most of that visit in the vegetable hall (when I wasn't marvelling at the Kansas landscape! I swear I could see Ft. Worth from there!)

Another feature of the Page County Fair is all of the sponsored booths. Last year we met up with the Page County Democratic Party out there, and met a fellow with the same name as me who was running for the county commission. I sure wish I could have made it out.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Weekend not traveling

I couldn't get out to the cabin this weekend due to some work deadlines. It was County Fair weekend and I was really looking forward to it.

Fortunately, Mary did manage to go, and she taken some photos that I can use this week - some updates on small projects, namely the butterfly chairs from yesterday and the tree clearing; and also several from her visit to the fair on Friday night.

The trees are downed now, including the weed tree, some of the ivy-overgrown dogwoods, and the wild cherry and magnolias that hung over the new steps. Some overgrown branches from the big pine were taken down as well, shown in one of the photos here.

Seems that we have between two and four big pines we need to take down soon, within the year. At least two have beetle damage and are dying, and another pair hang dangerously over or near the house. Losing these four will still leave us about 8 large pines in the grove, although we have a couple of saplings coming up and clearing the canopy will set these off on a growth spurt.

It can still be called Hawksbill Pines up there on the hill.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Butterfly Chairs

Last winter when we took a walk in the woods next to the pool and behind the house, we found three buterfly chair frames. Earlier I showed Mary's restoration in progress, as she sanded, primed and painted the frames. We found a place on-line where the seat covers were on sale, and picked up three blue ones.
Here they are, proudly on display after their restoration. They are actually going to spend most of their summers down by the pool.
In taking a second look at these, I have to make a note of how great that newly re-laid brick terrace looks! This is the basketweave pattern; and the random discolorations in the brick give it great character.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

There is no try

Last month when I was on the flight to LA, I encountered some fun charts in the August edition of Wired magazine - really parodies of the "art"...my favorite was this one. There are more at the GraphJam site.

Friday, August 22, 2008

David Byrne/Brian Eno New Album

Taking a break from my typical posts to celebrate a new album by David Byrne and Brian Eno. A tour is to follow...I've been trying to get some of my Berlin alum friends to go to Nashville or Atlanta for a show - nothing doing, even though the Nashville show is at the Ryman. They've released a first song on the internet; the post below is cut-and-paste from David's blog. There is also a link to it in the right column.

08.04.2008: 'Strange Overtones' Available
Posted: 2008-08-04 21:50:32 UTC
Today, a free track is available from the upcoming record that I did with Brian Eno. I’m hoping that folks will be pleasantly surprised at the direction we’ve taken and the final result. Since it’s only one song, it may give a skewed taste of the record, but many told me it’s their favorite track — I guess we’ll see.
I’m also wondering whether the web-curious will allow news of the album to spread more or less by itself. In the past, I might have undertaken all kinds of expensive marketing plans to prepare for a record release: there would be a teaser, live shows, posters, magazine ads, interviews, and advance CDs sent to writers and reviewers. We’ve done a few interviews, but that’s about it. It will be interesting to see if audiences find out about this song — and the record — without all those marketing techniques, and solely through Internet word-of-mouth.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Deer o' Plenty

Mary snapped this photo early Monday morning, at around 6:30 a.m. She said there were at least 6 deer in this group, although I only count five. The doe in the center, standing at the edge of the road, has twins every year, and the youngest pair is visible in this photo. Last year our carpenters told us that there was a six-point buck frequenting the hollow, but we haven't seen him yet this year, he may have been taken last season.

There are a couple of things that attract them to the yard - the hostas, especially, but right now, with the apples ripening, they just can't keep away.

Name our robot!

Take a moment to vote in the poll to name our pool robot - the poll is over there ---> in the right column! Thanks!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Riprap Trail at Shenandoah National Park - Final Post

As we finally turned on to the part of the trail that promised to lead us to a view and then the two rock formations – Calvary Rock and Chimney Rock, the heat was getting to us and Mary was feeling the after effects from a week of painting the cabin interior. We slowed our pace so that we could get to the Calvary Rock vista at least – she was a real trooper.

The first photo is of her at one of the talus fields on Rocks Mountain. At this point, there was still a climb and about 500 yards to go before we reached Calvary Rocks. There is another photo of the talus field below.

Below, there is a photo of Calvary Rocks. The rocks in this formation are made of white quartz, and the geologic history of them dates back 500 million years, apparently they are among the youngest rocks in the Park…a Google search of “Calvary Rocks Shenandoah” will take you to a very interesting history, not only of the quartz formations but of the whole ridge.

The next two photos are some of the scenery from Calvary Rocks, and one of me at the top there. The rocks are named because of pretty exceptional views northwest into the Shenandoah Valley area.

After reaching this viewpoint, we decided to turn back for the day, rather than going on to Chimney Rock. Other guides describe a number of other worthwhile features on the longer Riprap circuit hike, which we didn’t take. That hike is about 9.5 miles long, as it was, due to the detour we took at the beginning of this hike, we’d done about 4.5 miles on our route.

We are now going to be looking for some sturdier hiking boots for Mary; the pair she’s been using dates from a 2002 visit to Yosemite, where we first climbed the Mist Trail. She’s probably only 100 miles into them, but due to the time, and a couple of creeks crossings, I think they are worn out. We’ll keep you posted on the gear search.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Pool Robot Naming Poll Begins

As promised, the Pool 'bot naming poll is now posted over in the right column. There are instructions in the pool - "vote early and often" ...

SNP Riprap Hike - part 2

In addition to wanting to explore the Southern District of SNP, it was the reviews – like this one from Hiking Upward, and another from our Easy Day Hikes book – that led us to chose the Riprap Hike on Saturday: “Riprap Hollow is one of the best circuit hikes in the southern section of the Shenandoah National Park. The views from Chimney Rock, and along the ridge of Rocks Mountain, offer great vistas to the west and north. The spring fed stream in Cold Spring and Riprap Hollow is very scenic, and has a 50ft wide swimming hole fed by yet another mountain spring.”

While Hiking Upward outlines a 9.5-mile circuit hike, while we were after something more in the 3-mile range, which the out-and-back to Chimney Rock comprises. In any case, both the longer circuit and the out-and-back include a section of the Appalachian Trial (AT), which is where our outing began. The photos here are of some of the talismans - the signs hikers leave behind as they pass - we encountered on the trail, as well as a view of the path at one point.

In fact, we started out in the wrong direction on the AT…it makes a serpentine right at the Riprap Parking Lot, so we were disoriented and walked about a half mile before discovering our error. We encountered a number of people on this section of the trail – maybe ten in all, including one person off on a longer, multi-day hike. It is late in the year to be encountering thru-hikers, but he had the look of being on that kind of longer-term adventure.

…and he was wearing a compass around his neck, which was the same one I carry. I thought I might check it, after we saw him. Indeed, it informed us we were headed in the same direction. I don’t think Mary knows we could have ended up on a 10-mile hike yet…

So we got our bearings back, and turned in the correct direction, retracing our trail. Much of this area is in a wilderness zone; and for those who have encountered the AT, you know that trail is well-maintained. There was plenty of beautiful forest to enjoy, and periodically, we came across the fields of rip rap the trail is named after.

After passing the parking lot again, and seeing our compass-wearing hiker again, we kept going to the next checkpoint, where the Riprap trail turns off of the AT at about .4 miles to the North. We still encountered a number of hikers along the way, some with large packs, clearly on multi-day outings...to the south from this point, it is mostly back country to the Waynesboro Park entrance.

Tomorrow I will finish the Riprap Trail outing.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Saturday Hike: SNP's RipRap Trail

I'll be posting on this hike for the next several entries.

After the pool chores were done last Saturday, Mary and I decided to head out for a hike. This time, we selected a day hike in the SNP's Southern District, at milepost 90 - the RipRap Trail.
RipRap is the name of a type of geologic feature in the park, namely fields of small boulders, usually limestone, covered with lichen. They can make for treacherous footing, so boots are called for in these areas. The description of the trail promised a reward - besides travelling a short distance on the Appalachian Trail, the trail has a view point, and two rock formations worth a visit, Calvary Rock and Chimney Rock. Our circuit route was described as 3.5 miles with about 600 feet of elevation change.
We went into the Park at the Elkton entrance, which is at milepost 65 or so, so we had quite a long ride on Skyline Drive to get to the trailhead.

This part of the park is less crowded and more enjoyable than the Central District, probably attributable to the fact that Skyland and Big Meadow are there. But interestingly, there were more ranger patrols, who seemed to be manning speed traps; I guess that is a problem due to light traffic in this section of the park.

Near the trail head, we learned that there is a campground - Loft Mountain, and a very nice little wayside information center, store, gas station, and cafe - photos above and here. After a quick stop, we continued on the way to the trailhead, where we started our adventure for the day.

They've Got to Go

With our three summer 2008 projects nearly complete - the last one, the pool, is at 90% or so - we are looking at some final activities to complete the year. Last week, Mary spent some time indoors on the painting, and while she was out she found a guy who can come out and take down some trees.

The main target is this ailanthus - or as we called it when we lived in the city - weed tree. It is an ivasive species, native to Asia, that looks like sumac or black walnut. It is a fast grower and you see it a lot in city parks, but I've seen it in groves on the medians of I-66. There are several of them in the Hawksbill Pines neighborhood.

The tree is on the hillside between the pool and Beaver Creek below. Here is a photo of some of its offspring, which are destined to be bush-hogged out during the week. We are going to try and reclaim this bed, which is directly below the pool, with mountain laurels or something more native.

Other trees are coming down too. There is a cherry that overhangs the pool and has steadily been dropping leaves already...gone! There is also a poorly sited magnolia...unfortunately, it has to go too. The dead trees in the back around the garage - gone!

In a coming season, we'll probably bring this guy back to take down some of the dying pines, which are succombing to bark beetles.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Summer Flowers - Purple Cone Flowers and Black-eyed Susans

Here is a photo of a mixed planting in the cabin garden. Like just about all the plants there, these are legacies of the former owners – this year, we are mainly cataloging what’s there among the hostas and other plants, in order to get an idea of what grows well there and how we might improve things more to our liking.

Both of these plants – the purple cone flower and black-eyed Susan – thrive in the mid-Atlantic area, but I’ve seen them do better in sunlight that is more direct than what they are receiving in the garden. They are shaded by the tree canopy for the most part, except for two or three hours in the afternoon when they are getting direct sun. Then, they fall into the shadow of the apple tree, for the remainder of daylight.

Not much to report from a quick Wikipedia check on these…the cone flower is supposed to have medicinal qualities, preventing the common cold, but these are unverified. And of course, the black-eyed Susan is Maryland’s state flower. Another note from a recent hike, these were among the “wild plantings” that Mrs. Hoover wanted to have established around the Rapidan Camp up on the Shenandoah Ridge (I posted about a hike to this camp in July, check the index to the right for the postings).

One item of particular note in the Wikipedia stuff, though: Black-Eyed Susan is also the name of a cocktail which is the official drink of the Preakness horse race. The recipe: 2 parts Bourbon whiskey, 1 part citrus vodka, 3 parts sweet & sour mix, one part orange juice and garnished with orange and a cocktail cherry.
Now that’s worth a try next year.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Trip to the Hardware Store

It's interesting that a trip to the hardware store when we are out at the cabin is much more pleasant than one in Alexandria. Maybe that's because the trips for stuff related to projects on the 1929 Alexandria bungalow are mundane, deal with traffic, and often to crowded stores where the clerks rarely know much about the products.

In fact, I'd sworn off visits to the local Home Depot here. That chain redeemed itself somewhat with the excellent service we've received when we go on a "big shop" down to H-burg, but I still will not set foot in the two stores near here.

So it happened last Saturday that we needed to get some work gloves and cleaning equipment for the pool, so we decided to head into town to the Ace Hardware - we also go to the Page County Co-op and Southern States, both in Luray, from time to time.

It's a trip back in time when we go there. A small store that has a pretty comprehensive inventory. Samples, accompanied by price sheets. Pencils and pads to make notes and do calculations. Clerks that know where everything is. Very interesting stock and equipment - stuff that most "Northern Virginians" do not need or have never thought of...but now that we've seen it, we want one.

This Ace shares the property with Gilliam Lumber, which operates in Luray, Front Royal, and Manassas; here are some photos of the working lumber yard. Sometimes we also catch a glimpse of new signage passing through this yard on its way somewhere else - Chevy dealer signs, gas stations, and once a Sonic.

Chris was with me when we saw the Sonic sign back in April. To this day, he still asks me if I ever figured out where the Sonic was. I think it's in Manassas, not the Valley.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


In 2004 we had the big 17-year hatch year for cicadas. There are shoulder seasons for the bugs, and there are 17-year broods that hatch in alternate years.
So I wasn't altogether surprised to find this molt on our deck last weekend. We are keeping an eye out for more though - in any case it won't be as bad as it was in 2004 (or 1987, or 1970 - as it happens, I lived in the area for both of those previous hatches).

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Our Little Robot

Uncle D stopped by on Saturday to check in with us, and to begin a tutorial on our new set of chores related to the pool. There is a bunch of legacy equipment around, some of which can’t be used in the pool’s current configuration, with the liner now instead of bare concrete. We are still waiting on elements of the pool equipment but it is in working order now, and we swam on Saturday afternoon.

One pleasant surprise was our robot – the pool cleaner – which was in operating condition and fairly new. Daris said that people inevitably name them as they watch them go about their business cleaning the pool. We put ours to work immediately – here are two action photos.
I ran it for two hours and watched mesmerized. It's not supposed to, but the 'bot can climb the walls sometimes. I'll run it two to three hours a week during the Saturday pool chore time.

Daris said that people inevitably name their pool 'bots. I think there will be a poll soon – some names that have been suggested are:

· Dude
· Robo Pool Cop
· Decker
· Wallie
· Booger
· Traveller
· Jeep

Readers are encouraged to leave a comment with a suggested name. Mary and I will pick five and put them into a poll for ten days, then we’ll take the top three and re-poll for ten days.

Here is the robot at rest:

Monday, August 11, 2008

Battle of the Species - Snakes, in a Pool!

As we were doing work around the pool Saturday morning (there is a new summer ritual that needs to begin – more in a future post) I noticed some movement over by the gate. Chris, who was visiting this weekend, went over to check it out, and found a little ringneck snake, shown here.

Last summer, right about this time, we were conducting the home inspection visit to the cabin, and when we opened up the trap door for the pool equipment, down inside there I found a 12-inch long one of these. Maybe it was a parent to this one, which, at about 5 inches long, is probably only a week or two old. In one of the photos, Chris's new Suunto altimeter watch (I still want a Casio) is shown next to the snake for scale.
There is not much on Wikipedia on this species, I had to go to HerpNet to find more details. But it is a small constrictor type that is harmless to humans. Its main defense from humans is to try and get away – not at all like the black rat snake I battled in the past.

There are 12 subspecies in the US, ours was probably a Southern Ringneck. The species can range up to 30+ inches long, but so far the ones I’ve seen are much smaller. It is against the law in Iowa to harm or kill them – an interesting finding.

Its markings include the distinctive orange or yellow band behind its head (the one I saw last year had a band that was uneven in thickness, which is a rare variation among individuals); the underside is the same color as the band; the underside may be spotted with black; and the tail end is usually red – which is exposed when the snake feels threatened.

The front yard of the cabin probably makes for an ideal habitat for them, with rotting wood, and moist rich soils. They eat bugs, amphibians, and even small rodents.

After we took a closer look at it, we encouraged it to go back into the yard…in the future we’ll no doubt find a few dead snakes in the pool skimmer, but I wanted this beneficial one back out there hunting rodents.

Now we are five for five on snakes – all that I have encountered in the yard (and in the house!) are harmless varieties. Knock on wood!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

New Spot on the Terrace

Since the summer sun has gotten so strong, Gracie the inventive dog has gotten ever more creative at finding shady spots to hide from it. Here she's tucked herself in under the magnolia tree next to a pretty potted plant. Happy girl!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Limberlost, continued

If you check Wikipedia, the entry that comes up on Limberlost reveals information about a swamp in the Midwest. The story goes, that this area was named after a book about a forest by the wife of the developer responsible for the Skyland resort area in the Park. She purchased the evergreens that grew here in North Carolina and had them transplanted to this spot, finding inspiration in a book named Limberlost from the mid-1800’s.

The evergreens she planted are all dead now and many are down, but some are still standing, as shown in these pictures. Whenever I come here it reminds me of how the forest recovers – something will grow in to fill the vacant place. We see that in the yard at the cabin – it was a corn field, then a pine forest, and slowly, oaks are growing in after.

We also found this interesting rock formation on the trail, at the crossroads of Limberlost and White Oak Canyon trail. It reminds me of some of the formations in Joshua Tree, although the stone is different...the erosion is the same.

Mary and I finished the Limberlost trail and headed south on Skyline Drive to the Crescent Rock pull-off. We walked out to the namesake rock and took a look down into the Valley. Just to the left there you can see Nakedtop and Hawksbill Mountain, and to the right, the little hamlet of Ida, and Luray beyond. The mountains block Stanley from view, and our cabin is also hidden from this vantage point.

To complete our plan, we walked back to the parking lot and then to the Betty’s Rock trailhead. Although the trail follows Skyline Drive too closely for my taste, the forest it goes through is very scenic.

As we turned a bend in the trail…

Remember in yesterday’s post, I mentioned the kids we ran into on the Limberlost Trail? The kids asking about the bear?

Up ahead, about 15 yards from us, a momma bear turned to look back at us while her two cubs scampered away. It took an astonished second or two to be sure of what we were looking at – three bears, just about face to face. I said to Mary, “Let’s just turn around and go back, we can come back another day for the view.”

About 10 feet into the walk back, I thought about going back for a photo. That would have tested an old saying I’ve become fond of, from The Big Lebowski: “Sometimes you eat the b’ar, and sometimes he eats you.” But then I thought better of it. I just didn't know what day it was.

Lots of bear sightings this year, so I am sure I will have a safer look somewhere down the line. And when I do get a phone cam shot, I’ll be sure to post it.

Summer Flowers: We Got Apples

The apple tree continues to nurture its fruit at the Hawksbill Cabin. We'd been told that the tree would bear fruit and that we'd likely see a lot of deer as a result...I thought the apples would stay small and fall victim to insects. That's not the case, as of last weekend we still had loads clinging to the branches, but some were falling off with shades of pink blushing their normally green skin.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Sunday Walk: SNP's Limberlost Trail

After spending the day Saturday first waiting for the rain to stop and second standing by to make sure that the folks working on the pool had everything they needed, on Sunday Mary and I decided to pack a picnic lunch and take a ride up to SNP and take a little walk in the woods. We checked out the day hikes book – since we were getting a late start we picked Limberlost, which is an easy 1.5 mile hike between Skyland and Big Meadow. We also decided that if time permitted we would check out the views from Crescent Rock and Betty’s Rock, which are easily accessible from a pull-off on Skyline Drive.

Here is a description of the Limberlost Trail, taken from the National Park Service website:
“Limberlost Trail (milepost 43), is ADA accessible, with a crushed green walkway on a gentle grade. This circuit hike of 1.3 miles is for people of all ages. The trail passes through forest and a stand of mountain laurel - stunningly beautiful when it blooms in June. The forest is ever-changing! Once tall hemlocks and oaks shaded this trail, but most have been killed by insect invaders: the wooly adelgid and the gypsy moth. Recent storms have felled many of the dead trees. Today, notice what lives, including birches, maples, white pines. Look for wildflowers, from the bluets and violets of April to the yarrow, yellow hawkweed, and wild columbine of summer; discover ferns and mushrooms; listen for birds. And contemplate the resilience of nature.”

We made a quick stop to visit the folks at Evergreen Outfitters, where Sunday was a busy scene. After a nice chat with Howard, we picked up some “bloks” – Wild Cherry flavor – and headed up to the Park.

We arrived at the trailhead to find, as expected on a Sunday, the Park was full of visitors and this accessible hike was attracting large groups. After our picnic in the car, Mary and I decided to start out going in the opposite direction from most of these groups.

The first view above, of the trail, shows how well tended this trail is. There are benches for stopping and enjoying the scenery – it is a beautiful patch of forest, after all – and gathering places for ranger talks. In particular Mary and I like the fern glades that you come across here and there. We’d like to get the cabin’s front yard planted with these.

We crossed a small bridge, spotting black eyed Susans and bee balm down in the ravine. Then, about halfway through our walk in the woods, we encountered a bunch of kids coming towards us. “Did you see any bears?” they shouted. “No bears today, just chipmunks and bunnies, kids” was my reply. They went shouting back to their parents the news of wildlife on the trail ahead.

When the parents got close I asked if there had been news of bears today. The kids answered, “Yeah! A guy just told us he saw a bear today!” This enthusiastic response was loud enough so that we had no worries…if the bear was hungry and aggressive, it would likely take the kid, unless the shouting scared it off.

We kept walking after that, hearing the kids talk about the chipmunks behind us.

More on the Limberlost walk in the woods tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Bobby Flay I'm Not

It has become a tradition that Saturday night is grilling night at the cabin. Last weekend, I grilled a flank steak (apologies in advance to our vegetarian readers). Starting around 7pm, we get the charcoal ready, open a bottle of wine (almost always a red, although it's getting to the time of year where I might enjoy a rose' some night when I do pork) or beer (usually LongHammer IPA since that's what they have at the Food Lion) and prepare to cook out on the brick terrace.

We enjoy a late supper, usually around 8:30 or so, sometimes inside, but also sometimes outside on a little cafe table we set up on the brick terrace.

This weekend I used a beer marinade that I've improvised over the last 10 years after briefly noting it in a cook book somewhere. This time, it was comprised of a tablespoon of olive oil, some crushed garlic, chopped onion, a bottle of hefeweizen, and a little sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. In this case the meat was in the marinade for four hours.

We also had some yellow summer squash and tomatoes, given to us by our Alexandria neighbors Herb and Odessa (mentioned in last Friday's crape myrtle entry), so I grilled up a little dish of squash, tomatoes and onions. Herb keeps a garden on their double lot over on Linden Street, and he produces enough that he should join a farmers' market somewhere.

Also last week at the Clarendon market in Arlington, I picked up a loaf of cinammon raisin bread, which is visible next to the marinading meat above. Mary made us a nice Sunday breakfast with that - French toast, or Freedom toast for those of you so inclined, with a side dish of peaches and bananas.

Fortified us for the little walk in the woods we'd take later.