Ramble On

Friday, October 31, 2008

Scary Halloween Clowns

If you've gotta problem with scary clowns, don't follow the link.


Happy Halloween!

Halloween Cow

Well, she's not very scary, but I thought I would post her anyway in observance of Halloween.

She's one of the neighbor's cows, and grazes in a small herd with a couple of goats and a donkey. They had two Fall calves last month, but the little ones are never close enough to the fence for a photo.

She wasn't very happy posing for this, obviously.

Some Fall Color

Here is a photo from down on the road looking up into the yard - the trees at Hawksbill Cabin have been changing colors, although the rain last weekend knocked down the brightest ones.
We'll have another look this weekend to check on the foilage.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Feeder Birds

With the change of season, I changed the feeders we keep around the place. I posted about the hummingbird feeder a couple of weeks back – with the hummingbirds apparently gone I am putting up a couple of seed feeders for the other birds. Also a note to Howard about the migrating hummingbirds - I'll keep that in mind for next year.

This year, we’ll have two hanging seed feeders, one in the maple tree and the other in the side yard on the old post mount that Brit and Lori left behind. These photos of the post mounted feeder is taken from inside the house.

The hawks have matured and moved on, although I think I hear a call here and there, and I sometimes catch site of what I think is one of them crashing through the woods on the hunt. The experts say that it is likely that they are programmed on our hollow and will come back over the years, although they could over winter elsewhere.

The new feeder locations have a few trees nearby, so there is shelter for the little birds when they come to feed. Last winter, we had nuthatches, chickadees, sparrows, and juncos in a mixed winter flock that would move through in a group. That was pretty fun to watch, sitting out on the brick terrace with a cup of coffee.

Question for the class - this bird on the feeder - is it a nuthatch or a titmouse? It has a crest which it folds back when feeding; although there are barely visible reddish patches under the wings.
I'll keep an eye out and try to post some of our other visitors this winter.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Special: Barack in H-burg, from Valley Observer

The link below will take you to Evan Dyson's blog, with a link to photos of the Barack campaign stop in H-burg on Wednesday.


Evan and a number of others are part of the valley blogging community that is aggregated on hbblogs.com -

Home Brewer's Results

While we were on our Sunday walk, our neighbor Dan drove by on the way back from the store. I'd heard that he had harvested the hops he started in the Spring, and was curious about the results. I certainly never intended this but he invited me over for a sample!!! Furthest thing from my mind.

We got there after some chores, and a rare thing, a little work I had brought with me. We took a walk up the hill to Sally and Dan's and were greeted by the labs, including Mocha, who is the social leader of the pack, and had a seat out on their patio.

We also took a walk around the property, since they have a couple of acres. Here is a photo of the hop vines now, at the end of season. They are organically grown, and Dan says he got 6 ounces from this first try - he uses about 2 oz. per batch. Also, he had just found this speartip in the garden near the hops that day.

We chatted about the craft of home brewing (I am an enthusiast but have never actually tried it - and I have always fantasized about growing craft hops on a small plot of land). Dan started this craft when they lived in Alaska. He described the process he used for drying the hops and storing them, and how, if he can add six more rhizomes and scale up the climbing poles, he can easily increase output, trading it for the other ingredients.

In the photo above, I included a little bit of the details from his brewing journal. He calls this effort the Beaver Run Brewery...and the prize of the day, finally in this last photo, was the sample of the latest output "Flat Tail Ale."

For my part, the sample was well worth the effort of walking over (a couple of hundred yards, for goodness sakes!) there for a visit. A last note, here is a permalink to the earlier post on Dan's Hop Garden.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Our Three Mountains

On Sunday, with the rain clearing and one of those beautifully clear Fall days on tap, Mary and I took a little walk (.4 miles or so down the road, one way) to have a look at our three mountains: Stoneyman, Hawksbill, and Big Meadow frame the view at the “T” intersection. Here they are in north to south order as listed.

We’d hoped to be able to see more fall color, but the phone cam doesn’t pick up that kind of detail. But here and there you can see bright fall colors peeking out from the hillsides.

As we turned to head back, by surprise, I caught sight of Kennedy Peak, which is in the Massanutten ridge. I hadn’t noticed that these mountains are nearly in view from the neighborhood before.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Walnuts and the Beaver Dam

Saturday was a very rainy day, and when the weather finally broke, we could see that the little beaver pond across the road had grown. It is quite a little water feature over there - it has spread to cover much of the hollow along some of the branches of the stream.

Some neighbors tell me that beaver dams come and go back there, but this is the closest to the road that we've had. Inevitably, we get a tropical storm one summer that washes the dam out, and all the debris blocks the culvert. Then the stream runs out of its banks and washes the road out...at least, they say, the state is quick to get in there and fix it, never more than four or five days, anyway.

When Mary and I took a walk down there to take a look at the pond, we noticed these walnuts on the road. There are actually a half dozen trees around the neighborhood. These nuts are lying all over the place.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Get on out there and vote dammit!

A short post today. Reminding my US readers that this is an important election and that you need to cast your vote, no matter which way you're leaning this time.

Mary and I, living in Alexandria as we do, are in the part of the state that was recently referred to as the "not real Virginia" or some nonsense like that...and we voted yesterday. I can't speak for her, but for my part, there was another straight ticket choice put in the bank for hope and change.

That comment about "real Virginia" - and some of the others that are making the rounds recently - really isn't what our country is all about.

That is what the toxic environment of the last 8 years has left us with - a legacy of division that this election can go a long way to fix.

Get on out there and vote. Your voice needs to be heard on the important issues facing us in the times ahead.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Weekday Errands in Luray

I had to run some errands in Luray a couple of weeks ago, and my friend Chris joined me for the day. I know all the neighbors and friends in town had to work, but it was fun to check in on some of them and I appreciated having the chance to say hi.

We decided to head over to the Brookside for breakfast. I know I have posted about the place before, but I’ve been thinking about the little stream behind them for a time. It’s called Pass Run, and it comes down out of the Thornton Gap running west across Page County before it empties into the South Fork. Here is a photo of the stream as it runs behind the little cabins there – including one of the cabin’s decks that overlooks the stream.

Some others here – the owners keep a pair of peacocks in a cage near the stream and parking lot, one of the front of the restaurant, and then one looking at the motor court with the cabins behind. When I took that last one, I suddenly realized that the leaves are really beginning to change around here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

On-line Hiking Guides

From time to time when I post about hikes in the Shenandoah Valley, I will reference the Heatwole on-line guide. The ajheatwole guide has been particularly useful to me, as I used it during 2005 to identify SNP hikes that could help prepare Chris and me for our Half Dome climb.

I recently noticed that it hadn't been updated in a while, so I wrote an email to the address on that site. Here is the response I received from Tony there:
"The publisher of the Guide, the Shenandoah National Park Association, stopped updating the Guide 6 or 7 years ago. They decided to incorporate, with my gladly-given permission, material from the Guide in an updated Guide to Shenandoah National Park. That project was supposed to be completed in the spring of 2006, so clearly they’re behind schedule or have run into obstacles. Many things have changed in the past 10 years that need to be included in any new guide. I understand that, among other things, new information about the formation of the park and relocation of the previous residents has come to light. So, I’m anxiously awaiting the *new* guide."
Among the other guides I use are "Best Easy Day Hikes - Shenandoah National Park" and Hiking Upward, an on-line resource. But the detailed descriptions on the ajheatwole.com site are among the best.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

NC State Fair - the Midway

After the boys got back from running the gamut and made our rondezvous (on-time, no less!), I found out that they had indulged me after all, waiting until I could join them for a Ferris Wheel ride, and then a roller coaster with the youngest.

Today, a couple of highlight photos from the midway, including this one of a pottery exhibition that I discovered by accident. For those not in the know, there is a strong NC pottery tradition in a central town known as Jugtown, where they specialize in a salt glaze that produces distinctive and utilitarian objects. For the record, the items in this exhibit were mass produced and not good matches to my tastes.

So we went of for our Ferris Wheel ride - the temps had gotten down into the high 40's by this time so it was quite cold on the ride, but we had a great time anyway. And the roller coaster was a blast, I'm glad to know there is still one person out there who will ride one with me!

As we began to make our way home, just by chance we caught the fireworks going off. I didn't realize I had taken such an arty shot, with young romance blooming at the fair...but you know me, I aim to please.

Monday, October 20, 2008

NC State Fair - a break from errands

This weekend I took the nephews with me for an errand in Raleigh, where they helped their grandma move into a new apartment. As a treat, we made a stop at the NC State Fair in Raleigh, where the boys got to run the midway with their cousin, who was also in town, up from Pinehurst.

I gave them their "running money" and set them loose, with a scheduled rondezvous at 9pm. Off they went, playing the games (with my warning not to get tricked into spending too much time at any one booth) - when they got back they even reported that they had stopped for gyros at one of the booths. As reported by the youngest, "That was the best 7 bucks we spent!"

Meanwhile, my mother and I made the rounds of the agricultural exhibits, including a 4H cow show, honey producers and pumpkins - all shown here. The largest pumpkin we saw was 612 pounds. Grandma was wearing her Obama shirt and the attendant with the pumpkins struck up a conversation, which was enlightening about the down ballot races there in NC.

Here are the apple and apple crafts displays, and a little calf from the calving displays. Tomorrow I will post some midway photos from the fair.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Virginia Wineries Rate Coverage

I was browsing MSNBC recently and came across this article, which suggested a Fall outing to the Virginia wineries:

Top 10 fun fall foliage adventures
Alternative leaf-peeping adventures offer a new perspective on autumn

As the foliage of over 15-million acres turns brilliant shades of reds, golds, and browns, the entire state of Virginia celebrates a month-long wine festival that would make Bacchus proud. October 2008 marks the 20th anniversary of Virginia Wine Month, with some 30 wineries falling within the scenic Shenandoah Valley area. The list of possible activities is endless, but highlights include attending a blues festival, overnighting at a winery, enrolling in food-and-wine camp, or popping open some bubbly from a hot-air balloon.

Some of this may be a stretch as far as activities in our area go, but for my part, the vineyards in Linden (Linden and Naked Mountain Vineyards) and in Mauertown (North Mountain Vineyards) are well worth the visit. The wines are up and coming and the countryside is as good as anywhere in this great land of ours. They make for a very pleasant time.

Here is a link to the source of the MSNBC material, which came from a Virginia trade association:

Friday, October 17, 2008

Fall Flowers - Mums

Here are a couple of photos of the mums on display at the Heritage Festival last weekend. I remember how fast these were selling last year - and they certainly held their own this year as well.

Meanwhile, Mary has picked up quite a few from the Luray Farmers' Market - we have them planted out at the cabin as well as back home in Alexandria. We're going to miss them this weekend, but hopefully the ones at the cabin will be in full bloom the next time we are out.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hummingbirds are Gone

During my vacation in September, I succumbed at Wal-Mart to purchasing a hummingbird feeder and the syrup mix. I figured it was pretty late in the year for this, but I was surprised to learn that we had several of them around.

We’d had a female ruby-throated hummingbird and an immature bird that frequented the yard all summer, checking out the hostas and bee balm, but I never saw the male.

They actually came around enough during September that I had to refill the feeder, but now, it seems like with the cold, they’ve already started the migration. I haven’t seen them in a couple of weeks. It’s hard to believe, but these little birds will fly south to the Gulf of Mexico, or even further, to the Tropics, to spend their winters.

Mantises Again

Another highlight of the weekend was the fact that we saw a lot of praying mantises doing their thing. We captured a good share of the life-cycle, I betcha.

A couple of weeks ago I posted this photo of one on our window...unfortunately I found this one dead out on the brick terrace last week.
However, this one was there at the same time, moving along the railing. Earlier I had seen it clinging to the house, hanging upside down; I thought the pose looked like it may have been depositing eggs, so we'll see.

Also, when we went to Anthony's 12 for lunch on Saturday, there was a small one, about 2 inches long, in the restaurant. I convinced one of the nephews to rescue it and put it outside.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Busy Weekend

With my sister and the kids out last weekend, it turns out we were able to string together a wide range of activities. Now that I have it captured, I think it rivals a visit to DC:

  • arrrival at the ranch
  • lunch (pizza) at Anthony's 12
  • Heritage Festival
  • regroup at the cabin
  • Luray Haunted House

  • overnights at the cabin and the ranch
  • checking out the near full moon through our new telescope
  • breakfast trail ride
  • bird feeder run and Newport Rapids
  • Uncle Jim's wood splitting demo, walk in the woods, and pool skimming exhibition
  • Stoneyman hike
  • lunch at Brookside
  • visit to Valley Star Farm (corn maze a big hit, and the goats continue to amuse)

I am exhausted just making the list!

Here are some highlight photos of everyone engaged in many of these activities.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Heritage Fest 2008 - Some Highlights

Last weekend was the Page County Heritage Fest - a crafts fair that is held in Luray each October. This year my sister Nancy and the kids visited us as we took in the sites. More on their visit in the next few days, but for now here are some highlights of the fest.

When you first enter the fairgrounds, you are greated by a display of antique tractors. Most are in working condition although they aren't used for farming any more, since they are kept as hobbies and collectors' items.

This McCormick was actually for sale - asking $6,000; and the Allis-Chalmers above is one of many that was on display. In fact, there is a well-known A-C collector in Luray, who has restored dozens of these vehicles over the last 30 years or so.

In August, an auction was held and the fellow sold many of his restorations, maybe as many as 30, so there are a lot of these pristine tractors showing up around the Valley. Highlights of that sale included one of two remaining A-C road graders...only six were ever made.

Quite a few clubs and associations use the fair for fund raising. Some do raffles, some actually demonstrate their crafts and sell what they make during the fest. There were booths for baking, sewing and quilting, spinning, and heritage writing. Here are two photos of the 4-H apple butter booth (Mary picked up a couple of pint jars as a special request...you know who you are).

Finally, we spent some time in the performance hall watching some local acts. After a blues show, this group of cloggers from the east side of the mountains came on. They boast a membership from ages 3 to 60+ - the group in this photo includes the oldest and youngest members!

There are a lot of photos of the fest in the October 2007 entries - check the index at the right if you are interested.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Down on the Ranch

We’ve had the county fair already, but it seems like the Page County Heritage Festival is when the leaves change and the Fall colors start showing up. This year, looks like we’ll have an extra good time as my sister Nancy and her kids will be joining us out here in the country.

They’ve booked a room in Stanley at the River's Bend Ranch near the river, so we’ll get a chance to check that out. On Sunday they have a horseback ride scheduled and Mary will join them, while my oldest nephew and I will find something else to do – maybe a walk along the river there or a short drive over to Newport to check out the boat landing and rapids.

I’m writing from the brick terrace on Saturday morning, waiting for them to get into town. Looks like they’ve gotten lucky with the weather, we’re going to have a beautiful day out here.

Shortly after I wrote this post, we got the word that everybody was settling in at the River’s Bend Ranch, which is just along US 340 outside of Stanley. The photos here are of the property. One of them, showing the 3-story building off across a field, is “The Bunkhouse” where Nancy and my niece stayed.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


Last Sunday, I was sitting on the brick terrace, getting ready to do a little proposal writing work for a Monday deadline. It was about that time of day when the deer come up, and right on time, they arrived.

I had sent a text message to my friend Yiming in Denver, since I knew he'd be watching the Dodgers-Cubs game and could let me know if the Dodgers had won. They did and advanced to the LCS.

He then sent a couple of follow-up messages: what beer they were serving at the Rock Bottom he goes to, and the Redskins-Eagles score.

So I sent this photo back at him in a message entitled "What's Happenin' Now!"

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fall Flowers

Long ago – back in the Spring, I planted a small patch of daisies, zinnias and cosmos near the brick terrace. I marked off the little patch to protect it from footsteps during the terrace and pool work, but it seemed like forever until I got a few little sprouts. Now here there are, still blooming in October after the first flowers showed up in late August…so I am calling them Fall flowers – the first entry on this topic of the year!

Mary picked up some mums and daisies this at the Luray Farmers’ Market – here are the daisies, taking the place of my seedlings that never showed. As the mums come into color, in Stanley and in Alexandria, I’ll put up some photos.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Choppin' Wood

We had a couple of pines that blew down over the winter. I had them cut into firewood-length logs and put them behind the garage to season, hoping to get some exercise making firewood and then passing them along to the neighbors and friends for camp wood.

My friend Chris in particular is interested in using some of it for his camping trips into the GW National Forest, so he came out in early September to do some chopping. We were having temps in the 90’s back then, so after a half hour or so, he retired to the pool.

Now, as the photo above shows, I’ve got all the necessary equipment for this endeavor, and with the cooler weather, I set out to do some work chopping on Sunday. Here are the tools, including my new star wedge in the center. I am a city boy and folks from out here usually come into town in the Fall with a truckload of firewood that they’ll sell door to door. So, let’s just say, I had a grand thought on the process, and yes, maybe the number of tools here is redundant and excessive.

I got started on the chopping at about 1 pm, and by 1:20 or so, I’d split two of the logs into quarters. The star wedge made it easier than I’d expected, and maybe I got the job done with a few less poundings given my six-five, 280 pound bulk putting the pressure on. But 20 minutes was all I could take – I thought I was gonna spontaneously combust out there.

Time for a new plan: I’ll keep working it, maybe breaking down two logs a day whenever we are out. And when I get to where I can handle two, I’ll move up to three.

The wood still has some seasoning to do. I’ve got time.