Ramble On

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Summer Flowers Preview

Here's a quick follow-up to the Spring Flowers posts. One of the pleasant surprises about the cabin garden was the bee balm flowers, which were blooming when we first took a look at the place. Shown in the photo here from last summer, they were, and are quite exotic to me, a big attraction.

They are a showy flower and I would like to spread them into the front of the yard, so this year, we're watching how they grow. Here they are, already started in a vigorous patch, which I have fed with some Peter's fertilizer.

The flowers are popular with bees, of course, but they also attract humming birds, which we will have around the yard all summer. I have seen these plants in the wild along streambeds up in the Park. Also, they are used in several folk remedies - especially as a tea, but we haven't tried that yet.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

'09 Spring Flowers - update

A quick post today. The rain last week and heat has really brought out the hostas - here's a before and after set of photos from over the last couple of weekends.
We put this little pagoda up under the apple tree about a month ago, on bare ground. Now it is surrounded by vigorous hostas - they will spread out a lot more by summer. The little pagoda will look just great in that setting.

Here's is the photo from two weeks ago. A big difference!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Spring Flowers 2009

Even with the heat this last week - temps have been as high as the 90's - the spring flower show is on at the cabin. Here are a few photos of some of my favorites.

First, the lilac bush near the garage. Last year I mistakenly cut this back hard in the spring, so it is still making a comeback. At least we have some fragrant sprigs this year. This plant is also a vigorous volunteer producer, so we have some transplantable sprouts if anyone is interested.
Second, these little blue bells. I don't think they are actually Virginia Blue Bells, which I would like to start on the property, just some little bulb flowers that come after the tulips and daffodils, and before the irises.
Speaking of irises, they are already blooming in Alexandria, and a number of them are ready to pop out at the cabin.

Finally, the star of the show - the azaeleas. Of course, the carpenter bees like these a lot, as they flower coincidentally with the arrival of the bees. But they are really beautiful. I hope the sun doesn't finish the flowers off too early, Mary hasn't seen them yet.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Battle of the Species: More on Carpenter Bees

I had a question from a reader about the Carpenter Bee Chambers I bought last year – so I wanted to add some information about them.

I am sparing the gory details of all the critters that were trapped in the chambers – I had flush mounted and soffit mounted units installed. Lots of smaller bees, and a few spiders, but no carpenter bees.The jury is still out for me on the chambers. I still think they are a good idea, but I am going to write to the guys at Carpenter Bee Chamber about what I experienced. They are good about responding.

Here's what I think happened in my case - 1) I treated the cabin with an "industrial" pesticide called Tempo (see this morning’s post). This is normally not something I would do, but given the extensive termite damage we'd repaired I couldn't stand the thought, especially after seeing the damage to our other buildings. I installed the chambers after this, so maybe it reduced the effectiveness of them.2) Because our outside woodwork is stained a dark brown color, I also stained the chambers so that they wouldn't stand out as much, because last year's "hot spots" were all near the front door.

Again, the chamber guys advised against this. After I've heard back from the chamber guys, I'll post their answer on the blog. I hate carpenter bees, and I will do whatever is necessary to reduce their numbers and get rid of them from my cabin.

Still, they are welcome to live elsewhere on the property, just not in or on the main house. This year seems to be a big bee year already. I don’t remember it being this bad last year.

A final note, for anyone who is already stepping up into the battle - if you are already seeing damage, you've got to kill those bees before they reproduce. The offspring are programmed to come back from where they hatched...there will just be more next year.Did I mention I hate them?

Battle of the Species (Carpenter Bees): 2009 - the first encounter

This weekend, Mary had a girls' nite out, so I headed out to the cabin to do my annual carpenter bees battle. To all of my Facebook friends, thanks for your kind words of encouragement!
Also, by the way, what I am about to outline here is not a green or sustainable approach. I have had to compromise on this for this item because of my past experience with wood damaging insects at the cabin. Long time readers will know about the extensive termite damage we had to repair (check the label "big projects" for details) - so I am not about to let the carpenter bees get out of hand.
Before I get into the details about what I did this year, here is a photo of me in the protective gear...rubber gloves, breathing mask, plastic eye goggles (sunglasses are under these), hat, and long pants. It was too ridiculously hot for long sleeves on Sunday, with temps in the 90's...use your own judgement on this if you decide to do what I did; the pesticide advises complete skin coverage.
Here is a photo of the pesticide I used last year and this year. This bottle costs about $35 at the co-op. It is concentrated, and you only need 6ml to mix a gallon. If you can see the little blue lines on the measuring cup on the upper left of the bottle, that is the second line of that.

When I got it at the co-op last year, one of the selling points was the use of this stuff on chicken coops, the large buildings where chickens are farmed in Page County. I am pretty sure most of the success I had last year in limiting bee damage was due to this - I'll be writing about the Carpenter Bee Chambers soon too.
The next photo is a picture of all the gear I used. My Gorilla ladder, the tool kit for taking down the old chambers, spray bottle, pesticide, and protective gear, all shown on the brick terrace. This area around the front door, protected from most elements, has seemed to be the hot spot for bee activities.
This year, I focused my spraying around the edges and soffits of the cabin, especially in the area where the standing seem metal roof is turned down over the trim and soffit boards. I have seen bees hovering around looking for nesting areas, and they seem to end up under the metal this year. So the entire circumference of the house was doused in this way.
The second hot spot this year is by the little screened room by the master bedroom. I noticed bees going under there last week, so I sprayed all of the wood work along the front of the house, including this area, being careful to stay away from certain areas. For one thing, there is a little bird's nest above the screen room, so I made sure no misting could get up there.
It does seem to be an intensive season for carpenter bees this year. I am not sure that I am through with them yet for the spring. For one thing, I noticed some activity back near the shed, but did not get to that over the weekend. I may relocate the carpenter bee chambers there next weekend.
More to come, I'm sure!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Funny Bear Story

Last week on our Mary's Rock outing, on the way down we found a lost item on the trail - a can of pepper spray. I guess a previous hiker was worried about bears on the trail. While that is always a possibility in the Park, my guess is that this trail, close to the Thornton Gap entrance and subject to so much highway noise, is an infrequent bear location.

Still, it's always good to be prepared. The Park has the highest population density for black bears in the US, and there is a good chance of seeing them elsewhere. (A tip of the hat to Evan Dyson, who wrote a series of posts on black bear sitings on his Wildlife in Photography blog - see my blogroll).

The pepper spray can reminded me of a little poster that Howard has up on the bulletin board at Evergreen Outfitters...repeated below.

Due to the frequency of human-bear encounters, hikers, hunters, fisherman, and any persons that use the outdoors for recreation or work related activities should take extra precaution in the field.

We advise outdoorsmen to wear noisy little bells on clothing so as to give advance warning to any bears that might be close by, so that you don't take them by surprise.

We also advise carrying "pepper spray" in case of a bear encounter.

Be on the look out for fresh bear activity and be able to tell the difference between black bear and grizzly bear feces:
  • Black bear feces is smaller and contains lots of berries and squirrel fur.
  • Grizzly bear feces has bells in it and smells like pepper.


Of course, it is very unlikely you will see a grizzly bear in these parts.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Gracie's Diet - a work in progress

There have been a number of hits this week where people were looking for information on canine renal failure or chronic canine kidney failure. Seems like, like us, these owners are looking for info on how to get their pets to eat with this condition, which apparently affects the appetite once the kidneys go to reduced functionality. It is a very frustrating situation, since the dog could literally starve itself to death, at least that is how I understand it...here's the latest diet that we have been successful with.
For the last couple of weeks, Gracie has been dining on ground turkey. It must be pressed into patties and grilled to perfection outside on the gas grill. No other cooking method is satisfactory.
Gracie gets three meals a day now, a mix of ground turkey patty, brown rice, hard boiled egg yolk (for fat - the turkey is lean), and a little bread. To incentivize, sometimes we grind a cookie or treat up and spread it through the food, or put a couple tablespoons of weak broth in there (back when she was getting boiled chicken breast), or a little chicken or turkey baby food. Last night I microwaved a small bit, maybe 1/4 teaspoon, of the baby food in about a half cup of water, stirred that up, and mixed it in with the food.
Gracie will usually leave behind a little bit of rice, but she eats everything else there. And she seems to have put back on a few pounds, so this diet coupled with the sub-Q fluids and meds seems to have us in a good place for now.
Check with your vet for advice on this - we are pretty careful about ingredients and amounts, and Gracie is a 40-pound border collie, so you may have to scale up or down these amounts and treatments. And, as with our vet, who was skeptical that sub-q treatments could work for a dog her size, some of these may not be part of your regimen.
We understand what you ar egoing through. Good luck.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Economy and Me, Part 3

Alas, I am also a baby boomer, coming from the tail end of that generation. So I have my own selfish traits and desires to reckon with. Heck, even the indulgence of this essay will tell you that culturally I am a boomer.

So when I saw the Bronson article “What Should I Do With My Life Now?” my thoughts started out being only about me and my life. I really was only thinking of myself, and this essay ran the risk of being more a diatribe than any kind of introspective piece. That is, until I put the Bronson article together with the Page News and Courier information about the local unemployment rate this week.

Getting back to the Bronson article, which for the rest of this “diatribe” I will quote extensively from, there are some myths that need to be explored in the context of the current economy. Maybe some insight rests in discussing them, maybe a denounment is there about the future of Page County and the others that find themselves left behind by the structural changes in the US economy.

Myth 1: People are the architects of their own change. In fact, few people make a change because they want to, or because they can. More often, it’s downsizing, or because the relationship with a current job has gone south, or because of a family matter that requires undivided attention.

Myth 2: All it takes is passion. Sure, passion is important – just ask Starbucks, or Whole Foods, or even the folks at Two Fat Butchers in Front Royal, a Bowl of Good in H-burg, or Howard and Andy at Evergreen Outfitters (“Thrive Outside”). Passion is part of it, but hard work, and investable resources, have to be part of the equation, too, and they are probably even more important than passion.

Myth 3: Your dream job has no sucky parts. I mentioned that I am a baby boomer, and the three myths so far have been culturally embedded in my soul for my entire life. But now that the “pirate is looking at 50”, there is a whole lot of sucky going on. I’ve got to wonder if I have my fair share or if somebody is off-loading theirs on me. With a good job that is going to see me through the other side of the recession, I am one of the lucky ones, and I’ll put up with a lot. I am a little bit comforted knowing that everybody else experiences the sucky parts, too.

Myth 4: You’ll love the job for the job. If you asked a mason (Bronson’s example), would the answer be “I just love laying bricks?” If I could ask the chicken farmer nearby whose work this morning is filling the air with the smell of chicken shit, would he answer, “This is something I love, shoveling shit fills a void in my soul.” That’s doubtful, right? Inspiration, innovation, and productivity have to come from somewhere, from a sense of purpose, not often the task at hand. Each of us will define that differently.

Myth 5: There is the one. Again, here is something about purpose and mission, the hypothesis that each of us has a calling. Somewhere I’ve read about a Page County resident who was successful in the entertainment industry on the West Coast, retired relatively young, and has come back here to live. He now supports the economic development activities going on – that’s a career change, but it’s something that probably makes him feel good about being where he is, and we can hope that he’ll have a lasting impact on the community. The nature of things is that they will change, even for this fellow, but for now, I think he’s found something he can grow into and create a positive impact by doing.

Myth 6: You don’t know what you want. Bronson answers this by saying, “Of course you know what you want: fulfillment, connection, responsibility…and some excitement.” The real problem is how to get these things. And my answer is, they are there, but they are mixed in with the sucky parts. Which means it’s hard work to find them. It calls on every human talent to achieve them.

While it’s been a rambling process putting this essay together, in the end, Bronson’s macro perspective and the unemployment article in the PNC are about a call for transformation. How to make a change that leaves us all better off…the answers aren’t bubbling up from within me at the moment. I anticipate that the activities I’m seeing in the area, the economic development activities and the philanthropy, are a sign that others are looking for the answer, too.

The hard part is going to be finding the right thing to do. As a part-time resident – one who can feel the eyes looking at him when he walks into Wal-Mart or the Co-op or a local restaurant and hears the inner voices behind those eyes saying “that guy’s a Northern Virginian” – I’m anxious to find something meaningful that I can do for my part-time community. I don’t think it is simply a matter of donating money to the food bank or thrift store, because that’s not a lasting impact. I’m hungry to do more than that.

Right now, though, I can hear some carpenter bees buzzing. And next weekend, I am going to have get up and go kick their asses.

The Economy and Me, Part 2

Continuing from yesterday, Po Bronson’s current Fast Company starts with a hypothesis:
“…with the (post 9/11) economy in a tailspin, it was economically unsound to have millions of drones shuffling to work every day doing jobs they didn’t care about. The economy would never get a kick start if our workforce was uninspired.” And an informal survey of CEOs added, “The value in their companies came from the employees who were motivated to be there. One passionate employee is worth 10 dispassionate ones.”

Yesterday, I mentioned the industry that used to be here – the tannery, textile plant, and even the flour mills. Industry should be a contributing part of the local economy, and I think it is the key to solving a languishing 17.7 percent unemployment rate. It is not as if the people in Page County are going around asking themselves if their work is fulfilling, as if they have the opportunity to stop and ponder Bronson’s premise – it is more about structural changes to the national economy having a very specific and dire impact locally.

There are two parts to the answer – in the short term, the community pitches in to help each other out. Habitat for Humanity is very active here, and the food banks and thrift stores are getting a lot of support. At best, these are short-term patches. In the longer-term, there has to be more than this, there has to be leadership and vision to take this area to the next economic place.

Like I mentioned, I’ve heard some good ideas on the matter. There is a concept that investing in a new industrial park will attract companies and jobs here. Inevitably, Northern Virginians are coming here and investing in homes here, and development seems to be on the horizon -although that is not the most reliable source of an economic boost these days.
There is a local small business pursuing the idea of building a data center here, prospectively the anchor of the industrial park development. (Disclosure: professionally, I am in the middle of a consultation on data center requirements, which makes me skeptical of this concept.) The concept of creating jobs through the re-establishment of an industrial sector, or through bolstering a services sector is correct, because it tries to answer the burning questions: What can be done to stimulate job growth here? What should be the third leg of the stool that is Page County’s economy?

There has got to be a portfolio of ideas for making this change, because even if the data center is successful beyond anyone’s dreams, it is only going to add 50-100 jobs – the unemployment rate would hardly be dented. A share of these new jobs would frankly be filled by people coming from elsewhere, most likely.

Philanthropy, while necessary, isn’t going to get the job done either. I believe people are good hearted and want to contribute in this way, but these are always short-term efforts that really can’t be sustained, it’s just human nature.

I’ll admit that this rambling stream of thought hasn't yet moved my thinking to an answer. I’d call it more of an awakening, more like coming to an awareness of some key issues. I really like coming here, to Page County, and I really like the community and people I’ve met here. I’d like to find a way to make a contribution that leaves us all better off from the acquaintance.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Economy and Me, Part 1

Out on the Hawksbill Cabin’s brick terrace, on some days I can find the quiet I need to keep up with the magazines and miscellany that piles up around the house. It’s not so bad with the current job and company, but when I was with my immediately previous employer, with 100+ emails a day and 60+ over the weekend, I might go six months without opening a Wired, and at least that long without reading anything in Engineering News and Record (it’s a trade rag, we call it ENR for short). They would pile up in the reading basket we keep in the living room until they spilled out onto the floor – then we’d just throw ‘em out.

That’s not the ususal case anymore, I’m happy to say. I have space and time to think about things, and for that I’m thankful. So I was amused by the title of a Po Bronson article in this month’s Fast Company – “What Should I Do With My Life Now?” – and its sub-title,” That could be an existential wail, self-indulgent musing – or the beginning of real transformation.” In fact, this (Sunday) morning I have put together a short essay on the topic, which I’ll publish over the next three days.

Before I get into the part of the Bronson article that was insightful to me, as a person who sometimes finds himself an uninspired drone, I also found myself thinking about Page County, here where our cabin is. When you come here, it’s easy to see that the two pillars of the local economy are agriculture and tourism, though not in that order, as they tell me Luray Caverns draws more than 800K visitors from all over the world every year, and I can count at least seven hundred hotel rooms in Luray to support that trade.

There are signs of other things that used to be here, an industrial sector, that has gone from here and to a large extent from the country – the sprawling old tannery, and a textile plant that that has been repurposed into a jeans distribution center (the textile industry is still here but employs significantly fewer people). Industry could be – should be – the third leg of the local economy’s stool here. There are a few good ideas around on this matter, but I’m just wondering if we’re doing everything we can about a current 17.7 percent unemployment rate, as reported in the Page News and Courier this week.

Bronson’s current Fast Company article summarizes an economic landscape where every bubble has burst, bringing the frothy economy of the mid-2000’s to a screeching halt. This article follows up on one written six years ago, in the wake of the dot com bust and 9/11 where there was a brief pause in economic growth, although it was never officially categorized as a recession.

Writing this, I am not just thinking about the question Bronson raises in the title “What Should I Do With My Life Now?” but also what should – or what can - Page County do now, and what can I do to help. I’ll continue with some rambling, random thoughts, next post.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mary's Rock - interesting plants on the hike

I do get a kick out the hikes, and sometimes there's a little extra treat along the way. The Mary's Rock hike is interesting for a couple of reasons - the view into Thornton Gap is great, and the construction of the Appalachian Trail in this section is remarkable.

But as I was hiking up, I noticed the vegetation growing along the edge of the path, in the stonework. Here were all these little "hens and chicks" - we have them in the cabin garden, too. I don't believe these grow wild up there, or I'd have seen them elsewhere in the Park.

Earlier, along the way, I'd seen these clumps of ferns, nestled in the stones and showing off some of the lichens that grew there too.

Finally, here's what's known as a BFL, or an "over, under, or around" obstacle.
Mary and I decided, "under" for this one.

Mary's Rock - Summit

It was a tough hike, despite the relatively short distance we covered on Mary's Rock. Finally, when you approach the summit, the AT turns off to the south at this marker. The choice is between Skyland Resort, 7.5 miles, and Mary's Rock Summit, 0.1 miles...we chose to summit. Here are some photos from the top.

Here's Mary taking a break on the rock scramble at the top. We didn't go very far on this, and it is not the highest point on the mountain. But there is a 360 degree view from up there, and just on the other side: a 1,250 foot nearly shear drop!

Here is a view to the northwest, with another of some of the rocks at the top in the foreground. The last, taken from the top, is the view to the north - this is the Thornton Gap entrance station down below. Again, 1,250 feet, almost straight down! Just after I took the photo, the guy in the black shirt turned and sat with his feet hanging over the edge.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Mary's Rock - a not so easy day hike

On Saturday, we decided to head up into Shenandoah National Park for a hike. We started off on the assumption we might go to Dark Hollow Falls or to the Hawksbill Summit, two favorites, but once we got to the Park we were warned about crowds. So, knowing that the Panorama parking lot was recently reopened, we thought we might finally try Mary’s Rock, which is immediately south of the Thornton Gap entrance.

Our general contractor, Jesse, had recommended the hike a few years back when we first started working with him (for a reminder of Jesse’s work, check out the label “Big Projects”) – he described Mary’s Rock as a “right nice walk” – so we were looking forward to trying it someday. We were waiting for the construction around Panorama to finish up.

Accompanying this article are a couple of highlight photos from the route up. The trail is essentially the AT, so it is well marked and very well constructed.

Also, the “Best Easy Day Hikes” book includes Mary’s Rock as one of the hikes. What we didn’t know, and what Mary will be surprised to learn, is that there are actually two routes to the summit…and the Panorama route, which we took, with its 1,200+ feet of altitude gain, is the more difficult route. That makes for a steep 2 or so miles, which explains why we found it so challenging.

A downside of this hike is it's proximity to US 211 - like the other highway that transects the Park down in Elkton, it is a favorite route of motorcyclists. The noise of the vehicles follows you up the first half of the route...after a turn in the path, the mountain is between hikers and the highway so it's a bit quieter. I've written about this before - in the Park, since AT routes are rarely far from Skyline Drive, the noise of motorcycles is a constant harrassment to other Park users.

I’ll post a follow-up tomorrow with views from the summit.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

As seen on Bacova Properties - Charming Bath County Foreclosure

Mary and I probably first got serious about buying a country property a couple of years ago, during a visit to the Homestead in Warm Springs, Bath County. We went down for a long weekend and really had a nice, relaxing Spring getaway.
Besides the hotel and a few places to eat, we enjoyed our soak at the Jefferson Pools, and thought about taking in a performance at Garth Newell but nothing was on that weekend. Golf was out of the question, hadn't brought our clubs. So we walked over into town and visited with the realtors at Bacova Properties.

After checking out some wonderful homes at good prices (compared to what we're used to here in the DC area, at least!) we decided that area is just a bit too far away to make it a comfortable place for weekending. As it is, the Hawksbill Cabin is 2 hours door to door, which is great.

I am still on the mailing list for Bacova, and the rep there, Selby Schwend, sends an update on their listings from time to time. This is the latest, a farm house on 35+ acres, listed in the mid $300's....if we were ready for retirement and full time living out there, this one might just suffice.


"Here is the "STEAL OF THE MONTH"!It is a foreclosure that we have just listed. If you ever wanted to own a piece of mountain property with a charming 1890 farm house, this could be the answer to your dream come true. The bank is doing some work on the interior so I won't have interior shots for another week or so. They are very anxious for us to find a buyer. Call me today for details or come on out for a look.Little Pond Farm21821 Sam Snead HighwayWarm Springs, VirginiaBank foreclosure forces the sale of this very charming 1890 farm house on 35.64 acres located just 9 miles north of Warm Springs just off Route 220, the Sam Snead Highway. The elevated site provides views to the northwest toward Duncan’s Knob with the property running to the top of Rocky Ridge on the western boundary to the National Forest across Route 220 on the eastern side. It is comprised primarily of woods with cleared areas around the house and in the upper portions of the property. A spring fed pond lies just below the house. The approximately 2,100 sq. ft., 2-story farm house contains 3 or 4 bedrooms with 2 full baths, kitchen, dining room, living room and a new family room addition on the southern end. There are new double paned windows throughout. There is also a bunkhouse at the rear above an old cellar that has a newly roughed in full bath, living area and double bunks. The site is served by spring water and septic and features forced air heating, baseboard heating, and 2 stone fireplaces with gas stoves. The house could use a bit of TLC to get it in tiptop shape, but at this price, with the acreage and improvements, it is an excellent buy."
More at Selby's website www.bacovaproperties.com

Friday, April 17, 2009

Arrival of Nesting Hawks

Earlier in the week I mentioned the return of our hawks. Once I heard the call in the woods, I decided it was time to take the feeders down - we have copious black capped chickadees, cardinals, titmice, woodpeckers of all kinds, house sparrows, and even a pair of wrens, in the woods around us, and all of them are prey for these kinds of hawks.

So to give everybody a sporting chance of making it through spring, we take down the feeders and move to throwing handfulls on the ground and near sources of cover. Last year, after I learned that bears sometimes move through the hollow in the spring, I decided that was a second reason to take the feeders down, as the seeds are attractive forage for them as well.

I also wanted to write a little more about what I saw the hawks doing last weekend, since one of the activities was surprising and a new one. First, there was the more routine activity though, of the male bird bringing food to the nesting female. After the nestlings hatch, he'll bring it to the nest - but for now, when he has the prey, he'll make a call from a tree that is about 100 yards away from the nest, and the female will fly to him to collect the food and eat.

I remembered seeing this a few times last year, but now I've put the whole behavior together, between his call, his perch, and her flight out of the nest to him.

The second item of interest was quite surprising. I heard a terrible noise the other morning, one I'd never heard before; suddenly a crow flying erratically appeared above the house. There is a flock of about 6 crows in the area that I see all the time.

Apparently, this one had gotten too close for the hawks' comfort, and the male was chasing him off. The bird was making calls that I don't ever remember hearing from a crow - they were very loud and sounding like cries for help. Between the noises and the fluttering flight it was quite a show, but I'm not convinced the crow was in danger, as the male hawks from both the sharp shinned and Cooper's species are only about as big as a crow. As soon as the crow was out of the nest's vicinity, the chase broke off.

Last year I saw him chase blue jays off a few times, but I never put it together that this wasn't necessarily hunting - it's protecting the nest. The incident with the crow helped me understand what's going on there.
I was happy for the breakfast show and variety of activities, though, and with good weather forecast this weekend, maybe we'll see a bit more wildlife action around the cabin.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Prog Farmer Muir Quote

In the back of each month's issue there is a feature called "Cornerstones" - generally a selection of interesting quotations. The April feature is entitled "Peace" and there was this great John Muir quote.

"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into tress. The winds will blow their freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of autumn."

It reminds me that I haven't mentioned a recent addition to my blogroll - the one called "California Transect." It's being kept by a researcher who is following one of John Muir's routes, from San Francisco to Yosemite. It reminds me a bit of a through hiker journal, except this route does not stick to protected wilderness - because of how the land has changed since Muir's trek, the writer has to cross highways and walk through neighborhoods and strip malls. His perceptions and understandings about the changes to our environment will be enlightening as the journey progresses.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Noisy Birds! Pileateds and Hawks

On Sunday, another noise I heard frequently was the nearby pounding of pileated woodpeckers. I kept an eye out for them as I have seen them before in flight - we have at least a pair of them in the hollow, and as proof, I offer this photo of a tree on our downhill lot.

I'm sure I will catch sight of them this spring, but it is less likely that I will be able to take a photo of them, even though I am ever vigilant with the Moto Cam!

As I was keeping tabs Sunday on all the wildlife activity, I heard a familiar kik-kik-kik-kik-kik call from back in the woods. I've seen hawk activity in the neighborhood since mid-March, and wondered if our nesting pair might return (see posts under the label "Hawks" for posts from last years, when the pair had a successful nest of four fledglings).

Sure enough I looked up at the nest and the female was there. The call was the male letting her know he was nearby - with food. Here are photos of the tree where the nest is, to give an idea of the size and density. Even though I am usually planted on the brick terrace in the morning, near the windows and front door shown here, I've never been able to get a good photo of the nest. Even so, I have been able to watch them carefully - my morning time there is also when the male brings her his kills.

Signs of Spring at Evergreen Outfitters

Mary and I ran errands into town on Saturday afternoon and stopped by to see Howard and the gang at Evergreen Outfitters. We talked about a number of things while picking up a few essentials (I am now an official Ex Officio fan).

First up, Howard's recent trek on the Massanutten ridge from Rileyville to Kennedy Peak - this is about 17 miles on the ridge, and his party did it with an overnight camp. They brought their dogs, who stayed with them in the tent. Among the challenges of this hike is the need to pack in your water, since on the ridge there isn't any. This adds a couple of gallons to the weight you have to carry, a serious logistics and planning issue.

Also, there have already been two AT thru-hikers in the store. One signed in during late March - Santa's Helper (NoBo). This means he probably started north bound in February...there has been some awful late winter and early spring weather, so kudos to him for already making it this far north.

Last one, I found out that Google Earth Street View has published the US 340 route into Luray and follows BUS 340 south to Stanley. The photo of Howard's storefront is unusual - it captured an image of a person...as a matter of fact, it's him!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Beaver Pond goin's on

On Sunday I spent a good amount of time on the brick terrace enjoying a sunny spring day. Besides catching up on my reading (reading list: back issues of Fortune Small Business, Wired, Harvard Business Review, Progressive Farmer and the Page News and Courier) I wanted to check out what was happening in the Beaver Pond across the road. I was too far away from the pond to capture images of all the action.

Since February, at night there is the constant song of tree frogs. Tons of them. Mostly the high pitched song, although there are some larger frogs around (likely ground-bound) with deep throated songs.

During the afternoon, I was able to see the beaver at work, making his/her rounds to ensure the dam was holding - it is. Also, there's a small flock of mallards that have taken up residence in the pond - only males so far, I haven't seen any females, but they may be nesting elsewhere.

There is a pair of geese in the neighborhood that fly by in the morning from upstream. I think they spend their days at the old pond downstream on the Jordan Hollow property, or over in the big pasture nearby, where there is a very large pond.

Finally, at times, I could see little wakes from fish swimming. I'm not sure what's in there - I heard that Hawksbill Creek was stocked in Luray last week, but I don't know if we've got "gone native" trout this far upstream. I'm sure that what we have here is not from the weekend's stocking...and I am thinking it's something less glamorous than the trout - probably a minnow of some kind, just getting close to the surface and showing a wake on smooth water.

Forsythia - still at it!

After spending the weekend at the cabin there are a number of posts to catch up on, but since the forsythia is still in bloom, I thought I might start with that. We bought these three at the Home Depot in H-burg (the world’s nicest Home Depot – they even helped load the plants in the car!) and planted them in an area of the yard we think we can take back from some ivy that has been growing there, probably for years.

We put them in a group so they could form a nice mass of flowers. Ever since, I’ve fretted about the placement – there are a lot of deciduous trees in that part of the yard, mainly white oaks, and my sense of it was that the forsythias might not be getting enough light to survive in this spot.
We also have a bunch of hostas (they are all over the yard and seem to thrive at the cabin) planted at the base of the trees down here. So we are planning to add in several kinds of ferns once the soil temperature stabilizes at 50 degrees, maybe as soon as next week.

But, clearly I was wrong about the forsythia in this area – if they are finding this a challenging spot, they haven’t shown it so far. And these blooms have been on the plants for more than two weeks – that is about the limit of how long we have them in Alexandria.

In the background of this last photo is the beaver pond – will write a note about it later in the week.

Friday, April 10, 2009

So much for THAT plan

I had planned to head down to the Ft. Belvoir office this afternoon to finish up the day, until I saw this - my exit off of I-95. Fahgeddaboutit!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Dogs in Snow

Here are a couple of photos of Gracie and Sofie in the snow last month. Snow is fun for dogs!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Canine Renal Failure - Gracie's diet and meds

Thanks to Gidgetgirl and Don for the comments yesterday, inquiring after Gracie's condition and canine renal failure in general. At the moment, Gracie is doing well - her condition is fairly well stabilized. But, it's always worth remembering, she is 14 now, not the puppy or even the "athlete" she and all border collies tend to be until they are 11 or 12. The breed typically is used to tend sheep from about age 3 to age 8 or 9, then retire to an active and inquisitive life on the farm.

Mary is in charge of the food and med program, and I help out on nights when Mary is teaching at U of Md, as well as for the morning program of subcutaneous fluids - we showed a picture of this in the last "Canine Renal" post. After a month of administering this on a daily basis, the vet found that her protein numbers had improved and we went to every other day. I should note that the vet was skeptical of the effectiveness of this therapy for a dog Gracie's size - this may be good news for Gidgetgirl's Yorkie, but I don't know for sure.

There are also several accompanying meds, one of which settles the stomach, and there are painkillers and the like. These are fairly normal "senior" prescriptions - Sofie, now at least 15, has been on these for years. In any case, during this process, although there has been a net weight loss, Gracie's energy has returned and she has even gained back four pounds.

On the food front, getting her to eat remains a daily challenge. The core ingredients of the diet are chicken and brown rice; Mary measures portions and checks ingredients very carefully to make sure we are meeting recommended nutrient levels. She checked with both our vet and a consulting holistic vet on how to prepare something Gracie could and would eat after the presecription canned food was a disaster.

Also, the food gets incentivized - we use chicken broth for this, and have to supplement with treats, and even chicken or turkey baby food. Gracie also likes bread, and our vet said that's okay - the most important thing is to get them to eat. The vet has recommended some veggies too - carrots and the like, but Grace has never been a big eater of these things (Sofie, not in renal failure and also known by the name "call me anything but late for dinner", has been known to eat a full bowl of green beans, by the way ... not recommended, also by the way).

The vet said that the problem causing the unappetizing aspects of the canned food is the source of proteins in it - they are grain glutens when the dog is instinctively looking for meat proteins. You'd think that the makers of this stuff would figure that out - especially at upwards of $2 a can - and many dogs won't eat it.

Mary may post more details in the future, but for now, suffice it to say that this is a process takes a lot of patience - we can definitely identify with those frustrations. It also has been and remains an expensive journey. Our vet reminded us that 80% of the expense of owning a pet occurs in the last two years of their life (soapbox moment: this is something all responsible pet owners should be thinking about before they give up their ten year old family dog to the shelter...it's not humane treatment to the animal, nor reasonable to think that someone else is going to take the situation on).

We still consider ourselves lucky to have her, and it's great to see how she has responded. We also consider ourselves very fortunate to be able to do this with the economy in its current state.

I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Is this Vintage Chevy Truck a Bargain?

Since January, I've been noticing that this 1969 Chevy Truck is for sale. The owner, here in Alexandria, is asking $3,500 OBO. There is a note in the truck window about the specs - it's a four-speed, and he's done quite a bit of work on the engine to get this into condition and keep it running. It's a good looking truck.

We kind of need one for errands and such at the cabin, and I don't think I'll find a bargain like my neighbor Terry did (see post from last year "Terry's New Truck"). Probably will ask my Uncle Tim - the Rat Rod builder, what he thinks.

There is also a vintage 1972 GMC truck for sale in the neighborhood. That one has original paint and is in great condition, body-wise, but the asking is $14,000. I don't think I'd be hauling my recycling in that one.
Reader's opinions are welcomed. Your remarks may help me talk Mary into it.

Controlled Burn in GWNF

I had a note from Howard the other day - he was planning to make an overnight trip into the George Washington National Forest this week, focused on a trek to Kennedy Peak. He mentioned that there must've been a controlled burn on Massanutten over the weekend - the Valley was full of smoke.

Fellow H-burg blogger Evan Dyson has a photo of it on his blog (along with some other excellent images!): http://wildlifeinphotography.wordpress.com/2009/04/06/full-day-park-extravaganza/

Apparently Chrisman Hollow Road and other routes were affected. Here is an excerpt from a PATC news release (link follows):

"Catback Mountain Controlled BurnEdinburg, VA. - The George Washington and Jefferson National Forests are using prescribed fire to help protect and increase the health of our national Forests. The Lee Ranger District is planning a 2800 acre controlled burn in the Massanutten’s Catback Mountain area of Shenandoah and Page Counties along Crisman Hollow Road also known as Forest Development Road (FDR) 274. This will be the second time the area is treated with a controlled burn. This project will take place within the next few weeks as weather and other conditions allow. Though for years Smokey Bear has broadcast the importance of preventing wildland fire, the fire managers of the USDA Forest Service know that prescribed fire, also called controlled fire, plays an integral role in the life and ultimate health of our forests. Prescribed fire can also help in the suppression efforts of uncontrolled wildland fires. "

More at: http://potomacappalachian.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=656&Itemid=2

When Howard's back, he may have some news and views to share. Looking forward to that.

Monday, April 6, 2009

A Walk and Pub Lunch in Old Town Alexandria

Before we bought the cabin we often took a Sunday walk into Old Town for brunch at Murphy's Grand Irish Pub. Since we were home this weekend, that's what we did. Sunday was a fine Spring day, so we weren't the only ones that were out enjoying the weather.

Turned out that Murphy's had been so busy, they were out of eggs and brunch was over when we got there - we had a pub lunch instead. Mary had the Irish Stew, and fish and chips for me, accompanied by...an ale or two.

Here are a couple of views of the walk down into town - for some background, Alexandria was established in the mid 1700's as a port town on the Potomac. Most of the buildings shown here date to the 1800's or earliest 1900's; we don't usually go to the oldest parts on the weekends because of the incredible tourist traffic they still attract.

A final three landmarks - Random Harvest is an antique store where we have bought a few items over the years. They also have stores in Georgetown and Bethesda. Then there is Flying Fish, a fun mixed cuisine restaurant featuring seafood. There is a very hip bar scene on the weekends down in the basement, where we were once able to get five of my Berlin buddies out for an evening. Flying Fish even has a drag brunch on Sundays, a real breakthrough for Old Town! The last photo is a landscape architecture and planning firm - they took over and old garage and car stereo building and reused it for their purposes, and it's a favorite of mine.

When George Washington surveyed the original boundaries of the District of Columbia, Alexandria and Georgetown - two river ports, were included. Sometime in the 1840's the Virginia elements were ceded back to Virginia, with the thought that the District would never need all of that territory. These Viriginia areas include Arlington and Alexandria, two densely populated areas of Northern Virginia nowadays.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

REI - Pilgrimage

Well, we aren't able to make it out to the cabin this weekend. So we ran some errands today, and then, by surprise, ended up at the REI store in Alexandria.
On the Duncan Knob hike, I realized the denim shorts I wore were not going to cut it if this crowd ends up doing a few more of that sort of rigorous hike, so I bought a pair of fast drying REI ones today and a Columbia sweat wicking shirt. Mary bought a nice skirt.
We also looked at the Garmins and I checked out a Casio Pathfinder, but I'll probably pick up an out of season model on Amazon...
Also, we looked at the lanterns, which we have a couple of out at the cabin in case of power failures. They are GE products and already don't light, and it's not the batteries. Customer service told us to bring them in so they can check them out...after all, we bought them here.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Signal Knob Hike - Preliminaries

Despite a few challenges, the Duncan Knob Hollow hike we took a few weeks ago is considered a success by all concerned. We got a late start, ran into logistics issues on the way, found the road blocked and had to free lance to the trail head, and were late getting off the trail - failing to pack headlamps. Still, everybody wants to do it again.

After coordinating by email, we've come to the conclusion that our next attempt will be Signal Knob, which is close to Front Royal in the George Washington National Forest. Also, while my colleagues would like to try and do something every month, we will shoot for a bi-monthly effort, looking for a somewhat rigorous outing like these Knob summit trails. In the meantime, Mary and I will do shorter hikes like the waterfalls and vistas in Shenandoah National Park.

The Hiking Upward site describes Signal Knob as a 10-11 mile, 5-6 hour hike that has about 2,700 feet of elevation gain. As with most of the hikes in GWNF, they give it better marks for the lack of crowds than they might for a similar hike in SNP. They also highlight the views from the high points on this hike as being some of the best in Virginia.

A scan of some other sites mention that there was a Civil War outpost on the Signal Knob summit, hence the name. I'll look for more info on this aspect of the trail experience before we get away.

All that's left is to settle on the date of the hike, which will hopefully take place in late April or early May. By then, it will be too warm for rock scrambles (just my opinion...I understand timber rattlers are fond of rock scrambles in warm weather) so we'll be mostly choosing other trail types for the remainder of the summer.

Looking forward to it.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Asters and Daffodils

Last year, I noticed these pretty little violet flowers that were present throughout the yard at the cabin while the daffodils were up. This weekend, after a closer look, I realized they might be asters - here's a little bunch that has sprung up near the path in the front yard.

Our daffodils are up out there, including most of the bulbs I've set out over the last two years, as well as some legacies that were planted by previous owners. These are mostly scattered throughout the garden in the front of the house, although there is a large drift of several varieties farther down the hill in the yard.
Interesting how the yellow saturates and overexposes with the phone cam...

The daffodils are also up and spreading in the Alexandria yard, although I don't have any photos this year.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Little Spring Cookout

Last weekend we only managed to be out for the overnight on Saturday, and due to an allergy attack we couldn't get into to town, we did a little cookout on the brick terrace. As a note, if you ever order Omaha Steaks, be prepared to receive twice a week emails for the rest of your life about sale prices on special packages...a couple of months back, I took them up on one.

On Saturday, I grilled some pork chops that I'd marinated in a lemon pepper sauce I found at Food Lion. The prepared sauces usually have a high sodium content and I try to stay away from that - it is shocking to read an ingredient label and see that 29% of the recommended sodium allowance is contained in two tablespoons of something! I just won't buy that stuff. The sauce I found was more like 6% and we could use it as a salad dressing to boot.

In any case, here is the result, a nice bunch of grilled chops with asparagus, suitable for a spring evening.

And by the way, I like the Omaha Steaks, it seems to be pretty good meat. Can't beat the convenience of sending a gift through them. But I have to admit, I'd rather be shopping local at the excellent butcher shop in Front Royal - Two Fat Butchers - website here: http://www.twofatbutchers.com/.