Ramble On

Friday, July 31, 2009

mmm...Beer Pancakes!

From a recent entry on the Outside magazine blog (which links to the Backpacker magazine site): http://outside-blog.away.com/blog/2009/07/-backcountry-beer-pancakes.html

There is a how to video!

Clarendon Construction Update

While I am away at the Cabin today, pre-posting this update on the two buildings under construction across the street from my office in Arlington. As I was preparing this post, I realized that I have a few previous ones, and they might serve as something of a history of the building process if I linked them through a label - so I have: "clarendon construction." Just click on it and all of the construction updates will appear on a results page.

Since the big building emerged from the ground a few weeks ago, the floors have been built on a rocketing pace. They are pooring an entire floor, done in five sections, in a week now. The concrete cures for a couple of weeks before the framing can come down, but the framing for the next higher floor can be built the next day. I've noticed a lot of telecom and electrical infrastructure conduit has been laid directly into the concrete floor slabs with this building.

Here is the smaller mid-block construction. A day or two after I took this photo, I noticed that the first part of a concrete slab had been poured in the hole. So the parking garage is underway.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Retaining Existing Page County Businesses

Today and in a few posts next week I’ll be reviewing the “business retention and attraction” section of the 2008 Page County Economic Development Plan. In the plan, the material regarding business retention is by far the shorter of these two goals, so we’ll start there today.

I am going to spend a little time on a web search before moving on to the business attraction area, not the least because in a cursory review this plan seems to vector to a perceived need to expedite the purchase of “ready-to-go” sites – a concept generating a lot of attention and controversy in the County just now.

Also, my family will be out for the weekend – staying at the River’s Bend Guest Ranch (http://www.riversbendranch.com ) so I am heading out to the Hawksbill Cabin today. I am looking forward to a bounty of new stuff to write about afterwards!

Now on to the review of the plan –

“In order to retain businesses in Page County, public education is needed to let firms know what resources (financial, information, expertise, etc.) are available to leverage their existing efforts and investments.” This quote is the sole reference to existing business in the 1.5 page executive summary of the plan. It is a distinctively noncommittal observation – “public education is needed” – no assignment of responsibility, no data, no performance metrics.

Further back in the plan, where the goal and objectives are listed, the four items listed for retaining existing businesses are basically a repeat of those found in the 2003 plan:

  • Expand existing efforts to educate businesses…
  • Continue to build relationships with existing businesses…
  • Undertake a survey of local businesses…
  • Identify companion businesses to those existing in the county…

The first three are given high priority, while this last is rated less important. All were to be done with current staff resources – Chamber of Commerce, EDA, or Board of Supervisors resources – and some with current funding. The middle two above – the relationships building goal and the survey – require program funds for implementation; which is the same status they had in the 2003 plan, if I recall correctly. One thing I would like to see is a status report, not just in this section but in all sections – going back to the old stratagem of “what gets measured gets managed.”

The plan includes a straightforward justification for these simple investments:

  • “…existing businesses provide the greatest opportunities to provide new jobs and capital investment.”
  • “…business retention is even more critical than business recruitment to the economic viability and growth of the County.”

These are strong statements – and their placement in the plan is significant, appearing as they do before the discussion of goals related to recruiting new businesses. There is a long history of businesses leaving the County or closing outright. And the data shows that more than 60 percent of Page County's workforce commutes to work places not located here. If I were an owner of an existing business in Page County, I’d be asking questions about this – and I’d want to know why, with this kind of wording around the goals, more hasn’t been done to support existing businesses.

It gets to the soapbox point: why all the fuss about a land deal that will cost a lot more money than the small outlay it would take to lay the ground work for future growth, based on what’s already here?

Seems to me, this is another case of low-hanging fruit, along with overlooking the tourist and agriculture sectors as possible investment targets, that was missed somehow by the Board of Supervisors and the EDA. I’d love to see a revisit of these items as part of the way forward for the County.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sustainable Agriculture in Page County - Part 2

Today’s post takes a look at the issues and opportunities section of the Page County Economic Development Plan’s two-page write-up on sustainable agriculture. As I mentioned yesterday, during the first part of this review, if anything in this plan creates a sense of urgency for me, it is right here, in this discussion of Page County industry, and the relative lack of importance it is given in this overall plan. The plan sets up the concept of a three-legged stool for the Page County economy – tourism, agriculture, and industry, I looked at the tourism section last week, and agriculture yesterday and today.

The plan outlines three strategies for developing sustainable agriculture in Page County, but provides little detail on how to implement them – doesn’t even call for the first step in implementation, an assessment.

Here are the three strategies:

  • Plant substitute crops – soybeans and hay: soybeans to tap into the bio-diesel market with the side benefit of creating animal feed as a by-product; hay to cater to the growing number of horse farms in Page County.
  • Emphasize sustainable approaches – take advantage of the growing demand for local produce and the areas proximity to larger markets in Harrisonburg and Northern Virginia.
  • Repurpose resources – create an agri-tourism destination; transition poultry farms to horse farms; and create non-traditional agro-enterprises such as wineries in Page County.
These strategies and sub-strategies offer an excellent summary of current American culture’s relationship with agriculture. Of seven insights, only one of them even acknowledges a connection with food production, and one other considers agricultural production as an input to industry; all seven require major capital investment; and two of them are linked to the other economic stool-leg of tourism.

Past blog posts here have considered the economics of hay farming, as well as the sustainable agriculture approaches listed here. I haven’t been able to get further into an assessment of these subjects to determine whether they could be relied upon for a family’s livelihood, as much as I would like to believe they offer that potential.

I mentioned the absence of real planning here. What are the recommendations for developing sustainable agriculture in the 2008 Page County Economic Plan? Fine-sounding concepts, “innovation, communication, and cooperation” are emphasized and a program of forums, engagement, and even an agriculture summit are proposed. These are given lower priority than educating Page County’s political leadership.

Compared to the 2004 plan, this 2008 plan is short on details and imagination. Having completed a review now of tourism and agriculture, the next step is to review the strategy and goals for industry; given the appearance of much current emphasis on that sector – Project Clover, the purchase of developable industrial land – I’m anticipating there will be more detail there. That’s a pity, because as the plan itself says, Page County agriculture is a “$108 million industry” comprised of “400 small businesses.”

An industry and small businesses that were not given a priority in the 2008 plan, that is.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sustainable Agriculture in Page County - Part 1

The updated 2008 plan summarizes the state of Page County agriculture by highlighting the declining number of farms: from 1,327 farms in 1940 to less than 400 in 2008; 5,800 acres of farmland repurposed between 1997 and 2002; and a decline in the market value of production from $115 million in 1997 to $108.7 million in 2002. As outlined here, the challenges contributing to this decline include: competition from producers elsewhere, the pressure to sell land for development, and rising costs of feed, fuel, and fertilizer.

A section I found interesting was the discussion of the relationship between poultry farmers and the industry itself. The farmers own the land and buildings, but the poultry is owned by the large companies – Tyson, Cargill, Pilgrim’s Pride – who are beginning to make better economic decisions about where to locate their operations, with the result that Page County is often not optimal.

When I use the term “better economic decisions” above, I am referring to the simple fact that these large companies are acting in their own self interest to minimize their costs. The implementation often involves consolidation of farms, suppliers, and processing in close proximity to each other to minimize transportation time and costs – a decision process that does not favor Page County.

To be the selected location, economic theory suggests there needs to be a natural advantage, such as a major center of production for feed corn or some other input resource, or a point of intermodal transfer for transportation. Page County has none of these – and the decline of farms and farm production income is the result.

On the other hand, these consolidated centers of production are not operated in the most sustainable ways – I’d bet that there are a lot of challenges containing and managing waste materials, and energy use is not a top priority for management. With the Shenandoah River facing stress from other past and present sources in the watershed, there is yet another reason that Page County may not be the best location for these operations.

Even so, Page County remains the second largest poultry producer in Virginia. Yet, with 400 small businesses and $108 million in revenues at stake, this plan outlines as its primary objective:

“Department of Economic Development will ensure that political leadership of the County is educated, as soon as possible, about the issues facing the agricultural community.”

I’ve reached the end of my post today. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the issues and opportunities section of the two-page write-up on sustainable agriculture, and I have a few more thoughts on this topic to add.

To sum up, I’ve got to underscore that if anything in this plan creates a sense of urgency for me, it is right here, this industry, and the relative lack of importance it is given in this overall plan. The plan sets up the concept of a three-legged stool for the Page County economy – tourism, agriculture, and industry. So far, two of those three have been given short shrift – no real hard thinking on the facts – and that’s a real disappointment.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Eat your vegetables

Another trip to the Luray Farmers' Market this weekend, checking out the crops that are really starting to peak - almost every booth had something home grown this weekend. So I thought to start the week with a post about the market, then we'll get back to the Page County economic plan tomorrow.

Of course, we had to stop by Public House Produce (see previous post at http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2009/07/i-ate-mr-burners-cow.html) to see what the shares included this week. Here are some photos of squash, eggplants and green beans that made up part of the CSA distribution for the week. There will be corn next week...here is a link to their site: http://www.publichouseproduce.com/ .

Mary and I were late to the game, and didn't participate in the CSA program, but we may in the future - we freelanced a purchase this week, as shown here. Mary's going to put together a ratatoille - and I don't mean a Pixar animated film.

As we were getting the low down, Heather and David told us that they try to include a recipe or two with the share distribution. In the past weeks, there was an especially bountiful batch of zucchini squash, for example, so members sometimes need suggestions on what to cook. For these occasions, they'll refer to a cookbook like this one for a recipe to share: Simply In Season (World Community Cookbook) .

Friday, July 24, 2009

Summer Surprise #5

Darris warned us that sometimes we'd find a critter or two in the pool. Most of the time, that has meant frogs and toads; creatures that can survive for a time in the pool. Other than many different kinds of (dead) insects, we haven't found many other critters to speak of in there (thankfully).

Frogs survive in the pool more easily than toads - that makes sense, I guess - the frogs can spend more time underwater, holding their breath and place. Toads tend to bob along on the surface - I've rescued three of them from places they'd found to rest.

Here is the latest of those rescues. This fellow found a perch on the power cord for Dude, our pool robot, which I'd left in the pool overnight recently. I was able to fish this guy out and turn him loose in the yard afterwards.

The 2008 Plan, continued...

Over the next few days, blog posts continue with a summary of the 2008 Page County Strategic Economic Development Plan – looking first at the economic sectors highlighted here: tourism, agriculture, and industry.

Tourism is one economic driver that nobody seems to question in the County. I’ve heard estimates of the number of visitors at SNP as over a million, and a half million at Luray Caverns. The plan acknowledges this with the quote, “Just a few miles in any direction offers visitors a chance to enjoy the abundance of Page County’s natural resources and a range of recreational activities including camping, canoeing, cycling, fishing, golf, hiking, horseback riding, and photography.”

The plan summarizes the impact of tourism, noting expenditures of almost $51 million in 2007, employment of 654 people, and annual payroll of almost $11 million. An occupancy tax generates a budget that is used to promote tourism in the County, guided by the Chamber of Commerce’s Tourism Council. Mary and I have stopped by the visitors’ center and can vouch for how friendly and knowledgeable the staff is; these functions are imminently moving to the newly restored Luray train station which will further serve to make visits to the County memorable.

A new feature of the 2008 plan is a summary for each initiative, presented in something of a scorecard format; at least it is easily adaptable to results reporting in the next update. For each major section of the plan, there is a table that outlines objectives, assigns the lead role, sets a priority for each objective, identifies support roles, and lists resources.

There are four objectives for Tourism. The only “Priority A” objective here is:
“The Director of the Economic Development Department will work with the Executive Director of the Chamber to develop reporting formats for the marketing and financial updates that will be submitted to the Board of Supervisors on a regular basis.”

As I mentioned in past posts, I see the opportunities with tourism as low-hanging fruit in the overall context of economic development for Page County. There’s no question about the natural resources available, you have a solid base of visitors to work from, and you can easily monitor the impacts of improvement objectives.

If less than $200K in promotional funds is all it takes to maintain tourism traffic at 1.5 million visitors, tourism revenues at $51 million, and creating payroll of 654 employees, does adding $20K create the opportunity to increase everything by 10%? If that investment won't improve the statistics by 10%, how much will the impact be? If it only creates 10 more jobs, that still seems worthwhile.

Seems like an easy place to start to me.

We are headed out to the Hawksbill Cabin for the weekend (we have a Luray Wranglers game on tap – thanks for the recommendation, “posumcop” – next week’s posts will include a wrap up on those activities and continue with this review of the 2008 Economic Development Plan. The Agriculture sector is the one I will take a look at next.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Summer Surprise #4

"It floats!"

That was the text blurb that accompanied this phone cam photo that Mary sent me on Tuesday. She was able to get a way for a few extra days and was enjoying the pool - and this inflatable lounger we bought a while back.

I'm looking forward to the weekend when I can get out there and try this thing!

Strategic Economic Development Plan - 2008 Update

Back in the dark ages, when I went to business school at USC, the emphasis was on entrepreneurship – and as a result, on how to write a business plan to attract investment and support. It’s been so long now that I don’t have any of those resources at hand to guide a review of the 2008 Page County Economic Development Plan; I vaguely recall that the progress through a plan, no matter how it was organized for presentation, was to read the idea first, skip to the resumes, look at how the plan proposed to execute, and then look at financials.

The Page County plan doesn’t include all of this material, but it does start with a vision statement, so at least we can take a look at that as the central idea of the plan. There are five elements of the vision, and I think it can be assumed that these would pass muster with most County residents:

  • Better quality of life for the community – includes better wages, improved infrastructure and amenities, a healthy place to live, and improving employment prospects;
  • Job retention and creation – seen as a “fundamental” goal;
  • Retain the rural character of the community and natural resource protection – including mountains, groundwater, caves, and rivers, but also farms, woodlands and open spaces;
  • Balance the growth between agriculture, tourism, and industry – elsewhere these are referred to as Page County’s three-legged stool of the economy; and
  • Strengthen the collaboration between the County and towns – the recognition that cooperation is the only way to ensure successful growth. A rule of thumb is that while the towns have concentrated populations and thus require significant infrastructure, they represent only about 30 percent of the county population.

Three of these goals are linked in my mind – quality of life, job retention/creation, and the economic base of the County. So tomorrow’s post will look into those a bit more, taking the three economic elements one at a time.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Summer Surprise #3

Last week I posted about Mary's container garden (update: we are now harvesting the yellow variety tomatoes, and the peppers are not far behind). After taking the photos that accompanied that post, I turned around and discovered this hydrangea in full bloom.

Just as the Hawksbill Cabin yard is planted over with Hosta, the Alexandria yard is full of hydrangeas. Mary's even moved them from the front to the back to make the plantings more logical (and orderly, I'm sure - curator + master of urban design and all that).

The morning sun was hitting them just right to create a big impression.

That Land Deal...

I’ve recently been reading, and posting on, Page County’s strategic economic development plan. There was a version published in 2004 – which was a topic of previous posts – that outlined an overall vision for the County that emphasizes preserving the rural and picturesque nature of the county, supporting existing businesses and attracting investment, creating new jobs, building infrastructure, and encouraging “green” industry.

Now I’ve moved on to the 2008 update of the plan, and in the midst of reviewing this document, I’ve learned more about the County’s pending purchase of some farm land with the intent to develop it for future, unspecified, industrial use.

Several elements of the plan are controversial, including: the intended transfer of the land to the Economic Development Authority (EDA), which effectively relinquishes the County’s responsibility as land owner; and questions about the negotiated purchase price of the land in relation to its assessed value and the current real estate market – the down payment of $1 million alone obligates each man, woman and child resident of the County to a $300 contribution, while the purchase price in excess of $7 million results in County debt equivalent to $2,100 per resident.

There is broad sentiment for getting more information out to residents about the purchase and the strategy behind it, there is also a petition designed to call attention to the matter – more details on the purchase can be found at http://www.pagecountywatch.org/id71.html , or by reading back copies of the Page News and Courier. Even though we are weekenders, we feel like we are stakeholders in these matters because of the property taxes we pay on the Hawksbill Cabin.

After reviewing the economic development plan, I have questions, and don’t seem to be easily able to find answers. The biggest in my mind is, why the rush to procure this land, especially in light of the economic burden this seems to place on Page County residents.

The only driver for the decision I have found is in the executive summary of the 2008 strategic plan, which says, “…the County needs ready-to-go sites complemented with the ability to process permits, licenses, etc. within short turnaround times” in order to attract companies that fit in with the rural character of the County and diversify the economic base.

To me, this is “cart-before-horsing” – among other things, the previous version of the plan called for an assessment to determine what kinds of businesses to target. Was there follow-up on these objectives and initiatives? Without them, I don’t think it’s prudent to land bank this property, betting it is a panacea to future economic development requirements; squirreling it away in a quasi-government EDA that may not have followed up on its own previous goals and objectives is another thing.

At least, this is my first impression about the controversy – but I’m going to do a couple of posts on the 2008 Strategic Plan in the next couple of days, comparing it with 2004, checking out unfinished business from the prior plan. I’ll be taking the perspective of a venture capitalist deciding whether or not I would invest in the plan – I hope that readers find the questions smart, hard, and to the point.

While I am not a voter in Page County, I am a concerned - property owning - stakeholder who wants to see the best thing done – and that means improving the economic conditions for everybody out there, with jobs and a good quality of life.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Summer Surprise #2

These flowers are called Bee Balm, and they were in bloom the first time we came up to the Hawksbill Cabin with a realtor. So I pay close attention to them every year, making sure that we'll have plenty of them.

I'd never seen them before we found them in the yard, next to the old storage shed (you can see the original stone portion of the house in the background, the windows are along the back wall over the kitchen and dining room area). Since I found them, I keep an eye out for them, and I've seen them growing wild (more likely naturalized) up in Shenandoah National Park, and recently in a big arrangement in the DuPont Circle area of DC.

I took this photo on the day I was checking out the hostas (my Monday morning post), and as I came around the corner of the house there was a humming bird working them over. Apparently this plant is a favorite for them.

Canine Renal Failure - some resources

The number of posts we have now about Gracie’s Chronic Renal Failure (I’ve also used 'kidney failure' to refer to the condition, and notice that that is one of the web search terms readers frequently use before arriving here) is up in the teens.

We certainly appreciate all the interest in Gracie’s progress – for the record, she’s pretty stabilized for the moment, getting about ½ liter of sub-q fluids every other day, along with all the other meds, and the special diet. I also hope that readers who find these entries on the web find some useful, or at least, reassuring information here on the Hawksbill Cabin blog.

One thing I wanted to be sure to highlight is a comment that reader “Linda” left a few weeks ago – it was reassuring and provided additional resources that readers may want to check out. A quote from her comment:

“I have been dealing with my dog's renal disease for three years. I was wondering if you had found the website http://www.dogaware.com/? It has a lot of good articles…”

I’ve spent some time on that site, and there is plenty of useful information here. To get right to the point on canine kidney failure though – follow this link: http://www.dogaware.com/kidney.html#protein .

As always, if you arrived at this page from a web search and want to read more about our experience with this condition, click on the label “canine renal” below.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Summer Surprise #1

A few weeks back, while we were visiting Dan and Sally (and sampling the Competition Flat Tail IPA) we talked about how the fruit trees didn't seem to set much fruit this year.

Last year we had a bumper crop from the old Macintosh in the front yard - the deer had a feast that lastest more than 6 weeks. Dan said he didn't see many blossoms on his trees this spring, though, and I only remember maybe 25 percent as many on ours.

Spring weather must have knocked many of the blossoms off. But as I was walking around checking the hostas for a previous post, I looked up and the tree. We'll have a smaller crop this year for sure, but we will have apples.

Land o' Hostas

Three weeks ago, I noticed that our Hostas had reached their prime, their flowers blooming in a lavender mist all over the yard at the cabin. Apparently one of the women that lived here a few years back was an enthusiast – now these things are everywhere.

Mary has even pulled some of them up and transplanted them back to Alexandria. We’ve also given a few of them to Sally and Dan and other neighbors. They are pretty hardy, shade tolerant plants…and the deer love them.

I found out the hummingbirds also like them, having seen the birds working over the blossoms. I am pretty sure that the hostas are sustaining some carpenter bees, too. One final story, the guy who came out to clean our septic said that copperheads like to hide under them – so far, we haven’t seen any copperheads, I think because the black rat snakes eat them all.

All these hostas got me thinking I should look them up on Wikipedia. Turns out:

  • They grow from rhizomes or stolons (under grown connections to parent plants) – we have both happening in the yard;
  • There are 3,000 registered and named varieties (I am sure we have at least a half dozen in the yard);
  • Past names were the Corfu Lily, Day Lily, and Plantain Lily; and
  • They are native to Japan, Korea, and China.
The Wikipedia article referred me to the American Hosta Society, where I learned:
  • They were first imported and grown in Europe in the late 1700’s. By the mid-1800’s hosta were growing in the United States.
  • Also, as they forage in residential communities deer frequently find hostas among their favorites, especially those hostas with the fragrant flowered parents.
I know the deer like ours, there are always a couple of plants where the leaves have been eaten completely back to the stems. No problem for us, though – we got plenty!

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Night at Shenandoah Speedway

Mary couldn’t join me at the Hawksbill Cabin last weekend; she had deadlines of her own to work on. So I was left on my own to try and get some writing done (I am having a horrible time getting a proposal done right now, total writer’s block – yet I still seem to be able to blog daily).
So on my own, I took off for the two short hikes I wrote about earlier this week. I checked in with Howard and the gang at Evergreen Outfitters – looking into catching a Wranglers game – but the team was on a road trip and wouldn’t be back until the next weekend.
I was settling into the thought of getting take out (from Momma Mia in Shenandoah), and sitting on the brick terrace with a fire, when I remembered we have racing in Page County, so I went down to Shenandoah Speedway (http://www.shenandoahspeedway.com/ ) to check it out.
This facility is just north of the town of Shenandoah along US 340. Massanutten Mountain – in fact, the motto is “Where the mountain roars!” – and Mary and I have been trying to take in a race for a while. I was sorry she missed it.

NASCAR this isn’t – it’s more of a minor league affair. But there is plenty of entertainment value to be had. The night I went, there were no less than six races on the “Fan Run Down:”
· INEX Legends (the two photos here) – 25 laps
· SVSRL Mini Cups – 25 laps
· UCARS – 30 laps
· Sportsman – 20 laps
· Street Stock – 30 laps
· Late Models – 75 laps
I sat down with a chili cheese dog and an ice cold Bud and enjoyed myself, from a seat right in front of the winner’s circle and the flagman tower.

We’re going to have to work on the ball game, but the summer season is only two months long (it is well covered by this blog: http://allthingsvalleyleague.typepad.com/, and it’s over by August. The town of Luray really turns out for the games, and we want to check it out. Mary also tells me she wants to check out the races…that’s a new one on me, but I am game for going back.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Lands Run Falls - Another SNP Easy Day Hike

This afternoon, a review of the second of two little hikes I took over the weekend – yesterday was Snead Farm, and today will be Lands Run Falls. Both were selected from the “Best Easy Day Hikes – Shenandoah National Park” book, which you can find on Amazon here:Best Easy Day Hikes Shenandoah National Park, 3rd

The book’s review of the Lands Run Falls hike begins with the admonishment, “[The falls] is not especially high, nor can you see the entire falls from the trail.” I have been using this book for more than five years – long enough to have been disappointed in one or two of the routes, and this is the first one I’ve read that understates an otherwise excellent short hike.

Here are some examples of past disappointments:

· the Ivy Creek route describes the destination as a lovely pool – although the trail progresses through interesting terrain, it never gets far from Skyline Drive, or the sound of motorcycles; and the enticing pool at the end practically drives up during the summer;
· the Mary’s Rock route, while it does mention the 1,210 feet of elevation gain does not do a good job describing the actual steepness of the ascent; and
· the Limberlost review could use an update – this is a very crowded route due to its accessibility to the Parks main developments, Skyland and Big Meadows.

I guess that three out of ten disappointments is a lot for this little book of 26 hikes, but on the whole I’ve been happy with the experiences we’ve had. The short Stonyman interpretive trail is well worth taking; of course, I love the Hawksbill Summit (our mountain, as I like to call it, since it overlooks the hollow where the cabin sits); and there is the Dark Hollow Falls that Mary and I have gone back to many times.

So, despite the foreshadowing of disappointment, I decided to take a chance on Lands Run Falls nonetheless. This trail follows a fire road, so it is well marked. Like many others in the Park, the trail descends from the trailhead, so the return route is an ascent, and while short, it is steep.

Despite all of this, the route treks down through a forest of mature oaks and chestnuts, tucked away in a hollow. I don’t remember taking a lot of trails like this one in the Park – the photo above is of a spectacular group of oaks that is a short way down the trail.

A second photo here is of a new blow down, which was probably less than a month old (there was a recent storm with an F1 tornado in Stanley – I assume this tree came down then). The tree must have blocked the fire road because of the clean up that had been done. The reason I took the photo, however, is because of the long vertical split in the trunk that happened when the tree came down – there was a lot of energy when this happened, as the split is more than 30 feet long, vertical along the trunk!

Just a few feet from the fallen tree, the sound of the falls can be heard, even though it is still a bit of a hike away. The sound accompanies you, and gets louder as you continue downhill around a switchback in the road. Finally, there is a little stream on the left, uphill, side of the trail, which passes through a culvert under the road.

There is a spur trail that follows the stream a hundred feet or so to the top of a little bluff, over grown with ferns and mosses, and with that wonderful canopy of oaks overhead. This is where the stream catapults itself over in a small but beautiful little waterfall.

As I stood on the bluff looking down at this beautiful site, I pondered the hike book’s review. It’s funny that the description there set me up for something altogether different than what I experienced.

After a quick look at the Heatwole guide, it is appropriate to post his review here too:

"The falls are a series of small cascades that descend a total of about 80 feet in a narrow gorge. Except in spring, when the snows are melting, there isn't much water. There is no point from which you can see all the cascades at once. To see the first one, cross the stream to its left bank and cautiously work your way down through the rocks. If you've become attuned to small and subtle pleasures, this place has a great deal of charm. The rocks are covered with mosses, lichen, and polypody. But the hillside is very steep. The ground is carpeted with needles of pine and hemlock, and sometimes dead leaves, so that the footing is treacherous and the descent must be classified as difficult. As I said, this trip is not for everyone. We have bigger falls that are easier to see. This is for the very few hikers who are willing to go to a lot of trouble to find solitude beside a small pool on a mountain stream."

Now, neither of the two hikes here, Lands Run Falls and Snead Farm, is rigorous in any sense of the word. If you’re after “extreme” or “adventure” there are plenty more to choose from in the Park or nearby (you can start by checking the “Day Hikes: Moderate” label, or by taking a look at http://www.hikingupward.com/).

But I will say this about the two hikes – I enjoyed both of them, a lot more than I expected. They helped me with the writer’s block I have been having on the proposal I’ve been working on. And, just as I turned to start my hike back to the trailhead at Lands Run Falls, the young family with their two dogs I’d seen earlier at Snead Farm turned onto the short spur to have a look at the pretty little waterfall.

SNP's Snead Farm: an Easy Day Hike

Frequent readers know that I’ve set an informal goal of hiking all of routes described in the “Best Easy Day Hikes – Shenandoah National Park” book, a Falcon Guide written by Bert and Jane Gilbert (Amazon link below). Mary, Chris and I have done 10 of the 26 in this book already (check the label “Day Hikes: Easy” for many of the reviews, we’ve done a few of them more than once). Over the weekend, facing writer’s block on a proposal I have been trying to finish for a few days, I decided to go out and take in one or two more of the hikes.

This will be the first of two posts on the hikes, which I combined with a drive up to Front Royal (lunch at Spelunkers) and also to check on the used equipment for sale at the Front Royal Canoe company, an outfitter up in that area.

At first, I was only going to do the 1.4 mile Snead Farm hike, with the option of extending it to 3.2 miles by taking some side trails and fire roads. Part of the route was a bit over grown with summer brush; having plucked off my share of ticks already this year, rather than trekking through the long grass, I came back and regrouped, deciding instead to combine this one with Lands Run Falls, an easy 1.2 mile out-and-back.

The description of the Snead Farm hike begins with the note that this is a relatively new addition to the Park – the 200-acre plot was procured in 1962. As such, there are a couple of buildings still standing to take a look at once you reach the farmstead – the old barn and the root cellar. There is also a stone foundation from the old bunkhouse back there.

For some of the SNP hike posts, I also like to pull material from the old Heatwole guide to the Park (on the web at http://www.ajheatwole.com/guide/ ). Here is an excerpt from the guide about this little hike:
…the house has been torn down, but the barn is in fairly good condition. The small structure in back may have been a root cellar.

The road continues beyond the barn to the site of the Snead house, on the right, where a wall and steps still remain. As you might guess, the owners of this property were not typical mountaineers. Originally it belonged to the Garter family, who were farmers and fruit growers in comfortable circumstances. They owned extensive orchards; and the land now occupied by the Visitor Center was, in 1930, Carter's cornfield. This property is now called the Snead place, although Snead, a Rappahannock County judge, owned it for only a few years. The Park bought the 200-acre property in 1962, in order to develop and protect the Dickey Ridge water supply.”

Both the Snead Farm route and the Lands Run Falls route follow fire roads, so they definitely qualify as easy ones. Along the road into the farmstead, there are three forks in the road, so hikers have to be careful to take the right ones – left, right left, like the old military cadence. I did make a wrong turn, and found myself at a dead end. The grass was mowed there (there’s some electrical infrastructure in this area) into the shape of a cul-de-sac, and there was a campfire ring in the middle (with ubiquitous beer cans, I might add).

After pondering, “this can’t be it” for a moment, I backtracked to the last fork and sure enough had taken a wrong turn, adding about a half mile to my little walk.

At that fork, there is a little spring that has been stoned in, the water trickles under the road through a conduit. There is enough of a flow to make a pleasant spattering where it comes out – but I was destined to see a really nice, real waterfall, later this day. Also, there is the trace of an old stone wall that follows the old farm road, marking the way. Much of this stone is the igneous rock that you find in the Park, it’s piled in places in addition to the trace of the old wall.

Although the Park was crowded, I didn’t run into a lot of folks on this trail, except for a family with two young daughters and two dogs. This was a cheerful group out having a good time – I ran into them again at the Dickey’s Ridge Welcome Center, and again on the Lands Run Falls Hike.

I’d really like to come back and redo the Snead Farm hike in the fall, with the foliage down and some of the grasses having died off, so it would be easier to get a perspective of the place.

SNP Best Easy Day Hikes

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Mary's Container Garden

A few years back, Mary became friends with Herb and Odessa, and their dog Elmo, during walks around our old Linden Street neighborhood in Alexandria. At the time, they were in their late seventies; they had lived in the neighborhood since the late ‘40’s – she grew up here. Their house is built on two lots.

In addition to walking Elmo, they kept in shape by tending a large “truck garden” in the backyard, where they grow tomatoes, corn, summer squash, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers – just about anything you’d expect to find at a farmers’ market in Alexandria or Luray – right there in the middle of their suburban yard, two hundred yards from the subway. Odessa puts up the bulk of the produce so they have it year round, but they often gave us some of whatever was fresh – big piles of tomatoes, eggplants, peppers – all that is good. We pair it up with the summer grilling, but once Mary even made a ratatouie!
Our friends are still with us, now in their eighties. They've scaled back some this year so the little truck garden isn’t as big as it used to be. Mary checks in with them sometimes to make sure all is well, and sometimes I'll pick up a zucchini bread or carrot loaf at the Arlington farmers’ market that she can take by to them.

Being friends with Herb and Odessa has inspired Mary to try her hand at growing some of these vegetables. It’s an upgrade for her – she used to only grow a container of cherry tomatoes every summer, in addition to herbs and spices. This year she has broken away from that tradition, and has quite a few things coming up in the containers.
Cherry tomatoes, as always, are the basic crop, but she also has two varieties of regular-sized tomatoes, a red one and a yellow one. As the photos show, she also has peppers and squash going, and there is a basil plant mingling in there.

Soon, one night not too long from now, we’ll have an appetizer of tomatoes and fresh mozzarella (I’ll pick it up from Whole Foods if we don’t find any fresh made in the markets), drizzled in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, with fresh basil leaves plucked right from this plant. We’ll pair that up with some “Big House Pink” if it is a warm evening, and dine al fresco in the back yard. What’s not to like?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

I Ate Mr. Burner's Cow

After posting those two notes on sustainability and diet, and also after thinking a bit more on the role of agriculture in the Page County economy, I wanted to do a post on a couple of local farmers that I’ve met in the Farmers’ Market out in Luray.

In the spirit of the “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” campaign, a Virginia agricultural outreach program that aims to strengthen the local food and farm economy, connect buyers to local growers and processors, foster a growing relationship among all the stakeholders in the food chain, and find ways to communicate the positive impacts of local agriculture (you can find details here http://www.buylocalvirginia.org/ and here http://www.buylocalshenvalley.org/ ) – I wanted to highlight two of the Luray area farms.
The first is a group of three farmers that have an enterprise called Skyline Premium Meats. Whenever Mary and I are out, we drive past one of the farms on Business 340. We’ve bought steaks and cuts from them a few times now, and enjoy visiting with them on those sunny Saturdays at the market. Here’s an excerpt from their website about the enterprise.
Skyline Premium Meats, LLC was formed by three Virginia farmers, to bring to you, the consumer, the very best in quality consistent, all-natural and safe beef. Our selection process is detailed and strict. The cattle that we harvest are conceived, managed, and fed by us with your complete satisfaction as our ultimate goal. Only our highest quality beef earns the name "Skyline Premium."
Your purchase of Skyline Premium Meats ensures you of several things:
  • A Virginia's Finest Product
  • No Antibiotics
  • No Added Hormones or Steroids
  • No Chemical Alteration of Any Kind
  • Genetically Selected for Quality
  • Corn Fed to Perfection
  • Harvested to an age that optimizes taste and tenderness
  • Processed by one of Virginia’s most trusted custom facilities under complete USDA inspection

While we enjoy a lot of the products we see out at the market, a second one I wanted to highlight today is Public House Produce, which is a family-owned and operated produce farm located one mile from downtown Luray, VA in the scenic Shenandoah Valley.

From their website: Since 2006, we have been growing vegetable plants and planting an ever larger vegetable garden. In 2009, we began a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program to help share the bounty of fresh healthy vegetables with our neighbors.

I took some photos of these folks before in a post last summer (http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2008/09/scarecrow-and-yellow-moon.html - title is a reference to "King Harvest" by the Band) Here are some facts about the farm they had on a sign at the market recently.

The CSA program at Public House was a new concept for me. Families can work with the farm to buy produce – if I have it correct, you buy a share of the crops coming in over the course of a season. Then there is a weekly harvest and you get fresh vegetables. Here are a couple of photos from their site of the shares for recent weeks.

The websites for these two farms are: http://www.skylinepremiummeats.com/

Monday, July 13, 2009

Nine Secrets to a Longer Life

I am not a frequent reader of “National Geographic Adventure” magazine. It tends to be a little over the top for my taste – adventure is healthy, but too often this magazine is talking about a safari to Africa, a guided hike to Machu Picchu, or a cruise in Alaska – all trips that cost in the range of $3,000 per person and up.

I fall squarely in the demographic of their readers, but I am not after one of these “once in a lifetime” excursions that are probably just that because of the cost. I’ll take my adventure a little bit at the time, like biting an apple, thank you very much. Besides, I’ve never been fond of that kind of touring, preferring to come and go as I please, based on research I’ve done ahead of time on my own.
…oh yeah, and just now, this bear strolled through my yard…here is a phone cam image, so look for the little black object (in some browsers, you can enlarge by clicking on the photo) – I was lucky to have the camera handy at all.

Back to my post, there was an interesting article in the magazine’s June/July edition, describing the travels of cyclist Dan Buettner to the places on earth where people tend to live longer than average, and there are high concentrations of long-lived people. He documents these areas in a book – they include Sardinia, Okinawa, Costa Rica, and Loma Linda, but his travels are taking him to the Greek Island of Ikaria this year.
Buettner summarizes nine tips – “secrets of long life from the world’s healthiest humans,” repeated below.

· Move: find ways to stay active
· Plan de vida: discover your purpose in life
· Downshift: take a break
· 80% rule: don’t overeat
· Plant power: choose greens (a dietary choice)
· Red wine: a glass a day
· Belong: stay social
· Beliefs: get ritualistic
· Your tribe: family matters

The article’s author, Josh Dean, summarized the book into these bullet points. Both the article, which presents the information Q&A/interview-style, and the book, goes into more detail about each of these items.

After the post last week about sustainable business rules (http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2009/07/sustainable-business-strategy.html), this article seemed to make a nice bookend by talking about the individual, as opposed to the social or cultural group that one is part of – in that case, the workplace.

is the link to the Buettner book.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Page Economy Follow-ups

Obviously there is always something fresh to talk about with the economy, and Page County is no exception. I read recently that since the unemployment rate reached 17 percent earlier this year, there has been a string of improvements so that now the rate is between 10 and 11 percent. I need to look around for that source - want to see what the improvement was based on.

A second topic, one that links back to the series of posts I did on the 2004 strategic plan, has supported a spirited discussion in the county - the idea that an industrial park will attract jobs. The Page County Economic Development Authority has taken to writing full page articles defending a recent offer to purchase so land along Business 340 - the "traffic artery" that runs between Luray and Stanley, as well as going into some detail of what the EDA does.

They offered a justification based on five initiatives:

  • Providing access to grants such as the one that supported renovation of the Mimslyn Hotel
  • Supporting existing employers
  • Supporting the Luray Caverns Airport Hangar expansion
  • Supporting low interest loans to small businesses
  • Attracting new business to the county

On this last one, they have made a reference to having "pad-ready" sites as a key to the initiative. They go on to mention, "in the last few years, we have worked with about a half-dozen new business prospects."

In response to this, I would like to hear more about the success rate with these prospects. Based on my understanding of the location, the access to resources and distribution networks, and the nature of the work force in the county, I am not convinced that the project will work. There is a 2008 update to the plan that I will download and read for further background, however.

On the other side of this issue, there is at least one District Supervisor candidate who is asking smart questions about the proposal (which by the way, is called Project Clover, and one aspect of the effort is the purchase of a 210-acre farm for $7.5 million), and former candidate Jim Turner (not me - the other one!) who is leading a petition effort to stop the purchase.

Alice Richmond is the candidate, she has a website www.pagecountywatch.org that is tracking the issues. There are legitimate questions about the purchase that haven't been addressed - about how the EDA works, how the decision was made, and since Page County taxpayers will underwrite the project with bond offerings - why there hasn't been more public involvement in the decision.

I like seeing the dialog - and what I hope comes out of this is a productive way forward. For now, I am skeptical of Project Clover. I'd like to see more metrics on the success of past EDA efforts, including the turnover on these "half-dozen" business development initiatives, an honest assessment of this land price (seems about 3x current market), and even the track record of the tech center, an EDA project that adjoins the Clover site.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sustainable business strategy - interesting new book

I haven’t posted on a business topic in a while. I am a management consultant in my day job, so I try to keep up with basic business reading as I go. I’ve been fortunate, in a way, to have worked in small and large companies – my current employer has 45K+ employees – and I maintain a small, highly networked company for occasional freelance projects.

In the large company environment, one observes interesting social behaviors and politics everywhere. Everyone’s looking for some advantage to put them over on their peers and antagonists. That’s nothing new. But what we see right now is an economy and markets in turmoil, so I am beginning to see the internal competition that fosters these behaviors as wasteful – it doesn’t do anything to protect 45,000 jobs, and it doesn’t do anything o grow the next 4,500 jobs.

So when this month’s Fast Company magazine included an excerpt from “Strategy for Sustainability: A Business Manifesto” by Adam Werbach, I found some interesting insights about the economy of large businesses. Werbach examines Xerox, among others, for business practices that he then compares with facts drawn from ecological sciences biomechanics and biomimicry. Here is an extended quote from the article, while there is an Amazon link to the book at the end of this post.

“Nature’s 10 Simple Rules for Survival

“…scientists are decoding rules that can help form businesses as hardy and long lasting as a forest. After all, nature is far harsher than the market: If you are not sustainable, you die. No second chances and no bailouts. Businesses that are capable of dealing with the challenges of a changing world will be better able to respond and to lead.

"1. Diversify across generations.
2. Adapt to the changing environment.
3. Celebrate transparency. Every species knows which species will eat it and which will not.
4. Plan and execute systematically, not compartmentally. Every part of a plant contributes to its growth.
5. Form groups and protect the young. Most animals travel in flocks, gaggles, and prides. Packs offer strength and efficacy.
6. Integrate metrics. Nature brings the right information to the right place at the right time. When a tree needs water, the leaves curl; when there is rain, the curled leaves move more water to the root system.
7. Improve with each cycle. Evolution is a strategy for long-term survival.
8. Right-size regularly, rather than downsize occasionally. If an organism grows too big to support itself, it collapses; if it withers, it is eaten.
9. Foster longevity, not immediate gratification. Nature does not buy on credit and uses resources only to the level that they can be renewed.
10. Waste nothing, recycle everything. Some of the greatest opportunities of the 21st century will be turning waste – including inefficiency and under-utilization – into profit.”

It seems that to adapt this within a large company, you’ve got to be able to look deep into the organization at the small groups that make it up – it used to be said that the ultra-large Swedish-Swiss conglomerate ABB could measure the financial performance on business units as small as two people – but that makes these rules a useful strategy for small business as well.
I think I’ll buy the book: Strategy for Sustainability: A Business Manifesto

A few updates on the Presgraves affair

Reviewing an article in last week's Page News and Courier, there have been a few new developments in the case against former Sheriff Presgraves:

  • a second indictment, for false statements during the investigation, has been filed
  • the former sheriff will go to trial on the original 22 charges on September 16 in Harrisonburg
  • the Presgraves' home in Page County is for sale

The first indictment on 22 counts was the product of a long and circuitous investigation. I suppose it is easy to understand that a false statements charge could be made. Still, I prefer to leave all of this as "alledged" crimes until the trial. They are accusations until he's had his day in court.

The paper does get a bit sensational in its description of the Presgrave house for sale, going as far as to list the address! It is newsworthy, at the end, as there is an allegation in the original set of charges that the former sheriff illegally used inmate labor for home improvements. Here is the listing, taken from the Weichert.com site:

MLS PA7049999: Distinctive 10+acre secluded country-style compound. 5,440 s/f, 3BRs/3.5BAs with large game/recreation room. MBR w/private balcony. Sprawling covered pavilion w/summer kitchen; 2 ponds w/fountains/decks; large event area w/outdoor grills and baths-perfect for weddings,etc.; separate guest quarters; 2 garages for up to 12 cars; extensive landscaping. Unique property! Dimensions approx.

The Hawksbill Cabin will continue to follow this story as it develops.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Nesting Hawks Encore 2009 - part 2

(Today, finishing the two-parter started yesterday, about the little nest of Sharp-shinned hawks that has become an annual event at the Hawksbill Cabin.)

I mentioned this feeding ritual that the hawks have, so I’ll offer a few more details of what we’ve been seeing. Starting around daylight, the youngsters begin making their cries and flying around the neighborhood. This activity continues throughout the morning, before they settle down during the heat of the afternoon. Sometimes, just before we get up, there is a chorus of cries and the sound of a congregation in one of the trees, which we’ve begun to recognize as feeding time.
It seems that this gathering takes place in random trees. My guess is that this is how the adults teach the young to hunt. The young are never very far away, but they are scattered around the hollow, so the lucky first and second are never the same birds. The randomness of it all must be how everybody gets enough to eat; as a result, the flying also gets stronger and more confident by the day.
One morning last weekend was the first time I was able to watch this spectacle in detail. The parent arrived, clutching prey, and left it on a low branch in one of the nearby pines. The fledglings all converged, swarming the meal, dividing it up. After a moment, there was still enough left to incite some jealousy, so more scrambling ensued. Somebody lost their grip on the prize, and the largest portion of it crashed to the ground in a weedy patch of the yard.

None of them went after it after it fell, and I hadn’t had enough coffee to be so adventurous, so I figured that some lucky raccoon would eventually get it. Later in the day, I was walking around the yard and saw two of the young birds down on the ground. They were both covering whatever they had with their wings, obviously eating something. It might have been the lost meal, or maybe another one. In any case, one of the birds had a larger piece, because the second finished up sooner and started running around on the ground in a circle.
Then, on Sunday afternoon, as we were getting ready to leave, the prey was brought back to the home tree. The prey was fetched up into the higher branches this time. It seemed like all of the birds got back in time to get something to eat. After a few minutes, I saw one of the fledglings miss a step and fall off the high branch, down into the area where the trunk splits and the ivy is entwined. I heard the “thunk” of impact and all was quiet.

I sat with my fingers crossed that we hadn’t lost one of the birds. It reminded me of a time a few years ago, when a young finch flew into one of the windows in Alexandria. My wife Mary called animal control, where she was told to just keep an eye on it and protect it from predators – birds don’t usually die from this, they are simply stunned and more likely die because they are attacked during the moment of their vulnerability. So I hoped that all we had in this case was a stunned hawk.

Sure enough, about a half hour later, the little one thrashed its way out onto a branch. Still weak and disoriented, it hopped from limb to limb, always descending. Eventually, it fell to the ground, lying very still – so I thought it had died. Then, a flutter – and then, it righted itself, eventually recovering enough to hop around the yard. And that’s how we left it when we got on the road back to Alexandria.
I was expecting that we’d only be watching three youngsters after that, but early last Friday morning, I saw all four of the youngsters perched separately in the trees around the yard – the injured one had survived. Each one of them is flying proficiently now, including the one that was injured, although this one does seem to favor one leg when it is perched on a branch, and I’ve even seen it lie prone on a branch to rest.

It probably won’t be long now until we don’t see any of the young hawks anymore. They had flown off by the beginning of August last year, and I estimate that in terms of development, this brood is a month ahead of last year’s. So maybe next week, we’ll only have one or two left, and soon after, everyone will be on their way. After that, we’ll probably only catch random sightings of one of them hunting in the woods behind the house.
We’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment out of this natural show, and can only look forward to next year – with hope, that the hawks will return.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Nesting Hawks Encore 2009 - part 1

(Today, the first half of a two-parter on our nesting hawks. We'll put the second half up tomorrow.)

Last year, and again this year, we’ve had the privilege of observing a pair of Sharp-shinned hawks that nest in the big pine that stands in front of the Hawksbill Cabin. This pine is probably 80 feet tall, and about a third of the way up it is split into four or five trunks. The bottom half is all covered with ivy, and the nest is about two thirds of the way up, above the last tangles of the vines. Our perspective from below is such that we can’t quite see the nest, although we can see – and hear – all of the comings and goings.

Just like last year, the hawks have raised a brood of four youngsters, and we’ve been able to watch their development over the course of the spring and early summer. For the last two weeks, the activities have mainly consisted of flying around from tree to tree in the hollow, whistling “scree, scree” from time to time – whether it is a cry of loneliness of hunger we can only guess. It’s clear they are waiting for a parent to arrive with prey, an event that is followed by a flurry of calls and frantic flying to wherever the parent has alighted, since there is a strict “first come, first served” rule in hawk culture.
Due to work deadlines, we weren’t able to come out for a couple of weeks in June this year. At some point while we were away the youngsters took their first flights; so we missed their emergence from the nest and their first clumsy attempts to fly from branch to branch in the big tree, or even better – as they learned to bridge the 30-foot gap between the neighboring pines and oaks with a leap and glide.
Looking back in my notes from last year, it seems to me that this brood is a month ahead of where last year’s batch was at this time – it was just about the time of this post last year that I first wrote the Project FeederWatch program at Cornell to ask for help identifying the birds as we began to see them. On their suggestion, we spent some time learning the difference between the larger Coopers hawk and the Sharp-shinned hawk – scrutinizing everything from the parents’ “kik-kik-kik” call, to the prey (strictly small birds, which is why the we promptly put away our feeders when the hawks arrive), to the distinctive t-shape of the birds in flight (Coopers have more of a cross-shape).

I’ve tried very hard to get a good phone-cam photo of the youngsters, but so far, even after two years of trying, the opportunities just haven’t been there. Next year, if we’re lucky and they come back, I’ll be sure to have a digital camera with a zoom so I can get some better photos; the ones I have published here on the blog are the best of the more than two dozen attempts that I made this summer and last.
Tomorrow's post will describe a couple of events that we've been able to watch during meal times for the youngsters.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Beaver Pond behind the scenes

With the water receding out of the beaver pond, I had a chance to get a closer look at what goes on behind the scenes at one of these constructions. I was very impressed!

First of all, judging from the bare earth in this photo, there are places in the pond that may have been as deep as eight feet! For a little stream like Beaver Run, that is pretty impressive.

I’ve mentioned that we are seeing deer and squirrels walking around where the pond was. The deer have even broken their old paths back in, you can see where the grass has been knocked down and the little hoof prints. So we return to normal.

We saw one of the little beavers in our yard, on our side of the street the other day, and a larger one, an adult, around the bend in the road. And there are still ducks on what’s left of the pond.

In the photo above, there is a green clump of vegetation in the center of the shot, with a fallen tree nearby. In this final picture, we saw what we’ve suspected was there all along, but couldn’t confirm while the water was up – the underwater entryway into the beaver hutch.

When I was a kid, we had a book with a cutaway view of the hutch and entryway. I could spend hours looking at that picture, imaging what it was like to come and go through the little portal. Now we’ve finally seen it.

Gracie's recent blood test - results

Another post from Mary with details on Gracie's progress with Canine Renal Failure. If you are finding this from a web search, click on the "canine renal" label below to find additional posts on this topic.


Late last month, Gracie had another blood test to see how she’s doing. Her numbers indicate that she’s stable:

+creatinine at 3.5, down from 5 at the last test;
+BUN at 82, which is a little high but acceptable; and
+her calcium level is at 11.7, 1.2 for the ionized test.

This is all very good news. The vet said to do a retest in three months unless she seems to be declining. We have our fingers-crossed that she will meet this milestone.

Gracie remains alert and interested in her toys and walks. She gets a little sleepy from both the arthritis medicine and the blood pressure medication but is still willing to roll the fuzzy soccer ball for a little game of easy fetch. Meal times are still trying – she needs incentives in her food and she has a tendency to spit out the rice as she walks away from her bowl. Grains of rice can be found all over the house.

Mealtimes are time-consuming. She gets her pills first thing, then her food, but she can’t be fed too close to the time she has her pills because the AlternaGel she must receive shortly after eating to coat her stomach must be given at least an hour after she receives her meds. Warming the subQ fluids, then administering them to her takes another 20 minutes or so in the morning every other day. So, her morning meds-meal-and fluids routine can take about 90 minutes to complete. She needs a mid-day dose of AlternaGel with some food, again to coat her stomach and protect against ulcers. Evenings repeat the meds-meals-AlternaGel routine.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Home Grown Hops

For a couple of weeks this spring we’ve been trying to stop by Dan and Sally’s house to visit. We have some information to share about the neighborhood, but honestly, my ulterior motive was to check in on Dan's hop growing enterprise (and get a sample of the latest).

They’ve got a vegetable garden over there where they try to use organic approaches – they have been able to grow a substantial share of summer vegetables for the past few year.

Dan also started growing hops last year with two rows of three vines (see the Beaver Run Brewery label for more information) – this year, he has upped the operation to include three Cascade vines, and he is looking at the viticultural infrastructure investment he’ll need to make in new trellises.

Let’s start with the product though…He’s a home brewer and makes 5-gallon batches from time to time. We sampled – and the photo here is of it – the Flat Tale Competition IPA. He is looking for contests to submit this brew to; it will be bottled crown-style as opposed to the popular recycled Grolsch bottles shown here. This was a great beer, as was the one we had last fall.

Last year, Dan’s entire production of hops was six ounces, if I recall correctly, enough for three batches. This year, he’s already harvested a pound of hops, with more coming off the vine every week, as shown in the two close-up pictures.

During our visit, we were also treated to a feast of ribs smoked on the grill with hickory that Dan had gathered from the yard. Delicious! I mentioned the veggies they grow – the ribs were paired with a salad picked fresh from the garden patch. Thanks Sally and Dan!