Ramble On

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Vacation Thoughts from the Brick Terrace

Back from my golf round on Wednesday evening, again enjoying a break from the rain, I’ve got a 2-hour firelog going and I am indulging in a cigar and – finding a surprise in the beer case at the Food Lion – Shiner Bocks. This, while reading Michael Perry’s Truck: A Love Story, supervising Dude finishing up the pool-opening vacuuming, and watching my wildlife as it grows dark.
Howard invited me to an event tonight, but Mary’s been sick (food poisoning, we think from something she ate in H-burg) and I thought it best to be here tonight. She is almost through it, which is good.

The event Howard told me about is a steak fry to benefit the Boy Scout Council here in Page County. I wish I could have taken him up on it – looks like a great networking opportunity, and as we try figure out what we are going to do with this “weekends in Luray” lifestyle, that might have given some food for thought.
(Note to Howard: Thanks very much for the invitation! I will take you up on one of these things very soon!)
Back to what’s happening here in the hollow tonight. The sun has just slipped down to the right angle to light up the oak trees over on the ridge line, flooding me with reflected golden light here on the brick terrace. From over in the beaver pond, I have heard the “ker-plunk, splash!” from some beaver frolicking over there three times tonight. Off in the distance, the pileateds have been having a go at some tree, the bats are just beginning to rise, and I saw my first hummingbird of the season.
The little fire is petering out so I guess I’ve been enjoying the evening for a couple of hours now…time to decide about putting another one on – am I committed to two more hours out here? I think I might be…

The rain of the last two days has forced a reschedule of the hike Dave G. and I were going to take, Three Falls (#80 on the Hiking Upward site). I’ve got a rain check on that one; the other must do is a canoe float while the river is running like this (the photos here are from one of the landings off of US 340 near Newport, and two others from off of 675 west of Luray.)
There are still three and half days left to get in some prized recreation. We’ll get’r done.

Golf at Luray's Caverns Club

Finally, we caught a break today from the rain that was really dampening the vacation. It’s Wednesday, and I dialed in for a few work conversations before I struck out to play 18 at the Caverns Country Club here in Luray – the photos that accompany this show a few highlights from the course. It was overcast, but no rain, and the sun did break through in patches.

I’d been looking forward to this round over the winter – in September, Dennis and I played the ShenVallee course in New Market, on the west side of the Massanutten ridge. We settled on that one because the Luray course wasn’t open.
Using the term “settled” is not meant to suggest that there was anything to disappoint about the course there, it was simply that the Luray course was closed for four days to do grounds maintenance, so we had to change plans and drive over there.

The Luray course is on the east side of the ridge, and there are three or four holes on the back nine that form a sort of corner along the South Fork of the Shenandoah. You catch a glimpse of it here and there through the trees, from the tee boxes, along the cart path, or as you walk up to the greens.

Some of the highlights of the course – I have photos here of the number one green, looking back at the clubhouse down number one fairway, the first par 3, one of the big par fives, a house with Duncan Knob in the background, and the charming little bird houses that form the 150-yard markers on most of the par fours and fives – include that river view and the views of two of the dominant Massanutten peaks, Duncan Knob and Kennedy peak, which are visible from most points on the course.

In previous posts (here: http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2009/03/weekend-hike-duncan-knob.html - three posts document the whole hike) I’ve written about the excellent Duncan Knob hike; it is so far my favorite over there.
The Caverns Club offers memberships and that is one of the reasons I have been wanting to check out the course. The big question will be, can a weekender count on a good start time Saturday or Sunday morning? Or will I have to take what I can get as a walk-on…the unasked question is whether or not there is a threesome looking for a regular fourth.
The results of my round – I shot a 98, with one triple bogey and two pars, the rest mostly single bogey with some doubles. I did take a few extra mullies off of the tee, but I played every hole to the score I wrote, so I am happy with this round, breaking 100 for the first time in a couple of years. I even pulled out the driver for a ceremonial tee shot on 18, and wound up with a nice 245-yarder. I haven’t hit that club in two years.

And to top it off, there was even a riddle for me as I left the parking lot: four Ontario-tagged SUVs were parked there, owners still out on the course somewhere. Did they drive down for a golf vacation in the Shenandoah Valley? Did our natural beauty tempt them to make a break for the sun after a bleak winter up there?

Fear the Snappin' Turtle

On Monday morning, as we were getting up to start the rainy holiday morning, Mary happened to look outside and saw something she couldn't quite make out in the front yard. It turned out to be a Snapping Turtle that had crawled up into the yard to lay eggs.

Remembering from my Florida days to be careful not to disturb her, I kept my distance to take a few pictures - here she is while laying, then another photo of her moving back down the hill when she was done.
There may have been a second nesting site, or she may have started in one place and finished in another. We put up wood stakes to keep the mowers out of the area until the little ones are hatched and gone.
A quick look at Wikipedia reveals that her trip up the hill is not unusual for turtles laying eggs - it says they lay from 35 to 80 in a batch, once per year. The incubation runs from 9 to 18 weeks, depending on temperature (I imagine the Virginia summer means a shorter period).
She is of average size (10 t0 18 inch shell diameter). Their lifespan in the wild is around 30 years, although they have been kept up to 47 years in captivity.
Here's a photo looking downhill to Beaver Run - the beaver pond is just to the north across the road. This is a little area of the stream where the water widens out and is fairly placid. Not much sun in there, but that's where I guess she went.

Diary of Gracie's Canine Renal Failure - 8

During this week we have all been out at the Hawksbill Cabin, so I have been serializing my wife's diary of Gracie's treatment for canine renal failure here on the blog. We'll be back with unscheduled posts on Monday.

May 19, 2009

One of my neighbors passed on a suggestion for getting more fluids into Gracie
-- mix some electrolyte-enhanced water in with her regular bowl of water, maybe a ½ cup or so. This product is sold under the brand name Smart Water, but Trader Joe's also carries the same thing under its store brand name. Don't get anything flavored, just the regular water. This helps with keeping her hydrated as she's urinating more because of the subcutaneous fluids that are helping to flush her kidneys.

May 20, 2009

I am a little concerned with Gracie's condition in general. Since last weekend, she's been showing signs of weakness again--tripping, slipping on the floor, laying down a lot rather than standing. The vet said that if this occurs, we should increase the fluids to everyday for a few days. We did this the weekend before last and will start her again on fluids everyday for a few days this week. It means her numbers are probably rising again. Not good. However, I am getting her to eat, but she's now responding to turkey "meatloaf" -- pound of ground turkey with two eggs and about a third cup of plain bread crumbs mixed in and baked. She just seemed to get tired of the grilled meat. Turkey baby food (about a teaspoon) mixed with warm water also helps to incentivize.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Diary of Gracie's Canine Renal Failure - 7

This is the last post of the week - continuing today with Mary’s journal about our dog Gracie’s canine renal failure. Also, this is the last post in the series for now, until Mary writes a new one. Gracie’s next vet appointment is June 6, so we’ll have more news then if not sooner.

May 7
The vet called today with the results of the latest tests:
Gracie’s BUN is down from 79 to 77 but her creatinine level has gone back to 5 from 3.6. It was at 5 when she was hospitalized. If she seems to be lethargic, the vet has suggested we go back to a ½ bag every day for a few days then go back to ½ bag every other day. (Today, Gracie does seem a little tired, but I’m not sure if that is due to the long walk we took this morning in humid weather – she was kind of dragging behind Sofie, which was unusual). More fluids will also help if she starts to lose her appetite
I need to reduce the Calcitriol to 0.65 ml 2Xs a week from 1.0ml. The Calcitriol is to be given 1 hour before or 2 hours after the AlternaGel.
I need to adjust the timing of the meds and eating; giving these at the wrong time could be having an effect on Gracie’s numbers:
Give AlternaGel after Gracie eats or in her food
Pills (blood pressure, Pepcid, tramadol) give 1 hour before or 2 hours after she eats
Again, Calcitriol two-times a week (.65 ml) should be given 1 hour before or 2 hours after she eats BUT not at same time of other pills

I’ve made the next vet tech appointment for an Istat blood test (ionized calcium) in about a month (Monday, June 8th 9:30 am). I will also need to bring a urine sample. (Yes, that’s always interesting – I prefer to do this in the privacy of our back yard since following a dog around with a plastic cup looks odd to the neighbors. The vet provides a sterile set up – latex gloves and a lidded cup but, since the cup is too large to fit under Gracie as she squats, I’ve found that a small, flat plastic container—I use a hummus container from Trader Joe’s – works best for collection then transfer to the larger cup. Since the vet is checking urine content, not bacteria, a sterile sample isn’t absolutely necessary.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Diary of Gracie's Canine Renal Failure - 6

Continuing today with Mary’s journal about our dog Gracie’s canine renal failure.

April 1
The test results are back. Gracie’s BUN is down to 79 and creatinine is down to 3.6, both very good numbers. Her phosphate numbers are also down, to 6, which is within normal range but the vet wants to bring it down to 4 or 4.5. ALT is 136. The vet has taken Gracie off the carafate and put her on AlternaGel (a phosphate blocker), which can be ordered OTC at the pharmacy. She gets 7 ml 3Xs a day (2100mg). She’s also now on Calcitriol – 1 ml 2Xs a week. That has to be obtained through a compounding pharmacy (I use Wedgewood Pharmacy 1-800-331-8272 and the Calcitriol is $90 for a three month supply, plus $10 shipping.) Gracie is now on 500ml of fluids every other day but her other meds are the same.

May 6
Blood and urine checked again today. Gracie’s lost a pound, unfortunately. But, she seems interested in food. She gets a cup of brown rice in the morning and evening with 1 ounce of grilled turkey pattie (she loves it grilled), ½ of a very finely crumpled hard-boiled egg, and, as incentives, a ½ to 1 crushed Iams weight-control dog biscuit, ½ a crumpled Greenie pill pocket hidden in the rice, and as a plate-cleaner, some torn pieces of baguette not to exceed the nutritional amount in the original Hills recipe. She also gets no more than a teaspoon of turkey baby food either slathered on the bottom of the bowl or mixed with warm water to create a sauce. Normally, she would get 2 ounces of grilled turkey per meal but I’ve reduced the amount slightly because of the protein-based incentives. She also gets about a ½ cup of rice and maybe ½ ounce grilled turkey with some of the incentives as a small mid-day meal.

Feeding and fluids can take up to an hour in the morning to administer. Also, I have to allow time during the week to cook her food.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Hi from Gracie and Sofie - on Vacation!

There are still a few posts to come on the canine renal failure series, but in the meantime, the girls are at the HawksbillCabin enjoying a well-earned vacation.

Here's Gracie, the border collie, near some zinnias and flags, and then Sofie in one of the spots where she keeps an eye out for deer.

Diary of Gracie's Canine Renal Failure - 5

Continuing today with Mary’s journal about our dog Gracie’s canine renal failure.

March 17th
Another follow-up vet tech appointment with blood and urine tests. I’m at the vet’s office so much that I jokingly tell the patient coordinators that I should have a reserved parking space. I’m getting to know some of them by name, and all have been very caring toward Gracie and me during this ordeal.

I’ve shifted Gracie to homemade food based on the Hill’s diet: white rice, white bread, hard-boiled egg, calcium from ground egg shell, but have replaced the beef with boiled or baked chicken. She’s still not eating very much of it and it takes a while to get a full serving into her, using incentives and tears. I’ve switched the blood pressure medicine prescription to Costco from Target – I’m now paying around $6.00 for the same amount I paid $57 for at Target.

March 30th
More follow-up blood work. Gracie’s up to 43 pounds. In desperation regarding her food, I’ve consulted a holistic vet regarding Gracie’s diet. I’ve switched Gracie to brown rice and turkey, and replaced the white bread with French baguette (not through the holistic vet – I accidently dropped a piece of French bread on the floor one day and Gracie gobbled it up.) I don’t put the calcium in her food any more because she doesn’t seem to like it but otherwise I’m trying to keep the nutritional amounts from the substitute foods relatively the same as in Hill’s recipe.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Diary of Gracie's Canine Renal Failure - 4

Our dog Gracie was diagnosed with early stage canine renal failure last year. She had some issues earlier this year – lethargy, declining to eat or drink – that indicated her condition had progressed to the final stage. During this week week, while we are at the cabin on vacation, without regular internet access, I’ve scheduled for chronological posts of my wife’s account of the events since Gracie was diagnosed as being in this stage.

March 11th
Gracie’s about the same, eating a bit more but it's still a struggle. I'm getting used to sticking in the needle between her shoulder blades after pulling up some skin to form a “pocket” but I've got needle pricks in my fingers from my learning curve. Occasionally, she will bleed if I hit some capillaries. It’s a huge bore needle and Gracie flinches when I stick it in her flesh. Jim has become adept at holding the fluid bag and pushing the fluids to regulate the flow. But, Gracie’s a very calm dog and takes the pain stoically. Jim sits on a chair to hold the bag up and I sit on the floor in front of him with my knees up around Gracie, sort of forming a corral. She sits between us and only gets restless towards the end of the treatment. She gets her G3Chews and Pet Tabs as a treat as we begin the treatment and after is rewarded with a few tosses of her fluffy soccer ball. The fluid collects under her skin and forms a big mound which eventually seems to move down around to the front of her neck. To make her more comfortable, we warm the fluids bag in a pot of warm tap water to bring it closer to her body temperature, and we warm a bath towel in the dryer and lay it across her back and sides as we administer the fluids. This acts to keep her calm and also helps keep her warm.

The carafate and blood pressure medicine are costing a small fortune for a one or two week supply, which is disheartening. I’m also buying five bags of fluid with set ups and needles from the vet every 10 days. The fluids cost about $10/bag. The medication regimen is fairly rigid, administering the carafate an hour or so after the others since it will prevent the other medications from being absorbed in the stomach. We have a follow-up with the vet next Tuesday. Hopefully, Gracie’s numbers will have stabilized—that’s about the best we can hope for at this point.

She's still a trooper—enjoying our walks and the small fluffy soccer ball tossed up to her as she waits at the top of the stairs to catch it. She the rolls it down the stairs, starting the game again.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Diary of Gracie's Canine Renal Failure - 3

Continuing today with Mary’s journal about our dog Gracie’s canine renal failure.

March 6th through 8th
Gracie is in crisis—lethargic and weak – and has had to be hospitalized for three days with IV fluids, antibiotics, and a host of other medications. Her BUN and creatinine levels are through the roof. She’s down to 39 pounds, a loss of more than 12 pounds over the past year. The crisis has forced Jim and me to face the fact that Gracie may not be with us much longer. We are discussing how much intervention we think is appropriate for our dear girl. Our other old dog, Sofie, is anxious and nervous, looking for her missing friend.

March 9th
Thankfully, Gracie’s rallied and is now home. We must now give her 500 ml of subcutaneous fluids every morning, plus carafate for her stomach, amlodipine besylate 2.5 mg every 12 hours for high blood pressure, Pepcid, plus her tramadol (1 to 1 ½ tablets twice a day for arthritis), G3 Chews for glucosamine and Omega 3 fatty acids, and a Pet Tab vitamin once a day. The pills are given in a Greenie Pill pocket, which she loves. She’s also still interested in Iams dog treats (weight control variety which is lower in protein than other varieties.)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Diary of Gracie's Canine Renal Failure - 2

Continuing today with Mary’s journal about our dog Gracie’s canine renal failure.

February 27th
Another follow-up visit to the vet for blood and urine testing today. Gracie’s been shivering and she’s still not eating enough. I’m trying hard to find prescription food that she will eat. She doesn’t like the Hill’s k/d or the Royal Canin Renal, canned or dry. I’ve tried to incentivize with small amounts of regular dog food, boiled chicken, fresh chicken broth, but she’s not interested. I’m trying her now on a homemade diet based on Hill’s canine restricted protein diet (from our vet via the internet):

¼ lb ground beef, not lean
2 cups cooked white rice without salt
1 hard boiled egg, finely chopped
3 slices white bread crumbled
1 teaspoon (5grams) calcium carbonate (ended up grinding up eggs shells for this)
Cook beef in skillet until lightly brown, add rest of ingredients and a little water if too dry. Keep in refrigerator. Yields 1 ¼ lbs
(Analysis: 6.9% protein, 5.5% fat, 21.1% carbohydrates, 65.5% moisture)
A 40 lb dog such as Gracie should eat 1 ½ lbs of this mixture per day. So one batch is slightly less than one day’s worth of food. (Daily amounts according to Hill’s: 5 lb. dog, ¼ lb of food; 10 lb dog, ½ lb of food; 20 lb dog, 1 lb food; 60 lb dog, 2 lbs food; 80 lb dog, 2 ½ lbs food; 100 lb dog, 3 lbs food)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Diary of Gracie's Canine Renal Failure - 1

Our dog Gracie was diagnosed with early stage canine renal failure last year. She had some issues earlier this year – lethargy, declining to eat or drink – that indicated her condition had progressed to the final stage. Starting today and over the next week, while we are at the cabin on vacation, without regular internet access, I’ll chronologically post my wife’s account of the events since Gracie was diagnosed as being in this stage. As of these postings, Gracie is still with us - pretty happy and comfortable.

January 9th
Gracie, our 14 year-old Border Collie, has been diagnosed with canine renal failure. Her kidneys have been weakening for about a year. In retrospect, one of the first signs was weakness in her legs; she wouldn’t stand for any length of time, preferring to lie down even if we stopped for a short time on our walks. She’s also lost a lot of weight. She’s not eating, and really hates the renal prescription dry and wet foods. (And, it’s very difficult to get this special food, too. It either has to be ordered through a vet or bought on line – a big waste of money if the dog won’t eat it. Petsmart sells canned Hill’s k/d and Royal Canin, but a prescription card is needed.) Loss of appetite is another symptom of the disease. Apparently, the toxins built up in the blood by failing kidneys makes the dog nauseous and can even lead to stomach ulcers.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Signal Knob - Flora and Fauna

In the first post, I mentioned the black rat snake we saw on the trail, after the church group breathlessly warned us about it as they moved quickly back to the trailhead. That wasn't the only snake we saw, although the second one was a juvenile. It was brown colored, about a foot long, and I couldn't make out markings - unidentified.

There were toads all over the place, but they were not the most remarkable amphibians on this route. These little orange salamanders were all over the place a one point in the trail. They were out in the open and more than 100 feet from a stream nearby. As I subsequently learned, this is a juvenile stage for this species, when they are terrestial - more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_newt, where there are more pictures.

The salamanders are called red efts at this stage. That wikipedia article reports the lifespan of a salamanders as 15 years - I did not know that. And no luck for us spotting any adults.

A final note, these wild azaleas were at their peak during our hike. From time to time, a flash of color was visible in the peripheral view - these pink flowers. The rain that day did its damage, and with the days warming every day it won't be long until there aren't any left. Bob at the Old Rag blog - check my blog roll - has more photos.

I've heard back from Chris, Tom and Andy. All agreed that we had a good day despite the unexpected difficulty - and we're all looking forward to next time.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Signal Knob - Technical Matters

Actually, on the Signal Knob hike, the Knob is not the first “peak” you encounter. The trail stops ascending about a mile from the summit, on a nearby peak.

From there, you can see the summit and the tower itself, and the trail takes you around a ridge line until you reach it. The first photo is looking back at that first peak, and the second is of the guys on a logistics break – Chris having adopted a pirate demeanor.

About a third of this trail runs along the ridge line. Just like at Duncan Knob, where there are a couple of camp sites near the summit, here there are also a number of good camp sites along the ridge – a fact that just about every review of this hike references.

One thing the reviews do not caution hikers about is the tallus fields and rocky areas, especially in the critical first ascent. If you are familiar with the geology of this ridge, the mountains are caused by giant folds that left a stratus of limestone exposed at the peak. Sometimes there is a second layer down the mountainside, and that will be symmetrical, with a similar layer on the other side of the ridge.

Unlike at Duncan Knob, where hikers pick a line to go straight through the tallus to the summit, on Signal Knob, the trail traverses this loose layer of very large rocks for several hundred yards. Good hiking shoes, or boots, are a must, and even with them you may not avoid an ankle sprain or bruises.

As we reached the ridge, thunder started. The forecast predicted a 30% chance of a severe storm. Although we were lucky with rain, a lot of it had fallen on the eastern side of the mountain while we were on the west – our hike down was just a bit more slippery for it. And the last scout group we saw came through on double time because of the rain and lightning. Still, even with thunderstorms nearby, we avoided the rain until the very end, walking only the last 200 yards or so in the rain back to the cars.

Here is a view from the summit of Signal Knob looking west across to part of Front Royal, near exit 6 on I-66. The big building visible is a shopping center, maybe even the Wal-Mart, and there is a housing development down below. Near this view, we found this little group of talismen that some prior group had carefully arranged, looks like they are sitting around the campfire.

After the walk along the ridge, the trail descends part way down a valley. After crossing a stream, the trail picks up the ascent for the final part of the 2,500 feet of altitude gain here – it’s steep with many switchbacks and the trail is strewn with rocks.

The photo is of our group taking a break after this second summit, just as we prepared to descend. As shown in the picture here, Chris has a rule that if the packs come off, the jerky comes out. And there you go.

The descent is steep in places, but generally not as rocky as the trail up, so good footing wasn’t difficult to find, despite the earlier rain. Last photo is of the final stream crossing – there were two on our route. From here it was only a mile back to the cars.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Signal Knob - A Moderate Day Hike

On Saturday, my new “hiking group” got together for a hike on Signal Knob, a mountain in the Massanutten Ridge that is near Front Royal. About two months ago we did the Duncan Knob hike together, so we decided to follow-up with this one, a little more rigorous and technical – a 10.5 mile trek with 2,500 feet of elevation change in two ascents, and two stream crossings.

Chris and I started out from the cabin, while Andy and Tom came down from the Leesburg area. The logistic challenge of meeting halfway came off without a hitch, as we arrived at the trailhead at exactly the same time! Here’s a photo of the group at the start of the hike.

The route we had chosen (from the Hiking Upward site) starts immediately with a 1,600 ascent over three miles, to the summit of Signal Knob. Following the summit, there are several peaks and a ridgeline walk in the route. We started in the sun, with temperatures around 80 and with a forecast of several thunderstorms possible.

We were only about 500 yards into the hike when we met a group of Koreans from a church group heading downhill fast. As they passed us, one of them told us there was a snake laying on the trail ahead. Well, I have my history with snakes now, thanks to encountering one in the cabin laundry room twice (check the "snakes" label), so we pressed on, and soon found a six-foot black rat snake sunning itself there on the trail. Hearing us approach, it quickly moved off and over the edge, disappearing into some brush.
Continuing upwards, we came across a group of 30 or so people, kids and adults, sitting around on some rocks and having lunch. Further along the trail we eventually ran into three more groups – two groups of scouts and one of some guys dressed in tie-die shirts, which we immediately dubbed the dead-heads. This was the most people I have seen on any of the Massanutten hikes. Other than these groups, which we encountered early in the hike, during the ascent – there was no one else on the trail.

Once you are most of the way up this first ascent, the view opens back to Fort Valley; this photo of me was taken there. We had stopped for lunch at this point, and needed to assess progress. The heat and the climb had made for a slow trek and we figured we were only three miles in on a 10.5 mile hike, so we were a little worried, given our past history of not getting off of the mountain until after dark.
I'm not saying we're slower than average. But maybe we are - the Hiking Upward site shows this as a 5.5 hour hike, and reading the reviews, on average it takes longer. So the fact that we found this a challenging trail is probably a typical experience.
Lunch out of the way, we got started again, heading for signal knob – which coincidentally, has a (television) signal tower on it, it turns out – shown here. In my post tomorrow, I’ll write about some of the technical aspects of the hike, and more of the views.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

So, about that Star Trek Movie

Saw it, liked it. I think it was unanimous. If you can, go see it first run, so you get the big screen effect - it's worth it.

We went to the new Cineplex down at Gallery Place - an area of downtown DC that has really come along the last 10 years or so, since the Verizon Center was built. The 9:30 club was down here back in the day, and the walk back to the car could be uncomfortable. Not so anymore! (photo of the area today)

Here's a prize for readers today, go see Star Trek!

Mary's Green Thumb

The other night I took a stroll around the back yard in Alexandria with Sofie and Gracie. With everything so lush and green after our recent rains, I noticed again a couple of special trees that Mary has nurtured back there, and I thought I might write a short post about them. These trees are "volunteers" - Mary started them from little seedlings that came off of a parent tree, or from a twig or branch that was carefully rooted and now grows as a mature plant on its own.

The first one is this curly willow. This actually started from a cut branch - no more than a stick, really - in a flower arrangement that Mary received back in the year 2000. After the flowers passed, she kept the little branches because they made an attractive arrangement on their own. A couple of weeks later, they'd sprouted little leaves, and she got the idea she might be able to root one of them. Here we are, nine years later, and we have a tree.

This next one is a little Japanese Maple. A friend had a larger tree in her yard, up in Kensington, MD. Every year, as it cast its seed, there would be two or three little saplings that would spring up in the yard underneath the tree. We took one of them home - it was no more than a foot tall, a fragile little sprout. Now it's been seven or eight years - this has even survived a savage beetle infestation a couple of years ago.

The last one is my favorite - the Rose of Sharon Hibiscus. We got this as a seedling from the parent tree in the yard at our townhouse on Linden Street. The spot where this is planted can be viewed from the kitchen window, so when the purple-throated white flowers show up from July to September, you can have a quick glimpse of them from there.

We have a new volunteer that Mary collected from the hibiscus. It's in a pot, and we'll probably take it to the Hawksbill Cabin with us later in the year and transplant it there, where it will be a connection to this house and our previous one.

As for the curly willow, they are fairly easy to propogate - our friend Eric showed us two that he has grown in the same way that shade his yard (and help soak up a very wet back yard). They are more than 20 feet tall, and are only five or six years old. So we are thinking about starting a few more that we can plant along the stream bed at Beaver Run, which runs along the property line out there.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Berlin Blockade 60th Anniversary

As a follow-up to the post I wrote on the Spy Museum yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised when a friend posted a note remarking that yesterday was the 60th anniversary of the end of the Soviet Blockade of Berlin, which ended in 1949. The actual quote he cited, from Wikipedia or another similar source, was:

"The Soviet blockade of Berlin was lifted at 12:01 AM, on 12 May 1949. A British convoy immediately drove through to Berlin, and the first train from West Germany reached Berlin at 5:32 A.M.. Later that day, an enormous crowd celebrated the end of the blockade. General Clay, whose retirement had been announced by U.S. President Truman on May 3, was saluted by 11,000 U.S. soldiers and dozens of aircraft."

I put this up as my "status" on Facebook and was very surprised by the large number of comments and remarks. There are more than 100 people I was stationed with in Berlin there, and quite a few posted, as did some other "friends." Much appreciated.

The Allied response to the Blockade was to organize an arilift, which supplied food and essentials to the people of Berlin while the land routes in were sealed. Several million tons were flown into to city via the three airports, Gatow in the British sector, Tegel in the French, and Tempelhof, where I was stationed and lived, in the American sector.

In order, the accompanying photos are of winter airlift operations at Berlin; a picture of one of the planes, which is still on display near the old softball fields at Tempelhof, and a photo of the Airlift Memorial with Tempelhof Airport in the background. These are from multiple sources and can be found with a Google search.
As has been my practice, from time to time I will continue to post memories of my time in Berlin. This year happens to also be the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, so there will be future posts on that topic.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

DC's Spy Museum

On Sunday, my nephew was visiting us and we decided to go downtown for the day. Tomorrow I'll write more about our day in Chinatown, but for today, I thought I would start with a review of this museum, which I'd been looking forward to visiting for a long time.

Most readers know that I was an Air Force Russian Linguist, stationed in Berlin in the '80's - the Cold War. So, whenever there is an opportunity to take a look at historical documentation about that era, I'm enthusiastic about taking it in, and this was the case with the Spy Museum as well. Not even the entry price of $18 checked my enthusiasm when we got there; after all, it's a for-profit museum, and I've paid $14 to park at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Annex in Dulles.

The museum is a little older than five years now, I guess, and the age of the exhibits is showing. Much of the text still reflects the conditions of the painful years after 9/11, putting a context around the exhibits that doesn't quite ring true.

When Mary and I visited Berlin in 2001, we went to the Check Point Charlie museum. At the time, she was a curator at the National Building Museum, and she noticed the condition and care of the plentiful artifacts there. They were not well cared for, with ink fading, poorly interpreted, etc. - that museum is also a for-profit, and the conditions were very similar to the Spy Museum experience.

Still there were some interesting things to see. There was a small exhibit of some Soviet WW2 medals (some day, I will write a post about my collection, assembled during visits to Kiev and Moscow, and through auctions). As an example of the poor conditions, all of the medal documentation was fading, so no names or citations could be read. Photos shown here include Julia Child - from an exhibit on famous people yoy may not know were spies, a Cold War era map of Berlin, and one of the border signs that were all around Berlin in those days.

This museum hasn't aged well and is due for an update. My Air Force experience defines a part of who I am, and I didn't like seeing some of the history I was around in this condition. There I go, talking like some crusty old veteran, I guess.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The tell-tale, dime-sized hole

Over the weekend, I heard from Chris, safely back from his encounter with the Bison in Utah. He told me he had noticed some sawdust out on the deck - a sign that carpenter bees might be present.

His deck is unfinished, and was built three or four years ago. The wood is beginning to age, and it is not PT, so it is an attractive location for the bees. He probed around, and sure enough, found the burrow in this picture.

With only one successful burrow, seemed like the remedy I learned about last week might be the best way to deal with it - it's actually in yesterday's post:

"If management of the carpenter bees is necessary you can use a garden dust like five percent carbaryl dust and using a duster, puff the Sevin into the hole so the bees will pick it up on their trips in and out of the hole. After several days you can close the hole with wood putty. Then you should paint the wood to avoid the problem in the future."

I still like the carpenter bee chamber, but for limited issues like this one, a smaller scale solution seems best.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Carpenter Bees - Bad this Year? - Multiple Sources

Judging from the page views and traffic on the blog, there is a lot of interest in carpenter bees. I didn't have as much information here last year - there are a few more posts now that I have gone after the bees for almost two years running.

So this spring, the visitor counts are running from 5 to 10 weekly. There have been a few personal emails about the Carpenter Bee Chamber (and we get their entry as an Adsense post in the left hand column from time to time).

About the same time that I started posting on the bees this year, there were hits from states NC, KY, OH, MO and IL. Now they are coming in from further north; I had a visitor from WI this week. And they are still running at about the same pace, and probably will into June.

I did a search and found another interesting source of information about the bees, posted below. Comments and insights about carpenter bee experiences are always welcome here at the Hawksbill Cabin!

If you notice large bees buzzing around your yard you may think they are bumblebees, but they are not. You are probably seeing the carpenter bee. If they seem to be "in your face," these are the male carpenter bees, which are harmless because they don't have a stinger, but they still cause many people to scream and run to the house.

Carpenter bees build nests in bare, unpainted softwoods. Often they will drill holes in the two by fours of a shed or garage. Painted wood and treated wood is less often used for their nests. The bees you see now have been overwintering in these nests and are now looking for mates. This process will continue into May.

The female may just clean out the old nest and reuse it or she may create a new nest, which will have a nice round entrance hole, which will go straight into the wood a short distance and then it will branch off into one of the chambers she will create to lay her egg. This egg will be placed on a food source of pollen and nectar and then sealed into the chamber. These will develop into an adult carpenter bee, which will emerge in August. At that time we don't notice them as they feed on nectar and then overwinter in their chambers.

So far we haven't mentioned much of a downside to the carpenter bee. The downside is if they can bore holes in large numbers in structural wood that can weaken the structure. They also can destroy the visual affect of certain woods like a porch beam.

If management of the carpenter bees is necessary you can use a garden dust like five percent carbaryl dust and using a duster, puff the Sevin into the hole so the bees will pick it up on their trips in and out of the hole. After several days you can close the hole with wood putty. Then you should paint the wood to avoid the problem in the future.

From: http://www.echo-pilot.com/news/2009/0429/garden/053.html

Saturday, May 9, 2009

West of Here, Part 2

So, after I rec'd the first phone photo from Chris yesterday, I called to check in. He had stopped by the side of the road on Antelope Island there in Salt Lake City and was admiring the wild life...turns out, right there at the side of the road, there was a bison grazing on the scrubby grass.

He estimated that the animal was about 30 feet away, and was wandering closer. I thought for a moment I might refer him to Evan Dyson's tips for safely viewing wildlife, but Chris was pretty caught up in the moment. Understandably, a pretty unique experience - and very cool to be on the phone with him as it happened!

Here's another view of a nearby herd. I love to visit the west. Very tempted to make a plan for Yellowstone or Crater Lake this Fall, but we'll have to see.

Friday, May 8, 2009

West of Here, Part 1

Chris was on a business trip this week, as I found out by surprise when these photo messages started showing up on my moto phone (and when a new location started showing up on my site meter). He'd been in Salt Lake City, and he had some found time on Thursday to get out sightseeing. So in came the mountain photos - here are a few of the views he shared. I have a couple more of a different subject I will post on Saturday.
Everyone should get out to the American West and have a look at the great big, raw beauty that it is. And contrary to what one might think, you can get a good cup of coffee out there in Salt Lake!

Don't miss - Luray's Spring Fest!

It's a weekend where there will plenty of activities. And a favorite event, which Mary and I are going to miss, unfortunately - the Luray Spring Fest. The picture and link below are from the LDI site that has more details.

Activities this year include a beer garden (!) and the duck race. And Evergreen Outfitters is sponsoring a disc dog exhibition down at the ball park. Plenty of stuff for everybody to do - and the Farmer's Market will be on right smack in the middle. Wish we could join the fun.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Washington Post article - Page County Unemployment

A quick link to a story from Monday's Washington Post - it's about unemployment in Page County, and Luray specifically:


Typically, the stock markets give an early indication that a recovery is underway - there doesn't seem to be consensus yet that this is the case, although my sense of it is, market activities of the last two months indicate we are about 6 to 9 months from seeing improvements.

The Post article mentions the Page County unemployment rate, and goes into some detail about those out of work. In one case, a former skilled worker/commuter has been out of work for 10 months.

If the economy is going to be in the dumps a few more months, that is not going to be any comfort for these folks. Even the markets' possible turnaround isn't going to make anyone's day, since so few people actually make their living with capital gains or dividends, or even trading activity.

It will be a few more months until stimulus spending has an impact as well. But from my perspective, working in the government contracts field, I am starting to see a lot of activity on this front, and I believe that these funds will have the impact of accelerating the recovery and providing it with a solid foundation so that it continues, until private sector activities can fulfill their traditional role.

We can begin to think about better times ahead, but we need to make sure we make it through the near-term right now.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Prep for Signal Knob - Part 2

The Signal Knob hike has some historical interest, in addition to being the kind of challenging route my hiking team is interested in – here’s an excerpt on some of the Civil War significance of the mountain there.

Map and excerpt from: http://www.shenandoahatwar.org/cluster_cedar_creek.html
Confederate observers on Signal Knob at the north tip of Massanutten Mountain were in a position to view battles and movements in three counties throughout the Civil War. The Massanutten is a 60-mile long north-south range that splits the Shenandoah Valley along its spine from Strasburg to Harrisonburg. Front Royal on the east and Strasburg on the west are located at narrows formed by the mountain and the two forks of the Shenandoah River. These choke points channeled opposing armies' movements and influenced commanders' operational decisions throughout the war.

This article goes on to describe Confederate and Union campaigns taking place in 1862 and 1864. The Confederates were led by Stonewall Jackson at the time, and the Union forces by Philip Sheridan.

Just as then, the views from this former lookout are a big part of the attraction. I am looking forward to this one.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Prep for Signal Knob - Part 1

My hiking team - the guys that joined me for Duncan Knob earlier this year, is planning our next outing to Signal Knob near Front Royal. That will be a week from this Saturday.

As part of our prep, here's some helpful advice from a friend on Facebook: Appalachian Outdoors Adventures... There are ten essentials for backpacking. Without them you a short trip could turn into a longterm disaster. No matter how short a trip you are taking anything can happen and you need to be prepared. Essential #1 - Water, #2 - Compass, #3 - Extra food, #4 - First aid kit, #5 - Fire starter, #6 - Flashlight/headlamp, #7 - Extra clothing, #8 - Pocketknife, #9 - Map, #10 - Whistle.

I am planning to use my larger Rum Runner pack on this one.

And here is the Hiking Upward review as a happy reminder of our hike: http://www.hikingupward.com/GWNF/SignalKnob/

A Parting Look at the Azaeleas

The azaeleas were at peak last weekend at the cabin. Despite overcast skies, I was able to get a few photos of them, including this one that was taken from the bedroom window. In the distance, across the front yard, you can see the road and the beaver pond in this shot as well.

With rain all day Sunday and forecast for the rest of the week, the flowers aren't going to last long. In fact, the weather was already knocking the blossoms off of these plants that day.

Also of note in these shots are the gleaming new white gravel paths, which we had done a few weeks back. Despite the allergies and rain, spring is such a splendid time of year in Virginia.

Monday, May 4, 2009

First Spring Project 2009

As I was scrolling through the photos on my moto cam I noticed I haven't written yet on our first spring project, which was to redo the gravel walks and parking space. These photos are a few weeks old - Mickey came out and took care of this project the same weekend we did the Mary's Rock hike last month.
That's his truck in the background...I know he made three trips for all the gravel, but I don't know the cubic footage of the gravel we put down.
When I post the azaelea photos from this past weekend, the difference will be clear, especially in the photo below, which was taken about two weeks ago, just as the azaeleas were beginning to bloom.

We also decided to put a path up the side of the house. This little hill is fairly steep, and the dogs started using these steps as a way to get to the backyard. So we decided to put a path in to make it easier for everybody.

The paths had been recently redone before we bought the house, but the small gravel that was used didn't stay in place and was pretty much mashed into the ground after just a year or so. We've chosen a larger sized stone and we put down a really good membrane to protect from weeds growning up in the paths. It made a huge difference around the house.