Ramble On

Monday, August 31, 2009

Demo Derby

Since we first started coming to the County Fair, I have been trying to get to the Demolition Derby. The first time we went, in 2007, it was the last night of the fair, and the Derby had already been held. Last year, a proposal at work kept me away on Derby weekend...so this year, Mary agreed that we'd make every effort, including leaving early on Friday, to make sure that we could be there for the big event.

It did not dissappoint. The event was sold out, you'll see that in the photos, which include:
  • The empty "field of champions" before the Derby
  • Cars lining up for the first heat - outside and inside the track
  • Demo action
  • Clean-up

We watched the first three heats, which qualified 10 drivers for the final and the championship. We wanted to get back to the fair to see some of the displays and eat some fair food (sorry, Perry - no deep fired twinkies, although we did have a funnel cake!), so we didn't stick around for the finale.

Mary was the smart one and wore earplugs - they only served to make her talk louder...I was very worried when at one point she interrupted some cheering with a, "this is the stupidest thing I have ever seen."
For a moment, I pretended I didn't know her, but if I was pressed on this point, I was ready to say, "Well, she's from New Jersey. I am sure she has seen plenty of stupider things."

I think I'm in for the tractor pull next year.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Getaway Friday

A quick post today, we have a busy weekend planned and I have a lot to do to make sure I can get on the road early.

The big event is the Page Valley Fair, which we'll go to tonight: http://www.pagevalleyfair.org/index.html. We missed it last year due to some work deadlines - but not this year.

I'm looking forward to the demolition derby - ever since I heard they have one I have been trying to make it out for this, and at last the stars have aligned. Here is a photo from the Fair's site...if I recall correctly, there will be six classes or so of races, a couple of hours of fun!

One other Page County news event of note - former Sheriff Presgraves is scheduled to give his plea today in H-burg. I don't expect to hear much about this until our return Sunday night. If his case goes to trial, that will likely be newsworthy for a few months this fall.

Signing off until Monday - have a good weekend!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thought we had a setback

Last weekend, Mary went out to the cabin for an errand or two, leaving me and the dogs home in Alexandria. Mary has been mainly working from home the last few years, and the dogs have gotten very used to that routine, so we had some worries about what might happen with "mom away."
There was howling and anxious panting. And then, there was a food boycot that started the morning after.
With canine renal failure, this is a sign that you keep an eye on...dog's gotta eat, and if they don't it could signal that something is going wrong.
I tried all the tricks - smearing turkey baby food on some wonder bread (surprisingly looks like peanut butter). Gracie has taken to eating Greek style organic yogurt with honey in a pinch, but that didn't work this time either. At least she was still taking her meds.
By Monday, she was even spitting out the treats that we use to hide the pills, and she'd grown a bit listless. I was worried, and when Mary got home we talked about next steps. We already had a vet appointment to get the dog checked out.
Turns out, Gracie's blood pressure had spiked, and that might have caused a little nausea, keeping her from eating. There are a few new meds to get us through this episode, and we're going to daily sub-Q fluids for the rest of the week, but everything seems to be working and hopefully we'll be back on an even keel by Saturday.
As far as a diet update, we've had to make some changes...this week, there are grilled hamburger patties and ziti pasta on the menu. It doesn't have everything in it we'd like to see her eating, but the important thing is that she is getting some food in her.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Visible Construction Progress

If they have a recession going on, you wouldn't know it from the construction progress in the Clarendon neighborhood near my office. It's only been a few weeks since my last post on this topic, but with the speed of the changes, we're already due for an update.

First is the newer site, across the street from the office and behind the Hard Times. After saving the old storefronts - they'll be used as a facade on the new building, demo and site prep, foundation work began in earnest last month. Here we have photos of the tower crane getting installed, an older view of the "hole," and then one I took yesterday.

My guess is that since this is a center-block building it will ultimately top out at around four stories like most others in the neighborhood. Of particular interest to me is the shoring that had to be done on this site, which didn't appear large enough to host underground parking in the first place.

These braces seem to prevent the building of much of a basement at all. The other center block buildings tend to have parking on the second and third floors, hosting street front retail. That may be the plan here.

Even the Hard Times is expanding. It has been a fixture of this block for 20 years, and now has taken over the whole building. I've seen them moving pool tables in upstairs, and I hear that is going to be a sports bar. There have been big HVAC additions and the kitchen is upgrading. I think I'll stop by and have some Coney Dogs today if they are open...

Across the street, after seven or eight weeks of pouring a floor a week, the building is nearing top-out. Here's a photo of all three cranes - the two at that site and the one at the new mid-block site. Their near Ven-diagram overlaps mesmerize me.

On the lower floors, they are taking down the braces and forms and may already be doing infrastructure work in there. From time to time the workers are visible doing things near the floor edges. No work yet on the external walls and finishes...my next update on this site will be after that gets started.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Reading "Last Flight from Tempelhof"

I’m about halfway through the book “Last Flight from Tempelhof,” which was written by one of my former Air Force linguist colleagues. If you are reading this post on the blog, I’ve put a link to the book’s Amazon page in the right hand column. You can read more about the plot of the book there, since I don’t want to spoil it. But I thought I would put up a note about the experience of reading it so far.

Basically a detective story, the book moves along at a very entertaining pace. To folks that were stationed at Tempelhof (I overlapped with the author there in the early ‘80’s), there are pleasant reminders of some fond memories, both on- and off-base. I’m posting some photos here with images of some of these memories.

First, here is a map of the building, recovered from an old base phone book. In the book, D. Mitchell Lindemann spends some time describing the design of the building and its shape – that of a soaring eagle, a symbol of Germany and of National Socialism. The building was designed and built during the Nazi era, conceptually the airport for the emerging capital of Europe.
In a scene from the book, the lead character walks through the arcade area, past the shops and other amenities that were together in this area, near one of the dormitories (in the Air Force, we had dorms, not barracks).

In another scene, the character visits a nearby restaurant called Columbus – it was a favorite for its Italian cuisine and the friendliness of the wait staff. I have two photos posted of the neighborhood near Columbus, which was only a couple of blocks off the base. One is a street sign from near there, the other is a photo of some of the stores, shops, and cafes on the other side of the block from Columbus – in fact, a beer joint called “Snoopy’s” is in one of these doorways.

There was a sidewalk terrace at Columbus, fine for a summertime pasta dinner with a nice Warsteiner to accompany it. Anytime you went there, you could count on an aperitif of flaming Sambucca after dinner, which was something that would stay pleasantly with you for the cold walk back to base on a winter’s night. They also had a back room that could host about 20 people; once, my aunt stopped by on her way to Saudi Arabia and joined a bunch of my friends there for a meal during the holidays.

I went looking for Columbus during my 1995 visit to Berlin – on the way to Kiev, I took a four-day layover in the city. The restaurant was closed, and I guess that may be because the base was closed. However, all of the signs for it were still there. Again in 2001, when my wife and I visited for ten days, we went by the place and the signs were still up. Just yesterday, we talked about the possibility of a vacation there next year…obligatorily, I will walk up and down all of these familiar blocks again; that is a guarantee.

So back to Lindemann. When he first contacted our alumni group about the book, one of the features he mentioned is the setting and that it might bring back some memories. For me, that’s definitely the case. I don’t normally go out for detective stories, but I have picked them up from time to time for a change of pace, and that’s what I’m getting here in “Last Flight from Tempelhof.” I’m having a good time reading it, and for my fellow Berlin “alumni,” or anyone wanting a little taste of the Cold War life in Berlin, I’m happy to recommend it.

Note, I accumulated these photos from various websites over the years – I have no intention of violating copyrights – if you recognize them as your own, please let me know. We’ll make it right by giving you credit for them.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Good spot for a dog

I found this photo of Gracie from a few weeks back. There is a perfect spot for dogs under the overhanging porch off the master bedroom of the Cabin's addition. Both she and Sofie wander off under there from time to time...when you finally notice they're off the brick terrace, it's a pretty sure bet they are cooling off in the shade under there.

It's also a good spot for them to plop down and watch the people unload the car after errands, which is when I took this one.

The Valley, Obscured by Clouds

Mary took this photo during a walk on Saturday, she was out at the cabin while I stayed back for some much delayed errands. Apparently a cold front rolling through pushed the brooding hurricane offshore.

We've got a little work starting this week on the 2009 projects: Jesse is coming by to install new Pergo flooring back in the hallway of the addition. In a couple of weeks, a new dishwasher is arriving, and shortly after that, a special order, vintage Formica countertop in the kitchen. A few new cabinets in there, and most of the year's interior work will be done.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Land Deal is too Controversial

It just keeps coming up, this land deal for Project Clover in Page County. There is a lot of energy around the discussion about whether this is a prudent move: the plan to purchase 200+ acres south of Luray for $7.5 million and use it as an industrial park - and with a Page County Board of Supervisors meeting this week, it was a topic of discussion again. The BOS has signed a contract for purchase on this land.

In previous posts about the Page County Economy, I've mentioned the County's economic development plan, which outlines three goals - develop industry, build tourism, and look at sustainable agriculature - as pathways to the future. No doubt the BOS thinks the land purchase will contribute to one of these goals, for industrial development.

In casual conversations at the Farmers' Market, last weekend at the Triathlon, around town with neighbors and acquaintences, I simply haven't found anyone who says buying the land was a good idea. Sure, there is an acknowledgement of the need to do something to attract jobs to the County, with a large share of the workforce commuting out for work, but the sentiment seems to be that the price for this land, and the need to raise the money for the deal now - poor timing, may simply be a mistake.

Among the public there appears to be widespread concern about the cost and timing of the deal. In the BOS meeting of this week, local Jim Turner, who is managing a petition protesting the deal, gave a talk (full text at http://pagecountywatch.wordpress.com/2009/08/19/jim-turners-response-to-tommy-lafrance/) which outlines the concerns and asks the BOS to reconsider.

From their reaction, the BOS is pretty dug in on their position. They don't seem to be willing to engage the dialog and find a positive way forward in the discussion.

I still need more information before I'll understand their reactions, but from the weekender point of view, something just doesn't seem right.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Another Cold War Berlin Anecdote

For a second time this week, I had a reminder about Berlin events…among some friends there was a reminiscing about the La Belle discotheque bombing, which happened on April 5, 1986. The club was very popular with American soldiers stationed in Berlin. The bomb was placed next to the dance-floor and filled with shrapnel.

Two Americans died from the attack, and a Turkish woman was also killed. More than 200 people were wounded. A lot of them still suffer from the terrorist attack today.

There was a lot of detail in the East German STASI files once they were opened for investigation in the 1990’s (quoting my colleagues post here):
“Prosecutors identified Musbah Eter who had worked at the embassy of Libya in East Berlin as an agent. He and four other suspects were arrested and put on trial in 1997. The trial lasted four years. Musbah Eter was sentenced to 12 years in prison. The two other men were Yasser Shraydi and Ali Chanaa the latter also working for the STASI. The other two suspects were Chanaa's German wife Ver ena and her sister Andrea Häusler. The sisters used to go out at clubs where American soldiers hung out well before they got in touch with any terrorist activities. They chose the La Belle disco as the target for the bombing.Verena Chanaa carried the bomb into the club accompanied by her sister. Verena was charged with murder and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Her sister was acquitted because there was no prove that she knew about the bomb.”

My connection with the events of that night is coincidental. I caught my ETS final flight out of Berlin’s Tegel airport that morning after the disco bombing, headed for my discharge at McGuire. The news of what had happened during the night wasn't completely out yet, but Tempelhof had gone into lock down and there were extra security measures at Tegel - nothing like we've seen in the last 10 years, but different from what we had seen up until then. You had to walk outside across the tarmac to your plane, putting your hand on your checked bag, which they then loaded on board.

Ironically, at dinner that night some friends and I discussed the buzz that was going on at the time about something happening soon - we were skeptical that anyone could pull something big off. At the NCO Club Silverwings after dinner, a couple of the Mari security police told me they were headed out to La Belle and invited me and the friends that were there with me, but I wanted to call it an early night and turned down the invite.

They and a few others went on without me. My friends all survived, and I later heard that although they were injured in the blast, they'd been able to help others.

The next week, I was back in Florida, on the beach in Daytona when the news broke about the attack on Libya...that was one time I immediately missed being able to read the reports I’d had access to as an Air Force linguist.

Outfitters' News -

The Page Valley Fair is coming up next week. I am really looking forward to it after missing it due to work last year. As I was looking through the fair catalog, I saw that Howard at Evergreen Outfitters and Gary at Appalachian Outdoors Adventures have made an announcement that they are joining forces late this summer.

They’ll consolidate into the AOA store soon. For convenience, both web sites are below:


Congrats to them both and best wishes for success in the merger!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Future of Berlin's Tempelhof Airport

Right on the coattails of my USAF colleague Dale Lindemann’s book “Last Flight from Tempelhof (Amazon link in the right hand column), in my weekend reading of Fast Company magazine I noted an international design competition about what to do with the old airport.
The airport opened in the 1930's with the vision that Berlin would be the capital of Europe, and Tempelhof would be at it's center. After WWII, the airport was occupied by the Americans, eventually becoming the center of USAF operations there. The airport famously was a major center of Operation Vittles flights, supplying the city during the Soviet blockade in the late 1940's.

Like many of the former linguists and airman who were stationed there, I am very interested in learning what is going to happen with this fantastic building now that it has been closed as an airport. I lived there for four and a half years, at first in a section known as H2Long, then in Head Building East (“HBE”).

This competition, arranged by the International Federation for Housing and Planning (IFHP), is about urban sustainability – students are invited to develop unconventional and innovative ideas that give shape to the concept. IFHP will host a presentation of these ideas later in September in Berlin.

Quoting from the IFHP website, here is more information about the theme of this competition:

“When air traffic operations at Tempelhof ceased at the end of October 2008, Berlin regained possession of over 360 hectares of open land and a centrally located complex of buildings that is among the largest in the world. The opening up to Berliners of this inner-city site and its development on ecological principles into a vibrant, functioning and sustainable part of the city represents a unique opportunity for the future of Berlin. In this context, a sustainable, process-related strategy for the future development of the Tempelhof area is to be sought, taking into consideration the unique urbanistic and green qualities of the site, opening the site to the city and creating new residential qualities for future generations. Innovative concepts for a modern city district have to be developed based on an integrated planning concept that takes into consideration aspects of urban ecology and the integration of intelligent urban technology. We are looking for urban concepts that intelligently integrate ecological, economic and social aspects and produce a new urban-architectural image.”

I’ve included a couple of photos of the airport that I found on various websites over the years – mine are in storage and have yet to be digitally scanned. As always, if you recognize these and have a copyright interest, please let me know!

There is an excellent photo on the back cover of “Last Flight from Tempelhof” – it shows an aerial view of an open house at the airport during the days of the USAF’s administration of the facility. Accompanying this post is a similar shot from the 1984 Open House.
These springtime events were always well attended by the community, and all of my friends looked forward to them for various reasons – we sold snacks – hamburgers or wursts – as fundraising activities for our clubs and associations. It wasn’t unusual to sell close to 1,000 a day out there on the tarmac.

As a follow-up, I’ll have a future post after the presentations in September.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Luray Tri Weekend

Just back after a late start this Monday morning. Those early days working registration for the Luray Triathlon got the best of me, so I postponed my drive back until this morning (and a little further delay to avoid HOV restrictions on the roads).

I couldn't believe the enthusiasm and fun that everyone was having this weekend, all over town. But out at Lake Arrowhead, there were 600 participants in each of the two events - add 80+ volunteers and a couple hundred friends and family, and you've got yourself a crowd of 1,000 or more, easily.
As I mentioned, on both days I started early to help out with registration. That meant a 6:00 start for the international and a 7:00 start for the sprint. The pace was pretty hectic, but everybody was handled in quick fashion so nobody missed their starts. We even had late arrivals for both days - late wave starters, that we were able to get processed and in the water at their designated times. A success, in my book.

The photos accompanying this post are:
  • View of the line for registration - International
  • A glimpse of the water event start from registration
  • Before and after shots of the bike transition area
  • Some bikes at the "mount" line
  • An early runner coming out of the chute
  • The finish line area
  • Prepping the International awards
  • Our team on Sunday at Water Station #1 ("before")
  • Recognition ceremony for 30+ participants completing both events (this included several folks in the "over 60 class!"
By the looks of things around town on the weekend, the event was a success for many local businesses - very glad to see it. The Artisan's cafe was packed Friday and Saturday night, and the Mimslyn was sold out on Saturday night. You couldn't go anywhere downtown with seeing cars with bike racks.

In addition to registration, for the International, I did a job as "crossing guard" for pedestrians trying to get into the viewing areas near the transition area. This was very tough - bikers coming in from one direction and runners heading out in the other. We didn't want to keep anyone from being able to cheer for dad, mom, sister, brother or friend, so we just tried to help them cross without an accident.

On the Sprint day, I worked with a team to staff water station 1. This was a very rewarding assignment - everyone should try working one of these stations sometime. You'll be inspired!

Now for some takeaways. The event raised at least $10K for Page County United Way, which is pretty awesome, because all of those donations will stay in the County - which can definitely use it. There was a total of more than 150 volunteers - many of whom have done this more than two years in a row! This was the total at the two days of racing. I understand there were several days of prepartion ahead of time - Howard and many others worked late hours on Thursday preparing the giveaways for 1,200 participants. Several of the volunteers I met had worked on the bike race on the previous weekend.

On another note, seeing all these folks getting out for the activities reminded me of the Berlin Marathon, a very, very long time ago - September 1983, in fact. I've thought about whether or not I might set a goal of doing that race again someday. I haven't quite made up my mind on it; but one sight certainly has pushed the thoughts a little bit further. During registration for the international, I saw a middle-aged guy changing into his swim trunks in one of the support areas (most folks, as he did, had them on underneath other clothes).

When he took his shirt off, there was a tell-tale scar over his heart - major surgery. Here he was, setting up for something as challenging as a one mile swim, 25-mile bike ride, and six-mile run...that is something we can all take a little inspiration from!
PS - Happy Birthday to Andy, who celebrated her day on Saturday night!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Revisiting the Economics of Hay

My August 2009 Progressive Farmer magazine has arrived (thanks Mary!). There is an article, Hay Outlook 2009, here, written by Del Deterling – following up on a continuing thread on the economics of hay, that’s the source of today’s post.

The article quotes some Louisiana farmers reporting hay sales of $90 to $150 per ton, depending on rolls, large bales, or small bales, prices which are generally off a bit from last year. I’ve been looking to match this kind of data against authoritative information about input prices, and after seeing this article, was able to locate information at http://pubs.ext.vt.edu – the Virginia Cooperative Extension, in a report by Gordon Grover and Peter Callan. Their article calculates an input price that ranges from $119 to $132 per ton, and up to $152 if the land needs additional nitrogen.

Right on the face of it, something doesn’t compute here: the ranges for costs and price do not overlap in a way to ensure that a hay farmer can consistently make a living. Since it doesn’t make sense that you would transport hay long distances due to costs (high mass, low value), I dug in a bit further and found a report from the H-burg hay market that calculated around $270 for large square bales. Assuming that is alfalfa, and using $132 per ton as the cost basis, now there is a margin left.

Next, I read a 2004 yield report that said production averages 4 tons per acre, the VCE data is based on 5 tons per acre; so, if a farmer can manage a 5 ton yield, he or she will generate about $500 an acre in margins. Without going into the complexity of first cut, second cut, etc. this round, if all the farmer does is grow hay, that operation needs to have 800+ acres in cultivation just to get to a median Page County income level of around $40K.

Driving though Page County, I have been wondering why I often see five and six acre frontage lots being divided off of the larger holdings, ostensibly for residential development. Unless I am missing something, this analysis begins to show how development has impacted land prices in the state, driving out agriculture.

There are probably better margins in other crops, or perhaps livestock farming, so I’ll do some more research on that topic. I also will see what I can find on recent land prices – it’s my hunch that you cannot buy land and use it for agriculture anymore based on these economics. But for now, there isn’t enough information to draw that conclusion.

Comments and insights are welcome, of course.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Outside Magazine's 10 Best Towns...

They do this every year in an attempt to rank US cities by "cultural vibrancy, economic well-being, and overall quality of life." This year's top ten in order were Colorado Springs, Seattle, Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Albuquerque, Portland, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, and Charlotte.

Outside paired these cities with several neighboring small towns, with populations that ranged from 3,700 to 110,000, calling them "adventure burgs:" Salida, CO; Leavenworth, WA; Charleston, SC; Alpine, TX; New London, CT; Taos, NM; Ashland, OR; Ely, MN; Yellow Springs, OH; and Boone, NC.

To complile the big city list, Outside started with a list of the 100 most populated cities in the US, and ranked cost of living, unemployment, nightlife, commute time, and access to green spaces. The first cut was 28 cities - San Francisco, out because of the cost of living, Houston and Denver out, because other cities in their states were ranked higher, and DC, out probably due to commute and cost of living - ranked by percentage of population with college degrees, income level to home prices index, and weather.

It's hard to argue with the list that they came up with - I've been to seven of the 10 on business and was pleasantly surprised by each (especially Cincinnati and Albuquerque). But the one additional factor that Outside rated, one they called a "proprietary" factor, got me thinking "why no Shenandoah Valley representation here?"

"...multisport factor, which rated each of our finalists on a scale of 1 to 5 for quality and proximity to biking, running, paddling, hiking, and skiing."

I think this gives the folks who want to promote tourism in the Valley something to work with.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Luray Tri

This weekend is the Luray Triathlon - there are events on Saturday and Sunday. I decided to volunteer for both events - before I knew that the volunteer check-in time was 6:00 am. Mary is skeptical that I can meet this obligation.

The events support the United Way of Page County, and there are accessory events like a spaghetti dinner in town and the like that will make it a busy weekend. Two races are held, the International, and the Sprint, on the two days. Both fields were limited to 600 participants, and both are sold out!

The International, on Saturday, includes a 1,500 meter swim at Lake Arrowhead, 25-mile bike ride, and a 10K run. Participants are expected to complete the event in four hours or less. Sunday's sprint includes a 750 meter swim, 16.5-mile bike ride, and a 5K run.

Our friends at Appalachian Outdoor Adventures (Evergreen Outfitters is joining forces with them this Fall) are sponsors of the event, race packet pickup takes place there, and Gary will be in the International on Saturday! Best of luck to him!

There's more information at http://www.luraytriathlon.com/Home.html .

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

As seen on ... David Byrne's Journal

So I was reading David Byrne's journal (you can find a link over in the blog roll to the right) and learned that the tour is winding up after a year on the road. Mary and I, and some friends, were lucky to catch the show in DC - a link to that blog post is below, as is a link to the entry on his blog.

It's just my take on it, but David has the future of collaboration all figured out in real time. The latest album, developed in collaboration with Brian Eno, showed how people can work together across the boundaries of time and space.
The process they used for packaging, releasing and marketing the new record is a model for artists of now and the future - and the shows, while doing the traditional combination of promoting new material with a mixture of old, demonstrated how to keep the work fresh and interesting.

Cabin Night and Day, Part 2

While the beaver dam failed earlier in the summer and we haven’t seen the builders since then, the pond that is left behind, two or three feet deep and twenty feet wide at the widest point, is adequate to attract a wide range of wildlife.

There has long been a deer run through that part of the hollow. During last fall as the pond was filling, and this spring when the pond was at its fullest, the trail was overgrown and hard to see through the brush. Now that the ground is above water the trail is again wearing in through the underbrush, and I have seen a couple of fawns and a doe wandering through there.

From that point in the hollow, they often forage through our yard – ransacking the hostas (variegated only – they don’t seem to like the solid green varieties) at first, and when the apples start to fall in a few weeks, we’ll see more of them. Once our nesting hawks were big enough to test their wings, they moved over to the tall dead trees that hang over the old pond to roost. And on the pond itself, we often catch site of ripples breaking the surface – maybe, hopefully, a few trout naturalizing into this part of the stream.

While breakfasting on the brick terrace on Saturday morning, I saw a blue heron wading through there, hunting frogs and minnows. It mainly worked the banks of the pond but at times it ventured further into the stream.

On Sunday, again at breakfast, and during my second cup of coffee – so I was awake enough to know this wasn’t a hallucination – I saw a familiar, lumbering black shape walking along the stream bank. A few weeks ago I saw a young black bear walking down our road (here’s a link to the post and photo: http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2009/07/nine-secrets-to-longer-life.html ).

That morning the bear I glimpsed caught me by surprise and it was moving too fast along the bank for me to take a photo, but judging from a distance, it was about the same size and shape as the bear I saw a few weeks ago, so I am assuming it’s the same one.

We’ve got a regular – hide the trash!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Cabin Night and Day, Part 1

For the second weekend in a row, I was able to cut out early on Friday and head for the Hawksbill Cabin, almost beating getaway traffic, but fortunately not experiencing the full brunt of it. Our plans for the early evening were simple, with the prospect of the races at Shenandoah Speedway ahead on Saturday, I made a quick Whole Foods stop to pick up some veggies to grill, pairing them up with a couple of Mr. Burner’s steaks. I chose a zucchini and a summer squash, planning a foil pouch medley of squash, carrots, and onion. I put the steaks in a beer marinade for the drive out, and hit the road.

Once I arrived, we sat out on the brick terrace, waiting for the evening to cool down before I lit the charcoal. I was surprised by a staged sequence of avian events that was a perfect way to pass the time.

First up, the hummingbirds came buzzing through. I neglected to fill their feeder before we left last weekend, so I guess they were doing a status check to confirm there was nothing there.

There were at least four or five passes of this, once at tree top level and another at direct eye level – I almost had to duck – maybe a warning shot, in any case, the feeder’s full again now.

In the distance, a cardinal began to sing as the cicadas began their rhythmic chorus. Not the chirping sounds that we typically hear from cardinals, but the full song (for an example, check fellow blogger Evan’s video here: http://wildlifeinphotography.com/2009/04/14/the-song-of-a-cardinal/ ; and don’t forget to check out his book of wildlife photography by following the link in the right hand column).

Also, swallows began to take flight in the air above the trees – you first know they are there from the chirping and scolding sounds they make as they form up for their hunt, just as the first darkening of dusk begins.

With the swallows flying above, the cardinal’s song ended, or it was finally drowned out by the cicadas, and the bats began to appear. We have two that I often see, patrolling the air space above the pool, between the big pine and the house, sometimes flying over the house into the back yard and then out into the open air again. When they are profiled against the darkening gray sky I can sometimes make out their full iconic shape as they flutter around in their eccentric orbits.

Finally, it was dark. And while we were still in between the full and three-quarters phases of the moon, it is dark for an hour or so as I start the coals and light the firepit. On a cloudy night like Friday was, the only visible lights are the season’s last fireflies in the trees before us, while up in the sky there are the planes that fly overhead, descending into Dulles.

Always there to remind us; although the Hawksbill Cabin feels remote and private, it’s really not that far away at all.

Page County's Bicycle Race

It’s not unusual to encounter cyclists on the road in Page County, although there are usually more of them up on Skyline Drive. In the last few weeks, Mary and I have been seeing uniformed teams on the local roads, apparently in time trials as they geared up for the championship race.

There is more information about the races here:

The staging area and starting point for the race was at the Stanley recreation area, which is very close to the Hawksbill Cabin. The races are sponsored by a number of the local businesses, including Hawksbill Bicycles and Appalachian Outdoor Adventures – not to mention the Mimslyn Inn, Main Street Bakery, and Luray Caverns.

The race has been held for the last two years on an 11-mile loop that has two major climbs - a 1.5 mile climb which starts gently then ramps up; and then 3/4 mile climb to the finish line, which is 8.3 miles from start. When we were talking with some of the folks from the County at the start line, they all remarked on this last hill. Mary and I are going to take a drive up there someday!

We watched as the Men’s Cat 1 and 2, and then the Cat 3 races got started. These races were 74 and 63 miles long, respectively, with fields limited to 100 riders. There were four other races – Women’s Cats 1-3 and 4, and a Men’s Cat 4 and Cat 5 race. These photos are from the 11:00 and 11:05 starts for the Men’s Cats 1-2 and 3 races.

All totaled, there were about 500 racers in town for this event. We saw bikes at several hotels; the Mimslyn was the official race hotel and we saw quite a number of bikes there over the weekend.

Next weekend is the Triathlon. Looking forward to similar crowds for that!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Updating the Heatwole "Guide to SNP"

If you follow the periodic hike reviews here on Hawksbill Cabin, you know that from time to time I’ll include a citation from the version of “Guide to Shenandoah National Park,” which was originally published in book form in 1978. I started using this guide in 2005, as Chris and I prepared for our Half Dome ascent and were looking for trails with scenery and elevation changes.

Henry Heatwole was the author, and maintained what I consider a fairly exhaustive guide to the blue-blazed trails until he passed away in 1989. According to Henry’s son, Tony (his address can be found on the index page of the web-guide), the predecessor organization to the Shenandoah National Park Association took over the management of the Guide in 1989, and has made minor revisions over the years. The on-line version is the result of updates through 1997.

As Tony notes in the introduction to the on-line Guide, “…almost every aspect of the Park is subject to change. For example, new trails are created from time to time, and others abandoned. Rules for visitor use will change to reflect changing conditions. The state of trail maintenance, vista clearing at the overlooks, and facilities available in winter, will depend on money and personnel available.”

It is the extra details in the Heatwole guide that make it special for me – from the inscription he noted on the abandoned Pocosin mission, quoted earlier this week, to other trail details that I’ve found there. However, many vistas that he described have become overgrown with the emerging forest in the Park, and other changes have come and gone, so the Guide is now due for an update.

When I sent Tony the link to my Pocosin Trail review, he shared some happy news – the association has decided to update the on-line Guide. I don’t have publication date details, but I’m looking forward to the updates to this valuable resource. The on-line Guide can be found at http://www.ajheatwole.com/guide .

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Letter to the PN&C Editor

After blogging here and talking with neighbors and acquaintences in Page County about various aspects of the economic development plan, and after avidly following the discussion about the land deal for industrial development and the ensuing controversies, I decided to write a letter to the editor about components of the plan that don't seem to be getting any attention.

There is well-founded concern regarding the purchase of the farmland for Project Clover, and while the county supervisors have begun to address the concern publicly through interviews and articles in the paper, to me their responses don't seem to be hitting the mark for many citizens - who seem to be asking "why now" and "why so much for the land?"

They've responded that being "ready to go" is important, but I recall reading that only six businesses have approached the county about locating there in the last three years, and none of them decided this was the right place for them. Bottom line, there just doesn't appear to be much of a business case for the purchase.

Since a review of the plan suggests that two economic areas, sustainable agriculture and tourism, merit at least as much attention as the industrial sector; and within the industrial sector, the county's plan says that retaining business is far more important than recruiting new ones, my opinion is that these sectors would be better investment targets, and the cost would be far less than the land deal.

That's the essence of my letter to the editor, reprinted below. Hopefully it will appear in this week's or next week's edition.


Dear Editor:

Although I’m currently a weekender, I’ve been enthusiastically following the economic development discussion and recently reviewed the 2004 and 2008 Strategic Economic Development Plan. Project Clover’s creation of “ready-to-go” sites isn’t the only business concept in the plan. The tourism and sustainable agriculture sectors are given equal importance to the industrial sector; and, in fact, the plan makes retaining existing business a higher priority than attracting new ones: “…business retention is even more critical than business recruitment to the economic viability and growth of the County.”

There are four business retention goals, including: developing educational programs, building partnerships, surveying the needs of these businesses, and identifying companion businesses for future recruitment. The placement of these goals in the plan is significant, appearing as they do before the discussion of any goals rel ated to recruiting new businesses or ready-to-go sites.

The first three goals are given high priority in the 2008 plan, while the 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 existing business survey – require new program funds for implementation; they are unfinished and in roughly the same status they were in the 2004 version of the plan.

These goals have been on the table for five years. With all the valid points being raised on both sides of the land deal, why can’t such a small investment that would contribute to future growth of existing business be justified, especially when the strategic plan makes it a higher priority? Seems to me, it’s a case of low-hanging fruit, where a small funding commitment, along with a better understanding of the tourism and agriculture sectors as possible development investment targets, could be leveraged in a powerful way. I’d love to see a revisit of these items as part of the way forward for the County.

Best regards,
Jim (“Cabin Jim”) T
Stanley and Alexandria

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Pocosin Trail: An Easy SNP Day Hike

As the family packed up and got on the road from the dude ranch last weekend, a heavy rain was falling. After a quick stop at the Hawksbill Cabin they got on the road. Soon after the rain broke, and we had a beautiful afternoon, so Mary and I decided to take advantage of it with a short hike up in the Shenandoah National Park.

We chose the Pocosin Trail from the
Best Easy Day Hikes Shenandoah National Park, 3rd (Best Easy Day Hikes Series); this would be our 14th hike from the book, which lists 26 hikes. There are reviews here on the blog under the “Day Hikes – Easy” label.

We entered the Park at the Luray entrance, although this trail is closer to Elkton. The book describes Pocosin Trail as a 2-mile out-and-back that follows a fire/horse trail, with a total of 450-feet elevation change. This photo shows the condition of the trail, this is pretty much how it looks for the entire length to the old mission.

There are three main points of interest along the short hike: the AT crosses at one-tenth of a mile, the PATC’s Pocosin Cabin is next to the trail at two-tenths of a mile, and the destination itself is an old mission that is gradually disintegrating with time.
Here are photos of the PATC cabin and the view from its porch. According to the PATC Cabins Guide the structure can accommodate eight. It was built by the CCC to be used as a trail shelter to house workers building Skyline Drive. Later it was used by PATC while the AT was being built.
It has an easy hike-in along the fire road, and its proximity to the AT means that campers are likely to meet thru-hikers in June (no-bo) and August (so-bo). The cabin was unoccupied as we passed it on the way to the mission, so we looked around and took these photos. New occupants were hiking in as we came back to our car.

Near the cabin were a couple of wild flower patches. The most eye-catching bloom was the Turk’s-cap Lily, common here and in the southern district of the Park.
Finally, we reached our goal – the house and mission at the end of the trail. Paraphrasing from the day hikes book, here is the story of the mission:
The mission – story goes it was founded in 1904 by a young Episcopal minister. The hollow was then known as “Dark Pocasin” and the locals didn’t take kindly to the mission. Eventually, the minister confronted one of the mountain men and won him over – then the locals began attending the church by horse-drawn carriage or by hiking in on the neighboring trails.

I also found this interesting information from the Heatwole guide (http://www.ajheatwole.com/guide/) :
“Twenty yards from the ruined house are the steps of the church. The church is gone, and its foundation is crumbling. As I write this, two walls of a small side room are standing, one with a wooden door frame. There are various graffiti on the frame, including: "E. B. Samuels born here 1915, visited here July 21, 1974." "This church has gone up and down in my lifetime, W. E. Samuels." “
According to Heatwole, there are a few more artifacts nearby, including an old wooden structure and a cemetery. Near these, the trail joins a route to South River Falls, so this could be made into a more aggressive hike by combining that destination with the mission.

As with my recent hike to Snead Farm, I found this trail to be quite enjoyable and just the thing for a suddenly sunny afternoon. Mary and I have talked about going back in the Fall or early Spring to take a more detailed look at the ruins in this area, and to see if we can find the cemetery and other nearby houses.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Little Get-together at the Ranch

Last weekend, my dad and his wife, my sisters and their families, and my brother stayed at River's Bend Ranch in Stanley for the weekend. We had the get-together that we'd been planning since my grandmother passed in February - we'd originally intended to go to the Eden/Stoneville area in NC, but that didn't work out. I think everyone enjoyed the alternative accommodations.

Here are a couple of links - first, to the ranch itself; second, to a previous post from an earlier visit, last October:

They booked the bunk house, taking six rooms - there is the capacity for more visitors here or elsewhere on the ranch. The photos scattered throughout this post are of the horses and cows on the ranch, hopefully with the scenery coming through in the background.

After everyone got settled on Friday night we went out to eat at Sonny's Place up in New Market Gap - we arrived late, but our big party was taken good care of, and there were plenty of menu choices to satisfy every taste in the crowd of 13. The live music was good too.

On Saturday, we started out on a busy day. Errands to the Luray Farmers' Market for steaks and vegetables, then to Mill Creek Pottery - a future post on this one to come, and ultimately taking the kids to SNP to hike Dark Hollow Falls (which was very crowded, as shown in the photos).

I should mention the catering for dinner, which supplemented the cookout. We got some barbequed chickens from Mickey, along with cole slaw and potato salad. I'm forgetting some items, I'm sure, but we put together a summer feast.

After dinner, we retired to the firepit and sat around, reminiscing together. A nice evening overall, with thunderstorms rambling on the horizon in several different directions, the deer coming out and mixing in with the horse herd, and the fire crackling away.

It had been a very long time since we tried anything like this, and although dad was hoping his siblings and their families might join us, this was as good a start on a family reunion tradition as you could ask for, and hopefully we'll be able to keep it going in the future.

For my part, I enjoyed being able to show them Page Valley. From a scenery perspective, I was very surprised at how beautiful the little stretch of the South Fork is there along the ranch, just downsteam from Newport - the last photo here.