Ramble On

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Here's to a Happy and Prosperous 2010

It's New Year's Eve, so it's time to set down a few thoughts in anticipation of the start of a new year. I have some personal goals that I'll keep to myself for now, although I will post about them eventually.

Yogi Berra once said, "You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you are going, 'cause you might not get there."

Yogi's wise words are something for everyone to think about...but this year I turned fifty and they definitely rang a bell for me. I used to think round-number birthdays weren't important, just a matter of coincidence, but this one is different...probably something in the fact that in the modern economy, this anniversary date means you are about 2/3 through your working life. And that's what has me thinking at this time of year.

Introspection this year will be focused on the vision for this last third of my working life - is it time for another career change, is there something else I'd like to do at this point - but also, I do want to take some time out for service to a few select organizations which support causes that I can identify with.

One such cause is "The Mission Continues." I put a little video up above to provide some background information. Eric Greitens, the founder, was featured in an Outside Magazine piece this month, too, so that is another place you can find some info if you are interested, at http://outside.away.com/outside/culture/200912/altruism-all-stars-eric-greitens.html .

I appreciate what this organization has in mind to do for veterans. I appreciate their sacrifices. I'd like to see that they are able to explore ways to make contributions to our communities - their experience and talent is too valuable to be denied that opportunity.

I hope that my readers will join me in supporting The Mission Continues.

And about those personal goals? Well, I do want to enjoy more time at the Hawksbill Cabin, and outdoor activities in the Shenandoah Valley with the community out there. There'll be plenty of posts - and I hope a new podcast or two - to go along with that resolution.

Meanwhile, here's to a Happy and Prosperous 2010 for all!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Holiday Walk on the Greenway

The Hawksbill Greenway in Luray has become a favorite destination for us on some weekends. It is a scenic little 4-mile walk if you do the whole thing, taking in the creek, the town, and even a little set-aside cow pasture.

It's rare enough to find a resource like this in a more populated area, and to think that there was enough support in a small town like Luray to put together the proposals and funding - well that's saying something. And we've never been on the path when we didn't encounter a lot of other folks out enjoying a walk.

Since we'd taken a walk around the Hawksbill Cabin neighborhood, we knew that the combination of melting snow and rain had Beaver Run flowing high - there were a couple of posts about this in the last few days.

Once the water leaves our little creek, it joins Hawksbill Creek over by Jordan Hollow Inn. From there it flows along US 340 to Luray, a couple of additional creeks adding to the flow - including Upper Hawksbill Creek. So there is the possibility that it would have a lot of water by the time it gets to town, and indeed it did this weekend.

We took the walk twice, each time enjoying a close up view of the surging flows. True to form, we passed many neighbors out for a walk, and a couple of folks out fishing (but not catching anything). There were new bikes (with training wheels) getting try outs. It was a good time.

These photos highlight the water flow in Hawksbill Creek over the weekend. For comparison, there is a recent early December post with additional photos of the creek - it was high water then, but not like this - and you can find it at this link: http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2009/12/hawksbill-greenway.html

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Beaver Run Story

Since the beaver dam fell - I posted on this a few weeks back, our little stream that runs across the lot still fascinates. I thought I would write a quick post on how Beaver Run changes with the weather, as I kept an eye on it for a few days while there was snow on the ground.

This snow fell about a week earlier, but obviously the weather had stayed cold enough that the stream was frozen over and still in its banks. On Christmas night a rain storm moved in, dropping about an inch of rain overnight. I could hear the sound of the stream filling and then rushing along over the little cascades down the hill.

I should mention that the weather reports said that there was the equivalent of an inch or more of rain already on the ground in the snow - the combination of cold weather and barometric pressure producing a ratio of about 15 inches of snow being equivalent to one inch of rain. So there was a lot of water that needed to clear out of the hollow and from the hills around us.

The stream rose and washed a lot of the snow off the banks. Down stream, at the Hawksbill Creek in Luray, the water was really high, and I will post on that tomorrow. Here, above the confluence our watershed, is smaller, but there is still plenty of ground to drain.

Finally, a look at the creek on Sunday, after the rain and after a lot of that drainage had gone downstream. The creek was still up and briskly flowing, enough so that the neighborhood still had the sound of small waterfalls in the background.

Not to get preachy on this, but that's a very pleasant and relaxing sound, if you haven't ever taken the time to sit still and enjoy it.

Christmas Day Walk in the Country

With the snow all around, we were surrounded by the wintry wonderland of songs and lore. So, we took the walk we often do, from the Hawksbill Cabin out to Marksville Road, enjoying the neighboring farms and Inn, and the view over to our local mountains, Hawksbill, Big Meadow, and Stonyman.

When we get out of the immediate neighborhood, we pass a little farm called Shenando Acres. I've posted on this one before - often about the ever changing small herd of cows (Mary doesn't like me mentioning it), the horse and donkey, and the goats (visible by clicking on the photo). All were sheltered in the little pole barn as we walked by - the goats most curious, but they didn't come out to us this time.

This route takes us in front of Jordan Hollow Inn, a small farm oriented B&B that has a restaurant that we have enjoyed a few times. The economy seems to have kept business on the low side this year, and we wonder if the opening of the Mimslyn in Luray has also had an impact. We like our neighbors and would really like to see a turn around for them this year. (It's none of my business, but I bet a couple of Tri- and Bike racing sponsorships could help!)

Finally, here is the red barn near Jordan Hollow and next to the Hawksbill Creek headwaters. This is near the end of this walking route, about a quarter mile from the intersection of Marksville Road where we turn and come back. I phone-cammed this a while back, without snow - it really makes a nice scene with the snow though.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Morning Cold Shock

We had a splendid holiday weekend out at Hawksbill Cabin. Upon our arrival Christmas Eve, we were greeted with a glimpse of this cheerful tableau of Santas. Since we got there after dark, we weren't able to enjoy the wintry scene that surrounded us, until we woke up in the morning.
The Page County area was in the same weather pattern that Alexandria was last week, and we heard from many friends and neighbors there - by email and on Facebook - about the impact of 20+ inches of snow. It was all pristine and white, very pretty to look at by the time we got there...which is not to take away from the hardships this weather caused for many people.

My first recollection of Christmas morning was looking at the thermometer and this view of the side yard where the old barbeque is - 20 degrees, and easily 20 inches of snow out there. A warming trend was on the way, and for most of the day and the days that followed, the snow was melting.

Here are a couple of additional views of the "Winter Wonderland" effect we had during our time at the cabin, one of the front of the house and another looking across the yard to the road. One of the key weekend activities this time was a couple of walks we took, one in the neighborhood and a couple on Luray's Hawksbill Greenway - those will be topics of follow-up posts this week.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Trees Here and There

Mary and I are off to the cabin for a few days and so I probably won't be posting until Monday. In the meantime, we send our best to you and yours and hope that you have a wonderful Christmas.

Here's a couple of photos of our trees there and here. Best, Jim

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

An '09 Project Postponed

Today's theme question: What is a second home, if not a place to invest what time and money you have in a second set of perplexing home ownership problems when you already have them taken care of in the primary residence?

When we first started coming to the Hawksbill Cabin, a new house had been built in a neighboring lot. As a part of those activities, a new driveway was built, facilitating increased use of an access road that is platted but was never built between several of the lots uphill from us. The construction crews needed the access, but the whole situation caused a lot of tension up there.

Eventually we noticed that the road use had redirected some rain flow to our driveway, and there were gullies forming. The builder came along with a bulldozer and regraded our drive and parking area, and put in some leftover gravel which sufficed for a few months, until summer rains in 2008 restarted the erosion.
That situation has continued, and given our desire to resolve other projects with the house and properties, we haven't focused on the driveway problem until now. In October, we started planning a project for regrading the area, adding in new, larger gravel, and attempting to redirect the water flow to other areas to slow it down and keep it off of the driveway.

We are working with Mickey on this project, and the work was supposed to be done earlier this month. The weather hasn't cooperated, and now we are probably looking at spring for completion. He'll use some leftover railroad ties to create a berm that will send the water into an area with undergrowth and saplings, where we hope it will filter and dissipate rather than trucking on down the drive, full of sediment, into Beaver Run - that's where the water lives, after all.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Presgraves' Sentencing

It has been a while since I posted anything about the Sheriff Presgraves affair. I wanted to wait a bit so that I could get a better feel for the facts of the case – especially if it went to trial, although I never expected it to. With 22 counts indicted, potential fines in the millions of dollars, and the prospect of decades in federal prison, Presgraves plead guilty to only two charges in August. He admitted that he had used inmate labor illegally and had tried to persuade witnesses to lie about his conduct.

I read the Harrisonburg paper and a Washington Post site for more details, where I learned that last Friday, a federal judge sentenced [Presgraves] to 19 months in prison a fine of $1,000. He forfeited $75,000. Compared to what he was up against, it isn’t much, frankly – the Post adds a note: “Despite the lenient sentence, federal prosecutors say the prison term sends a message to public officials.”

While following the case, I found the twists and turns very interesting, and when Jerry Kilgore, a former Virginia attorney general and candidate for governor, joined Presgraves’ defense team, I thought it was unusual. Then I learned more about the Sheriff’s political activities, now summarizing from the Post:

“After first winning office in 1999, Presgraves handily beat back challengers and cozied up to some of Virginia's most prominent Republicans, including former governor George Allen, former attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore and Rep. Eric Cantor, now the House minority whip." (I found an AP photo linked in a previous post of Presgraves and Cantor together - and there is information about exchanges of campaign contributions easily found online.)

“When President George W. Bush went to Shenandoah National Park to give a speech in 2007, Presgraves was front and center to welcome him.”

Presgraves is a colorful local character, and he has his fans as well as his detractors – there seems to be a wealth of accomplishments mixed in with all the bad news in this story – but now he is a federal convict. There just isn’t any excuse that can be made for this behavior or for his crimes. Yet, he’s young enough, at 47, that he could learn a lesson from all of this, and return to public life as a role model for the good, but not in any official capacity. That’s the outcome I’ll hope for, anyway.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dig Out, Final

We expect freezing temps overnight, so the ground will be treacherous in the morning. We already had news that the government is closed tomorrow, so Mary has a snow day. I am thinking I may not attempt driving into the office myself.

Here are the last two photos, just showing the dig out I had to do for our cars. I also helped dig out a neighbor who ended up parked in front of our house - I am on the other side of the street, and when she finally moves I am swooping - and the neighbor on the other side who was getting plowed in.

I didn't get to my car while the sun was shining on it, so the melt under the snow had frozen. Tomorrow morning the sun will be on the front, and I can defrost the windows clear. I am in danger of getting plowed in there too, but I think I have most of what they would be going after cleared out of the way.

The two I helped drive beemers. I just pity anybody trying to drive one of those in the snow - or a Mercedes for that matter.

The Dig Out

Best wishes to our friends in Luray. I've been hearing on Facebook about the prospect of digging out there today - I hope everyone is well and not too inconvenienced by this storm.

Since the sun was out all day, and the temperatures were poised to rise into the mid thirties, our neighborhood in Alexandria got out for the big dig out. I have a couple of highlight photos to share.

First, these early ones on the deck in the back. I took these to show that we did have 19 1/2 inches, per official reports. That ranks it with a couple of severe storms we've had - deeper snow in January 1996, when Mary and I lived in the District, and then in the winter of 2003 we had a storm over at the townhouse in this neighborhood, but that wasn't quite as deep as this.

How about the domestic beauty of these Leland Cypress with snow clinging on them?

Finally this one of the neighborhood, at the start of the dig out. I'll have some more up in the next post, as progress was being made all day. I dug a total of four cars out after getting our walks all taken care of...will be sore tomorrow.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

December Snow

Snow began last night in Alexandria, and we had four inches by midnight. This morning, I took a few photos around the yard before I shoveled the walks - we probably had a foot by noon.

Later on I checked the walk, you can't really tell I shoveled at all.

The snow has continued falling all day - they recorded 13 inches officially over at National Airport, about 4 miles from the house. I think we have more here in our neighborhood.

I took a walk around 4pm down to Whole Foods - a beer run. They were closed. Sob.

On the way, I saw families coming over to the nearby park for some sledding, some cross country skiers, and a couple of sedans stuck in the snow banks left by the plows.

Topped it off with a couple of Starbucks Peppermint Mochas.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Hawksbill Greenway

Last weekend, as the temperature warmed up and the freezing rain moved off, I went into Luray for a little shopping and a walk along the Hawksbill Greenway. I already posted about the Chinquapin Oak earlier in the week - I also stopped by for a visit at Appalachian Outdoors Adventures, where they were having a busy holiday Sunday. Today, I wanted to do a quick upload of three more photos from my walk that day.
Having posting and editing problems today - the photos are out of order, will have to fix that later.

This first one is of a little dam on the Hawksbill Creek at the "newer end" of the Greenway. This segment was just completed last year. As I looked back along the creek, I could see that the water flow was still surging, and the sound of the water flowing over the dam was quite loud here.

The second photo is at a spot on the creek where it takes a hard turn to the west to get around an outcropping. There is a vintage photo that you can see around town of this spot, with a steam locomotive going across the bridge in the background and a group of children swimming in the little pool at the bend. When they built the Greenway, they rebuilt a little dam here and restored the pool - note the rope swing.

Last photo is a spot near Ruffner Plaza, where summer outdoor concerts are held. In good weather, this is a great spot to visit. As far as the creek goes, there is a part of the rock (just below the surface in this shot) where the flow is forced into a little channel, making it perfect for the start of the rubber duckie race during the Spring Fest.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Interpreting Pavement Paint

A few years ago I was at another large engineering firm, and just like these days, I watched a large development going up across the street. The construction technique back then was a structural steel building as opposed to the one I am watching as part of the "Clarendon Construction" series of posts, where concrete floor slabs have been poored floor by floor.

One of my interesting experiences at that other floor was a little ISO-like exercise we did. Since we were often involved in the construction or modification of critical facilities such as data centers or air traffic control centers - buildings where a large amount of critical infrastructure, like water, electricity, or communications, serves the building just underground. Any time that the ground service might be disturbed, or where serious digging was required, it was important to analyze whether critical infrastructure might be nearby to avoid damaging it.

We wanted to design new damage avoidance practices, so a "tiger team" of us flew off to Dallas to attend a series of seminars on preventing damage to the underground infrastructure.

During the course of this conference, I learned about some fascinating aspects of this industry. Whether it was about the establishment of "Miss Utility" services in Texas or Colorado, or about new ground penetrating radars, or simply about code guidance on how to mark locations, the conference was simply eye-opening for me. For weeks afterwards I was identifying what sorts of infrastructure was underfoot based on the residual paint markings of past projects.

So as I walk around the Clarendon neighborhood, with this major construction underway (and a couple of other interesting projects about to get underway) I started noticing how much paint there is on the pavement nearby, and taking some phone cam shots. Here are some photos showing some of the complex layouts of what kind of infrastructure is often underfoot in a city or suburban street.

The color codes are: blue-water lines; green-sewer lines; red-electrical lines; yellow-gas lines (often the pipe size is noted too); and orange-telecommunications lines, which are mostly fiber optics these days, and their owner is often noted along the course of their runs. I tried to get as many examples as I could in these shots, and was especially interested in finding places where two or three of these items were in close proximity.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Luray's Chinquapin Oak - on the Hawksbill Greenway

One of the landmarks along the Hawksbill Greenway in Luray is a little sign that points out a large Chinquapin Oak, or Chestnut Oak, that sits on a bluff overlooking the area. The oak is about 60 feet above the path and on private property, so you can't really go visit it, but it is definitely significant enough to merit this recognition.

The tree is at least 250 years old - at least 50 years older than the town of Luray itself, which was chartered in 1812, as you can read on the sign, which also describes the size of the tree. From the vantage point of this sign on the trail, you can just see the tree above. It is more or less in the center of this photo, not appearing as the tallest of the trees, but more in the background - the one set back from the edge, with the branches that spread out more, forming the trademark crown of this species.

I thought I might look a bit more into the tree variety on Wikipedia, and found three items of particular interest (the entry there used a variant on the spelling, also, possibly due to the geography the author writes from, Chinquapin sounds to me like it is derived from a Mid-Atlantic Native American word, and the spelling would be typical in this area)

  • Chinkapin oak is generally found on well-drained upland soils derived from limestone or where limestone outcrops occur. Occasionally it is found on well-drained limestone soils along streams.
  • The Chinkapin Oak is especially known for its sweet acorns. The acorns are sweet and palatable. Indeed, the nuts contained inside of the thin shell are among the sweetest of any oak; they taste excellent even when eaten raw. These acorns provide an excellent source of food for both wildlife and people. The acorns are eaten by squirrels, mice, voles, chipmunks, deer, turkey, and other birds.
  • Like the other members of the white oak family, the wood of the Chinkapin oak is a durable hardwood prized for many types of construction.

Most of the oaks on the Hawksbill Cabin property are white oaks, and I am pretty sure we likely have one or two of these somewhere in the area - maybe on the back lots along the ridge. I'll check it out, and when I do, maybe I'll test the acorns.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Beaver Dam No More

Before I took my country walk on Sunday morning, there were a few little chores that needed to be taken care of – the winter storms of the last two weeks or so had knocked down some branches, and the water flow had caused one of the corrugated black pipes to pull off of a down spout and roll down hill. While I was taking care of these little things, I was impressed with the low background roar of Beaver Run, which like the other streams in the area, was swollen from the night’s rain and the ongoing snow melt.
When I came around to the brick terrace at the front of the house, I saw that the beaver dam that we have enjoyed for the last year and a half has finally come down. A human may have helped this – in fact I am pretty sure that’s what happened – but I’ve been worried for a while that a good storm could cause problems down in the hollow since the dam was constructed so close to the road. I decided to go down into the hollow for a closer look.

From what’s left, it’s easy to see that the pond that formed here may have been as much as 8 feet deep in the areas where the main currents flowed. The dam was strongest at one area where a large fallen tree formed its base – this is the tree that looks like it was pulled out to break the dam. It’s interesting to look at the “cross section” view of the dam and see how much earth was part of the structure in addition to the branches and tree trunks.
The dam extends for more than thirty feet over into a wash area of the hollow. Even here, there is a ridge of dirt about a foot high topped with sticks and branches, ending with this evergreen that one of the beavers had worked on but stopped. In the background, there’s another tree that has come down, either from the weakening of the soil or because the beavers worked on it, or both.
Looking upstream, the beaver hut was near the large fallen log that lay across the main channel of the stream. I’ve seen pileated wood peckers working over this log on some mornings. The water backed up well up the stream, widening it pretty much as far as can be seen in this photograph.
I was worried that with so much of the dam gone, that a lot of the sticks and branches might have flowed down to block the culvert where it goes under the road – this was always my big worry, as that is where I figured a blockage could produce a wash out. Sally and Dan have told us about that happening before – they’ve had to park in a nearby neighborhood and hike in to their house.
Overall, I’m sorry to see the pond go. It was a nice view to have, looking down there and having Tanner’s Ridge reflected in the water. Then there was all the wildlife – the beavers, ducks, geese, deer, and even a bear once – that we could watch come and go. Late on Sunday, in the fading light of early winter’s dusk, I looked down and saw a blue heron stalking along the water’s edge – so the wildlife’s not gone, and the views aren’t. They’re just different now.