Ramble On

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Deer Karma

Even thought there is a little wrinkle in the fabric of our connection, these four deer appeared in the front yard of Hawksbill Cabin over the weekend at around 5pm Sunday.  There are two does and two fawns, still in their spots.

Maybe the appearance is more about the apples that are all over the yard - we hear them falling from the tree 24 hours a day this year - rather than some innate response to the fact that I accidentally killed one of them a few weeks ago up in Front Royal.

That's the other positive note.  At last, the day of my appointment with the body shop has come.  There is still deer hair in the cracked headlight, and other lingering signs, along with a sizeable dent, that offers a record of the mayhem I have wrought in our shared universe.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Battle of the Species: The Annual Encounter

As we were packing out last night, Mary called me outside.  She said, "One of your little ring-necked snakes is on the brick terrace."  I couldn't resist, so I went right out there to check it out.

There are a couple of reasons this was an interesting event.  First, it was already dark, and we'd never seen one of these snakes at night.  For readers that aren't familiar with this small, benign reptile, we see them around the yard from time to time, a couple of times a year. 

In fact, the first snake I saw on our property was one, it was small, less than a foot long.  Later I captured this photo of one of them with a wrist watch (actually Chris's Suunto) near it for a perspective on their size. 

I knew we had some large toads that hang out on the terrace at night, so I was thinking, "Gees, one of the toads could make a meal of a ring-necked snake!" 

Nope, what Mary had seen was too large to be a ring-neck; however, it was nonvenomous and it was also a very young reptile.  In this case it was a black rat snake.  When I first saw it was on the terrace, I startled it, and it crawled towards the door.  I went back inside to get the lantern, where Mary said, "Just keep that thing out of my house!"

Armed with the lantern, I went back to the spot where I'd last seen the snake.  It wasn't on the ground anymore - in it's search for an escape route, it had gone vertical.  That's lesson number two about black rat snakes: they're climbers.  (Lesson number one:  they are nonvenomous, and actually beneficial from the standpoint of the various pests they eat.)

For a moment I watched it inching its way straight up the stone wall...obviously taking time for a phone cam shot or two.  Then I disturbed it from the climb, first causing it to turn horizontal for some climbing in that direction, and then I knocked it to the terrace.

We see a juvenile black rat snake every year, approximately at this time, coinciding with the anniversary of buying the house.  It's a coincidence, with shorter daylight periods and cooler night time temperatures already happening, I'm sure that the sightings are because they are on the move, hunting during the last salad days of the year.

When I knocked the snake down from the wall, it immediately crawled back towards the wall and the door...so I swept it up again, off into the garden.  I heard it land in the hostas about ten feet away.  Maybe it will stay out there - I'll bet the pickin's are good for a snake in that part of the yard.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Half Dome Hiking Permits

(December 2010 update:  NPS has just made permits a requirement 7 days a week when the cables are up - http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/hdpermits.htm)

I’m a big fan of the cable route to the Half Dome summit – clicking on the Half Dome label at the end of this post will link to my story on this hike from when Chris and I did it in 2005. When I was at Yosemite National Park last month, one of the things I was reminded of was the new requirement for permits on some days to climb the Dome.

There is more detail at this site: http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/hdpermits.htm , but it appears that the NPS decided to limit weekend and holiday traffic on the cabled portion of the trail to 400 visitors a day for safety purposes. Apparently the permit requirement applies only to the portion of the trail from the subdome to the summit – the cable route, shown in the photo below.

I recall shortly after our 2005 trip, there was an extensive San Francisco Chronicle article that mentioned some accidents, including two fatalities, which had occurred because of the crowds. The dome is slick granite and is considered unclimable in this area without the cables. So if a person were to fall away from the cables…apparently that’s what happened.

The link above provides information about how to get a permit if you are considering the hike. Despite this requirement, don’t be discouraged from trying it – it is a true highlight of my hiking career. As an alternative, plan your trip for a weekday when the trail is less crowded. This is an interim measure, but the Park Service is working on a long-term plan to improve the management of this very popular route.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Stopping Fibrowatt in Georgia

I’m a little tardy reporting some developments regarding the company Fibrowatt, which back in early 2010 was looking at Page County as a potential location for one of their power plants fuelled by chicken litter. Early this summer, I heard that Fibrowatt was looking at Hart County, Georgia, as a potential location; in following up, I saw one of the standard Fibrowatt playbook activities starting to appear: the company had begun marketing to the local Economic Development Authority, industry stakeholders, and others for several months before their Georgia initiative became public knowledge.

However, as soon as the Fibrowatt efforts were publicized, local citizens did their due diligence – discovering, as we did in Page County, that there are many cons associated with one of these plants in exchange for limited pros. In addition to setting out on their own due diligence research, some Hart County citizens formed a stop Fibrowatt campaign, consulting with the two environmental oriented groups BREDL and Energy Justice, as well as citizen groups here in Page and in North Carolina.

Hart County found, just as these other communities encountering the prospect of a Fibrowatt plant in 2010 did before them, that the presence of a Fibrowatt plant means potential damage to the environment and health concerns to the local residents. To accept a Fibrowatt plant means making a deal that includes these risks as the price for…well, there are likely to be some economic benefits, but the value of the potential economic benefits are questionable and hard to quantify.

In Page County’s case, this compromise would have meant substantial negative impacts to our emerging active tourism industry. (Interested readers can consult past due diligence posts here on Hawksbill Cabin by clicking on the Fibrowatt label at the end of this post.)

Earlier this month, August 2010, Fibrowatt announced that it had decided not to pursue the Hart County location – citing their inability to establish terms for selling litter fuelled power to the local electricity distributers. Curiously, this news was announced on the very day a public meeting was scheduled there, which was to be the first official introduction of Fibrowatt to the local citizenry.

The full announcement from Dwayne Dye, economic development director at Hart County, included the following quote (this press release can be found via Google search):

“…The Hart County Industrial Building Authority has consistently stated throughout the preliminary evaluation phase with Fibrowatt, LLC, that certain steps are necessary to facilitate a project of this nature. Business needs dictate that a power purchase agreement (PPA) between Fibrowatt and utility companies must be accomplished before subsequent site location selection, permitting, and commissioning could begin. We have been notified, as of Thursday, August 5, 2010, that no such agreements are able to be reached, and Fibrowatt is terminating its site selection activities in Georgia, including Hart County… .”

On their site, http://www.stopfibrowatt.com/ , the Hart County citizens have put together a substantial amount of research that documents what they found related to Fibrowatt. Before I close with their take on Fibrowatt’s pull-out, here are some words that Terry Walmsley, Fibrowatt’s spokesperson had to say about the Georgia initiative: “While we recognize that a community will have a lot of questions about a project like Fibrowatt’s – we just wish more importance was placed on actual facts and the opinion of a community like Benson that has actually gone through the whole process.”

Mr. Walmsley frequently makes reference to “actual facts” in his commentary – and he did so here on Hawksbill Cabin back in March. Rather than offering convincing data that would firmly establish whether Fibrowatt’s net impact would be positive or negative, he seems to argue that the average citizen just doesn’t know how to interpret the permitting documents or the Benson plant’s environmental violations. He faces an uphill battle selling this technology to any community as long as he avoids the facts that are easy enough to find in a simple web search, including material that Fibrowatt makes available on its own home page.

So closing out, here is the note that visitors are greeted by on the Hart County community’s “Stop Fibrowatt” page:

“The citizens against Fibrowatt in northeast Georgia would like to thank everyone who made it clear that they did not want this poultry waste incinerator in our area. Literally thousands of you mobilized, contacting everyone from government officials to the various media outlets using every communication means possible. Ultimately, you were determined to make your voice heard. If you still have a “Stop Fibrowatt” sign in front of your home or business, we humbly ask that you continue to support the manufacturers in our area: great companies such as Fenner-Dunlop, Ritz Instrument Transformers, T-I Automotive, and C-D Controls, just to name a few. Finally, remember, our work is not done. We implore you to work with you elected officials and community leaders to bring environmental industries to our area. Industries that create jobs and stimulate the local economy. Again, we thank you for your efforts to stop Fibrowatt in northeast Georgia.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Lewis Spring Falls - an Easy Shenandoah Natl Park Day Hike

While I am behind on several posts in this category - I'm planning to catch them up next month in a hiking spectacular - Mary and I decided we might go up to the Park last Sunday for a little hike.  I mentioned the butterflies and wildflowers in the post yesterday; we encountered them on the short hike we took down to Lewis Spring Falls.

In my "Easy Day Hikes" book (Amazon link below) this trail is described as a 3.3 mile loop that descends 990 feet.  I've done that one before, and while I was doing it found that you could short cut some of the loop by taking a fire road down to where it intersects the actual trail to the falls.  On reading the guide book again, this route is mentioned as better for families with young children - and indeed, we encountered a couple of families on the route.

The alternative route turns out to be about 2 miles long, but it still descends (and climbs on the return) almost 800 feet.  I took altimeter readings at the Big Meadows Welcome Center (3,535 feet), where we parked, and at the Falls (2,776 feet), so I came up with a total climb/descent of 759 feet.  Although the temperatures at altitude were 10 degrees cooler than in the Valley, it's still important to be sure that you bring plenty of water for this route.

I like this waterfall - Heatwole lists it as the fourth tallest in the Park at 81 feet.  The view of the falls from the overlook is very pretty.  At the top of the falls, where the water leaps from the cliff, there is a ledge that offers a view to the west, overlooking Tanners Ridge - also worth a stop. 

Those views alone make this a pleasant trip, but for me, because this is one of the headwaters of Hawksbill Creek, which flows through Luray along the Greenway, I especially like significance of this location.

Once we climbed back to the car, we drove to the Big Meadows Lodge for a short break.  There is a lot of construction in the main building this year, while they update the balcony that looks over Page Valley.  We walked over to Black Rock, the southern summit just a few yards from the lodge, and looked down to the Valley - you can see the Jordan Hollow Inn and Wisteria Vineyards from this view point.

We topped it off with a stop at the Big Meadows tap room, grabbing a quick lunch.  Then it was back to the Valley to enjoy a few hours on the brick terrace before packing up for Alexandria. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


On Sunday, Mary and I took a drive up to Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park, with two destinations:  first, I wanted to show her Lewis Falls, and second, I wanted to show her the view from the little Black Rock summit near the lodge.  More about the adventures to follow - in fact, I have an "easy day hike" post in arrears on this hike that I have yet to post, from a trip back in June.

It turned out to be a kind of special day for another reason - the meadow is busting out all over with summer wildflowers, and hand in hand with that, there are all kinds of butterflies to be seen.  I don't think I've ever seen the variety and numbers of butterflies we encountered Sunday, starting with this Monarch catepillar that we saw near the welcome center. 

After we noticed it, I saw a few leaflets posted around that this is the season to see the three out of the four life-cycle phases of the Monarch in the Park - from catepillar, to pupa, to butterfly - the only one you miss, and this is because you don't know what to look for, probably, is larva.

Although I only managed to capture two decent phone cam images - the tiger swallowtail below, and the great spangled fritillary, left - among the others we saw were monarchs, painted ladies, black swallowtails, and west virginia whites.  These are just the ones that we were close enough to identify, since the whole meadow was alive with them.

We had seen so many varieties that I was worried about forgetting some of them.  So when we got home, I rushed to my "Virginia Butterflies and Moths" pocket naturalist guide and jotted down the ones I could remember seeing.  I forgot about the summer meadow ecosystem in the Park - this is a great outing, and since it's often 10 or more degrees cooler up there than in the Valley, doubly enjoyable.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Out here, everybody has a deer story

The phrase "deer damage" usually only refers to what the deer have done to our hostas, or this year, to our squash, at the Hawksbill Cabin.  But this weekend it took on a new meaning.

On Friday night, heading south on US 340 out of Front Royal, still in town where the four stoplights are, we were in traffic with about six cars moving from light to light.  Suddenly, a herd of deer, at least three, lept into the road at a full gallop from the left, somehow slipping between the car in front of us and us.

I hit the brakes as hard as I could, and two got away.  There was no missing that last one in the group though.  We felt the impact, and then I have the image of seeing that deer spinning in the air, 10 feet off the ground, out the drivers side window, coming down in the median strip near the entry to Shenandoah National Park.

I'm pretty sure the deer was dead on impact, I doubt I had come down much from the 40mph you do through there before impact, and from these dents it's clear I hit a clean broadside from chest to rump.  That's hair in the cracked lenses of my headlight - fortunately not much else on the car to mark what happened... 

The other two deer made it through to the other side, even missing the traffic in the other lane.  It could have been a real mess there - wildlife and cars don't mix well.

So keep an eye out - the deer are on the move.

Friday, August 20, 2010

...anybody can grow zucchini, she says

So at last I have a zucchini I could harvest.  It's actually quite an accomplishment - as you can see here, it's on the cover of Mother Earth News, no less.

So as I am reporting this to my - friends - I get the comment that is this post's title.  Well there you go. 

Actually this squash got a little long in the tooth - so even though it was edible, it was so laden with seeds we decided not to use it in the recipe Mary selected, which came from the Moosewood cookbook, Amazon link below.

Also, this will be the only one we get from my container garden at the Hawksbill Cabin.  The hungry deer found the vegetable patch, and there are no leaves left on any of my vines.  The summer growing season is officially over.

Fortunately, we had some farmers' market squash leftover, and Mary decided to make a side dish for us:  "Stuffed Zucchini, Turkish Style."

The ingredients include the squash, minced onion, butter, crushed garlic, eggs, feta and swiss cheese, parley, dill, flour, salt and pepper and paprika.  The idea is to stuff the halves with the mixture (and the innards of the squash) after cooking it in the butter.  Then it is baked at 375 until the stuffing solidifies.

We paired this with tomato salad, because Moosewood recommends it and that's the other thing we have going right now - Mary's garden in Alexandria is under no threat of deer, and she is still getting tomatoes off of all the plants.

So, lessons learned:  you can do this container garden in a bag thing.  And it is an effective way to fight insects for the small timer.  But, if you are not going to be able to attend to the garden, and you are going to have to let it go native, like I did - you might be well served to protect it with a fence if you have deer.  And everything needed water this year, which is part of why not all my plants made it to bearing fruit.

I think we may try again next year.  But until then, we've always got the market.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Pending office move - One thing I'll miss

I mentioned in my post yesterday that after four months or so in the city, my office is moving back to Clarendon, where I had been working for the first two years of my time at AECOM.  I'm glad to be headed back home with my new colleagues - but they are understandably a bit reticent about the move, having been in this ultimately convenient location for more than 15 years.

For me, any regrets about the move are going to be more about the knife and fork than about any nostalgia I feel for the space.  Even though the temp agency that gave me my first start in DC back when I first moved here was located in this building.  No, this area for me, going back 20 years now, has been all about the lunch joints.  One of them I've been able to enjoy in particular, three times since temporarily moving here, is the Greek Deli.  There is never a short lunch line at this place - the outside view is actually the shortest line I've seen here.  I was early on Tuesday - about 12:10 or so.  Once you get inside, you see how small the place is, there is a sign on the door that the wait is 5 minutes from there.

There is always the standard Greek fare available.  But I took the special once, it was ghoulash.  Excellent.  And I have a highlight photo of the special fare from the day I was here recently - although I was after a gyro, and also indulged in rice pudding.

Now I would be remiss in not mentioning some of the other options here.  Next door there is an Asian noodle place, Nooshi.  And two doors down, Luigi's.  The original Cafe Asia was on this block.  There is a place called Panang just up from here.  Around the corner, an Irish Bar.  Down the street, you can get a curry at Spice World.  If you need big meat, there is Smith and Wollensky's.  Shall I stop?

It's been an easy meeting point for a couple of dozen lunches over the years.  I hope I can continue to get over here after the move.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Clarendon Construction - August 2010

Two weekends ago, I stopped by the Clarendon office to see if I could work in one of the conference rooms for the day.  Because of an office remodel - it is being prepped for my group's imminent return, hopefully this weekend if the occupancy certificate is given - I couldn't work there after all.  But I did take advantage of being there to get an update on the construction projects I have been observing for the last two years.
As you can see in the first picture, almost all exterior work on the big building is completed.  There is quite a lot still going on inside, but they've even taken down the sidewalk covers around the building and opened the street fully back up.  My guess is the building is on track for a Fall 2010 opening.

During my check-in, the second building had most of the exterior masonry completed. There is still some detail work being done - the masonry elevators are still up, so they aren't finished.  And something is still going on with the penthouse.

Here is the final photo for this update - the airspace building going in around the church next door.  I discovered that my boss's office has an excellent view looking down into the site.  I hope to be able to include a monthly update on the progress of this one going forward.

There is still a lot of site prep to do on this project - the grading is only one level below ground at the moment, and I am pretty sure they'll need at least three levels of parking in this building to accommodate everything that is going on there.

As I mentioned, we are planning to move back to Clarendon next week, ending my four month's stay in DC. I've enjoyed my old haunts there, but I am looking forward to the change.  The certificate of occupancy is out of our hands right now, entirely in the County's, so we'll see if everything stays on track.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Catching up with the Wranglers

As the post on the "All Things Valley League" blog begins, "This Valley League season, which seemed to just have started a few days ago, has all too quickly come to an end." 

It's only been a few weeks since I was lamenting not being able to get out for a game, in fact, and now here's the news that Luray went on to win the league championship!

In fact, Mary and I, and our friends Kathy and Brendon, were able to catch a double header on the final weekend of the season - against the Woodstock River Raiders.  Luray took both games, 5-3 and 15-2, setting themselves up for a fine playoff season.

For us, we had a nice time at the games, sitting down the left field line in folding chairs this time - C and B came straight to the game from DC, and had their dog Howser with them, so we stayed farther back.  Still, the pup attracted a lot of attention from other fans all his own.

These VBL games are quality entertainment.  There's just nothing like it, sitting out there enjoying some baseball on a hot summer night as the cooling breezes start to kick-up.

Here's a link to the story on the final playoff game of the season.  For baseball fans, there are some links on the All Things Valley League site to other summer league blogs and articles - including the Cape Cod league.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Luray Tri Results

I saw a lot of search hits today looking for race results.  David Glover just posted them on the Luray Tri site, but I'll post the link here too for convenience:

Saturday's International:

Sunday's Sprint:

After Action: Luray Triathlon 2010

Just a quick note this morning to say congratulations to all the participants, organizers, and town of Luray for bringing off another excellent edition of this event.  With 600 participants on both the Saturday and Sunday triathlons, the event was fully booked.  I hope everyone had a great race and will come back next year.

For our part, Mary and I joined the United Way volunteers to be part of the rest of the action - we were part of a variety of fun tasks, and I have to admit it's very rewarding to be a part of it all.  Among our activities - making PB&Js for the participants to quickly refuel after they finished; course guide on the water (Jim) - in a canoe with one of the lifeguards; and transition area bike checker at the end of the race.  I don't know that I will ever participate as a swimmer, biker, or runner - or all three, but there's no lack of fun stuff to do behind the scenes.

Also a big kudos to the AOA gang today - everybody there took part in the races:  Andy, Gary, Howard and Linda.  That's a real commitment to adventure tourism, gang!  Congratulations!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

About: The Luray Triathlon

This is the weekend of the Luray tri's - two races held on Saturday and Sunday. 

There is a downloadable brochure on the event's home page here:  http://luraytriathlon.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Luray_Packet_Info_v2_10.pdf

There are a couple of reasons to love this event, even if you are not a race participant.  The main one is the support it brings to the local Luray and Page County communities in hosting the event, since the triathlon gives back a portion of the race proceeds to the local communities. In 2009, more than $10,000 was donated to the United Way of Page County, and another $8,000 went to other community organizations including: Luray Downtown Initiative, Luray Volunteer Rescue, Shenandoah Volunteer Rescue Squad, Luray Christian Church, Luray Parks & Recreation Department, Luray Police Dept and the Page County Sheriff's Office.

That's to say nothing about the impact on the local tourist industry from all the out of town guests.  It's a great thing to be part of!

Saturday's International is a combination of a 1500 meter swim, a 25-mile bike ride, and a 10K run.  Sunday's race is the Sprint, combining a 750 meter swim, a 16.5-mile bike ride, and a 5K run.  I can hardly think of a time that I've encounter so much enthusiasm and energy so early in the morning as you do helping with race day registration. 

Here's a video of the route.  This is a nice bit of work by Jenny Ruley, showing off our beautiful Valley.

Luray Triathlon from Jenny Ruley on Vimeo.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Birds of Prey

A few days ago I was driving around Clarendon.  While I was stopped at a light, I happened to look up and saw this pair of V-22 Ospreys ascending - probably just taking off from Ft. Myer.  The engines were still rotating to forward flight position when I quickly took this shot of them - click on the photo for a larger view, they are just above the left end of the tall building in the background.

This aircraft was plagued with a number of challenges and crashes during it's development over the last 20 years.  The Wikipedia link below provides the history.  I'd seen another taking off recently down near Ft. Belvoir; after researching this was surprised to find that they are in full production and serving in active duty.

Now for a second, more literal subject on this topic.  When Brian and I visited the Sutro Bath Ruins in San Francisco a few weeks ago, we happened to look up and saw a Red Tail hawk engaged in the watchful semi-hover behavior that they often have (mentioned in the Wikipedia article that is linked below). That was fascinating enough to watch.


A short time later, we looked back up at the hawk and noticed that it was carrying some sort of small rodent prey animal.  It had begun to make its tell tale "keer" call.  Suddenly, a second smaller bird rose in flight and began pursuing the one carrying the rodent, making all sorts of similar calls, trying to keep up.

My guess is, based on the time of year, we were seeing a parent teach a fledgling some hunting behaviors.  It was fascinating to watch - flying in all directions, sometimes passing just a few dozen feet over head, and covering a lot of distance above the ruins.  Most of the other tourists at the ruins also stopped to watch - I'm sure some of them got better photos than I did with the moto-cam, but this one wasn't so bad.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

At Auction in Hawksbill Pines

One of the little houses in our Stanley neighborhood is up for auction.  This house was for sale a couple of years ago, but they took it off the market.

It is a nice little bungalow style 2 bedroom with 1.5 baths, built in the '40's of what appears to be nice local bluestone.  I took a walk up there when I first noticed the auction sign and took the photos that are here.

You have the front and rear, a side view, and a view of the barbeque pit that was built out back in 1947.  I have Googled the name Charles Chance before and didn't find anything, but I bet, just as with our house, if you could break through the veil, there would be some wonderful cabin lore to enjoy about past getaways to this place. 

Here is a link to the auctioneer's site.  This auction is scheduled for late August.


The most recent owners did quite a bit of work on this place, including adding the front porch and side deck.  I was able to check out the screened back porch and it is a huge outdoor space where you could entertain very nicely.

Not to mention that nearly the entire first floor is a living/family room - except for the remodeled kitchen (which has a small apartment-style range) and the half bath.  Although I have never been inside, I assume the 2 bedrooms and the full bath are upstairs. 

There is only one issue I have with the house.  Since it was designed as a weekend getaway, the sewer system not up to date...the name for what's there is slipping my mind at the moment.  But this problem can be quickly and inexpensively remedied with the addition of a septic system.

In addition to that, there is one inaccuracy in the auction listing, which suggests that the house could be converted to a weekend rental.  That is not allowed by the covenants of the neighborhood, dating to the 1930's.
Back to the positives, the barbeque pit is surrounded by a large paved area with a picnic table.  The property line there borders a 10-acre pasture that is owned by one of the neighbor and is not currently used.  So there is plenty of privacy and the opportunity for watching wildlife.

It's my bet you could get this for a very reasonable price.  And you'd have great neighbors!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Hoppin' Dan

During dinner last weekend, Dan mentioned that he was going to have to get out in the hops vines and harvest.  He invited us down to have a look and maybe help out - he said he thought he'd have enough hops for a couple of batches of his famous "competition Flat Tale IPA." 

I'm always up for helping a friend with his craft.
So here are a few photos of the laden hop vines, a close up and a perspective view.  In the wider framed view you can make out the fencing he had to put up to keep the bunnies out. 

The bunnies eat the vines right at the point that they emerge from the ground, killing them off.  Apparently deer love the hops vines too, but Dan said he doesn't have a problem with them. 

The Cascades hops are producing the most this year.  He has some Willamette vines, and also grows a noble variety, but I'm forgetting which.

After the tour of the hop yard, we took a walk out into the other section of their property on "Fern Trail."  A we hit the trail head, we came across a little orchard of apples and pears - the MacIntoshes are ready, as you can see in the third photo.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Paws for a Caws...Bear Bear, the Siberian Husky

My friend Penny has been posting on an event that I thought was important to share with Hawksbill Cabin readers.  I have heard about law enforcement bringing weapons into dog parks before and threatening the fellow owners they encounter there.   


It is hard to understand how any well-trained professional would panic in situation like the one described here.  It is impossible to make an excuse for it.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Alexandria Storm

We had a quick and powerful storm blow through the neighborhood in Alexandria on Thursday night.  Power's out at the house, and it's forecast to be out potentially through Sunday...we'll see.  Here are some photos of the damage from my walk home last night - the next block over.

The first one is the "Stump" that the second one broke off of - that would have done some damage if it landed on anything.  As it is, it just knocked down power lines.

This is another tree down, same block.  Since both trees were all tangled up in power lines, they didn't even bother to clean them up the first day!
Alexandria Storm Damage

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Vegetables in the Round

Knowing that it is high season at the farmers' markets, and with company coming, last weekend Mary and I set out to put on an al fresco dinner that was local to the max.  When I look at the phone cam photos, I realized there was a motif to all the vegetable shots, thus the name of this post. 

Starting with Thursday, when we had word that Kathy and Brendan would be joining us, along with neighbors Sally and Dan, we started menu planning.  We knew we could count on our friends at the Luray farmers' market for fresh vegetables and steaks - but I also wanted dessert, so I called Main Street Bakery for pies, and then, we picked up wine from Wisteria, as I mentioned in the post yesterday.  So with few exceptions, and I would be pretty hard pressed to identify what they were, everything we had for dinner was grown or produced within ten miles of Hawksbill Cabin!

We started with the fairy tale eggplant, from Public House Produce, which I grilled.  I shared this recipe a few weeks ago - the little fruits are cut in half lengthwise, brushed with olive oil and seasoned with sea salt and cracked black pepper.  Then they are grilled both sides.  This was our appetizer.

I also grilled sweet corn directly on the grate.  The corn was also from David and Heather's.  It was gently brushed with butter and had a light sprinkle of seasoning salt - sometimes I leave this off, but because we were grilling for new company we decided to go whole hog. 

The heirloom tomatoes in the opening shot for the post were cut up and mixed with some mozzarella that had marinated in oil and garlic.  We served that as a side to the main course.  Also, Sally and Dan had dug some new tomatoes out of their patch just that afternoon, so we had a savory side of roasted taters from them.

The last dinner item was a batch of New York strips from Skyline Premium Meats.  After I thawed them I gently brushed them with oil, and seasoned them with sea salt, cracked black pepper and garlic.  Once the vegetables were grilled I had to recharge the coals - I wanted to cook the meat over hickory, so I used some seasoned Kingsford charcoal for that.  Half of the steaks were "rarer" and half were "done-er."

The dinner wine was the Wisteria Norton I'd picked up earlier.  After dinner and before dessert, we moved on to the Wisteria steel barrel Chardonnay, and I supplemented that one with a second Chardonnay bottle from North Mountain, over in Mauertown.  The rain came during the conversation time, so we hustled to move everything in off of the brick terrace, and resettled in the dining room.

Then out came a pair of fabulous pies.  I am sorry I don't have photos of these masterpieces, but we had one peach and one cherry.  They were so good, and we were lucky enough to have leftovers to enjoy a few days later.

Now that I am at the end of the post, I remember the two exceptions in this local feast:  the mozzarella we served with the tomatoes was a Whole Foods purchase, and Brendan and Kathy brought a couple of specialty Belgian brews that we enjoyed while the coals were firing up.

There was so much to choose from at the market this weekend.  After we had gathered everything we needed for the dinner, we made a second pass to pick up a few items from other booths - we got some two-color zucchini, and a regular eggplant.  Also some peppers, and I thought about getting a bunch of chard from Sustainable Shenandoah this time, but didn't because I'd have to keep it a few days before we could use it.

All in all, we had a fresh local dinner Saturday night.  What's not to love? 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Wisteria, the Vineyard Next Door

It’s been a nice surprise to discover how much fun it is to have a working vineyard so close – with Wisteria Farm and Vineyards only about 2 miles from the Hawksbill Cabin, visiting Moussa and Sue has become one of our must-do’s whenever we have guests. And so it was with Kathy, Brendan and Howser last weekend.

The vineyard has added a regular outdoor music and tasting evening on their deck. The next one is August 14, with local duet FriknFrak. There’s a bluegrass event coming up too.

Brendan and I enjoyed a tasting inside while Kathy and Mary took Howser out on an adventure. The dog wasn’t very interested in the chickens that wander freely around the farm, crossing right in front of him to get safely back inside the barnyard fence. But he did keep his nose to the ground whenever they walked through the sheep areas! The sheep kept pretty far away in another pasture.

Since our last visit, Sue tells me they’ve had two more lambs, in addition to Blackie, who was born in May. And there were young chickens peeping around the barnyard this time – so it’s a pretty happy and productive place.

After the tasting and adventure around the barn, we took a walk out back through the vines. Hawksbill Creek borders the rear of their farm, to the south. After the walk through the fields, Brendan took Howser into the water for a wade to cool off. Then we made our way back to the tasting room.

To go with the dinner I planned, I picked up bottles of the Norton, the red made from Virginia indigenous grapes, Traminette, and the surprising steel tank Chardonnay.

Be sure and check out the vineyards web page at http://www.wisteriavineyard.com/5401.html . The blog and scrapbook have photos of the vineyard and the barnyard animals, as well as the four delightful farm dogs.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Bison Herd

From time to time I take a "short cut" home from the Tractor Supply Company or the Page Co-op, cutting through behind the co-op to Leaksville Road.  It's definitely not shorter, but is more of a scenic drive through rolling pastures.

A while back, I discovered that there is a farm back there that was keeping a mixed herd of cows and bison.  Last year, there were five or so of the larger animals and a couple of dozen cows.

On Sunday, driving through, as I turned the corner, this scene filled the windshield: a dozen or more bison grazing on the hillside!  Phone cam quality being what it is, I took the best photo I could while stopped on the side of the road.

It's a multi-generational herd, as you can see.


As Hawksbill Cabin blog readers know, I was away for a couple of weeks and did not check on the vegetable garden during that time.  The cabin garden was planted under the assumption that the plants would mostly be on their own in any case.

Recall that I found the idea to plant directly in bags of top soil in Mother Earth News and decided to try it.  While my cucumbers and eggplant failed to germinate, I did get squash plants - zucchini and yellow gooseneck, and after the failures, I planted a white petite pan and a small watermelon plant.

Unfortunately, the dry summer is causing slow going on the watermelon, so at this stage, I don't expect anything from it.  The lack of water probably has something to do with the odd shape of this zucchini also.  We'll keep an eye on the petite pan, which was blossoming last weekend.

The big story is the zucchini - I finally had on ripe squash which I picked on Saturday.  Unfortunately, it looked like a bunny had nibbled a bit on it to see if it was ready - so I deemed it not fit for human consumption.  I sliced it and put it out in the yard for the deer (they've eaten all of the hostas and still might be hungry).  Before I tossed it I decided I had to have a photo of it for the record.

There are also goosenecks coming around.  Hopefully this one will make it until our next visit, when it might be our first produce from this garden.  Meanwhile, Mary is getting tomatoes and peppers from the Alexandria patch - the organic squash plants have succumbed to the heat and the cucumber beetles.

A final note - I saw that the cabin's Rose of Sharon hibiscus was in bloom.  This plant was a volunteer in the Alexandria yard, off of a plant that was a volunteer at our previous house in Alexandria.  So there's a tradition that will continue.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Team AOA and the Odyssey

On Sunday, as the weekend at Hawksbill Cabin was winding down, I decided to drive into town and visit with the Appalachian Outdoors Adventures team about their recent 24-hour Odyssey adventure race. Both Howard and Gary have posts up on their blogs – links below, and the photo is from their gear shakedown run up on Duncan Knob – I think they have a little more news to share, but I wanted to hear about the experience in person.

Here's just a preview of the skills competitors needed to have to participate, taken from the Odyssey website (race details are at http://www.oarevents.com/events/2010/Odyssey_One_Day_2010.shtml) :

  • Boat/paddling maneuvers - Peel out, ferry-forward, back ferry, eddy turns, stop (within reasonable distance), positions-sitting/kneeling- rocking/balance, forward in a straight line.
  • Paddle strokes - Forward and backstrokes, draw stroke, cross bow draw, bow sweep, stern sweep, stop.
  • Reading water - V’s-upstream/downstream; recognizing: rocks, horizon line, ledges, strainers, eddies, hydraulics.
  • River rescue/safety - How to swim in moving waters, foot entrapment prevention, aggressive swimming-self rescue, avoiding obstacles/strainers, broaching/pinning; communication: paddle signals/whistle use, rescue priorities (people, boats, gear), hypothermia: prevention and treatment, how to receive a throwrope, proper clothing; lifejacket: fit, types, (location of whistle/knife); helmets, bailers. Strainer drill, throwrope use: re-stuff/re-throw/belay position; boat over boat rescue; lining a boat/portage, rigging: gear attachment, throwrope location, load distribution

Howard rolled out one of the maps they used in this race and we took a look at the route through the first four checkpoints – I couldn’t believe what I was seeing there. Just getting through one of those checkpoints is a more vigorous adventure than what I usually plan for a day hike.

Not to mention what I recall as the final leg of the route to the 3rd checkpoint on their map – after a 20+ mile bike ride, enter the Jefferson National Forest, bike four miles on forest trails, while climbing 1,000 + feet…

In the end, the AOA team wasn’t one of the three teams out of 36 that finished the entire race. But what they did achieve is pretty awesome! Congrats to them - Steve, Kris, Howard, and Gary - and looking forward to future news on these adventures!