Tower of Song

Friday, October 29, 2010

Tea Party Irony - part 2

Maybe it’s just simple old me, but in my mind I cannot separate the words and deeds of many of these Tea Party candidates from any other policies this group is trying to champion – whether I agree that they are good ideas or not. The risk that these fringe positions present to our Democracy is just too great. We are all frustrated by the pace of the recovery but we cannot allow those frustrations to cloud our judgment and take our country backwards.


I want to start the post today with a few follow-up thoughts I need to add to yesterday’s, in which I was trying to capture some things that went through my mind while following an RV on Skyline Drive. I don’t begrudge the couple I wrote about yesterday anything; after all, we were both out for the same thing Sunday morning, a bit of recreation in the beautiful setting we have there in Shenandoah. I am sure their retirement is well-earned – and that we all should be able to enjoy a worry-free situation at that age.

And that is really what it’s all about for me, as a Democrat. That couple was enjoying a lifestyle that all of us are trying to earn. The policies our party's candidates propose are meant to preserve and protect the country at large, and create those kinds of opportunities for all, without a preference over one group or another. Yet, when I hear some of the statements coming from some politicians or candidates today – Palin, Miller, Angle, and Paul, to name a few – I don’t hear proposals that resonate with that same goal.

Palin, who this week, by not ruling out a run, threw her hat in the ring for president in 2012, "if there is no candidate out there who seeks to protect the Constitution the way she does" (paraphrased)…yet the candidates she has endorsed have all stated for the record that they would repeal elements of that very same Constitution. Maybe they haven’t read it? It includes instructions on how to amend it…everything in there, subsequent to the first ten amendments, are there because the majority of the country voted in favor of them.

Miller, the Alaskan candidate for Senate, recently suggested that East German policies might work for us here in the United States. Having served in Berlin and closely observed East German policies at work for a few years, I don’t even have to try and digest anything else this guy has to say – I certainly don’t have the patience after such an outrageous concept.

While we are on the topic of these two Alaskans I can’t leave another rhetorical argument aside. That state receives one of the largest shares of federal subsidies per capita of any in the Union. These “income redistributions” from the lower 48 form another irony, in that this is a major “against” issue for the Tea Party, a banner that these two Alaskan politicians proudly fly. At least the write-in candidate in that state, Murkowski, has embraced the simple truth: apparently it’s an Alaskan senator’s job to come to Washington in order to bring home the bacon. If Miller wins, I predict: status quo.

Then we look at Angle from Nevada, who looks to be the favorite for that Senate race – despite racist campaign ads and some mind-boggling speeches to children about race. Some of the early rallying cries for Tea Party activism were “I want my country back.” Exactly how far back does Angle want to take us?

I’ll stop after a note about Paul, the Kentucky candidate – who also looks to be headed for the Senate. The footage of one of his campaign workers stomping someone – a woman, in fact – and the unapologetic remarks that follow this incident, is the single lasting image I will be associating with the Tea Party for the next few years. That is why I put together these two posts. 

Paul’s early statements in his campaign were problematic as well – ones he made about revisiting portions of the Civil Rights Act. Another Constitution lover and protector, right?…at least the part of it that he likes.

In conclusion, I’d add that there is nothing wrong about being frustrated by the need for change, or by the pace of implementing it. That's part of why the Founding Fathers established the electoral cycles they did.  But we need to be careful about who we elect in response to that frustration. The positions I highlighted above are part of the package you get with the Tea Party – they can’t be separated from other parts of the platform.

To me, that means we’ll have to be carefully diligent about protecting the Constitution over the next few years, because Palin, Miller, Angle and Paul are no friends of it. There is a real chance that their era will leave our country with lasting damage, and that is a shame.

I received some comments and feedback from friends on both sides of some of the issues here. I will try to assemble them into follow-up posts over the weekend, and get them up on Monday.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tea Party Irony

I’ve stayed away from political commentary this election season on the blog, readers pretty well know where I come down in the spectrum (for a refresher, just click the “inauguration” label below…or let me help you this way: Mary and I met during the 1992 Clinton campaign, after an introduction from a fellow volunteer). But, I saw something Sunday that begs a comment. As I started writing, two or three other things came to mind - and then, a message from an old friend.  So now I’ve got to post a two-parter - I'll try not to rant.


 
Last Sunday I was driving on Skyline Drive on my way to Blackrock. Up ahead, I saw a large RV winding its way along, pulling a car. Soon enough I caught up, and when I did, I saw the membership bumper sticker for some Tea Party organization in Illinois. The irony just began to hit me as I thought about how the Tea Partiers claim they aren’t an organization, but for some reason we often see this kind of organizational identification association with them.

 
Turning my thoughts to the RV, I remember seeing a recent lifestyle segment on some news program about these vehicles, about how when gas prices went up during Bush to $4 per gallon, these vehicles went out of style. Now that gas is back in the mid-$2 range, they are making a comeback.

 
That same segment told me the average price of a used “Class A” RV is around $90K, although you can find them for less (a search this morning shows one for sale in California for $65K). An analysis of cost of ownership tells me that the life-cycle cost of one of these vehicles shows that as an owner you will spend the purchase price on maintenance every 6 to 8 years…

 
…so the Tea Party couple tooling along Skyline drive effectively has in the neighborhood of $15K to $20K a year to spend on recreation. Now, I started to wonder if this lifestyle is made possible because they are collecting Social Security, or using Medicare. Are they benefiting from the prescription drugs programs for seniors? I’m going to make an assumption here that they have not rejected taking benefits from these programs, despite the Tea Party’s frequent assertion that they aren’t Constitutional, that the provision of programs like this isn’t an appropriate governmental role.

 
My thoughts came back to the drive and maintaining a safe distance, since I had caught up with the RV.

 
We passed a sign that said, “Overlook closed ahead.” For those who aren’t familiar with Skyline Drive, the overlooks are the pull-offs along the way that feature often monumental views of our beloved Page Valley. As we passed the closed overlook, a sign at the entrance and exit points reminded us, “Your stimulus dollars at work…”

 
Back to my well-off fellow travelers driving along in their federally subsidized life-style…another Tea Party contention is that the stimulus program was a stretch for the federal government, an overreach. Many economists now say it likely should have been bigger, even though it put the brakes on the recession we were skidding into at the time.

 
Still waiting for an opportunity to pass, we passed by another overlook, again closed for stimulus-funded renovation. Now I was getting angry and impatient. Fed up with the irony that this pair of jerks espouses membership in a Tea Party organization when the evidence that we have a great country here was right there in front of them – indeed, they are living it!

 
Don’t even get me started on the statements that many of these unprepared Tea Party candidates have made about elements of the Constitution they would repeal – that is the next place my thoughts went as we continued along:

 
  • Rand Paul, who would repeal civil rights provision. 
  • Christine O’Donnell, who claims the establishment clause of the first amendment does not separate church from state. 
  • So many of them, who believe this country can be governed by taking a no compromise stand with those who – with the same commitment to keeping this country great – disagree with them.

…and that one in ten of their supporters, in this day and age, says that the President’s race is an issue.

 
Finally, we came to an overlook that is due for renovation in a future phase of construction. The RV pulled off. For a moment I thought about following them, parking in front of them, my “Veterans for Obama” bumper sticker showing in full glory.

 
But then, a confrontation of that sort wasn’t what I was after on Sunday. And protecting their right to an opinion is part of what my USAF service was all about.

 
Still, as I drove on, I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself at the irony from my fellow travelers. I hope that some Tea Party candidates are elected next week - it appears inevitable in any case. They will caucus with the Republicans, and that leadership will have to deal with them and these viewpoints. They won’t have the opportunity to make an unwise change to the Constitution, I can’t imagine they’ll even have the opportunity to discuss it for long. They’ll serve their two years and this “movement” will be flushed into the history books.

 
And any damage that they do won’t last long. The rest of us – the majority of us – will see to that.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

GWNF/Massanutten Fire Wednesday Update

I thought the weather change, with a soaking rain overnight, would bring some good news about the small forest fire we’ve been following on the blog the last few days, but there isn’t much in print or web reporting. However, the WHSV news report this morning had the following:


• Fire grew to 390 acres by last night
• 50 firefighters are involved
• Reporting the fire as 40% contained

I’ll keep an eye for more news. It has been damp and rainy all day, this should be good news as far as the little fire is concerned.

You can track the posts on this topic with the "GWNF Fires" label at the end of this post....

Sunday's Blackrock Summit Hike

I’ve written about Blackrock Summit several times since I first discovered it back in September 2009. Back then, I was in pursuit of my goal to complete all of the hikes in the Best Easy Day Hikes – Shenandoah National Park (Amazon link at end of post). I achieved that goal last spring, although I still have two or three posts to complete about the remaining hikes.

Now, when I think about the hikes in that book, I try to focus on my favorites – trying to sort them into jaunts that I want to call “hiking adventures.” I haven’t fully defined that term yet either, but when I do, Blackrock Summit will certainly be one of the featured outings.

The Appalachian Trail passes only a few yards to the west of the parking area, and that is my preferred route for this hike. Photo 2 shows a stretch of the AT here.  The official trailhead is easier to find, since it is on an old fire road marked by a sign in the parking lot. The fire road (photo 3) is still in great shape, even though it’s not used anymore, and if you go that way the hike follows it for about a quarter mile before the AT comes back around close, and you step off of the road onto it for the rest of the route.

I expected crowds, but also thought that the distance to this hike and its location in the South District might discourage them. I ran into a couple of family groups – going, coming, and on the summit, and a group that had done a backcountry camping trip down the Furnace Mountain Trail. I traded photo favors with them, snapping a group photo in exchange for this one of me in the little rock gap just below the summit of Blackrock.

Despite its shortness – the trail is a total of one mile round trip, and negligible altitude gain – Easy Day Hikes says there is only 175 feet of elevation here, this hike is truly one of my favorites. The rock scramble rewards you at the top, and the views of the surrounding mountains – Buzzard Rock, Trayfoot, Horsehead, and Furnace – are beautiful, especially in their fall colors, as they were on this day.


The rock formation is Hampton Quartzite, and is very similar to what you find on Duncan Knob in the GWNF, and even some formations I saw in Dolly Sods. As a scramble, it is nothing like two other well-known scrambles in the Park, Old Rag and Bearfence. Those two scrambles are typically lava flows and large expanses of exposed granite. Here’s what Heatwole’s Guide has to say about the quartzite, which is leftover from some “great monolith:”

“When it was exposed by erosion it had already been cracked and weakened by pressure, and by cycles of heating and cooling. Rainwater seeped into the cracks and froze, and melted and seeped and froze again. In a very short time, as geologists measure – probably less than 100,000 years – Blackrock crumbled into the magnificent but messy pile you’re standing on.”

Heatwole goes on to describe the rock tripe, the lichen that this summit gets its name from. He adds an oral history note – apparently, this hike was a favorite for guests at the old Black Rock Springs Hotel (he describes the trail to the site also, which I will have to try this winter). The story goes, that scratching a name or initials in the rocks was a big deal. I’ve never seen a sign of this activity in all of my trips so far – I suppose, as Heatwole speculated, that all they did was scrape off a bit of lichen, which has grown back in the century or so since the Hotel burned down.

Just a little ways from the summit, 200 yards or so, there is one of my favorite places in the Park, this little cut that has been cut in the rocks to make a path.  I've taken pictures of Mary and Chris there - and this time, I had the group take a picture of me standing there.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Update on the GWNF Fire on Massanutten Mountain

This morning, WHSV reports that the fire continued to grow yesterday, and now has affected 300 acres. The access road and some trails in GWNF are affected, but the good news is that the nearby historic furnace (photo) is not threatened.


Here's a link to WHSV's latest report, which includes a photo of the fire: http://www.whsv.com/home/headlines/Forest_Fire_Grows_to_300_Acres_in_Page_County_105744693.html

For ongoing Hawksbill Cabin posts about this fire, click the "GWNF Fires" label below.

I have been speculating about the cause of this fire for the last couple of days, given the terrain up there, and the state of the GWNF camping sites back in that hollow - it's like they've been homesteaded. Lee M., a friend from Luray, offers a possible explanation:

“Since it isn't huckleberry season {spring} it must be a {fall } buck flush out fire...This is the first time I can remember a fall fire that small. It happens all the time, in the spring, on the Blue Ridge. A mountain burned off to increase huckleberry production for pies and what not. They are the first to recover/return and a burn leads to more huckleberry money.”

I doubt the Forest Service would ever come to this conclusion, but it sounds like a good hypothesis to me!

And here's a link to a past blog post about the furnace:
http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2009/09/catherine-furnace-gwnf-point-of.html

Of Geology and History: Blackrock Summit


I mentioned in the post yesterday that on Sunday I decided to get out for a short hike in the south district of Shenandoah National Park, to Blackrock Summit.  This is one of two so-named peaks in the Park; there is another in the central district near Big Meadows Lodge.  I’ve written about that view before – you can pick out our neighbors Jordan Hollow Inn and Wisteria Vineyards looking northwest from there.
To get to this Blackrock Summit, it’s best to enter the Park from Elkton through Swift Run Gap, as the trailhead is between milepost 84 and 85 heading south.  Of course, I passed the location of the GWNF fire I posted about last night going through Shenandoah on the way down to Elkton.  As I expected, there was already a big crowd at the entry station, but luckily for me, most of them were headed north to other destinations.
Before I get into the details of the day hike, I am going to take a detour for a moment and write about a couple of historic references to this area. Leaving aside the long history of the First Peoples in this area, there is a rich lore associated with Blackrock that dates back to the Revolutionary War. It also figures in the Civil War, as this area is part of Stonewall Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign. Finally, there was an old resort in this area, which welcomed travelers as early as 1830.

For the Revolutionary War tale, I will draw from my trusty copy of Henry Heatwole’s Guide to Shenandoah National Park (Fourth Edition, 1988):

“In the spring of 1781, during the American Revolution, the British were pressing westward in Virginia. The Virginia Assembly, to avoid capture, fled across the mountain to Staunton. Thomas Jefferson, governor of Virginia, entrusted the State Archives and Great Seal to his friend Bernis Brown. Bernis hid them in a cave here at Blackrock, where they remained throughout the rest of the war.”

For the story of the hotel, I will excerpt from Darwin Lambert’s The Undying Past of Shenandoah National Park ( 2001):

“…the Black Rock Springs Hotel, high on the Blue Ridge…was a summering place for socialites, mostly from Tidewater Virginia and from Baltimore and Philadelphia. ..Stories were told of long-ago brides and grooms who first met at Black Rock Springs, which was promoted as “superior to all the spas of Europe” and may have been operating as early as 1830 inside the present park boundary.

“The hotel building had accommodated 30 people at a time. There were also 30 private cottages, all wiped out (JT note, in earlier passages Lambert refers to a 1909 fire) along with bridges on the road up to the resort.”

Finally, a note about Jackson’s 1862 campaign: Lambert writes, “Military writers have called his Valley Campaign the strategic equal of any in history.” The transcription of one of the interpretive signs at Brown’s Gap, a nearby Skyline Drive overlook, says:

“Browns Gap…was one of the strategic mountain passes used in the spring of 1862 by Stonewall Jackson near the beginning and end of his whirlwind offensive. His secret military strategy took full advantage of the complex topography to divide, confuse, or defeat piece-meal, over 45,000 Union soldiers engaged in a futile attempt to ensnare him. In 40 days, his 17,000 troops won five battles, maneuvering over 400 miles through the Shenandoah Valley and adjacent mountains.”

Tomorrow, I’ll post about the hike.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Fire on Massanutten Mountain


Just added:  For ongoing Hawksbill Cabin posts about this fire, click the "GWNF Fires" label below.




As I set out for Elkton and the SNP yesterday, as I turned onto US 340 South I noticed a fire on the mountains in the George Washington National Forest. I was concerned that it appeared to be near Catherine Furnace, one of the historic pig iron processing locations that dot Massanutten Mountain, so I detoured into Newport to see if I get could some better bearings.


From the two photos I’ve taken, it did appear to be fairly close to the furnace – maybe a couple of miles away or less. It looks to be back in the forest, on the second ridge to the west, and the furnace would be in the valley below.

This is the time for fires, and we’ve had a dry late summer and early fall. So to see a forest fire kindle up isn’t such a big surprise. I have a link to a WHSV report from Monday morning below, and will check in on this for the rest of the week.

http://www.whsv.com/home/headlines/Forest_Fire_100_Acres_and_Continuing_to_Grow_105650648.html
At the time of this reporting, it’s still a small fire at 100 acres. But given the location, at the top of the ridge, it is both hard to fight due to terrain and it is prominent – easily seen up and down the valley. A couple of fellow hikers in SNP also saw it and were photographing it from the south district of the Park.

The second photo was taken at the entry to Shenandoah Speedway along US 340.

I got your fall color...

The sun has just passed behind one of our white oaks from where I sit on the brick terrace. For a little while the western light will grow more intense as the angles deepen, and the colors I’ve been enjoying today will show themselves in new perspectives. On this very pleasant Sunday afternoon I think I will put together a couple of the week’s Hawksbill Cabin posts.

Last night we had that beautiful moon, and I sat out on the terrace with a little fire, waiting for the light to come up over Hawksbill Mountain to the east. When it finally did, as my fire’s embers were dying, the moonbeams first struck a couple of the grisly dead cottonwood trees in Beaver Run hollow. They reflect the pale light back spookily, white phantoms haunting the forest. Any hope I might have had of catching sight of a shooting star overhead was chased away by the brightening sky; later, that light was enough to cast full shadows of the trees around the yard.

Then, finding myself awake earlier than usual for a weekend, I rushed to make the pot of coffee and got outside early enough to see the sun come up, retracing the moon’s path of last evening. As that light filtered through the trees, I realized that fall color had come at last to the hollow. I took a walk around the yard, like I might have over the last few years with Gracie and Sofie, and captured some highlight shots of the trees, mainly dogwood and hickory.


Taking advantage of the colors for some tree identification, I picked out the brightest gold leaves, so finally I know specifically where some of my hickories are. Turns out that among these we have a couple of small shagbarks in the back, I am happy to know. The photo on the left below shows the trunk and bark - the photo on the right is a bitternut hickory, I think.

On a whim, I decided to set out for Shenandoah National Park for a short hike to enjoy some foliage, thinking I could get there, and maybe even get back, before too many day-trippers arrived. I chose Blackrock Summit, in the south district, as my destination – there will be a post or two to follow. The foliage didn’t disappoint any of us.

Now, with the sound of acorns and hickory nuts still falling out of the trees, punctuated by the periodic explosion of an apple falling with a loud pop from the tree in our front yard, I’m watching a squirrel set out on the tree limbs around the yard. They can traverse a full three hundred degrees here without ever setting foot on the ground, a fascinating thing to watch.

And at last, the sun is low enough that its filtered light no longer reaches me. There will be a last explosion of golden yellow light reflecting off the ridge line.  

Friday, October 22, 2010

Clarendon Construction Update - mid-month, October 2010


A quick post on the construction projects going on around my office.  There is still a lot going on with the "north block" of Clarendon Center, of course, but I will save that for the end of the month.  In the meantime, thought I might post on what I like to call the "air space" building that is being built near Clarendon Church.

When I got to the office yesterday, I noticed a couple of things going on and decided I needed to get a picture of the site.  It looks like most of the piles and lagging are installed, and tiebacks are completed.  Still there were excavation machines working and I wanted to check it out further.

They've had a series of wells, pumps, and pipes installed to drian the site over the last two months.  Yesterday they installed a new sump deep in the hole - it's near the gravel in the center of the excavation, next to the galvanized pipe. 

But that wasn't the big thing yesterday.  I appreciate that readers of this series are as enthusiastic about the construction process as I am, so I know that you will like this:  the tieback drill has been brought up out of the hole, meaning that the excavation and shoring is completed!

Unlike the challenges of the Clarendon Center site (more on this to follow in a future post), the air space building used steel soldier beams with lagging plates, supplemented by tiebacks.  There are some technical aspects to the shoring near the existing buildings that will remain on the site as well, but I wanted to talk about the tie backs for now.

Don't get confused by the quality of this exposure.  The tieback drill is the blue machine at rest near the fence.  The back hoe, behind it, will stay at the site for now, taking care of any additional excavation related chores that are needed until the foundation is in.

The tieback process uses soil as an additional anchor to the lagging planks.  First, the drill bores a hole into stable soil, then steel prstressing tendons are inserted and grouted to anchor them.  Then, after the grout has hardened, the tendons are tensioned with a hydrolic jack.  There should be a waler here for additional anchoring, and I will keep an eye out for them.

The tieback drill is self-contained and takes care of most of the process, with the exception of installing the waler.

Glorious, eh?  Thanks for staying with me on this one.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Are you gonna eat that?

Yesterday I posted about our trip to Valley Star Farms, today I have a few more photos to share from that visit.  By the time I finish this post, we could officially call October "Winter Squash Month" here on  the Hawksbill Cabin blog.

We bought a few smaller, decorative squashes while we were there.  I've since learned that you can eat these if you prepare them properly - I never would have guessed, since they are so hard, and I don't expect to try it.  We also bought a couple of larger varieites...a Long Island Cheese, the pale orange one, and a Turban, the bright orange one.  As is tradition, Mary made a tableau to display them while I search for recipes.

Two highlights I should point out:  the pottery collection comes from a variety of mid-Atlantic and southeast craftspeople, including some from the "Jugtown" disctrict in North Carolina; and the print here (featuring Page County Beef!) comes from local artist Wes Porter.

For the rest of the post, I thought I'd add a few close-ups of some of the other pumpkin varieties Valley Star has for sale, including Cinderella and "orange warty thing."




Wednesday, October 20, 2010

On the Fall to-do List: Buy a Punkin



We finally made our must-do stop at Valley Star Farms in Luray to buy some pumpkins.  It's a simple pleasure and honestly one of my  favorties every year.  Here are a couple of shots from the stop, showing the wide variety that are always on hand there.  Tomorrow, I'll have some close-ups!

If you are interested, here is a link to the farm's website:  http://www.valleystarfarm.com/

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

It's Okay to Like Nick Lowe



Mary, good friends James and Chris, and I ventured down to the Birchmere last night to catch one of my all-time favorite artists, Nick Lowe, who's on a short US tour with a band right now.  The show features his excellent late work, and even includes a couple of songs that haven't yet been released - and woven in are a few classics that are absolute musts.

I kept a playlist, but I know I missed one song from the three songs he opened solo with, and there were a few on the list I've got to go back and get titles for.  So I will post that, but it will be a few days.
He's brought a great band with him on the road, featuring Geraint Watkins (keyboards), Robert Trehern (drums), Johnny Scott (guitar) and Matt Radford (bass).  Watkins performed as an opening act, and there were some in the crowd that were familiar with his work.  A highlight was his dramatic reading of the lyrics to Johnny B. Good - followed by a boogie-woogie piano version of the classic.

As I mentioned, Nick's tour is promoting three albums that were recently re-released - they've even been released on vinyl now for the first time, as that format makes a come back.  The records are The Impossible Bird, Dig My Mood, and The Convincer, and songs in the show included Lack of Love, Has She Got a Friend, and a personal favorite (Mary sang along), Indian Queens.

Midway through Indian Queens, Nick pointed out something about the song, "You know I made this song up," just before the part about working the rigs off Galveston.

By my count, there were 19 songs in the almost two hour show.  Some past favorites that made it into the playlist were Ragin' Eyes, Heart, Cruel to Be Kind, and I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock n Roll).  Of course, What's So Funny (about Peace, Love and Understanding) was the closer, and then we got Every Day I Write the Book in the encore.

It was a great show, and even geezers like myself got out early enough to not miss bed time.  If anything, my status of a fan was solidified seeing Old Nick live.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Pruning Plans for the Old Apple Tree

“The old adage tells us a bird should be able to fly through your apple tree without its wings touching a branch.”



I’ve been thinking about our apple tree again, and found the above quotation on a gardening site. Because of the damage our tree suffered during last winter’s storms, we postponed the overdue pruning that I was planning for it. I was getting that organized for last March, but we lost one of the three main trunks at that time.

Later, as the tree leafed out and the apple blossoms set, we found additional damage and took down a second trunk. So, all in all, we pruned back two thirds of the tree to make it safe.

You can also see the bore holes where the birds – sapsuckers, mainly – have drilled into the old trunk. I’ve seen a pair of woodpeckers flying around the yard this fall, stopping on neighboring oaks and dogwoods, before lighting on this tree and making their way around it.

I’d been given a referral to Clyde Jenkins – he of the basket weaving craft I wrote about last week – as a source of insight about taking care of this neglected tree, as well as how to go about identifying the variety of apples we’re growing. With that in mind, I walked around the tree taking some preliminary photographs I can put together in a letter to him, where I will ask his advice and potentially hire him for a consultation.

I’m sure this tree has been around for sixty years or more, since the house was built. It seems like it would be worth a couple of years of effort to save it, cultivating it back into a prized specimen. After all, it reacted with a robust fruiting season this year after all it went through.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Page County Heritage Festival, 2010 - Part 2

A quick post to highlight the tractor and steam engine portion of the Heritage Festival that was held last weekend.  Everytime we've been to the fest, there are upwards of a hundred, or more, vintage tractors of all types assembled into a display right at the fairgrounds entrance.  I've shown more photos in previous years - this time, only one focused shot on the group of Ford tractors I found.




Of course, there were John Deeres and Allis-Chalmers (there is quite a following of these distinctive orange machines in Page County!), and quite a few others besides.  Although it happened after we left the fairgrounds, there was a tractor parade scheduled - I'm pretty sure that the Oliver shown here was going to participate.






There are usually several steam machines on display too.  I particularly like to stop and watch the portable sawmills that are powered by these vehicles.  We watched a couple of quarter-sawn planks get turned out (on our way to the Methodist Men's pulled pork sandwich booth).

Last one, this little tractor train that pulls the kids around the grounds.  I hadn't noticed before but it is led by a New Holland from Louderback in Stanley.  This thing is always a hit! 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Page County Heritage Festival, 2010 - Part 1

It’s one of the annual events we look forward to in Page County – the Heritage Festival. It’s a two-day event held on Columbus Day weekend, featuring craft demonstrations and an antique tractor show, meant to connect us with the past, showing how farm work was done in the County’s “early days.” There is also a wide range of musical entertainment – including clogging, and of course, there’s a lot of food to sample.


Mary and I missed it last year, but we made a point of visiting this year, even getting there early on the first day. We ran into our neighbor Bobby in the parking lot, who started out the conversation with the remark, “Yep, I’ve got to get me a candy apple and an elephant ear,” before moving into some other hot topics about the community and our neighborhood.

I have a few photographs to share about the tractor and steam engine portion of the show in a separate post, but today I wanted to pass along some photos of basket weaver Clyde Jenkins and his Stanley-based team doing demonstrations of white oak basket weaving. This was the first time we’d wandered around to where this group was working. Mr. Jenkins’ card advertises these as an “heirloom of quality hand crafted in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia,” while noting that his group is a basket supplier for Colonial Williamsburg.


I have heard, but didn’t verify, while we were at the basket weaving display, that Mr. Jenkins is an expert on heritage apple varieties. There were more than 20 local types on display in the same area where they were making baskets. It’s on my to do list to talk with him about our tree – both to find out what kind of apples we have and for tips on pruning it to save it.

In any case, it is easy to find out more about Mr. Jenkins and his basket weaving with a Google search – I’ve included a link to a Washington Post article below, as a matter of fact.

Other crafts on display at the festival included quilt making, wood working, wool spinning, soap making, apple butter making, and metal working – including black smithing. There’s plenty to learn here about how things were done, and the groups that work to keep the heritage alive.

The official web site for the festival can be found at http://luraypage.com/heritage . Tomorrow I’ll post some photos of the tractors and steam engines.

The Post article about Charles Jenkins is here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/19/AR2007071900639.html

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fall at Wisteria Vineyard

Mary and I were lucky with our schedules last weekend, and we headed out to the Hawksbill Cabin on Friday afternoon. Soon after we arrived, our neighbors Sally and Dan invited us to join them for the evenings on Main concert in downtown Luray, this time with Clarence “The Bluesman” Turner, at the BB&T performing arts center.


Although it turned out that Dan couldn’t join us when he was called out for a rescue at the Park, we enjoyed a great time hanging out with Sally and seeing the show. We also ran into our neighbors Sue and Moussa, from Wisteria Vineyard, and other friends Steve and his wife from volunteering and other community events. It was an excellent kick-off to a fine weekend, making us feel "at home".

With the holidays coming up, I figured we needed to have some wine around for potential visitors and host gifts during the festivities, and I wanted to make a stop by the vineyard for this. Since they are so close by, only a mile and a half away on the roads – probably a half mile away if we could cut straight through the intervening properties – we went late Sunday afternoon, thinking that they’d be less busy with drive-in visitors at that late hour. Judging from the parking lot, the tasting room had seen steady traffic all weekend.

There were still some visitors checking things out, including the new two “paths” for tasting at Wisteria, the Sweeter Path, and the Dryer Path. These highlight some of the new vintages, including: Pinot Gris, Steel Chardonnay (completed in steel barrels, Wisteria also has a traditional oak Chardonnay), Velvet (a semi-sweet Rose’), and Sweet Daisy – a late harvest ice wine (and Wisteria makes a $1 donation for each bottle to the local SPCA). I decided to add a few bottles of each of these to complete my case…the balance was in the traditional Norton red, our native Virginian grape.

There was a lot of news to collect, including the unveiling of the artwork that opens this post, a graphic that greets vineyard visitors with a stylized map of the farm. A trip out into the vines, or a walk to Hawksbill Creek, makes a great addition to an afternoon here.

Sue shared the news about two awards their wines recently received – as a new winery, this is pretty impressive stuff. The steel Chardonnay won a bronze medal in the Virginia Governor's Cup competition, and the Norton won a bronze in the Atlantic Seaboard competition earlier in the summer! They were very encouraging, and still are, whenever we talk about setting up some kind of business in the Valley. We are still looking for the right thing to do…may have some news on this front off and on over the winter.


On Wisteria’s web page, the working farm aspect of the operation is featured – there is the flock of Romney sheep, two flocks of chickens, and then the three dogs, including “Sweet Daisy” – the boss of this pack. I’ve got a photo here of some of the sheep, including young Blackie, the lamb I included photos of in an earlier post. As dusk approached we went outside to enjoy the quality atmosphere, and later went for dinner with the proprietors and neighbor John.

We talked about some of the events they’ve recently held, including the live music nights, private parties, and the fund raiser for the local shelter a few weeks ago…it was on a week night, so Mary and I couldn’t join it, although my friend Steve and his wife did, and they told me it was a great success. These things not only make for a nice time, and they certainly contribute to the sense of community in our little neck of the woods.

Most of the visitors we’ve had this year were treated to a stop by Wisteria. It’s become a favorite thing to do for us. We’re looking forward to our next one!

Some web references:
Wisteria web site: http://wisteriavineyard.com/
Clarence “The Bluesman” Turner web site: http://bluesmanturner.com/

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

As Seen on GWNF's Storybook Trail: Fall Color


On Sunday morning, after breakfast at the Southern Kitchen in New Market, Mary and I made a stop by the Storybook Trail in the George Washington National Forest - we often do for the short little walk after enjoying the terrific fare over at the little diner.

There are touches of color up and down the mountains surrounding our Valley.  The forecast for fall color, according to some, is that this won't be a great year for leaf color, but we found enough to enjoy there in the morning sunlight. 

And one other thing - there was a little copperhead on the trail as we were walking back.  Why it was still out on the path when we got there, who knows, since a large family group had come through with kids racing ahead, yelling and laughing - should have been enough to chase this little guy off.  But no, Mary spotted it with her eagly snake detecting prowess and kept me from stepping on it.

It was clearly a hatchling from this year, and wasn't as big as the juvenile black rat snakes we sometimes encounter at the Hawksbill Cabin.  I tried to get a photo, following its movement off into the brush - but the phone cam just couldn't capture the moment for us. 

It was our first encounter with a venomous snake in the Valley.  Back to fall color now:

Friday, October 8, 2010

Clarendon Construction - October 2010

One of my colleagues came by the office a few days ago, knowing my interest in the buildings going up across the way from us.  He said, "Jim, some kind of conference going on over there, eh?"  So I took a look, and yes, there were quite a number of workers completing tasks on the exterior upper stories.

From the top down, there is a team that is working on the roof membrane, then another group that is working on the balcony.  I think they have installed a safety rail, and also additional waterproofing membranes.  A third team is working on exterior detail and fenestration, and the final team is working on restoring the historical storefront facades.  A team just out of sight on the ground floor is working on waterproofing the site, what are potentially landscaping areas, but I can't tell yet.



While I was taking a walk the other day, since the two buildings on the south lot are nearing completion - I mentioned this last month - I decided to take my final update photos of them for this post.  Here is the residential buidling, first, from the Clarendon Boulevard entry, and then a photo of the residential and office buildings together. 

They still have a few final steps to go, but there's nothing significant enough left that I'd notice the changes anymore.  I want to move this category along to observing the final steps of the "north block" building - I'm using this material, combined with web research, and hopefully a couple of interviews, for a school project in my construction management class.  So there will be quite a few more photos this month...I also will continue to track the air rights building going up over the church behind us.  

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Need Advice: Apple Wood Smoke

I've been collecting downed limbs off of our tree over the course of the summer - you can see the stack I've set aside for drying here.  My question for the experts...I noticed some lichen on the bark; do you think I can use it like this, or should I skin it down to the wood?

Also, I've noticed the recipes always mention "wood chips" - hey, where I am doing this, I have access to the real thing, and don't need to factory bagged stuff from Whole Paychecks.  So I will prbably break these down one more time and use them as small logs - like my neighbor Dan does with the hickory he collects on his property (I'm am remembering some awesome ribs he made just now!)...

Speaking of the apple tree, it has really had a tough year.  We lost two of the three main trunks this year due to the winter storms.  But our remaining one outdid itself this year.  I bet we got two or three bushels off of it.

There are so many, even the deer can't finish them.  I've been contemplating collecting the ones on the ground in a five gallon bucket and passing them along to a friend raising some pigs - putting the wasted apples to use.  I'll get right on it.

Return to Seneca Rocks: an Easy Day Hike

A few weeks ago, the day after my hiking group did our day hike in Dolly Sods Wilderness, we made a stop at Seneca Rocks in West Virginia.  There's a blog post at http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2010/09/west-virginia-weekend-final-post.html.  On Saturday, I talked Mary into a drive over there after our farmers' market visit and brunch at Main Street Bakery.

The drive is between 90 minutes and two hours each way from Stanley, via H-burg and US 33.  It is scenic in parts, and the highway is a mountain road crossing Appalachian summits (all less than 4,000 feet) four or five times before you get to Seneca Rocks.  There are a couple of little tourist attractions, restaurants and such, at the base of the rocks, and there are also climbing schools here, which was pretty interesting to check out.

After we grabbed lunch, we went over to the park to check things out.  One of the reasons I wanted to come back here was that I wanted to take the foot path up to the observation platform, and I had learned during the last trip that it will close for reconstruction during October and be closed for up to a year - so time was of the essence.

This path climbs between 750 and 900 feet (the resources all state different altitudes for the path!) and is about three miles round trip.  So it is similar to many SNP day hikes in that regard; although the layout of this one, with switchbacks and steps, make it somewhat easier despite the steepness.  At the end there is an ample viewing platform (there were two parties of five on it when we got there) - and the trail is well travelled, very crowded while we were there mid afternoon.

I have a couple of photos, again of the rocks from the parking lot, of a view you catch of the stone ridge on the way up, the ridge at the top, and the stream that you cross twice from the visitor center before you get to the trailhead.  Apparently this is a popular trout stream, with trails alongside managed by WV Trout Unlimited, although that pesky invasive algae (I forget the name at the moment) is present here.

So there are two interesting observations from this hike.  That razorback ridge, so impressive from the ground, is only 10 to 20 feet wide - that's the first thing.  In the shot I took of it, you have the entire width of it in the frame (along with my hand, where I tried to shield the phone cam from the sun).  When we were at the platform, a lot of people were going on up to summit the left side of the rocks - I thought about this, but decided against it due to the sun's angle and the craggy footing.  Still, I might like to try this in the future.

The second thing was the disregard for signs posted along the trail to not take shortcuts between the switchbacks.  Despite them, we saw quite a few beople contributing to the erosion and damage on this trail by scooting off and climbing the hillside.  I was shocked to see that a group of Mennonite kids on an outing were even doing this, they are usually more respectful of the environment when I encounter them on outings in the SNP.

I've discussed this with NPS employees in the past, why you don't see so much of this in the Park.  The difference may be in the entry fees, that having paid a nominal fee to get in, you are reminded to take care of the resource...we see this closer in to Hawksbill Cabin, up on the nearby Storybook Trail in GWNF, where the local kids spray paint graffiti on the rocks.

The climbing schools were going full-tilt on our visit, there were a couple of dozen climbers making their way up the rocks on several routes.  And as we were leaving, with the angled golden sun lighting up the rocks, you could see a crowd up on the summit.