Ramble On

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Shenandoah National Park's 75th Anniversary

I haven’t found a lot of reporting on the 75th Anniversary observation that took place up in Shenandoah National Park last weekend, which I unfortunately missed due to work deadlines. The official date of the celebration was last Saturday, June 25, while the actual anniversary of the dedication is July 3.

According to the one news piece I found, linked below, the ceremony was held near Big Meadows, and in addition to park personnel, it featured a key note speech by an NPS deputy director, music from the “President’s Own” marching ban, and a speech by a Franklin Roosevelt impersonator. A portion of Roosevelt’s dedication speech includes this quote:

"We seek to pass on to our children a richer land, a strong nation. And so, my friends, I now take great pleasure in dedicating Shenandoah National Park, dedicating it to this and succeeding generations of Americans for the recreation and for the re-creation, which they shall find here."

It seems a shame there is not more coverage of the event than I’ve been able to find so far.

In any case, my own observation of the anniversary will continue with the 75@75 hikes. I’ve completed three so far, with total mileage of 22.3 out of the goal of 75 miles. It looks like June will pass with no miles logged, so I need to make up for that with a couple of hikes in July. Any takers?


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Page County Grown - June 2011 Update

I've written already this week about visiting Wisteria Farm and Vineyards over the weekend, but I was actually able to spend some time with two other Page County Grown farmers at the Farmers Market on Saturday as well:  Skyline Premium Meats and Public House Produce.

Organzationally, there is a lot of progress for Page County Grown to report.  The website has expanded, and now there is a lot of information about the organization and participants.  I picked up a brochure from the Public House Produce stand at the market the other day, and saw that the vision and mission statements were finalized.

Vision:  Page County Grown is thriving family farms driving local food economies and promoting healthy communities where quality farming is a valued heritage and a staple for growth.

Mission:  Page County Grown will bring prosperity to our community by promoting family farms; linking farmers with markets and consumers; enhancing tourism experiences and building healthier connections to locally-grown products.

Browsing the membership page shows eight members in four categories, which are meat and poultry, eggs and cheese, produce, and specialty products.  The members so far are Public House Produce, Skyline Premium Meats, Wisteria Farm and Vineyards, all of which I've mentioned so far in the post; and other Page County farms:  Willow Grove Farm Market, Patchwork Pastures, Khimaira Farm, Valley Star Farm, and Paw Paw's Honey.  That page link is here:  http://pagecountygrown.com/farmers/.

There'll be plenty of future developments with this group - I'll try and keep up with them!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Summer Visit to Wisteria

Yesterday, when I posted about that cute little doggie, Scruffy, I mentioned that Tessie and I had made a stop at Wisteria Vineyard for a visit.  When we got there, I tried the new sparkling Traminette - nice on a toasty summer afternoon - and visited with our viniculturalists and some neighbors, ruminating on Page County topics.

Then Tessie and I took the little walk out through the barnyard area to the vines, and ultimately to Hawksbill Creek.  This is a route that Tessie has gotten familiar with, and she really enjoys running ahead of me and then returning to make sure I haven't gotten lost somewhere back there. 

I've got a few photos here of the walk:  grapes under the arbor with the little swing; and some apples with the vines in the background.

These are the images that entice me to keep coming back to Wisteria.  But it's the little walk that Tessie enjoys.  This time was kind of special - as we walked through the gate, Blackie, the yearling, was out in the roadway between the barnyard and the pasture. 

Tessie was fascinated, slowing to watch, and I kept an eye on her to make sure she didn't scare him into a run; she is a sheepdog, so I also wanted to see if some mix of chemicals and genetics kicked in with a herding move or something.  Nothing doing.

It really ended up a Mexican standoff of sorts, and he finally decided he'd had enough of a pesky dog AND a stranger, so he went back into the barnyard with the others.  Then Tessie ran on ahead, after a few sniffs of where he went off to (and the sheep poop near the gate).  In the barnyard photo, Blackie is the one with the little white blaze on his face.

A couple of things about Wisteria - I wrote about the stray, Scruffie, yesterday - these folks are involved in quite a few rescue/animal shelter activities.  It's a cause they're quite committed to, even holding a fund raiser one evening last summer.

Blackie and his kin are Romney sheep.  One of the annual events at the farm is the shearing day, which Sue organizes with the local coop. On the blog link below, scroll down to the 4/7/11 post for a note about the shearing this year.  Blackie's dark brown and black wool is going to make some beautiful fiber, just as the tans and grays of his aunts and uncles do!  http://www.wisteriavineyard.com/7701.html

Finally, and I am overdue for a post on this topic, Wisteria Farm and Vineyard is a charter member of Page County Grown.  I may have a post on that organization later this week.

Monday, June 27, 2011

PSA for Scruffy

Yesterday, Tessie and I made a stop at Wisteria Vineyard for a walk back into the fields.  More on our visit later this week, but while we were there, Sue introduced us to this cute fellow - Scruffy.

Sue told me she had found him stray near the vineyard.  She believes he's about six months old.  He appears to be a terrier mix, about the size and build of a Jack Russell, and with a wiry coat.  There's a whole lot of personality in this little guy.

If you are interested in adopting Scruffy, send an email to info@wisteriavineyard "dot" com (probably a good idea to include "Scruffy" in the subject line) or
you can find Sue's contact information on the Wisteria web site, here:  http://www.wisteriavineyard.com/5401.html

Friday, June 24, 2011

Cape Cod Heights

Today, I'll wrap up a final post about our recent visit to Cape Cod.  On our last day there, we took another drive up to the National Seashore, where we explored one of the nature trails out into a salt marsh.  Afterwards, we drove up to the Nauset Light and then took a walk around the Marconi area - these dune photos are from that part of the adventure.

We also went back into the cypress swamp there - we'd been out into the swamp last September and thought it would be interesting to have another look.  The place was absolutely swarming with mosquitos though - it wasn't any kind of pleasant nature walk!  I hardly remember it, in fact!

Now, that's a marked contrast to the little walk we took around the salt marsh at the visitor center earlier that day.  The two photos with water views come from that part of the day's activities.  This area had a couple of interesting features - after walking through the marsh you gradually climb into a recovering forest, but all around a remnants of earlier development, including a golf course, and an old dike that was used to capture and filture the salt water.

There is some kind of natural effect here that works to make just about any water found inland on the cape fresh.  That's research for another day.

As we walked around those dunes, I found myself remembering some times when I was very young, and we lived in Florida, which was still developing at the time - before Disney World.  In fact, the Space Age was still just getting started...probably the Gemini program era.  Mid '60's.

We lived in a little town near Orlando and would drive to Daytona Beach or New Smyrna Beach on the weekends.  Development on the dunes there was still pretty sparse back there, and scenes like the ones above could still be found, except the Florida sand is always sparkling white in my recollection.  I remember an adventure around the top of a dune where we found a gentle sloping path back down the beach, and my buddy and I slid down it on our rear ends. 

You'd be lucky to find a patch like that anywhere on the Florida beaches today.  Thank goodness for the foresight it took to set aside and preserve the Cape Cod National Seashore! 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mind the Infill

Between the house in Alexandria and my office in Arlington, a drive of about 5 miles (I could take Metro, but the commute is a 15 minute drive or a 1 hour subway commute), there are signs of a stirring economy. When I read the paper it’s all doom and gloom – here comes a double dip, this is going to be worse than the Great Depression, etc. – but the story I am seeing on the ground right now is different.

What I find encouraging is 8 examples of “infill” development going on. Infill is a kind of development that typically occurs in urban or suburban settings. One type of infill is the development of lots that were left empty during earlier building stages; a second type is when an existing building or house is no longer economically viable – for reasons such as being dilapidated beyond economically feasible to repair, or where the previous use simply isn’t in demand anymore.

Now, I usually call the second type a “scrape-off” because that’s what appears to happen. You’ve probably driven by a neighborhood of homes that have a consistent size and style, and seen that one that is out of place because it is too small or hasn’t been kept up. This is a candidate for scrape-off: the land is too valuable to justify the building that is there when compared to the other houses. A developer will try to get the house and land at a good price, and simply tear down the old house, replacing it with a new home, and making an acceptable profit to cover all of this.

The Wikipedia article on this topic describes an example of an outdated 9-hole golf course in a suburb being acquired and developed into new homes. The course simple wasn’t paying for itself, and the best repurposing of that land (a 9-hole course is usually about 60 to 80 acres) was to put new houses on it.

So what’s happening in our neighborhood is a couple of the remaining empty lots (this neighborhood was actively developed from the 1920's into the 1940's) were bought over the last few years, and the market has finally come around to the point where developers are breaking ground. There are four cases of this type of development going on, from the lot sale, to getting building permits, to framing already up.

One of those sites was a lot that was adjoined to a nice four-square from the ‘40’s. In that sale, the house on its original lot was also taken. The developer plans to put in two new houses on the empty lot, and either renovate or scrape off the old house. And the price the three new homes averages $1.3 million; easily profitable over the likely price of the old house and lots - the total is probably triple the cost of the original purchase price.

Getting back to my point about the economy…this type of investment won’t occur if things aren’t turning around. Individual investors may be content to buy a piece of land and sit on it, waiting before they build. But once other conditions are right – houses start selling again, financing is available again – this cycle gets going. And I am taking that as a positive sign about economic recovery.

Not everywhere yet, and still on a pretty small scale. But it’s a start.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hydrangeas and Herbs

When I was out taking pictures of Mary's container garden yesterday there was no getting around the seasonal beauty of one of our summer favorites, the hydrangeas.  So today we'll have some photos of them in bloom.

When we first moved in here in 2003, they had basically taken over the place.  This is apparently a natural habitat for them and they thrive, and the previous owner said that it was a situation he just took advantage of - he did no work to maintain them, and let them survive or fail on their own, he told us.

There are fewer of them now then they were back then.  We've had some hot, dry summers and then there have been those winter storms, so a few of the shrubs have died off.  But we still have quite a selection and they occupy some major territory in the backyard.

Yesterday I showed off Mary's container garden featuring the vegetables.  For the last few years, we've also had a permanent rosemary plant going in the back yard, some lavender, and then containers of parsley and basil.

This also reminds me of something important.  They tell me that this will be the weekend that sweet corn starts showing up at the Luray Farmers' Market.  That's one thing Mary hasn't taken on yet in the back yard.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Container Garden Takes Over

Mary planted a container garden this spring.  Actually it's quite a bit more than that this time, and it has already produced edible food, much better than what I was able to do with my feeble attempt last year.

She has yellow squash, eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers going.  So far, we've harvested squash and eggplant - I grilled some of these over the weekend.  The tomatoes are coming along, probably will have a few ready by the end of this week; I'm not sure about the peppers.

These crops are in the space where our beautiful green wall of leland cypress used to be.  They were casualties of the 2010 winter storms - the snowpocalypse.

Mary visited some neighbors the other day, and they had okra plants to spare...so they gave her six of them.  She planted them at the end of the row, as shown here.  And there's our doggie!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Cape Cod Bright

In addition to the high carbon footprint activities we did while vacationing on Cape Cod, Mary and I had done some research on a few day hikes that we could take in.  Today I'll post about a 2 mile hike through an old cranberry bog in the Truro area of the Cape Cod National Seashore.

I've just done a Google search and found this 17-page interpretive guide to the trail:  http://www.nps.gov/caco/planyourvisit/upload/FinalPametrackcards.pdf.  We happened upon it because some of our Alexandria neighbors had taken in a couple of the day hikes and recommended that we look into them.

Our route took us out into the bog area, but we stopped and enjoyed the view from the high dunes in the area.  The post title refers to the incredible quality of light on the cape - I've heard several hypotheses on why it's so beautiful, including one that said it is so clear because the cape is wind swept from being 30+ miles out into the ocean - this is also why it's so susceptible to winter and spring storms.

The interpretive sign at the start of the trail provides a good overview of the activities, and elsewhere, there is an introduction to how the rolling topography came to be.  The cape itself is left over from glacier activity during the last ice age, and now the sand deposits are more or less maintained by the natural current action of the Atlantic.  Where you find depressions, as in the example here, large ice flows were left to melt there.  Now, when they fill with water, it is often fresh from some filtering action that I don't understand yet.

Mary and I wandered along the trail back in the dunes, which had some stretches that were challenging climbs - not very long, as you're never getting to altitudes higher than 150 feet or so - but because of their steepness and because the trail is loose sand.

We emerged onto the beach about a mile or so after we started.  Here's a view from near the foot of one of the dunes, looking south towards the parking area.  There's a wide upper beach here with a trough that fills in at high tide, which was coming in while we walked along it.

There is a steep beach along the eastern edge, where the waves continuously roll in and crash.

A final note about the topography - this area is called the Pamet River, which is because it provides an outlet from the ocean back to the bay for water that gets inland.  It's not like there's the strong flow like you would find in the Shenandoah, or even Hawksbill Creek - it's more of a standing water, slow current watershed.

But a nor'easter in the winter of 2007 was intense, and broke through the dune one this side.  They say the ocean roared inland past Route 6, and for a time, the northern reaches of the outer cape were an island.  A restoration effort to help the dune rebuild itself is underway, shown here in the last photo.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cape Cod Right (*)

* - Technically, we did not see a right whale on this cruise.

For a second adventure during our Cape Cod vacation, I looked into a whale watch cruise.  They are offered out of several harbors on the cape, including Falmouth, Hyannis, and Provincetown.  Although there was a bit of a drive up to Provincetown, Mary and I decided to take our cruise from there on the Dolphin Fleet.  They have a fairly comprehensive website at http://www.whalewatch.com/dolphinfleet/.

After you get on board, the naturalist that accompanies each of the Dophin Fleet cruises begins an orientation tour with safety rules, followed with a list and description of the types of wildlife that could potentially be encountered.  Here are photos of Mary and me just after boarding (taken by a vacationing Brit, we returned the favor for him and his wife, and then saw them strolling around Chatham the next day) and a photo of one of the boats as we left the harbor.

The types of whales that you might see during these cruises include the baleen species right whales, humpback, and finback; also pilot whales and dolphins.  There is a finback photo at the top of this post; we encountered two of them just offshore before we were even clear of the P-town peninsula.  I took the lighthouse photo just after we saw them.

For unusual fish speicies, there is the mola mola or sunfish, and the basking shark, and we saw two each of them, but I did not get photos of them since they were on the other side of the boat. 

Watching the finbacks was quite fascinating - they are the second largest animals on the planet, after blue whales.  They typically have a streamlined, slender build, reaching up to 90 feet in length, and weighing as much at 150,000 pounds.  I took a little time to comprehend this concept, because the whale feeds on plankton - small - microscopic - plants.  Also they can live to be nearly one hundred years old.

After the encounter with the finbacks, we cruised north into protected waters for about a half hour and searched for other animals.  That's where we saw the mola molas, or sunfishes, and the basking sharks. 

Eventually we ended up amongst a large group of dolphins.  There were dozens of them visible on the surface, including this small pod that was at the front of the boat for a while. The estimated count of dolphins in the area was 150.  They did some of the typical performances you might expect from them - high leaps as singles, and some as pairs; then the pilot steered the boat around to make a steep wake and a few of them jetted into the high wave and then exploded out of the surf into the air.  It's easy to see why they hold such a vivid place in the imagination, since they are so gregarious.

So, yeah, this was a very touristy thing to do...but it's not something we would set out to do every time we go up to the cape.  It was a very worthwhile thing to do once...although, if we are ever up during humpback season, it might be worth a second go to encounter them. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cape Cod Flight

For an adventure during the recent vacation at Cape Cod, I looked into taking a short aerial tour.  We booked an hour long trip out of the Chatham general aviation airport - here are some of the highlights of what we saw.

The first and second images are on the bay side of the cape.  There is a series of sand bars in the first, and the little black dots are an oyster farm.  The second is a salt marsh - we visited another of these in the National Seashore area later in the week.

Third:  a picture of Mary and me in front of the little plane before takeoff.  Our flight was level at an altitude of 1,250 feet or so, and we flew at 110 mph.  If you think of the outer cape as being in the shape of Rosie the Riveters bare arm, we flew from the elbow (Chatham) to the fist (Provencetown).  Then we added a little tour over Monomoy island, with a seal colony numbering in the thousands.  And somewhere on the horizon there, in the fourth picture, would be Nantucket Island in Connecticut. 

For the fifth photo, here is the inlet at Wellfleet and the harbor.  Then a shot of the Chatham Bars area, with the wonderfull green water.

The final picture, appropriately, is a shot of our approach on final.  In some of the pictures, you can see the fixed landing gear of the little plane, but in this one, you can see the prop blade as the camera lens appeared to slow it down.  I think you will see the blade in some of the other photos as well.

Here's a link to the tour operator's page:  http://www.chathamairport.com/aerial_tours.php
We took the Captain Douglas special - be sure to check for current pricing before you book!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"All Things Cape Cod League"

As our vacation week progressed, I became aware that the Cape Cod Baseball League would have its season opener on Friday, and that the Chatham Anglers, the local team where we were staying, would have their home opener on Saturday night. So after a great visit with my friend John and his daughter Tildy (John and I were stationed in Berlin together, and Tildy is a rising sophomore at Wellesley), Mary and I ventured out into a rainy and cold spring evening on the Cape for the game.

Another friend from Berlin, Brian, is a Cape League enthusiast. Last year, I caught up with him in San Francisco, where he wore a Wareham Gatemen baseball cap around town. By coincidence, that’s who the Chatham team played for the opener. I have a couple of photos of the game here – the teams during the National Anthem, and another with the Anglers up to bat.

This league has a long history, and since the Cape has long been a summer destination, league play has been romanticized into the popular culture there. I’ll admit I was a bit caught up in it, despite the jacket I had to wear to the game, and the fact that other fans in the stands with us were in parkas and gloves. It did make me think of our own Valley Baseball League and the Luray Wranglers, as well.

It turns out that the Cape Cod and Valley leagues share a few characteristics. Both are part of the National Alliance of Summer Baseball, which features collegiate players with NCAA authorization, and some sponsorship from the major leagues. Both are “wood bat leagues.” And both are represented by many current and past pro players, including hall of famers.

In keeping with the summer getaway theme, according to Wikipedia, the Cape Cod league has been the subject of a couple of movies over the last 20 years or so, and there are a couple of books on the topic.  All great...but then, the Valley  league has one of the best blogs going for it: All Things Valley League (link:  http://allthingsvalleyleague.typepad.com/)!

We had a nice time, and the little stadium in Chatham is a charm. But the weather was a bit much and we headed home after three innings, with the Gatemen up 4-0 already.

I’m looking forward to catching my first Wranglers game soon, though - no parkas and gloves, and afterwards, a nice cookout with some Page County sweet corn!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Just Back

Mary and I are just back from vacation in Cape Cod, so I have a few items to post after a week away.  We once again stayed at the little house in Chatham, she tacked the vacation week onto the end of her college reunion.  It made for a great week.

I've written about the town and this house before - we stayed there last September as well, but this was the first time in a very long time we took a full week off on an official vacation.  I think this fact had a lot to do with the old pups Gracie and Sofie, who we preferred not to leave with a sitter or to kennel in their old age, once they got past 12 or so.  In thinking about it this morning, we last took a week off together to head down to the Outer Banks in August 2007 - but there were a lot of things about that trip that probably led to us not doing a real getaway again until just now.

But enough of that rambling.  We went to the wonderful little town of Chatham, and we strung together some adventures and sightseeing, mixed in with visits to old friends and relatives.  So that'll be the ntaure of some of the posts.  First, however, I wanted to write about backyard nature - drawing some inspiration from Richard Louv's "The Nature Principle" - a book I wrote about a couple of weeks ago and read while we were away.

My observations focus on the little shed shown here, which actually belonged to the house next door.  It was literally close enough for me to reach out and touch it from the deck where I drank my coffee every morning (and spent the afternoons reading in the sun), so I had ample time to watch the goings on.

This was taken to show the carpenter bee damage.
The first morning activities were the robins and jays who were out and about at first light.  They quickly grew accustomed to me and soon were ignoring me - until later in the week.  After sunlight began to strike the side of the shed, a big old male carpenter bee, would show up and hover near the shed, his loud buzzing interrupted only by the appearance of female bees, birds, or other potential mates that invaded his space.  (BTW, I noticed a lot of traffic on the blog from searches on carpenter bees and their damage - those page views are referred to old posts I had...this photo of bee damage provides another update).

Late in the morning, and also in the cool of the evening, a couple of young bunnies would hop out from under the shed.  These guys were only 6 inches long or so, clearly only a couple of months old, but already weened and fending for themselves.  They'd hop out into the little side yard there and graze.  In the evening, as things cooled off, they'd play together or by themselves - I saw the smaller one do a series of half turns in place, and vertical leaps over there between blades of grass.

This reminded me of a passage in the Louv book, which I will summarize here - essentially, this is the introduction to the book.  Louv writes:
  • The more high-tech our lives become, the more nature we need to achieve natural balance.
  • The mind/body/nature connection, also called vitamin N (for nature), will enhance physical and mental health.
  • Utilizing both technology and nature experience will increase our intelligence, creative thinking, and productivity, giving birth to the hybrid mind.
  • Human/nature social capital will enrich and redefine community to include all living things.
  • In the new purposeful place, natural history will be as important as human history to regional and personal identity.
  • Through biophilic design, our homes, workplaces, neighborhoods, and town will not only conserve watts, but also produce human energy.
  • In relationship with nature, the high-performance human will conserve and create natural habitat - and economic potential - where we live, learn, work, and play.
In a sense, sitting there watching the birds, bees, and bunnies, I had a sort of vacation laboratory to think about some of these concepts.  This comtemplative time brought home the importance of some of the connections I am fortunate to have out in Page County near the Hawksbill Cabin.  And as much as anything else, that time gave me a sense of urgency for completing the 75@75 project, which I will do this year.

But back to Cape Cod - an altogether different environment for our vacation, with both natural features to enjoy and not too distant from a small town and urban setting, which was also an import for the getaway.  More to follow for the balance of the week.

Here is an Amazon link to Louv's book:

Friday, June 3, 2011

Three Ways to Cross - 3

Finally, here's the video Chris took of me at an earlier, tamer crossing.  Despite the taunting, I emerged dry and saucy.

Three Ways to Cross - 2

Here's Tom's crossing, after watching Chris navigate the high road.  Note:  waterproof boots!

Three Ways to Cross - 1

On the Piney Branch-Piney Ridge trail last weekend, there were four stream crossings.  In each of the guides I checked, there were warnings for the fourth one - the water would be deep, and even dangerous if the current was strong.  This made for some fun, as our group has a little informal pool going for who's going to fall during one of these. 

Now, Tom was the last to fall, but we can't really count that - it was during the ill-fated attempt at near zero temperatures last winter, and we had returned to our cars when he slipped and fell into the shallow but icy water. 

So we had some fun at these stream crossings.  This three part post includes the sequence of Chris and Tom making their way across.  Then at the end, for the first time ever, I'm embedding iPhone footage that Chris had taken of me at the very much tamer first crossing of Piney Branch.  There's some taunting at the beginning, and then, a punchline at the end.

Chris's Crossing: