Ramble On

Friday, April 27, 2012

Another Spring Greenway Visit

Since Tessie joined us, I find myself taking advantage of the Hawksbill Greenway more and more often whenever we are in town.  We have a couple of preferred walks, most often starting from the little parking area at Ruffner Plaza, where the summer concerts are given.

From that direction walking south, you'll pass the old sawmill, then go under the BUS 340 and rail bridges, pass the swimming holes, and wind up at the southern end of the walk.  Whenever I take this walk, I always enjoy the view you get, from whichever angle, of the two bridges over the creek.

All right, they're iconic - made famous in the O. Winston Link photograph I've mentioned before.  Here is a link to the Link Museum store with the famous image.  I have a copy - if I ever work in an office again I may even get to hang it up!


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Frost on the Mountain

On Monday night, as I came home from running errands down in Harrisonburg, I kept noticing the frosty white peaks of Shenandoah National Park to the east.  My thoughts earlier in the day were about how the trees haven't quite leafed out all the way up, leaving a distinct green and brown boundary about two thirds of the way up - that was before the clouds and cold front came in.  After I saw the frost, I kept hoping the light would last until I got back into the neighborhood near Hawksbill Cabin, and was lucky to find that it did.

I snapped this photo (and later applied an Instagram filter) of Big Meadows from the intersection of our road - this frost was on the taller mountains from Mary's Rock, north of us, where the Thoroughfare Gap park entrance is, south beyond Elkton. I first noticed the weather on Hightop Mountain.

My friend David, over at Public House Produce, has been keeping me posted on what must be done on the farm when you've got your crops sown and late cold weather comes in like this.  The last frost date in the Luray area is mid-May, so this weather is not altogether unusual, even though it did make it uncomfortably chilly at night!  In any case, I hope to have a post up in the next few days showing some of David's preparation for the cold weather.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Luray's Old-Timey Like Movie House

Last year, Mary and I decided to take in the movie True Grit at the movie house in Luray.  It was the first time we ever went to a movie there - I don't know why we waited so long.

For that show, we sat in the cinema that had a couple of suits of armor on display.  It was a real treat.

And because of that, I thought I had seen everything until last night.  I went to see The Three Stooges - nyuck nyuck nyuck - and the show was up on screen 1.  All I can say about the decor of this one is - "wow" - talk about ornate!  It's Eqyptian mythology with Cleopatra statues forming the lighting!

As far as the movie goes...I'd say your best bet is to catch this one on screen.  Probably best if you are already a fan of The Three Stooges.  Don't bother renting.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Spring on the Greenway

 It has been a few weeks since I had been out on the Hawksbill Greenway in Luray.  So Tessie and I decided to take a little walk there this morning.

It's a lovely, if chilly, spring day, still overcast, with the stream up after the weekend's rain.

Still, it's spring, as we were informed by this little family of ducks who scampered down the bank into the stream as we approached.

Now, there's been no shortage of activity on the Greenway lately.  A few weeks back, the stream was stocked for "Heritage Trout Day" - celebrated throughout the state.  And there are these new additions - little waste receptacles for recycling monofil fishing line and bait tubs.  Cool stuff.

 Also, there are new murals in town, including this one going up on the sawmill.  I'm keeping an eye on this one's progress.

Lastly, last weekend was the annual Earth Day on the Greenway. While I arrived too late to join the festivities, I did see all the traffic and tents.  It looked like a great event, and well attended.  Congrats to the organizers - I hope Mary and I can join the fun next year!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

April 2012 Update: 75 @ 75 Project

Looking through my notes, I see that I haven’t made a post about my “75 @ 75” project since last September!  Time has certainly flown by, and although I have done several hikes since my last one, none of them met the requirements for inclusion in the project. 

As a reminder, the 75 @ 75 project was designed to be a series of hikes I’ll take as a way to honor the 75th anniversary of the founding of Shenandoah National Park.  These hikes by design are moderately strenuous, since each hike on the list must be five miles or longer, with a net elevation change of at least 500 feet.

My status on the project is shown in the table to the left.  I have nearly reached 50 miles in the project, or two-thirds of the goal of 75 miles.  My only excuse for not getting all 75 miles in on the project is how busy I’ve been since starting my new job in December.  I’ve had to extend my deadline to May 2012, although at first I thought I could get it all done during last year’s hiking season.

Chris and I have agreed to get out to the Park for the first hike of the season this weekend.  We hope to tackle the Buck Hollow/Mary’s Rock Loop, which can be found on Hiking Upward at http://www.hikingupward.com/SNP/BuckHollowMarysRock/

This trail is a 9-miler with 2,800 feet of elevation gain, so it easily qualifies.  See you on the flip!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Stairwell Party in Dallas

The tornadoes in Dallas last week are old news by now.  As it happens, I was down there on business that week.  As the front approached, we started getting warnings on the intercom in the office, and finally we were given the direction to take shelter.  This gave me a flashback moment or two, as I recalled all the training in schools when we lived in Memphis, TN.

In the building I was in, that meant to go into either the stairwell or the men's room and wait it out.  So my team and I headed to the stairwell and then down to the first level.

I noted that the walls of the stairwell may not have been concrete masonry, which is the preferred structure.  But they were deep in the building's core, so hopefully they were safe enough.  In any case the stairs themselves were steel with poured concrete steps...that wasn't going anywhere.

If we had been hit, and one of the super cells did pass over us, we would have likely seen broken windows, and maybe damage to the exterior offices.  All in all, pretty scary, and definitely not something I'd ever want to repeat.

I'll make it my worst ever road trip experience!

Also, here is some helicopter footage of one of the tornadoes.  In the first two or three minutes there is a dramatic moment when it passes over a truckyard and starts flipping around the equipment.  That was simply amazing.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

French Toast and Bacon!

French toast with farm-fresh eggs, bacon,
and maple syrup.
My travel schedule lately is getting the best of me.  But last weekend, Mary and I were able to enjoy one benefit from all of it - and combining it with some great Page County Grown farm products as well.

As you can see in the picture to the left, we had a great breakfast of french toast and bacon, and New York state maple syrup.  There's a story with each part of this meal, of course.

The syrup is something I picked up on my travels to upstate New York a few weeks ago.  I wrote a post about the farm it comes from; the post is titled The Sugar House, and it appeared last week.

The French toast is made with farm-fresh, pasture-based eggs from Public House Produce in Luray, one of the charter members of Page County Grown.

And then there is the bacon, which came from the pig they raised for us over at Public House Produce - I wrote about the butchering before, and the posts that are labeled "Pork Diaries" is about the various memorable meals we've been able to enjoy as a result.

As this post goes up, I am heading out on the road yet again, to Dallas now for a second week.  We're close to deadline, so this may be the last week of travel....I could use a break.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Anniversary of the La Belle Disco Bombing

A friend – Arch – reminded me in a Facebook posting that last week (April 5) marked the anniversary of the La Belle Discotheque bombing in Berlin, 26 years ago.  That event occurred the night before I left Berlin for my discharge from my six-year USAF enlistment. 

I have my own story about the night of the bombing that I will share below, but I wanted to make a special note about the event.  Two servicemen were lost in this attack, and one German civilian.  More than 200 others were injured, some seriously, including 79 Americans – and I know a number of my Air Force buddies were at that disco that evening.

After taking a look at Wikipedia (source of the AP photo attached) and a BBC article (links to both below), I found this timeline for reference of the events since the bombing until the convicted terrorists were jailed:

  • 5 April 1986: A bomb explodes in the La Belle disco
  • 15 April 1986: US planes bomb Libya
  • 1990: After German reunification, prosecutors find files linking the Libyan embassy to the attack
  • 1996: Lebanon extradites Shraydi to Germany, the Chanaas are arrested and Eter admits his role in the bombing
  • Nov 1997: The trial begins
  • Nov 2001: Four jailed for bombing

So, my story about this event begins a little earlier than the bombing itself.  In March 1986, I was approaching the end of my enlistment – I’d planned to return to Florida so that I could complete my undergraduate degree (at either UCF in Orlando or USF in Tampa, eventually I decided on USF).  So my time was already short, and when there was a general warning for us to be diligent about an anticipated attack, I took it seriously.

These warnings continued for the two weeks leading up to the disco bombing.  As the articles I referenced mention, we’ve learned that the source of the warning was diplomatic traffic into the Libyan embassy in East Berlin.

My flight leaving Berlin was scheduled for early afternoon on April 5, after the bombing had taken place at around 2am.  Some friends and I went out for a farewell dinner just off-base, walking distance from Tempelhof Central Airport where we all lived.  We came back and had a few drinks at the base club, before I headed in “early” to be ready for my flight.

I do remember getting back to the club and being invited to tag along to La Belle that evening to celebrate.  That’s as close as I came to this particular event in history.  I remember hearing that the fellows who’d invited all of us were among those listed as being injured with burst eardrums – and I am quite sure that they were among those who helped bring out other more seriously injured patrons as long as they were able.

The next morning, I had planned an early breakfast at a place just off-base, and we went out for that.  There wasn’t any sign of something having occurred that night as we departed the base.
Upon our return, it was another matter – a complete security response was in-place with inspections and canine support.  But there wasn’t much information about why that was happening.

And then at the airport, after checking in, and as we prepared to board, unusual procedures were in place.  We walked through the gates as usual, but then descended to the Tarmac, walking across it to our plane.  As we passed our baggage – which was laid out along the pathway – we were instructed to put our hand on our bag so that it could be loaded onto the plane.

At the time, I still didn’t know what had occurred, and I wouldn’t know until I got back to the states that evening, despite the fact that the bombing had occurred 12 hours before I boarded and that we had made a layover stop in Frankfurt.  

When I did learn about it, of course I was concerned for my friends who had planned to go there.  I kept a diligent eye on the news, relieved not to hear their names.  It wasn’t until a few months later that I had confirmation of their status and whereabouts.

Then, about two weeks later, I followed the story of the reprisal attack closely, wishing that I could have been a part of that mission.  And of course, by the end of the month, Chernobyl happened, making for an even bigger scare for the community I had left behind.

During the time I was stationed in Berlin there were a number of events and close calls like this.  It was an interesting time to be there – the Cold War was approaching its end, and Ronald Reagan was president.  As I remember some of the events, I’ll add some more posts about them.

Links referenced above:

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Sugar House

The sign out front - and the Friends' dairy farm
across the road.
My recent road trip took us to part of the country I hadn't ever been to before, and we were lucky enough to have some found time on the way back to the hotel.  At the lunch counter - the Cherry Knoll, in Burke, NY, by the way - we heard that there was a farm nearby where they make maple syrup, so we made a quick stop.  The farmer was across the street, tending to his 90-head dairy heard, but he came over to show us around.

Sugar Shack.
The season for sugaring was short this year due to the mild winter.  Optimal sap running time is when the day time temperatures are in the 40's, and the night time temperatures settle back into the 20's - that time is already passed.  Our farmer - Mr. Friend, in fact - said we'd missed the peak by two weeks.  That was okay - we had the place to ourselves, and he was generous with his time.

He has about 225 acres total running in three separate parcels.  A stand of maple trees is called a "sugar bush" - and we learned that the process is changing from those old romantic views of a metal spout hanging from the tree with a bucket attached.  They run plastic tubing from tree to tree now, with a little plastic spout driven into the tree itself.  The system may be connected to a pump, but it all leads to a collection vat.

This was put together from boards out
of a couple of old maples - the holes
are old taps and the discoloration is
staining from sap collection.
The trees need to be in the neighborhood of 30 years old to be productive enough for tapping.  Generally this means that they are ten to 12 inches in diameter at eye level.  Each tree yields ten gallons of sap per year, and it takes forty gallons to make one gallon of syrup.

This is the evaporator that heats and boils
the sap, so that it concentrates the goodness.
That process is carefully done inside the building by the large evaporator shown here.  There's a great deal of preheating that takes place, controlled to be as fuel efficient as possible, before the sap is finally brought to a boil.  All of this is done to reduce the water content, so that you have the concentrated syrup left over.

Mr. Friend told us that he'd had quite the agri-tourism experience this year.  New York state promotes maple products extensively, so enthusiastic crowds were showing up to watch the process, to walk in the sugar bush, to buy products - they even booked a couple of Amish horse and buggies for rides around the roads nearby.  Sounds like it was quite the day trip.

The goods.
At the end of our visit, I bought a quart of syrup and a few packs of hard candies.  Everything's delicious, as you can imagine.

One final thought - Mr. Friend doesn't have a website yet for the syrup operation.  But he does take orders over the phone and he will ship throughout the US.  Leave a note in the comments and I will pass along his phone number.  

Monday, April 2, 2012

Back from Upstate

One foot in the USA, one in Canada.
As my friend Tom says, "...and by upstate, I MEAN upstate...you were pretty far up there!"

The post marks the border.
I was traveling on business last week and went to a couple of small towns on the NY/Canada border.  The business purpose of the trip was to visit a couple of small facilities in my client's portfolio so we could get to work on planning for the management of these and others.  The field work is a favorite part of my job - it's what took me to Yosemite and Japan during the last few years, so this was right up there in the category of fun work.

I've got two posts in store, counting this morning's, and then I will be offline a few days, since I am traveling again this week - back to Dallas, but I won't be in the neighborhood of the "dead Whataburger" this time - a shame.

One of the highlights this trip was the fact that I was literally on the border during the facility visits.  I've got a couple of photos here at one of the markers.  I think it's obligatory to take the one of your feet straddling the line, and then, I realize now I may technically be in Canada in the other photo there next to the marker.

Country view from the hotel.
We flew into Syracuse - there were two teams that went up to visit a total of five facilities, so we convened there.  That also meant my colleague and I would need to drive about four hours to get to our destination near Malone, NY.

It's beautiful farm country up there - here's a view from my hotel room the first day.  That's a shorn feed corn field in the foreground, and you may just be able to see Canada in the distance, I think about 6 miles away from this point.

This is also the countryside near Lake Placid.   Winter was long gone by last week, although the overnight temperatures were still getting down to the low 30's.

Along the way we found that we were getting pretty deep into some Amish farming communities.  We passed horsedrawn carts along the highway, where an extra lane has been provided for them.  Then we also passed a couple of fields being worked by plow horse teams.  I would have liked to have stopped for a photo of those, but our schedule didn't permit.

"Welcome to New York" - but also by the way,
Welcome to the USA.

Final shot here - the places I visited all were at border crossing points, so it was pretty cool to check the signage out.  Here's a "Welcome to New York" sign - one thing I found ironic was that there was no "Welcome to the USA" sign up here.  

It may be obvious that's where you've arrived, but there on the other side, there were welcome signs and flags flying high, so I have to wonder why we don't have something like that.

I mean, we are all proud of our country, aren't we?