Ramble On

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The C&O Canal Towpath - an Easy, Work-Related, Day Hike

For the vast majority of posts on this blog, I’ve avoided posts about work.  Sure they work their way in from time to time, as they did when I traveled more often – see the "road trips" label, where I wrote about my Japan trip or my last Yosemite trip, for example; but still it’s an infrequent occasion.  And I would never have expected to do something blog-worthy at my current position, as a program manager on a construction site…

We have started working in earnest on some storm water management concerns, and for two or three months we’ve known that we were going to have to follow our watershed channels down to the C&O Canal and the Potomac.  That day finally came a few weeks ago on a Friday – we’d planned ahead so we could dress appropriately for a hike into the woods and potentially into some muddy areas.

Our plan was to walk the canal towpath to see if
we could find any locations where our streams might have crossed under the canal.  Some historical resources say that when they designed the canal, their plan was to cross over streams rather than incorporating them into the waterway.  We walked for a kilometer or so and didn’t find any features of that sort.

From Google Earth we had seen that the natural route of our channel entered the Potomac just downstream of the Little Falls Dam and pumping station, in the little waterway that is set up as a kayak course.  After we had explored the towpath, we walked down into those areas, but we literally came up dry in our search for an outfall.

Our next stop was to drive up to Glen Echo Park to see if we might hike back into the canal area with more success of finding our objectives, but the whole property there is fenced in, so we had no success.  We did enjoy a brief walk through there, and I took a photo or two of the carousel.  By coincidence, we met some of the NPS employees that we have been working with on this project and had a good chat with them about the project and its potential impacts.

We went back downstream and parked near Lock 7, again walking a short way down the towpath to get a sense of whether our outfalls passed under the canal – we didn’t find any evidence of this, but it was interesting to check out the old lock houses as we walked by them.  Apparently, if you are a brave soul, you can stay in these facilities overnight.

Eventually we found what we were looking for, but we had to bushwhack a parking place and then go into some brush.  Our outfall runs down a steep hillside in the Palisades, and runs into a culvert, through a tunnel, and then exits after passing under Canal Road.  The culvert dumps onto a paved streambed, and then goes into a plunge pool to take its velocity down; then it finally makes its way into the canal.
Our mission was accomplished at last, after a total of about 2 miles of walking with negligible altitude changes.  We had found the route of our stormwater and the location where it enters the canal, although we didn’t expect to find exactly that scenario.  We were able to take a look at the condition of our stream and make some judgments on the work we need to do upstream in order to manage our runoff.  That is going to be a fun part of the project coming up.

By the way, there is a NPS link here with the official information about the C&O Canal National Historic Park:  http://www.nps.gov/choh/index.htm

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

SFO Touring Day 2, Part 2

After our refreshing pints at 21st Amendment, we got back on the road.  The pace of our touring may have me remembering things a little bit out of order.  We headed directly across the peninsula, through the Haight District, past the Panhandle, and then to Golden Gate Park. 

There is a small island there that Brian enjoys visiting, and he wanted to show it to us – plus it was convenient to the Beach Chalet so we could stop in there if needed…which we did.  The feature of the island is a collection of wildlife, including raccoons, squirrels, and a host of birds, perhaps including the “Wild Parrots of San Francisco,” but we didn’t see any that day, neither up in the Presidio nor in the Park.

We took some time enjoying the botanical displays and the old windmill, and headed over to the beach.  The Chalet was too crowded, so we headed up the hill to the Cliff House, which I had visited with Brian back in 2010.  We walked down from the new parking lot and visitor center at the top of the hill, above the Sutro Bath ruins.

It just happens that the ruins are one of my favorite sites in San Francisco, and I was glad for the chance to look them over.  Brian and I had spent a couple of hours checking the place out in 2010 – there’s an old blog post here:  http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2010/07/sutro-baths-ruins.html.  If memory serves, we also made our way down to the Cliff House for refreshments that time as well.

We grabbed a spot in the cafĂ© and had some beers and Popovers(!) – I think all three of us share a passion for this pastry.  The Cliff House is one of the few places I know us where they are always available, so we had some.  Also, since Mary likes to make them from time to time, we picked up a pack of their mix – Brian had sent us one a while ago, and we had them for breakfast…now we have a pack at the ready for another batch sometime!

Refreshed, we rolled out to our next stop, Coit Tower, a must-see tourist sight.  Traffic was a little backed up, so Brian let us out while he waited in line for parking, and we walked up.  We enjoyed the view, but didn’t take the time to check out the restored murals or go up in the towers, since we’d seen them before.  Seriously, the view is enough to make the stop worthwhile, and Brian arrived just in time
after we’d finished a walk around the summit. 

It was getting on towards dinner time, and we’d planned to drive down to North Beach to take a walk and then enjoy one of the restaurants there.  It was a beautiful evening, and diners and strollers were out in full force.  We chose a place and had some wonderful pasta dinners, then walked a short way for dessert at an espresso joint.

There are lots of shared memories about North Beach, Mary and I had been a few times and remembered the espresso place from one of our visits.  Of course, Brian has been to many of the places up there, so we enjoyed talking about fun times there.

Dusk was upon us, and Mary and I needed to get back to East Bay.  Brian offered to drive – much appreciated – so we got to go across the new Bay Bridge (hey, I even have a post on that – right here:  http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2014/06/the-new-bay-bridge.html

There’s an old saying that San Francisco is everybody’s second home town.  As far as American cities go, that is definitely true for Mary and me, and we’re lucky to have friends there who call it their actual home town! After a full day of sightseeing, we had fully refreshed our memories of the place, and at last the vacation was over – all that was left to do was to drive down to San Jose the next morning for our flight home.

Monday, July 28, 2014

SFO Touring Day 2, Part 1

The neigborhood garden at Portrero Hill.
Busy work week last week, but now I’m back to finish up with a final few posts about the trip Mary and I took to Northern California in May. Today my post will follow-up on the two days we spent touring around San Francisco – I wrote about the first day already, and I’ve also posted about the fine breakfast we had to start day 2, which we spent under the oversight of our most excellent tour guide, Brian. 

Brian and I were stationed in Berlin together during our Air Force days.  He also keeps a blog, and although I’ve linked to his post about the day we spent together before, I’ll go ahead and refresh our rememories here:  http://breakfastatepiphany.blogspot.com/2014/06/dotties-true-blue-cafe.html.  A read of that post will let you know that he is a skilled and experienced tour guide, and however much we paid for the experience it was well worth it, and I’ll have to recommend him again for any touristas that would care to join him.

After Dotties we got on the Streets of San Francisco for some sightseeing in earnest, and made our first stop at a fun building that doubles as an art project.  The structure was rendered unstable and unoccupiable in the 1989 earthquake, and the owner has never made the seismic upgrades that would be needed to put it back into use – at least that is our theory.  There are installations of furniture on the exterior walls, perhaps stuff that was left behind inside of it, and Brian tells us there’s always something new.  This time it was a sort of frieze of old piano parts.

From there we went to the Portrero Hill neighborhood, where there is a street that is just as crooked, but less well traveled, as Lombard Street.  We took a look around, and discovered a fantastic community garden at the top of the hill.  We spent a lot of time admiring the garden patches – and a fantastic urban view of the Mission and Castro districts.

Our next stop was over to the Mission District, by special request.  Our friend Cathy used to live in the neighborhood there, and she hosted us a few times in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, so we asked to drive through the area for old times’ sake.  We stopped at the house for a minute and then walked over to Mission Dolores Park, and we checked out the Golden Hydrant.

Surprisingly, Wikipedia doesn’t have an article about the hydrant, so I want to make a note of it here.  Apparently, the pipes connected to it didn’t break during the 1906 earthquake, and it was used to save the neighborhood and mission.  It’s worth a stop for the view across the park and to pay respects, so we did just that.

By now it was past noon, and we’d begun to feel the need for refreshment.  Brian took us down to the 21st Amendment Brewery – again, by special request – and we sat outside to enjoy a pint of Hell or High Watermelon, an occasion that I dutifully recorded in a previous blog post here:  http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2014/06/the-norcal-brewery-tour-part-3.html

As I am writing this, I am recalling how indulgent Brian was as a host, and there are a few more stops I need to write about.  I guess I’ll stop here for the day and pick it up here tomorrow!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Dottie's on TV

I wrote about Dottie's True Blue Cafe this morning, and as I mentioned in the post, Mary's and my visit was not the first time I'd been there.  I was in San Francisco in the summer of 2010 and met up with Brian for breakfast when Dottie's was located in the Tenderloin District.  Here's a link to Brian's post from that trip.  http://breakfastatepiphany.blogspot.com/2010/07/dotties-true-blue-cafe.html

Now, the place has also been featured on the Food Network - also at the former location.  In that episode, they showed how the chili was made - and the dish that comes out at the end looks great...may have to get by there for lunch sometime!  Here's a little YouTube snippet:

Back to Dottie's

I reckon I still have four or five posts left to make from our vacation to the west coast back in May.  So today I'll check off one from the list - after our drive up to Mendocino and our first day back in the Bay area, we'd arranged to meet one of my Air Force friends, Brian, for breakfast and sightseeing.

Brian keeps a blog called Breakfast at Epiphany's about his exploits at unique breakfast joints in San Francisco.  On the one hand, having ready access to so many fine venues is great, but on the other, there are so many great venues so it can be hard to choose which one to go to...in the end, I recommended that we join him at one of his favorites, and one I'd been to with him before - Dottie's True Blue Cafe.

Dottie's is famous for a couple of things - great breakfasts are the primary one, and there are menu items and daily specials on a big board.  It also was famous for its location in the Tenderloin District, although it has moved to a new location recently - still in the Tenderloin.  Finally, it's notable for the long lines outside - often people will wait for an hour or more to get in for breakfast there!

When we arrived via a short walk from the BART station, Brian was already waiting in line there.  So we had maybe 20 minutes or so to wait until we could be seated.  I was really impressed with the new location - more seats, looks like a bigger kitchen, and all that.

The line outside is still a colorful experience, too, although not quite as entertaining as it had been before.  I suppose that is going to strike some people as a good thing, and some as a bad thing.  Different strokes!

After we were seated and had started catching up, Brian gave us the orientation briefing about the menu and the board.  He's written so often about ordering the specials that we all did just that - Mary and I both chose the Sweet Potato Tart, and Brian picked the black bean cakes (I think they are a favorite).  Money shots follow:

Breakfast at Dottie's simply doesn't disappoint.  I'd go there quite frequently if I lived in San Francisco...I think I might even make excuses to have business meetings there on weekdays.  And as a matter of fact, Brian has already been back there on his rotation since we made our trip to Dottie's together!

Meanwhile, here' a link to his blog post about the day - I'll have another post about the rest of our activities together soon.  http://breakfastatepiphany.blogspot.com/2014/06/dotties-true-blue-cafe.html

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Update - Backyard Hops in Alexandria

Last year, I planted two rhizomes, one each of Goldings and Willamettes. The Goldings produced a few cones, but not many - and that was okay because it was a first year plant.  The Willamette didn't produce any cones, although it and the Goldings bine grew to well over six feet tall.

This year, I transplanted both of those bines, and I added another Goldings rhizome.  The transplanting must have been tough on the plants, however - the Goldings especially.  Even the second year plant is doing worse than it did in its first year, and there are no cones.

The Willamette, on the other hand, has produced a cone or two, but these are not well formed and they are small.  There aren't enough of them to do anything with anyway - I am only seeing a half dozen or so.

I think that I may take these out to Hawksbill Cabin and replant them somewhere so that they can be a decorative plant.  I'll restart my hopyard with some Cascade rhizomes from Dan - his are doing so well.  And although I don't have any photos, our friend Bill has a robust little hopyard going too, from Dan's rhizomes.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Dan's Hops - July Update

Dan sent along some photos of the hopyard up around the corner from Hawksbill Cabin.  Over the weekend, he started picking them, and by all accounts this is going to be a banner year.

I'm guessing that these are the Cascade bines, but he has had good luck with some of the other varieties as well, including Fuggles and Columbus.

I tried to grow Willamette hops in Alexandria because Dan's bines looked like they were doing so well.  Mine look good, but no cones - Dan said he has had problems in the past too.

I'll post an update on the plants I have tomorrow.  I'll go ahead and preview that post now - I don't have any cones! lol

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Battle of the Species: Snakes, 2014 ed.

This whole snakes and karma thing got out of hand earlier in the spring.  On our first weekend back from vacation, Mary was cleaning out the pool filter baskets and found this little corn snake in it, drowned.  They warned us that we would find critters in it from time to time, and we have, but this was our first snake.

By the way, the fact that it lay there in something of a heart shape is just random.  It's not a love snake, as somebody on Facebook guessed.

Far more significant to the karma of Hawksbill Cabin was the much larger black rat snake that was recently found.  We'd had some work done by Bill in Luray, and some of it took place around the laundry room door - scene of many past encounters with snakes (click the label "battle of the specie"s for some of them), including finding a recent shed snakeskin there.

As Bill and his colleague started doing their work one day, the snake was up in the soffit, poking its head out as they approached.  They postponed whatever they'd planned, and determined that they should watch and wait for this critter to do whatever it had in mind.

Like so many of us, the snake was fixed in its daily habits: it would sleep in the relative cool shade of the soffit for part of the day, but once the sun was warm enough to make his lair uncomfortable, he would move out onto the stone wall side of the house.  Black rat snakes are climbers, so he'd just cling there to the wall in the shade.  Once Bill and his colleague understood this cycle they moved in one morning and caught the snake unawares.

He needed to be relocated out of the house, so they kindly took care of that for us.

There are trade-offs for having the snake out of the house - we might have more mice this winter, for example, although hopefully the barncats will take care of that.  We'll see.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Barncats Congress

Since a few weeks ago, I wrote about Mom Cat, who's gone MIA (and we assume passed away in the woods), I thought I might make a short post today about the remaining three barncats that still hang around Hawksbill Cabin.

Shown in the photo here, they have strict schedules, at least when we are in town...morning, breakfast is served at around 7:00, and in the evening, dinner is at 6:30.  If I remember correctly, this photo was after the evening feeding, and they are waiting around contentedly for either dessert or seconds.

From left to right, we have Patch, Little Guy, and Foxy.  Patch has assumed the human interface role now that Mom Cat is gone - both he and Little Guy are from one of Foxy's litters.  All of them are fixed, so this is a sterile little family unit of barn cats...or outside pets, I suppose, if you want to call them that.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Start of the Tomatoes

For the last few weeks, Mary and I have been able to stop by the Luray Page Farmers Market to pick up fresh produce for the week.  I usually start by grilling something on Saturday nights and then we can turn the other items into salads or meals for week nights.

Yesterday, my friend David over at Public House Produce put up some photos of the start of tomato season, and I've filched them for sharing.  He grows a variety of types - diversity is a risk management technique for farmers - including many heirlooms.  They make a first stop under the barn for sorting and packing, shown here.

The close up of the huge tomato shows a Prudens Purple Heirloom - this is only the first or second week of tomatoes and he is already picking meal-sized fruit.

Back in 2011, I spent a part of my furlough hanging around the farm on an internship.  It wasn't exactly working, but I did do some chores - and I put together quite a few blog posts from the enriching experience.  Here's one, celebrating David's tomato harvest from that year:

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Hosta Patch

It's a good year for the hostas.  Sometimes they are totally decimated by the deer, but this year that damage has been very limited - only one of the variegated plants in the front yard has been a victim, and there is one in the back as well.

These plants thrive in the two gardens where they have been planted.  So much so, Mary has been able to thin them by removing two or three plants a year - we've got them transplanted back home in Alexandria, and she gave a few to the neighbors in the hollow.

Last Sunday morning as the day brightened I enjoyed passing the time watching a hummingbird browse the blossoms.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Barncat MIA

We figured the day would come when we would see changes in the group of barncats that hang around Hawksbill Cabin.  It has been about six weeks now since we have seen Momcat, photographed here one weekend in May, just before our vacation.

Momcat was the first of the barncats, and she is the mother of one of the two we ended up adopting.  She was friendly and liked to follow Tessie and me around the property on early morning walks - even leading the way up into the wood lot on winter mornings.

She was very social the last weekend we saw her, even letting me get this close for the photo, and coming around to have her ears scratched.  Maybe she was saying goodbye.

We still have the two boys - Patch and Little Guy, and the other cat who had a litter, which a neighbor named Foxy.  All of them were fixed with the assistance of Cat's Cradle in Harrisonburg (link:  http://catscradleva.org/).

Maybe Momcat is still around, staying near one of the neighbor's houses, but more likely she has passed away.  So here's a tribute to the little one's company - we'll miss her!