Ramble On

Monday, September 29, 2014

Food for Thought - re: Local Hops

Doing a little web research recently about Virginia brewing.  Between the Brewers Association website and my own recollection, I was trying to name off, out of the 61 Virginia craft breweries, how many of them are near (within a two hours’ drive) Hawksbill Cabin.  Here’s what I came up with:

·         Harrisonburg:  Three Brothers, Three Notched
·         Lexington:  Devil’s Backbone Outpost, Blue Lab
·         Lynchburg:  Jefferson Street, Apocalypse
·         Front Royal:  Backroom
·         Purcellville:  Corcoran, Adroit Theory
·         Leesburg:  Crooked Run, Barnhouse
·         Ashburn:  Lost Rhino

This list has the makings of a year-long day-trip fest to taste beers in breweries, especially if you add in several breweries to the east that you would encounter as you drove back towards (or out from) Washington, DC, including Old Busthead in Vint Hill (Manassas area), Bad Wolf in Manassas, Mad Fox in Falls Church, and Port City in Alexandria.  Last year I exchanged emails with a few of these about where they get their hops – I also talked to two larger brewers in the Tidewater area. 

Also from the Brewers Association website, there was news that about 130,000 barrels of craft beer are produced annually in Virginia.  The selection of breweries I highlighted range in size from nano, producing less than 5,000 barrels annually, to regional, producing more than 15,000 barrels per year, but they probably add up to about one-quarter of the craft beer produced in Virginia, or approximately 32,500 barrels. 

It’s just a point of interest to me at this point, but thinking about Dan’s (and Bill's - shown here) hop yard, and the other hop yards that are springing up throughout the state, I wanted to take this review to the next step of calculating how much hops this level of brewery production required.  Here’s what I came up with:

·         Approximate (dried) hops per barrel:  1.5 pounds
·         Total (dried) hops needed for 32,500 barrels:  48,750 pounds
·         Estimated (dried) hops produced by known Virginia hop yards:  14,000 pounds

None of the hop yards that I am familiar with actually dry their hops for commercial sales – that is a level of investment in machinery they haven’t made yet.  Instead, they sell their fresh hops into the market place, and we get some very good seasonal “harvest” beers, best consumed fresh, and only available in limited quantities for a very short time.  Fresh hops contain a lot of water, and are typically dried in an oasting process that reduces their mass by 80 percent. 

What would happen in this market if a hop yard were to come on the market with the capability to produce high quality dried hops – either whole or in pellets?  There certainly appears to be room for the product on the demand size, since these craft breweries identified survive and prosper without local hops, acquiring them instead from large, national distributers, such as Brewers Supply Group, Fresh Hops, and Hops Union.   

I guess I’ll have to leave the question as a rhetorical one for now.  But it is definitely food for thought.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

They Slept in the Space Shuttle

Our friends Mark and Nancy have been traveling this summer in their RV – last week, as they crossed the border from Canada into New York, I saw a post that they had traveled 13,000 miles since leaving home in San Diego a few months back.  The whole odyssey has been chronicled on Nancy’s blog (here, or in the blog roll on the right) and via their prolific Instagram accounts. 

…Speaking of which, their visit inspired me to start using that app again.

As I understand it, they begin planning the trip around a visit to the Newport Folk Festival, which annually takes place in August.  They got their logistics all set up back home and then hit the road, first to the Pacific Northwest, then across the northern tier, via Chicago and Pittsburgh, and then to the fest.  After that, up into Canada for a few weeks, and now they’re on their way back home – so they slipped in a quick visit by Hawksbill Cabin and then Harrisonburg (Nancy’s a JMU alum) en route.

We’ve had some great visits with them over the years, whether at their place on the west coast, or when they’ve come to the DC area, although Mary and I haven’t made it down to San Diego to see them – they used to live in Santa Barbara.  I was able to spend some time with them Saturday and Sunday hearing about their adventures, and showing them around Luray and New Market, before they got on their way again.

On Sunday morning, they gave me a tour around the Airstream (named Feona) and showed me how the four of them got along in there; they’re traveling with their dogs Dax and Trixie.  It takes a little getting used to – they took three or four shake down trips in California before they launched on this adventure.  It didn’t feel anymore cramped in there than it does in a hotel room in Manhattan, although you do have to get yourself organized and stay that way, like you would on a boat.

As we parted ways in the parking lot of the New Market Battlefield on Sunday, a couple from North Carolina came up to chat with me about the vehicle.  “That’s a nice rig,” they said, “all the way from California, too.  Seems like you see more of that kind of travel out west.”  After I explained that Mark and Nancy were visiting and on the way home now, this couple told me about how they hoped to take a similar trip someday.  There is an entire national community of people who want to do that, in fact.

It took about 20 minutes of planning to park it for the night on Saturday, but they were satisfied with our sloping driveway.  I invited them into the house for the night, but they declined:  “That would break our streak,” Mark said.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Harvest Time 2

Again I'm borrowing some Facebook posts from a friend, this time Sue at Wisteria Farm and Vineyard.  I couldn't make it out to the start of harvest season at Wisteria, but Mary did and she texted me a few times about how much she was enjoying herself.  So I thought I'd go ahead and make a post out of these borrowed photos.

Wisteria's annual harvest kick-off features two traditions - first, the blessing by a local Orthodox priest, and second, barefoot stomping of the grapes.  Meanwhile, a volunteer force goes out to gather the first crop (I think Seyval this year), which turned out to be a record.

There was a good crowd of volunteers to help with the harvest and the first bout of chores that need to be done - hauling in the crates, weighing the samples to calculate the yield and forecast how much wine will be produced, de-stemming, and then all the cleaning and scrubbing.  That's just the first day of each variety's harvest!

On the second day, the de-stemmed grapes are pressed into juice, and the actual process of fermentation begins.  I like all the parts of the process, but I especially like the work on the second day - probably because it has a lot in common with my brewing activities.

I'm sorry I missed a harvest day though.  The season runs for a few more weeks - eventually it will be time to bring in the reds, so I'll get out before it's over.  And looking forward to it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Harvest Time 1

I'm borrowing these photos from David at Public House Produce, but I saw last week that he had harvested a bunch of pumpkins from "TRP" - The River Patch, and I wanted to put them up here on Hawksbill Cabin.

TRP is a relatively new bit of ground they're working, and I believe it is planted with pumpkins and winter squash.  Gourds, if you will.

It's a challenging bit of ground to work, too - there is an irrigation system in the mix, and it's open season for deer and gopher around there.

David harvested 10 big crates of pumpkins last week and hauled them down to the Dayton auction.  The load was big enough to take it through the drive aisle (see a video) - but David and his wife were headed out of town so he left them on pallets with the auction master.

That's a lot of pies and jack-o-lanterns!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Mom Cat Returns

In a post last July, linked here, I made note of the disappearance of the cat we call Mom Cat.  She had at least two litters of cats around the hollow before we caught her and the other barn cats and had them neutered by Cat's Cradle in Harrisonburg.  We adopted one of her daughters - the cat I call Sassafrass at home.

Since we figured she had gone of to die, we grieved a little when she disappeared last May, but we reminded ourselves that she is a barn cat after all, and this is going to happen to all of them eventually.

On Saturday evening at Hawksbill Cabin, Tessie and I took our usual walk around the property.  When we got down near Beaver Run, I heard this plaintive meowing from in the woods.  We do have four barn cats around, and they range down into that area so I didn't think anything of it.

A few minutes went by, and the meowing was getting closer, so I went back down to check out if one of the cats was in trouble.  Not quite - but I was quite surprised to see that it was Mom Cat out there.  Her friendly little eventually came out to visit me, and eventually I brought her a little bowl of kibble to welcome her back.

She hung out with Tessie and me on the brick terrace for the rest of the evening, and was still around on Sunday morning when I came out to feed them all.  She always really liked Tessie, often walking shoulder to shoulder with her in the morning - and she was right back at it that morning.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Flight of F-15s

One Friday morning a couple of weeks ago, two of us were walking around the campus at work, and I saw a single F-15 flying overhead.  I thought it was strange, and I mentioned it to my colleague.  I think he was more fascinated by the fact that I knew the air frame type than by the fact that we had a USAF fighter flying over the Potomac.

Then Monday morning shortly after 9:00, I happened to look up from the parking lot at the Starbucks and saw this Missing Man formation flying over, along the same route that the earlier one had followed.

Wikipedia describes the formation as an aerial salute, often performed as part of a funeral or memorial.  Given our proximity to Arlington Cemetery, it's not unusual to see them - although I'd expect them in Arlington, not Bethesda.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

My 9-11 Story


On that bright Tuesday morning, I was a project manager working on a project for tenants in the building – I was based in the home office of the large A/E firm I worked for, but I went down there for meetings from time to time, and we could see the building across the Cemetery from the office.   

My consulting team had been doing customer service interviews in the newly completed offices, talking to all those people just the Thursday and Friday before. They had all just moved in and were just getting their family photos and mementos set up in their offices.

Shortly before 9am I'd gotten a call at my office.  Our program manager said, "Jim, I don't know if your team is scheduled to be down here today, but they're not letting anyone in, and they won’t tell me why. If your guys are headed down, tell them to come on back." It would be four hours before I heard that our PM was safely back at the office.

We didn't have anyone on the way down, fortunately - and we got started on our normal daily routines.  

Then we started getting the news, and everything changed.  

My team was pretty heartbroken and devastated when they learned about what had happened to all those people they had just met.

Today, I’ll remember my team from that project – and more importantly, those people we lost.

We’re all on a journey.  Be mindful of others today.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Half Dome Fire 2014

Over the years I've put up a couple of posts about the Half Dome summit hike Chris and I did back in 2005, and then my return trip to Yosemite in 2010 - all labeled with the tag Half Dome, if you want to check them out.  So, as the news about the fire in little Yosemite Valley has come out, naturally I'd follow it with interest.

Here are a couple of photos I snagged from USA Today, which have apparently originated with Twitter users.  If I knew the sources I'd credit them, but you can probably find the images on the web as well.

As of yesterday, the fire had burned about four square miles up in Little Yosemite.  That is a popular campground along the main route to the Half Dome Summit.  Hopefully they'll get the fire under control soon, but I heard yesterday they had to evacuate hikers off of the mountain.

Be careful out there - be aware this kind of thing could happen any time out in the wild.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Final From Van Damme

Those last two posts were about the day hike Mary and I took during our vacation to Mendocino last May.  I had realized I still had from 8 to 10 photos on my iPhone from the trip, all taken in Van Damme State Park, and I wanted to be sure to save them off.  Turns out they made a good topic for a post or two as well.

So here's the last of those photos - all the previous posts in the forest were focused on looking down at the understory, so at last here is one that gives a long view down the path with a view that shows the height of these coastal redwoods.

This is in a second growth area, and at a higher elevation in the forest than what I'd put up before as well.  I'll close a short post for today with a link to the California State Parks web page for Van Damme:


Friday, September 5, 2014

Mendocino Day Hike - part 2

Mary and I are familiar with the groves of Coastal Redwoods that dot the west coast from south of the Bay Area up to Oregon.  We've taken a walk through Muir Woods - one of the National Parks in Marin County, driven through some of them on trips to the coast (there is a 10-mile stretch of route 128 from Healdsburg to Mendocino that winds through one grove), and we've taken horseback rides through another one on the North Coast.  So as we left the pygmy forest, we looked forward to the descent down to the stream bed and the grove that we knew was down there in the ravine.

These trees are considered the world's tallest - they routinely reach 300 feet tall, and the tallest is around 380 feet.  That's about 30 stories or higher.  Giant Sequoias, which stand along the western slopes of the Sierra in Central California, are the largest trees, although they are not as tall as the redwoods.

Depending on the characteristics of the ravine they grow in, it can be quite dark on the forest floor in a redwood grove, but that wasn't the case at Van Damme State Park.  The ravine is not as narrow as some, and there has been a history of harvesting trees, so what we found was pleasant, patchy sunlight. The conditions made for a nice under story of ferns and redwood samplings, although we also spotted a few hardwoods mixed in - and plenty of blooming wildflowers, it being late May.

They can grow from seed, but often these trees grow in what I like to call "family groups" - small trees sprout from the root system of mature parents.  You see them forming a large ring of related young trees around a much larger tree.  Here at Van Damm, a lot of the parent trees had been harvested, leaving the young ones crowded around a stump.

Here's a web site with additional information about the Coastal Redwoods - http://www.savetheredwoods.org/redwoods/coast-redwoods/ - a visit, to a grove is a humbling experience, always reminded me of the temporary nature of our human condition.

I'll close out today and the posts about this 5-mile day hike in Mendocino with a final photo.  It shows how the coastal terraces in this region evolved into this modern phenomenon, with the pygmy cypresses, barely six feet tall, at the higher elevations, and these giant redwoods so close by only a hundred feet or so down the canyon.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Mendocino Day Hike - part 1

I was looking through the photos on my phone and found some from our May trip to Mendocino, so I thought I would put up a two-part post about the day hike we took to Van Damme State Park, located just a few miles south of Mendocino along Highway 1.  Of course, you pass by the typical coastal scenery to get there, so as a reminder, I'll open with a photo of the bay at Mendocino, taken from the headlands.  The previous posts on this trip can be found under the label "Vacation 2014" below or in the list to the right.

By the time we settled on this adventure we had been in the area a few days, already enjoying trips up to Fort Bragg to see the Glass Beach, taste the beers at North Coast Brewery, and generally enjoying all the things we love about the area from past vacations.  The inspiration for the day hike was to make our way into one of the coastal red wood groves which populate this part of the country - we saw plenty of the big trees on the hike, but that will be the subject of part 2 of this post.

The irony of the Van Damme experience is that it is also an unique ecosystem of small trees - the Mendocino Cypress.  In an earlier trip, we had hiked in Jug Handle park and learned about how the terrain was formed in a series of terraces as the land rose out of the sea.  Here in Van Damme, you experience four of these terraces, with the highest ones characterized by exceptionally poor soils.

The impact of the poor soil is not only a lack of nutrients, but also dry, compacted conditions which make it hard for the roots of the trees to gain purchase.  So the Mendocino Cypress stays small - hardly any of them were more than six feet tall - which actually conceals their age.  As the interpretive sign here says, a tree that is a quarter inch in diameter and two feet tall may be over 80 years old!

There is a nice boardwalk that has been constructed through this part of the trail to navigate through the forest and enjoy the view of these bonsai-like trees.

I realized after taking the photos I don't have anything in the frame to provide a reference on the height of the trees, but few of them extended to the height of the hand rail on the boardwalk.  Most of them were between four and five feet tall, with a few getting up to six feet.

At this altitude, maybe 200 feet above sea level, it was very sunny and dry.  We were probably a mile or two inland to start the hike, so we were finding a climate that is not atypical of northern California.

One of the stories of this trail, which we would follow for about 5 miles round trip and descending to sea level is the micro-climates that you progress through.  The dry hot conditions in the "pygmy forest" were night and day compared to the conditions we experienced as we began our descent.  That's where I'll pick up tomorrow for part 2.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Beaver Pond No More

Back in the spring Mary and I were happy to see that a new beaver pond was filling up over in the hollow across the road.  I put up a couple of posts, including this one where I walked down to the edge and snapped a short video:  http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2014/04/on-golden-beaver-pond.html

The first pond that appeared over there, back in 2008 or so, lasted over the winter, so we could have ice skated on it.  This time, no such luck - the pond started draining in early July.  It's empty now, with the bare mud showing through and the beginnings of a robust little meadow in its place.

I figure that the dam was damaged in a flood, or the beavers that were there simply abandoned this location for some reason.  I did see one or both of them swimming around late in the afternoons.  There was also a wide variety of water fowl coming and going from the pond - ducks, geese, and herons.

There is another pond a little ways upstream from here - that one is more or less a permanent fixture and is visible on Google Earth satellite photography of the hollow.  We've walked back into that deep part of the hollow before some winters.

For now we'll watch and wait until the next time they try to build there.