Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving, autumnal musings

These last weeks have been ripe with change and transition, as befits autumn in Appalachia.  It's apple season in the Virginia highlands, and I've been enjoying a number of local varieties, my favorites being Winesaps and Virginia Golden Delicious. (I explored Virginia apples a few years ago in this blog.)  Betraying my ongoing dalliance with all that poetry I read in school, this time of year always brings the first verse of John Keats' "Ode to Autumn" to mind: 
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
    Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
    With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
    And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
        To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
    With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
        For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.
Waning sunlight and shadows on the neighbor's leafy yard.
For those of us who dwell in suburbia, one seasonal rite is the Annual Gathering and Associated Disposing of Unwanted Leaves. Raking and leaf-blowing (oh, the incessant whirring and whining of leaf blowers!) are common ways to move these leafy items from one part of one's property to another, often for gathering and disposal by municipal authorities. A walk around the block yesterday revealed various methods of getting this done, from hiring professional services (two were toiling on our block yesterday) to more traditional methods, such as sending your high-school aged child out to rake while, it seems, scowling. I'm pretty lazy on this matter - I save the last lawn-mowing to as late as possible, then mulch all the leaves into the grass.

Leaves on our street awaiting removal by civil servants.
Raking also brings another poem to mind, this time Robert Frost's "Gathering Leaves," which seems to address the futility of this task with a bit of whimsy:
Spades take up leaves
No better than spoons,
And bags full of leaves
Are light as balloons.

I make a great noise
Of rustling all day
Like rabbit and deer
Running away.

But the mountains I raise
Elude my embrace,
Flowing over my arms
And into my face.

I may load and unload
Again and again
Till I fill the whole shed,
And what have I then?

Next to nothing for weight;
And since they grew duller
From contact with earth,
Next to nothing for color.

Next to nothing for use.
But a crop is a crop,
And who's to say where
The harvest shall stop?
To really get to see the leaves on the ground, there's no better place than out in the woods.  It's been a good season for hiking through the Appalachian forests - the weather has been pleasantly cool and the leafless trees let your gaze fall upon the hillsides and valleys, revealing the mountains' consistently engaging shapes.  We ventured to North Creek a few weeks ago, a beautiful creekside trail that eventually leads to Apple Orchard Falls.

Barrie and Asta on the trail. The creek's on the right.
Your basic autumnal maple leaf photo.  Can't resist 'em!
Barrie on the bridge, with Asta frolicking in the water below.
Forest floor study: Rock, fern, leaves, sticks.
 Asta runs and runs and runs while we hike.
The next two photos were subjected to some post-processing to add texture and a bit of distortion to emulate painting on canvas. Or at least that was the plan.

Sunlight on the trail.
Apple Orchard Falls trail head, treated photo.
It's been a fall of transition, as noted above. We lost our good friend Dr. Jane Fagg a few weeks ago. Some close friends lost their beloved Corgi a few days ago, and today, Thanksgiving, is the 10th anniversary of my father's death.

Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, Moss Hill, NC
Jane was buried beside her husband Dan, at their family cemetery in Eastern NC.  Her service was held in Holy Innocents Episcopal Church in Moss Hill, NC.  This church belongs to the Episcopal Diocese of East Carolina, the same Diocese that's home to the churches my father's family has attended for centuries. While I no longer attend the Episcopal church, my roots in the denomination run deep, especially in eastern NC where my grandfather funded and built a small Episcopal church in the town of Speed, NC.

It was good to return to the coastal plain of NC, a place filled with memories and the faint calling of long-departed relatives. Like my parents, who left Eastern NC when they were married in 1946, this part of the world is where my families are from, but not where I chose to live. While it's always meaningful and important to walk in the part of the world where my ancestral roots run deepest, it also made me thankful to head back to the mountains, to the place we've chosen to call home.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hunt Fish Falls, October 2010

I  spent last weekend backpacking to Hunt Fish Falls, on Lost Cove Creek in the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina.  I've been hiking and camping at Hunt Fish Falls for over 35 years - a number that reveals not only my relative age, but also how much I love this area. (Indeed, the header photo for this blog was taken at Hunt Fish Falls several years ago.)
The waterfalls and pool at Hunt Fish Falls.

We packed in on Friday afternoon, made camp at our favorite creek side campsite, and stayed until Sunday. The weather was perfect - sunny and warm in the day, dropping to the mid-30s on Friday night and the 40s on Saturday night. A full moon illuminated the nocturnal scene.

Our cheerful camping cohort waving from atop a rock.
Lost Cove Creek pours over two small falls at Hunt Fish, then gathers in a large pool. Surrounding by rocks, the pool is a natural place to hang out. In the summer we'd be swimming, but even though it was a pleasant 60+ degrees, the water was probably in the mid-40s.  Here's a few photos from poolside:

Silver and gold.  A leaf swirling in the eddies.

Small leaf dams form where the pool drains downstream.

The water was amazingly clear, as this photo of a floating leaf and its shadow indicate.

Even though it was cold, some wading was in order. I think I can still feel my feet at this point, but they became quite numb rather quickly.  Bracing!

Our stuff on the lower rocks.

Heading back to the upstream campsite after a poolside afternoon.
On Saturday we spent our time hiking upstream and downstream, enjoying the lovely fall day. Random photos from those treks appear below:

Trail side mushrooms? Or just fun guys?

Looking up from the creek. The sky was brilliantly clear and blue.

Fall colors and bright greens.

Maple in transition.
Our campsite, upstream from the big pool, is an old favorite, and is well used.  Consequently, little firewood is available nearby. We trekked upstream about a quarter mile and brought back a big pile of wood and had a merry ole fire on Saturday night. The younger members of our cohort had a great time playing in the creek, finding crawdads, and falling in. We rigged up a drying rack for the wet pants.

Warming backsides. Drying pants. Having fun.

The view upstream from the creek crossing.

Lost Cove Creek in early autumn splendor.
This trip included breaking in some new gear. I replaced my aging (20+ years old) backpack, sleeping bag, and water filter, and it really made a difference.  My sleeping bags is much lighter and warmer than the old bag, the backpack has much better suspension and a better design, and the new water filter was a great improvement over the my old unit, which had died.

One of my little efforts during such trips is to find solace in the moment.  Noting the trees, rocks, and sky as you take each step, surrendering to the ever-present sound of running water while clearing your mind, and relishing the simple tasks of preparing food, washing your bowls,  making and tending the fire. Steven Altschuler has a fine book about trail side Zen called The Mindful Hiker, which I highly recommend.

One of these mindful tasks is filtering water, a process that involves slowly pumping the filter and filling the bottles, which I did several times each day. I sat in this spot to filter:

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Offline! At the Beach! With pending weather events! (Part I)

Monday, August 30:  (transcribed from handwritten notes:)

We arrived at Caswell Beach last night, unpacked the car, provisioned ourselves at the grocery store, and then took a short sunset walk on the beach. Bou the Beagle sniffed diligently, fulfilling her self-appointed duty to pee in every crab hole she could find.  Meanwhile, Asta the Wonder Mutt forgot her manners and pulled, incessantly, on the leash while we were near the surf. Too near, it seems, for Asta. It takes the pups a few days to acclimate to that loud, moving body of water.  For a brief while Asta barked at wind-driven foam, but the novelty quickly wore off.
Sunset on Monday
Out at sea, over the curve of the earth, Hurricane Danielle is moving out to the mid-Atlantic, leaving us alone whiel supposedly leaving a legacy of swells and rough surf, but there’s no evidence of that here on Oak Island.  More of a concern is Hurricane Earl, which is brewing up to be a big storm that just might mess with our plans later this week.

Asta insouciantly awaits the pending hurricane.

All last week I monitored Danielle’s progress via an RSS feed from the National Hurricane Center, delivered to my iGoogle desktop several times daily. I'm somewhat of a web weather junkie, with mild tendencies as these things go. We have a regional NOAA station in Blacksburg, and I check their website daily. If there’s the possibility of a weather “event,” as the professional weather pundits might term such natural occurrences as snow, heavy rainfalll, or a hurricane, then I go into researcher mode and dig deep into various weather resources. I rationalize this because I’m a librarian, and we like to search and then research. The online quest, in and of itself, is fun. And somewhat addictive, at times. More on that later.

Sea oat seed heads in a sandy hollow near the dunes

So Earl’s out there, and I'm at the beach without ongoing online RSS updates. That's because we’re offline for the entire week. Sure, I brought a laptop (mostly because there’s thousands of songs on my iTunes), as well as  my iPad, just  in case I wander off to the local public library or one of the handful of internet cafes here in the Oak Island/Southport neighborhood.  We’re offline because Birds of A Feather, the mawkishly monikered cottage we’ve rented, is a bit run down (check out the sound construction of the spiffy walkway in the above photo of Asta, and you'll see what I mean about rundown).  Wi-fi is pretty much out of the question here.  It’s full of rustic beachfront charm, but if you want your weather, then it’s the Weather Channel on the 24” Samsung TV. 

Overlooking the Intercoastal Waterway in Southport
So, for this week, we will be connected to weather prognostication via a method we don’t have at home, plain ol’ twentieth-century cable television.  Specifically, the Weather Channel. We’ll see how it goes....

In the meantime, we’ll have fun.

(We now leave me at the beach, reporting from last week, with a potential weather event looming over the horizon.  What will happen? Stay tuned....)

Imperiled by giant tropical drinks

Monday, June 21, 2010

Solstice morning wildflower patch

Last summer I decided, on a whim, to let several large swaths of the yard go unmowed. We let the grass grow all summer, dubbing these areas "the sergeneti."  They were a big hit with the dogs, who loved to run through the tall grass.  About mid summer, however, we plowed up a patch in the middle of this grassy spot and planted wildflowers.

 A view of the wildflower bed from the deck
The results were so wonderful that this year we decided to plant a large wildflower bed in the middle of the backyard. Here's some pictures of the wildflower patch, taken on the first morning of summer, a few minutes after the actual solstice.

We planted a mixture with lots of cool, as-of-yet unidentified flowers.

Taking a solo, thank you.

 Another view, highlighting the variety and color.

Bright, blue, sunward gazing.

Asta watches from the deck.

Another happy flower enjoys the Summer Solstice.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Spring hike on ye ol' familiar War Spur Loop

Daffodils, itty-bitty leaves on trees, forsythia bursting out all over; yep, it's spring in our little part of Southern Appalachia.  And no better way to beat the latent winter blues than a romp on our old familiar trail, War Spur Loop.  We trekked up to Mountain Lake Wilderness on Sunday to hit the trail.

Verdant sward of a trail, awaiting further verdancy
The trailhead is about 3700" elevation, and often cooler than Blacksburg's 2300", so we donned our sweatshirts and fleece, but quickly removed them once we spent a few minutes in the warm, sunny mountaintop. It's still barely spring up there, with just a few things blooming. Here's a chronicle of the hike.

There wasn't a lot of spring color out yet, at least on the ground,and these red berries were easy to spot.

 The last vestiges of wintertime on War Spur, mingling with nascent spring signs, make for some interesting views. Since much of the trail runs on a flat mountain, you can see the ridgelines of the surrounding mountains through the trees.  Here's a set of layers, with the green laurel, the white tree flowers (never did figure out what they are) , and the distant ridgeline forming vertical lines, all framed between the brown leaves and the bright blue sky.

 Baby leaves just starting to come out. Color returns to the mountain! 
  Looking across the valley from the War Spur Overlook really shows how spring is slowly moving from the valley up the hillsides, with the patches of brighter green just starting to emerge in the lower elevations.
Barrie relaxes in the sun
A wake of turkey buzzards was flying around the overlook while we were there.  
Here's one in midflight.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Melting apace: Spring musings (first installment)

Walden is melting apace. There is a canal two rods wide along the northerly and westerly sides, and wider still at the east end. A great field of ice has cracked off from the main body. I hear a song sparrow singing from the bushes on the shore -- olit, olit, olit, -- chip, chip, chip, che char, -- che wiss, wiss, wiss. He too is helping to crack it.  - Thoreau, Walden
The backyard, late last week. Still snowy. 

The snow is melting, the rains are falling, and spring is dropping some pretty strong hints of its imminent arrival. Folks all around the New River Valley are noting this warming - a friend at work paused in her tasks, giddily telling me that her husband called just to tell her that "the last of the snow finally melted in our yard." It's been a long, hard winter here, and we've had snow on the ground for months.

Hammock, awaiting spring.
As I write this it's just six days away from the Vernal Equinox, which officially occurs next Saturday, March 20, at 1:32 EDT. Astronomically speaking, the equinox occurs at the point when the sun crosses the equator as it moves from south to north. Day and night are roughly equal then - hence, "equinox." Here's a nifty image that shows the Earth's alignment with the sun:

Practically speaking, it means that Spring begins in just a few days, as that big ol' nearby star continues to warm our little green planet. At least that's true in the Northern Hemisphere, but our friends down below the equator will be experiencing their Autumnal Equinox, as fall starts for them.
Dog toys, long covered with snow, emerge during the Great Melting

It's been a long, eventful winter. We witnessed (and shoveled, sloughed through, slipped in, discussed, ruminated, cursed, and marveled at) Blacksburg's largest accumulative winter snowfall in years (52 inches).  At home, our quarter-century old oil furnace slowly slipped into decline, finally dying the same day that our new natural gas line was run to the house. Our new, highly efficient furnace is quietly warming the house as I write. (The photo on the left documents the brief time between heaters - the oil monster is gone, the natural gas one is ready to be installed.)

On the family front, we witnessed a decline in our parents' health, with my mother moving to an assisted living facility near our house on New Years' Eve, which is the major reason that this blog has been neglected over the winter. We packed my mother's house, moved her here, and have been settling her in and dealing with her various health issues since she arrived. But spring is almost here, and the song sparrow will soon be singing from the bushes.  We're quite ready for it, thank you.

Awaiting spring, Heritage Park, Blacksburg
Sources: Henry David Throeau, Walden; "The March Equinox,"