Native Virginia Trees

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Early spring, as the buds swell and glow red or orange or softest green around the crown of every tree on the horizon; directs our attention back towards our majestic, elegant hardwood trees which fill the landscape here in coastal Virginia.  We’ve largely ignored them since autumn, when their bright leaves blew away in November’s storms. 

The many native trees discovered by our early colonists still grow wild here.  They form the backdrop to our everyday lives.  Some of us love them and choose to live in forested communities.  Others fear them.  Perhaps for good reason, after seeing these gentle giants toppled by the storms which blow through our area several times a year. 

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Yet, the great North American trees define our landscape and our lifestyle.  They shade us and offer relief from our summer heat and humidity.  Their flowers announce spring and make early summer sweetly fragrant. 

The ready supply of good strong trees for lumber allowed early settlers to build homes and churches and businesses in the wilderness.  Although it is unusual to find a fully grown, mature hardwood tree anymore, we still can find them in parks and on preserved estates.

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Cypress Trees grow large here along the Colonial Parkway at the mouth of Powhatan Creek.

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I love trees.  And I love to plant trees. I count and visit the Dogwoods, Oaks, Redbuds, Crepe Myrtles and Poplars on our property pretty regularly to monitor their growth.  In fact, I spent an hour today with a shipment of bare root trees we just received from the Arbor Day Foundation.

I get angry when neighbors cut healthy trees, changing the landscape for our entire community.  And I really hate to see stands of trees cut for new development ,  mourning the ever increasing loss of the naturally forested acres left in our area. 

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We often fail to consider how much oxygen each tree produces each year, or how many pollutants each can filter from the air we breathe.  Trees absorb greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide in their respiration, locking that carbon into their woody flesh. 

They help moderate the temperature through all of our seasons, and fertilize the Earth and build new soil with their fallen leaves.  Each tree supports and houses countless animals, feeding and sheltering birds, small insects, butterflies and their larvae, and  small mammals.

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Native Redbud, Cercis canadensis, blooms in April.

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Since trees are on my mind today, I am republishing an essay I wrote in August, 2013, about how prized our American trees became to the Europeans who financed and supported colonization in North America.  I hope you find some useful bit here you didn’t know before.   And I also hope that perhaps this essay invites you to pay a bit more attention to the trees in your landscape and your life.

-Woodland Gnome

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View towards Jamestown Island from the Colonial Parkway.

View towards Jamestown Island from the Colonial Parkway.

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Did you know there was a time, not too long ago, when the most prized plants growing on regal British estates were trees imported from, “The Colonies”?  I had no idea how much 17th and 18th Century British gardeners coveted North American plants- particularly our trees.

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American Sycamore growing along the Colonial Parkway on the bank of the James River.

American Sycamore growing along the Colonial Parkway on the bank of the James River.

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Isn’t it interesting how things are forgotten over the years, and we assume that how things are in our own experience is how things have always been?

I grew up on the East coast of North America, making annual trips to view the colorful forests cloaking the Blue Ridge Mountains each autumn.  I’ve always had brilliant autumn foliage to enjoy in my own yard, and lining the streets of whatever town I happened to visit.

We in Virginia accept these things as part of the normal progression of the seasons.  We savor them, but don’t take notice of what a rare treat we enjoy.

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An oak tree growing beside the James River near Jamestown.

An oak tree growing beside the James River near Jamestown.

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It was the book, Brother Gardeners:  Botany, Empire, and the Birth of an Obsession, by Andrea Wulf, which opened my eyes and my mind to the treasures growing here, as weeds in the woods.

Prior to the 17th century, European, and specifically British gardens, had a limited palette of plants.  The formal geometric schemes of lawn, hedge, topiary evergreen shrubs, roses, and very few summer flowers were the norm.  Green and brown were the main colors found in the garden for most of the year.  Hardscape paths, stairs, fountains, arbors, and structures were the relief from all of this green lawn and green hedge.  Gardeners overcame and reshaped nature when creating a garden.

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Dogwood tree in early November

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The notion of working with nature was born in the colonies, and exported back to England in some measure toward the second half of the 18th century.

As European ships sailed abroad to explore and claim the world, they took as treasure not only gold and silver, but also botanical treasures from all of the lands explored.

Very little of the plant material collected actually made it back alive to a gardener in Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, or the Netherlands.  When a voyage lasts many months, things happen.  Things like hungry mice and storms; gnawing insects, pirates, salt spray; and unmitigated heat and cold on the deck of a sailing ship.

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But whatever seeds, bulbs, cuttings, roots, and even live plants did miraculously make it home and into the hands of a skilled gardener, were loving tended and coaxed into growing in specially built hot houses and garden plots.

Plants were grown out for seed, sold, traded, and propagated in great botanical gardens across Europe.  Botanists befriended ships’ captains and crews in hopes of bribing them to bring home new specimens.  And, as colonies were established, relationships sprang up between the colonists and avid collectors “back home” in Europe.

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Red Cedar growing in Colonial Williamsburg.

Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana growing in Colonial Williamsburg.

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The fledgling scientists of the Enlightenment realized that every new species of plant contains tremendous gifts.  Aside from their beauty and use in an ornamental garden, plants contain useful chemical compounds to heal, create new products, nourish, and enlighten.  Some of this research continues today in the Amazon Rain Forest of Brazil and other inaccessible and remote corners of the world

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Catalpa, or Monkey Cigar tree, on the Palace Green at Colonial Williamsburg. The lawn is lined with Catalpa trees of various ages, and they are absolutely stunning when in bloom.

Catalpa, or Monkey Cigar tree, on the Palace Green at Colonial Williamsburg. The lawn is lined with Catalpa trees of various ages, and they are absolutely stunning when in bloom.  Enlarge the photo and you’ll see the long seed pods growing in early August.

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The colonial era was an exciting time for discovering countless new species of plants. The gardens of Great Britain and Europe reflected the explosion of diversity by welcoming previously unknown flowers, trees, shrubs, herbs, and vegetables into their evolving and increasingly naturalistic garden schemes.

Remember, the great forests of Britain were decimated long before this era.  When Maple, Tulip Poplar, Pine, Sycamore, Cedar, Dogwood, Sassafras, Magnolia and other colorful tress and shrubs from America grew in the first garden plots of importers, they were a novelty.  The aristocracy quickly fell in love with these new plants, and clamored for a seed or a cutting to grow on their home estates.

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Oak and pine grow in abundance on Jamestown Island.

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Benjamin Franklin helped build the relationships that enabled this trade between his amateur botanist friends in the American colonies and his contacts in Britain.  The story told in Andrea Wulf’s book unfolds with the drama and personality of a good novel, and I recommend it to every like minded gardener, no matter which side of the pond you call your present home.

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Native holly

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For the purposes of this post, I will  mention a few of the trees growing wild right here around Jamestown, which were collected in the Colonial era and sent back to England.  These trees, common to us, opened up a whole new way to design and enjoy gardens for those still in Europe.  They were grown for their beautiful form, fall color, interesting bark, and some for their flowers.

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An old oak tree’s exposed roots. This tree holds the bank of the James River along the Parkway.

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Eventually, gardening became a passionate pursuit not only of the aristocracy, but for many Britons.  As we admire their beautifully tended gardens of trees, shrubs, and flowers today, so they admired the wild and beautiful plants we sent back to them from, “The Colonies”.

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Magnolia grandiflora growing along the Colonial Parkway near Jametown, VA.

Magnolia grandiflora growing along the Colonial Parkway near Jametown, VA.

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Here is a partial list of trees and shrubs introduced to Britain from the American colonies:

Acer saccharum, Sugar Maple, 1725

Aesculus pavia, Red Buckeye, 1711

Colorful fall leaves were almost unknown in Britain before American species of trees were introduced n the 17th and 18th centuries.

Betula nigra, River Birch, 1736

Callicarpa americana, Beauty Berry, 1724

Catalpa bignonioides, Southern Catalpa, 1722

Chamaecyparis thyoides, White Cedar, 1736

Chionanthus virginicus, Fringe Tree, 1736

Cornus florida, Flowering Dogwood, 1722

Diospyros virginiana, Persimmon, 1629

Euonymus atropurpurea, Burning Bush, 1744-6

Fraxinus americana, White Ash, 1724

Hydrangea arborescens, Wild Hydrangea, 1736

Juglans nigra, Black Walnut, 1629

Juniperus virginiana, Red Cedar, 1664

Kalmia latifolia, Mountain Laurel, 1734

Liriodendron tulipifera, Tulip Poplar, 1638

Magnolia grandiflora, Southern Magnolia, 1734

Dogwood, our Virginia state tree, blooms in April.

Magnolia virginiana, Sweet Bay, 1688

Pinus strobus, White Pine, 1705

Platanus occidentalis, American Sycamore, 1638

Sassafras albidum, Sassafrass, 1630

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Dogwood, Cornus florida

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All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013-2017

The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession

Brother Gardeners at Barnes and Nobles

Brother Gardeners at Amazon

Emergent

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“The dark and the light, they exist side by side,
Sometimes overlapping, one explaining the other.
The darkened path is as illuminated as the lightened,
Only the fear of the dark keeps us from seeing our way.”

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Raven Davies

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“Love, I’m pretty sure, is light.”

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Jan Zwicky

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“The language of light

can only be decoded by the heart.”

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Suzy Kassem

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“Love is a weapon of Light,

and it has the power to eradicate

all forms of darkness.

That is the key.

When we offer love even to our enemies,

we destroy their darkness and hatred…”

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Yehuda Berg

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“No, you don’t shoot things.

You capture them.

Photography means painting with light.

And that’s what you do.

You paint a picture only by adding light

to the things you see.”

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Katja Michael

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“There is light in the world, and it is us!”

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Eliezer Yudkowsky

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WPC: The Road Taken

Jones Millpond

Jones Millpond

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“You never know what’s around the corner.

It could be everything. Or it could be nothing.

You keep putting one foot in front of the other,

and then one day you look back

and you’ve climbed a mountain.”

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Tom Hiddleston

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Do you often find roads you love so much, you travel them again and again?

We love the Colonial Parkway, and often find ourselves turning towards its quiet beauty.  It stretches from Jamestown Island to the Yorktown beaches; 23 scenic miles of Virginia history linking the earliest settlements in our area.

This is a place where you feel the presence of the past.  Earthworks stretch away on both sides of the road, along the same creeks navigated by the First Nations.  Historic homes, some crumbling and some restored, still stand along the way.  Teams of archeologists continue to dig up clues about the people who also called this place ‘home.’

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Much of the Parkway rolls across bridges, through tunnels, and along the quiet banks of the James and its tributaries.  There is always something beautiful to find, no matter the season.

We watch the trees bud and bloom in spring.  Months later we see them turn bright reds and oranges before their leaves fall.

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First wildflowers of the season here.

First wildflowers of the season here.

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We watch for eagles’ nests, egrets, Canada geese and great blue herons.  In summer, we sometimes find a family of swans here on Jones Millpond.  It is always worth driving this way to have a look.

We study the marshes for turtles sunning themselves on logs, and count the chucks and rabbits grazing beside the road.

Wildflowers grow here in abundance each summer.  Frog song symphonies and birdsong and the hum of countless bees lull one into relaxation and peace.

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There is comfort in having such a road nearby.  It is a window to an earlier, quieter time.  And there is always some interesting sight waiting for watchful eyes to find.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say”

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J.R.R. Tolkien

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  The Road Taken

 

Three Herons

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We drove to Jamestown this weekend, and were quite delighted to spot more herons than usual along the way.  Their plumage blends quite subtly, this time of year, with the marshes they frequent; and so it takes a sharp eye, sometimes, to even notice them.

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Oftentimes we simply point them out to one another.  We don’t break the flow of our journey for a photo-stop.

And we are always pleased to see these most Zen-like birds.  Their calm and detachment belie a deep self-confidence, perhaps, that they will remain master of their circumstance.

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Where we find herons, we assume the water is fairly pure.  That is often said of rivers where Eagles nest.  They only live where the environment can support them in good health.

Eagles, herons, geese and ducks all make the James River and its James City County creeks their home.

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Sandy Bay, where all of this series of photos was taken. The distant bank, along the causeway to Jamestown Island, is where I stood to take the first several photos. An Osprey Eagle nest fils

Sandy Bay, where all of this series of photos was taken. The distant bank, along the causeway to Jamestown Island, is where I stood to take the first several photos. An Osprey Eagle nest fills the top of the Cypress tree on the far left.

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The herons remain alert.  They live in the moment, sensing all unfolding around them.  They always respond as I move closer to them with my clicking, flashing camera and not so light step.  And although they may wade further from shore, they rarely take flight at my approach.

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We admire these regal birds, and watch for them along the creeks and marshes near our home.

Finding them in abundance, as we did on Sunday afternoon, lends a certain luster to a late winter afternoon.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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WPC: Shadow

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“How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow?

I must have a dark side also If I am to be whole”

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C.G. Jung

 

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Shadow

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“There is strong shadow where there is much light.”

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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

WPC: New Horizon

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Krista challenges, in this week’s Photo Challenge, to look ahead to new horizons.  What will the new year hold?

These trees, which grow beside the Colonial Parkway, always enchant me.  They bring to mind a Greek myth about hospitality,  life long love and friendship.

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A devoted couple,  Baucis and Philemon , showed hospitality to strangers; sharing freely from the little that they had.  Eventually they realized that the strangers in their home were in reality,  Zeus and Hermes, who had come down to Earth in disguise.

Hospitality was the rule in those days, and because of their kindness to strangers, the couple was saved when their town was destroyed.  Their home was transformed into a temple, and they were granted their wish live out their lives as priest and priestess serving in the temple.   Granted a final blessing from their visitors, Baucis and Philemon asked that upon their death they might be transformed into intertwining trees, to spend eternity together.

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Mistletoe lives anchored to the branches of the trees. The trees and mistletoe form a symbiotic community.

Mistletoe lives anchored to the branches of the trees. The trees and mistletoe form a living, ever growing community.

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This story reminds us not only of the importance of hospitality and kindness to strangers, but also of the beauty of community with those we love.

Friends, neighbors, and family grow together over the years, reaching out to one another again and again as lives weave together in the fabric of community.  And this is what I hope for in the year ahead, as my relationships with friends and loved ones deepen and grow richer through the experiences we share.

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You see not only these two trees, and the mistletoe growing from their branches; but also a bit of woods along the horizon.  We all are surrounded by a rich community.  It is up to us to reach out to others, explore the landscape, and find our own place within it.

My partner and I were taking some time together enjoying a beautiful December afternoon when we stopped to photograph these special trees.  There is no official parking place nearby, and so he had pulled over on the shoulder, waiting patiently for me to get these photos with one eye in the mirror watching for traffic.

It was a quiet afternoon, and the few cars took no offense at us stopped by the roadway.  But I appreciate him taking this chance on my behalf.  We both admired the color along the horizon, touched by golden sunshine, here on the banks of the James River.

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These beautiful and graceful trees remind us to reach beyond our current limits.  To reach out to those we love, and to continue reaching higher and higher towards the limitless, infinite universe which pulses all around us.

For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  New Horizon

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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Our A Forest Garden 2017 gardening calendar is filled with photos taken in our garden over the past year. 

To order a copy, write to me at woodlandgnome@zoho.com.

WPC: Relax

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“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life,

live in the moment, live in the breath.”

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Amit Ray

This week’s photo challenge invites us to share photos of what helps us to relax.

What a wonderful gift!  and what a marvelous way to stop and catch our breath after this first week of the ‘Christmas season.’

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“Your calm mind is the ultimate weapon

against your challenges. So relax.”

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Bryant McGill

This December presents many of us with gnarly challenges.  As if  we weren’t already stressed enough this year with global politics; that still plays in the background as we scramble with holiday  plans; Cyber week sales; finishing projects at work or at school; and still the ongoing dramas of our daily lives.  Whew! 

Let’s relax a little, already!

My stress was multiplied this week by a demented phone.  I can’t quite remember what year I got it… it’s that old.  But its dementia began the day before Thanksgiving.  Suddenly it dropped calls, or made them on its own without my touch.  Sometimes the voice activation program turned itself on… and I couldn’t disable it or turn it off.  I kept getting messages from friends and family about my phone calling theirs, unbidden, and had to leave it mostly off.

When I took it to my carrier’s store on Monday they offered no help at all, except to shame me for my old phone.  Wouldn’t I like to consider payment plans for a new one?

I overheard one of the other agents calmly explaining to her I Pad customer that while the new phones were only designed to last a year or two, she might get as much as five years of service were she to buy a new I Pad.  Really?  With the new phones costing over $600.00?  Really?

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“I wish you water.”

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Wallace J. Nichols

After an hour of negotiation and resolve, one of the nice young agents hearing my conversation with the store’s manager suggested a great little LG basic phone which would do only what I need it to do.  It is a sleeker nicer model of the one I’ve had.  And yes, they had to special order it.  It’s too obsolete to keep in stock….

And best of all, it didn’t require me to take out a payment plan.  I could actually afford to just pay for it.

I finally picked up my new phone on Thursday afternoon.  It is something in between a Wal Mart ‘burner’ and a handheld computer, and I am glad to have it.  A little stress finally resolved…

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And that is when my partner and I both took a few deep breaths, and headed to the Colonial Parkway.  We headed to that special place where we can relax and just ‘be’ for a little while.  Sunset’s golden light lit the scene, quiet now in early December.  Only a few of us locals head out this way so late in the year, keeping company with the shore birds and park rangers.

We watched sun and water, admired the fall color still clinging here and there on the trees, and took a moment to celebrate our success.

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This is a long and tiring month, December.  We have lots we want to do, and lots we need to do before Christmas comes and a new year dawns next month.

And I’m sure you have a lot on your mind, too.  And so let us take just a moment to breathe; to let a bit of peace seep into out souls.

We have only to pause, to let ourselves relax,  and appreciate the beauties of the world around us.

And then we get back to work…..

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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“The Warrior knows that no man is an island.
He cannot fight alone; whatever his plan,

he depends on other people.

He needs to discuss his strategy, to ask for help,

and, in moments of relaxation, to have someone

with whom he can sit by the fire,

someone he can regale with tales of battle.”

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Paulo Coelho

For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Relax

Wednesday Vignettes: The Path

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“All we have to decide is what to do

with the time that is given us.”


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Gandalf

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“Courage will now be your best defense

against the storm that is at hand-

—that and such hope as I bring.”


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Gandalf

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“For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

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Gandalf

 

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Halfway Creek

Halfway Creek

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“This is your realm,

and the heart of the greater realm that shall be.

The Third Age of the world is ended,

and the new age is begun; and it is your task

to order its beginning and to preserve

what must be preserved.

For though much has been saved,

much must now pass away;…”

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Gandalf

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Jamestown

Jamestown

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“However it may prove,

one must tread the path that need chooses!”

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Gandalf

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

 

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“He that breaks a thing to find out what it is

has left the path of wisdom.”

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all quotations from  J.R.R. Tolkien

 

 

 

Sunday Dinner: Flow

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“Be like water making its way through cracks.

Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object,

and you shall find a way round or through it.

If nothing within you stays rigid,

outward things will disclose themselves.

Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water.

If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup.

You put water into a bottle

and it becomes the bottle.

You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot.

Now, water can flow or it can crash.

Be water my friend.”

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Bruce Lee

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We have watched more rain fall in the last two days than I can ever recall.  If  ‘we’ includes every soul from Jamaica to Maryland, then we have perhaps witnessed the most rainfall in recorded history.

It’s ironic that the Daily Post chose “H2O”  as the theme for their Weekly Photo Challenge on Friday, as Hurricane Matthew chewed up the Caribbean and the East Coast of the US.

Ocean swallowed land, breaking up buildings and piers like tinker toys.  Waves crashed over sea walls and battered against homes and hotels.  Historic, torrential rains have washed away hillsides and towns.

Here, the water flowed.  We are blessed with a topography which can handle rain.

But all around us  in Virginia and North Carolina, at the northern edge of this great storm, it rose.  We watched streets become ponds and roads float away, carrying so much of people’s lives and livelihoods on the rising tide.

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We watched this on TV and the internet, of course; here, we simply watched water run in sheets across the streets, fill the ditches  and puddle on the patio.

We drove to Jamestown late yesterday afternoon, watching the river rise to the top of its banks and the creeks and marshes fill like bathtubs.  Herons stood along the shallows,  gazing with curiosity at the rising tide.

Yesterday, the world was wet and grey.  The clouds hung low and spewed sheets of water from sea to land.  And now the storms have moved away.  The sun was out here by this afternoon.

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And with sunlight comes every beautiful color of the day:  blue sky, golden flowers, green leaves and shiny patches of lichen on the dark wet bark of trees.

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Water teaches the lesson of change.  As it changes forms itself, so it also changes everything it touches.  Judging ‘good’ or ‘bad’ sometimes begs more questions than it settles.  Even the lack of water, a summer drought, shows us this truth.

And so we learn to flow, like water; to adapt, to reflect, to adjust, and to persist.  And above all, to hope to nourish and refresh with  our very presence.

What can hurt can also heal; what can destroy is also the basic unit of every living thing.

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September 5, 2016 Parkway 008

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Woodland Gnome 2016

 

 

 

For the Daily Post’s

One Word Photo Challenge:  H2O

Late Summer Golden Haze

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Like living sunshine, waves of golden flowers splash across the meadows at the Yorktown battlefields.  We found a quintessential meadow planting, windsown, as we drove through this patchwork of fields and fences, earthworks and reminders of the battles where the British finally surrendered to the Americans in October of 1781.

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Tall native grasses grow in an Oudolph style matrix, punctuated by native  Solidago catching and reflecting the late summer sunlight.  Peaceful now, these fields stand empty as a silent memorial to the passions which bought liberty for our United States.

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The Yorktown battlefields lie at the Eastern end of the Colonial Parkway.  Beyond the fields one finds the little village of Yorktown on the Southern bank of the York River.   We visit from time to time, enjoying the waterfront which hosts concerts, craft fairs, sailing ships and a pleasing variety of restaurants and shops.  Families relax along its sandy beach.

Here, time blurs.  Present day life blends seamlessly with artifacts and memories of the past.

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We enjoy the peace which permeates this place now.  And we enjoy seeing the seasons painting their colors across the fields and trees; the gardens in the village; the river and sky.

Goldenrod is one of the highlights of late summer and autumn here.  This is the wild, native Goldenrod.  While gardeners can purchase several more refined hybrids for their gardens, this is the same Goldenrod the early colonists and Native Americans would have known.

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It grows freely, still, along roadsides throughout our area.  Like so many ‘native perennials,’ Solidago may be seen as a wildflower by some, a weed by others.

It seeds take root in unexpected places.  In fact, native Solidago grows in one of our shrub borders.  Once I realized what it was, I began leaving it to grow undisturbed each year.  It grows very tall in this shaded area.

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While a bit weedy, it feeds many pollinators now at the end of the season, and its beautiful clear golden flowers brighten even the dullest autumn day.

In large masses, Goldenrod creates a lovely late summer golden haze; living, growing sunshine which  brightens the last few weeks of the season.

More on growing Goldenrod

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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