Sunday Dinner: Community

November 6, 2015 Parkway 101

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“Everybody is a story.

When I was a child, people sat around kitchen tables

and told their stories. We don’t do that so much anymore.

Sitting around the table telling stories

is not just a way of passing time.

It is the way the wisdom gets passed along.

The stuff that helps us to live a life worth remembering.”


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Rachel Naomi Remen

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“I alone cannot change the world,

but I can cast a stone across the waters

to create many ripples.”


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Mother Teresa

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“One of the marvelous things about community

is that it enables us to welcome and help people

in a way we couldn’t as individuals.

When we pool our strength

and share the work and responsibility,

we can welcome many people,

even those in deep distress,

and perhaps help them find

self-confidence and inner healing.”


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Jean Vanier

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“The world is so empty if one thinks only

of mountains, rivers & cities;

but to know someone who thinks & feels with us,

and who, though distant, is close to us in spirit,

this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden.”


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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

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In Case You Didn’t Make It…..

The causeway at Jone's Pond, along the Colonial Parkway in York County.

The causeway at Jones Pond, along the Colonial Parkway in York County.

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Just in case you didn’t make it to our beautiful area to drive along the Colonial Parkway this year, I’ll share a few of our photos from yesterday.

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Escapees from the Gospel Spreading Farm along the Parkway, near Jamestown Island.

Escapees from the Gospel Spreading Farm along the Parkway, near Jamestown Island.

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We are always astounded to notice license plates and see how far visitors have traveled just to spend a few days here, near Williamsburg.

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Sandy Bay, at the bridge onto Jamestown Island.

Sandy Bay, near the bridge onto Jamestown Island.

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It is one of the prettiest drives in the country, beginning at Jamestown on the James River and ending up on the beaches of Yorktown.  All along the way one enjoys beautiful vistas of the water, beaches, marshes, and of  course beautiful trees.  Modern life is mostly screened out as one travels along this historic road, through national park land, where eagles nest and herons fish by the side of the road.

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The path to a beach along the James River; a favorite spot for fishing and sunbathing.

The path to a beach along the James River; a favorite spot for fishing and sunbathing.

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Yesterday was a perfect autumn day; bright, golden, warmish and alive with bright colors and leaves swirling to the ground on the breeze.  It was the sort of day one fondly remembers in early February when the world has grown drab and frozen.

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Jones Pond

Jones Pond

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Yesterday was the kind of day relished by a dear friend, who left us last Monday.  His memorial service was at mid-day yesterday, and we were deeply grateful that the sun shone on him one more time.

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We drove along the familiar road remembering him, and remembering the many times we encountered one another at the various stops along the Parkway.

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We felt a need to appreciate the day all the more keenly in the wake of his loss, to soak in all of the color and life of this special place, in fond remembrance of those who have left us this year.

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College Creek at Archer's Hope

College Creek at Archer’s Hope

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So in case you haven’t gotten out leaf gazing this autumn, I hope you will enjoy these photos from our drive yesterday.

And if the trees in your community still hold scarlet and orange, screaming Ginko yellow or Gum tree purple;  please take a moment to simply appreciate the beauty of the day, the wonders unfolding around you.

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All we every truly have is ‘Now,’ and the only place we truly live is ‘Here;’ wherever your ‘here’ and ‘now’ might be.

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Please taste the sweetness of the joys each day offers us.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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Copper: River Beach, Low Tide

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We stopped at the beach right at sunset, Sunday afternoon.

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It was the lowest tide we can recall ever seeing on this beach along the James River.  It was eerie, how far the river flowed from its usual banks.

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The moon was full, which may account for the unusually low tide.  Whatever the reason, I wanted to capture the beauty of the river, the beach, and the evening.

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It was warm on Sunday, and even as clouds blew in at sunset the breezes off the water remained comfortable.  How nice to wander the beach without shivering!

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Eagles filled the air, hunting and calling to one another.  Gulls zoomed overhead, streamlined bodies looking like jets.  Geese honked in the distance.

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Two Osprey’s investigated a tree, considering whether to continue building their nest.  This battered tree has held a nest every spring for years now.

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There are many coppery tones glinting in these photos.  Jenny gave the option to use the color ‘copper’ with or without its metallic sheen.  Perhaps it was the setting sun, or perhaps just the old bits seldom seen, which seem coppery along the beach.

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Appreciation, as always, to Jennifer Nichole Wells for her One Word Photo Challenge:  Copper.

This is the next to last week for Jenny’s color challenge.  Soon her challenge will shift from colors to the weather.  If you follow the link back to Jenny’s post, you’ll find links to other wonderful photos featuring ‘copper.’

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

Winter’s Last Stand?

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Is it too early to hope we’ve seen the last of frozen marshes and piles of freshly shoveled snow?  The optimist in my heart wants this breath of spring to last; the daffodils to open, fruit trees to bloom, and weather to settle into comfortably warm days and nights.  Long experience living in this region tells me it is too early to relax winter’s vigilance.  We’ve had snow here into April, and Easter often dawns wet and cold.

But Saturday eventually warmed up a little by late afternoon.  It was a sunny day, if windy; and I was convinced, after several promptings, to join my partner in a drive to see what we could see.

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We headed towards Jamestown on the Parkway.  There seemed nothing new to see.  No nesting eagles; no budding trees.  Only puddles, snow piles, bare trees, and icy marshes presented themselves to my winter jaded eyes.  I was having difficulty finding the beauty of the day.

But we persevered, and had gotten onto Jamestown Island when a pair of geese, standing near the shore, inspired me to leave the warmth of our car.

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As I scampered down the bank, avoiding mud and ice as much as I was able, they began paddling out into the creek.  There were no clear shots through the underbrush and trees.  And there was no dry path to the water’s edge.

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But as I was almost giving up, I spotted a Great Blue Heron wading in the shallows on the other side.

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After one photo he saw me, too; and I got off on more shot as he took wing.

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At least we had found where the birds were sheltering.  And we found bright swollen buds on a few trees here and there, even as their roots disappeared under a stubborn layer of briny ice.

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It hasn’t dropped below freezing here for nearly three days now.  Songbirds fill our garden, and we hear the hoots of owls and honks of geese and urgent calls of hawks circling overhead.

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More daffodils break through the soil each day to start their climb towards the sun.

Have you noticed that seasons never change with any real clarity?  Even though we turn the page on our calendar, and the Weather Channel actors declare “Meteorological Spring,” (a term I never heard until a few weeks ago); the actual melting of one season into the other remain a bit fuzzy.

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There is always the in-between time of see-sawing back and forth from warm to cold to hot to chill before we settle back into the new routines.

Yet every small step towards spring brings joy. 

The pond behind our house has nearly thawed.  The piles of snow beside our drive are nearly melted.  We saw a robin pluck a living, wiggling worm out of the front lawn this morning.  Sunshine pours in through the windows, and I found freshly grown sprouts and leaves on the catmint when I cut it back this morning.

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We hope this melt is the last of the season, and that we can get on with the business of welcoming spring.

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“Real” astronomical spring won’t arrive until March 20, late next week.  Friends in Oregon post that they are a full month ahead and enjoying unusually warm, strangely dry weather for March.

We are watching the sky, the birds, the trees and The Weather Channel, hoping we have already survived winter’s last blast for this year.  I’m still a little skeptical….

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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

Keeping Company

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Keeping company just makes it feel warmer, sometimes.  Sitting close, holding hands; flocking together. 

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We took off together this afternoon, with the world slowly melting around us back towards its normal self.  We wanted to see the familiar landscape of the Colonial Parkway under snow.

Silly us thought we’d have the place to ourselves.

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But no, lots of others had the same idea today; flocking together along the snow-narrowed roads between frozen “guard rails” of snow pushed up by the plows.

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Save for the sky, it was a “black and white” world of bare trees and pristine snow.  And birds.  Flocks of birds blown up the James from the coast filled the shallows of Sandy Bay, keeping one another company, and hoping for a bit of warmth from the sun.

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Snow still covers the sandy beach along the James River, but two sunny days in a row have melted much of the ice cover off of the waterways.  Sheets of ice still cling along shaded north facing banks and snow still covers the push ups in the marsh.

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Can you imagine snuggling up with your mate in a winter home of frozen mud?  I shiver just thinking of it, knowing that each of these snow-covered push-ups houses a sleeping family of muskrats waiting out the weather.

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Saturday’s sunshine brought us out of our hibernation for a few hours.

It was enough to feel a little warmth against the still frozen winds whipping off of the river. The urge to get out and move again is intense, and we were only a little surprised to share the road with bicyclists in thermal suits today.  Their happiness in the sunny day was contagious.

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Longer days send their own signals to the trees, and many show swelling and opening buds despite the snow.  We’re nearly at the spring equinox, coming very soon in the third week of March.  Daylight Savings Time starts again next weekend, believe it or not.

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Each passing day brings us a little more light; a little more solar warmth  in spite of the wintery weather map.

But wintery it is, still.  Snow melting off of our roof refreezes into hanging icicles.

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The waterways will be solid ice again by morning, and the roads will be icy, too.  Probably a good day to stay at home, and keep one another company.

 

Woodland Gnome 2015

Thanksgiving : Converge

Weekly Photo Challenge: Converge

In response to The Daily Post’s WPC: “Converge.”

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“Do not spoil what you have

by desiring what you have not;

remember that what you now have

was once among the things you only hoped for.”

Epicurus

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Early yesterday morning, when it was still barely light outside, I began this post.  I had found the quotations and begun working with photos when I realized my allotted time had elapsed.

It was time to slice the roasted sweet potatoes and layer them with fresh orange juice and maple syrup, sprinkle them with spice, and assemble all of the bits and pieces we planned to take with us to Thanksgiving dinner across the state.

And that is how yesterday’s post landed in my “drafts”  file, photo-less and unfinished.  And Thanksgiving day slipped into “Black Friday.” 

I enjoy the irony of  how only in America the nationally declared “Day of Thanksgiving” shifted; in my lifetime, may I add; to the national weekend of greed.

Our Thanksgiving Day passes more in contemplation of what wonderful deals we’ll score on Friday than it does in appreciation for the blessings we already enjoy.

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“True happiness is to enjoy the present,

without anxious dependence upon the future,

not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears

but to rest satisfied with what we have,

which is sufficient,

for he that is so wants nothing.

The greatest blessings of mankind

are within us and within our reach.

A wise man is content with his lot,

whatever it may be,

without wishing for what he has not.”

Seneca

There was a time, when my daughter was little, when I headed out before dawn each Friday after Thanksgiving with a list and a plan. 

It was honestly the best way to make the Christmas budget stretch to cover all of those extended family members I wanted to remember, and also have a beautiful stack of gifts for my own daughter and husband at the same time.

These were the days before online shopping was so accessible; Amazon wasn’t an option and I still shopped the tool sales at our local Sears store.

I’ve watched the “wave” of shopping mania swell, crest, and perhaps begin to subside a bit.

Many of us wait now for “Cyber-Monday.”  And even more of us have noticed that desperate retailers continue to offer deals and specials right up through Christmas Eve.

Some of the urgency has dissipated to grab the “Door-Busters.”  Wiser shoppers watch and wait… like a skilled hunter… knowing a better shot will come at that important purchase.

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But stepping back a bit for the wider view, we’re still in the mind-set of acquisition rather than appreciation. 

Our environment has conditioned us to participate in an all-out shopping extravaganza in December.  And at some point we’ll purchase most anything, even a ridiculous bit of merchandise at an insane price just to have a splashy “gift” for someone.  (Yes, I’ve been reading those catalogs again.  The photos of $30 cheese logs and $50 holiday cakes are horribly fascinating for some unknown reason.)

And that is how we came to find ourselves on the Colonial Parkway this morning enjoying the sunshine and taking photos rather than shopping.  That’s right.  I didn’t even shop my favorite spots online this morning.  It was a matter of principle for me today.

“Piglet noticed that even though

he had a Very Small Heart,

it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”

― A.A. Milne

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We wanted to appreciate the gorgeous day, the gift of health and well being, and the joy of spending time together this morning.  We dressed warmly and set out before breakfast, while the world remained ice-clad.

It is our intention to simplify the gifting aspect of Christmas this year.   We believe the spirit of giving is a year-round endeavor; not to be saved for holidays only.

We’ve also realistically realized that our family members are more in need of time and attention at the moment than merchandise.

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Yet shopping is a hard habit to break.  I’ve dipped into several online retailers today.  And promptly clicked out without purchase from all but one.

And to be honest with you, the purchases I made at that bookstore, with their coupon, were mostly for us.  Yes, I took advantage of the deals today to get a CD of Pete Seeger singing folk songs for my infant granddaughter, but that is the only “gift” so far today.

What about you?  Are you shopping today?  And if you are, were your purchases gifts for yourself, or for others?

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Powhatan Creek empties into Sandy Bay here.  The heron stands off to the right.

Powhatan Creek empties into Sandy Bay here.  The heron stands off to the right.

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I’ve longed suspected that a lot of the shopping done in December is personal shopping.  The car commercials are the most brazen in admitting this, by far.  But I suspect that many of us wait for the deals of December to get the things we’ve wanted for ourselves for a while.

Which brings us back to Thanksgiving; and the holiday’s roots in appreciation for simple survival through life-threatening hardships.

We’ve come a stretch as a nation since those early settlement days.  And we’ve come a long way as a culture from idealism to consumerism.

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Looking back at the same trees from the other side of Sandy Bay.

Looking back at the same trees from the other side of Sandy Bay.

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“Cultivate the habit of being grateful

for every good thing that comes to you,

and to give thanks continuously.

 

And because all things

have contributed to your advancement,

you should include all things

in your gratitude.”

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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My daughter, who works in retail at the moment, just called to tell me her store more than doubled its sales goal last night.  It was their first year to open in the afternoon on Thanksgiving.

They sold more yesterday evening than I made in my first two years of teaching combined. 

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A loon, and proud of it....

A loon, and proud of it….

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I have noticed that I feel far more peace and happiness when I’m enjoying those things already in my life than when I’m on the hunt for something new.

And that may be the best reason I can offer for spending today still  focused on gratitude and Thanksgiving.

We may go buy our Christmas tree tomorrow.  But we plan to simply enjoy the moment today.

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WPC:  Converge

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Powhatan Creek

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Powhatan Creek winds its way for nine miles  through southern James City County; a narrow and twisted passage of dark brown crystal clear water which threads through neighborhoods and crosses the Colonial Parkway before reaching the marshes of Sandy Bay and the Black River,  finally emptying into The James at The Thoroughfares.

Fed by natural springs, Powhatan Creek’s water  gets its dark color from tannins released by Bald Cypress trees which line its banks and grow in the swampland it feeds.

 

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The lower portion of the creek is tidal, with salt water from the James River mixing with the creek’s fresh water as the tides shift each day.

Bald Cypress trees, abundant along Powhatan Creek,  earn their name from their appearance in winter.

 

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One of the few deciduous conifers, their needles turn rusty brown each autumn  and then blow away in autumn’s winds.  They produce new leaves each spring.

 

A Bald Cypress limb with cones, ready to drop its needles for winter.

A Bald Cypress limb with cones, ready to drop its needles for winter.

This annual shedding of needles into the  waters where they grow,  keeps the creek very acid.  It doesn’t grow stagnant, although it is often slow moving and shallow.

Bald Cypress may grow where their roots are submerged year round, in tidal swamps, along the margins of ponds, rivers and creeks, as well as on dry land.  And they harbor many species of wildlife.

 

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Powhatan Creek, rich in Cypress, pine, hardwoods, and many species of berry producing shrubs,  provides habitat for an abundance of wildlife.

Seven species of game fish; many species of birds, including bald eagles and great blue herons; snakes, turtles, frogs, deer, beaver and other small mammals call this rich ecosystem home.

James City County’s Powhatan Creek Park, just off of Jamestown Road, offers a good access point for the creek.

 

Along the path from the parking area to the boat ramp and docks.

Along the path from the parking area to the boat ramp and docks.

 

A good sized  graveled parking lot provides access to a boat ramp, trails, and several fishing platforms along the bank.  This is where we visit to take photos of this beautiful part of the Creek.

There is no charge to put a canoe or kayak into the creek here, and one may paddle upstream towards freshwater marshes at the Creek’s source, or downstream towards the Colonial Parkway, Jamestown Island, the the James River.

It is wise to check the tides before heading downstream, as the current grows stronger as you near the river.  It is always wise to come prepared for the weather and for hours out in a swamp.  You will  be surprised by the creatures you encounter along the way!

There is also a Powhatan Creek walking and biking trail , maintained by the county, which ties into other nearby trails and greenways.

 

This Bald Cypress, in the middle of the creek, is one of the tallest in James City County.

This Bald Cypress, in the middle of the creek, is one of the tallest in James City County.

Powhatan Creek has remained fairly undisturbed over the years of our county’s development.  For one thing, it has a wide flood plain.  The ground isn’t good for building, and much of it is protected by the National Park service.

As you might guess, Powhatan Creek was  named for the leader of the nation of native Americans who lived on this land for centuries before the 1607 English settlers arrived.  Native Americans  depended on this waterway for food and used it as a major route for travel.

The early colonists used the Creek to travel inland, as well, and it has remained an important part of our county’s legacy and natural resources.

And it remains important to us today as a relatively untouched natural greenspace, still teeming with beautiful plants and unusual animals.  It remains an intact ecosystem, and one open for us to visit and enjoy.

 

 

Powhatan Creek, early December 2013

Powhatan Creek, early December 2013

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

One Word Photo Challenge: Clear

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Jennifer’s challenge this week to photograph “clear” feels like a Zen koan to me.  On the face of it, it sounds impossible.

Clear is well, clear; an absence of anything which would stop the light.

 

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We see colors because of the wavelengths of light reflected back to our eyes.  When no-thing stops and reflects that light back to us, we perceive clarity, emptiness, openness: space.

How does one photograph what one can not see?

 

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I’ve been thinking about this paradox throughout the day.  Especially thinking of it while taking photos this morning and puttering about the garden this afternoon.

And finally the camera showed me a possible response.

You see through the spaces between objects. 

 

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You see clear space between the limbs of a tree.  The limbs define the clear and open area. 

As do stalks of grass,showing us the clear and open spaces between them.

And so my answer to Jennifer’s challenge is more about framing space than about photographing anything of a particular color.

 

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Perhaps you may believe this is a negative answer to Jennifer’s challenge;  but sometimes we find clarity in what is missing. 

When we open up spaces in our minds and in our lives; when we reframe the view in a novel way; it brings clarity of insight.

 

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And so I’m showing you the clear open space between things. 

Not empty space, mind you.

 

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The space is still full of billions of particles zipping about at speeds and wavelengths  beyond our ability to perceive them.

But since our vision penetrates the spaces, they are, for us,  clear.

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

With appreciation to Jennifer Nichole Wells

and her

One Word Photo Challenge:  Clear

Water Views

 

College Creek, a tributary of the James River.

College Creek, a tributary of the James River.

 

Forest Garden, and all of the Williamsburg area in fact, exist on a series of peninsulas.

We sometimes joke about living on “Williamsburg Island,” because water surrounds our area.

 

The York River, to our north.

The York River, to our north.

 

The Chesapeake Bay divides us from the Delmarva Peninsula, and then the Atlantic Ocean rolls in further east.

Our little finger of land is bound by the York River to the north and the James River to our south.

 

The James River, to our south

The James River, to our south

 

There are so many little creeks and ponds, bays, tributaries, reservoirs and rivers that we cross numerous bridges, large and small, to go anywhere.

Even our “Peninsula”, the term for our area on the local evening news, has its own little peninsulas.

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Our geography is formed by flowing water and the tides.  

Much of the real estate is at sea level here.

On Jamestown Island, where archeologiests race with the rising river to complete their work.

On Jamestown Island, where archeologists race with the rising river to complete their work.

 

That would be the rapidly rising sea level, caused in part by subsidence;  sinking land all around the Chesapeake Bay.

Fringes of marsh border most of the dry land here.

The banks of our main rivers and creeks were recently “hardened” by government contractors bringing in truckloads of granite rock to hold the land in place.

 

Powhatan Creek

Powhatan Creek

Rock is something we rarely see here, unless it has been imported.

Far more frequently, we see shells.

In fact, it is commonplace to find oyster shells dropped over the garden by a snacking bird.

 

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We love the water. 

We love watching its changing moods, and the quality of light reflecting from its surface at all times of day and in all sorts of weather.

Jones Mill Pond

Jones Mill Pond

 

We enjoy watching the changing year reflected in the water which surrounds our home.

 

Passmore Creek

Passmore Creek

 

Like all of the elements on Earth, water can be life-giving or deadly;  destructive or beautiful.

 

Indian Field Creek

Indian Field Creek

 

Yet we are drawn to live near flowing water.

Our bits of forest are always bounded by water.

 

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And those waterways were once the highways here.

In earlier times, before our modern roads were built, most travel was by small boat.

The Colonial Parkway skirts or crosses many waterways on its journey from Jamestown on the James to Yorktown on the York RIver.

The Colonial Parkway skirts or crosses many waterways on its journey from Jamestown on the James to Yorktown on the York RIver.

 

Most homes were built near water, and the waterways provided a rich variety of clams and oysters, fish, duck, and goose for food.

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And so we still are drawn to drink in the beauty of the water views which surround us.

Never attracted to inland life, we find happiness on the edges where land and water meet.

 

College Creek, explored by the Spanish in the late 16th Century, was passed over for settlement by the 1607 English colonists who chose Jamestown instead.

College Creek, explored by the Spanish in the late 16th Century, was passed over for settlement by the 1607 English colonists, who chose Jamestown instead.

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

GetMap.ashx

Golden October Afternoon

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The sun slips towards the horizon

A bit earlier

On golden October afternoons.

 

 

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As days grow shorter,

Sol  stays lower in the sky.

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Its rays oblique,

Somehow gentler,

Touching the world with golden fingers of light.

 

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Golden rays illuminate each stalk and leaf,

Penetrating,

Lingering,

Glowing;

 

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Soft halos of light

Consecrate the commonplace.

 

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A loving “Farewell,”

As light slip towards darkness.

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Night gains a few more moments

At each day’s close.

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Sol climbs lower with each passing day,

Paler, cooler,

softer somehow.

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And Earth glows golden at the parting,

Basking in the  gifts each illumined moment brings,

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Burnished bright,

Transmuted by the light,

Prepared  for winter’s long windswept nights.

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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

 

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