Knowing Winter

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“One can follow the sun, of course,
but I have always thought that it is best
to know some winter, too,
so that the summer, when it arrives,
is the more gratefully received.”
Beatriz Williams

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Much of North America lies frozen this week beneath a layer of icy whiteness.  Weather maps on TV are clothed in shades of blue, purple and white.  It is a respite from this year’s heat, perhaps, and a novelty for those who enjoy winter.

Here in Williamsburg, in coastal Virginia, we see temperatures drop below the mid-twenties only occasionally, and not every year.  But we are also in the midst of this Arctic cold snap at the moment.  There is a chance for snow tomorrow evening.

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The garden, and the larger world are frozen tight and hard this week.  Those winter faring plants I potted up so carefully last month sit brittle, a bit limp and desiccated in their pots today despite the brilliant sun shining on them.  I gave each pot a bit of tap water yesterday afternoon, hoping to thaw the soil long enough for roots to draw a bit of moisture in to the thirsty plants.

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We’ve wrapped our olive trees in clear plastic bags and set them in the warmest corner of our front patio, where they capture the mid-day sun.  They’ve grown too large now to bring indoors each winter.  We hope they make it through to warmer days ahead.

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But there is only so much anyone can do when such bitter cold blows in to one’s neighborhood.  The lowest temperature we’ve seen here since Christmas was 12F.  It feels a bit odd to cheer on the mercury to climb through the 20s, hoping it might actually make it up to 32F before the evening chill returns.

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But such is our life at the moment, and so we have decided to enjoy the novelty of it.  It is the season to trot out one’s heavy sweaters and gloves, and possibly even a jacket.  I had forgotten which drawer our gloves got put away in last spring, and needed a reminder.  A pair now live in my bag, ready to pull on whenever I step outside into this frosty world.

But clad in hat and gloves, wool and pashmina and jeans, I set off to capture photos of ice today.  My partner kept the car warm and idling while I scampered about on the banks of Mill Creek and the James River in search of ice sculptures.

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The wind was almost quiet, and the sun blazing bright and glinting off the frozen marshes.  It was nearly 24F as I captured these photos today.

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We were delighted to find eagles flying in lazy circles above us and large congregations of geese gathered along the roadsides.  I could hear waterfowl splashing into the creek in search of lunch as I picked my way down the frozen trail to the water’s edge.

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A heron clung to a branch along the bank, watching as gulls dove into the creek and ducks cavorted along its glassy surface.

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Halves of minnows, cut up by some intrepid fisher-person for bait, lay scattered about on the sandy beach.  Frozen hard, they held no appeal for the foraging birds around us.

I marvel at the sight of spray cloaked grasses and ice glazed stones.  The river and creeks here are tidal, and the rising and falling water and windblown spray make for ever-changing textures along their banks.

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Sheets of ice get pushed up in the marshes on the incoming tide, and slushy brackish water takes on odd hues in the wintery light.

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Our oddly frozen world dreams this week in weirdly grotesque forms.  Frozen soil pushes up in the garden, heaving fragile root balls not properly mulched and insulated against the cold.  Ice crystals sprout from stems and leaves in the first light of morning.

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Only the birds appear impervious to the cold.  Small flocks of blackbirds gather on the frozen grass.  Songbirds hop about in the trees as we pass.  I wonder at the mysteries of nature which allow them to survive such frigid weather.

Whether sitting on the ground, swimming in the frozen creeks or gliding on a current of air, they appear almost comfortable.  This is a great gift they enjoy, and that we do not.

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We are mostly watching through the window panes to see how the rest of this month unfolds.  Our cat spends long hours dozing, curled up in a blanket on the couch.  He shows no interest in exploration beyond his food bowl at the moment.

Surely the world will soon be slick and white if the forecast is to be believed, and our garden will slumber on under a bit more insulation as we dream of spring.

Yet, in this moment, we know winter; and see its beauties all around us.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“There is an instinctive withdrawal for the sake of preservation,
a closure that assumes the order of completion.
Winter is a season unto itself.”
.
Haruki Murakami

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New

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“If you want something new,
you have to stop doing something old”
.
Peter F. Drucker
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“The secret to so many artists living so long
is that every painting is a new adventure.
So, you see, they’re always looking ahead
to something new and exciting.
The secret is not to look back.”
.
Norman Rockwell

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“Change is the end of something you know
and the beginning of something else
that you don’t know.
Something new that holds opportunities.”
.
Kholoud Yasser

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“It is only when we are ready
to give up on some things in our lives
that we could receive new things.”
.
Sunday Adelaja

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“So may the New Year be a happy one to you,
happy to many more
whose happiness depends on you!”
.
Charles Dickens
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Photos by Woodland Gnome
January 1, 2018
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What I am reading this week:  Garden Revolution by Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher

Weaner and Christopher captivated my interest on the first page.  Theirs is a practical philosophy of gardening, which guides our doings and our not-doings.  They garden to guide a thriving eco-system in the proud tradition of  Doug Tallamy and Rachel Carson.

Many thanks to my dear friend who gifted me with a fresh copy of Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home last week, inspiring me to remind myself of its important guidance.

I am reading these books now to focus on the bigger picture of why I garden,  ahead of beginning my Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener training class next week.

These authors remind us that often less is more; that cooperation with nature always adds value to our efforts, and sparks hope for our ecosystem and the continued viability of life on our planet.

January is my favorite time of year to study gardening books and catalogs.  If you use these frosty days and long winter nights for study, too; I invite you to take a look at these inspiring volumes.

Sunday Dinner: Retrospective

January 2017, Jones Millpond

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“That’s what pictures are for, after all:
to stand in place of the things that weren’t left behind,
to bear witness to people and places and things
that might otherwise go unnoticed.”
.
John Darnielle
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February 2017 Powhatan Creek

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“In retrospect,
we can only be thankful
to all the mistakes that we made
and to all the lessons
that we learned from them!”
.
Avijeet Das
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March 2017 James River at Black Point

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“The Naga laughed softly, ‘There’s a thin line
that separates courage
from stupidity.  And that line
is only visible in retrospect, my friend.
If I’m successful,  people will call me brave.
If I fail, I will be called foolish.
Let me do what I think is right.
I’ll leave the verdict to the future.”
.
Amish Tripathi
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April 2017 York River

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“It is a simple
but sometimes forgotten truth
that the greatest enemy
to present joy and high hopes
is the cultivation
of retrospective bitterness.”
.
Robert Menzies
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May 2017 Jones Millpond

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“Remembrance of things past
is not necessarily
the remembrance of things as they were.”
.
Marcel Proust
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June 2017

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“Memory believes before knowing remembers.
Believes longer than recollects,
longer than knowing even wonders.”
.
William Faulkner
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August 2017 Powhatan Creek

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“Remember your connection with the cosmos.
Remember your connection with the infinity
and that remembrance
will give you the freedom.”
.
Amit Ray
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September 2017, a waterway on Jamestown Island

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

Wishing you happiness, prosperity, good health and good gardening in 2018!

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October 2017 The ‘D’ River empties into the Pacific Ocean

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“Photography is never real,
it’s merely one of many ways
of telling the truth.”
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John Thai
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November 2017

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“Ever poised on that cusp
between past and future,
we tie memories to souvenirs
like string to trees along life’s path,
marking the trail
in case we lose ourselves
around a bend of tomorrow’s road.”
.
Susan Lendroth
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December 2017

 

Sunday Dinner: In Peace

Christmas Eve morning in our garden

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“In the end, only three things matter:
how much you loved,
how gently you lived,
and how gracefully you let go of things
not meant for you.”
.
Gautama Buddha
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“There is no path to happiness: happiness is the path.”
.
Gautama Buddha
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“The day the power of love
overrules the love of power,
the world will know peace.”
.
Mahatma Gandhi
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“Truth is the same always.
Whoever ponders it
will get the same answer.
Buddha got it.
Patanjali got it.
Jesus got it.
Mohammed got it.
The answer is the same,
but the method of working it out
may vary this way or that.”
.
Swami Satchidananda
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“You are the community now.
Be a lamp for yourselves.
Be your own refuge.
Seek for no other.
All things must pass.
Strive on diligently.
Don’t give up.”
.
Gautama Buddha
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“As you walk and eat and travel,
be where you are.
Otherwise you will miss most of your life.”
.
Gautama Buddha
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“For the good of the many,
for the happiness of the many,
out of compassion for the world.”
.
Gautama Buddha
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Solstice Sunset

Powhatan Creek at sunset on Winter Solstice.

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Today we celebrate the Winter Solstice, that time of year when days are short and nights are long.  Our day in Williamsburg, Virginia, began at 7:17 AM with sunrise, and ended at 4:53 PM as the sun set.  Our day was nine hours and 36 minutes long today.

But, as I look at a table of sunrise and sunset times, I notice that yesterday, and everyday since last Sunday, has been exactly the same length.  The difference is that the sunrise was a minute or two later, but so was the sunset!  In fact,  our earliest sunset of the year, at 4:49 PM, occurred on December 2 this year.  The sun has been setting a minute or two later each day since the 12th, when sunset occurred at 4:50 PM.

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Sunrise continues to come a bit later each day.  Today the sun rose at 7:17, but by Saturday it will rise at 7:18, and on Christmas Monday it  won’t appear until 7:19 AM.  The sun will continue rising a bit later each morning until December 31,  when it rises at 7:21 AM.

It isn’t until the 13th of January that the rising sun reverses itself and comes up a minute earlier, at 7:20.  By January 13, the day will have grown to nine hours and 50 minutes, as the sun is setting at 4:50 once again.

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Each day between now, and December 27, will continue on at exactly nine hours and 36 minutes.  That means that we will have a run of 11 days of ‘the shortest day of the year,’ of only nine hours and 36 minutes of daylight.  As the sun sets a minute later, so the sun also rises a minute later, in perfect choreography, until December 28, when the day grows by a minute to nine hours and 37 minutes at last.  On New Year’s Day, our daylight will have grown to nine hours and 38 minutes, with sunrise at seven 21 and sunset at 4:59.

Perhaps this very long run of short days and worsening weather is why we need the brightness of the  holidays to cheer our souls and help us through this extended period of darkness.  I feel grateful for every light display I see along the way, as darkness gathers in late afternoon, and the wind bites with cold.

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I relish these early evenings, too.  Watching the sky turn bright with sunset color, and seeing our beautiful trees silhouetted against the deepening sky is a breathtakingly beautiful way to end our day.  Except it isn’t the end of the day, is it?

The early sunset may send us indoors, but we enjoy the long, quiet winter evenings together.  We may hear the owls calling to one another in the ravine.  I make tea, fix snacks, and work on holiday chores.   I paint and sculpt, read and crochet.  It may be long past midnight before I give up the day for sleep, knowing that morning will dawn quite late on the morrow!

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We are in the darkest part of the year: Yule.  And that has been amplified this week with the new moon on Monday.  Settling comfortably into darkness, we gather with friends and loved ones, forming our intentions and making our wishes in anticipation of the year’s turning and return of longer days of sunlight.

Some light a Yule log and keep it burning until the days grow longer once again.  Some light candles to warm winter’s long nights, or light lamps.  Here, we string Christmas lights and enjoy their nightly glow.  We keep them up and burning deep into January, when we can feel the year has turned and days have grown longer once again.

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Tonight, we went out to watch the Solstice sunset.  We left soon after four, camera in hand, and enjoyed a beautiful late afternoon drive on the Colonial Parkway.  We were driving west towards Jamestown, and the sun was brightly blazing even as it dipped towards the horizon before us.  I had to wear my shades and still shield my eyes against its intensity.

We may have made a detour…. there may have been mint ice cream involved…

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Suffice it to say, we were running a bit close when we headed back to the Parkway to photograph the setting sun.  Seconds count, and that fiery orb had already dipped below the James River before we were in position.  But the sky was still ablaze, and the new moon hanging in a pristine sky, growing brighter with each passing minute.

Winter Solstice is one of my favorite days of the year.  We have celebrated this day since my own little one was tiny, with special food, and gifts, and music and merry-making.  It marks the passage from weeks of preparation to conscious celebration of the waning of one year and fresh beginnings of the next.  I envy friends born on this special day, and always keep it as the beginning of our Christmas celebrations.

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My mind turns to The Holly King of legend, who shines brightly in our barren, wintery woods.  Aglow in bright red berries, hollies shine through mist and snow and gloomy winter days.  Winter is their prime time, when the oaks and other hardwoods have gone dormant and dropped their leaves.

I wish you a happy Solstice and a Merry Yule.

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These are special days, and I hope you keep them well.  With love shining brightly in our hearts, we journey through these last days of 2017 and find our way into a new solar year.  May peace and happiness journey with you, and may 2018 offer you fresh possibilities, new opportunities and abundant joy.

Woodland Gnome 2017

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The James River

Eclipse

Sunset over  College Creek, at (Gabriel) Archer’s Hope, near Jamestown, Virginia

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Just as light and darkness maintain their own balance, and follow one another; so too do times of darkness and light follow one another in human history. Opposing forces remain in cyclical tension throughout our planet’s history.

We welcome the darkness which allows us to rest each night, and we awake hours later refreshed and reinvigorated. Our bodies heal and re-energize while we sleep.

Plants also need a period of darkness for their growth and cellular repair after many hours of photosynthesis in the sunlight each day. Many plants need a period of dormancy and rest each year, before vigorous new growth responds to the lengthening days of spring.

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Winter Solstice morning

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Northwestern Oregon, where the eclipse over the United States will begin next Monday, symbolizes the farthest point of our continental cultural expansion during the 19th Century. John Jacob Astor established Astoria, Oregon, in 1811, and his team blazed the trail which opened the Northwest to settlement. He led the economic battle to incorporate the Pacific Northwest, and its resources, into the United States. In those days, the borders between the United States and British Canada remained fluid.

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Oregon’s coast, near where the eclipse will begin sliding across North America on August 21, 2017.

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Our nation’s power and prosperity come in large part from our westward expansion to the Pacific, and the rich natural, human and energetic resources of our western states. This part of our country remains energetic, innovative and largely progressive.

Charleston, South Carolina, symbolizes the first shots fired in treasonous rebellion in our Civil War, which began in 1860-61. This terrible time in our nation’s history potentially could have destroyed our republic. But it did not; and the slow and torturous process of re-unification has played out in our courts, congress, statehouses and streets ever since.

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The James River, just a few hundred miles north of where the coming eclipse will move offshore next Monday.

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This is a critical time in our nation’s history once again. The nihilistic forces of nazism, facism, and communism which were pushed back in Europe and Asia during the 20th Century, have infiltrated our own society and American government in the 21st.

We see this with sickening clarity after the election cycle of 2016, when these forces of hatred and anarchy have been publicly emboldened both in the media, and on the ground in cities across our nation.

And only a week after the tragic and disturbing events in Charlottesville last weekend; we will experience the rare astronomical event of a full solar eclipse beginning in Oregon and ending on the coast at Charleston, South Carolina.

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Jones Millpond, where The Battle of Williamsburg raged on May 5, 1862, in the early years of our nation’s Civil War; remains a peaceful spot along the Colonial Parkway in more recent times.

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Many of us wonder what this means for our country. We are disgusted and uncertain with elements of our own government and citizenry. We are deeply troubled about what our nation’s future may hold, and wondering whether the Republic established by our Constitution in 1788 remains sufficient to order our society today.

At this time of uncertainty, we have given much thought to the meaning and potential effects of the coming eclipse. Historically, many cultures have viewed eclipses as important times of vulnerability as the sun disappeared from the sky, and dramatic changes occurred in the aftermath. There could be several interpretations of the phenomena of darkness falling across a huge swath of the United States, from coast to coast, in the middle of a summer afternoon.

We choose to interpret the coming eclipse as a time of national renewal. Beginning in the west, where our country’s economic destiny was determined with the founding of Astoria and securing our border with Canada; and sweeping eastwards across our nation to the very city where our Civil War began; the darkness of this eclipse will be followed by new light.

The emerging sun, Sol Invictus,  will shine brightly over our nation for many hours on Monday, August 21, after the moon moves on in its orbit, allowing the sun’s light to burst forth once again.

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As morning follows night, we choose to focus on the ‘second morning’ that will occur as the eclipse ends on Monday afternoon as a time of national renewal and re invigoration. Let this ‘second morning’ usher in a time when our Constitutional government will be set right once again, and these current threats of tyranny, hatred, and lawlessness ended.

Let foreign intervention in our politics be exposed and expunged. Let nazis and their ideology, influencing our political discourse, be exposed and expunged.

Let the corrupting influence of foreign and criminally laundered money holding our political leaders to nihilistic political ideologies be exposed and expunged. Let the corruption and lawlessness in our own communities be exposed and expunged.

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Let us use this energetically potent period of a summer solar eclipse to power the necessary changes which will re-claim our communities and our state and national governments for our founding principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of the good.

Let us reclaim our heritage as a land of promise and equal protection for all under fair and just laws.

Let our United States fully become a center of innovation and opportunity; tolerance and love; and a haven for the endless positive potential of humankind.

Woodland Gnome 2017

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Powhatan Creek

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Sunday Dinner: Secrets of the River

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“Have you also learned that secret from the river;
that there is no such thing as time?”
That the river is everywhere at the same time,
at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall,
at the ferry, at the current,
in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere
and that the present only exists for it,
not the shadow of the past
nor the shadow of the future.”
.
Hermann Hesse
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“We must begin thinking like a river
if we are to leave a legacy of beauty and life
for future generations.”
.
David Brower
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“Ask the river, where it comes from?
You will get no answer.
Ask the river, where is it going?
You will get no answer,
because the river lives
inside this very moment;
neither in the past nor in the future,
in this very moment only!”
.
Mehmet Murat ildan
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Black’s Point, Jamestown Island in the James River

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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WPC: Elemental

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For this week’s challenge, explore the classical elements of earth, air, water, and fire.
How do you capture something invisible like air, or the movement of water? Or, more personally, is there a place you go to feel connected to the earth?
Take a moment to explore these elements, in or out of balance, together or individually, as you pick up your camera this week.”
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The ancients teach us that originally there was only one energy, one creative force.  It was, even before the light.

And from its desire to know itself, everything else was created. Every thing we know was explosively generated from the one.

This original energy still animates everything, every element that is; even our own knowingness. 

The continual joy of creation comes from the interplay of all of the elements; every bit of fire and earth, water and air.   These essential elements structure even our own imagination.

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Try to take away even one of the elements, and what is left? Some balance will be restored ….

Our life depends on the interplay of fire, water, air, minerals, and the unique animation we call spirit.

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“I’ve always known, on a purely intellectual level,
that our separateness and isolation are an illusion.
We’re all made of the same thing—
the blown-out pieces of matter formed in the fires of dead stars.
I’d just never felt that knowledge in my bones until that moment,
there, with you, and it’s because of you.”
.
Blake Crouch
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Every particle and spark is important; a part of the whole. Every one of us is important:  a part of the whole; elemental.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Elemental

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

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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