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.”
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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.”
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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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Sunday Dinner: Gilded

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As each day grows shorter, the last gilded bits of daylight grow more precious.  Sunset, that magical time when every tree and blade of grass stands bathed in golden, rosy light, calls to me each evening.

I want to watch its progression until the light has drained out of the sky and the first stars grow bright.

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The sun’s last rays feel thick and soft reaching across the landscape.    The sun grows immensely brighter as it drops towards the horizon, blazing in defiance as it slips, all too quickly, out of sight.

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And for a few brief moments we bask in its magical light, admiring technicolor clouds, sensing warmth even when there is little left in the evening air.

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The sun’s touch transforms the ordinary into something beautiful.  It draws our attention to details we might otherwise miss.  Like a parent’s loving caress at bedtime, its rays reassure us even as night quickly closes in at its passing.

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Even as the sun pulls ever farther away, its daily circuit ever lower and swifter through the autumn sky, we take more joy in its presence.

A sunny day in winter proves a joyful gift; an autumn sunset a gilded treasure.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

photos from Jamestown Island, VA
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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Magic


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“Whatever you eye falls on –

for it will fall on what you love –

will lead you to the questions of your life,

the questions that are incumbent upon you

to answer, because that is how the mind works

in concert with the eye. The things of this world

draw us where we need to go.”

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Mary Rose O’Reilley

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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

Water-Colored

The James River

The James River

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Wetness upon wetness, and still it rains.  Beautiful clouds swirl through the skies, allowing glimpses of piercing September blue high above them.  Great mounds of heavy rain-filled cloud soon follow, and the staccato tapping of rain on the roof and porch heralds yet another tropical shower.

Water oozes with each step in the garden now.  Clear water trickles through the ditch under our drive.  Roadsides and parking lots mirror the sky.

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Our long drought has broken.  On this first day of autumn, the equinox, we celebrate each cool breeze over the wet garden.  The land is replenished, refreshed, revived, and reinvigorated.

We see new growth, the resurrection of what had grown dry and desiccated.  We move into the new season with fresh confidence, looking forward to those seasonal changes still to come.

We are fortunate, here in Williamsburg, that the land is riddled with creeks and ravines.  There is always somewhere else for the water to flow.  The land drains, and so flooding remains rare.

Neighbors to the south and east have not fared as well.  Flooding has stopped daily routines in many areas nearby.  This week became an unplanned holiday for many as streets became canals;  parking lots ponds.

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We saw a family of happy turkeys this afternoon, finding their dinners along the roadside.  My partner counted eight.  Dusk was gathering, but their movements let us see them through the gloom.

We found herons and eagles along the banks of the creeks, deer in the open fields, and fish jumping clear of the river.   What rich diversity of life shares this place!

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The reeds and grasses in the creeks have turned golden now, and have been beaten down in places from the rain and high tides.  Shorter days and cooler nights will soon reduce them to buff colored chaff , and then the mud will shine through, and before long push-ups will dot the marshes again; homes to small creatures through the winter.

The seasons come and go like the tides; more slowly, but just as constant.  This week we feel the season turning from dry heat to wet coolness; from expansion towards rest.

Eagle nests stand empty in the trees, the youngsters now out exploring the creeks.

Soon we’ll hear the cries of geese flying over the garden each morning.  Whether they stay or go elsewhere, they still gather into great Vs and fly, singing their ageless melodies at dawn and dusk.  They often stop at the pond below our garden, finding food in the shallows and safety on its calm waters.

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And the garden calls me back outside, now that the ground has grown soft and workable again.  I’ve a few shrubs waiting to stretch their pot-bound roots into the native soil.  There are potted ferns, and soon there will be bulbs to plant.  There are beds to weed, some Irises to divide, and perennials which need a bit of grooming.  All these tasks were made to wait until the drought was ended.

But as the garden sits refreshed, so also do I.  The cool breezes breathe fresh energy into us, too.  And Indian Summer is upon us, one of the most beautiful seasons of our year.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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Sunday Dinner: Courage

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“Life shrinks or expands

in proportion to one’s courage.”

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Anaïs Nin

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“The simple step of a courageous individual

is not to take part in the lie.

One word of truth outweighs the world.”

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Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

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“Courage doesn’t happen when you have all the answers.

It happens when you are ready

to face the questions you have been avoiding

your whole life.”

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Shannon L. Alder

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“I have not always chosen the safest path.

I’ve made my mistakes, plenty of them.

I sometimes jump too soon

and fail to appreciate the consequences.

But I’ve learned something important along the way:

I’ve learned to heed the call of my heart.

I’ve learned that the safest path

is not always the best path

and I’ve learned that the voice of fear

is not always to be trusted.”

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Steve Goodier

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“Courage isn’t absence of fear,

it is the awareness

that something else is important”

  .

Stephen R. Covey

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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“Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.”


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Amelia Earhart

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