Finally, Rain

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The first fine mist of rain found us at sunset on Sunday evening.  I noticed the sweetness in the air first, that smell of wetness we’ve missed for so long.  The cool mist touched our skin as we came outside, and we saw the tiniest of water droplets on the car’s windows.

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Mexican Pegunia, Rueilla simplex

Mexican Petunia, Ruellia simplex

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Finally, rain.  After weeks of unrelenting, unnerving heat and drought, here in Williamsburg, the promise of rain felt real.

The sunset sky was filled with mounding tropical clouds.  Some heavy and grey, others white and touched with sunset pinks and golds; they were reaching for one another, but did not yet cover all the bright blue above.

We had watched their progress all day, swirling above us.  It was hot again, 90.  The forecast rain failed to appear, again.  Until sunset.

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Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana feeds songbirds for many months each fall.

Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana feeds songbirds for many months each fall.  Considered a weed, I still love the color of its berries.

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And that was the beginning of this luxurious, generous, welcome rain.  The streets were wet when we drove home Sunday night, and the rain has come in fits and starts, downpours and drizzles ever since.

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Our brick hard garden, baked by weeks of dry heat, drinks in every drop.  Burned leaves still fall.  Every gust of wind carries sheets of brown leaves  from desiccated branches down to the hard earth.  Dead leaves coat every bed and gather in every pot.

Squirrels have been shredding Dogwood berries as they form; there are no acorns in our garden to feed them through the winter coming.

 

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But every bird and squirrel welcomes this rain, as do we.  A cardinal chirped and preened in the top of the Crepe Myrtle near the window yesterday, as the rain fell.  Such happiness!

But it seems every recent weather event touches the extremes.  As we watched the rain nourishing our garden, others watched it filling their streets and parking lots.

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Oxalis

Oxalis

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A nearby high school had a foot or more of water gathered in their parking lot by afternoon, with students sloshing through standing water to their buses and flooding cars.  And inches more rain are coming as what is left of Tropical Storm Julia meanders northward past the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay today.  Not that we’re complaining….

We talked, over dinner on Sunday, about how long we can manage to adapt to the changing climate here.  If each year comes on hotter than the last, what does that mean for us in another five years? Ten? If these trends continue on, how will our lives change?

That conversation is likely unfolding around a lot of dinner tables these days.  Heat and floods, drought and extreme winter storms have insinuated themselves into our lives in odd and expensive ways.

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Basil gone to seed, before the rains, delight our goldfinches and other small birds.

Basil gone to seed, before the rains, delights our goldfinches and other small birds.

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I walked in the rain this afternoon, taking stock of the garden’s response.  It’s good to see the plants plump and happy again as they fill themselves with this cool rain.

It’s even better to find myself indoors watching it, rather than outside with the hose, trying to give each area enough water to survive another day.

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Calaldium, 'Desert Sunset'

Calaldium, ‘Desert Sunset’ bathed in fresh rain

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I’ll admit we’re  worn a bit thin at the moment, after weeks of standing in the hot sun, watering the parched earth for hours every day.  And we wonder whether next summer will bring more of the same, or worse.

My partner asks with each new plant, “Is it drought tolerant?”  

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“Well…. in normal weather, or extreme?”  

That is the question all of us gardeners  eventually ask ourselves:  “What is ‘normal’ any more, and will we experience ‘normal’ again anytime soon?”

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It may be the one thing each of us can do to help our climate, our planet really, is to plant more trees.

We can make an effort towards restoring our ecosystem, trapping carbon, filtering the air, and re-balancing the water cycle with every tree and large woody shrub we plant.

But it takes all of us, each doing what we can on many fronts, to change this equation.

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Alocasia 'Stingray' thrive in heat and humidity. These tropical plants help filter the air and trap carbon with their huge leaves.

Alocasia ‘Stingray’ thrive in heat and humidity. These tropical plants help filter the air and trap carbon with their huge leaves.

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The long drought here is ended, but the challenge goes on and on.

I hope you are tuned in to this issue, and are doing what you can, where you can, to address the challenges this climate change brings to us all.

But mostly, I hope you are also finding pleasure and relief from the heat, when it finally rains.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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“The physical threat posed by climate change

represents a crisis that is not only material

but also profoundly spiritual at its core

because it challenges us to think seriously

about the future of the human race

and what it means to be a human being.”

.

Grace Lee Boggs

~

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“Knowledge empowers people

with our most powerful tool:

the ability to think and decide.

There is no power for change greater

than a child discovering what he or she cares about.”

.

Seymour Simon

(Speech about Global Warmingread on the National Mall
for the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, 2010)

 

 

 

 

WPC: Edge

Sandy Bay, which frames one end of Jamestown Island, provides a home for many species of birds in its shallow waters. Bald cypress trees grow along its banks.

Sandy Bay, which frames one end of Jamestown Island, provides a home for many species of birds in its shallow waters. Bald cypress trees grow along its banks.

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Edges and borders;

Boundaries or invitations

To enter elsewhere?

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Alight from the known,

Venture into

What is not.

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Borders frame,

But cannot contain

Curious awareness.

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Where is happiness?

What waits

Beyond the edges?

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Edge

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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WPC: Landscape

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“Love makes you see a place differently,

just as you hold differently an object

that belongs to someone you love.

If you know one landscape well,

you will look at all other landscapes differently.

And if you learn to love one place,

sometimes you can also learn to love another.”

.

Anne Michaels

~

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“Where you come from is gone,

where you thought you were going to was never there,

and where you are is no good

unless you can get away from it.

Where is there a place for you to be?

No place… Nothing outside you can give you any place…

In yourself right now is all the place you’ve got.”

.

Flannery O’Connor

~

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For the Daily Post’s

One Word Photo Challenge: Landscape

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

Sandy Bay, Jamestown Virginia

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“When the image is new, the world is new.”

.

Gaston Bachelard

 

WPC: Wall of Bald Cypress Roots

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Walls are supports as well as barriers.  They add a decorative touch in gardens; a sense of enclosure and privacy.  Walls offer structure to our landscapes as well as to our homes. Walls give us protection from the elements and a sense of  security.

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This week the Daily Post’s  Weekly Photo Challenge asks photographers to share photos of walls which reveal a sense of place; telling us something important about that place.

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The Chickahominy River flows into the James, then on to the Chesapeake Bay.

Knobby roots of the Cypress trees form a wall along the beach, protecting the river’s bank.

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Roots of the Bald Cypress trees growing on the bank of the Chickahominy river form a wall, a barrier, along the beach.  Bald Cypress, Taxodium distichum, one of the hardest of hardwoods, is recognized by its rock-hard knobby roots which grow out in all directions from the tree’s trunk.

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Cypress can be found growing along rivers and in swamps throughout our region.  A deciduous conifer, the Bald Cypress is an ancient tree.  Fossils prove they were growing in this region more than 8 million years ago, and a single tree may live for well over 1000 years.

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The Cypress roots which line this beach also protect it.  They hold the soil and sand in place to control erosion during flooding and storms.

They form a protective barrier for the beach, a living, breathing wall of roots.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

Watershed

The Chickahominy River flows into the James, then on to the Chesapeake Bay.

The Chickahominy River flows into the James, then on to the Chesapeake Bay.

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Abundant rainfall continues to fall in our area.  Whether coming as snow, sleet, rain or freezing rain; moisture has filled our sky several times a week for the last few months.

We appreciate the rain.  Our soil is so well hydrated it squishes.

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Water from this ditch runs into a tiny creek which feeds College Creek, less than 200 ft. away.

Water from this ditch runs into a tiny creek which feeds College Creek, less than 200 ft. away.

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Our neighborhood ditches and low spots fill with precious water, and excess water is channeled down our steep sloping yards into the many creeks which run through our ravines.

Living near the coast, on a peninsula between mighty rivers, with ponds, marshes and and creeks dotting the landscape, we see and cross bodies of water each day.

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Channeling water run off in our neighborhood into College Creek

Channeling water run off of streets  in our neighborhood into College Creek

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Our close relationship with our area’s waterways remains immediate and tangible.

There is a clear route from our garden directly to the James River, then the Chesapeake Bay, and within only about 60 miles directly into the Atlantic Ocean.

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This pond behind our home flows directly into College Creek

This pond behind our home flows directly into College Creek

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And every inch of this watery pathway hosts abundant life.  Our thick forests and dense marshlands support thousands of species of birds, fish, insects, reptiles, amphibians, mollusks, and small mammals.  We see and hear many of these beautiful creatures each day, and we appreciate their presence. (Except for the dratted voles, ticks, and mosquitoes, that is.)

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College Creek flows under this Colonial Parkway bridge and into the James River

College Creek flows under this Colonial Parkway bridge and into the James River

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The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has raised awareness of the Bay’s fragile ecosystem since the late 1960’s.  I grew up admiring this group and its efforts to improve water and air quality in our state, to raise awareness of erosion, and to preserve the unique beauty of our coastal region.

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Erosion continues to be a problem along our waterways.  Here, ducks enjoy feeding in the shallows of College Creek near where it empties into teh river.

Erosion continues to be a problem along our waterways. Here, ducks enjoy feeding in the shallows of College Creek near where it empties into the river.

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As much as the Bay’s health remains dependent on the decisions and actions of corporations, the U.S Navy, and all levels of government; there are still things individuals can do (and not do) to make our own small efforts to preserve the health and beauty of our waterways.

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The Beautiful James River with water flowing into it from College Creek to the left.

The beautiful James River with water flowing into it from College Creek to the left.

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We are often reminded that anything left on the ground will eventually find its way to the Bay, and then the ocean.  This includes not only litter and pet waste, but also lawn chemicals, garden fertilizers, oil or gas leaked from engines, and even eroding soil.

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Much of the river banks in our immediate area are forested.  Forest lands and marshes do a great deal to filter water running off of the land before it reaches the larger waterways.  Even the hated phragmites, bane of boaters, serve an important role in filtering harmful substances out of water flowing through creeks and marshes on its way to the Bay and the Atlantic.

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Phragmites fill much of our marshy areas.

Phragmites fill much of our marshy areas.

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Every bit of vegetation helps absorb run-off and clean the air, filtering out harmful substances, including carbon, trapping them within the tissue of the plant.

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The Chesapeake Bay Foundation runs a number of excellent projects both to educate people at all levels about the Bay’s ecosystem, and to take direct action to restore watersheds and clean up solid pollution.  Please take a look at the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Foundations Clean Water Blueprint for more information.

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This ditch along Jamestown Road catches and absorbs run off before it can reach the James River.

This ditch along Jamestown Road catches and absorbs run off before it can reach the James River.

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Even with a nuclear power station as one of our ‘neighbors,’ across the river in Surry, there has been a minimum of impact from that industrial site on the overall health of this section of the James river.

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Surry nuclear power station as seen across the james River from the Colonial Parkway, ,near Jamestown Island.

Surry nuclear power station as seen across the James River from the Colonial Parkway, near Jamestown Island.

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We came home earlier today to find one of the ubiquitous “lawn care” companies spraying mystery liquids on a neighbor’s lawn.  I immediately tensed up and felt angry that the neighbor had actually hired someone to come and spray harmful chemicals so close to the pond behind our homes.  This same neighbor had shrubs and trees ripped out of her yard a few years back so this green lawn could be laid.  Now we have to listen to the crews come with their noisy equipment to care for it and treat it with chemicals on a regular basis.

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Our pond empties directly into this area of College Creek

Our pond empties directly into this area of College Creek

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With every rain, those chemicals wash off of her lawn and into the pond behind our properties, home to frogs, toads, turtles, and more; then on into College Creek.

Planting and preserving trees, shrubs, herbs, and vines helps hold the soil and slow run-off during rainstorms, thus preventing erosion.  Planting primarily native or naturalized species which don’t require herbicides, insecticides and fertilizers for their growth allows us to enjoy a beautiful landscape around our homes without releasing chemicals into the ecosystem.  Naturalized landscapes use far less energy than lawns and return far greater value to the ecosystem.

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Another neighbor whose garden borders our shared pond has filled his garden with native shrubs and trees.  This Mountain Laurel makes a spectacular display in his garden each May.

Another neighbor whose garden borders our shared pond has filled his garden with native shrubs and trees. This Mountain Laurel makes a spectacular display in his garden each May.

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Re-planting native and naturalized species also helps re-store the ecosystem for our wildlife.  As we provide food sources and nesting sites, we provide safe haven for the many creatures which make up the web of life in our region.  This is good stewardship of our ecosystem, and also saves us a great deal of time an money.  Wouldn’t you also prefer listening to birdsong than to the blowers, mowers, saws and grinders of a lawn crew?

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May 27. 2014 Herons 027

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Jane, a blogging friend at “Just Another Nature Enthusiast,” has created a new blogging meme called, “Unless… Earth Friendly Fridays.”  Somehow I missed her start up.  Jane has declared March the month for us to focus on water and waterways.  March 14 is the International Day of Action for Rivers,  and March 22 the UN’s World Water Day.

Jane posted the challenge, “Water- What’s Your Watershed?” on the last Friday of February, and I’m finally responding with this post today.  Better late than never, I believe!

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The Chickahominy River earlier this afterrnoon.

The Chickahominy River earlier this afterrnoon.

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Although Jane lives in the beautiful northwest of the United States, and we live here in coastal Virginia; we have a great deal in common.  Even living on opposite coasts, I feel as though we share a back yard.  Perhaps all of North America is in some way our back yard!  If we all treated it as such, I firmly believe that we could do a great deal to clean and preserve our environment in our generation.

~

March 12, 2015 watershed 049

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Working together, helping others become more aware of how their actions affect the greater whole, we might be able to leave a cleaner, more beautiful planet for our granddaughters and grandsons.

Woodland Gnome 2015

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Please join the Earth-friendly Friday Challenge.

UNLESS we care nothing is going to get better… it’s not

Our watershed

Our watershed

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.

*

 

October 28, 2014 fall color 007

 

 

Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

 

October 28, 2014 fall color 089

 

 

 

 

 

In Search of Silver….

 

The exfoliating bark of this favorite Sycamore tree caught my eye along the way in search of silver...

The exfoliating bark of this favorite Sycamore tree caught my eye along the way in search of silver…

Jennifer issued her challenge for photos of silver a week ago tomorrow; yet I still hadn’t found any “silver” photos to craft a post.

It has been a topsy-turvy week; lots of travel, lots of drama.

 

July 14, 2014 Jamestown Island 001

 

And very little time for the pleasant photo hunting we usually enjoy…

Begonia, "Sophie"

Begonia, “Sophie”

 

I was about to make do with the slim response of a shot of Begonia, “Sophie” with her silver marked leaves, but this morning was one where there was no time to post even this single photo.

 

Another crop of this B. "Sophie" photo.

Another crop of this B. “Sophie” photo.

 

And so after lunch, my partner suggested we take a bit of time to relax and head out on a drive.

Finally, an opportunity to search for “Silver.”

Granite shoring up the river's edge.  Do you see the spider's web?

Granite shoring up the river’s edge. Do you see the spider’s web?

 

Have you noticed that once you set your mind to search for something, it nearly always turns up?

We had just pulled over on the causeway between Sandy Bay and the James River when the beautiful Sycamore tree, Platanus occidentalis, caught me eye.

 

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Yes!  Silver bark!

 

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Not particularly metallic, perhaps, but a beautiful rich and shiny grey at the least.

I snapped a few photos, and as I worked around the tree, the glinting silver rocks shoring up the bank of the river caught my eye.

These huge chunks of granite certainly looked silvery in the early afternoon sun.

 

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Perhaps it is another of my oddities, but I find stone astoundingly beautiful.

I enjoy the color, texture, form, and antiquity of rock.

Especially when rock is host to vines or small trees, it always catches my attention.

 

Cypress trees growing in Sandy Bay, beside Jamestown Island.

Cypress trees growing in Sandy Bay, beside Jamestown Island.

 

And then, looking across the water, the sculptural forms of ancient and wind polished Cypress trees shone in the sun.

Silvery?  What do you think?  Close enough?

 

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Not yet stumps, these trees were green cloaked a season or so ago.

I’ve never figured out what makes these beautiful and long-lived trees die so suddenly, standing among those still living.

A mystery, but a beautiful one.

Bathtime?

Bath time?

So much life and living in the world today!

Birds and dragonflies; finally some butterflies; flowers blooming; berries ripening; wind blowing grasses and leaves.

We had plenty of company on the park roads today, too.

This little dragonfly waited patiently on the curb at one of our stops.  I wondered why he was still there as we left.  Do you see his torn wing?  Such a beautiful creature, and larger than a hummingbird.

This little dragonfly waited patiently on the curb at one of our stops. I wondered why he was still there as we left. Do you see his torn wing? Such a beautiful creature, and as large as a hummingbird.

With a rising tide, the crabs and turtles living in the marshes  lurked out of sight.

The Eagles must have sought shelter in the shade,  too, because they weren’t to be seen on their nests and favorite perches.

But we know they are just waiting for the cool of evening to fish for their dinner.

 

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We returned refreshed and relaxed.

And with a small cache of photos, now I can finally give you, “Silver.”

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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One Word Photo Challenge: Silver

 

 

The Marsh

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Beautiful marshes cut across much of Jamestown Island.

Connected to the mainland only by a bridge and isthmus, the low lying island is cut through with creeks, which rise and fall with the tides.

The ship replicas, housed at the museum, are on the mainland side of the isthmus.  The road here is the Colonial Parkway.

The ship replicas, housed at the museum, are on the mainland side of the isthmus. The road here is the Colonial Parkway.  The waters of Sandy Bay are visible to the right.  The James River lies to the left, where the ships are moored.

The thick grey mud of a briny marsh harbors and nurtures  a multitude of living things, allowing a rich web of life to spin itself into being in this richly abundant place.

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These same marshes which harbor crabs and turtles; dragonflies and mosquitoes; birds and small fish made Jamestown an unwholesome place for the early colonists.

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Drought in 1607 made the water of the James River even saltier than usual.

With no freshwater springs on the island, the colonists had few choices but to drink the briny mix as they suffered from biting  mosquitoes and mayflies.

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Driving through these marshes on a hot summer day gives you a taste of what they experienced.

The heavy wet air smells briny.  Despite the abundance of life, little of it looks promising as dinner.

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We enjoy this drive around the island. 

The National Park Service maintains these loop roads which originate at the Visitor Center (map).

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If you buy your ticket and walk out from the Center, across the marshes on the present day boardwalks, you’ll find yourself at the archeological site:  the area where the settlers built their original triangular stockade along the bank of the river, clinging to the farthest edge of the island.

Cattails grow along the edges of the marsh.  These are a wonderful source of food which the Colonists probably didn't recognize or know how to prepare.

Cattails grow along the edges of the marsh. These are a wonderful source of food which the Colonists probably didn’t recognize or know how to prepare.

They were often confined to their stockade, still a poor protection against attack.

Even the areas of the island we roam so freely today were inaccessible much of the time to those first English living in this New World.

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But we love this area where eagles and hawks freely nest.  We hear the deer moving through the forests and find turtles and snakes along the way.

Swallows and Red Winged Blackbirds swoop and dive in their constant hunt for flying insects.

Pinkerel Weed growing on Jamestown Island

Pinkerel Weed growing on Jamestown Island

Butterflies appear from time to time dining on the abundant flowering vines and Pinkerel Weed.

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Forests have re-grown over much of the island.  This original forest was harvested centuries ago to meet the needs of the colonists building a new life in  a strange land.

This Oak stands at the edge of the Visitor Center parking area, along the entrance to the loop road.

This Oak stands at the edge of the Visitor Center parking area, along the entrance to the loop road.

But this land is protected now, and some great old trees appear here and there among the more recent pines and smaller scrubby growth.

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Bald Cypress

A birder’s paradise, one could spend a lifetime here just observing the unfolding life and changing seasons.

An early morning low tide reveals many of inhabitants of the marsh who are normally hidden.

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Thank you for coming along on this summer drive with us. 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

WPC: Relic

Replica ships at Jamestown Festival Park

Replica ships at Jamestown Festival Park.  The largest ship, to the right, is the Susan Constant.

 

A relic is more than just some old thing. 

Relics are something of great value; something with meaning which help us to remember and better understand our history.

A relic may be only a tiny fragment of a whole.  Perhaps a sliver of “The One True Cross” or a bit of bone from a saint.

Relics often border on the mythological.

We take them as tangible evidence that a story we’ve heard is real.  That is why relics such as the Grail and Solomon’s Ring are sought in myth and legend; and perhaps in the present as well.

 

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These relics are more replica than relic.  They are reconstructions of the ships used by the 1607 settlers in Virginia for their crossing from England.

The largest, The Susan Constant, returned to England in June of 1607, about a month after depositing the settlers on Jamestown Island.  The medium ship, The Godspeed, returned with her.

The smallest ship, The Discovery was left behind for use by the settlers in exploring the coastal water.  It brought over only 21 people.

The other 123 traveled on the larger ships.  Once they returned with the crews, there was no way the 104 colonists could change their minds and return home.  They were now Virginians, for better or worse, and had to make their lives here at Jamestown.

We know that a few of the original colonists did eventually return to England.  Captain John Smith, badly injured in 1609, made the return voyage to recuperate from his injuries.

But he returned years later to explore and map the coast further to the north.  He also published the first map of Virginia in 1612.

On Jamestown Island

On Jamestown Island

Ships provided the tenuous thread between the colonists on the edge of this vast and alien continent, and all of the familiarity and security of “home.”

They also brought regular infusions of new settlers to replace those who starved, died from disease, or were killed in violent struggles with the native people of Virginia.

Ships brought food, manufactured goods, weapons, tools, and books.  Ships carried back letters, documents, histories and maps so those in Europe could learn about life in Virginia.

A Cypress stump, relic of a long decayed tree, on Jamestown Island.

A Cypress stump, relic of a long decayed tree, on Jamestown Island.

 

And replicas of these relics sit moored at the dock near Jamestown Island today.

Staffed by interpreters in Colonial costume, they are open each day for visitors to explore.

And they serve as a vivid reminder of the hardships endured by our pioneering ancestors, those first colonists who claimed this land more than 400 years ago, and made it their home.

 

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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Relic

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