Weekly Photo Challenge: Seasons

Late May

Late May


“I know I am but summer to your heart,

and not the full four seasons of the year.”


Edna St. Vincent Millay


Living here surrounded by forests and wetlands, tides and seasons are the metronomes of our live.  We watch the passage of time in every budding branch, ripening berry, brilliant crimson leaf, and ice clogged marsh.





But time is cyclic here, like the tides.  The creatures come and go in their comforting rhythm as one month melts into the next.  We’ve learned where to watch for them, and when.





No rhythm escapes notice.  There is nothing subtle about the changing of the seasons in coastal Virginia.  Each carries its distinct beauties and its mood.  They may meld slowly one to the next, but there is time to savor and appreciate each in its fullness.



Late February


And these things remain constant: water flows,  trees glisten in the sunlight, birds call to one another, wind ripples across the creeks, and all things change.  We watch the rising and falling of the tides and see the currents flowing through our lives. 

We watch seedlings sprout, and see rotted trees fallen from the last storm.  But even the fallen serve their purpose,  holding sunning turtles this day, and herons in their meditations another.  Life goes on; nothing ever lost or wasted.





Seasons:  the changing costumes of the one creation.  Whether they pass as swiftly as spring, or as slowly as a glacier encrusted ice age; they demonstrate the dynamic life animating everything on our planet.





For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge: Seasons


“Except. What is normal at any given time?

We change just as the seasons change,

and each spring brings new growth.

So nothing is ever quite the same.”


Sherwood Smith


Ice covers the marsh at Halfway Creek where Canada Geese gather in search of food.


Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014-2016

Weekly Photo Challenge: Eye Spy

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‘Guardians of the Garden’ keep their watchful eyes always open wide, observing the seasons unfold here at Brent and Becky Heath’s display gardens in Gloucester, Virginia. 


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On this mild December day the gardens sparkled .


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Scarlet and orange, pink, lavender, green and white; flowers bloom and leaves unfold.  We played a bit of ‘I Spy’ ourselves, watching for for them amid the fallen leaves.



Bright berries cling to branches,


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and Koi bask in the sunlight which warms their shallow pool.


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The Earth is soft and moist; broken here and there with early bits of bulbs poking up through its protective mass, as though we had skipped ahead to March.


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We found Daffodils and Snowdrops, Anenomes and Roses open to the afternoon sun.


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Vibrant green Arum and Cyclamen foliage unfold their intricate leaves against autumn’s canvas.


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Watchful eyes can be found in every corner of this magical garden, pointing out the secret paths and special treasures.



Suspended in time, the seasons converge here like the faces of a Rubik’s cube;


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never truly gone, only just out of sight.


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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015


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For the Daily Posts

Weekly Photo Challenge: Eye Spy


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Autumn Lives at Brent and Becky Heath’s Display Gardens

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We visited Brent and Becky Heath’s gardens at their Bulb Shop in Gloucester, Virginia, today.


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Their gardening staff maintain several acres of themed display gardens where one may wander and view thousands of plants growing under various conditions.


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Of course the many different bulbs they offer are featured players in these garden designs.  But a rich tapestry of shrubs and trees, annuals and perennials frame the many garden beds.


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And everywhere there is a whimsically light touch to delight the visitor.


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We found an observation hut filled with humming beehives.


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Bees come and go freely at a safe distance from garden visitors.  Worker honeybees collect nectar alongside many other species of bees and small wasps.


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These gardens were composed to support many different pollinators, birds, frogs, toads and fish.  They are vibrantly alive even as autumn pushes summer into memory.


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Vivid Dahlias, Chrysanthemums and Asters dominate many of the beds now.  But the autumn flowering Crinum lilies, Colchicum, and fall blooming Crocus bloom throughout.


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Camellia sasanqua have begun opening as the many Hydrangea cultivars finish for another year.


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Lazily wandering the paths of these gardens, one absorbs a rich education in how plants respond in our climate and in the various microclimates where they’ve been planted.


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One may encounter the same cultivar again and again in different exposures and paired with different companions.


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Many of the catalog offerings are planted up front in long rows, where one may compare them side by side.  This more regimented display is a quick study for gardening newbies selecting one variety or another.


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But the quiet display gardens behind the bulb shop draw us ever deeper into their orbit.


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Benches beckon one to sit and watch butterflies lazily drifting from flower to flower.


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The music of flowing water draws one further on to explore elusive paths among the rocks and conifers.  There is always just one more garden to explore, one more mass of blossoms to admire.


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A gardener approached as we were leaving, and named the particular Asters blooming today.


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He told me where to find interesting Salvias next spring.  We discussed the winter coming and shared hopes that tender perennials might survive it.  He knows and loves every inch of these gardens, and is happy to share a bit of what he knows with curious visitors.  We’ve chatted before, and I look forward to learning more from him on future visits.


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Grasses glistened in the afternoon sun.  Bare, berry covered branches stood out vividly against a deeply blue sky.


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Patches of orange and red blazed in the surrounding trees.  Gigantic spiders spin sparkling webs between shrubs.


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The breeze was fresh, and almost cool.


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Winter will have visited before we return.  We plan to come back in early December for Amaryllis just before bulb sales end for another season.


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By then the garden will have transformed, yet again.  It may be quieter, in winter, but the woody bones of this special place and the many evergreens will ensure it remains interesting and beautiful.


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We’ll look forward to viewing hardy Cyclamen and perennials which shrug off our cold.


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And there will surely be more gardening lessons to absorb from these special gardens.


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Woodland Gnome 2015


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Sunday Dinner: Climate Change

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“To thrive in this new age of hyper-change and growing uncertainty,

it is now an imperative to learn a new competency —

how to accurately anticipate the future.”


Dan Burrus


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“Many call this process ‘the destruction of nature.’

But it’s not really destruction, it’s change.

Nature cannot be destroyed.”


Yuval Noah Harari


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“There are two primary choices in life:

to accept conditions as they exist,

or accept the responsibility for changing them.”


Denis Waitley


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“Nothing endures but change.”


Heraclitus Ephesus


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Woodland Gnome 2015


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Sea levels rise and fall along the Eastern coast of North America.  This has been going on for millions of years.  At one time, the sea lapped against the Blue Ridge Mountains, several hundred miles to our west.  Most of Virginia was underwater.  We know this from the fossil record. 

Archaeologists are finding the remains of great cities, now under water, off the coasts of Africa, India, and Southern Europe.  We know the topography of our planet changes continually. 

There is no longer any question that our climate and our landscape are changing.  I believe the important question is, “Why now?”  and “What, if anything, can we do?”


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Storms over the last two weeks are chewing up our sandy coastline.  Beaches and riverbanks continue eroding.  Flooding is widespread, and not just along the seacoast.  Heavy rain has brought flooding well inland from the Appalachian and Blue Ridge mountains all the way back towards the coasts from New England to the Gulf of Mexico. 

But this is insignificant compared to the effects of  Hurricane Joaquin’s winds on the islands it has attacked.   Millions of lives have been effected by severe weather this year across our planet. 

I believe there are many causes for our warming climate and increasingly severe storms.  Some may be caused by human activity.  Other causes are part of the natural rhythms of our planet.  Activity at the planet’s core controls vulcanism,  and the heat and gasses pouring into our oceans from underwater volcanoes. 

The amount of radiation from space, which makes it through to our atmosphere, has a tremendous impact on our climate and quality of life.  A weakening magnetosphere allows more of this Solar and cosmic radiation to reach our planet.  This is one of many complex factors which affects our climate and our weather patterns.

No one of us can control any of what is happening with climate change.  But we each must adapt. 

And we can do our own little part to bring our planet back into balance by the way we live our lives.  Every tree we nurture captures and sequesters carbon from the atmosphere.  Every garden we plant helps control erosion and contributes to the health of our ecosystem. 

Our choices of where to live and how much energy to consume play their part in this complex equation.


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And each of us has a political voice we can raise with our government representatives, demanding that they not only acknowledge this accelerated climate change on our planet, but that they take actions, based on our best research, to mitigate the effects. Our voices may be even more effective when lobbying corporations to make changes in how they manage our Earth’s resources.

I believe we are in uncharted territory now.  I don’t know if there is any precedent or model to help us understand the totality of the changes occurring now in our planet’s ecosystem.  But we can not ignore the issue and expect it to work itself out. 

I believe we are all getting a taste of what that looks like…


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The Gathering Storm

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Living on the east coast, we get used to all sorts of storms.

They come and they go.  Some rare ones cause tremendous and expensive damage.  Often they fizzle out, or cause minimal damages.

But when the forecasts begin to converge, and the warnings go up, worry always sets in.  A lot of it is fear of the unknown.  Our imaginations begin to spin.  Some of it is memory of storms past; what others experienced, and what we have narrowly escaped.


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After Hurricane Irene swept over our community in 2011, a friend and I collaborated on a guide for future storms based on our experiences in that one.  We have this ready to share with our neighbors when needed.  And I may be sharing this among our neighbors, tomorrow.

But since this coming hurricane seems determined to rake our coast from South Carolina to New England, I decided to post an edited version here this evening.  Much of it is common sense.  A lot of it you may already be thinking about, yourself.  But there may be an idea or two, or a link, you will find helpful.


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For readers living elsewhere, you may find this useful even though a hurricane isn’t headed your way in the next few days.  To set the mood, I’ve included some photos we took late this afternoon, showing building storm clouds on the James River.

Thunderstorms have been rolling through all evening, giving us an idea of what may be headed our way over the next five days.


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Severe Storm Readiness Guide

Our unique location on the East Coast of the United States, near the ocean, large rivers, creeks, ponds and marshes means we need to pay attention and prepare when severe storms hit our community. Our main problems in this area come from flooding and by high winds knocking down trees. We also have to prepare to live without electricity for a while; whether for a few hours or for several days.

Loss of electricity affects us in many ways. Not only do we lose the use of our appliances at home, and often our well pumps and sewage grinder pumps; but many of the businesses we depend on may remain closed for several days as well. Depending on the intensity of the storm, our water supply may also be affected.

Most of us begin planning and preparing when a forecasted storm is still a few days away.

It is better to plan ahead and be prepared for a storm that could fizzle, than to find yourself unprepared as the storm rages outside.

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1. Buy several days supply of food and beverage which don’t require refrigeration or cooking. Bottled water, juice boxes or bags, bottled tea, soft drinks, and adult beverages may be used as needed, and will keep. Each member of the family should have a gallon of water a day for each day that city or well water might be unavailable. It is wise to have sealed, gallon jugs of water in addition to water bottles.

Fruits, such as oranges, apples, melons, bananas, and grapes can be eaten for energy and require no preparation. Wash fruit and vegetables before the storm begins. Other foods you may find helpful include: bagels, crackers and peanut butter, energy bars, dried fruit, nuts, beef jerky, and prepared snack foods which don’t require refrigeration.

2. Check propane tanks for gas grills or camp stoves. A grill allows you to cook meat from the freezer should it begin thawing. A camping coffee pot, used on a propane stove, will provide you with coffee or tea on “the mornings after.”

3. Pack the freezer and refrigerator with ice before the storm. Store necessary perishables in a cooler with ice packs or ice when the power goes out, so you can use those items from the cooler, keeping your refrigerator closed. Generally, a refrigerator can be counted on to keep foods cold for no longer than twelve hours, without ice, when the power goes out.

4. Locate picnic items such as Handy-wipes, hand sanitizer, paper plates, insect repellent, plastic cutlery, and paper towels which will be useful if power and water go out for a few days.

5. Plan for light: When the power goes out, especially during the storm, it is a great comfort to have light. Candles and oil lamps can be extremely dangerous, especially if the wind gets inside through a broken window or damaged roof. Battery operated lamps and flashlights are a wise investment. There should be a lamp for each main living area, a flashlight for each person, and spare batteries for all lights. If you must use candles, have jar candles and a lighter available. They are safer than candle sticks.

6. Locate batteries: The radio becomes an important source of news about the storm’s progress. Each home needs at least one battery operated radio with spare batteries. Some parts of Williamsburg were still without power a week or more after recent severe storms. When planning how many spare batteries to have on hand, keep in mind it may be necessary to change the batteries several times before power is restored.

A laptop computer or tablet computer is especially useful. Not only can you use it for information from your home cable, or in any area with Wi-Fi, but many can be recharged from your car. The computer allows you to send and receive email to stay in touch with family and friends out of the area. Remember to protect tablets and cell phones in zip lock baggies whenever you are using them near water.

7. It is wise to take out money in cash before the storm to pay for necessities until the power is restored. Banks may be closed and without power for several days, and ATMs may not operate or run out of cash. Some businesses may be open for cash customers before their credit card systems are operating again.

8. If you have a generator, check it over before the storm. Make sure it has enough oil, and that you have spare oil and fuel. Check over your extension cords and have them close by. Never use a generator indoors. Make sure it has adequate ventilation.

9. Wash up all of the dirty laundry before the storm, and collect all clothing at the dry cleaners. It may be a week or more before you can do laundry again, and the dry cleaner might be damaged in the storm.


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10. Move and secure small items that could get picked up by the wind and blown into your home or your neighbor’s home. Secure deck furniture, wind chimes, tools, flower pots and baskets, and decorative objects.

11. Locate important papers that you might need to take if you decide to evacuate. Place them in zip lock plastic bags to protect them. Other items such as photos can also be protected from water damage in zip lock bags.

12. Put together a “Grab and Go” bag that you can grab quickly should you need to leave your home during the storm. Have everything you will need to be away from home for up to a week, including your wallet, keys, medications, cell phone, clothing, toiletries, food, water, extra cash, insurance information, extra glasses, batteries, etc. During a violent storm, you might need to leave quickly and unexpectedly, so it is wise to be prepared.

13. Review the procedure for turning off the water line and natural gas flow to your home. Locate the tools you will need and put them where you can grab them quickly if you need to leave your home, or if your home sustains damage.

14. Move your vehicles to the safest area away from trees. You might keep one in the garage, and one outside, so that if your garage is crushed, you still have a vehicle.

15.  Take photos of your home and property to serve as documentation for insurance purposes.

16.  After listening to the forecast, decide whether to shelter in place or to evacuate. If you leave home, make sure neighbors, friends, and family know where you are going. Leave early enough so you aren’t caught in the traffic on the interstates. Unplug appliances, turn off your lights, lock your windows and doors, and secure valuables in a safe place. Take clothing, medication to last a week or more, ID, and insurance information with you.

It might be a wise choice to evacuate if you are concerned about large trees that may fall on your home, if you have a medical condition and might need emergency care, or if you live alone. Staying a few days with family, or in a local hotel which can provide meals and where you will have company during the storm, might be a wise choice.

If going to a shelter, take bedding, toiletries, food, beverages, and items to entertain yourself and any children in your family. If going to a hotel, take your battery operated lamp and radio in the event they don’t have electricity in the guest rooms.

Other items you might need during or after the storm include: various sized trash bags, zip lock bags for storage, tarps and rope for covering a damaged roof, a chain saw and extra gasoline, boots, a hooded rain jacket, a first aid kit, city and regional maps, and a small cooler for storing medicines which need refrigeration .

For information:September 30, 2015 Parkway 048

Emergency weather information can be found by visiting the state’s emergency management website at www.vaemergency.gov and the National Weather Center’s website at www.nhc.noaa.gov.

www.weather.com and http://www.wunderground.com/ give accurate weather information and animated weather maps. An excellent weather map can be found at: http://www.wunderground.com/wundermap/

Here are some map sites showing expected storm surge for hurricanes of Categories 1-4 in Virginia. Other states have these same sorts of sites available, too:



During the storm

1. Watch the news and weather as long as you have power so you have an understanding of what to expect from the storm.

2. When the power goes off, immediately unplug appliances, turn off the TV, lights, and the stove, and shut down your computer. Remember that when the power comes back on, power surges can damage your electronics.

3. A stove left on can start a fire in your home when power is restored. Leave one light on somewhere in the house so you will know when the power comes on.

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4. Find a safe location, away from windows, to wait out the storm. Keep a radio tuned to a station where you can get weather and news. Stay on the lower level of your home during high winds. If tornado warnings are issued, move to an interior bathroom, hallway, or basement. Take large pillows and possibly a mattress with you for comfort and to protect you should a tornado hit our area.

5. Stay dressed in comfortable clothing with sturdy shoes nearby in the event your home is damaged and you need to leave quickly.

6. It is recommended that you keep your doors locked during and after the storm. When power is out, criminals see this as an opportunity.

7. If communicating with family out of the area, use texts or email to conserve your cell phone battery.

After the Storm

1. Check you property carefully inside and out for damages. Photograph and document all damage.

2. Check on your neighbors. See if they are alright, and help them as you are able.

3. Keep the refrigerator, freezer, and cooler stocked with fresh ice.

4. Make certain that when you are not at your residence, you close and lock all of your doors and windows. If using a portable generator, turn it off, remove the power cords, and secure it. There are many people roaming the neighborhood looking for work after the storm, and it is wise to be cautious.


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5. Watch for wild creatures who may have been displaced by the storm. If the waterways flood, animals who normally remain hidden may venture to higher ground around our homes.

6. If you have a chainsaw, please help clear roadways and driveways to keep nearby streets clear for emergency vehicles.


Any damage to your home incurred as a result of the hurricane can be lumped together under the deductible. Document the damage with photos as soon as possible. Make a written inventory of damaged property. Phone in your claim as soon as possible after the storm. Even if your agent’s office is closed, the claim center should be ready to assist you.


Hundreds of trees have fallen during ice storms and hurricanes Isabel and Irene in our community. Trees falling onto insured structures or vehicles will be covered by the insurance policy. The insurance company should pay both to remove the tree, and to fix or replace the insured property.

If your tree falls on your land, but doesn’t destroy insured property, you will have to pay to clean it up out of your pocket.

If a tree falls from one property onto a neighboring property, it is more complicated. Technically, (in Virginia)  if the tree was not considered a hazard before the storm, and the owner isn’t negligent in his care of the tree, then it becomes the problem for the neighbor where the tree lands. Good neighbors work together to solve these issues and maintain harmony. Many residents in or community go out with chain saws the morning after the storm, to clear fallen trees out of the streets and to help clean up fallen limbs and trees in their own and neighbors’ yards.

In the days after a storm, licensed arborists and roaming people with chain saws swarm over the neighborhood. The neighborhood also fills with contractors fixing tarps on homes and offering to do various repairs.

Before contracting with anyone, it is wise to not only get several estimates, but also check to make sure the contractor has liability coverage.

Do not pay 100% in advance, limit your down payment, and never pay in cash.

Make sure to get written estimates and receipts for all work done if you are making an insurance claim.


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Preparation is the best defense. We can not always control the weather headed our way, but we certainly can control how we prepare ourselves to survive it.

Neighbors seem to always pull together to weather whatever storms may come our way. Let’s all make preparation and safety a top priority, and look out for our neighbors as we would have them look out for us.

If a storm should cause widespread damage to our community, we need to check on our neighbors and offer what assistance we can.

Woodland Gnome 2015


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The Day Before Thanksgiving

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It is the day before Thanksgiving and the house is warm and fragrant.  I’ve been cooking since shortly after noon.

The nor’easter which blew in late yesterday has almost pulled away.

We had heavy rain and wind all night long.  And our initial plan was to just stay inside all day; off the roads and out of the storm.

Which was fine, until I remembered our promise to pick up the Christmas wreath we ordered weeks ago from the Patton Family at the Homestead Garden Center.  It is a gift I had planned to take tomorrow to the host and hostess of our Thanksgiving Day dinner.

Once we made up our mind to get out into the storm, and had on enough clothing, the rest was easy.  Made even easier by the nearly empty roads around Williamsburg today.


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In truth, we saw at least three accidents and one speeding trooper along our way.  But we still enjoyed a short visit at the garden center and came home with an exquisite, freshly made wreath.  The Pattons have been preparing for wreath season since Halloween.  They make fragrantly beautiful evergreen Christmas decorations of all shapes and sizes, and each is custom made to order.

And then the cooking began in earnest.  First up was a pot of vegetable soup.  Then I began washing the cranberries and oranges for a beautiful chutney to contribute tomorrow.

As soon as the pots were happily  gurgling I mixed up a batch of cheddar cornbread for muffins.  And last, but not least, I scrubbed the sweet potatoes and carrots and got them into the oven to bake to sweet perfection.

They will end up sliced into a casserole with orange slices, butter, maple syrup and spices for tomorrow’s dinner.

There is some lovely sweet potato bread dough in the refrigerator, and I’ll set that out to rise so it can go into the oven by sundown.  Not that there is any sun to go down, mind you.

We’ve had a heavy low sky all day.  Thick clouds have blocked most of the sun and left us in grey twilight since morning.  We know that were it only a few degrees cooler, we would be shoveling snow.

Which makes Thanksgiving even more fun, if you ask me.  This is the perfect weather for cooking.  And it has me in the mood to string twinkle lights and break out the first of the Christmas decor.

Every red bow and evergreen wreath is a welcome sight on this cold, wet day.


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And now I’m ready to curl up on the couch with the cat and a good book, looking forward to what I would argue is the coziest and most enjoyable holiday of the year.

Here is my cranberry chutney recipe for this year, should you have a bag of cranberries lurking in the fridge and you’re looking for inspiration:

Wash and pick over a 12 oz. bag of cranberries and add to a heavy saucepan with a cup of sugar, 1/4 c. of water, the juice of an orange, and 3 tsp. of red wine vinegar.  Sprinkle with 1 tsp. of cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. of ground cloves, and 1/2 tsp. of ground (or freshly grated) ginger.

Turn the heat to medium low while you dice a medium apple, washed but with skin left on.  Add the apple to the pot and stir.

Remove both ends from a washed medium seedless orange.  Slice the orange as thinly as you’re able, reserving the juice.  Stack a few slices at a time, and cut them into tiny bits so that no piece of the orange peel is more than 1/2 inch wide.  Add all of the orange, peel, pulp and juice to the cranberry mixture.

Cook over low heat as the berries pop and  the sauce reduces and thickens, stirring occasionally.  I keep the lid on the pot as it cooks.

Turn off the heat after about 45 minutes and let the cranberries stand for another hour or so, undisturbed.  Stir, and turn the heat back on to medium low for another half hour.

Package in clean hot jars, and process in a hot water bath if you plan to keep the chutney for more than a week or so.  I skipped that step, and mine is cooling in the pot.  I”m going to assume we’ll eat it up quickly

Happy Thanksgiving!

May your travels be safe, your meal taste  delicious, and your loved ones come within hugging distance.


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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014


Colonial Williamsburg, 2013

Colonial Williamsburg, 2013

Holiday Wreath Challenge 2014

Powhatan Creek

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

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


creek map 2

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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



Powhatan Creek, early December 2013

Powhatan Creek, early December 2013


Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Wordless Wednesday

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“Even in our chaotic world, peace is all around us, just waiting for discovery.

Whether it is the harmony of nature in a city center or ducks on a pond, take time to savor nature and truly appreciate the world.

Watch how bugs interact and beads of water flow and pool.

The calming of nature adds to our peaceful being.

Nature’s beauty should be part of your day.


Karl Robb, author of A Soft Voice in a Noisy World


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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014


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River Beach, July Morning

Beach along the James River

Beach along the James River

We awoke to a morning cool and bright, with a steady breeze energizing the garden, and us.

Every leaf and vine sparkled with raindrops left from the storms which blew through all day yesterday, and late into the evening.

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With the garden already rain soaked, we felt free to take off this morning for a rare visit to the beach.

We wanted to enjoy the early morning quiet, bury our feet in the sand, and enjoy the cool winds  blowing in across the river.

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Most Virginia beaches are  river beaches. 


A Bald Cypress grows here along the beach.

A Bald Cypress grows here along the beach.


The Chesapeake Bay begins just north of Virginia Beach, and is fed with a succession of rivers which drain thousands of miles of land from the Allegheny mountains to the coast.

The Eastern Shore, as we call it in Virginia, forms a narrow, sandy buffer between the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the beautiful Chesapeake Bay.


Osprey eagles have claimed this hunting blind in the middle of the James River.

Osprey eagles have claimed this hunting blind in the middle of the James River.

Our James River begins far to our west across the mountains, at the confluence of the Jackson and Cowpasture rivers.

It meanders across the state, accepting water brought to it from many other small rivers along the way, through Richmond, until it empties into the Atlantic just to the south of the mouth of the Bay.


A Great Blue Heron lands on the opposite shore, at the mouth of College Creek.  The Spanish landed here in 1570, and traveled northwards towards the York River, where they attempted to plant a colony.  It was attacked by the Native American nation living here at the time.

A Great Blue Heron lands on the opposite shore, at the mouth of College Creek. The Spanish landed here in 1570, and traveled northwards towards the York River, where they attempted to plant a colony.  It was attacked by the Native American nation living here at the time, and the Spanish focused their energy elsewhere.


The York River, a few miles to our north, is the southernmost Virginia river to empty into the Chesapeake Bay.

Working northwards, there is the Piankatank River, the Rappahannock River,  the Wicomoco River, and finally the Potomac River; whose bank forms Virginia’s northern boundary near the coast.

If these names sound a bit strange to your tongue, it is because they reflect the language of the Native Americans who loved this land before the English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Polish, German, and Africans came to claim it from them.

Looking across the James towards Surry County..  New contruction will begin soon on the point of land to the left.

Looking across the James towards Surry County.   New residential  construction will begin soon on the point of land to the left.

Many of my friends, when I was growing up, spent weekends and summers “at The River.”

Only they spoke it, “At The Rivah.”

Since I grew up near the James and the Dan rivers, this was always a bit of a mystery to me.

The Marina of a large neighboring community

The Marina of a large neighboring community


Years later, living along the Rappahannock,  in that secretive and enchanted part of the state known to us as, “The Northern Neck;”  I finally understood them.

Miles and miles of sandy beaches line these narrow fingers of land outstretched into the salty Bay.


Beaches just like this one line miles and miles of Virginia's rivers as they near the Chesapeake Bay.

Beaches just like this one line miles and miles of Virginia’s rivers as they near the Chesapeake Bay.


This once was the land of oysters and Blue Crabs, fishing boats, thousands of wild shore birds, camp grounds, artists’ colonies, and tiny coastal towns.

It is a slow, clannish, rural way of life lived along country roads lined with wildflowers and farms.

Life has changed, even there, as pollution washing into the Bay kills the sea life which once fueled the local economies.


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Still, it is a different world from the land of “Virginia Beach,” tucked into the southeastern most corner of Virginia.

Gateway to the Outer Banks  of North Carolina, and the miles of sandy Atlantic Ocean beaches to our south, the “resort strip” of hotel lined, manufactured beaches and beach cottage rental neighborhoods; the resort city is a place apart from the rest of the state.

It has taken on an urban feel.  Bulldozers rake the beaches each night, and dredges re-build them periodically with sand from the shipping channels.

Container ships and Naval vessels pass just offshore.


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While our Atlantic beaches are mostly dead now, with little sea life left for miles offshore; our river beaches teem with life.

Grasses and trees grow right down to the water, sinking their roots into sand, soil, and stone.

Fish jump and birds swim.

Bald eagles converse during their morning hunt.

Bald eagles converse during their morning hunt.


Eagles and herons converse during the morning hunt; while cardinals, goldfinches, and red winged blackbirds glide from tree to tree in the thickets.

Dragonflies form thick clouds over the grasslands and marshes.

Empty shells wash up on the beach, evidence that clams and other shellfish can still live here.


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The pollution washing into the James from every farm and town it touches along the way has not completely overwhelmed it yet.

This is one of the most “alive” areas along the Virginia coast now.

We never fail to find nesting eagles along the banks of the James.  They are a harbinger of the river’s health and vitality.


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While we can never restore a natural environment to its state at some arbitrary point in the past; we can preserve, and sometimes even improve, the environment as we find it.

This has happened here. 

The early colonists clear cut much of this area; overpopulated it;  polluted it;  and planted crops, such as tobacco, which depleted the soil.


Native Black Locust trees, full of seedpods, grow along the beach.

Native Black Locust trees, full of seedpods, grow along the beach.


Since this strip of land was converted to a National Park early in the 20th Century, and since Federal law limited the most harmful chemicals which destroy bird populations, there has been a resurgence of life along this stretch of the river.

Native species of trees have grown back, grasses have covered the fields, marshes have evolved into their current state of beauty.


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Deer populations are stronger now than they were in the 17th century, largely because they are unchallenged by predators and are rarely hunted.

Nature never finds itself completely in balance.  Things are always shifting.

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James City County recently approved construction of a new section of a  neighborhood which fronts this river.  It  will have its own devastating impact on the beaches and wildlife  for years to come.

But for this moment, this morning, the James River beach near us was mostly a place of beauty. 

We hope it will remain a cradle for wildlife, loved and protected, for all those generations yet to come.

Bald Eagle, resting along the river's bank this morning.

Osprey  Eagle, resting along the river’s bank this morning.

Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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

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