Fabulous Friday: Under the Storm

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The cloud shield of Hurricane Florence crept across our area in the night, blotting out the sun and bringing sporadic showers so that by the time we first looked out on Thursday morning, the world was damp and grey.

But quiet.  Very quiet, with barely a breath of wind.

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We watched the storm’s progress throughout the day as it slowly ground towards the coastal islands of North Carolina.  I’ve loved those broad, sandy beaches and beach towns since childhood and know them well.  I’ve seen many storms come and go there, and watched the tough, resilient folks of these communities re-build their beach cottages and their communities time after time.   They love the ocean in all of its moods and seasons.

Life along the coast is a gamble.  Only this monster storm has skewed the odds towards devastation.

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All was calm along the coast of Yorktown on Wednesday afternoon, before the storm moved in.

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I remember one childhood Sunday afternoon lunch at our favorite Topsail Island sound side restaurant.  Our family calmly ate hush puppies at a big, round table by the windows, as waterspouts whipped up on the Inland Waterway, spinning bright and beautiful against the black and purple storm clouds behind the trees.  The restaurant was packed; the staff calm and friendly as ever, the food delicious.  By dinner time we were back out walking along the beach, picking up shells, and admiring the sunset’s golden rays stretching towards us through the line of cottages.

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The ferry approaches the dock of Ocracoke Island, autumn 2007.  Ocracoke has been especially hard hit this time with overwash and torrential rains.

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We saw Topsail cottages dismantled by the storm surge’s waves on CNN last night.  Another reporter stood in the middle of the deserted road through nearby Hampstead, buffeted by the wind and rain as the hurricane’s eye paced slowly towards the coast a few miles further south.  When the eye of the Hurricane finally came ashore near Wrightsville Beach early this morning, it was so huge that the geography of landfall almost didn’t matter.

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Except it wasn’t here.  And for that we are enormously grateful today.  Tropical force winds haven’t quite made it far enough up the rivers to reach us, here in Williamsburg, and the rainfall has been relatively light.  The power’s on, the roads are clear, and our forest stands intact.

We keep in mind and heart everyone along the coast, and all those living on farms and in small towns whose lives are upended by the wind and rain.  We remember the thousands of workers even now rescuing families from flooded homes, patrolling the roads, running shelters and putting themselves in harm’s way to tell the story to the rest of us comfortably watching it unfold from home.

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Our appreciation to Lesley, Don and the gang at Classic Caladiums for their good luck wishes ahead of the storm.  This is our favorite Caladium this season, ‘Peppermint’, well grown now from a single tuber.

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The rain squalls come and go and the wind whips up from time to time.  The day is cool and fresh.  When I walked up the drive this morning a cloud of goldfinches startled from their morning meal in the Rudbeckia, flying in all directions to safer perches in the trees.  They chirped and chatted at the interruption, and I was so happy to see them still here.

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Can you spot the goldfinch in the center of the Rudbeckia? I caught his photo the instant before he flew away.  He was the bravest of his small flock, to linger this long as I approached.

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The flowers have taken on that intense hue that comes when they are well watered and the nights turn cool.  Gold and purples, scarlet, pink and purest white pop against fading leaves.  But also brown, as petals drop and seeds ripen in the undergrowth.

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Rudbeckia with basil. The goldfinches love ripened seeds from both of these.

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We’re happy to see that the routine continues in our Forest Garden.  Huge bumblies make their way slowly from flower to flower.  Birds peck at the muddy ground.  Clouds of mosquitoes wait for a chance to land and drink on unprotected flesh.  Hummingbirds dart from flower to flower.  But where are the butterflies?  Have they taken shelter, or taken wing?

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Native mist flower, Conoclinium coelestinum

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Even as beautyberries ripen from green to purple, and the mistflower bursts into bloom, we anticipate our garden’s closing extravaganza of beauty.  Summer is passed, and Indian Summer is upon us.  Cooler, wetter, milder; this season is a celebration of the fullness of our garden’s annual growth.  It stretches from mid-September until first frost.  Some might say it is the best part of the year, when acorns drop and leaves turn gold and scarlet against the clear, blue sky.

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Mist flower grows among obedient plant, black-eyed Susans and goldenrod.  All are native to our region.

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Even as we sit and wait out this monstrous storm, we notice the subtle signs of change.  Dogwood berries turn scarlet as next year’s buds emerge behind them.  The first Muscari leaves emerge in pots, and the Italian Arum begin to appear in the shadows.  I’m looking forward to a trip to Gloucester next week to pick up some Cyclamen for our winter garden

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Oakleaf Hydrangea heads persist all summer, mellowing into shades of cream and brown towards fall.

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All things change to their own pace and rhythms.  Flowers bloom, berries ripen, families grow, and leaves turn and fall.  Storms grow and subside.   Sandbar islands move along the coast.  Communities suffer loss and rebuild.  And life grows richer and more beautiful with each passing year.   It is the way of things. 

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Fabulous Friday: 

Happiness is contagious;  let’s infect one another.

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Hedychium coronarium, butterfly ginger lily

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“There are times when the world is rearranging itself,
and at times like that,
the right words can change the world.”
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Orson Scott Card
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The first ever flower blooms on a volunteer seedling Hibiscus.

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“It is change, continuing change, inevitable change,
that is the dominant factor in society today.
No sensible decision can be made any longer
without taking into account not only the world as it is,
but the world as it will be…
This, in turn, means that our statesmen, our businessmen, our everyman
must take on a science fictional way of thinking.”
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Isaac Asimov
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WPC: Bridge

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Bridges connect us, but also separate us in important ways.  Tidewater, Virginia, is riddled with bridges, large and small, linking communities across several rivers and lots of marshes, creeks, canals and the Chesapeake Bay.  As a child, observing the world from the back seat of my parents’ car, some of these old and narrow bridges frightened me.

We traversed the Bay Bridge Tunnel each summer to visit family on the Eastern Shore.   You soon loose sight of land on this miles long bridge.  Back in the day, when it was only two lanes wide, it was always an adventure.   Still is, when a storm is sweeping across the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and wind buffets trucks, sometimes pushing a big rig over the rails.

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Nowadays, many of our area bridges have been upgraded and modernized, but now carry heavy tolls.  Commuters may not be able to afford to cross for casual shopping and visiting; and nearby communities become isolated from one another.

Years ago, I left my home in the Northern Neck,  knowing that a toll was to be levied on this beautiful Coleman Bridge, which links Yorktown and Gloucester. I brought my family south, so we didn’t have to depend on passage across the bridge, and settled in the heart of  urban Tidewater.

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The beautiful and rural peninsulas of Virginia’s bay front coast rely on this bridge to link them to the rest of the state, especially to the nearest cities in Southeast Virginia.  Paying for every trip to shop, visit family, work and stay connected to the larger communities, takes a heavy financial toll.  This bridge becomes a barrier, separating people and communities from one another.

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Now, many years later, I love driving across the Coleman Bridge for day trips and get aways back to the small towns and rural beauty found in Gloucester,  Mathews and Lancaster.  I’ve long loved the gentle lap of our Virginia rivers along their sandy banks, and the villages which thrive along these shores.

From its top, one can see beautiful vistas of the York River, historic Yorktown,  and Gloucester Point.  Every trip is different, depending on the sky and waves, wind and river traffic, and what birds may be nesting on the bridge or flying over the river.

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Our bridges remain part of the fabric of our lives, allowing us to weave a rich tapestry of partnerships and friendships across our watery landscape.  They enrich our lives, even as they impose substantial costs on our families and our communities.

Art and engineering combine to form this beautiful legacy of bridges; which mold our present, even as they shaped our history.

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

 

The Yorktown Onion

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Locals in our area enjoy the spectacular early summer bloom of naturalized “Yorktown Onions” as they drive the Colonial Parkway between Williamsburg and Yorktown.  Thousands of brilliant magenta flowers nod and bob in the breeze from late May through mid-June.

The National Park Service leaves broad areas along the roadsides unmown each spring, so that these distinctive flowers may grow and bloom, surrounded by beautiful grasses.   By late June, these stands of wildflowers will be gone; the fields and grassy shoulders neatly mown once again.

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The battlefields at Yorktown also hold broad swathes of these beautiful Alliums in early summer, to be followed by a steady progression of wildflowers, including thistle, as the months pass.  These historic Revolutionary War battlefields, now wildflower meadows, escape the mowers until fall.  But you’ll often see herds of deer grazing here in the early morning and at dusk, and clouds of wild birds feeding as the various seeds ripen.

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If you’re visiting, please resist the urge to pick or pull the onions.  York County passed an ordinance protecting the Yorktown Onion many years ago.  They may not be picked or harvested on public land.

But these are a quintessential ‘pass along plant.’   If you’re lucky enough to know someone growing them on private property, you may be able to beg some seeds or sets to start your own patch.

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I believe we make more drives along the Colonial Parkway when the onions bloom each year.  We marvel at their wild, random beauty.  Their tiny blossoms prove magnets for bees and other pollinators.  The Yorktown Onion is one of many beautiful wildflowers visitors enjoy along the Parkway each summer.

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Native in Europe and in parts of the Near and Middle East, historians suggest that seeds were brought to Yorktown during the Colonial or Revolutionary eras.    These particular Alliums are one of many Allium species you might choose for your own garden.  The Yorktown Onion, Allium ampeloprasum, may be purchased from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs  in Gloucester, along with more than 30 other Allium cultivars.  The Yorktown Onion, like other Alliums, wants full sun.  They are drought tolerant and hardy in Zones 4-8.

Also known as ‘wild leeks’ or ‘wild garlic,’ these beautiful flowers are exceptionally easy to grow.  Basically, plant them where they’ll thrive, and then leave them alone!  They don’t like to be disturbed, and will gradually increase to a more substantial display each year.

The Heath’s grow their onion sets from seed, thus the dear price they charge for the “Yorktown” Alliums in their catalog.  If you want the general effect, without the boutique pricing, you might try the very, very similar A. ‘Summer Drummer.’  This nearly identical tall (4′ +) burgundy Allium may be purchased in groups of 5 bulbs for the same price as a single Yorktown Allium bulb.

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Allium bud as it begins to open in our own garden, June 1 of this year.

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If you want something a bit shorter and less likely to fall over with the weather, consider planting chives, garlic chives, or even just onion sets or garlic cloves bought at a farmer’s market or the produce section of your grocery.  You might be a bit surprised at what beautiful flowers show up in your garden!

Chives thrive in our garden.  The clumps expand, and their seeds readily self-sow each summer.  Use them in cooking and enjoy their edible flowers as garnishes.   Dried Allium flowers look very nice in dried arrangements or used to decorate wreathes or swags.

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Allium buds in our garden, late May

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I began planting Alliums to protect other plants from hungry deer.  I’ve learned that their strong fragrance can confuse the deer nose, and possibly deter deer from reaching across them to nibble something tasty.  Like other deer deterrents, Alliums work often, but not always, to protect the garden.

That said, why not grow Alliums for their own special beauty?  It is one of the short list of plants with a fairly iron-clad guarantee to not be nibbled.

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We stopped along our drive yesterday evening at Jone’s Millpond to enjoy the view and the wildflowers.  It is one of the few places along the Parkway where you may park and get an up-close view of the Yorktown Onions.  Even at dusk, the bumblies were busily feeding on the tiny flowers which make up each globe.

There is something about seeings hundreds, or thousands of these flowers naturalized across a wild field, that mesmerizes.  This is an effect it would be difficult to duplicate in one’s own garden.

I hope you’ll find yourself in our area when the Yorktown Onions bloom some summer soon.  At the end of your trek, in old Yorktown proper, you’ll find a sandy beach and a little gift shop called “The Yorktown Onion” nestled under the Coleman Bridge.

The journey is the destination….

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Woodland Gnome 2017

Late Summer Golden Haze

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Like living sunshine, waves of golden flowers splash across the meadows at the Yorktown battlefields.  We found a quintessential meadow planting, windsown, as we drove through this patchwork of fields and fences, earthworks and reminders of the battles where the British finally surrendered to the Americans in October of 1781.

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Tall native grasses grow in an Oudolph style matrix, punctuated by native  Solidago catching and reflecting the late summer sunlight.  Peaceful now, these fields stand empty as a silent memorial to the passions which bought liberty for our United States.

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The Yorktown battlefields lie at the Eastern end of the Colonial Parkway.  Beyond the fields one finds the little village of Yorktown on the Southern bank of the York River.   We visit from time to time, enjoying the waterfront which hosts concerts, craft fairs, sailing ships and a pleasing variety of restaurants and shops.  Families relax along its sandy beach.

Here, time blurs.  Present day life blends seamlessly with artifacts and memories of the past.

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We enjoy the peace which permeates this place now.  And we enjoy seeing the seasons painting their colors across the fields and trees; the gardens in the village; the river and sky.

Goldenrod is one of the highlights of late summer and autumn here.  This is the wild, native Goldenrod.  While gardeners can purchase several more refined hybrids for their gardens, this is the same Goldenrod the early colonists and Native Americans would have known.

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It grows freely, still, along roadsides throughout our area.  Like so many ‘native perennials,’ Solidago may be seen as a wildflower by some, a weed by others.

It seeds take root in unexpected places.  In fact, native Solidago grows in one of our shrub borders.  Once I realized what it was, I began leaving it to grow undisturbed each year.  It grows very tall in this shaded area.

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While a bit weedy, it feeds many pollinators now at the end of the season, and its beautiful clear golden flowers brighten even the dullest autumn day.

In large masses, Goldenrod creates a lovely late summer golden haze; living, growing sunshine which  brightens the last few weeks of the season.

More on growing Goldenrod

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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Which Way?

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We went a different way today and enjoyed some different views. 

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The shots I captured from “The Other Side” (of the York River, of course) inspired me to join Cee for her Cee’s Which Way Photo Challenge this week.

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Our view of The Hermione as we crossed the Coleman Bridge above her.

Our view of The Hermione as we crossed the Coleman Bridge above her.

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A lovely French tall ship, The Hermione, anchored in Yorktown Virginia, this weekend.

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The Hermione is anchored at the beach in Yorktown.

The Hermione is anchored at the beach in Yorktown.

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After crawling through the traffic in Historic Yorktown, we crossed the Coleman Bridge to view the ship and river traffic from Gloucester Point.  We were rewarded with wonderful views of this historic ship and the festival which cropped up in Yorktown today to celebrate its visit.

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This is a reconstruction of the ship which brought General Lafayette to Yorktown in 1780, when he came to meet with General George Washington to pledge France’s support to the colonies in our revolution against the British Crown.

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Huge French and American flags fly from the ships docked in Yorktown today.

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We knew we had taken the right way today, to enjoy this beautiful day.

We found some new river beaches to enjoy, enjoyed the salt breezes blowing off of the river, and appreciated our chance to view this beautifully reconstructed tall ship.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Angular

Low tide at Indian Field Creek, beside the National Colonial Parkway

Low tide at Indian Field Creek, beside the National Colonial Parkway

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And, taking a closer look,

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and closer, still…

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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Find more interesting photos at:

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Angular

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Holiday Wreath Challenge:  2014

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The Beauty Left Behind

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Wind driven leaves filled the air like great golden snowflakes.  The air was soft and moist, unusually warm for a Virginia November.

And it was beginning to rain again.  The road and lawns, slick with new fallen leaves, glowed as golden as the forest in this muted noon time light.

 

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Great fronts of wind and rain, snow and ice rake across the country transforming the landscape.

The season has been rushed along its way.  No lingering, languid autumn this year. 

 

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No, the wind strips the leaves as they’re still turning and whips them through the air to their terrestrial demise.

You have to be out in it to fully appreciate the spectacle.

And we were.

 

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What could be more beautiful than driving through the golden showers of bright leaves flung against a low, grey sky?

And the world is transformed yet again; the finely crafted beauty left behind, revealed.

 

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Ivy and mistletoe, sculpted branches and mottled bark shine now that their leafy drape has blown away.  Tiny buds dot each branch.

 

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Silhouettes of vines, pods, fruits and berries etch fine figures against the sky.

 

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The forest’s canopy is  melting away, opening the woods once again.

Sunlight penetrates what was shaded since early summer.

 

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What was dense has opened; the hidden treasures of the forests revealed.

 

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This is our time to see down to the bones of things; to explore and discover the structure of the landscape.

Which trees harbor the nests of birds and squirrels?  Where might grapevines be found?

 

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And what tiny promises of spring might already be waiting along the woody limbs of trees and shrubs?

What beauty has been left behind by the cleansing winds?

 

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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

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Holiday Wreath Challenge 2014

The Road Ahead

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The road ahead feels rather dark and murky at the moment.

It rained in the night, and when I opened the slider to let our cat out on the deck I was met with a blast of frigid air.

Not freezing yet, and for that we’re grateful.

 

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But cold enough.  And its windy today.  It was 38 on the  car thermometer when I climbed in this morning.

This is when November gets down to its task of sweeping another summer away.

I think of November as a great, fastidious janitor sweeping down every leaf and flattening everything it can;  cleaning up after summer for another year.

 

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The road ahead leads us into the valley of winter; frosty beauty found among the remains of the year just passed.

Winter brings deep silence, especially here in our forest community.  Lawn mowers, blowers, and chain saws oiled and blessedly put away for a few months.

 

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Winter brings  time to read, to plan, and to rest.

Winter brings twinkling holiday lights, colorful wreathes and ornamented trees.

And winter often brings clarity. 

 

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An opportunity to see clear through to the bones; whether to the structure of the garden, the skeleton of a tree, or the outlines of one’s own road ahead.

 

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Those of us well north of the equator, and especially those of us in North America, are traveling this road towards winter together.

As the days grow shorter and our gardens fill with snow and ice, let us find a warm and comforting place to wait it out.

 

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Those who don’t want to live in darkness need only light a candle, as the proverb tells us.

And we can light candles for each other, offering the warmth of love and friendship to those sharing this bit of the road with us.

 

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Roads go ever ever on,

Over rock and under tree,

By caves where never sun has shone,

By streams that never find the sea;

Over snow by winter sown,

And through the merry flowers of June,

Over grass and over stone,

And under mountains in the moon.

Roads go ever ever on

Under cloud and under star,

Yet feet that wandering have gone

Turn at last to home afar.

Eyes that fire and sword have seen

And horror in the halls of stone

Look at last on meadows green

And trees and hills they long have known.

 

 

                                   J.R.R Tolkien,  from The Hobbit

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

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Holiday Wreath Challenge 2014

 

Water Views

 

College Creek, a tributary of the James River.

College Creek, a tributary of the James River.

 

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

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

 

The York River, to our north.

The York River, to our north.

 

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

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

 

The James River, to our south

The James River, to our south

 

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

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

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Our geography is formed by flowing water and the tides.  

Much of the real estate is at sea level here.

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

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

 

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

Fringes of marsh border most of the dry land here.

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

 

Powhatan Creek

Powhatan Creek

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

Far more frequently, we see shells.

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

 

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We love the water. 

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

Jones Mill Pond

Jones Mill Pond

 

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

 

Passmore Creek

Passmore Creek

 

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

 

Indian Field Creek

Indian Field Creek

 

Yet we are drawn to live near flowing water.

Our bits of forest are always bounded by water.

 

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And those waterways were once the highways here.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

GetMap.ashx

Return to the Pond, Looking For Caterpillars

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We returned to the pond, nestled along the Colonial Parkway between Williamsburg and Yorktown,  hoping to find evidence of Monarch caterpillars and eggs.

As soon as we arrived it was evident that summer has not been kind to this spot.

 

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Flowering plants along the edge of the road had been mown.  I hope it was just mowing at least, and not herbicides, which turned this once beautiful area brown and grey.

The Alliums, Daisies, Queen Anne’s Lace, Purple Milk Vetch and Milkweed, so vivid in memory, were gone.

 

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In their place we found various grasses, a patch of orange flowers, and Milkweed, now going to seed.

 

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Milkweed plants nearest to the parking area have obviously hosted caterpillars, many of their leaves methodically stripped away.

In fact, we found quite a few caterpillars at their dinner.

 

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We also found a few spots of eggs.

And while we were happy to find eggs and larvae, these are not the eggs and larvae of Monarchs.

 

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I haven’t yet been able to identify this caterpillar, and certainly appreciate anyone who is able to name it for us in the comments.

 

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These caterpillars are drawn to this Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca,  whether the plant lives or not.

 

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We found perhaps a dozen individual caterpillars while walking around the perimeter of the planting, staying on the mown grassy areas.

 

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The Milkweed plants further away on the slope didn’t show any obvious signs of chewing, although they continue to set seed for next year’s crop.

And we also didn’t spot any adult butterflies around the pond this evening.

 

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My partner spotted a turtle, swimming in the pond, as I hunted for caterpillars.   And I enjoyed the company of dragonflies and grasshoppers.

But that was all, late on a late July evening, as shadows grew deeper, and the golden rays of sunset touched the treetops one last time before slipping below the horizon.

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

A Monarch For Memorial Day

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