Tag Archives: College Creek
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 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.
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.
Our geography is formed by flowing water and the tides.
Much of the real estate is at sea level here.
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.
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.
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.
We enjoy watching the changing year reflected in the water which surrounds our home.
Like all of the elements on Earth, water can be life-giving or deadly; destructive or beautiful.
Yet we are drawn to live near flowing water.
Our bits of forest are always bounded by water.
And those waterways were once the highways here.
In earlier times, before our modern roads were built, most travel was by small boat.
Most homes were built near water, and the waterways provided a rich variety of clams and oysters, fish, duck, and goose for food.
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.
Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014
Posted in Autumn, Autumn Garden, birds, College Creek, Colonial Parkway, Color, Cypress, Environmental Preservation, Garden Resources, Gardening addiction, Gardening How-To, Gardening in Williamsburg, History, James City Co. VA, Jamestown Island, Nature art, Perma Culture, Phragmites australis, Plant photos, Plants which attract pollinating insects, Plants which feed birds, Trees, Use of Native Plants, Yorktown, Zone 7B Cultural Information
What is your favorite autumn color?
A preposterous question, I know. Sort of like, “Which is your favorite child?” or “Where is your favorite beach?”
Each autumn color has its own place in the progression, and its own astounding beauty.
Just as the bare branches against a winter sunset display an elegance all their own.
But, early in the season, I am always delighted to find a touch of scarlet amidst the still mostly green forest.
Scarlet jumps out from the masses with its invitation to revel in the pleasures of autumn: Fresh apples, freshly pressed cider, pumpkins, and woodsmoke on the evening breeze.
And much of the scarlet in our early fall landscape appears from the incidental “wild” things we might not even plant in our gardens: Virginia Creeper and other vines, Staghorn Sumac, “The Devil’s Walking Stick” tree, and native Dogwoods.
I believe it is in some way a reward for allowing these wild native plants space in our gardens.
We watch for these gorgeous reds as we drive around Williamsburg, deeply satisfied with every sighting of scarlet.
They preview the beauty about to unfold as our forests blaze into color.
We heard, earlier this week on the Weather Channel, that our forecast for peak fall color has been pushed back to early November this year.
That would be the latest ever for peak color in central Virginia; at least in modern times.
A friend and I discussed the strange autumn weather as we inspected her Passiflora vine, showing new growth and tiny flower buds, this afternoon.
There are Paperwhite flowers already in full bloom on our street. A strange sight indeed, this early in the season, before our first frost.
What has caused the strange timing of our seasons this year? Is it the pole shift? Climate change? Radiation in the atmosphere?
We are both keen observers of the unfolding seasons.
And we’re wondering whether it is still too early to plant our daffodil bulbs this year. There’s talk of some afternoon temperatures close to 80 degrees for us next week….
But some of the Sumacs have already dropped their leaves. And the trees across the creek get a bit brighter with each passing day.
The Dogwood berries shine scarlet in the sunshine, and I have faith that this touch of scarlet will soon spread far and wide as autumn comes suddenly upon us once again.
Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014
Posted in Autumn, Autumn Garden, Burning Bush, College Creek, Colonial Parkway, Color, Daffodils, Dogwood, Environmental Preservation, Garden Resources, Gardening addiction, Gardening in Williamsburg, James City Co. VA, Nature art, Passiflora incarnata, Perma Culture, Pineapple Sage, Plant photos, Plants which feed birds, Staghorn Sumac, Trees, Use of Native Plants, Vines, Virginia Creeper, Wildlife gardening, Zone 7B Cultural Information
I took a quiet walk down to the Creek this morning, and enjoyed the wildflowers emerging now, late in the season, in the neglected places along the way.
They all bloom in their own season.
And like another spring, many wait until the cooler, shorter days of early autumn to open to the world.
Wildflowers and brilliantly changing leaves offered splashes of color on this cool and overcast day; this nearly silent Sunday morning.
Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014
Posted in Autumn, College Creek, Gardening addiction, Gardening in Williamsburg, Insects, James City Co. VA, Nature art, Plant photos, Plants which attract pollinating insects, Use of Native Plants, Wildflowers, Zone 7B Cultural Information
Our creeks, marshes, and ponds lie surrounded by thick stands of reeds.
Reeds are a very large, very tough, very long lived grass. Found in temperate and tropical wetlands across much of the planet, they have their uses.
But like any grass, they grow from extensive mats of roots and rhizomes, creeping along in the mud.
Some of our reeds are native plants.
Known as Phragmites australis, subspecies americanus; the native reeds grow across our entire continent from southern Canada south to the Mexico border in the west.
Here on the east coast, they grow as far south as our border with North Carolina.
Another species, possibly native, grows along the Gulf coast. Phragmites australis subspecies berlandieri may have crept northward from Central and South America at some point. It has now moved westward and is found in parts of Arizona and California. Items made from reeds, found in archeological digs in the American Southwest, date to over 40,000 years old.
Our native species co-exist with other marsh and aquatic plants. They were used by Native Americans for food, shelter, and to make useful things. Every part of the plant is edible. Spring shoots may be harvested and eaten like bamboo shoots.
But another, hardier species of reed, Phragmites australis, was brought to North America by European ships in the 18th and 19th centuries. Like so many “exotic” species, it has become invasive, choking out other species which at one time grew along our waterways.
Phragmites australis grow across much of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. They are an ancient species. In their own native areas, they aren’t invasive. And they have been used for many purposes for thousands of years. But transplanted to North American waters, they behave differently.
Why should we care about which reeds grow along the creeks and in the marshes?
It all comes down to biodiversity.
When lots of different types of plants grow together in a community, many types of animals find food and shelter. A greater number of species can live together in harmony in a place. Their relationships are rich and complex. The whole community becomes stronger and better able to withstand fluctuations in climate. The ecosystem remains in balance.
When an invasive species gets a foothold, it often grows stronger and faster than the native species it replaces. It has fewer animals which use it. Soon the invasive species takes over, creating a monoculture, spreading, and changing the community so that fewer species can live in that place.
And that is exactly what is happening to our waterways across much of the United States.
The area where we live, around the Chesapeake Bay, is one of the few areas in North America where the native species of reed still lives. And the natives are crowded out, more each year, by the invasive Eurasian reeds.
Now, these reeds, known as Phragmites (pronouced “frag-mahy-teez“), gobble up real estate along waterways. They can grow to over 15” tall.
Like bamboo, their system of underground roots and rhizomes grow many feet each year away from the clump, to cover new territory. These roots and rhizomes grow many feet deep below the surface.
At the surface, stolons, or horizontal stems, grow many feet each year. New plants emerge at each joint in the stolon, and each of these new plants sends down new roots. The result is a very dense, thick mat of growth at and below the surface.
Thick, dense vertical growth of the actual grasses grow anew each spring. They are so dense and so tall that they shade out any other plant which tries to grow in their midst. The stems of each plant are hollow. Large leaves grow at nodes along the length of the stem, much like the leaves on a stalk of corn. The plant is crowned with a very large plume of flowers, which produce thousands of seeds each season.
It is easy to see why these Phragmites spread so quickly! They not only spread out with their rhizomes and stolons each year; but those seeds travel by air and water to colonize new areas. Very few species of birds use the seeds. Very few species of animals make their homes among the Phragmites in a marsh. And currently, we aren’t harvesting and using these reeds in any substantial way.
Phragmites die back each winter, but are perennial and re-emerge each spring. The previous year’s stalks stand all winter long. Silt accumulates around them, and the water becomes progressively shallower each year. They eventually form a wall between the shoreline and the water, blocking the view and creating a dense barrier for anyone trying to access the water for fishing or boating.
Invasive Phragmites emerge early in the spring, before the native species and before many other aquatic plants. They grow taller and with more vigor than our native Phragmites australis, subspecies americanus.
They have grown into a hot topic of debate among those of us who live along the waterways they choke.
Many would like to get rid of them. But from what you now know about Phragmites, you probably understand why this is difficult and expensive. Their extensive root system allows them to regenerate after harvesting or burning. They must be burned for several years in succession to eventually destroy the roots.
There is experimentation with herbicides. But how will broadcast herbicides affect the birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and other plants living in marshes and shallow creeks? Herbicides are a controversial solution. Permits are required, and the herbicide must be sprayed during the period of active growth in late summer or early fall. The sprayed herbicides will travel, like the Phragmites’s seeds, in the air and water for many miles.
And who will pay for the herbicide, even if a community decides to go that route?
This is one of those slowly creeping problems which eludes an easy fix.
But Phragmites, though invasive, remain a useful plant.
They are sometimes planted to filter and clean waste water. They help catch run-off, trap harmful chemicals in their biomass, and remove other waste products so the water can be used again.
Phragmites also filter our air. They filter excess carbon from the air, using it to grow. Carbon, a major greenhouse gas, is removed from the air and returned to the soil through their efforts. While filtering carbon, they also remove other polluting gasses from the air we breathe, releasing pure oxygen and water vapor.
Phragmites stop erosion. Because they grow in any moist soil, they can hold areas which might otherwise erode from run off , tides, and flooding. They can tolerate brackish, salty, or fresh water. Tidal flooding doesn’t bother them.
These are wonderful plants with many uses and benefits. We don’t value them because we no longer need them as a natural resource for making things. We no longer eat them as a staple of our diet.
As with so many things, it is our own point of view which defines “nuisance” as opposed to “resource.”
Perhaps the solution to our problem can lie more in creativity and less in destruction of the growing world around us.
Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014
For More Information:
Posted in animals, College Creek, Colonial Parkway, Environmental Preservation, Garden Resources, Gardening addiction, Gardening in Williamsburg, Great Blue Heron, James City Co. VA, Jamestown Island, Nature art, Perennials, Perma-culture, Phragmites australis, Plant photos, Summer Garden, Use of Native Plants, Wildlife gardening, Williamsburg, Zone 7B Cultural Information
We live surrounded by wonder, magic, and beauty.
And yet how often do we find ourselves going through the day on “auto-pilot?”
Do you ever wonder where your day has gone? Find yourself so wrapped up in the trivial details of living that you neglect to do the things most important to you? Have difficulty beginning projects, accomplishing long-cherished goals, or keeping up with loved ones?
After a while, a kind of sluggish inertia sets in; an attitude of, “We’ll get through this” rather than a genuine joie de vivre.
When we feel this, there is a need to break through it to recapture the joy and magic life sometimes holds.
We live surrounded by miracles. Our very existence is a miracle. And remaining awake to the “catch your breath” excitement of life on this planet remains our challenge.
There are so many obstacles to keep us mired in lethargy and boredom.
There is the stress inherent in daily life, the fears which come with each stage of life. There is frustration, a sense of responsibility to others, and the commitments we have to fulfill at work and in our community.
And we humans have found so many ingenious ways to “break out” of our everyday.
And many of them land us in hot water eventually…
Just as there are seasons to the year, so there are seasons to our lives. It can’t always be spring….
And so our challenge is to find beauty, no matter the season.
Beauty helps us break through the malaise to touch the magical again.
It helps us find a different perspective from a wiser place, so we can re-order our thoughts and our priorities to keep ourselves moving towards our higher vision.
Seeking out beauty, and letting it fill our minds and hearts re-news us.
Seeing beauty in another’s face re-freshes our connection with them.
Seeing the beauty in every season of our lives offers the energy and courage to continue moving forwards with joy and optimism.
“Walk in beauty,” the blessing of our native brothers and sisters, holds a key to our happiness during every stage our journey here on this magical Earth.
Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful;
for beauty is God’s handwriting
— a wayside sacrament.
Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky,
in every fair flower,
and thank God for it as a cup of blessing.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome, 2014
“We live in a wonderful world that is full
of beauty, charm and adventure.
There is no end to the adventures that we can have
if only we seek them with our eyes open.”
August is slowly, steadily, sliding into September.
Summer sun still bakes the beach,
and the garden ,
Nights whisper in
Frog and cricket song
Start a little earlier each evening;
Birds greet the sunrise a little later each day.
Dew gilded mornings feel fresh;
Clear blue skies deepening to sapphire.
Energy of beginnings :
Renewed interest –
Reawakened purpose –
Berries swell and ripen.
A season’s efforts almost complete.
Greens soften into plum,
crimson, gold, magenta,
Discarding the extraneous,
The exhausted, the empty husks of yesterday.
Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014
Posted in animals, Autumn, Autumn Garden, Bald Eagles, butterfly photos, College Creek, Colonial Parkway, Color, Dragonflies, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly, Garden Resources, Gardening addiction, Great Blue Heron, James City Co. VA, Muscadine Grapes, Native Plants, Nature art, Perma Culture, Plant photos, Plants which attract butterflies, Plants which feed birds, Poetry, Summer Garden, toads, Trees, Use of Native Plants, Vines, Virginia Creeper, Weather, Zone 7B Cultural Information
Our community is surrounded on most sides by water, and also holds several natural ponds, springs, and an ancient swimming pool.
As water divides us, so it also brings us together.
This series of photos speaks to light, water, inclusion, exclusion, and the constancy of change.
It is a snapshot of my walk around the community yesterday evening, between dinner time and sunset.
A dialogue about the end of summer, the beginning of autumn, and the deeply satisfying beauty of nature in all of her guises.
Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014
“Dialogue is an engaging conversational exchange.
When it comes to photography, dialogue can be perceived as a consensual interaction between two images.
Placed next to each other, each photograph opens up to meanings that weren’t there when viewed alone.
Each composition reveals the photographer’s specific sensitivity to certain content or visual elements.”
Posted in Autumn, birds, College Creek, Environmental Preservation, Garden Resources, Gardening addiction, Gardening in Williamsburg, Geometry, Great Blue Heron, James City Co. VA, Nature art, Perma Culture, Photo Challenge, Plant photos, Trees, Use of Native Plants, Weather, Wildlife gardening, Williamsburg, Zone 7B Cultural Information
Eliza Waters, author, gardener, and naturalist, invited me to participate in a blog tour of writers reflecting on their own writing process. You will find Eliza’s blog wonderfully illustrated with photos of her Massachusetts garden and peppered with her wit and wisdom. Eliza has become a treasured friend and correspondent over the last several months, and I hope you will take a moment to read her reflections on writing and life.
I would suggest that writers are obsessed, not trained. For some of us, an idea or turn of phrase lodges itself into our mind and repeats itself, like a squeaky hinge, until we begin to write it.
Once we write down those initial words, more begin to flow in a trickling stream of consciousness. One image elicits the next, and ideas fit together into some sort of structure.
I’m often surprised at how these thoughts develop and transform; linking to something I’ve recently read or seen or heard; and a message takes shape which was unseen at the beginning.
On a good day….
This need to write started when I was very young. I was often writing in the margins of a composition book while an oblivious teacher conducted class on some very different topic. They must have assumed I was taking copious notes. But I was writing verse, and the whole process of composition and editing carried over in spare moments through the course of a day or two until I knew it was completed.
The pile of finished work accumulated and by junior high a sympathetic teacher made a friend and me editors of a school literary magazine. Writing, and writing friends, carried me through grade school and into college. I continued to edit various publications over the years. Finally I had the opportunity to work with young writers during my own teaching career.
A summer spent with the Tidewater Writing Project at ODU offered the opportunity to share my writing with other teachers; and to hear, and comment on, theirs. Writers actively working on their own material make more sympathetic and helpful teachers. We learned how to write with our students and how to work with them as mentors and partners in the process.
And writing is a process. Its roots lie in reflection. Its roots lie in soaking in ideas expressed by others in their music, poetry, fiction, prose, art, and photography. From this rich brew of ideas and close observation of one’s own life, ideas bubble up which need expression.
It is good to encourage ideas to flow freely in the beginning.
I still keep a legal pad and colored pens on my desk, between me and the computer screen, to capture ideas as they first form. Phrases are pieces of a jigsaw puzzle which must be tried and turned and finally fitted together into a smooth whole.
But once those ideas have been caught into words and captured on paper, one must get down to the business of developing the ideas into something another might want to read.
This is where the art and craft of writing takes over from visionary rambling.
Frequent visitors to Forest Garden find many different sorts of writing here.
There are essays and poems, how-to posts and quotations. And there are many photographs of life in our garden and community.
While I sometimes go looking for photos to illustrate an idea, more frequently an idea is sparked by the day’s cache of photos.
I began writing this blog to help other gardeners struggling in similiar deer-ridden vole-infested, squirrel- bitten shady bits of forest.
I had lists to post and resources to share. That information remains in the archives.
But the discipline of daily writing brought me back to my own roots as a poet. And some days now poetry seeps out, other days hard prose. On a very good day there might be a hint of poetry buried within some useful prose.
Whether one is writing poetry or prose, good composition is based on research, structure, and refinement.
Questions arise as I’m writing. There is always more to learn about whatever topic, whether the name of a particular plant or the various opinions on how best to prepare a planting bed.
Most of my composition occurs at the computer with a search engine window open. I look for what others have to say, fact check, spell check, and look up words. I search for quotations on particular topics, examine photographs, check maps, and always research the cultural requirements for plants I might mention. Since much of the writing I publish now is fact based, I try to confirm information from multiple sources as I write.
“Revising” nearly always begins before the first draft is complete. I walk away from the work and come back to it later with ‘fresh eyes,” re-reading from the beginning. I want to know that I’m on track to express my thoughts logically and clearly. I look for “jumps” where more information or a reasonable transition is needed. I look for tangential wanderings which need deleting.
Deleting is almost as important as writing. I usually put down too many words, whether it is prose or poetry. One searches for a simpler, clearer way to put an idea into words through revision.
This process of revision takes time. The words need to get “cold” sometimes before we can hear our own awkward passages to fix them. And this is just for the sense and structure of what is written.
The whole process of “editing” is another matter entirely.
I shiver to think how many students’ papers I’ve read and “edited” over the years. That critical part of my brain which looks for commas and common misspellings is definitely overactive; and yet I often miss my own errors.
Sometimes I find them on a sixth or seventh reading. Sometimes my partner reads behind me, and finds things I’ve missed.
Yet it remains important to me to make a piece of writing as clean as possible before sharing it. I want my writing “clean” of any distraction which might snag a reader’s attention away from my message, whether that is a factual error, an awkward phrase, or a “typo.”
The point of writing is communication: mind to mind, heart to heart, and soul to soul. It is a way to connect with others across unlimited space and time.
In reading a sutra, I hear the wisdom of a Bodhisattva who lived centuries ago as though we were sitting together over a cup of tea.
I love the community on WordPress because it allows me to converse in real time with acquaintances in Massachusettes, Malaysia, Australia, Georgia, Brussels and Great Britain, all while sitting here at my desk.
And through these conversations I’ve met talented, fascinating people. I’ve found companions along the way who share my passions and concerns. And I’ve discovered artists and poets, activists and environmentalists, mystics and mothers.
Everyone I’ve encountered is reflecting on their own journey through the words and images they publish.
One friend and fellow traveler, artist, mystic, and writer is Sue Vincent. Sue, like Tolkien, Lewis, and Rowling; writes about a special world which transcends time. Her journeys through the countryside of England, as recorded in her novels, are an epic quest for lost wisdom and deeper understanding.
Her delightful characters share their experiences and reflections in the sort of archetypes which takes the reader along on a journey of self- discovery.
Sue shares her own journeys on her blog, and gives us a glimpse of her writer’s world of research, deadlines, and the satisfaction of publication. She also shares the joys and sorrows of children, friends, and a small dog.
Her exquisite photographs become a meditation beyond words. I hope you will visit Sue’s The Daily Echo, which is the next stop on this blog tour.
Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014
Subsequent stops on the Blog Tour:
Posted in Art and Craft of Writing, Autumn Garden, Blog Tour, College Creek, Colonial Parkway, Gardening addiction, Gardening in Williamsburg, Hibiscus, James City Co. VA, Jamestown, Nature art, Plant photos, Rose of Sharon, Spider, Summer Garden, Trees, Use of Native Plants, Wildlife gardening, Zone 7B Cultural Information
This morning dawned cool and wet.
Thunderstorms yesterday afternoon settled into showers overnight, pushed out to sea by the cold front sweeping towards us.
What a welcome change from the heavy hot air of the past few days!
A beautiful morning to walk down to the creek, I ventured out with clippers in one hand, camera in the other, to see what could be seen.
Low grey skies promised more rain at any moment, and droplets of water clung to every leaf and stem along the way.
Good weather for mosses and ferns, and people who need a break from summer’s heat!
I was surprised to find the tide so low this morning.
The area around the dock was muddy, with shallow pools filled with little fish.
The bottom of the creek was clearly visible for a long ways in every direction, showing the roots of plants growing from the mud flats.
At one time, years ago, this creek was navigable.
Boats could access the dock . But silt continues to fill the creek.
The tide must be high to float a boat anywhere near the dock these days.
I was struck by the still silence this morning.
No eagles called out from the sky. Aside from dragonflies, no wings filled the air.
It felt as though the whole world were holding its breath waiting for something.
A moment of peace, while walking to the end of the dock; looking back at the shoreline, unfamiliar now in its exposed low-tide aspect.
Perhaps not to be seen again anytime soon,either.
I studied the muddy bottom to see what might be learned about this bit of shoreline.
Aside from a broken turtle shell, and the madly flopping fish, no living thing showed itself.
Not a crab or frog, snake or bird to be seen, anywhere, for as far as I could see in any direction.
And so I began the long climb home, away from the empty creek.
The garden awaited, still soggy but in need of a “walk about.”
And that is another story.
Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014
Posted in College Creek, Environmental Preservation, Gardening addiction, James City Co. VA, Native Plants, Nature art, Plant photos, Plants which attract butterflies, Summer Garden, Use of Native Plants, Weather, Zone 7B Cultural Information