Fabulous Friday: Summer Rain

Colocasia ‘Black Coral’ glows after a rain shower.

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As the early summer rain continues to fall in fits, drizzles and passing storms, I am enjoying a rare quiet day at home, chased inside from any major gardening tasks by the weather.  The forays outside have been brief thus far today, and usually ended with me left feeling soggy from the humidity or a sudden shower.

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Ferns and hardy Begonias enjoy our damp weather.

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I woke this morning concerned about all of the little plants in their nursery pots, still waiting to be planted out.  I thought of how soggy their roots must be and rushed outside to move them as needed and empty standing water that had collected overnight.

Soggy roots can mean sudden death for many plants that need a bit of air in their soil.  That set me to puttering about with pots and baskets and a few strategic transplanting jobs.

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Rose scented Pelargonium likes room for its roots to breathe.

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I am especially concerned for the Caladiums still growing on in their bins.  It is one of those tasks that gets more difficult the longer one procrastinates.  While I wait for the new ones, ordered this spring to emerge, the ones grown from over-wintered bulbs have gotten huge and leggy; their roots entangled.  But the wet soil and frequent showers give me reason to wait another day for more transplanting.

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What won’t wait is our annual dance with the bamboo grove in the ravine.  Bamboo is considered a grass, but what a stubborn and determined force of nature it as proven to be in our garden!  Though we didn’t plant it, we admire it and appreciate its beauty.

But that beauty is expected to stay within reasonable bounds.  The bamboo disagrees, determinedly marching up the slope of our garden towards the house.  It sends out small scouting sprouts ahead of its main force.  We must stay on top of these year round, as they seek to colonize every bed and pathway.  The bamboo’s main assault begins in late April, as its new stalks emerge.

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We allow a certain number of these to grow each spring, and it seems that we give up another few feet of garden to the ‘bamboo forest’ with each passing year.  What would happen if we were away in May?  Could we find the house when we returned?

Every day we seek out and remove the new bamboo stalks growing in spots we cannot allow.  The squirrels appreciate our efforts, and feast on the broken shoots we leave for them.

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And so it was that we were out early this morning, me with the pots and saucers, and attacking the new bamboo that emerged over night.  This constant stream of moisture has encouraged its audacity.

As we made another tour of the garden during a break in the rain this afternoon, my partner called me over to see one of our garden visitors.

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She was hiding under a very large sage plant.  At least I hope she was hiding, and had not dug a nest to lay her eggs.

The turtles like our garden.  We find them resting in the greenness of forgotten places, and try to always give them their peace.  They repay us by eating their share of bugs each day.

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But just as I settled in to re-plant another pot or two with Caladiums, the brief sunshine was blotted out by another passing, rain soaked cloud.  Large cold drops of rain splattered down much quicker than I expected, leaving me all wet once again.

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And so there is nothing to do but enjoy the luxury of a rainy afternoon indoors.  The coffee is made, and I’ll soon be off to enjoy a good book with the cat curled up by my feet.

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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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A Profusion of Flowers: Dogwood

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There is nothing quite like a flowering tree to fill the garden with a profusion of flowers.  Our native dogwood, Corunus florida, which explodes with flowers each April, remains my favorite.

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Chosen by the Virginia Native Plant Society as their Wildflower of the Year for 2018, flowering dogwood is an easy to grow understory tree which adapts to sun or partial shade.

Native across most of the Eastern half of the United States, from Florida to New Hampshire and west to Texas in zones 5-9, dogwood adapts to many soils and climates.  They prefer neutral to slightly acidic, moist soil and afternoon shade.

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Dogwoods are found growing along the edges of deciduous forests, but are also popular trees for parks and neighborhoods.  Their clouds of white or pink flowers, when in bloom, show up through shady woods or down winding neighborhood streets.  They grow to only about 30′, which makes dogwood a good landscape choice close to one’s home.

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Dogwoods are one of our most wildlife friendly native trees.  They offer nectar to pollinators early in the season, and their canopy supports over 100 species of butterfly and moth larvae in summer.  Many other insects find shelter in their branches, which makes them a prime feeding spot for song birds all summer long.  Birds find shelter and nesting spots in their branches, and in autumn  their plump scarlet fruits ripen; a feast for dozens of species of birds and small mammals.

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The beautiful white ‘petals’ which surround a dogwood’s flowers are actually bracts.  The flowers are small, almost unnoticeable and yellow green, in the center of four bracts.  A cluster of drupes emerges by September, rosy red and beautiful against a dogwood’s scarlet autumn leaves.

Birds distribute dogwood seeds over a wide area, and they grow easily from seed in the garden or the wild.  Young trees grow relatively quickly and are seldom grazed by deer.

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I am always happy to notice a dogwood seedling crop up in our garden and astounded at how quickly they develop.  A seedling dogwood will most likely bloom by its fourth or fifth spring.

Dogwood trees may also be started from cuttings, especially if more trees of a particular form or color are needed.  Their seeds may be gathered and planted outside in a prepared bed in autumn.  They need cold stratification to germinate, and so an outdoor seedbed is a reliable method to grow new trees from gathered seeds.

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There are many dogwood cultivars and trees found with white, pink or red bracts.  There are also several other native and Asian species in the Cornus genus, some with beautiful variegated foliage or colorful stems.

All are relatively pest free and graceful plants.  The Anthracnose virus is a problem for dogwood trees in some areas.  Good hygiene, removing and destroying any affected plant tissue, is important in controlling this fungal disease.  Keeping the tree in good health, especially irrigating during drought, helps to prevent disease problems.

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The last time I counted, we had at least 15 native dogwood trees around our garden, filling it, this month, with billowing clouds of flowers.  It nearly takes my breath away when the sun is shining and we see them against a colorful backdrop of budding trees and clear blue sky.

There is such prolific beauty in April, how can one person take it all in?

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Woodland Gnome 2018
For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Prolific

Sunday Dinner: Curious

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“Curiosity is, in great and generous minds,
the first passion and the last.”
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Samuel Johnson

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“Enjoy every step you take.
If you’re curious, there is always something new
to be discovered in the backdrop
of your daily life.”
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Roy T. Bennett

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“I set out to discover the why of it,
and to transform my pleasure
into knowledge.”
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Charles Baudelaire

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“The important thing is not to stop questioning.
Curiosity has its own reason for existence.
One cannot help but be in awe
when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life,
of the marvelous structure of reality.
It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend
a little of this mystery each day.
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Albert Einstein
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“Study hard what interests you the most
in the most undisciplined, irreverent
and original manner possible.”
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Richard Feynman

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“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet.
Try to make sense of what you see
and wonder about what makes the universe exist.
Be curious.
And however difficult life may seem,
there is always something you can do and succeed at.
It matters that you don’t just give up.”
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Stephen Hawking

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“The mind is not a vessel to be filled,
but a fire to be kindled.”
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Plutarch

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WPC: Favorite Place

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My favorite place is one of magic and mystery, comfort, peace and ever expanding potential.

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It changes minute to minute, day to day.  Yet it always remains constant in its beauty.

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There are infinite layers to this place.  What the eye can see, and what the camera perceives, are sometimes different.

The air is filled with song from creatures seen and unseen.

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And the light infuses all. 

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Photos By Woodland Gnome 2018

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Favorite Place
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Within the mystery of life
there is the infinite darkness of the night sky
lit by distant orbs of fire,
the cobbled skin of an orange that releases its fragrance to our touch,
the unfathomable depths of the eyes of our lover.
No creation story, no religious system
can fully describe or explain this richness and depth.
Mystery is so every-present
that no one can know for certain
what will happen one hour from now. 
It does not matter whether you have religion
or are an agnostic believe in nothing,
You can only appreciate
(without knowing or understanding)
the mysteries of life.

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Jack Kornfield
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“Those loving and most loved lights do not leave this world.  They remain among us, the stuff of sunbeams and whispers; always as close as thought, as real as dream.  Light and love bind us one to another, beyond the bounds of space and time. ” WG

WPC: Silence

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Snow muffles our noisy world.  Falling snowflakes seem to absorb all sound and the world is hushed.

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The normal routine is put on hold. 

School buses and garbage trucks don’t churn through the neighborhood streets today.  Leaf blowers and lawn mowers remain silent.

Traffic has come to rest at home in snowy driveways.

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We all took a snow day today.  Schools were closed everywhere from Roanoke to the Eastern Shore.

Many businesses closed or reduced their hours today, and I believe most of us were content to stay at home and keep warm against the January chill.

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I kept vigil, much of the day, watching out of our windows as fine snow filled the air and accumulated, ever so slowly, on leaf and ground, rail and table, car and walkway.

It was late afternoon before our wet patio was finally cloaked in whiteness.

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It was a quiet day for reading, for finally getting to that long put off project, and for wandering the snowy garden, camera in hand, in search of that quintessential image of Silence.

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And what I noticed today, is that silence is visual as well as auditory.

A snowy day transforms the most casual image into sepia tones blanketed in white.  Our garden’s colors are silenced by the cold and muffled under snow.

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There is a reason we yearn so for ‘peace and quiet.’

Today has brought the blessings of silence and the rare gift of peace, wrapped in a snow-globe world of white.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“We can make our minds so like still water
that beings gather about us
that they may see, it may be, their own images,
and so live for a moment with a clearer,
perhaps even with a fiercer life
because of our quiet.”
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W.B. Yeats

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Silence

Sunday Dinner: On the Path

Ocracoke Lighthouse April 2007

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“There are no wrong turnings.
Only paths we had not known
we were meant to walk.”
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Guy Gavriel Kay
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Route 101 near Depot Bay, Oregon 2010.

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“It is not we who seek the Way,
but the Way which seeks us.
That is why you are faithful to it,
even while you stand waiting,
so long as you are prepared,
and act the moment you are confronted
by its demands.”
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Dag Hammarskjöld
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Powhatan Creek, Virginia January 2018

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“You never know what’s around the corner.
It could be everything. Or it could be nothing.
You keep putting one foot in front of the other,
and then one day you look back
and you’ve climbed a mountain.”
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Tom Hiddleston
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Yaquina Head Lighthouse Oregon 2010

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“If you do not change direction,
you may end up where you are heading”
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Gautama Buddha
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The Colonial Parkway, Virginia 2014

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“What you’re missing
is that the path itself changes you.”
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Julien Smith
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Near the York River, November 2014

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“…the universe…sets out little signposts for us
along the way, to confirm
that we’re on the right path.” 
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Michelle Maisto
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Cape Foulweather Lookout, Oregon October 2017

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Photos by Woodland Gnome

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Along the Chickahominy River August 2016

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“End?
No, the journey doesn’t end here.
Death is just another path.
One that we all must take.”
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J.R.R. Tolkien
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Native Trees: American Sycamore

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North America’s trees were considered one of its greatest treasures both by European colonists like John Bartram and his son William, and by European gardeners eagerly awaiting shipments of seed from ‘the colonies.’

Our many varieties of conifers and hardwood are as beautiful as they are useful.  North American trees were planted extensively in European gardens soon after Jamestown was settled.  The early colonists were always on the lookout for ‘useful plants’ to send back home.

These same prized trees still grow wild here in Virginia, today.

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The American Sycamore grows on the bank of Jones Millpond in York County, Virginia

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One of my favorite native American trees is the American sycamore, Platanus occidentalis.   Also called ‘bottonwood tree,’ named for its round fruits which persist through winter, the sycamore may also be called an American plane tree.

I particularly like this tree’s mottled, light colored bark, and its beautiful branching form.

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The sycamore prefers moist soil and can often be found in the wild in lowlands and near bodies of water. Yet it will grow in many different environments in Zones 4-9.  It’s native range extends from Florida, north into Canada, and westwards into Texas and Oklahoma.  It is also considered a native tree in Oregon.

The sycamore will quickly grow into a massive shade tree, with a thick trunk (to more than 6 feet in diameter), a broad canopy, and a mature height of over 130 feet.  Its extensive roots can damage nearby walls or sidewalks, yet it is a common street tree in cities.  A sycamore can handle the heat and polluted air of urban areas, where it is enjoyed for its beauty and its shade.  Its dense canopy helps filter the air.

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This Sycamore grows on the banks of the James River near Jamestown Island.

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I enjoy visiting this lovely sycamore growing on the bank of Jones Millpond, alone the Colonial Parkway between Williamsburg and Yorktown throughout the year.  It is pleasing in all seasons.

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There are several notable sycamore trees in our area.  Their interesting branches and bright bark make them easy to recognize.  In winter, the seedpods hanging from their branches playfully sway in the wind.

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A sycamore tree’s wood is useful for making things, but it isn’t a preferred wood for furniture making.  It doesn’t produce edible nuts or leaves.

It is valued more as a beautiful landscape tree and for the shade it gives in summer.

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The distinctive leaves and bark help identify this tree as a Platanus

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The sycamore ranks high among my favorite native American trees.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Even when pruned hard in a style called pollarding, the Platanus is easily recognized by its light colored bark. This tree grows in Colonial Williamsburg.

WPC: Growth

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“We are not trapped or locked up in these bones.
No, no. We are free to change.
And love changes us.
And if we can love one another,
we can break open the sky.”
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Walter Mosley
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“In this first week of the year, many people anticipate beginnings, changes, and opportunities for growth.

Share with us an image that evokes this spirit of change and newness …”  The Daily Post

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“Growth” is a wonderful topic for a garden blogger.  Except it is January, and we had a half a foot of snow fall on our garden overnight.

In fact, it was still snowing here into the early afternoon.  Without taking a deep dive back into my photo archives, I’ve been thinking about how to share good photos of “growth.”

Maybe I could respond to the challenge with growing piles of snow, or even icicles growing ever longer from the eaves?

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Yet, as I ventured out into the newly shoveled paths my partner made for us, I realized that even during this ‘dormant’ time of year, our garden is still very much in growth.

Buds are swelling.  Ivy keeps creeping along with new leaves, and the catkins on our hazelnut trees grow visibly longer each week.

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Mistletoe grows bold and green in the tree tops, and so do the leaves of our Italian Arum, still appearing through the soil.

Our new holly shrubs grow bravely on in their pots, and the tender new leaves of bulbs poke up through the soil, announcing their promises for a beautiful spring.

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Growth isn’t so much about what is ‘new’ as it is about continuation.  Just as we keep growing and changing year to year and decade to decade, so too does our garden.

Growth may slow now and again, but its dynamic demand for expansion and change pays heed only to its own design.

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“Change may not always bring growth,
but there is no growth without change.”
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Roy T. Bennett

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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Mahonia is ready to bloom one day soon.

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Growth

Knowing Winter

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“One can follow the sun, of course,
but I have always thought that it is best
to know some winter, too,
so that the summer, when it arrives,
is the more gratefully received.”
Beatriz Williams

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Much of North America lies frozen this week beneath a layer of icy whiteness.  Weather maps on TV are clothed in shades of blue, purple and white.  It is a respite from this year’s heat, perhaps, and a novelty for those who enjoy winter.

Here in Williamsburg, in coastal Virginia, we see temperatures drop below the mid-twenties only occasionally, and not every year.  But we are also in the midst of this Arctic cold snap at the moment.  There is a chance for snow tomorrow evening.

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The garden, and the larger world are frozen tight and hard this week.  Those winter faring plants I potted up so carefully last month sit brittle, a bit limp and desiccated in their pots today despite the brilliant sun shining on them.  I gave each pot a bit of tap water yesterday afternoon, hoping to thaw the soil long enough for roots to draw a bit of moisture in to the thirsty plants.

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We’ve wrapped our olive trees in clear plastic bags and set them in the warmest corner of our front patio, where they capture the mid-day sun.  They’ve grown too large now to bring indoors each winter.  We hope they make it through to warmer days ahead.

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But there is only so much anyone can do when such bitter cold blows in to one’s neighborhood.  The lowest temperature we’ve seen here since Christmas was 12F.  It feels a bit odd to cheer on the mercury to climb through the 20s, hoping it might actually make it up to 32F before the evening chill returns.

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But such is our life at the moment, and so we have decided to enjoy the novelty of it.  It is the season to trot out one’s heavy sweaters and gloves, and possibly even a jacket.  I had forgotten which drawer our gloves got put away in last spring, and needed a reminder.  A pair now live in my bag, ready to pull on whenever I step outside into this frosty world.

But clad in hat and gloves, wool and pashmina and jeans, I set off to capture photos of ice today.  My partner kept the car warm and idling while I scampered about on the banks of Mill Creek and the James River in search of ice sculptures.

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The wind was almost quiet, and the sun blazing bright and glinting off the frozen marshes.  It was nearly 24F as I captured these photos today.

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We were delighted to find eagles flying in lazy circles above us and large congregations of geese gathered along the roadsides.  I could hear waterfowl splashing into the creek in search of lunch as I picked my way down the frozen trail to the water’s edge.

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A heron clung to a branch along the bank, watching as gulls dove into the creek and ducks cavorted along its glassy surface.

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Halves of minnows, cut up by some intrepid fisher-person for bait, lay scattered about on the sandy beach.  Frozen hard, they held no appeal for the foraging birds around us.

I marvel at the sight of spray cloaked grasses and ice glazed stones.  The river and creeks here are tidal, and the rising and falling water and windblown spray make for ever-changing textures along their banks.

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Sheets of ice get pushed up in the marshes on the incoming tide, and slushy brackish water takes on odd hues in the wintery light.

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Our oddly frozen world dreams this week in weirdly grotesque forms.  Frozen soil pushes up in the garden, heaving fragile root balls not properly mulched and insulated against the cold.  Ice crystals sprout from stems and leaves in the first light of morning.

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Only the birds appear impervious to the cold.  Small flocks of blackbirds gather on the frozen grass.  Songbirds hop about in the trees as we pass.  I wonder at the mysteries of nature which allow them to survive such frigid weather.

Whether sitting on the ground, swimming in the frozen creeks or gliding on a current of air, they appear almost comfortable.  This is a great gift they enjoy, and that we do not.

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We are mostly watching through the window panes to see how the rest of this month unfolds.  Our cat spends long hours dozing, curled up in a blanket on the couch.  He shows no interest in exploration beyond his food bowl at the moment.

Surely the world will soon be slick and white if the forecast is to be believed, and our garden will slumber on under a bit more insulation as we dream of spring.

Yet, in this moment, we know winter; and see its beauties all around us.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“There is an instinctive withdrawal for the sake of preservation,
a closure that assumes the order of completion.
Winter is a season unto itself.”
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Haruki Murakami

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New

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“If you want something new,
you have to stop doing something old”
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Peter F. Drucker
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“The secret to so many artists living so long
is that every painting is a new adventure.
So, you see, they’re always looking ahead
to something new and exciting.
The secret is not to look back.”
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Norman Rockwell

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“Change is the end of something you know
and the beginning of something else
that you don’t know.
Something new that holds opportunities.”
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Kholoud Yasser

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“It is only when we are ready
to give up on some things in our lives
that we could receive new things.”
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Sunday Adelaja

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“So may the New Year be a happy one to you,
happy to many more
whose happiness depends on you!”
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Charles Dickens
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Photos by Woodland Gnome
January 1, 2018
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What I am reading this week:  Garden Revolution by Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher

Weaner and Christopher captivated my interest on the first page.  Theirs is a practical philosophy of gardening, which guides our doings and our not-doings.  They garden to guide a thriving eco-system in the proud tradition of  Doug Tallamy and Rachel Carson.

Many thanks to my dear friend who gifted me with a fresh copy of Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home last week, inspiring me to remind myself of its important guidance.

I am reading these books now to focus on the bigger picture of why I garden,  ahead of beginning my Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener training class next week.

These authors remind us that often less is more; that cooperation with nature always adds value to our efforts, and sparks hope for our ecosystem and the continued viability of life on our planet.

January is my favorite time of year to study gardening books and catalogs.  If you use these frosty days and long winter nights for study, too; I invite you to take a look at these inspiring volumes.

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