Wednesday, March 19, 2008

03.19.08 EASTER EGGS

It certainly isn't difficult to figure out the origin of the connection between egg hunting and this spring holiday! My tiny flock of chickens laid no eggs for months during the cold and dark days of winter. But as the days started to get longer and the air warmer they have all felt the urge. The first egg of the season arrived on the last day of February and we have been getting two or three a day since then. Many more than we can eat, so we are happy to distribute our flock’s bounty with friends and neighbors. My flock consists of only eight chickens, two of which are little bantam rooster brothers. Five of the hens are five years old and one bantam hen is three years old. Good producers worth keeping until they retire of natural deaths. They keep the garden fertile, the weeds and bugs down, and offer us these wonderful gifts during the warm months.

Since all my chickens live in one house now, I plan to refurbish both of my "chicken tractor" houses and start a new flock for the empty house. Twenty-six new chicks for myself and friends are due to arrive by mail from the hatchery on April 4!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Hello to all of you who have been following this blog’s occasional entries during this past year. Thank you for your visits and your encouragement! I set out to keep an occasional record of events in the natural world in our corner of the mountains for one year, through all four seasons. The year has now come around and I will leave the regular blogging for other creative pursuits. I am not going to close this blog, my postings instead will now be very irregular, as the inspiration strikes. Thank you so much for visiting and feel free to contact me at

Friday, March 7, 2008


An enchanted broccoli forest grows under lights in the studio awaiting its chance in the sun.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


Against the deep clear blue of a freshly scrubbed sky the first blossoming trees add a haze of color to the woody skyline of town. Their courageous flowers in red and gold assure us of another year of protection from the summer's blaze of light.


The daylilies can't wait. They are one of the first perennials in the flower beds to start popping up. Their aggressive growth reveals the tip of a massive press of green just waiting below the soil's surface for the longer warmer days.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Nodding in the cold rain, but still pushing toward the sun!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


This ornamental shrub in a city garden blooms early, long before any of its leaves appear. Its bare branches are particularly lovely brought inside for forcing.

Monday, February 18, 2008


The form and color of the amazing crocus communicates nothing but pure joy at the return of the sun.


My wife points out to me the bloom of another, rather peculiar, winter-blooming plant growing in a sidewalk garden in town. This is hellebore, often called Christmas rose or Lenten rose by the English.


The broccoli seed I planted just six days ago has germinated and begun to poke up through the soil in the little pots I placed under grown lights in an upstairs bedroom.


Spring proceeds apace in spite of the cold weather. The lengthening days encourage the blossoming of what I think is called “winter jasmine” in some of the gardens around town.


It is with great hope that I sat on the porch in the cold winter sun today to plant broccoli seed for starting inside under lights. As Thoreau wrote,

“...I have great faith in a seed...Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

02.07.08 SUNNY SPOT

It is so heartening to see the blooms of lawn "weeds" in a sunny spot during the cold of winter!

02.03.08 BIG BROWN BAT

The common name for this creature, since it is probably Eptesicus fuscus, was exactly what my son hollered as it fluttered around his room after we retired last night. It (and who knows how many cousins) must be hibernating in our attic and had some how found its way into his bedroom. It flew from room to room in the dark and by the next morning it had settled on the living room wall. I put on my heavy gloves and gently removed him, as I did he (or she) gave a big winter‘s yawn exposing its attractive bat teeth. I easily relocated the fellow to the woods behind the house and then took its portrait. I hope it finds its way back to our attic to complete its sleep. We appreciate all of the work this family does in reducing our night insect population every summer.


I spotted these groundhog (Marmota monax) burrows recently. Unfortunately I did not make it by on the morning of February 2 to find out the prediction on spring’s arrival. Given the usual bright clear weather of an Albemarle winter, they undoubtedly retreated for six more weeks of snoozing. These cozy entrances remind me of Tolkien‘s description of Bilbo’s home, Bag End, and it’s sunny location on the side of a hill in Hobbiton. Wikipedia reports that a groundhog burrow can contain 45 feet of tunnels up to 5 feet underground!

01.28.08 ICE KINGDOM

Water seeping from the hillside decorates the trail with the ice kingdom’s stalagtites.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


I like to celebrate the end of the gardening year with a bonfire of garden debris (including the Christmas tree) sometime just after the first of the year. This year's holiday activity has delayed the ritual, but my daughter took this photo last year of the New Year's Day event.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


...and lands in the bitter night upon the window pane. But this morning as the sun creeps up and threatens to polish away this delicate tracery, I can still make out the gentle rise of the mountains surrounding our hollow.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Enjoying the lingering snow, Zippy and I break a path down a seldom used fireroad.


Home after this beautiful snowstorm, I decide to hike up to the waterfall. In winters past it has created a dramatic sight, entirely frozen into a giant ice sculpture. Today it drips in the warm snowy weather surrounded by a world of white.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

01.17.08 SNOW PRINTS

A beautiful morning snow has turned everything into a white page upon which we can all write our own histories in relief prints.


Reviewing the seed catalogs and placed my first order yesterday. Getting ready to start my broccoli and onions inside for early spring transplanting to the garden.

01.14.08 SNOWDROPS

Tiny snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, have begun to bloom along the sunny edges of my wife's herb garden!


In town an "urban farm" project was begun last summer. It is a community garden built on some vacant land near a housing project downtown. The folks sponsoring the project are expert gardeners so I went by yesterday to see how the Friendship Urban Garden fared in midwinter. Very encouraged to see how these gardeners are having success at growing cold weather crops such as kale and other brassicas.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

01.10.08 HONEY PODS

The honey locust, Gleditsia triacanthos, is a completely different tree than the black locust. The honey locust produces long brown pods which can be found among the leaf litter this time of year. If you crack them open you can find the sweet "honey" from which the tree derives its name and which make them so tasty to cattle.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


One of my favorite sights in the winter around here is blue sky! Having visited areas of the United States with very gray winters, I appreciate my good fortune to live in these mountains. But even better is to see the beautiful mottled bark of a sycamore, Platanus occidentalis, warmed by the low angled sun and set against the deep deep sky blue.

Saturday, January 5, 2008


The dry remains of the milkweed plant, Asclepias syriaca, take on a particularly tortured appearance this time of year. They have shared their beautiful purple flowers and then entertained with the hundreds of silky parachuted seeds they release on the breeze. Now their empty pods and sturdy stalks stand sentinel through the winter storms. A plant with virtues we all might hope to emulate.

01.04.08 SUMAC COLOR

The sumac bushes, Rhus genus, have kept their bright red "fruits" and look particularly elegant against the winter sky backlit by the low angled sunlight.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


We have burnt up almost all of our stored firewood. Last night we had a huge windstorm as bitter cold air moved into the area. We lost power and I burned the last sticks of our supply of wood to keep the house warm. I kept myself warm today by splitting up some of the black locust, Robinia psuedoacacia, I had recently cut out of the woods behind the vegetable garden. Black locust is an extremely hard and heavy wood, but one of the best for burning in the woodstove, its heat content has been compared to that of anthracite coal. But this wood's density had made the cutting job even more difficult as it is extremely hard on the chainsaw's teeth. Minute crystals of mineral deposits, called rhaphides, are woven throughout the wood grain. Gave me a chance to learn how to sharpen a chain saw!

01.01.08 NEW YEAR'S HIKE

I like to celebrate the New Year by hiking to the overlook which gives a tremendous view of our hollow. It is about a seven-mile round trip but I always enjoy the opportunity to let my mind roam and stretch my aging leg muscles.


All the folks in the hollow were watching the sky as a small red helicopter buzzed overhead, slowly settling lower over our homes and gardens. One of the neighbor's sons is learning to be a helicopter pilot. He thought he would fly over and give all of the visiting holiday family and friends a ride on the beautiful warm afternoon.


Looking out the bathroom window this morning I see a friendly flash of feathers. One of the neighborhood phoebes (Sayornis phoebe) is still here. One of the last birds to migrate to warmer climes, I hope this one leaves soon, cold weather is on the way. This illustration of the phoebe is by Louis Agassiz Fuertes and was published in Birds of America in 1917.