Monday, May 27, 2013

The Birds we have here...

American Crow, American Goldfinch, American Robin, American Tree Sparrow, Bald Eagle, Barn Owl, Barn Swallow, Black Vulture, Black-capped Chickadee, Blue Jay, Brown-headed Cowbird, Canada Goose, Carolina Chickadee, Cattle Egret, Cedar Waxwing, Chimney Swift, Common Raven, Cooper's Hawk, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Bluebird, European Starling, Gray Catbird, Great Blue Heron, Great Horned Owl, Green Heron, House Finch, House Sparrow, House Wren, Indigo Bunting, Mourning Dove, Northern Cardinal, Pileated Woodpecker, Purple Finch, Purple Martin, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-winged Blackbird, Rock Dove, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Ruffed Grouse, Scarlet Tanager, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Turkey-Vulture, Whip-poor-will & Wild Turkey. Plus a kettle of migrating hawks, which counts for something.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

I'm So Confused...

We woke up this morning to a beautiful fall day: Forty degrees, clear blue skies, brilliant sunshine, brisk breeze from the northwest. But hold on, it's Madeline's birthday today, and if I recall correctly, she was born on May 25th...wait a minute...??

On the other hand, it's a classic opening day for the pool.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Recursive Nature

Right now the spring wildflowers are blooming in a generous gifting of color and scent; both the variety of species blooming and the quantity is just stunning. The Indian Bloodroot and triliums have passed, but there are jack-in-the-pulpit aplenty and more things on the way.

At some time, the classic English garden became the pinnacle and epitome of what gardening was meant to be. An "English Garden" defined 'garden.' And countless amateur gardeners have strived over countless decades to emulate and express that particular style, with varying degrees of skill and success. Constrained by space, time and budget—constraints not necessarily shared by the estate gardeners of ages past (who labored within a wholly different world of constraints) contemporary gardeners aspire and more often than not, fall short of that aspiration.

But history shows a different relationship between model and result, between pattern and product. The classic English gardens of the era we strive so badly to emulate were ebullient (and somewhat pallid) efforts to recreate...the wildflowers of Virginia. The early explorers of the mid-Atlantic were avid amateur naturalists, and worked tirelessly to collect new specimens of plants to return to England.

So I stand and look at the wildflowers with a newfound appreciation of what we have right here in our back yard. To manipulate Virginia's natural landscapes in an effort to recreate the English styles we are so fond of is "To gild refined gold, to paint the lily, To throw a perfume on the violet...add another hue Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish..."

Friday, May 17, 2013

Compare & Contrast

Interesting backstory here.

Edit: Listening to Zep's version this morning in the car on  the way to work, I remembered one of the most amazing musical moments I've experienced.
A decade and a half ago, we were all camping somewhere out west (Great Sand Dunes, probably) and in the evening Phil brought out his acoustic guitar and started noodling around. Then he started playing this beneath the stars, and with each note, the campground got quieter and quieter until all you could hear was his playing --and the crickets. It was an amazing shared moment.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Prejudice and Discrimination II

The houses you travel past—at least those you travel past on foot or on two wheels—form a perpetual cyclorama, with which you can do one of two things:

  1. You can strive to discriminate the finer details and parse the fabric of a thousand lives frozen in a moment, or 
  2. You can ignore the discriminate details and simply use that cyclorama as a canvas upon which to project what is already formed in your mind.
I find that I switch between the two, based on my frame of mind. When I am feeling good, I do the former; when I am feeling bad, I do the latter. I think that's significant.


Massanutten was burning.

I first saw it one afternoon as I came home down the long valley, a small wisp of white smoke rising from its east flank near Veitch gap as though Massanutten were a volcano and the smoke from a fumarole. By the next morning, the smoke had several sources and the cool air in Front Royal was sweetly perfumed with the most amazing incense. That afternoon, and for many successive days, the smoke grew and thickened across valley, deepening as the June air warmed and grew humid.

The fire took hold in a period of bright, clear dry days with parchingly low humidity and challenging winds. It spread from a small patch of an acre or two to tens, then hundreds of acres. It burned in an area far from roads on the rocky east slope of the eastern ridge of the dual mountain, and could only be fought on foot by firefighters carrying hand tools and water. It was tough going and slow. And because there were so few man-made things nearby, and little value to the coarse timber, there was no great sense of urgency to battling the fire and it seemed to linger. The perfume became rank and cloying, burning the nose and throat.

Then one day, the breeze carried the scent of burning pine across the mountains into our county. The smell  was pushed southeastward, riding the bow wave of a raging mass of angry, roiling air.

That night, the storm came.

The silence of twilight, the low-hanging half moon, a handful of dim stars in the still thick haze. Then, with the night, sweeps in a dark curtain—a wall across the western sky, malign and laced through with lightning. With little warning other than the sound of the wind racing across the nearby hills, it breaks upon us like a wave breaks upon the empty beach. The trees have nowhere to go and the storm shows no mercy, offers no quarter. In a brief time the storm tramples us and moves eastward.

We awake Saturday to a disheveled, wrecked world. We consume a tank of fuel in the chainsaw before our second cup of coffee; all around us we see unexpected and utterly random damage. Trees toppling other trees, crashing down onto fence lines; trees snapped in half, others losing branches that themselves are the size of trees. The destruction is without rhyme or reason or pattern, an unspeakable elemental rage brought down upon us. 

We join our neighbor to walk the road and assess its state. This is one of the small pleasant rituals we have discovered since moving to our house in the woods, after snow or heavy weather, reminding me of Frost's 'Mending Wall.' We set the road right, clear debris from ditches and culverts, remove the downed branches  and return up the lane to our respective places, having restored a small measure of normal.

Yet the bulk of the damage largely remains, and it is prodigious. It adds another layer of work to be done onto an already lengthy list, and the damaged fences cannot be ignored for long. The paths will be cleared, the debris removed, but the storm has left a mark that will be long in erasing. And we are fortunate we suffered no damage to our home or our buildings, and neither we nor any of our animals were hurt. But we will be fixing this for a long time to come...

The Derecho of June 29-30, 2012, ended the forest fire threat on Massanutten, as well as causing a hellish amount of suffering and damage from Ohio to Delaware that persisted for a very long time. But far worse for us was a microburst thunderstorm some weeks later, which broke or felled at least ten large trees in our yard alone while doing very little else around us. We hadn't finished cleaning up that when Hurricane Sandy dropped a huge double-stemmed pine tree among other things. That one managed to just graze a fence line with some branches amazingly enough, as it had the potential to take out several powerlines. 

So we continue, keeping fingers crossed, and an eye on the sky. It's been a tough year for the trees, without a doubt.

Monday, May 06, 2013

I heard the news today, oh boy

I was reading an article today about fracking, in particular about the experiences of landowners adjacent to properties where fracking has taken place. Often these landowners receive no financial benefit from the sale of the gas produced there, either because of some sneaky dealing with the previous owners, strong-arm tactics by the gas companies, or simply their reluctance to sell the drilling rights. As an acquaintance used to say, "All of the onus, none of the bonus..."

One story mentioned a man who had working in one of the incidental positions related to fracking--he washed the mats that surrounded the drill sites once they were done drilling and were taken up, in preparation for trucking them to the next site.

The man developed a debilitating skin condition from having his feet in the chemical-laden wastewater, and after seeing forty doctors, was no closer to a cure or palliation. He is unable to work.

This is not even a remotely remarkable story in this day and age. But what literally made me gasp out loud was the byline of the story--Clearville, Pennsylvania.

For a brief time, a million years ago, Clearville was my mailing address. It is a beautiful area in south-central Pennsylvania, maybe fifteen miles above the Mason-Dixon line as the crow flies, not near anything in particular. It lies among the many long north-south ridges of the Appalachians as they begin the sinuous turn eastward that defines the topology of central Pennsylvania. Much of the land hosts state forests that came into being during the depression, when farm after farm failed and reverted to neowilderness. It makes for good hunting and fishing land, and as I recall, is flush with wild blueberries in the summer. It also lies atop the infamous Marcellus shale, the home of our benighted culture's mad 21st century gold rush.

Gobsmacked, I looked a little deeper into what's going on with fracking and that little slice of Pennsylvania with which I have a passing familiarity.

Turns out that fracking is all over the map there, and people getting sick from it is just the beginning. While Clearville was my postal address, the actual location was a tiny little crossroads even closer to the Mason-Dixon and farther from anything of consequence. And it turns out that little hamlet was the scene of a natural gas compression station fire in 2010 that required the evacuation of over 40 homes in the middle of the night.

My first thought was "There are actually over 40 homes in Artemas? Really?" My second thought was how heartbreaking is was that Artemas now hosted a natural gas compression station.

Even back in the day, natural gas was a thing there. There was an old capped well atop the property; locals talked about how in exchange for allowing (old-school) drilling on their property, they received free gas stoves, heat and refrigerators (yes, you can make cold by burning gas) and from time to time you could hear the sound of a drill rig off in the distance on a cool summer night.

But a compression station running 24/7, right there...that's another matter.

It was a really, really quiet place; the kind of place where airplanes were generally absent from the sky, where you heard the wind and the rain coming for minutes before they arrived, where birdsong was common and plain to hear, where a car coming along the long gravel road was never a surprise.

The two streams and spring nearby ran cold and clear. I guess that's all changed now, and that change can't ever be undone by us or our children or our children's children. I'll just try and keep it in my memory, how it was. And as much as I abhor folks who randomly quote scripture, it seems very Genesis 25:25-34 to me.

Edit: Apparently I conflated two parts of the story. The man who got sick was elsewhere in Pennsylvania; the Clearville incident involved a number of horses and other livestock who sickened and had to be put down. But the basic gist remains the same. A beautiful state is being destroyed to obtain a commodity whose price just keeps falling, just so we can ship it elsewhere in the world.