Wednesday, October 7, 2020

A Picnic on The Blue Ridge Parkway

      The Blue Ridge Mountains are beautiful in every season. They surround our home and provide us with an outdoor playground that all levels of abilities can enjoy. Anything from simple walks to challenging mountain climbs and everything in between can be found here. Even a short drive in the car enables us to enjoy the beauty of the mountains. 
     A drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of my favorite leisurely past times. We have driven it for an entire day, all the way down to Blowing Rock, NC. But even within a short, thirty minute drive we can look out over spectacular mountain vistas and picnic in one of dozens of overlooks. The Peaks of Otter is a tourist destination within that distance. I began to take it for granted and avoid it over the years of living here. On a recent drive, we decided to stop and reacquaint ourselves with this pretty area. I was reminded of the beauty and serenity of the place, even amidst crowds of people. Normally I like to steer clear of crowded places in the great outdoors. I prefer the quiet and serenity of nature. However, walking around the lake at Peaks of Otter during this social distancing pandemic reminded me of what it looks like to see happy people enjoying the great outdoors in a carefree way. As I observed people fishing, sitting on the grass, and walking around the lake I thought to myself, "How normal everything is!" 
     Our drive and picnic were the simplest of things but it couldn't have been more uplifting for me that day.
An overlook with a dizzying view!

I wasn't expecting to see The Devil's Marbleyard. It's the white, scarred area off to the right. We hiked it several years ago. The climbing portion of that hike was a challenge for me but the view from the top made it worth the effort. Some of the boulders on that rock field were the size of cars.

Boulder strewn woods

Well look at that! The white blaze shows that we found ourselves on the Applachian Trail.
Abbott Lake at Peaks of Otter

This view on Abbott Lake shows the Peaks of Otter Lodge. It's not a very attractive structure, being made of cinder block, but a friend told me they updated the guest rooms. I peeked in the restaurant and it was very busy this day.

There is a one mile walking trail the circumference of the lake.

Polly Wood's Ordinary served as a roadside Inn in the early 1800's.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Closing Up Summer and Harvesting What Remains

The morning fog lays along the James River down in the valley.

     By the time August comes to an end, most of us are ready to bid farewell to the heat and humidity. We start wishing for crisp morning air, pumpkins, and hearty fall suppers. Here in Virginia, summer lingers all the way through September. Toward the very end of that month, hints of fall have finally arrived. Morning fog now sits low in the valleys and bales of hay dot the cut fields, giving us certainty that summer is closing. 
     Another sign that fall is upon us is the loud thumping sound of black walnuts hitting the ground when they drop off the trees. If you happen to have a metal roof on your house or outbuilding with a black walnut tree overhanging, then you are in for a startle every time one falls. Black walnut trees are native to Virginia and I see them everywhere. We have two at the back of our property. They drop tennis ball size hulls that are bright green. Inside is the wrinkled walnut shell itself. The outer husks turn black and soft throughout the fall and stain everything they touch. The squirrels love them and I find interesting shell halves discarded all over the field where they have nibbled way portions of shell and left interesting shell sculptures behind. They nut meat is favored by many folks and is sold for a hefty price per pound. Personally, I do not like the strong, pungent flavor of the black walnut and I leave them all to the squirrels. As fall rolls on, we gather them up and burn them in our bonfires. I have to be careful when mowing because those large, hard husks will shoot out from the mower like a projectile. One good use for the shells that I am familiar with is using them for dye. Many rug hookers and fiber artists use black walnut in a similar way to tea staining. To age or tone down a finished piece, we spray it with black walnut dye. It's easy to make the dye but it is a messy, smelly process that many don't want to bother with. In that case, you can buy black walnut crystals and simply mix that with water and voila!
     Now that the weather is cool, Steve and I have taken up our evening walks again. The roadside is abundant with bittersweet and we've gathered a bit for the house and a bit to share. It grows like a parasitic weed along every sunny roadside fence and tree but I cannot seem to get it to grow on our property. There must be secret to it that I am not aware of.
     I always think of fall and harvest time, not January or spring time, as the beginning of something new. So here I am saying goodbye to summer, reflecting back on all the good things that have come to pass, and feeling ready for the crisp days and cozy evenings that lie ahead.

Hay bales wait for gathering

Our first bonfire of the season

We had to pick carefully around our garden resident.

Steve harvested hops for his beer making this year.