September around the homestead

It has been fun to return from our recent travels to a nip in the air, the leaves just beginning to turn colors, and all the things I love about our home during autumn. Here’s a small image gallery of the natural beauty that surrounds us and makes us content to be home after a trip.

And no walk around the ponds would be complete without carrying the Chuckit, a ball (that floats) and the dog that chases until she drops.


16 Days and Counting

Several milestones at once!

We installed the windows in the shop portion of the Garage MaHal.


This happened last Sunday, when the day was clear but chilly — before the current foggy rainy moved in.

Yesterday, we not only installed the “people door” to at last be able to secure the tools etc. behind a lock (and keep the dogs from getting underfoot) but also, the AEP guy came and hooked up the main power to the structure.


Jack had been working hard, even through the rain, to prepare everything for the county inspector to come by and give the wiring and components a “thumbs up,” and the power company guy showed up late yesterday to give us power.


No  more generator! No more leaving the big doors open just so we could see what we were doing (lights)!

With that final exterior door and all the windows installed, now we can finish the siding to be flush to the windows/door structures and get with the work of putting up the battens and trim. Looking forward to working on that this weekend, when the weather clears.

16 days and counting until we depart to pickup the Blue Roomba! He’ll come home to a house fit for a Snail King.


Recently, and for the first time since we built the ponds, something like ten years ago, I saw mallard ducks on the largest pond.

We’ve had wood ducks in our large but almost fully shaded pond, with trees along three of the sides. Wood ducks can handle closed-in water like ours.

Not mallards, generally. Nor geese — both of which require long take-off “runways” and gradual-rise escapes.

I was strolling toward the “low road” through the forest that starts just beyond the biggest pond, as I often do when taking a break from work or to give the doggies a bit of a run-about, when Chase startled them (and me) by coming close while they were in a small, shallow and very protected inlet. But they didn’t just fly away. They swam toward me, and when they saw me, they took off for about ten yards, but landed again.

I went along to the dock and lay down in the sun to watch.

They were as far away from me as they could get and stay on the water. After a short interval of preening, and seeking the edge bottoms for the non-existent water grasses to eat, the male tucked his head and had a snooze. The female walked up the steep bank, a little way into the clethra shrubs, and she too, tucked her head for a bit of rest.

The dogs were paying them no mind, yet they were busy investigating the woods etc. So this pair must have come a long way, and set down in the first place that looked promising during their migration. They appeared to be so tired that nothing — not even me on the dock or the dogs rooting around in the woods — would keep them from staying put and getting the rest they knew they needed.

I was just sorry our sanctuary did not offer any foodstuffs for their energy replenishment.

I was unable to get a good photo of the two (who were gone the next day when I returned to the pond), so I found a picture on the internet and drew them into something that looks close to our habitat.

So nice to have such visitors to our homestead; and that we could provide a small time of respite for them.


27 Days and Counting

Now that the worst of the weather has passed, we can really see some progress on the Safari Condominium. Even during the cold over the weekend, Jack was down at the building doing this and that. 27 days and counting until we leave to pick up and bring home the primary resident: Safari Condo’s Alto R1713, better known as the Blue Roomba.

But today was a banner day, as we had the guys come in to construct the soffit under the roof; and the garage door team came and installed the 3 garage doors. It was windy, but a good day for it. Now, if the weather holds, we can get back to the work of putting up the battens over the boards.

The rep from whom we ordered the “people doors” and the windows called, and they’re staged for delivery. Things are progressing nicely. Hoping we can get the windows this week, and install directly. If the weather holds, we’re well on track to have our house sitters take over while we’re on tour. Can’t wait.

Lenten Rose
Lenten Rose: Can spring be far behind?


Budding Leaves


To me, now is the most spectacular time of year. I don’t mean simply “early May.”

What I mean is the time when the tulip poplar trees swell at the ends of their branches and shove aside the remnants of the dried brown seed pods of the former year with pale green cones: leaves-to-be. When the maple trees’ leaves are shining, translucent stars of red and pale orange tipping each twig. When the beech tree in the back yard erupts with tiny hands raised, palm-out, to show me how the sun illuminates their dark red veins inside pink flesh.

Sure, the daffodils and anemones are great – as are the apple and dogwood blossoms, and the buds swelling on the blueberries. But the leaves of the trees re-emerging after a long absence – that’s what I love to see. And it can happen in my part of Virginia at any point along a rather wide span of time, within latitudinal limits, of course.

I was riding along the Blue Ridge Parkway this past sunny Friday (yesterday). In training for an upcoming bicycle tour, I didn’t take the time to stop for photos – and in any case, the photos could not possibly show the wonder of this: the fragile green of leaves on mighty deciduous trees far below the road I traveled, all in various stages of emergence, marching higher and higher up the slopes of the mountains opposite. We are still a week or more away from the flanks of our mountains having completely covered themselves in variations on the wondrous color green. Toward the lowlands, leaves are darkening to strong leather; growth still delicate and newborn higher toward the tops. Right now, the harsh and twiggy, brown and gray of the wintertime forest still inhabits the upper slopes, through which I can see the lichen-covered rock outcroppings, brown leaf-fall, and naked dirt beneath. It is a spectacle of earthly delight; of contrasts; of life and death; of past and future – of which I never tire, and that I always consider new and amazing.

Beech in the back yard. The zilcova in the foreground has new leaf swellings that resemble delicate caterpillars clinging to the tips of each twig. By tonight, many will be actual leaves, translucent promises of summer.
Beech in the back yard. The zilcova in the foreground has new leaf swellings that resemble delicate caterpillars clinging to the tips of each twig. By tonight, many will be actual leaves, translucent promises of summer.

Smoke and the Reptile Brain

smokey seating
Sunshine captures a film of particulate air.

A mantle woven of smoke settles just below my neighborhood. The weaver sits far away, but is busy, busy, and her work piles up to climb the slopes, and the wind is able to tip it over the ridges, so it flows down into the hollers and valleys. My house is halfway along a slope, so the weaver’s work rises nearby in grays and ashen blue, while I watch the distant vale thicken to brown. 

Logic invests a perfectly reasonable explanation: a pair of wildfires many miles distant; one to my north and another raging westerly. Be rational, my verbal brain says. This does not threaten Meadows of Dan.

I set foot outside and my nostrils fill with an age-old aroma. My heart quickens, my eyes widen and demand that I turn my head to see behind. The threat is near enough to smell and my reptile brain is on “flight” overdrive. Some DNA-level instinct knows this is not a “fight” situation. It kickstarts imaginings of piling pets and necessaries into the car, ready to flee.

How will I know when that time has come? Calm yourself, I say. If you must, worry about something real, not imagined.

Carrying on the chores, my alarms are silenced from constant exposure and habituation – the odor is, quite simply, ubiquitous.

Then the wind picks up. The aroma grows stronger and the hue is slightly more pine, or more plastic-like (is that a house burning?). The hairs on the back of my neck rise again and the autonomous brain returns. There is no visible change in my environment – I see no smoke rolling over, as the fog so often rolls through our homestead.

But my imaginary weaver continues to ply the warp and weft of combustion byproducts, and the fabric falls to the ground, piling below the loom, rising as the wind carries it like a flag of warning, invisible yet tickling my reptile brain and deeply disturbing my life.