Thursday, March 29, 2012

One Trail Twelve Times - March

 Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) along the trail
Eight walkers joined me for the third installment of my One Trail Twelve Times monthly ramble along the Beech Springs Trail on a sunny Sunday March 18 afternoon.  Though the unusually warm weather has advanced the appearance of some of the spring ephemerals, most of the blooming and bud-breaking seem to be about right on schedule.
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)in flower
An owl pellet, full of hair but no tiny bones.
Indian hemp (Apocynum cannabinum) pod releasing winged seeds to the wind.
Non-native and aggressive but up-close attractive Gill-over-the Ground (Glechoma hederacea)
Also alien and extremely aggressive but attractive, Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria).
It's unusual to see a single blossom, since this plant blankets any area it invades.
Red-osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea) flowers
Red Maple (Acer rubrum) flowers
Group photo on the Eagle Scout bridge over the ravine
Beech Springs Trail through late winter woods
Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) in one of the springs
A red maple with a fungal canker, probably Neonectria galligena
The fields along the trail get mowed to control the invasion of shrubs.  
The mower uncovered (and damaged) this deer scapula.
The Beech Springs Trail ends (or begins, depending on your perspective), in a long, majestic allee of white pines planted in the 1920s.  In the deep pine straw long the allee, we discovered...
...the remnants of a puffball mushroom from last autumn, and...
...a bird's nest that had fallen from one of the pines.
I also discovered a hitchhiker on my pants leg at trail's end (a deer tick, Ixodes dammini).

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Virginia Miscellany

As I mentioned in my previous post, Kali and I went to Charlottesville, Virginia, last week during our Spring Break to (1) visit Monticello, home of America's third president, Thomas Jefferson, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and (2) explore the town to see if it might be a good place to retire in six years or so.

Jefferson took nearly 40 years to complete his dream home on the crest of a hill in one of his plantations.  He delighted in "building up and tearing down."  The dome on the west side of the house was added to the original structure after Jefferson spent time in Europe and had a chance to observe classical architecture in France and Italy.

In its heyday, the widowed Jefferson and his sister's large family were served by nearly 100 slaves at Monticello.  Of course, the inherent inconsistencies between Jefferson's belief that "all men are created equal" and the fact that he owned 400 slaves has yet to be resolved or fully understood.

Kali in the kitchen garden below Monticello.
The (in)famous Mulberry Row of slave quarters and workhouses 
occupied the flat at the top of the slope on the right.

More of the kitchen garden with Monte Alto (also part of the plantation) in the background

While we were in Charlottesville, we also visited the University of Virginia.  UVa was also on Spring Break, so there were few students about.  Jefferson founded the university after he retired from his government positions, and he designed the campus.
The Rotunda, signature building on the University of Virginia campus.
Notice any similarities to Monticello?

A colonnade on the University of Virginia campus
We also looked at real estate, both in the city and out in the country.  The house for sale pictured below, called Wakefield, dates from 1790, though it's been significantly modified and updated.  We already live in a house dating from 1790; I'm not ready to take on another endless remodeling project, but the view was nice, and there's an enticing stream (alas, just off the property) just down the hill from the house.
Wakefield (c. 1790)

The view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, about 20 miles away,
 from the deck on the upper level

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Forest Restored (sort of)

Angelica Creek in Nolde Forest
Kali and I are actively house hunting in preparation for retirement in about six years.  Because we live in a residence that is a perquisite of my position, when I retire we will have to move, and now may be a perfect time to buy a house.  We're strongly considering New Mexico and Colorado, but also thought we ought to investigate Charlottesville, Virginia (watch for an upcoming blog post) as well as some areas near our current abode in southeastern Pennsylvania.  So, yesterday, we ventured about 50 miles northwest of Philadelphia into the exurbs to look over small municipalities that would have some character, be walkable, and provide a sense of community.

Long and short: we didn't find any, and Charlottesville, Virginia is looking better and better.

After we gave up on the town hunt, we drove a bit further west to the city of Reading.  Just south of town, we hiked at Nolde Forest Environmental Education Center.  Nolde Forest is the former estate of German immigrant Jacob Nolde, a hosiery baron who bought 665 acres in the early 1900s.  When he purchased the land, it had been completely deforested (with the exception of a single huge white pine tree) by timbering and charcoal-making operations in Reading.

Nolde hired an Austrian forester by the name of Kohout to help him design and plant a "luxury forest" of spruces, firs, and pines.  Many native hardwoods also volunteered on the property.  Jacob's son Hans subsequently built a beautiful Tudor-style stone mansion for his family on a topographic high point in the re-growing forest.

The state bought the property in the late 1960s to create an environmental education center, and to provide a passive recreational facility for the residents of Reading.
Hans Nolde's mansion, now administrative offices

Last season's tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera) seeds clinging to a branch fallen from the canopy

The 11 miles of trails threading through Nolde Forest are the remnants of logger's trails or trails that Jacob Nolde created to facilitate reforestation.  In general, the trails are wide, well maintained, dry, and ascend slopes gradually.
Kali and I were both struck by the incredible volume of woody debris in the woods and along the trails throughout the entire park.  It looked like a windstorm had shorn the tops from most of the trees and dumped the branches alongside the trails.  I could understand this happening if such a storm had passed through in one location, or in less sheltered parts of the woods, but all of the trails throughout were bordered by large windrows of downed woody debris.  What gives...?

The city of Reading, about 5 miles distant
We walked five miles at Nolde.  The day was perfect for a hike (cloudless skies, sunny, and temperatures in the mid-60s F).  Apparently a lot of other people thought so, too, because the parking lot was full to overflowing.