An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

December 30, 2008

The Season of Brown and Gray

Right after the holidays is my least favorite time of the year. I will probably sulk through most of January, all of February (the longest month of the year) and a small part of the front end of March. I must remind myself that there are other people out there who are snow and ice-bound for most of this time, and I should be grateful that at least here this span can be punctuated by more than a few spring-like days. The older I get, the more I'm convinced I probably suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). At least for the next few days there is still time for visiting friends and family, and homes are still full of holiday color - but outside the hues and tones are different.

As we do every year, we spent Christmas with my family on the Eastern Shore (beautiful in any weather). The day after Christmas it was mild, but very foggy most of the morning, and it was well suited for some walking and some reflection.

Adjacent to my parent's property is small, marshy creek that has one of my favorite vistas. As I walked up to it, I disturbed a Great Blue Heron who squawked and fussed as it flew from one side to the other. If you enlarge the picture you can just make it out in the middle.
The pond next to the house was once used to irrigate fields, now it is a nice place for turtles and waterfowl. There is an earthen dam with a dirt road on top that separates the salt marsh pictured above from the freshwater pond, and both of these pictures were taken from the same spot, all I had to do was swivel around.
The land my parent's house sits on was once part of the Lang family farm. I remember the house that used to sit smack dab in the middle of the field. It was not that old by Eastern Shore standards, probably it was built in the late 1800's when the area was experiencing agricultural boom times as a result of the new railroad. It was a large, wood framed house, with a few ornate Victorian details. By the time I knew of it, it was in a terminal state of disrepair and made a great place to play. I did manage to get a fireplace mantle from it before the house was razed. The only remaining indication of the farm, is the name of the road and the family graveyard. Although there are plenty of traditional cemeteries on the Shore, it was not at all uncommon for families to bury their own in the same fields that gave them their sustenance and livelihood.

Judging by the dates on the graves, the house I remember was probably not the first one on the property. You will have to imagine what this lonely spot looks like in the summer amid a lush field of soybeans or completely encircled by 7' tall corn.

At the other end of field sits a tree line and another salt water marsh, and here the vegetation gets wilder. The trees are mostly Loblolly Pines, Hackberry Trees and Eastern Red Cedars.

Further east from the treeline, next to Metomkin Bay the land is lower and risky to farm, however it is a great place for a marsh to grow. Here numerous species of grass thrive, each within their own niche of the ecosystem. There were also a few remainders of last summer's blooms.

This path through the marsh takes my father and uncle to their oyster grounds.

The pavilion sits in a grove of ancient Eastern Red Cedars and it has been witness to many summer gatherings, church outings, Labor Day picnics, and even a few engagement parties. It faces due east across the bay towards Metomkin Island and the Atlantic, and accept for the birds and the distant breakers, it will be quiet here until Easter Sunrise Service. Next door to the pavilion site, one of the former adjacent property owners created a self declared wildlife refuge, primarily for birds. It had a wildflower meadow, a fresh water pond and nesting boxes scattered around the property. A later owner came, filled in the pond, mowed and seeded the meadow with turf grass and subdivided the farm. They put up a gate, paved a road, built very nice docks and offered the small lots (without houses) for several hundred thousand dollars. Their timing and or their pricing were not good. Years later all of the lots remain empty, but their docks are sometimes visited by a person who really likes the way this place looks without big McMansions on tiny waterfront parcels.

There are two things I need to remind myself when I begin to lament this time of year - everything has its season, and that brown and gray are colors too.


  1. Absolutely gorgeous photos. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Your gorgeous photos make brown and gray then new fushia!
    If I can make it through January, I can make it anywhere.
    Did I mention those photos were gorgeous.

  3. Introspection must be the rule in a such a moody, evocative landscape. Is it also very quiet? I can imagine the trickling sounds of water.

  4. I feel some powerful emotions in this post, and in the photos. Enjoyed those few moments. Thanks.

  5. Les, those photographs are stunning. I see that VA has had pretty warm temps--I hope you've seen a little bit of sun, too--in any case, your wonderful eye has captured winter's beauty. Happy New Year. April will come . . .

  6. Great photos Les - very surreal. I agree that the Eastern Shore looks great in any season.

  7. Those are somberly beautiful images. My favorites are the marsh grass at the end.

    I hope blog reading will help you get through the SAD days until spring returns, Les. It's what I rely on during our hateful summers.

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  9. Les, don’t sulk; these images are gorgeous! I think the grasses in the water vertical shot is my favorite, but it’s hard to choose as they are all so stunning.

    I do get what you are saying about S.A.D. – it’s one of the meanings behind the title of my novel. It’s a big issue up north. Best cure is to get out in the morning sunlight and exercise every day.

    Happy New Year!

  10. Don't worry Les, before you know it this month will be gone. Soon you'll have the early blooming bulbs such as Crocus & Daffs to look forward to! Happy New Year. Lovely post today, thanks for the history & photos. And you're right, brown & gray are colors too. ;)

  11. I could practically feel the fog in those gorgeous photos. And, how disheartening to think of that property being grassed and subdivided. But maybe it will continue to stay as it now is for a long time esp. with today's economy.

  12. The tree photography is my favorite. Hard not to think about colors during the east coast winter season. Thank you for the comment at local ecology.

  13. Great photos - you should have a show! I'll bet there are some interesting natives around that freshwater pond.

  14. Hi Les, just discovered your site and wow that last series of photographs are excellent, they look like paintings, or would make great paintings!

    I will be going through the rest of your site soon.

    Just wanted to introduce myself.
    Regards ESP.

  15. Wow, so serene! I can hear the water trickling too! Only when I hit the post comment link, I realized that Chuck had written the same. So, that definitely proves your post was awesome!

  16. I would like to thank all of your for the great comments, although they are too numerous to respond to individually, but I really appreciate them. A couple of you imagined hearing trickling water - you do not hear the water here. The tides come in and go out very silently. If the wind is strong it will churn up the water, but when it is that strong, you only hear the wind and it drowns out all other sounds. Otherwise you just hear birds and the distant ocean. I have also been asked off-site how or what I get the pictures with. I use a Samsung L77 point and shoot. It helps if your subjects are something you like and look good to begin with, make sure the subject is framed well, use the delayed shutter to minamize camera movement, and I take a lot of photos and cull the best.

    Thanks again!

  17. Les! this is a great post! Love the grave stones and since I never see such made me giddy. Isn't it funny that gloom to you would be a vacation treat to me. I appreciate that your family has lived there forever too. I'm looking forward to your post about the old homestead.

    Your pictures are gallery worthy in subject and quality.

  18. What a beautiful place. I love this time of year along the coastal marshes - but then I tend to favor the browns and grays - plus, it seems like when I get most of my gardening done, before the heat of summer. We've been having wonderfully foggy mornings - you walk outside and everything is dripping wet. What a nice walk that you took us on! But then, I'm grown attached to marshes...

  19. Les,

    Your grays and browns are stunning! I have been thinking about how much the winter we southerners experience...grays, browns and here in Nashville, rain for days on end has a debilitating effect upon our spirit! But I must also remember that gray and brown can be beautiful, too and will soon give way to spring. Thanks Les and thank you for visiting clay and limestone's brown. gail

  20. Oh, such lovely pictures! I'm trying to learn how to take nice pictures with my Christmas present camera, a dSLR Cannon, so I especially appreciate your examples. And I agree, February stretches on sooo long. At least we can enjoy gardens in Florida by way of blog! Regards, VW

  21. The fog makes it look like a dreamscape.

    I am always so tempted to stop on I-95 when I am passing through the marshes in SC and Georgia to take pictures. This time headed down I saw the most wonderful sunset over them. The best views are from the bridges of course. Not the best place to pull over.

  22. Hi Les,
    There is such a surreal feeling that comes from these photos. Such beauty and sorrow at the same time. I used to live in the Tidewater area and so remember the fog and the gray. But I also remember the sun and the flowers and the beauty and warmth! I wonder if anything has changed yet, now that January is here?? Any blooms at all? Any sun? I miss living down there. I'm up here in No. VA now, and while it's nice, my heart is down there in the Yorktown/Seaford/N.News/Hampton/Norfolk/VA Beach area! Chesapeake; whereever you are...
    I have you on my follower list, and have visited here several times before:) Take care,

  23. FGG,
    Thank you so much for your generous comments. I was not so much gloomy when I took these and I was enjoying the melancholy.

    Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to stop by. As you may have guessed, marshes are one of my favorite places. Although I like the flush green of summer, when they are brown you are not swatting green head flies.

    Has your rain freed the area from drought?

    Thanks for stopping by. I hope my next big purchase will be a digital SLR. By the way these were taken in Virginia and you are welome to visit anytime.

    I have to go over a tall bridge to and from work that crosses the mouth of the Nansemond River where it meets the James. There are such spectacular views from the top. I always want to pull over to capture them, but that would likely cause a vehicular incident.

    I am glad I could show you shots of your old "neigborhood". Right now it is crisp and sunny and the Camellias are starting to bloom, but I know the gray mist will return at some point.