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 31, 2016

The Last Sunset of 2016

     Earlier this week while laying awake in bed instead of sleeping, I started pondering my annual last sunset post. Thinking about 2016 I had trouble peering past a very gloomy pall cast over the whole year. I know exactly where this mood comes from, and I am sure many of you know as well. At this point I can no longer care who lost the election; it is who won that keeps me awake at night. With or without the U.S., the world seems to be heading into a time of great instability and chaos, and among other things, it worries me that Washington will be unstable, or worse, chaotic. I am also certain that there are some of you out there that are in complete disagreement with me politically, and are looking forward to the change. I'll be nice if you will.

     Still not sleeping, I realized that the big picture is completely out of my hands, and that there was much indeed to be personally thankful for in 2016. My son graduated high school with honors, and got accepted to the only university he wanted to attend. His first semester has gone well, and with his AP credits he is already a sophomore. My wife and I celebrated 25 years of marriage in October, and the whole family celebrated both of my parents' 80th birthdays. I still very much enjoy my job, I can still bike and kayak, and I had several transcendent trips this past year. I am also especially pleased that I am leaving 2016 with the same number of fingers that I started with (it was touch and go there for a time). All and all, not a bad year.

        For all of you I wish the best in 2017. May your year be filled with sleepful nights, joyous personal celebrations, and opportunities to see past things not in your control.

December 30, 2016

My 10 Favorite Photos of 2016

     Though I have not been very consistent with my blogging this year, I did not want to miss posting my 10 favorite photos from 2016, and this year I was actually able to whittle the number down to 10. This is also the 5th anniversary of this meme, and it happens to be one I really enjoy putting together.

Chenman Salvage  
The first photo was taken on a bike ride, and was used in my Winter Walk-Off post. L. Chenman Salvage yard is near my house, and it is ringed with old navigational buoys. I am drawn to most anything nautical, and I love seeing the buoys' colors on gray winter days. As it happens, I called Mr. Chenman a couple of weeks ago to see about getting a spherical buoy to use at work next year as part of a display. He said he would think about it.
Chenman Salvage (3)

Fort Monroe  
If I were limited to only 1 favorite photo, this simple shot would likely be it, primarily because I have a thing for crows, but I also like messy history. The ironwork is from a section of an ornate double archway that spells out Jefferson Davis Memorial Park at Fort Monroe. The messiness comes from a memorial to the Confederate President, erected in the 1950's, inside a U.S. Army base, that just happened to be where that President was imprisoned for treason.
Fort Monroe (3)

Zuni Pine Barrens  
This was taken on a work field trip to the Zuni Pine Barrens. I was drawn to the strong vertical lines of the longleaf pine trunks, and the horizontal line of my coworkers about to walk out of the frame. Without apologies, I ran it through Photoshop to give it a more gauzy mystical look.
Zuni Pine Barrens (11)

On the way back from a kayak trip, I stopped to take this shot from the side the road in Isle of Wight Co. I love the color contrast of the field of yellow flowers and the all black cow. I have seen this sight before on several occasions, and always said to myself that one day I should stop and get a photo, and this was finally the day.
Buttercups (Ranunculus) (3)

Muddy Creek
This is the first of several favorites taken from the seat of my kayak. I was on the Eastern Shore, and the weather was perfect for kayaking, not too hot or cold, smooth water, and low winds. The waterman working solo was too busy pulling his crab pots to take much notice of me as I snapped his photo. His is not an easy occupation, but having only the tide and sun as a time clock has a certain appeal.
Muddy Creek (7)

Horse Marsh
I have been visiting Assateague and Chincoteague Islands since I was old enough to ride in a car seat. In the summer we go for the beach, and in the winter to see the waterfowl. No matter the season, there is always a decent chance to see the island's famous ponies. However, I have never seen so many, or gotten so close, as I did this summer on a kayaking trip. They let me paddle within feet of them, and I had them all to myself.
Horse Marsh (5)

Belle Isle - Steelworks
What can't be seen from this photo is that it was taken from within one of the ruined structures of an old steelworks on Belle Isle. Most of the roof and skeleton remain, but the sides are open to the elements, making the whole thing look like some sort of large derelict pavilion. I used the black edges of the roof, concrete floor, and two adjacent support columns to frame a shot out to the rampant growth. I am continually fascinated and made hopeful by nature's determination to overcome and erase.
Belle Isle - Steelworks

Brown's Island
Walking back from Belle Isle, I crossed through adjacent Brown's Island. It was a hot day, and I spotted these boys cooling off in the James. Rope swings hung from the CSX railroad trestle; coal trains from Appalachia passed overhead on their way to the coast.
Brown's Island (1)

Lake Chickahominy
Back in May I discovered a new-for-me place to kayak, Lake Chickahominy west of Williamsburg. I went back this fall and had a very photo-productive trip. I like this shot for its monochromatic background of bald cypress knees, and for the colorful determination of a red maple to take hold anywhere it can, even if that place is on another species, and not in the ground.
Lake Chickahominy (36)

Lang Farm Road
Finally, this group of hackberry trees near my parent's house is a frequent subject of mine. In fact, a shot of them has appeared in a previous top 10 post. I rarely photograph them in the summer when the foliage hides their structure. However, in late fall or winter, you can really see what a beautiful silhouette they create in the rising sun.
Lang Farm Rd (6)

If you would like to see the rest of my favorites from 2016, you can check them out on my Flickr page.

Do you have photos from 2016 that you are particularly proud of, or that speak to you in a special way? 
If so, then I welcome you to share them on your own blog or Facebook page. If you do, come back and leave a comment with a link please. I would really appreciate it. Thanks, and I hope all of you have a happy new year - one filled with much to photograph!

November 30, 2016

A Few Recent Photos

     All of the following photos were taken last Friday morning near my parents' house on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. As we do most years, we were visiting for the Thanksgiving holiday. I've posted photos from this place, and from this time of year, many times before, so I apologize for the repetition, but each morning can be new. The photos reinforce my love for this narrow sliver of land squeezed between a vast sky and broad waters.

Towards Walston Creek

Lang Farm Rd

Lang Farm Rd (3)

Lang Farm Rd (4) />

Lang Farm Rd (6)

Lang Farm Rd (5)

The Pavilion (1)

Metompkin Bay (1)

Metompkin Bay (10)

Metompkin Bay (11)

Metompkin Bay (12)

Metompkin Bay (8)

October 12, 2016

Mystery on Queens Creek

     I love the internet, especially for sleuthing out mystery plants. A few carefully considered questions asked in the right places will usually lead me to what I am looking for. Of course I am also just as likely to head down some wormhole and forget what I was looking for in the first place. What recently kept me busy was trying to ID a plant I saw blooming earlier this month while kayaking on Queens Creek, a small tributary of the James River in Charles City County. In places the flowers smothered the shoreline in bright yellow, which was a nice contrast to the gray storm-threatening skies. I first thought it could be any one of those yellow composite species that all begin with h-e-l (Helianthus, Helenium, Heliopsis) that are difficult for me to tell apart. Although Helenium autumnale (sneezeweed) is very common here, and was blooming elsewhere on my trip, I knew that was not it. I next guessed it might be Helianthus angustifolius (swamp sunflower), as I was indeed in a swamp, but after paddling closer for further inspection all I could confirm was my cluelessness. So I took close up photos of foliage and flowers to look up when I got home, and resolved just to enjoy the site of it.

     After a few minutes on the internet I narrowed the plant down to one of the Bidens. A little while later I think I fixed it to Bidens laevis (smooth beggartick, smooth bur-marigold, showy bur-marigold). To help in the identification of this plant I used two of my favorite sites; the Native Plant Database at, and the Digital Atlas of Virginia Flora, which is a decades long project to map all of the state's native plants. From the atlas I learned that B. laevis inhabits tidal freshwater marshes to oligohaline marshes. I had to look up the definition of oligohaline, which means having a very low amount of salt, and I decided to make it my word of the day, and wondered if health conscious snack companies could successfully market oligohaline chips or crackers. I digress. If any of you know this plant to be something else, please feel free to correct me. Regardless of its exact ID, it was a lovely thing to see, especially in such proliferation. 
Queens Creek - Bidens laevis (1)

Queens Creek - Bidens laevis (2)

Queens Creek - Bidens laevis (3)

Queens Creek (14)

Queens Creek (12)

Queens Creek (13)

     During my trip I had the creek to myself, no one else was on the water, though I did speak with a couple of guys on the shore getting their duck blind ready for the coming season. Judging from the number of blinds I saw, I will avoid this place in-season. I wouldn't want to be mistaken for a duck. Below are some of the other sights I saw.
James River - Transmission Tower (2)

James River (3)

Queens Creek (3)

Queens Creek (4)

Queens Creek (5)

Queens Creek (18)

Queens Creek (24)

Queens Creek (26)

August 30, 2016

Back to Belle Isle

     Well hello! Why yes, I do still blog, though lately not often. It's just that I've been working very hard this summer, and playing equally as hard. I also helped throw a big party, spent time dodging a health bullet, and lastly, but not leastly, we managed to get our only child off to college. This last item was why I found myself in Richmond, and at VCU, two weekends in a row. He said "no" when I first asked if he wanted to bring his bike when we took him and his things up for dorm move-in weekend. However, sometime in the ensuing week he changed his mind, and I ran it up to him this past weekend. I didn't mind, the trip is just two hours, and I wanted to see him, the dogs did too, plus I enjoy Richmond. Although I wasn't born there, it was where I was raised, and I guess I still call it my hometown.

     After my delivery was made, lunch eaten, and recent dorm room enhancements viewed and complemented, the dogs and I traveled a few blocks down to the James River for a hike to Belle Isle. In my late teens and twenties, my friends and I would often have great adventures there. To reach the island back then we would hop the rocks if the water was low enough. Otherwise, we had to scale a stone railroad support column, using old electrical cables to reach an abandoned trestle, then we crossed over the rushing water, while avoiding the missing, rotten or loose railroad ties. Once there we usually had the island to ourselves, and could explore its flood-ravaged, abandoned buildings unhindered. These days the island can be reached by a pedestrian bridge that is suspended from the undersides of the Lee Bridge. Judging by the full parking lot, and all of the people on the island, Belle Isle today must be one of the city's most popular attractions.

     To reach the footbridge, I first had to walk underneath the still active CSX trestle, cars overhead carrying coal to the coast.
Belle Isle - CSX Trestle (4)

Belle Isle - CSX Trestle (2)

Belle Isle - CSX Trestle (1)

     You can easily tell that the railroad trestle, and the current incarnation of the Lee Bridge (from which the footbridge is suspended) were built in different eras.
Belle Isle - Pedestrian Bridge (2)

Belle Isle - Pedestrian Bridge (3)

Belle Isle - Pedestrian Bridge (4)

     Belle Isle has a long history. Native Americans and early colonist fished here, Capt. John Smith explored it in 1607, stone was quarried here, and it was the site of some of Richmond's first industry. It was also the site of a notorious Civil War prison for Union soldiers. During the 20th century it was home to a hydroelectric power plant, and steelworks, the remains of which are now covered in thick vegetation, as is most of the island. There are many native tree species thriving on the island including river birches, sycamores, oaks, black cherries, hickories, and sassafras, with non-natives like Paulownia, mimosa, and Ailanthus doing there best to take over. The trees themselves, and the ruined structures are covered in vines, especially native trumpet vine and Virginia Creeper, of course English Ivy has also made the island home. In sunnier areas large grasses and wildflowers grow lush. There are many trails throughout the island for hiking, biking, jogging, and whatever; signs interpret the island's varied history along the way.
Derelict Bridge

Belle Isle - Platanus occidentalis

Belle Isle - Powerhouse (2)

Belle Isle - Quarry

Belle Isle - Rhus and Panicum

Belle Isle - Steelworks (1)

Belle Isle - Steelworks (3)

Belle Isle - Steelworks (4)

Belle Isle - Steelworks (6)

Belle Isle - Steelworks

Belle Isle - Clematis paniculata (2)

Belle Isle - Clematis paniculata

Belle Isle - James River (1)

Belle Isle - James River (4)

Belle Isle - Patriots

Brown's Island (1)

Belle Isle - Richmond Skyline

      Haven had many roles in Richmond's history, I am so glad that today Belle Isle is a much needed city-center oasis for both wildlife and people.