Sunday, January 31, 2016


A neighbor was kind enough to come by with his full size John Deere on Thursday. Two passes, road clear; right tool for the job, makes all the difference.

Photo courtesy Marc Vez

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Snow walk

The Ion is still stuck behind a few hundred yards of unplowed road at Valhalla, but my hiking mentor was kind enough to pick me up for a short climb in knee deep snow up the AT at Snickers Gap.

Only 2171 miles to go!

Snickers Gap view of Shenandoah Valley

After hike hot tub time did much to convince my joints that it was a very good day.

Sunday, January 24, 2016



Ion, uncovered

About half a mile of road that needs to be plowed, also. Good thing I don't need to be anywhere.

Very much like the Rhode Island blizzards I recall -- but temperatures aren't cold enough to build safe snow tunnels. Pfft.


Temperatures won't get above freezing until the end of the week. Time to start shoveling.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Second day: morning came, evening followed

Snowfall has ended, the road has been plowed, and the forecast winds have not come howling through this area. 

Power is still on, and a homemade sushi dinner is in the works -- with wasabi, ginger, and o-sake! Life is pretty tolerable some days. 

Why books are important to me

Here's a webcomic with a perspective on life that I fully support.

INCIDENTAL COMICS: A Reader's Manifesto

Difficult to swat flies with an e-book, though.

Cold chicken coop

All is well out there, apparently, but it's definitely not a good day for free ranging.

Forecast high winds have yet to make an appearance, but the Shenandoah valley seems to be getting more than enough snow. Winchester, which is just across the ridge from us, is forecast to hit 38 inches total. Our tenant from Moldova is not impressed;  if you can see the eaves of your neighbors' house, she says, it's nothing. 

Snow morning to be going anywhere

Fine-grained snow still filling the sky and swirling in from every direction to cover all of the porch decks.

The small lump beneath the trees is my Saturn Ion, hiding under a big blue tarp.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Day is done

Storm Jonas, 5 p.m. 20 to 30 inches by tomorrow night, the forecasters are saying.

Good time to be indoors; even the geese have left the pond and taken cover.

All is safely gathered in, let the winter storm begin

Storm Jonas, arriving at Valhalla Ranch. Adequate stores of warm clothing, food, water, and toilet paper are at hand, the Ion has been moved to a safe location and covered, and the emergency generator has been checked out.

Storm Jonas begins
One of the tenants has invited a number of friends over for a pre-blizzard party. There may be a waiting line for the hot tub.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Climbing Compton Peak -- do we really need to have a peak to hike a peak?

Barbara Cook and I struggled up a five mile climb to Skyline Drive in the wake of our favorite naturalist, Bob Pickett -- drive time about an hour, but we would have missed Prof. Pickett's trailside explanations on natural history along the way.

We learned how to identify basalt, two kinds of granite and quartz intrusions (quartz has the lowest melting point of the igneous minerals, which explains how cracks are filled with it, who knew?), sweet cicely-- try a few leaves, tastes like anise-- moonwart, blueberry versus raspberry bushes, and non-indigenous cherry trees that planted by Scots-Irish settlers as a fruit source for alcoholic beverages, which, like apples, were much easier than the fruit to bring down the mountains and sell to the lowlanders -- aand --

-- how those homesteaders saw their mountaintop livelihoods undermined by exhaustion of the lands' ability to raise crops, by the loss of high value hardwoods like the chestnuts, and by centralization of the tanning industry with the government-supported extension of railroads down the Shenandoah valley. The last of the homesteaders died in 1966, over thirty years after the government began the eviction process that formed the Shenandoah National Park.

And more. Everyone quietly agreed that if he had given an exam at the end, we would all have failed miserably.

Oh, I forgot to mention inspection of various animal scat and of the remains of a small animal that had been consumed by a predator.  Also, a mnemonic  (for the exam?) MADCAP Horse, to remember the broad leaved woody plants: Maple, Ash, Dogwood -- CAPrifoliaceae (the formal subspecies name) -- "Horse"  chestnut, the latter of which is sadly extinct. Sigh.

Also, bear estrous cycles and the placement of nipples on a mother bear.

No, wait, there's more! But I've forgotten it already.

Having climbed a "gentle" ascent and strolled along a long "level" ridge, Bob Pickett led us down a "moderate" descent below an awe-inspiring sight -- a boulder made of the tops of more or less hexagonal hundred-plus foot tall columns of basalt formed during the magma upwellings thousands of millenia ago when the South American continent separated from the North American continent.  [Better photo follows with a model posed for scale; the ends of each column are about a foot square.]

Magic times, full of exhausted amazement over evidence of the deep ecological, social, and geologic times that have formed the world in which we live.

Compton Peak? Oh, that was the high point we passed over a little while back. Nothing much to see there.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The path of least resistance

Four hour redeye from San Jose was just long enough to exhaust the remaining 47% charge on my tablet battery, reasonable performance given continuous use of the large screen for either reading or taking notes.

Fickle Finger of Fate note -- some fellow traveler was too late to claim the aisle seat before the door closed, so I shifted over and shared the extra space with the occupant of the window seat. Averaging out random effects? Hopefully, the seat I left empty on Christmas Eve made the evening happier either for someone waiting on standby seat or for someone like us who made use of the extra legroom.

I am back at Valhalla Ranch, with plans for a day hike up Comptons Peak next weekend in a chilly rain. It is January, after all.

Committed to fly once more

Hiking gear and laundry committed to the winds of fortune once more -- odds of making connections and finding it on the baggage carrel in Baltimore tomorrow much better this time.

Today was a good finish to this ten day ramble. Will, Sean, and I visited the Winchester Mystery House , whose 160 rooms, 13 bathrooms, six kitchens, 476 doors, thousands of windows, and 7 1/2 miles of sprinkler system piping dissuaded me from any remaining fragment of interest in owning -- or even living in -- a large home. For lunch, we stopped at Sushirito, a new restaurant offering sushi ingredients wrapped and served burrito style. 

After an attempt to do better justice to the remains of the excellent meals that Tess and Will prepared during my stay, we went out for some excellent liquid nitrogen frozen ice cream. Still adjusting to the idea of a cryogenic tank sitting behind the ice cream "brrristas".

Boarding now. Away, away!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Should another year's passing be forgot ...

... well, some are just more memorable than others.

Certainly this evening's dinner with family Dunn at the Summer Summer Thai Eatery was an enjoyable occasion.

This New Years Eve is definitely a landmark moment for them -- their first in California as a family. For myself, though? Just a moment to step outside, look up at the stars -- remember what was, hope for what may be.