Marsh Marigold

Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)

Much of the Killbuck Valley is carpeted with bright yellow Marsh Marigolds, and I found two small clumps in our swamp within site of the watercress patch, on the far side of some deep muck.  Sticky, smelly, more-than-booth-high muck.

Claytonia virginica

Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)

Mom has never documented Marsh (or perhaps more aptly Swamp) Marigolds before, and I don’t remember seeing them.  Everything else blooming right now, in forest, field, and fen, is familiar.  The shady east-facing slopes of our hollow are crawling with Spring Beauties, in various sizes and ranging from deep violet stripes to almost pure white.  A lot of sunny spots also have Spring Beauty.

Rue Anemone (Anemonella thalictroides)

Rue Anemone (Anemonella thalictroides)

The east-facing face of our hollow, on the far side of the pond, is dominated by Rue Anemone, with surprisingly little overlap with the Beauties.  Virtually all of the Anemone are white, but I found one plant that is more of a violet color.

Rue Anemone, (Anemonella thalictroides)

Rue Anemone, (Anemonella thalictroides)

Downy Yellow Violet (Viola pubescens)

Downy Yellow Violet (Viola pubescens)

Mom says that we have 3 different yellow violets. I found one example, and I’m putting it down as a Downy Yellow, although some Google searching indicates some controversy over popular and scientific names. It was near the waterfall and not far from the only White Trillium that seems to be blooming in the entire county.  The rest of the Trillium just sprouted a couple of days ago.

White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)

White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)


Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata)

Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata)

Round-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica americana)

Round-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica americana)

I only found one Round-lobed Hepatica, but there are lots of Bloodroot, most of them apparently getting ready to bloom during the next several days.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)


Azure Bluet (Houstonia caerulea)

Azure Bluet (Houstonia caerulea)

The woodland flowers are in a race against time, trying to process as much sunlight as they can before the trees leaf out and shade them.  There are just a few patches of Bluet in the woods, but so far,  I don’t see any in the sunlight areas around the cabin.  With more time to grow deep weedy roots, and long sturdy stems, the larger field flowers have just begun to poke their leaves above ground, but some of the smaller wildflowers are growing in the sunny spots.

Purple Wild Violet (Viola sororia)

Purple Wild Violet (Viola sororia)

Gill-over-the-Ground Glechoma hederacea)

Gill-over-the-Ground (Glechoma hederacea)

Not really having a lawn to worry about, I consider Violets and Creeping Charlie (Gill-over-the-ground, a pervasive member of the mint family) as being flowers, not weeds.  Arguably, some of the evasive European plants that have established themselves in the USA should be considered weeds.

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Chickweed is starting to bloom, and we’ve already got a couple of those below-the-mower-height dandelions blooming next to the cabin.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

It seems like every reptile and amphibian in the valley has been out this weekend, and most of them spend their evenings singing at the top of their lungs.

I took my iPad and a microphone out to the edge of the swamp last night and recorded the frogs singing (click to hear it–you wont’ want to miss this).  Peaking at over 85 decibels, it was pretty impressive, with the peepers making most of the noise, and some wood frogs, and maybe leopard frogs mixed in.  I went back to the swamp this afternoon to see if I could get some pictures, but all the action was on the other side of the road, in a flooded cornfield, which was full of American toads (above), singing an entirely different song, with a bit of mating mixed in.

Gartner Snake

Much quieter than the amphibians, the snakes were also out in force this weekend.  Elizabeth and I each saw a couple gartner snakes.  I ran into the little fellow above just below our waterfall, and he didn’t seem to be in a big hurry to get away, so we decided to do a photoshoot.

Myriad of hazards

March 15th, 2014

Weather hazard infographic from the National Weather Service in Sterling

The winter of 2013-2014 is apparently reaching its dramatic conclusion with an increasingly rapid alternation between balmy shirtsleeve weather and arctic blasts.


Today (Saturday) has been a beautiful Ides of March. Elizabeth and I spent a couple hours outside with no jackets.  Tomorrow the National Weather Service, in what seems a weekly ritual, has release yet another winter storm watch as today’s comfortable mid 60s drops in less than 24 hours to the mid 20s, bringing 2-8 inches of more snow.

So far, the only thing we seem to have missed is the Ajax storm (a white tornado).

Posted in Weather | No Comments »

Collecting Snow for Sochi

February 13th, 2014

Morning view out home office

As we woke up this morning, the last of more than 13 inches of wet snow was still coming down. This is the first significant snowfall in the Cap region since 2010.

     Deeper in the frontFeb2014-1650

Impressively deep on the patio, it seemed even deeper out front.  It seems we’ve had at least 15 inches so far, and perhaps as much as 20.

15 Inches/40cm of snow

I saw lots of neighbors shoveling, but virtually none of them actually tried to drive anywhere today. Most of the cars looked like they had no business going anywhere.  Even the Jeeps decided to stay put.

Across the street

Hovering around freezing all day, the snow subsided a couple inches. The landscape company was out with shovels, blowers, plows, and even a Bobcat, and the neighborhood is pretty clear. I walked the several blocks to our town center, almost totally deserted, but still softly playing jazz music.  Everything was closed but the Harris-Teeter.

Even Jeeps stayed put today

While I stopped in the backyard to chat up Krypto, asking for his help to locate some missing snowballs,  I noticed a family shoveling their Honda out, hopping in and slowly driving across the slippery pavement.  I didn’t think they’d get very far, but it turns out that they were only driving 500 yards to the town center where they own a Vietnamese restaurant. So there are now two places open.

Buster in his cape

A light snow started falling at dusk, the beginning of a second wave of frozen precipitation apparently caused by an ‘energetic upper level disturbance.’  Quite. Another 1-3 inches is expected, although this particular pattern has a history of heaviness, with continued red-bordered warnings from the National Weather Service.

Looking down on the patio

Given the dearth of the white stuff in the sub-tropical location Russian city chosen to host this year’s winter Olympics, more than one wag has suggested that we collect and ship the stuff to the Black Sea. If this storm does deserve a name, it might as well be Snochi. Maybe Krypto can do something about taking this snow to where it is really needed.

Let It Snow

January 30th, 2014

Cabin and Car During Jan 25 Storm

I don’t ski, and my last two experiences with ice skating went horribly wrong, but for some reason, I really like snow. We’ve had some concentrated winter experience during the last week, more than fulfilling my appetite for the white stuff.

Township Road before the plow

Last Saturday, another visit from the polar regions transformed our little valley into a snow globe.  4.5 inches (11cm) of new snow  just before noon when I took camera, coat, and my aptly named Snowy River out for a blustery walk (see location above during July flooding).

Looking across the swamp

A single pair of tracks outlined the center of our township road, which hadn’t been cleared.  A heavy wind was blowing the snow across our swamp (see creek above during July flooding).

Before the Snow Plow

Our driveway seemed to be Subaruable, but it gave the entrance to the Hollow a much more remote feeling than its had since we started building the cabin.

Pine tree during Jan 25 storm before the wind

We don’t get as much wind in the Hollow, so our trees were frosted with snow for most of the weekend.  The roads were covered, but we didn’t see a lot of plows.  Later Saturday afternoon Elizabeth took a walk out to the township road and met one of the neighbors plowing it with his Polaris.

Neighbor plowing township road

. After another inch or two of snow over Saturday night, we gingerly drove down a lightly plowed driveway Sunday morning, starting what turned out to be a surprisingly long drive to church.  With greasy unplowed roads, we never got out of 3rd gear.

The Mighty Killbuck

Our return home was easier, not because any of the roads had been cleared, but because we weren’t driving through heavy snow fall.  We stopped along the state highway to watch the ice floating in the Killbuck.  In July, the spot above was impassable because of floodwaters (see the couple on the ATV).

Plowing the Driveway

I’d taken a quick swipe down the driveway on Saturday, but on the theory that you can never spend too much quality time with your tractor (and anticipating 20 below zero temperature), I cranked up the reluctant Diesel after work on Monday and thoroughly plowed the driveway from the cabin to the township road.

Well-Plowed Driveway

It takes a gentle touch, driving slowly, with a hand on the hitch height control, and a foot on the brake, to avoid making a big mess out of the limestone.

Base of our Driveway After Plowing

After cleaning up a quarter mile of private driveway, I decided to clean up about 3/4 mile of the township road, which is a lot easier to plow, because there’s no gravel.  That left a bunch of snow in front of our drive, a satisfying opportunity for some front end loader work.

Frozen Falls

January 16th, 2014

The tiny brook that makes Heiser Hollow a hollow flows year around, but it is usually underground.  Not only has it been flowing constantly for the last month, but a light Christmas freeze created hundreds of crystal clear icicles and iciglobs.  Splashing water froze over a period of several days into all sorts of interesting patterns and shapes.

Once a fantastic alpine cataract, over a period of millions of years, Heiser Falls has eroded into a 30 foot high jumble of sandstone boulders, decaying back into the sand that they sedimented from.  As the fragile sandstone splits, slides, and decomposes, it constantly alters the shape and form of the falls. Truly, you never really visit the same water fall more than once.


By December 28, the continuously splashing falls were making increasingly thicker layers of ice on top of stones and fallen branches.

Dripping water from day time thaws had created stalactites, solidifying ferns and moss.

The spring-fed brook created beautifully clear ice, covered and infused with subtle but complex textures of cracking. And then everything melted.

And then it froze. It froze hard. Starting from a relatively balmy mid-40s on the night of January 5, the temperature quickly dropped to -10 Fahrenheit (-23C).  The pond quickly froze solid, but I didn’t get to the waterfall for a couple of days.  When I returned after a light snow on the 9th, the brook and falls appeared to have frozen solid, although you could still hear the water flowing under the ice.

It looked like a miniature 300 foot glacier, sliding into the back of our property, sliding slowly downhill towards the frozen pond.

Much of the brook above the falls had turned into stair steps of ice, as successive layers of constantly flowing water solidified on top of already frozen water.

The falls seemed frozen into place, although you were always surrounded by the babbling sound of flowing water.  And then it thawed again, with all but the thickest ice completely melting.

Cold weather returned, and this week, the Hollow is beginning to ice up again, looking like it did before Christmas.  The constantly flowing spring water surrounded by elaborately formed and textured formations of beautifully clear ice.  I went out at lunch with a tripod and macro lens, trying to capture some of the elusive beauty of the ever-changing ice.