Thursday, May 31, 2012

Mimosa Pink

There was once a small white frame house.
It was not the kind of house that would garner much attention these days.
Not many windows. No garage.
Not large enough for the family living in it to have their own private spaces.
No open floor plan.
Likely no gleaming modern kitchen.
Doubtful there was central air to cool its interior during steamy Tidewater summers
 Probably less chance it stayed warm during damp and chilly Tidewater winters.

Except this little cottage had one thing no other house had: pink shutters.
But not only pink shutters framing the windows;
there was also a pink-flowering mimosa tree blooming in the front lawn.

Someone loved that worn little home.
The splashes of pink paint
that were carefully coordinated to the mimosa's pink blossoms
revealed a commitment to artistic sensibility in the face of limited means.
That and confidence in one's own taste, I would say.

And once seeing a mimosa's fine leaves and delicate flower puffs,
who could not understand this homeowner's painterly homage to mimosa pink?
The leaves themselves convey a certain sensitivity.
They are open in daylight,

but close up towards dusk.

Pink shutters. Pink mimosa blossoms.
 It makes perfect sense.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Magnolia Time

There is no flowering tree
that evokes romantic notions of the antebellum South
quite the way the magnolia can.
Whether the magnolia virginiana or the magnolia grandiflora
or any of the other more than 200 species of the tree, 
almost everyone swoons over the unforgettably fragrant perfume
of a magnolia flower in bloom.

Throughout the year,
the leaves are a leathery and glossy green,

but around mid-May to early June here in the Shire,
and other southern places,
the slender, ovate flower buds become visible:

It doesn't take long for the flowers to open fully.
And they reward those who have waited for them
with a perfume worthy of Eden, Nirvana, and Jannah.
But they only last a little while.
Like long-forgotten southern mansions,
their beauty remains, if a bit shabby at the edges:

I think the reason towns from California to Colorado,
Arkansas to Virginia, Texas to Minnesota and more
have taken the name Magnolia
is because people want to associate themselves
with its unique presence and reliable beauty.
And it is a nostalgic flower, reminiscent of times past--
times when it seemed easier to claim certitude about life and the way to live it.

For all the reasons people love the magnolia,
whether for moonlit fantasies or fabled Southern charms,
Creamy white magnolia flowers are a sweet reward for living in the South.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What Became of the Nesting Goose?

My April pursuit of a nesting goose led me here:

The goose and her gander resided over this pond for a few weeks,
undisturbed by visiting egrets and curious on-lookers.
I returned a couple of weeks ago, and the nesting pair was gone.
I looked around the neighborhood and visited the ponds and lakes
where geese and their fuzzy yellow goslings have strolled in other springs.
But there were no young geese at any of the usual places.
No yellow-fuzzed babies, no juveniles.
I was puzzled by their absence
because every year we have had many hatchlings.

And I knew it was time for them to be here.
On a median in downtown Norfolk, I had spotted
 geese and four goslings when "my" goose was still on the nest.
The cars and trucks and buses had roared past,
but the feathered family huddled together and bided their time
before crossing to the Scope convention center.
I suspect some green grass and sunshine beckoned.

And a week later in a shady office park in Chesapeake,
a larger brood including several juvenile geese sporting newly brown feathers
sauntered across the street.

Then last week, I saw two young geese at the lake near my house.
They were a little awkward, a little unsure,
a fleeting yellow fuzz still on their backs.
They stayed close to the adult geese with them.
Did those young ones belong to our nesting goose?
Really, there's no way to know.
But I like to think that yes, yes they were. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Mystery Place

Where in the world is it that trees,
twisted and turned by nor'easters and hurricanes,
tower over fields of tomatoes, potatoes, and corn?
Where dozens of seagulls circle and unseen songbirds chirp and whistle?
And where is it that nonchalant deer pause at the woodland's edge
 to stare quietly at humans only a few feet away?
Two places actually.

The first on our trip,
 the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge,
offers field, forest, and marsh.
According to the Refuge, this is a select migration byway 
for "millions of songbirds and monarch butterflies
and thousands of raptors" who stop to rest on their way south.
Fisherman's Island holds protected nesting areas
for "brown pelicans and royal terns
as well as American oystercatchers."

Since our visit was late May,
we were too late (or too early)
for the great migration that arrives in autumn.
However, our purpose was to take advantage of the bike trails
 paved over the former Cape Charles Railroad right-of-way.

As soon as we got on the trail, 
a young doe lingered nearby for awhile before fleeing.
Big dark eyes, big ears, and big curiosity on its part--and ours.
I think it's safe to say all three of us--the doe, my husband, and I-- 
shared the same degree of heart-pounding excitement in those few moments.

The bike trail in the Refuge is very scenic.
We saw lots of thistles with fuschia-colored blooms: 

and a mystery plant--a purple flowering vine with fern-like leaves--
that I haven't been able to find any information about. 
It was as prolific as the seagulls,
so I assume it is another unwelcome guest at the party.
It's hard to see the leaves in this photo
because the vine was interwoven
with a profusion of wild fennel. 

We thought at first these delicate green clouds were wild asparagus,
but when we ran our hands over the stems,
there was no mistaking the scent of fennel.

Whatever the purple-flowering vine is,
it blended well with the Queen Anne's Lace to create a lovely picture
of meadow flowers in late spring:

The bike trail in the Refuge is an easy couple of miles over smooth pavement.
Not so our second destination: Kiptopeke State Park
on the Bay side of the lower Delmarva Peninsula.
Pedaling over the grass paths
presented quite a challenge in the noon-day sun,
and I had to rest as soon as we got to the butterfly garden.
That is where we saw more seagulls 
 floating on ponds, cavorting in fields, and resting along roof lines:

We left there and followed the Bayview Trail to the cliffs.
The sky was blue and cloudless,
so the Bay was a deep blue color all the way to the horizon.
In the distance, up the beach a-ways,
 floated a small fleet of retired WWI- and WWII-era concrete ships.
I had read about them last year and was curious about them.
I expected them to be a dazzling white, but they were actually much darker,
more of a brown and gold color.
Here's a link to  photos of what the concrete ships look like:

I wanted to go to the main part of the park to see them,
but the thought of riding my bike over a few more rough miles dissuaded me.
I plan to go back and see the Kiptopeke beach again though.
Maybe I'll return in autumn with millions of songbirds and butterflies.
Now that would be a trip.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Where in the World?

Yesterday my husband and I set out for points east of the Shire.
Our journey began by crossing almost twenty miles of water,
and although there were plenty of white fishing boats
bobbing in the water like corks, we were not among them.
We set out across the expanse of water not by sail, not by ferry.
We drove over and under the sea
via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.*

Seeing the water from that vantage point is wondrous.
Near the shoreline, the water appears gray,
with no hint of the brilliant color the sea will reflect 
as one moves on to clearer water.
As the Atlantic Ocean meets the Chesapeake Bay,
the water near the bridge appears deeply emerald green.
Farther, its hue a soothing aquamarine; 
and at the horizon line a gauzy blue-gray.
It is very appealing, whether seeing it for the first time or the hundredth.
But this time I was thrilled to see something I had never seen before:
 thousands and  thousands of electric blue sparkles,
glinting reflections of the sun on the sea-green waves.
I'm sure that image will remain in my memory.

As we approached the North Cove at Fisherman's Island,
white-capped breakers rolled onto shore.
Watermen in jon boats fished the waters of
what is called the Virginia Inside Passage,
and soon we had arrived at our destination.
It is a place with trees, flowers, and fields; 
birds and butterflies; inquisitive wildlife, sandy beaches,
and even concrete boats tethered together on the Bay.
Where in the world do these elements converge?
Find out in tomorrow's Still Waters blog.
Here's a link to the Bay Bridge Tunnel homepage.
It has lots of information and some good photos:

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Cedar Lane

As I wrote in an earlier blog, I love cedar trees.
I recently posted photographs of two cedars
at the Chesapeake Arboretum
and another of one growing near my house;
I also reminisced about the  juniperus virginiana 
that grew straight and tall at the end of our front lawn when I was a kid.

The trees I had seen recently in Chesapeake weren't too large,
nowhere near the 800-year age of the oldest cedar tree in the US.
But on our recent trip to Chippokes Plantation,
I was delighted to see many venerable old cedar trees.

Near the 19th-century mansion,
three cedars flanked a tree with a twisting, winding root:

On the other side of the road, three more cedars cast morning shadows:

The cedar tree on the right in this next photo
looks very wizened and terribly wise.
When travellers are very still and quiet,
they can hear the old tree whispering advice.

There are many more cedars lining the Quarter Road,
a road that runs through the working farm.
They were full of birds when we went by one morning.
I would have expected cedar wax wings, but there were none.
Maybe it was too soon in the season for cedar berries. 

But courted by cedar waxwings or not,
the best cedars are the ones
that stand watch over Cedar Lane.
They are ancient. This one may not look it, but it is huge.
My husband and I put our arms around it,
but we couldn't come close to touching hands.

I find this next photo peaceful.
 The trunks are rough and gnarled;
and each cedar's canopy casts soft shadows on the grass.
It's a pleasing contrast, and a nice counterpart to the nearby field.

Imagine a horse-drawn carriage on this historic lane.
It was once the formal entrance to the Plantation.
Those days are long gone,
but the cedar trees still watch over fields of corn and cotton.

Perhaps they are remembering.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Am I Blue?

This week my blue hydrangeas bloomed;
I look forward to this every spring.
For years I had no hydrangeas,
but I wanted some, and they had to be blue.
I even bought a vase of soft blue
because I thought my future hydrangea blossoms would look good in it.
Now I have two plants.
One is planted at the corner of my house
next to where the serviceberry tree once stood:

The very first year this hydrangea bloomed,
I cut a luscious blue blossom, put it in a pewter bud vase,
and left it outside on a table for most of the summer.
Much to my surprise, it rooted in the water,
so I planted the tiny little plant 
in front of some chindo viburnum shrubs.
Soon I had two robust hydrangea plants.
I call the "baby" plant Qu'an Yin's hydrangea
after my white and blond pekingese, now passed.
Its blossoms are always much bluer than the ones on the front shrub.
I adore these blue hydrangeas.
This one is from Qu'an Yin's hydrangea:

 How can blue be a sad color when it dresses a blossom
this extravagant and mirthful? 

This one reminds me of dozens of tiny azure butterflies.

If Qu'an Yin's hydrangea is reliably blue,
then its mother plant in the front is a bit of a chameleon.
It can't make up its mind what color it wants to be.
Sometimes it's pink:

Sometimes it's more of a light mauve:

Sometimes it's the lightest of blues and the palest of lavender creams:

Other times, it's all 3 colors:

There is a bit of folklore about the hydrangea.
In an online article for Eden Florist, Heidi Richards Mooney says 
hydrangeas were often used to break spells cast by witches. 

I guess that's possible 
because I do think of the hydrangea as having a bit of magic
 infused in its leaves, blooms, and stems.
I'd always read that hydrangeas couldn't be rooted in water,
but I've done it more than a few times.
Each time, I feel something mystical and enchanting has occurred.
If there is a secret to my success,
it is that the container has to be opaque
so the roots are always kept in the dark.
Then it will root well enough
to one day grow into a bouquet of resplendent blooms.
Now who could be blue about that?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Fable about Persistence

This week a box turtle
with a tough shell printed in gold and umber
made its way through the grass outside our door.

The next day, he--or perhaps his brother--was back again,
nestled in the lavender:

The evening after,
I saw a rabbit munching grass in a neighbor's yard.

I knew he could run away quickly, but he didn't.
He didn't seem disturbed by my watching him.

So, sighting a turtle and a rabbit within a block of one another
made me think of Aesop's Fable
about the Tortoise and the Hare,
officially, the Hare and the Tortoise.
Some interpreters say the story is about the hare's hubris,
for he brags about his physical prowess
and ridicules the tortoise's torpid movements.
Others say the story is more
about the tortoise's superior character and quiet confidence
in the face of insult.
Some versions end the fable this way:
"Slow but steady wins the race."
Other versions end it this way: "Plodding wins the race."
Either way, it's about persistence in the face of challenge, I'd say.
There are many admonitions about persistence in the world's literature.
A Japanese proverb encourages us to "Fall down 7 times, get up 8."
And there is also a story I read once in a book by an Indian guru.
It was about two frogs that fell into a pail of cream.
They swam, trying to find a way out, but it was hopeless.
They were stuck in the pail with no way out. 
Soon one of the frogs became discouraged at their plight,
 gave up and died. The other frog swam and swam,
refusing to give up, sure he would find a way out.
He swam and swam and swam so much
that he churned the cream into butter and climbed out of the pail.
I think my favorite is the Chinese adage
 bo bie quian li, meaning "a lame turtle goes a thousand miles."
 I read it in a book by Karin Evans
called The Lost Daughters of China. Here it is:

"Traveling at such a slow pace,
Do you think you can ever get there?"
a fast steed asked a lame turtle.
"Yes, as long as I keep going," said the turtle.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

When a Creature Waits

As I've discussed in recent blog posts,
my husband and I spent a carefree weekend
 at Chippokes Plantation earlier this month.
The sun shone on us each day, the air was laden
with the sweet perfume of honeysuckle growing everywhere,
and we were excited to catch sight of a few wild animals,
as well as domesticated ones, along with many birds.

Of course there were birds in the Virginia countryside.
Here's a short list of our sightings, all too fast for my photography skills:
American eagles, buzzards, cardinals, blue jays, robins, seagulls, and terns.
A rarity for us were three Eastern bluebirds flitting
from cedar to cedar along the Quarter Road.
And we enjoyed the many mockingbirds,
the quintessential and fabled southern crows, and 
the cautious wild turkeys with dark bronze feathers
who knew well that they needed to stick close to the tree line
when human visitors were near: 

As for our wild animal sightings, we count
raccoon "hand" prints in the dried ground:

Also three deer, one of whom we scared out of the brush as we biked by,
one wild rabbit, two skink lizards,
and ...
a creature, heretofore alluded to, but as yet unnamed.

Fresh from a bike ride around the plantation,
we returned to our cabin for lunch,  jumped off of our bikes
and ran to the ramp leading to the back door.
And then ...

I became aware that we were not the only ones enjoying the spring weather.
Resting in the midday sun, a creature silently waited on the ramp for our return.
Oh creature, black with white under your chin,
slit-eyed, fork-tongued, scaly, slippery,
hungering for rats and other field vermin ...
I came mere inches from getting too well acquainted with you,
 sneaking, conniving black rat snake that you are:
I know, I know.
 I should be grateful that this creature was hanging around,  
eager to dispatch any field mice that skulked around the cabin's foundation.
Theoretically, I do find snakes acceptable--as long as they are at a great distance,
but realistically, they are loathsome to me
when blocking my path and showing no motivation to sidle away.
Fortunately there was a second entrance to the cabin.
And the snake soon departed, slithering into the grass without a sound.
And we never saw it again.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

By Field and Stream

Visiting the fields, meadows and marshes at Chippokes Plantation
 grants a respite from the busy-ness of the day.
Places like this capture the imagination and
 remind us of the calm imparted by field and stream.

Poets have long written about the grace of nature
and those who understand its importance,
as in this verse attributed to architect Eric R. Kuhne:

Bring me those who save my forests,
Plant my meadows, guide my streams.
Hands with industry as their purpose,
Minds with visions in their dreams.
Gazing across an open wheat field at the Plantation,
one can feel the rustle of a breeze
and hear the call of distant birds.

Nearby, orderly rows of corn soldier across the field

yet yield to the soft rise and fall of the horizon:


Ye marshes how candid and simple
And nothing withholding and free
Ye publish yourselves to the sky
And offer yourselves to the sea.
                                   --Sidney Lanier

If the fields at Chippokes are tender and green in May;
then the hidden marshes are emerald.

Green is a splendid color, said to balance any discord.
Spending time in the green of nature,
by field and stream, always renews one's spirit.

Would that I could gather your houses into my hand
and like a sower, scatter them in forest and meadow.
                                               --Kahlil Gibran

Monday, May 21, 2012

Where the Wild Flowers Bloom

Consider the lilies in the field ... They toil not, neither do they spin.
Our recent weekend in Surry County yielded a number of bucolic sights,
from the cows grazing in front of the River House mansion 
to wild flowers, hidden marshes,
and newly planted fields of wheat, corn, and cotton.
Today, I want to share some of the wildflowers we found "arrayed in glory."

These bright golden flowers were growing along an asphalt drain.
I think they are wild coreopsis or calendula.

Here's a bank of field daisies, one of my favorite wildflowers:

Daisies are so friendly and cheerful.

A delicate pink wild rose we sighted along a weathered fence.
There are two similar wild roses,
the wild prairie rose and the wild Virginia rose; they look the same to me.
Considering its location near an old southern mansion,
I'll have to label this a Virginia rose:

Clover blossoms snuggle here with tiny whispers of pink phlox
and what we used to call "stickers":

Queen Anne's Lace, also called wild carrot:

I've often wondered how the name Queen Anne's Lace came to be.
(no kidding, the British have a museum devoted to all things carrot),
Queen Anne, second daughter of James II, was an accomplished lace maker,
and she one day challenged her ladies-in-waiting to a contest to see
who could make lace in the same pattern as the wild carrot flower, 
a novelty in English gardens at the time. 
Calling the lacy blossoms Queen Anne's Lace is romantic and fitting enough,  
and much preferable to its other name, the painfully prosaic "cow parsley."
Tomorrow a visit to fields of grain and an emerald pond.
And soon, I'll reveal the creature I happened upon.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Mysteries at the Museum

The Farm and Forest Museum at Chippokes Plantation
is an open air museum,
chock full of unique and mysterious implements from centuries past.
We were fortunate to have Gary the handy man give us a tour
because he was very informative
about all of the odd contraptions and machines on display.
Seventeenth and eighteenth century time-saving devices for field, forest, and household
look very crude and hardly efficient to modern eyes,
and from our perspective, it was almost impossible to figure out what many were used for.
Following are some of the more mysterious items we saw.
Try to identify each of these strange objects, then check below for the answers.

Item 1

Item 2

Item 3

Item 4

Item 5

Item 6

Item 7

Item 8


Item 1:  tobacco basket
Item 2:  pig oiler. I knew what this was, but was mistaken about how it worked.
              The pigs rub against it as a means of protecting their skin.
              I thought the farmers picked the pigs up and rolled them across the top of the oiler! 
Item 3:  lard press
Item 4: 18th-century peanut separater. Since peanuts grow underground, they are a dirty,
             tangled mess when harvested. (The harvested peanuts are visible in the photo.)
             This machine separated the peanuts from the dirt and chaff.
Item 5:  Name unknown. Its function is to lower pail(s) into a well for water.
Item 6:  corn sheller
Item 7:  Chattanooga Pea Huller. Not green English peas, something called Southern or cow peas.
             A type of cow pea is the black-eyed pea.
Item 8:  cotton mopper. Our guide didn't know what function it served.
              I thought it must be used to sweep  the cotton dust off of the gin floor. Wrong!
             According to Mr. Walter Bell, South Carolina Cotton Museum,
             this device was used to kill cotton boll weevils in the field
             by mopping them with "a mixture of black strap molasses and arsenic of lead."
             Probably killed more than the boll weevils, I'd say.