Friday, August 31, 2012

The Kingdom by the Sea

There is one more thing about Old Point Comfort worthy of note,
 and that is the history of hotels** and resorts on the Point.
The first hotel was The Hygeia, named after the Greek goddess of health.
No doubt its developers believed in the curative effects of "taking the waters,"
a centuries-old practice for improving health.
However, initially the Hygeia, built in 1822,
housed construction workers helping to build Fort Monroe.
But the illustrious also enjoyed the comforts of the Hygeia.
Paul Clancy, who writes about local history for The Virginian-Pilot newspaper,
says that Edgar Allen Poe purportedly wrote 
his somber elegiac "Annabel Lee" 
while staying at the original Hygeia.

**Photos of the Old Point Comfort hotels are at the Authority site below.

The original Hygeia Hotel was torn down during the Civil War in 1862,
in order to take advantage of the site for military defense.
But soon, in 1868, a bigger and grander resort hotel stood in its place.
To accommodate water views and sea breezes,
the new Hygeia Hotel had three levels of verandas 
and a mansard roof with multiple dormer windows.
By the late 1800s, it had earned the nickname, "The Great Southern Resort." 

While the new Hygeia was dazzling guests, another hotel was constructed nearby.
This was the Chamberlin Hotel, built in 1896
to accommodate resort guests and military officers.
As a "modern" hotel, it offered guests the luxury of electric lights.
Unfortunately, buildings of the era were particularly vulnerable to fire,
and the Chamberlin was no exception, burning to the ground in 1920.
By1928, another Chamberlin Hotel graced the waterfront,
 but over the decades, its success was on again, off again.

Here's the Chamberlin as it looked on my recent visit to Fort Monroe:

I attended a conference there in the 1970s,
 and it was beginning to show its age and a hint of shabbiness.
Even so, having lunch in the grand dining room, 
I looked through the massive palladian windows with their ornate moldings
and was swept away by the magnificence of the place.
And just for a second,  I was in Poe's "kingdom by the sea."
Sources and Links to Photos:

The following site has photos of the Chamberlin, 
now an upscale apartment complex for seniors,
 after its recent refurbishment:

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Old Point Comfort

According to the Proclamation that established it
as a National Monument in late 2011,
Fort Monroe was founded on a peninsula of land named "Pointe Comfort"
 in 1607 by Captain John Smith, leader of the Virginia Colony,
the New World venture known locally as the Jamestown Settlement.
It has been said the name "Pointe Comfort" expressed
the settlers' relief at finding a strategic location near the channel,
 a kind of lookout post on the harbor
to protect the eastern boundary of their upriver colony.

In 1609, Fort Algernon was established
(and later caught fire and burned down)
on the Point where subsequent palisades and forts stood before Fort Monroe.
But Old Point Comfort holds a number of other distinctions in American history.
I was very surprised to learn that
Old Point Comfort was where the first African slaves
were brought to the United States in 1619,
traded for supplies by the Dutch ship that held them in chains.
Ironically, Fortress Monroe, a Union fort in the middle of Confederate territory,
 later provided refuge for runaway slaves,
a fact which has been interpreted as influencing
Lincoln's proclamation for Emancipation.
But the history lesson made me wonder
who accepted the African slaves as trade
and what location they were taken to.
There is a fascinating article about the Point's history
written by Adam Goodheart  for "The American Scholar":
that I recommend to anyone interested in this era.

Old Point Comfort has remained
a strategic military, commercial, and recreational area
for hundreds of years, and that history remains evident today.
From the Point, one can see cargo ships entering
and departing the port of Hampton Roads:

The Old Point Comfort Marina near McNair Street 
is a picturesque reminder of the Fort's connection to the sea:

But nothing says "nautical' like the Old Point Comfort Lighthouse
which has been in operation in one form or another since the late 1770s.
The building of the lighthouse pictured below was completed in 1803.

Now that Fort Monroe has been designated a national monument,
Virginia should amend the name of the Historic Triangle, currently
Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown, and call it the Historic Quadrangle.
Fort Monroe on Old Point Comfort is a rare place,
one that set the course of American experience over four centuries.
And that's pretty historic.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Fort and the Quercus Virginiana

One of the things that makes Fort Monroe
a standout over other military bases, past and present,
is the number and beauty of its trees.
My favorites there are the live oaks, quercus virginiana
that thrive along Ruckman Road in the center of the old Fortress.

Here's one that branched into two trunks very early in its life:

This tree is reminiscent of J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth:
I noticed these near the west intersection of Ruckman Road and Bernard Road.
The trunks are covered in Irish-green colored moss:

I love the way this tree arches and bends:

And here, a massive trunk quietly conveys its august presence:

Live oak branches go on and on, climbing and reaching in different directions.
 It would be easy to get lost in their branches.

I found a web site by Southern Pride Tree Farm, Inc. of Bell, Florida
that has several photos of the biggest and oldest live oaks in the United States.
Words are insufficient to convey those trees' real magnificence. 
One photo on the site is of Louisiana's "The Seven Sisters Oak,"
thought to be over 1,000 years old.
It is difficult to choose which ones are most spectacular:

The Tree Farm's site is loaded with interesting facts about live oaks.
The site includes a link to monumental which is dedicated to
sharing thousands of photos of "big and old" trees around the world. 
I'm guessing the number of photos accounts for the extremely slow load time.
But if one has the patience, it is worth the wait.

Tomorrow, some final thoughts on Fort Monroe.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Prisoner of Fort Monroe

In  April of 1833, the captured Sauk Indian leader Black Hawk
was moved from Jefferson Barracks in Lemay, Missouri
to a prison cell at Fortress Monroe in Hampton, Virginia.
Black Hawk's escort to the east was a young Lieutenant named Jefferson Davis,
who would later become the President of the Confederacy.

In one of life's ironies, Davis himself was imprisoned at Fort Monroe
after his capture by Union troops in Georgia on May 10, 1865, 
on suspicion he had plotted to assassinate President Lincoln the month before.
Davis was held briefly at Fort Wool before being brought across the river 
to his casemate prison cell on the larger Fort Monroe. 

Fort Wool, which is accessible only by boat:

An exterior view of a casemate entry, similar to Davis's cell:

Davis was housed in this spare cell,
which looks incredibly spacious compared to some jail cells then and now.
At the time, the walls were exposed brick;
most of the casemates have brick floors, 
so these wood planks may have been added after Davis was there:

This flag hung in his cell during his imprisonment:

By all accounts, Jefferson Davis's health suffered in the sparsley furnished, damp cell;
so he was later moved to Carroll House,
a more comfortable accommodation inside the Fort.
Perhaps indicative of a more gracious era, in May 1866,
Mrs. Davis was allowed to take up residence at Fort Monroe
for the remainder of her husband's two-year detainment.

He was released after his $100,000 bail was paid by Horace Greely,
Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Gerrit Smith, an abolitionist
who had earlier provided financial support to John Brown.
The reasons for their assistance are not documented in any of the materials I found,
but it would be interesting to know their motives.
Finally released, Davis still had to go through a trial,
which was delayed by Andrew Johnson's impeachment.
Davis had been officially charged with treason,
but on Christmas Day 1868, he was granted amnesty.

Today, there is little indication of Fort Monroe's former life and death dramas.
The Army left the Fort last autumn,
and the site was rightfully declared a national monument,
thanks to the efforts of many Virginians
who recognized the Fort's historical importance to the development of the United States.
Walking inside the Fort is peaceful; the homes and grounds are quietly charming.
Yet, the Fort's military history remains tremendously compelling.

Tomorrow, some more sights inside and outside the Old Fortress.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Washington Didn't Sleep Here

Construction on Fort Monroe in present-day Hampton, Virginia
(also part of the original Elizabeth Cittie Shire)
 began in 1819, two decades after George Washington died.
So the exaggeration that "George Washington slept here," 
so common to small inns around the Commonwealth, 
isn't a claim made when listing the famous persons 
who once stayed inside Fort Monroe.

Although George didn't sleep here, his namesake did.
George Washington Custis Lee, son of Robert E. Lee 
and Mary Anna Randolph Custis,
who was the great granddaughter of Martha Washington,
was born in the house pictured below 
when a young Lieutenant Lee was stationed on Fort Monroe.

Edgar Allan Poe, another US Army soldier who later became famous, 
was also stationed there. 
Although I learned somewhere that the casemates,
the arched rooms inside the Fort's walls, 
were mainly used by officers and their families,
Edgar Allan Poe must have on some occasions experienced first hand 
the dank, damp, and chilly air that pervades those chambers 
and the seawall batteries to this day. 
It certainly had to have inspired some of his more morose, bone-chilling tales.

Two other famed men also stayed on the Fort.
The Marquis de Lafayette stayed in Quarters No. 1
when he visited Fort Monroe in the early 19th century.
President Abraham Lincoln also stayed in Quarters No. 1,
pictured below, when planning the bombing of Norfolk during the Civil War.
The building is a private residence today.

For another view of the house and its three levels of verandas,
(a view without raindrops on the camera lens),
there's a photo of it in this interesting article about Fort Monroe 
written by Randy Johnson:

Google Images with the term Quarters No. 1 Fort Monroe.

When one goes through the East Gate into the old Fort,
the front staircase for Quarters No. 1 is aligned with the arch.

Its symmetrical composition shows careful planning 
and an appreciation for order and balance. 
Perhaps Simon Bernard, the primary engineer for the Fort's construction, 
was in part responsible.
When I walked through this Gate recently, 
I wondered if Abraham Lincoln's carriage had also entered through it.
Since his visit was during the War,  
he more likely would have come through the Postern Gate, 
the secret entrance to the Fort:

This next photo is inside the Postern Gate, 
which turns left and then right again 
before entering or exiting the Fort's interior:

It is fun to speculate about what might have been when the famous came to call.
There's one more famous personage who lived at the Fort.
But unlike the others, this one was a prisoner.
Find out who it was and what happened to him tomorrow.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Homes of Fortress Monroe

In the early 19th-century, 
the US Army post named Fortress Monroe 
was constructed at Old Point Comfort, 
where the James River and Elizabeth River meet the Chesapeake Bay.

The Fort has a long and fascinating history, which can be read here:
There is an excellent aerial photo of the Fort on the wikipedia site 
that shows how Fort Monroe is uniquely situated. 
It is a former Army base surrounded by water,
and within its boundaries,
 a nearly 200-year-old stone fortress named for President James Monroe
is surrounded by a moat.

Here's the moat and wall of the Fort, looking north from the West Gate:

Over the years, I have had occasion to be on a number of military bases,
and, to my mind, their functionalism is painfully dreary.
The architecture and landscaping is spare and prosaic.
But Fort Monroe is extraordinarily picturesque.
Many buildings have cardinal red metal roofs.
There are sturdy homes constructed of tidy red brick 
to withstand strong hurricane-force winds, 
 and each one is dressed with an elegant white porch, sometimes two,
 that invites summer breezes from the Bay.

Here is my favorite row of houses on Ingalls Road 
near the intersection of Ruckman Road:

And this, on the main road into the Fort:

The following photo provides a view of Ruckman Road, 
which bisects the old Fort.
Ruckman Road was named in honor of my great-great uncle,
General John Wilson Ruckman,
 who was the brother of my maternal great grandmother Mary Jane, 
called "Jenny" by her family. 
Here's a brief biography of General Ruckman:

The veranda on this next house, visible from Bernard Road, 
overlooks a boxwood hedge and small stand of live oaks:

Fort Monroe is also home to a number of  historic buildings
which hosted some of the most important figures of American history.
Some of these I will discuss in tomorrow's blog.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Elephants of Summer

Years ago, I drove by a home
that had white and green caladiums, white impatiens, silver dusty miller,
and English ivy interplanted along the entire front of the house.
The green, white, and silver-gray plants reflected light inside the shade,
and I imagine all that white and silver 
must have also bounced moonbeams right back into the night sky.

I've always intended to duplicate that planting scheme,
especially since I have lots of shade here 
and, as I've mentioned in an earlier blog,
 I love the concept of the night garden.
But life intervenes regularly, so I'm still just thinking about it.

Another reason I haven't planted caladiums
 is that they have to be dug and overwintered indoors. 
Digging plants before a freeze is seldom on my list of things to do.
I have grown caladiums in pots, however.
Here are some leaves with bright red centers and green edges
that I planted last summer:

(Here's an interesting fact unrelated to the topic:
 the rough wood at left in the photo is not ocean driftwood. 
It is a late 19th- to early 20th-century hedge post hand cut 
from an Osage Orange tree that my father dug out of a field row 
for me decades ago. But back to caladiums...)

This year, I planted these bi-color pink and green caladiums 
with white impatiens, variegated ivy, springeri fern, and red begonias.
The caladium leaves have easily outgrown the other plants
and the impatiens are often obscured in their shadow:

Even though they are big, they can't compete 
with the common deep green giant elephant ears seen here:

The term elephant ears as a common name may well be too common,
as it is applied to caladiums, taro (which is edible), 
and several varieties of the elephant ears above,
all of which have different Latin names.
It's hard to know which is which 
because the shape of the leaves is a prominent feature shared by each.
Depending on the context, the term might also apply 
to a delicious cinnamon-sugar confection,
made either with baked puff pastry or fried bread (even better).
Now that's an elephant ear I would overwinter in my house.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Whispers of Fall

This time of year, people begin to think of autumn.
I wonder sometimes if it is only because August marks the return to school
or because autumn wreaths and the accoutrements of Halloween
have been on the store shelves since the Fourth of July.
In other words, do we realize autumn is coming because our culture tells us so,
or is it that we remain closer to nature than we think
and sense the subtle changes in light that signal summer's end?

Do we notice that squirrels begin gathering nuts with alacrity, 
having heard whispers of fall from the trees?

Maybe it's all of that and more. 
Lately I've noticed:

A flutter of yellow leaves falling from the river birch tree in our front  yard. 
They lay like lemon drops on the spent grass:

And berries on the chindo virburnum 
and the sweet bay magnolia have turned scarlet
to attract birds before they fly further south:

The Japanese Painted ferns have begun to show a blush of peach:

And the redbud trees' seed pods have turned brown 
in readiness for their impending drop to search for fertile ground:

And it wouldn't be a preview of autumn 
without the emergence of a few flame-red leaves:

Some people love autumn for its crisp air, the haze-free blue skies,
the smell of wood smoke curling from chimneys.
And I know those who live in areas that have experienced blistering heat this summer
are eagerly anticipating the relief that fall will bring.
But there are two opinions when autumn appears on the horizon.

Albert Camus once said that "Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower."
And I concede that early autumn can be breathtaking in its beauty.
On the other hand, many of us consider 
the coming of autumn less favorably than Camus.
Our feelings toward it are better represented by Emily Dickinson:

Besides the autumn poets sing,
A few prosaic days
a little this side of the snow
and that side of the haze.

Love autumn or not, come it will.
And knowing that the earth is constant, its seasons eternal
is a comfort everyone can appreciate.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Old World Sparrow

Sometimes during morning or evening,
I go out on my deck and stand at the railing and gaze out into the woods. 
It's very relaxing,  
and I always focus on one thing that hangs from a distant tree:
a small white birdhouse built by my brother-in-law.

Here's the long view:

And here it is up close.

Near this birdhouse, there is an old bluebird house
that is usually nested in by house sparrows, 
also called English sparrows or Old World sparrows.
I didn't really expect bluebirds to settle there 
because I think they need some open space.
But I did think maybe a sparrow or two would find need of its shelter.

And of course, the English sparrow could use a friend.
I had mentioned in an earlier blog on mockingbirds 
that sparrows were one of the few songbirds exempted from 
the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
And why?
The poor sparrow is often vilified as a tramp, a thief, a nuisance, and
a usurper of food and shelter for native songbirds.
All true, I suppose. 
But sparrows can't help it if they are good at surviving and thriving 
in their adopted country.

E. A. Zimmerman hosts a really excellent web site dedicated to bluebirds;
and in service to their survival, 
she writes about controlling sparrows humanely.
Her page on the history of sparrows is chock full of information and sources.
Most notably, one of her sources explains
 that house sparrows were imported in the 1850s
in order to control insect populations,
which turned out to be a misguided venture
since, as Zimmerman and others have noted, sparrows subsist primarily on seeds.
Here's a link to her history page:

The online site for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a great place
to get detailed information about English sparrows.
There are audios of the sparrow's song and calls, videos,
and information about how to identify the different sparrow species.
They also have a project called "Celebrate Urban Birds!"
which encourages people to accord
sparrows, starlings, and other "thuggish" birds more respect.

It's difficult to write about sparrows 
without also thinking of the old spiritual
"His Eye is on the Sparrow" popularized by Ethel Waters, the blues singer.
Here's a newer version of the song performed by Lauryn Hill and Tanya Blount
that I think is just beautiful:

The lyrics can serve as a gentle reminder
 that even the common, ubiquitous sparrow
is entitled to a little positive regard.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

His Crowne in Summer

A recent blog on my visit to St. Charles included a photo
of a neatly trimmed, low ivy hedge.
From time to time, I think about how attractive it was 
and contemplate creating a similar feature 
along the northwest side of my house.
Right now, it's still a daydream.

But English ivy is definitely another of my favorites,
partly because of its evergreen leaves,
and partly because it makes everything it covers
seem softer and more refined.

Despite my enchantment with it,
common ivy, hedera helix, is alternately made the villain of the garden 
or celebrated as bringing to it elegance.
I suspect ivy's critics can't see past its reputation for killing trees,
destroying tuck pointing in brick walls and chimneys,
and harboring vermin. 
(To that last accusation, I would like to say 'ick.')
But ivy is like anything potent. It needs moderation.

Here volunteer ivy covers the trunk of our river birch tree:

According to Alice M. Coats in her book "Garden Shrubs and their Histories,"
ivy has a long association with wine and ale houses
because ivy wood was said to be able to separate good wine from bad.
Perhaps this is why Bacchus, the god of drunken revelry,
is often depicted wearing an ivy vine as "his crowne in summer."
(cited in Coats from Bullein's Bulwark of Defence, 1562)

I'm always impressed with Coats' research skills,
and she didn't disappoint with her section on ivy.
Coats explains that in the mid- to late-19th century,
ivy enjoyed unparalleled popularity as the mark of elegance and good taste,
and as the best way to bring a full measure of whimsy into one's home.

She mainly cites John Clauidus Loudon, the Scottish botanist.
Loudon's descriptions include ivy vines being pulled through the windows
so they can climb indoors to form arches, to climb banisters,
or to be planted in small pots behind paintings 
so the plants could trail down the frames.
One "over-the-top" recommendation 
was for ivy to be trained to form a canopy over a piano
so the musician could perform from inside a green arbor.
Another idea was that ivy could be planted to climb a frame 
and form a living fireplace screen.

I have to admit, the fireplace screen idea interests me.
Certainly these would all be great conversation starters when guests came to call.
It would be great if my thumb were green enough 
to pull off indoor arbors or living screens.
On the other hand,
 I'm afraid that with so many spiders haunting our outdoors,
encouraging ivy to grow through the window
 might just be the invitation they were looking for to move inside.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Little Star-Dust Caught

Many men walk by day; few walk by night.
It is a very different season ... .
--Henry David Thoreau

I was once again uncharacteristically awake in the wee hours of Sunday.
And seized with an enthusiasm more befitting Christmas morning,
my first thought was to creep downstairs 
and look through the dining room window 
to see if Venus sparkled in the eastern sky.
And she did. And so did Jupiter.
I woke my husband up and invited him to come downstairs 
and look at the stars with me.
Since he loves the early morning, he didn't hesitate to join me.
So there we sat on our front step in the darkness 
with our coffee and a warm blanket, 
and we watched the sky while the world slept on.

A few clouds traveled across, at times rendering both planets
little more than pale sparks of light. 
And from our vantage point on the front step, 
Orion and his glittering belt were obscured by our neighbor's trees.
Irrespective of that, seeing the bright stars of Venus and Jupiter were enough for us.
And we watched them until an almost imperceptible dawn began to break.

Since it was still dark, we decided to wait for the birds to sing.
And after the birds began to sing, the rising sun turned the sky a rosy gold,
so we stayed and watched as daylight arrived and erased the light of the stars.
At 6:00 we walked to the river and watched fish feeding 
as they broke the water's surface into ever-widening circles.
It was a gentle start to what turned out to be a dark and rainy day.
Most of our mornings are not like this, 
but this one had a little touch of  magic
and reminded me of something Thoreau once said:

The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible
and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening.
It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow I have clutched.

Not at all a bad way to begin another day 
when the stars align.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Riddle of the Sphinx

A day or two ago, I started out the red side door of our house 
with the intention of taking one of my dogs for a walk.
But the trip was delayed after I noticed 
we had an unexpected visitor clinging to the door:

When I saw this moth, the first thing that came to mind
was that it was wearing camouflage,
 for it would have fit in perfectly with a local army unit.
So I went to Google Images and typed in "camouflage moth"
which to my satisfaction
 yielded hundreds of photos of camouflage moths, 
actually their common name.

So then I searched the internet for camouflage moth information 
and came upon an article by columnist Mary Reid Barrow, 
a  nature writer for our local newspaper, The Virginian-Pilot, 
published just two days before.
Barrow said the "camo moth" is common here in Tidewater
since it feeds on both grape and Virginia Creeper vines.
Even though Virginia Creeper is prevalent in our woods,
 I'd never seen one of these moths in the Shire 
until the day it rested on our door.

But my husband said he had seen their caterpillars, 
which have a variety of unique markings  as part of their camouflage mechanism.
Sometimes camouflage moth caterpillars sport festive lime green bodies 
with five lateral red dots or pale green ones with yellow dots.
Others are red with white dots; 
some are emerald black, copper-bronze or gray with white dots.
This web site has some vivid photos of the moths and their colorful caterpillars:

The Latin name for the camouflage moth is eumorpha pandorus.
"Eumorpha" means well formed and Pandora and Pandorus 
were characters in Greek mythology.
As most people know, Pandora opened a box 
and unleashed trouble all over the world.
The nature of Pandorus is less certain; an uncited description in Wikipedia
claims Pandorus was an archer mentioned in the Illiad.
Pandora/Pandorus mythologies may not be connected to the moth's name, however.
So it remains a bit of a conundrum.
But if the camouflage moth causes any trouble like Pandora,
it's probably that it feeds greedily on vines.

This moth is also sometimes called the Pandorus Sphinx Moth.
It does have a body form similar in shape to the head of the great Sphinx,
so that may likely be the source for that common name.
But it's also true that in Greek myth, 
the Sphinx, depicted as having a lion's body 
and the head of a woman, guarded the entrance to Thebes 
and would devour anyone who couldn't answer the riddles she posed.

Why this sphinx moth felt an attraction to our door, I don't know.
I like to think it arrived to guard our entrance while we were out, 
but since it let us pass without posing a single riddle,
it may be planning some shenanigans instead.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Finding Perspective

One of my favorite quotes is one by Marcel Proust
which I shared in a blog earlier this year.
But it is apropos of today's blog, and since I like it so much,
I will repeat it here:

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes,
but in having new eyes.

I'm always amazed at how accustomed we get to looking at things around us so much
 that they fade into the background, completely invisible,
and if regarded at all, then only as being representative of the way things are.
And then suddenly, through some serendipitous rearrangement,
everything shifts and we have "new eyes."

That happened to me yesterday morning. 
For several weeks, I have been rooting cuttings of mint 
and black sweet potato vine 
 in a motley collection of water-filled vases and bottles:

And they have all been situated on the deck table, clustered under the umbrella,
lest they get too much sun or too much rain.
Every week or so, I check the water level, add some if needed, remove dead leaves, 
then generally let the cuttings go back to being ignored 
for several more days under the umbrella.

Saturday morning I lined them all up and refilled the water, gave them a little fertilizer,
and sat down across from them to eat my breakfast.
And suddenly I noticed that the middle vase, heart-shaped and purple,
was a perfect match to the black sweet potato vine, 
which was looking very aubergine  itself.

So I rearranged and stepped back to survey the results, and Voila!
The shape of the leaves even mirrors the heart shape of the vase:

As a result, I now have a striking composition in purple.
The colors really catch my attention and make me feel quite happy.
I've read before that the energy of color evokes moods or feelings, 
and some even say all living entities are surrounded by a colorful aura
that only a few people can see.

Edgar Cayce, the Virginia Beach, Virginia psychic known as "The Sleeping Prophet,"
could see auras. He recommended in the reading numbered 2712-1
that those who need healing should surround themselves with the colors lavender and purple
and harmonic music like The Blue Danube Waltz 
or other graceful and upbeat symphonic pieces.*
I don't know if that works or not, but if it does,
that really would prompt a "voyage of discovery."
Besides, pretty colors and beautiful music certainly can't hurt.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Red Moon, Blue Moon

In addition to August's reputation as the best time of the year
for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere 
to view the stars and galaxies 
during the month's warm nights and quiet predawn hours, 
August 2012 holds another colorful distinction for us. 
It has two full moons.
The first full moon of August, which occurred August 2nd, is called the red moon.
This is according to the site 
Moon Connection attributes the name to the sometimes ruddy appearance
 of the moon when it's swathed in summer's haze.
I can't recall having ever seen a reddish cast to an August moon,
but I like the idea that our weather here can change our visual perception 
of the moon and the stars.

Ironically, the red moon of August 2012 is shortly followed by a blue moon
on the 31st day of the month.
Like a lot of people, I always thought a blue moon was exceptionally rare.
But according to the Moon Connection site,
the blue moon occurs in any calendar season with four full moons.
When that occurs, the fourth full moon would be called the blue moon.

It would be fun if the month of August 
had started with a bright rose-red full moon.
and ended with a full moon as deep blue as a field of Texas bluebells.
People would have come out of their houses and gazed into the sky
with their telescopes, binoculars, and cameras.
It would have been a sensation.
As it is, the second full moon of August will appear in a gown of  luminous silver. 
And that's pretty spectacular in itself.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Diamonds Before Dawn

Typically, I'm not an early riser like my husband, 
who enjoys starting his day in the pre-dawn hours.
But for some reason, I was wide awake around 4:00 a.m. on August 16th,
so even though it was still dark and the birds weren't even chirping yet,
 I decided to get up and see him off to work.
I noticed we had left the window blinds at the front of the house open overnight,
so I went to close them.
And that's when I saw something  magical through the window.
It was the planet Venus, sparkling like a diamond in the eastern sky.
If one has never seen this bright planet, called the "morning star,"
which has light brilliant enough to cast shadows on earth the way the moon does,*
it is worth the missed sleep.
(*Pete Lawrence, cited in

But as my husband pointed out to me, Venus was not sparkling in the sky alone.
Jupiter, which appeared higher and to the right of Venus, was also intensely bright.
So my curiosity was piqued, and I found a star map for August 16th 
that showed Venus, the stars of Gemini above and below Venus,
Taurus and Aldebaran to the right of Jupiter;
and Orion and the three stars called Orion's Belt 
(although I have always called that part of the constellation
"my three sisters" since I have three sisters).

And armed with that stellar map, 
I went outside with binoculars and tried to see them all.
Perhaps because of the glow of ever-burning city lights
and the fact of no telescope,
I could only see a couple of stars in Gemini, 
and only a few stars in Orion, but not his bow.
I definitely could see the stars in the Belt: 
Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka (
The Wikipedia entry also gives some folk names for the three stars:
"The Three Marys," "The Three Kings," "Jacob's Staff,"
and the unforgivably prosaic "Yardstick."

According to the article "The Stars This Month" 
on the One Minute Astronomer web site,
the morning of August 16, 2012 hosted the stars and planets I noted above,
and also the planet Mercury near the horizon just at sunrise.
I saw it on the site's star map;
unfortunately, there were too many trees and houses 
obscuring the horizon line  when I looked for it in the sky.

Apparently, August is the best month for star gazing in the Northern Hemisphere.
That according to the web site Earth Sky:
The site says that the Andromeda Galaxy 
and the diamond-shaped constellation of Pegasus 
will be visible in the northeastern sky early to mid-evening of August 17th.
It would be a good opportunity to see Venus when it appears again,
this time as the "evening star."

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Fountains of Youth

The very first fountain I ever saw
was the J. C. Nichols Memorial Fountain
on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri.
Words cannot describe how astonished and delighted I was
as my dad drove us down Main Street to 47th where the fountain was located.
I'll never forget those rushing arches of water
and the equestrian bronzes in full gallop
seemingly racing out from the splashing water.

Here's a great page with some of the fountain's back story.
People who think they know the JC Nichols Fountain will want to read this:

Here in the Shire, we've nothing quite so grand as Kansas City,
which rightly describes itself as the "city of fountains."
Here we have a number of commercial "spouting" fountains,
usually centered in former  borrow pits
transformed into duck ponds after construction.
Not that I'm complaining; I love all fountains
--even water fountains, whimsically called "bubblers"
 in the flatlands of southeastern Wisconsin.

There is a duck pond near our house and I get the same sense of wonder
when I drive by and see its fountain,
which is sometimes shooting up more than one story,
and other times much less robust. Here it is in a waning period:

And here is a 20-second video of it splashing:

Not far from here, there is a massive fountain that I like
decorating a shopping area:
I enjoy going to that shopping center for dinner
and then taking a stroll over to the fountain.

Closer to home,
we have a small fountain that we are quite fond of.
Nothing says it's summer like having dinner al fresco
while a cheerful fountain bubbles and trickles in the background.

Here's our pineapple fountain from the Summer of 2009:

I re-painted it and waxed it last fall,
but the overall effect is less pleasing to me than that of  its original condition.
However, this 20-second video shows
the pineapple fountain still has a charming gurgle which lifts the spirits,
making one feel light and youthful:

Finally, I don't think I could conclude this discussion of fountains
without mentioning that a few years ago,
my sisters and I visited Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth
in St. Augustine, Florida.
Given my love of fountains, I was very excited to visit.
Yet, nothing prepared me for the foul smell of sulphur
that bubbled up from that mythical "fountain" under the rocks.
Oh, my. It was memorable.
All the visitors were given tiny paper cups of the water from the Fountain of Youth,
but I could only take a couple of sips of that sulphuric tonic.
Some would say that means I'll never be forever young, but here's what I know:
One doesn't need to drink from a magic fountain to retain youthful vitality.
Just listening to water bubble and spill over a summer evening restores one's soul.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

This Idea Just Came to Me

Yesterday morning dawned with the promise of 
our second dry and sunny day in a row.
So I was tidying our sopping wet deck 
in anticipation of being able to finally enjoy my coffee outside  
where I could hear the trickling fountain and the call of the birds. 

With all of the rain that's fallen here in Tidewater this summer,
 everything on the deck has been over-decorated 
with countless pine needles and fallen leaves.
My beautiful flowers are quite water logged 
and there are more dropped yellow leaves 
and bruised blossoms than I care to think about.

So as I set about cleaning off the tables and chairs,
I also wondered what I could write about for today.
Frankly, I couldn't think of anything that interested me.
But when this happens, I always say to myself:  an idea will come up.
And it did.
But this time, the idea didn't come up,
it came down instead.

I picked up the chair cushions 
that had been rushed under the umbrella the last time it rained
and gave them a couple of shakes.
Suddenly, something definitely organic and fleshy went plop onto the table.
I investigated, of course.
And here is the little tree frog I roused out of his sleep:

These tree frogs primarily enjoy lolling between the plastic liners and the garden pots,
or down inside the planter boxes because those are cool, moist spots.
But they also like to attach themselves to the grill's vinyl cover 
because it makes a sun-less hiding place 
when the grill is pushed against the wall.

And in all these places, the tree frog changes its color like a chameleon.
He's charcoal black in the above photo 
because he was sleeping on the wide black stripe in the chaise cushion fabric.

But usually, he's green:

When we first moved to this house, the tree frogs ruled the yard.
Each night brought out dozens of them.
They usually plastered themselves against the windows  
to catch the insects that were attracted to the interior lights.
And frequently, catching bug dinners
 involved the frog stretching to its full length in order to belly across the glass,
leaving a streak of clear frog-slime wherever it moved.
Many is the time I raised a window blind and found myself  eye-to-eye
with one of these voraciously hungry amphibians.
Fortunately, I wasn't on their menu.

But the tree frogs not only anchor themselves to the windows, 
they also favor the doors because that is where outdoor lights glow.
One summer morning as I was fixing coffee, 
I picked up a damp dish cloth and a green tree frog jumped right out of it.
Talk about a wake up call; my heart is still beating fast.
The frog had apparently jumped off of an open door the night before
and sought the coolest, wettest environment it could find
near its point of entry. It's not the first one to visit this way.

Despite this,  we do love them. We call them barking tree frogs
because  a rattling pan or clinking glass is enough 
to set off a kennel's worth of barking
from the ones on the deck outside the kitchen.
A closing door will set off the ones who live in the front and side yards as well.

As I understand it, these small tree frogs
are not true "barking tree frogs,"
which are quite rare and have a wider girth and spots.
Regardless, we persist in ignoring the scientific taxonomy
in favor of our own terminology. 

We'll keep calling sleepy here a barking tree frog:

We hope since the year has been wet, more will return than are here now.
That is, as long as they stay stuck to the door when I open it.