Friday, March 27, 2015

Visiting Charlottesville AND historic McCormick Farm

                         Our second stop, visiting the log cabin and Grist Mill at McCormick Farm.

    I was on the street with my fellow naturalists in the unlikely place of downtown Charlottesville. Charlottesville, founded in 1762, several years before Thomas Jefferson starting building his famous Monticello, with its interesting gardens and architecture, has some interesting spots of its own, with some narrow streets (one time for horse drawn carriages) and old architecture everywhere (and perhaps Jefferson would still feel comfortable there today). And since our wetlands training was actually supposed to be two hours away in Richmond, putting us in the wrong spot we thought, what the heck, let's walk a bit downtown.
     The library where we were supposed to meet was on Market Street, with its part organic "Market Street Market," an interesting combo of coffee shop, fresh produce stand indoors, and specialty items for sale like organic packaged goods. I think I even picked up a peanut butter bar that was gluten free and pretty good overall. So we ventured away from the library and Market, and in less than two blocks took a turn, on the advice of a local, down to what is called the "Downtown Mall."
     Here, on a brick covered walkway, you can visit all kinds of historic shops. We briefly (my cohorts were impatient) looked around the Timberlake (the name makes me think of  Justin) Drugstore, a corner store with a formal white facade, that was formerly a bank and kind of looks it. Inside it's been an old timey drugstore since 1917. I say that because it still has those covered round stools and counter, the so-called soda fountain, where you can still get a limeade, milk shake or soup. But we were impatient. It had a good variety of loose candies in baskets near the register, and one wall had a lot of lotions and soap. I settled on a greenish aloe and cucumber one that would make a great face soap, and a few tiny Peppermint patties. And down from this, to the east of Main Street, we obtained some information at the visitor center, which is very close to a covered "pavilion" I assume is used for city concerts.
     Up a few short blocks in this very brick and mortar area was the oldest home in "Historic Downtown," built in 1785 and of course of a brownish brick on the outside. I wondered if it was open on Saturday, as a sign nearby said they served lunch from 11-2 from Monday to Friday. So I knocked on the door anyway, and a hostess graciously let us see some of the colorful rooms. It'd been a law office and they had actually tried to cut off one of the fireplaces in a shortened room and covered up the hardwood floors, but this "Inn at Court Square" was redone and refurbished. Interesting was the John Kelly room with the lime green walls, bright yellow ceiling and oak looking head and end boards on the spacious bed. The red door to the building also stood out.
     But it was lunch time and we decided to head down the road, off I-81, to the old McCormick Farm, now owned by Virginia Tech. It was rustic and rather cool. We picnicked in the car and walked around the log cabins and grist mill, the mill containing miniature models on display of Cyrus McCormick's famous mechanical "Virginia reaper," which in 1934 could do the work of three men or more. It would speed up the gathering and cutting of wheat and grains, and was improved upon. He was only in his twenties when he invented it-- well, necessity "is" the mother of invention, I'd suspect.
     There was a little trail we didn't get the chance to explore, and the farm buildings still standing at this National Historic Landmark were fairly close together. We don't even think about what it takes to farm anymore. Tractors and disc harrow tools are used now on farms and I suppose there are fancier reapers or "gathering" machines now (probably motorized and using too much gasoline). Maybe the mechanical way without dependence on oil is better. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

About trees, tree bud i. d. in winter

                                Soon tree buds will open, like this saucer magnolia with the furry buds.

    Spring will be upon us soon, but last week I saw robins in the snow...
                               Snow Robins

     Robins in the snow
     As the white around us grows,
     Hopping on their merry way,
     On this wintry March day.
     Fighting off the starlings
     Who weren't exactly darling,
     Blue jays getting into the act,
     Jumping on snow to pack
     it down and compete for the food.

    About Trees ---
    Did you know that the red maple is one of the most plentiful here in southwest Virginia forests ("ubiquitous" is the word)? 
     I went with a group of "budding" Master naturalists on this unique walk, up a bank away from a parking lot at Pandapas Pond, the parking lot just barely melted enough for my Chevy to find a spot I could get out of. We chatted casually till one of the organizers, Dianna B, made her appearance, as I asked my fellow naturalist friend about if her daughters had built a snowman during the last week. (She complained that they hadn't had school in the last 13 days, and when her husband was teaching a college class she had to somehow work on her computer at home with a 6 and 9 year old -- good luck.)
    So  how the heck do you identify a tree in the woods, in the middle (or end) of winter? No foliage, no flowers, and they mostly look gray, right? Our guide, Virginia Tech forester John Peterson, was very specific and pulled down a number of very small branches and twigs with buds for our group to look over. Did you  know that the red maple actually "has" red buds? And later, in fall, its green, jagged edged leaves will turn a bright red as well. But the sugar maples have them beat in the color dept. in fall. Their leaves vary, even on the same tree, from yellow, to yellow-orange, to red and deep red-orange. Really pretty, in my view. But Peterson said the sugar maples were fussy about soil type and weren't as readily seen in the Appalachian woods as the red maples.
    Like the photo above, we also found a "furry" budded tree, the cucumber magnolia. I'm not sure where the cucumber name comes from, but it certainly has soft to the touch buds.
Other trees common to the woods in this region include various pines, like Virginia pine, Table Mountain pine, and white pine, and hemlock, another evergreen. Oh, and pitch pine too. They are very close in appearance and it takes knowledge of certain characteristics (like the size of the needles, the type of bark, the shape of the particular cone) to get them right. Not rocket science, but may take a little memorization. And we did this standing in an inch of snow much of the afternoon. Good thing I wore a hat so that I didn't catch a chill!