Saturday, February 28, 2015

All that Chazz!

Chassahowitzka Spring.

The morning after our arrival was quite chilly and breezy, but sunny. After breakfast we packed some sandwiches for lunch and walked down to the boathouse to rent a canoe for the day. On our previous trip we had explored Baird Creek all the way up to its source at the Crack. We asked the attendant for suggestions about new creeks to explore and tide information. He told us that any of the other creeks downstream were worthwhile, and that the winds had been so brisk that there was very little perceptible tide, as the wind pushed the tides out. "Be sure to check out Snapper Hole, where the manatees hang out," he said.

We paddled across the basin of the main spring towards the Seven Sisters. A fallen tree trunk had created a new archway entrance to the springs there--I've been wanting to take a dip in the deep blue vent there, but it was too cold for swimming today.

Herb entering the Seven Sisters.

The Seven Sisters Springs.

The area seemed shallower than we remembered, and it was impossible to navigate around the other end into the canal, so we turned around and continued downstream.We explored a short creek on our right with three lovely homes with boathouses, any one of which I'd love to call home--what a setting! Swamp lilies bloomed along the edges of this creek.

Homes on a creek.

It took some effort to paddle downstream, because the flow seemed to be against us, indicating an incoming tide (despite what the guy at the boat rental had said). We found several other people on kayaks at Snapper Hole, with a small pod of manatees. There were two youngsters who were very curious. One of them hammed it up for us, turning belly-up with fins and mouth in the air, making sucking sounds. He repeated this performance every few minutes, to the delight of all onlookers.

Playful manatee.

Baby manatee sneaks up on Herb.

One of the baby manatees came over to check out our canoe, and seemed delighted when Herb leaned down to pet him. He went under the canoe and then swam back to check me, and I didn't miss the opportunity to also pet him. Ahh, such bliss--that's one for our bucket list!

We played with the manatees and took photos for a long time before continuing down the river. We paddled past Baird Creek, seeing many birds: cormorants, pelicans, herons and little blue herons. The Chass widens as one approaches the tidal zone, and now the wind was picking up.


Little Blue Heron.

A bit farther down we put into a creek on our right to tie up the canoe and have lunch. Three kayakers were leaving, and we asked them if they knew where we were. "Potter's Creek," they replied and told us they had seen some sea otters upstream. We finished our lunch and decided to go up Potter's Creek a bit.

Lunch on Potter's Creek.

We paddled across a wide basin with strong current (probably another large spring there) and were entering a sheltered forest, but Herb's hands were starting to develop blisters, so it seemed wiser to  head back at this point. It was getting late and it would be hard paddling getting back.

Upstream on Potter's Creek.

As we we coming back across the wide basin, we spotted a tiny head near some reeds--a sea otter! We'd never seen one before, never even knew they were here on the Chass.

As we observed, another otter surfaced several yards away, diving and surfacing repeatedly, seemingly playful. Herb surmised that perhaps the tiny head we'd seen first was a baby and its parent or parents (there might have been two otters, it was hard to tell) were making this elaborate display to lead us away from their young.

Getting back to the main river after leaving Potter's Creek, the force of the wind hit us like a hammer. We struggled to move forward against the current and wind, trying to hug one shore and then the other while avoiding the motor boats and their wakes. It was quite a workout, interrupted by short breaks for photos. We made it back to the boathouse around three-thirty, exhausted--we'd feel it in our muscles tomorrow.  But what an extraordinary day--all this wildlife on the Chazz!

The Four Amigos (pelicans).

For more photos of our day on the Chazz, see my flicker album here: The Chazz Two.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Day Two: Arrival at Chassahowitzka

Our cottage at Chassahowitzka River Campground.

We slept late the next day and got back on I-95 after a hearty breakfast. It's always great to feel the sun and air getting warmer as one approaches Florida. We pulled in at the first rest stop to get a new state map to guide us, and skipped lunch to time our arrival in Chassahowitzka for our four o'clock check-in time.

We drove south on Route 19 through Crystal River and decided to stock up at the grocery store where we had shopped the last time we stayed in the area--the store had changed hands and was now part of the Winn Dixie chain. We noticed that several restaurants had closed and many storefronts were vacant. Obviously the last four years of the current economy has taken a steep toll on this area.

I feel so fortunate to be able to afford a vacation here this year--the time we've had on the Chass and magical Weeki Wachee rivers--can't wait until you see the next photos and read the stories!

Herb relaxing by the Chass.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Return to Florida's Nature Coast

We began our vacation trip southward on a Friday morning and ate our sandwiches at the first gas fill-up stop in North Carolina around one PM. It was another two hours to the South Carolina state line. How could we not stop at South of the Border, setting for the climactic scene of Herb's novel, recently re-titled "Dog$"?  The colorful roadside landmark has become a touchstone for us by now.

It was quite windy, as you can see in these photos, but getting warmer already. We bought two new South-of-the-Border mugs to celebrate and continued on to Savannah where we had dinner and spent our first night.

Note: Herb's novel was recently re-issued at can be purchased in book format here: Dog$ or in Ebook format here: Dog$

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Deep Freeze in DC

The Capitol in winter.

Last Sunday I attended BASNCR's first meeting of the year at the US Botanic Garden. This year I was asked to be the Treasurer for our chapter and although I'm still struggling to complete my Botanical Certificate project, I decided to accept. All-volunteer groups such as this one always have a need for rotation of officers, and since all members benefit from the work of the organization, I am willing to take my turn at the helm.

Temperatures that morning were in the teens, and I arrived a few minutes early. The Botanic Garden hadn't opened yet so I got out of the car to take in the scene. The reflecting pool by the Capitol was frozen solid with bits of ice and snowballs that visitors had pitched on the surface. I was aware of the restoration work taking place on the Capitol dome, since images of the scaffolding are often shown on the news, but I hadn't had a chance to see it in person.

I got my camera out and took a few shots. This part of D.C. really is beautiful, no matter what time of the year. The lack of traffic and crowds this early on a Sunday morning made the scene even more appealing. The crowds would arrive soon enough, but for a brief moment, it was lovely.

The Reflecting Pool y the Capitol.
The rest of my day was so busy I had no time to take photos inside the Botanic Garden. But here's a shot of the orchid blooming in my bathroom.

Colmanara 'Wildcat' hybrid orchid.
I believe I've now identified my mystery orchid as a Colmanara 'Wildcat' hybrid, and as suspected, it's a cross between Miltoniopsis (hybrid of Miltonia and Oncidium) and an Odontonia (hydrid of Odontoglossum and Miltoniopsis). These orchid hybrids have very complex parentage!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Winding Down the Old Year

Our back yard last winter.

According to the Chinese Zodiac, this was the year of the horse. It started with a nasty kick when I got laid off in February, joining the millions of unemployed Americans.  Going on two months of unemployment, a small MEP firm in Manassas responded to my resume, and they hired me as an administrative assistant (at half my former salary). I worked on their new web site and soon was called upon to do the same CAD and electrical design work, much as I’ve been doing for years, but without an increase in pay. After another two months, I got a call back from an earlier job application for an interview, and after the interview was offered a job at JMT Engineering’s office in Herndon, VA, with a better salary, so I jumped at the chance.

Early December was my six-month anniversary at JMT, and I must say I like this employee-owned company, my new boss and co-workers much better than my old employer. So all’s well that ends well. But it was tough going for a while to get here. 

There were some bright spots in between: a fun weekend in North Carolina's Green Swamp and some memorable local field trips with Virginia Native Plant Society's Piedmont Chapter. I worked a lot on the garden and on my botanical art, mostly on my Botanical Certificate Project which is due for completion next February. A couple of my pieces were shown at Brookside's Botanica and currently at BASCNR's show "Preserving Our Heritage: Native and Heirloom Plants" at the Alexandria Athenaeum.

We even found time to finally hang my two large paintings in our foyer, thanks to a good neighbor's loan of a high ladder.

After struggling for over a year with an e-publisher’s non-working website, Herb decided to pull the plug and go for a print edition at Lulu. On-line, he befriended a fabulous graphic designer who has done a great job on a new cover and re-styled the content for the print edition. We just ordered the first batch of copies of Piece of Resistance for Christmas and the book will be available for sale at Lulu after the first of the year.

A few weeks ago our son David finally proposed to his girlfriend, and the young couple is currently busy with plans for the wedding next fall. So the year is ending on a high note after so many ups and downs.

I know we were not alone--the year was also difficult for many of our acquaintance who lost loved ones, coped with illness or other set major backs. I hope next year will be calmer and bring happiness and prosperity to all.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas 2014

One more Christmas comes around! This year we got our outdoor decorations up early (for us), taking advantage of a warm spell. And, since some of our old strings of lights finally gave out, we had to change our arrangement to accommodate what we had on hand.

We hung the blue lights on the cherry tree in front this year, with another ancient string of faded blue mini-lights strung on the railing. The colored strings of LED's were left for the two evergreens flanking the sides; the Colonial Williamsburg style candles in the windows have remained a constant staple over the years.

Last Christmas we left our old wreath hanging on the front door throughout the month of January, which was so brutally cold. When I took it down I discovered that the two artificial birds that were part of its decorations had been attacked and pretty much destroyed--some hungry predator must have been fooled into believing they were real and went after them!

Be it palatial, ever so humble or in-between, may God bless your home and ours in this season of good will. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Putting the Garden to Bed

Saffron Flower.

In late October only one of my saffron bulbs flowered--I was not surprised, since so many of them were dug up and eaten by unidentified rodents last winter. I fed the remaining bulbs heavily and hope they'll do better next year, provided they are not decimated again. I wonder if burying moth balls near them would prevent further attacks?

The pineapple sage plant I bought last summer didn't bloom until the end of September, too late for their beautiful red flowers to attract the hummingbirds. During the summer humming birds enjoyed browsing the calibrachoas in the hanging baskets on the porch--I would see them in the early mornings and late evenings. I'll try the pineapple sage again next year, plant it earlier, and perhaps in a different spot.

I'd ordered lots of new plants and bushes to continue landscaping the back yard: Stella d'Oro daylilies for the border with the Ten Little Indians (I added one more arbor vitae to make it eleven), some butterfly bushes and purple asters. It took a couple of weekends to remove the scrubby sod and work the soil for the thirty to forty foot length, but thanks to the lovely weather it was a pleasant, if vigorous workout.

Eleven Little Indians

I planted a Black-haw viburnum and a Ninebark tree along the rear property line. Along with the dogwood and redbud tree that I planted the year before, these small trees will make a nice transition toward the backdrop of tall trees in the ravine. But what to do in-between these?

On my way home early one Friday evening I came across a sale of ornamental grasses, and stopped to look. I ended up buying three plants for the back slope that Herb hates to mow.  I didn't want to plant Miscanthus sinensis, as my neighbors have this invasive grass and it's already spreading into the fallow fields across the road. I settled for less invasive species: pink Muhly grass, Fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum) and one weird-looking plant of corkscrew rush (Juncus effusus 'Spiralis') that went in the moist bed with the hydrangeas. Needless to say, these few plants nearly disappeared among the empty expanse, and more plants were called for.

Juncus effusus 'Spiralis'

Ornamental grasses with ninebark tree on the right
I found an on-line sale at High Country Gardens, a nursery I remembered from my trips to Santa Fe years ago, and decided to try a few varieties of grasses new to me, some native western: Silky thread grass (Nassela tenuissima), Boulder blue fescue (Festuca glauca 'Boulder Blue'), and blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis), as well as more pink Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia 'Pink Flamingo'). This area is rather dry, so hopefully they'll prosper there. In the spring I can add some lavender and other drought-tolerant plants, maybe even a yucca, to create a desert-inspired border.

After last week's plunge in temperatures, yesterday I finished digging in the last spring bulbs and the few grasses I had not planted yet. Now the last chore left is to trim back the dead tops of the perennials, then it'll be time to put the garden to sleep for the winter.