Category Archives: Nature

October, Masquerading as May

This October has felt, and until recently, looked, more like late spring.  Our pale pink climbing roses usually bloom sparingly after their all-out blast in May.  But this year, while the foliage is yellowing and fat red rose hips are plentiful, the flowers continue to pop.     

It’s odd to see pink rosebuds intermingling with ripening Nandina berries.

Along the fenceline, our red roses are far more plentiful than is typical for late October. 

The deep velvety red of this petunia contrasts sharply with its dry brown foliage. 

These candy-striped and purple petunias endure while their leaves wither.

Even our lilac has been confused.    

I’m reminded of the unseasonably warm year I spent in England during grad school, when I noted with wonder that the roses slowed their blooming as winter approached, but never stopped. 

And I think of Keats’s ode, To Autumn, that season of mists and mellow fruitfulness:

. . .how to load and bless

With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run:

To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,

And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees,

Until they think warm days will never cease. 

Spring’s Progress

After a sluggish and hesitant prologue, the phases of our Northern Virginia spring have been moving right along at a rapid and regular clip.  We still wake up to the occasionally chilly morning, but there have been no recent dips below freezing.  Spring now has a spring in its step. 

As the branches of the earlier blooming cherry trees were greening, the ground beneath them being transformed into a carpet of pink petals, the next wave of blossoms, darker in color, was peaking. 

The bright fuchsia buds of our Appalachian Redbud always take their good sweet time in emerging.  When they appeared, they were as brilliant and jewel-like as ever. 

Last spring, a bitter cold snap blasted the buds of the camellia that nestles in a corner of my mother’s house.  This year we were treated to a show of lush red flowers. 

Spring in three layers:  camellias and fuchsia blossoms against a backdrop of weeping cherry.   

In October I planted some sixty daffodil bulbs in a barren mulch patch beneath a black walnut tree in our front yard.  All winter I kept my eye on the area, watching for the first shoots of spiky foliage to emerge from the snow.  I love the optimism implied in planting bulbs.  It’s assuring to remember that even in the depths of winter, regenerating forces are at work, beneath the ground and even in the frigid air.  When I spot those first green tips, usually in early February, I never fail to be surprised, yet comforted by such faithful heralds of the spring.  The first daffodils to bloom were the smallest, the Tete-a-Tete miniatures.  As their golden heads bobbed in fierce March winds, they were the picture of cheery perkiness.   Following soon were the tall, bold Trumpet Masters, the type I remember from old Easter coloring books.  Next appeared some fancy double blooms.  With ruffled petals in shades of  apricot and pale yellow, this variety reminds me of Cinderella dressed for the ball. 

The last to join the daffodil band were several pink cupped varieties, simple but elegant with their delicate shadings and crimped-edged centers.   The mulch patch has plenty of room for more inhabitants.  This fall, if things go as planned, I’ll add another sixty bulbs. 

Wild violets tend to pop up fortuitously around the grape hyacinths I planted two years ago.  These kindred spirits pair well in mini bouquets.  

Our rhododendron is currently putting on an exuberant show. 

As are the azaleas.  In red. . .

White. . .

And pink. 

On this second day of May, our Japanese maples glow fiery red in the sun.  The old silver maples have sent forth their multitudes of angel-winged seed pods.  Our trellis roses will be budding any day now.  The air smells of lilac, laurel, locust blossoms and honeysuckle.  Spring’s final phase is at the ready.  The warmth of the morning anticipates summer, and Kiko, still in his winter fur, seeks the shade.  

 

Cherry Blossom Time Again

Cherry blossom season crept up on me this year, as on the softest of silent pink petal feet. The famous DC trees had been in glorious bloom for a while, like those just a few miles away.  But in our neighborhood, which must lie in a cold spot, winter persisted.  And persisted.  Until suddenly, about two weeks ago, spring burst forth.  Thanks to relatively cool temperatures, the formerly bare brown branches of our local trees are still mostly obscured by clouds of fluffy pink.  On this chilly, blustery day, a spring snow of rose colored petals swirls in the air.  The wind continues to gust.  Our cherry  blossoms will soon become pink ground cover, and spring’s next act will take center stage.  

For previous cherry blossom posts, see Frost in the Cherry Orchard, from April 26, 2018, and Cherry Blossom Time in DC, from April 16, 2015.

Springtime in Charlottesville

Charlottesville is about a hundred miles south of our home in the DC suburbs.  The weather there is consistently warmer and sunnier than here in Northern Virginia, and spring tends to arrive earlier.  My daughter thoroughly appreciates the beauty of her temporary home.  She knows I do, as well.  I’ve been wanting someone in our family to attend the University of Virginia for the last thirty years, but that’s another story.  Here now, thanks to my daughter, some photos of Charlottesville in its spring glory. 

Shelter from the Storm

Among my list of life’s greatest luxuries is this:  a stormy day with no appointments, no commitments, a bad-weather day that offers the chance for an extended snuggle with my sweet, sleeping dog.  The rain arrived last night, just as predicted.  After a short morning walk and a largely futile attempt to dry his wet fur, Kiko was curled on our favorite sofa, heading off contentedly to doggie dreamland. 

Before long, I crawled in, around and sort of under him.  Carefully, so as not to disturb.  As I’ve said before, Kiko, by nature, is more aloof than affectionate.  No lap dog, this stately Prince of Cool, he’s reserved and prefers his own space.  Unless there is thunder, or the suggestion of it.  Then he can’t get close enough.  See here.  But as he’s aged, he’s become increasingly amenable to human contact.  More and more frequently, he tolerates, and occasionally even seems to enjoy, my close presence as he sleeps.  Sometimes he even rests his head on my leg.  I consider this gesture to be his highest compliment.  Despite today’s rain, Kiko doesn’t seem anxious about the possibility of thunder.  Yet he very nearly welcomes me.  He does love me.  On this rainy day, I’m sure of it.  What a comfort it is to join my little dog in dreamland for a while.  What sweet spot for shelter in the storm.    

Hello Spring!

Are you there, Spring?  On this first official day of the new season, our area has been granted bright sunshine, if little accompanying warmth.  No complaints, here, though.  After so many sodden, gray days, some blue sky is a dazzling, welcome vision.    

Considering the prevailing March chill, it’s hardly a surprise that our Northern Virginia spring is not off to a particularly showy start.  It’s wisely hesitant, biding its time.  I’ve seen a few daffodils in bloom, although none in our yard.  Our hyacinths are sending up spiky green shoots.  The redbud is clearly in no rush.      

Around our little local lake, most trees retain the stark wintery guise they’ve worn since January.  Only the buds of the maples provide a wash of rosy color. 

Pounding rain and high winds are predicted here in the days ahead. Wherever you are, may you find some sunshine to savor.  And may you trust in the promise of spring. 

On Ash Wednesday, From Darkness to Light

It’s a bitterly cold Ash Wednesday here in Northern Virginia, as in much of the country.  An icy breeze whips up from time to time.  But the sun is shining brightly, and at least for a brief while, nothing frozen is falling from the sky.  The weather seems appropriate.  It’s conducive to imagining the joy and beauty of an ideal Easter morning while experiencing the big chill of Ash Wednesday.  This is a day for a clear-eyed, head-on look at our mortality, a time to peer into the bleakness of what would have been, had it not been for God’s saving grace. It marks the start of Lent, the forty-day period leading up to Easter, during which prayer, repentance and self-denial are encouraged. Lent’s Biblical basis is Christ’s retreat to the wilderness to commune with the Father in preparation for his ministry.

Ash Wednesday dawns in Charlottesville.   

So what’s the deal with the ashes?  Why the messy smudges on foreheads of neatly dressed and otherwise well-scrubbed people?  It’s because of these words from Genesis 3:19, declared by God to Adam and Eve, just before He ushered them out of Eden, the paradise garden He had intended as their eternal, blissful home. 

You are dust, and to dust you shall return. 

Tough words from the Creator and Landlord.  What did the privileged First Couple do to make God so angry?  Incensed enough that He sent the two, created in His own image, out into desolation, to eke out a living through toil and pain? 

Many of you who didn’t grow up attending church and Sunday School, along with some of you who did, no doubt consider the saga of Adam and Eve just another myth for the simple-minded.  Whether you see it as God’s literal Truth, an interesting folk tale or something in between, it’s a powerful story worth contemplating.  Here’s my take on the Fall and its particular significance on Ash Wednesday.

Adam and Eve lived in a glorious garden created by God, suffused with His divine light, life and love.  They had full-time leisure, full-time luxury.  God walked with them there in the garden.  The trees dripped with delicious treats, theirs for the easy picking.  All except for the apples on one tree.  A tree with an impressive-sounding name:  The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.   

Life was wonderful.  Life was beautiful.  

Among the friendly and fantastic creatures of the garden, there was a serpent.  He was wise and wily, and he knew about that whole free-will thing.  Indeed, he owed his very existence to what he saw as the weak link in God’s great plan.  The serpent looked with contempt upon the innocent contentment of the two humans.  He realized the fragility of the thread that kept them in their lovely home.  It wasn’t long before this scaly Con Guy Supreme made his move.  Appealing to Eve’s pride, he offered an opportunity for further greatness.  Knowledge equal to God’s was at her fingertips, but God selfishly chose to keep this power to Himself.  She deserved better, didn’t she?  So Eve ate from the tree.  Adam, who apparently needed no convincing, munched long complacently.

God found out.  He wasn’t happy.  Paradise was lost, for the taste of a forbidden fruit.  We may think we would have known better.  But probably not.  Like Eve, we might have been tripped up by pride.  Or maybe, like Adam, we might have given very little thought to the matter.  If Eve says it’s fine, it must be.  In simply thinking we would have known better, it’s evident that we would not have.  With free will comes the ability to make the wrong choice, a choice we tend to exercise repeatedly.  Like Adam and Eve, if left to our own devices, our fate would be to wander in the dust.

But we are not abandoned, without hope, in a barren land.  Paradise is still within our grasp, as these words from Mark 1:15 tell us:

Repent and believe the good news!

On Ash Wednesday, we confront the grim reality of our tendency toward pride, selfishness and petty meanness.  On our own, none of us will ever be good enough to work our way back to Eden.  But we don’t have to be.  The Christ that was already present within creation since God spoke the universe into existence, the very Word of God described in John 1: 1 – 5, came to earth in human form.  Jesus, fully divine yet fully human, took our sins upon Himself.  As the spotless Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice, He wiped our messy slates clean.

To accept Christ’s free gift of salvation, we merely need to acknowledge our wrongheadedness and to ask forgiveness.  God’s forgiveness is granted for our willingness to repent; it’s not contingent on our going forward without a misstep.  We are human; we will stumble and lose our way at times.  We cannot be perfect in this lifetime, but we can desire to achieve perfection.

The Ash Wednesday ashes are marked on the forehead in the shape of a cross, the instrument of death that became the tree of life.  Christ’s good news saves us from a future of ashy, dusty nothingness, replacing it with the promise of unimaginable joy in a paradise everlasting.  We can’t even comprehend unending joy; our flawed human nature prevents us.  But we will understand it fully, and magnificently, one day, I am convinced.

On this frigid Ash Wednesday, the sun’s rays fall on new green shoots and buds.  We are reminded of the new life that comes of death, of the new birth offered to us without price.  On this Ash Wednesday, look into the darkness of the ashes.  Then give thanks for the love that pulls us back into the light of love.   

Early morning Ash Wednesday sunshine begins to illuminate the Rotunda at the University of Virginia.  Thanks to my daughter for the Charlottesville photos. 

And It’s March

March has arrived, dressed in February’s old, well-worn clothes.  More light snow fell here during the night, enough to delay school yet again.  Skies are cloudy and the temperature won’t rise much above freezing today.  But change is underfoot, and in the air.  The daffodils I planted last October are sending up their bright green sword-like foliage.  Our old maple trees are budding, as are the gray honeysuckle vines.  In the bird world, the cardinals and sparrows, stalwart winter soloists, are joined by choruses of other eager voices, especially in the early mornings.  Flocks of robins are feasting on luscious worm banquets offered by thawing lawns.  The squirrels, always lively even on the coldest days, seem to be stepping up their festive play.  Their high-wire acts among the branches are ever more frequent, ever more daring.  Spring may be in no hurry to make an early entrance, but it’s definitely waiting in the wings.   

Winter and spring together:  red holly berries are joined by clusters of tiny grape-like buds of mahonia, all coated in snow. 

    

Snow Day at The University of Virginia

This February here in Northern Virginia has conformed to its traditional designation as the month of snow.  Unfortunately, if appropriately, the full February super Snow Moon on the 19th was just a lighter smudge in the snow-making clouds.  On Wednesday, as predicted, the white stuff began falling steadily in the pre-dawn hours and continued throughout the day. 

The snow was beautiful, of course.  I loved seeing how my elderly Kiko, energized by the fluffy cleanness that blanketed the grass, gave in to periodic bursts of joyous puppy play during our morning walk.  But I’ve written about our local February snows for years now.  See  Blasts from a Past February: The Blizzard of 2003,  and Sick of February Yet ?, both from 2015.  And from 2014,  My Favorite View: At Home, with Moonlight on the Snow, as well as This Snow Won’t Go, and Real Snow. Enough Now.  And still another from that year: Early Morning Irritability.  What else is there to say?

However, it also snowed in Charlottesville.  Snowfall rarely prompts The University of Virginia to cancel classes, but it happened this week.  Wild Trumpet Vine has never before featured photos of the gracious old UVA grounds covered in snow.  That’s now possible thanks to my student contact.  So, from my daughter, who assured me that she wouldn’t miss a moment of study time for her thermodynamics test, here are some images of the Rotunda and the Lawn.

The Bichon Frise of Snows: Enjoy, then Beware!

Three days ago we had more snow in Northern Virginia.  We were treated to the Bichon Frise of snowfalls:  pretty, petite, very fluffy, and generally non-threatening.

It frosted tree branches and fence railings with crystals of sparkly white.

Accumulation was minimal, only about two inches, so clearing walkways was an easy task.  No snow blowers required.

At my mother’s house, the fluffy white of the tree branches anticipates the cherry blossoms that should bloom in a few months.

When I walked Kiko on Tuesday evening, the snow had ceased and the temperature remained pleasantly frosty.

But the bitter cold was on its way.  The polar vortex, which has relentlessly gripped the middle of the country in its icy iron fists, has extended its reach to the east coast.  On Wednesday, temperatures were falling.  The TV weather people talked breathlessly about the extreme “feels like” temperatures we were to expect, due to wind chill.  And sure enough, the wind was soon rattling the windows of our old house and making ghost-like moans, such as can be heard in Scooby-Doo episodes.  As Kiko and I walked that afternoon, the wind caught up the fine dry snow and tossed it along the road, looking like white sand whipping across a Florida Panhandle boardwalk before a thunderstorm.

Even on grassy areas, the snow looked like beach sand carved by a fierce wind.

Kiko glanced up anxiously each time a car passed, slowly negotiating the frozen surface.  The sounds made by tires shattering glass-like ice chunks were improbably loud, akin to fireworks or gunshots.  The sweet little Bichon that appeared on Tuesday is turning mean.  Seeking revenge for being left out in the cold, maybe?

Wednesday morning, when we walked around 8 AM, the wind had died down, but the temperature was 3.  Of course, that’s balmy compared to the sub-zero deep freeze that the mid-west has been experiencing.  (No need here yet to set the train tracks on fire as they’ve been doing in Chicago.)  I wore my dog-walking layers and several creatively tied wool scarves.  (My hair actively rebels against every cold-weather hat I’ve ever tried.)  Kiko’s lush, cashmere-like undercoat has grown back after his summer molt.  This year my senior dog has become content with a shorter walk when the weather is less comfortable.  On days like today I’m grateful that he is no longer compelled to traverse the entire neighborhood on frigid mornings.  Until recently, we put in at least a couple of miles no matter what the weather.  (See Baby, It’s Cold Outside! from January 7, 2014.)

This morning, a light snow is falling again.  The temperature has warmed up considerably, to 17.  I let Kiko persuade me to venture out of our immediate neighborhood to the stretch of old country road where we begin our usual walks with the pack in decent weather (when schools aren’t delayed or canceled, as they’ve been much of this week.)  The roads didn’t look particularly threatening, and there would be less traffic with no school.  But before long, I realized our error.  Kiko slipped on an icy patch hidden by new snow.  He recovered quickly and didn’t appear to be hurt.  His preference is to walk in the street, and it’s always a struggle to keep him safely on the grassy shoulder.  Today it was an absolute necessity.  Several times I almost went down.  Kiko knows what it means when I yell “Slow! Slow!” in my most authoritative pack leader voice.  He doesn’t like it, but he understands, and he even obeys.  He lives in the moment, so I kept up the commands each time we were forced to cross a street or driveway.  Under great emotional duress, we made it to Kiko’s favorite nearby park and back without physical mishap.  It was, to say the least, not an enjoyable outing for either of us.  It’s also an understatement to say that I had dressed far too warmly.

A reminder to everyone this winter:  beware the worst threat of the cold:  ice lurking beneath fresh powder.  The lesson of the Bichon Frise of snows is this:  enjoy its congenial, lap-dog charm.  Bask in its pure white fluffiness.  But don’t be surprised when, a few days later, it turns nasty.  It will still look beautiful and easy-going.  You’ll think it’s your old familiar friend.  But without warning, it may have unleashed the ice-veined coyote-hyena hybrid that dwells within.

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For an earlier post about adventures on snow-covered ice, see Before the Blizzard, A Treacherous Drive, February 4, 2016.