A Neighborhood Walk

I Face Timed today with a friend in California.  We have known each other since college, which means more than 40 years and seems kind of crazy.  But while we were talking the sun came out here so I decided to take my exercise outside.

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Yes, I cut down an alley because there was so much foot traffic on the street I started down.

So did a bunch of other people, but everyone was mindful of keeping distance.  Honestly it was just nice to be out. I cut down some alleys.  I grew up in a small town and in the country, so alleys were like little grassy lanes.  Sure, the garbage trucks drove down once a week and all manner of car mechanics went on there, but there’s something alluring and homey about them to me.

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Everything is in bloom, especially the camellias.  I’d have taken more pictures, but it felt sort of invasive to be taking pictures of people’s houses while zeroing in on a plant.

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The squirrels love the camellia blossoms. I have no idea what they taste like.

The neighborhood is really lovely right now, with things in bloom, leaves coming out, and a profusion of bulb flowers.

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There are a few places where there were drifts of violets across lawns.  I shot these rather solitary ones when I was taking a photo of our camellia.

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And this flowering quince, not in its full glory, but still lovely, was on one of the streets.

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It was good to be out and say hello to neighbors from a distance.  I will try to keep up my outdoor exercise when I can and do videos when I can’t.  I’m looking forward to venturing back in the garden on a nice evening this week.  We’ll see.

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Have a good week.

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First Planting

Today, I took an hour and a half after work to finish weeding the garden and to plant a few things.  I’ve been eating lettuce from the cold frame much of the winter, and decided it was time to plant some more.

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There’s still good lettuce in there, but once it gets a bit warmer, I’ll have to get the glass off it. The silhouette is me, the lettuce eater.

The arugula I’ve been munching on for a couple months is blooming in the warming weather.

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I’ve been adding it to pasta in the last couple weeks. It’s still delicious, and I’ll eat it until the new stuff comes up.

I’ve planted more of that, too.

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Left, caged mixed lettuces; middle, delicious fall-planted parsley; right, more arugula. The Contented Crafter will be pleased to note that not all the lettuces are covered…

I pulled most of the broccoli from the winter and freed up space for rapini (broccoli raab) and some carrots.  I also planted carrots and radishes and put them under cover.

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Rapini and carrots fenced in, radishes and carrots under cover, the cold frame and inside the bean enclosure, some sprouting peas.

I thought I had spinach seeds, but so far, I haven’t found them.  I had some spring onion seeds, but couldn’t get the package open (a small seed saver container with a screw on lid).  I’ll go after that with pliers tonight.

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The oregano is extremely happy. You may have noticed it in the previous picture.

Stay safe, folks.  Enjoy the outdoors if you can go out safely.  It’s gorgeous now and things are greening up and bursting into bloom.

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The rosemary is in full bloom.

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The Age of Miracles

It’s been kind of a bumpy ride the last few weeks, eh?  I’m one of the lucky ones who can work from home and I started doing that more than a week ago.  People here in Arlington–at least in the neighborhood I live in and the ones I’ve been through recently–are taking advice to stay in, stay six feet from people if you go out for a walk, and check in on folks who might need something.

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The woods are full of bluebells (Mertensia virginica for those of you who immediately think of English or Spanish bluebells).

I’m a homebody and an introvert, so this is not difficult for me, but I have been calling friends to see how they’re doing and I have been to the garden to do preparation for planting.  On Saturday, a new volunteer and I weeded the Plot Against Hunger garden (six feet apart) and today I got my own garden re-weeded and ready to plant.  I may try to plant it this week, and if I do, I’ll take some photos.  Everyone who was there was glad to see each other and talk from a distance.

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I came back from the garden with a boatload of turnips. I need to find out whether AFAC is still taking fresh food.

Most photos I have were taken last weekend and the weekend before, except for the turnips.  Last weekend a friend and I went out in search of trout lilies (Erythronum americanum) and bluebells (Mertensia virginica) at Roosevelt Island in the Potomac.  It’s a nice walk from my place and we stayed out walking for three hours, it was so nice.

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No Erythronum, but there were a lot of these beautiful and invasive Celandine.

I also went to Great Falls the week before.  I needed to see the river.  First I went uphill into the woods.  Hardwood forests are so diverse.  There was tulip poplar, various kinds of oak, maple, beech, holly, hickory, and more.  It was lovely in there, with birds flitting and the pileated woodpecker hammering away at something.

Eventually I turned and went back down, in search of my quarry, the river.  I scrambled up some rocks for a view of this still place.

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You can see the rapids in that bright place, middle right.

Later I got closer to the falls.  I have written about the Potomac River Gorge before.  Three separate ecosystems come together in it, and the falls itself are the longest of any American River.  It is always new every time I see it.

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Exhale…

It had flooded earlier, and I came upon this bed of flotsam on my way to see the steep part of the falls.

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I stood for a long time listening to its roar and watching it.

Then I detoured  through a low area and behold!  Mertensia virginica!

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Those little broad leaved green things–the woodland floor was dotted with them.

There were far more of these at Roosevelt Island a week later.  Lovely things.

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By now, they’re in their full glory.

My walks will likely not be much more than around the neighborhood for the next few weeks, but I have joined up with Robin at Breezes at Dawn in a meditation and exercise challenge for the next 40 days.  Have a look at Robin’s blog, which is inherently meditative.  She also has links to places that might be helpful if you want to start a meditation practice.

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Did I mention the geology of the Potomac River gorge? It includes quartzite.

So let’s all hunker down together and do our best.  I have been thinking of a Mary Chapin Carpenter song from some years back, The Age of Miracles, and I offer it here in hopes it provides some solace.  May our best efforts make a difference!

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February Blossoms

Supposedly Washington will escape snow this winter.  We’re having a cold snap with temps in the mid-30’s F.  Lots of things are in bloom.  The witch hazels are coming out.  This one, at Dumbarton Oaks, was magical in the afternoon sunlight.

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I was there with my niece.  We didn’t spend much time in the garden, but I wanted to check whether the flowering quince on the south lawn had blossomed.  They were still in bud.

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Super cool, with the beret and the faux leopard coat. The sweet-smelling Katsura in the back left.

We went to the museum inside the house, which is an amazing collection of works on landscape architecture, Byzantine art and pre-Columbian art. There are circular rooms by Philip Johnson that are echo chambers and whispering galleries when you’re close to the center.  It’s a fabulous place. Outside, snowdrops were out.

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I love these things and the way they spread–not to mention they come out just when winter is about to make me lose hope.

And there were crocuses and Siberian squill.  I don’t know what those yellow things are.

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And speaking of that, I’m taking advantage of the amazing knowledge in the community to ask what this thing is.  It’s in a courtyard where I work, and because it’s off the cafeteria, I hadn’t noticed it, because I take my lunch in almost all the time.

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But let me tell you, it caught my eye.

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And I haven’t got a clue.

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Help!  and have a great week.

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Now this, I know!

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Magical Flowering Quince

Last week, I saw these blossoms leaving work one day.

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I had noticed the buds earlier, but there’s that pink glow trees get in February when buds start to swell and I passed by hurrying in until one evening I saw them and got a whiff of the scent at the same time.  Oh my!

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I think they’re a few weeks early, but we haven’t actually had winter yet, just averagely coldish weather in the 40’s F.  Still, these things are magical, coming in midwinter, giving a lift of relief to the beautiful starkness.

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I’ve been meaning to go to Dumbarton Oaks to see the snowdrops, which I’m pretty sure are out, and to see whether the magical flowering quince is out there as well.

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But what a treat to see these!  And all week long, no extra visit required!

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There are two sets of these. This one has a more southern exposure and blossomed sooner. I photographed them so you could see how they were planted. In my usual way, when I saw the other ones in full bloom, I was so mesmerized I never stepped back for a big picture. Honestly, if there’s a place faeries live, it must be flowering quince.

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Birds, Marsh, Thicket

This morning I looked out the kitchen window to see four Robins.  I’m not sure they even left this year, but they were having a grand old time in the ivy and the forsythia thicket.  Then I saw a Flicker, followed shortly by a Nuthatch, a Yellow Bellied Woodpecker and a Snowbird, otherwise known as a Dark-eyed Junco.  It must have been a bird convention of some sort.

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A muddy path through Dyke Marsh

It has been unbelievably temperate.  I am getting all my salad greens from my cold frame, and I went there today and got lettuces from it.  There was also arugula and chard, hardy leaves not under cover.  Next week, I should be able to harvest broccoli raab.  Who would have thought?

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Fishermen in the marsh…

On New Year’s Day, I went for a walk in Dyke Marsh south of Alexandria with a friend.  I had never walked the marsh paths before, choosing instead to kayak through it.  But it was worth the walk.  There were little beaches scoured out on the river bank, and shells and stones to see.

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Cattails and marsh grasses abounded.

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People were out sailing.

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A birder was out watching to see what flew around.

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He told us about a rarely sighted goose, called a Ross’ Goose that was on another path.  We found it, with lots of birders with amazing scopes watching it.  I found them incredibly generous, stepping back and offering views.

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It has black tail feathers and a pleasant, goose-y expression.

The goose seemed quite at home with its Canadian cousins.  Apparently flocks of Ross’ Geese will join up with flocks of Snow Geese, but the Ross’ Goose is rarely seen beyond the Great Plains, though it has shown up around here and in the lower Mississippi Valley according to Audubon.  I thought it was quite charming, and hope it has found its brethren.

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Prairie, Plain and the Holiday

I visited my family over Christmas.  The weather was more like spring than the beginning of winter.  It had been cold and dropped some snow, but there were only traces of it left.

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This is the landscape of my childhood. Sorry for the phone-quality pictures.

The landscape of my childhood is tall grass prairie and upland forest.  Prairie is grassland with flowers and small shrubs in it.  A spring bloom on the prairie rivals the California super bloom we’ve heard about the last couple years–and on the prairie it’s an annual event.  Upland forest occurs on higher ground than the prairie where the drainage is a bit better and the soil is loose enough for tree roots to expand and deepen.  The two exist together, as you can see, but prairie encroaches on forest.  There are only about 2200 acres of original prairie left in Illinois, although there are some extensive prairie restoration projects–one of which includes 19,000 acres.  Most of the original prairie became farmland, which is, of course in most of the pictures.

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Prairie gone to farmland…

Prairie and plain differ in their ecosystems and the type of vegetation growing on them.  The Great Plains, which run from the McKenzie River delta in Canada down into Texas in the U.S., support very few trees.  They have always seemed a bit desolate to me, except during the bloom season (Texas bluebonnets, for example, can be pretty spectacular).  In the U.S., the plains are west of the Mississippi and run to the Rockies in the west.  I’m not sure what their eastern border is in Canada.

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A doe and her near-yearling in a glade.

I probably should have looked up more of this to ensure accuracy, but I’m going on my past education in ecosystems, geography and geology.  If you want to read more about the Illinois prairie, this blog post is informative and shows some pictures of the bloom in spring.

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More of the herd at the edge of the woods.  The deer usually see you first and start watching you.

I did some walking while I was home–near my mother’s house and in Lincoln Memorial Gardens with my friend Evelyn.  It was near Mom’s that I saw all the deer at the edge of the woods one afternoon.  There’s a whole herd in there.  I went with my brother later in the week and we saw them again, although they were keeping closer to the edge of the woods than they had before.  I joked with my brother that they must have known he was a hunter.  They were definitely more skittish.  Or perhaps two people are more threatening than one.

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Lake Springfield from Lincoln Memorial Garden. More birdlife than I’d seen in a while was in the woods behind us.

I was able to do a lot of cooking for other people over the holiday, which I enjoy greatly, and I expect to do more before the new year now that I’m back home.  Happy new year to everyone.  May it hold what you hope for.

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My friend Kandy and I, who have now known each other for 50 years, and her husband Jim met for breakfast the morning they were heading back home after seeing her family for Christmas.

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