The Piedmont Virginian's Blog

Serving and Celebrating America's Historic Heart

Category: Land Conservation and Environmental Stewardship (page 1 of 25)

In the Gingko Grove at Blandy Experimental Farm

1447172893482Thousands of leaves, all the color of the sun as it slips behind the Blue Ridge Mountains. Blue sky shone through bare branches. The breeze has gathered leaves into drifts, swept together like the tips of hair at a barbershop. I was standing in the Gingko Grove at Blandy when that atrocious simile came to me. The inadequacy, whimsicality, borderline absurdity of the phrase bothered me, so I stood, my attention fixed on the yellow fallen leaves, waiting for some clever aphorism to happen upon me, until I realized that perhaps this was not meant to be described. I was doing just fine, reflecting on this golden panorama, experienced wordlessly, in appreciation of the almost-silence, day after day as the ground is littered with leaves.

Everything was motionless. Wading through leaves slick with rain, I had the feeling that I was late. Fallen leaves are still slick with yesterday’s rain. The ground was slippery,  like trudging through snow and stepping on a patch of ice. It was easier to remain still. The air was sodden with the heavy sticky scent of gingko. My breaths were weighed down and my attention drawn the movement of air through me. Perhaps that is why Chinese monks in adorned their temples with the ancient trees: a way to foster mindfulness during meditation.

Some of these gingko trees have shed and regrown their leaves eighty times or more, ever since Dr. Orlando E. White, the first director of Blandy, planted a sapling in Boyce soil in 1929. Soon thereafter, students helped to plant nearly six-hundred more trees, thus seeding what would grow into the grove in which I stood.

The tree has a history far outdating Blandy, civilization, and humanity. Gingko is the “living fossil,” and records trace its existence back 270 million years. Gingko canopies shaded the Jurassic era forests, casting shadows onto the creatures whose bones we admire in disbelief and wonder at museums. The tree’s history is contained in the shape of its leaf: a tadpole, a flame. It is unchanging, atavistic, and essenti1447172775463al. Maybe it is this agelessness, this permanence, that lends credence to those who attest to the memory-enhancing benefits of the leaf. Perhaps it is a placebo, although there is something poetic about the ancient tree’s ties to memory, a  remembrance of time that far precedes us.

Without realizing it, yellow shadows have darkened as the sun sets between peaks. Golden, with beams that radiate like veins, it casts a shadow over the thousands of small setting suns that have fallen to the ground.

 

 

Obsession in the Stream

43 years after first casting a bamboo fly rod, Douglas Graham is still chasing brookies in the Blue Ridge.

Text and photographs by Douglas Graham

United States - 080114: Fly fishing on the hawksbill creek in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. Here is a brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), is a species of fish in the salmon family of order Salmoniformes. It is native to Eastern North America in the United States and Canada. In many parts of its range, it is known as the speckled trout or squaretail. A potamodromous population in Lake Superior is known as coaster trout or, simply, as coasters. Though commonly called a trout, the brook trout is actually a char (Salvelinus).  (Douglas Graham / Wild Light Photos)

Fly fishing on the hawksbill creek in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. Here is a brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), is a species of fish in the salmon family of order Salmoniformes. It is native to Eastern North America in the United States and Canada. In many parts of its range, it is known as the speckled trout or squaretail. A potamodromous population in Lake Superior is known as coaster trout or, simply, as coasters. Though commonly called a trout, the brook trout is actually a char (Salvelinus). (Douglas Graham / Wild Light Photos)

In the fall of 1972 my grandfather loaded me up in his pickup truck and drove me from Virginia’s Tidewater region to the Blue Ridge Mountains near Luray with two split bamboo rods — and infected me with brook trout fishing on the fly. I was 12 years old.

I have not recovered from that trip in 43 years.

In the years following that fall trip so long ago, I’ve learned everything I could learn about the craft. I read every book I could find, and I learned about tying my own flies and any technique used in fly-fishing both fresh and salt water. Hundreds of books and thousands of hours on the water, it’s been a life’s pursuit and to this day a continuing education.

Somewhere in there was a career in photojournalism where I witnessed things people should never have to see. But even with that time consuming pursuit, I managed to work in fishing. It kept me grounded and sane in an otherwise insane job.

Often I’d stay an extra day after an assignment and fish the local waters. Places like the Snake River in Wyoming, where I landed my first brown trout, the Deschutes in Central Oregon for my first cutthroat, and of course when I was in Missoula, I fished the Blackfoot River.

Now retired and living slower and closer to the earth, I’ve decided there is no better fly fishing in America than what my grandfather had infected me with 40 some years ago in our backyard of the Piedmont region.

UNITED STATES - May 21: All the things needed for a day fishing for rookies in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. (Photo By Douglas Graham/WLP)

All the things needed for a day fishing for rookies in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. (Photo By Douglas Graham/WLP)

United States - 080114: Fly fishing on Cedar Creek in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.  (Douglas Graham / Wild Light Photos)

Fly fishing on Cedar Creek in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. (Douglas Graham / Wild Light Photos)

I’ve fished a whole year from my motorcycle, logging in my fishing journal the ebb and flow of the water, the weather, the fish I’ve caught, and the seasons of Virginia. I’ve taught my wife and daughter to fish, and even an Airedale.

My obsession is now with the “squaretails” close to home; I don’t really have any desire to travel to fish. Well, OK, I’d go to Slovenia for marble trout, but for the most part I’m content with the brookies. Our storied brook trout live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, the Blue Ridge Mountains. I love that I can fish mid week on almost any stream in the Shenandoah Park and have the stream all to myself.

As far as the brookie being easy to catch, well yes, some of them are because they are basically starving on our small freestone creeks. The young fish will hit anything that moves. With that said, try and catch 11- to 14-inch brookies that lurk in our waters and see how many you land in a day! The older and larger fish are tricky and very selective. Casting and catching a big brookie in the tight confines of our little streams is perhaps one of the most fulfilling moments for me as a fly fisherman.

In this photo essay, the fish itself will reveal why this is my obsession — from the landscape that this little fish lives in to the fish itself. The brook trout out of the water has bright orange fins with a white as snow under belly. The orange lower fins have a bright white leaning edge bordered by a jet black strip and its sides are green and yellow with pale blue spots surrounding a pink center dot. It’s as if the little native fish was painted by the hand of God.

The colorful fish in the water just disappears.

The brook trout is one of many things Mother Nature has done that is just a little better than perfection.  

The Rapidan River ranks #38 in Trout Unlimited's Guide to America's 100 Best Trout Streams. In 2000, the upper Rapidan River was nominated for EPA designation as a Tier III Exceptional Waterway. The Rapidan River, flowing 88 miles (142 km) through north-central Virginia in the United States, is the largest tributary of the Rappahannock River. The two rivers converge just west of the city of Fredericksburg. The Rapidan River begins west of Doubletop Mountain seen here in Shenandoah National Park where the Mill Prong meets the Laurel Prong at Rapidan Camp, approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) south of Big Meadows. (Photo by Douglas Graham / WLP)

The Rapidan River ranks #38 in Trout Unlimited’s Guide to America’s 100 Best Trout Streams. In 2000, the upper Rapidan River was nominated for EPA designation as a Tier III Exceptional Waterway. The Rapidan River, flowing 88 miles (142 km) through north-central Virginia in the United States, is the largest tributary of the Rappahannock River. The two rivers converge just west of the city of Fredericksburg. The Rapidan River begins west of Doubletop Mountain seen here in Shenandoah National Park where the Mill Prong meets the Laurel Prong at Rapidan Camp, approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) south of Big Meadows. (Photo by Douglas Graham / WLP)

 

 The Rapidan River ranks #38 in Trout Unlimited's Guide to America's 100 Best Trout Streams. In 2000, the upper Rapidan River was nominated for EPA designation as a Tier III Exceptional Waterway. Here Campanulaceae, Cardinal Flower blooms along the banks of the lower reaches of the Rapidan. Fly-fishing on the Rapidan River is a real challenge because of spooky and well-educated fish in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. (Photo by Douglas Graham / WLP)

The Rapidan River ranks #38 in Trout Unlimited’s Guide to America’s 100 Best Trout Streams. In 2000, the upper Rapidan River was nominated for EPA designation as a Tier III Exceptional Waterway. Here Campanulaceae, Cardinal Flower blooms along the banks of the lower reaches of the Rapidan. Fly-fishing on the Rapidan River is a real challenge because of spooky and well-educated fish in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. (Photo by Douglas Graham / WLP)

 

Dawn Graham fly fishing for native brook trout on the Hughs River in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.

Dawn Graham fly fishing for native brook trout on the Hughs River in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.

 

UNITED STATES - May 21: A brooke trout sits on a feeding station on the Hawksbill Creek in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. The brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), is a species of fish in the salmon family of order Salmoniformes. It is native to Eastern North America in the United States and Canada. In many parts of its range, it is known as the speckled trout or squaretail. A potamodromous population in Lake Superior is known as coaster trout or, simply, as coasters. Though commonly called a trout, the brook trout is actually a char (Salvelinus). (Photo By Douglas Graham/WLP)

A brooke trout sits on a feeding station on the Hawksbill Creek in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. The brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), is a species of fish in the salmon family of order Salmoniformes. It is native to Eastern North America in the United States and Canada. In many parts of its range, it is known as the speckled trout or squaretail. A potamodromous population in Lake Superior is known as coaster trout or, simply, as coasters. Though commonly called a trout, the brook trout is actually a char (Salvelinus). (Photo By Douglas Graham/WLP)

 

Fly fishing on Dry Run in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.

Fly fishing on Dry Run in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.

Growing Food and Community

By Andrea Chandler

Back in the 19th century and even into the early 20th, before mechanization made it possible for one person to harvest an entire field of corn in solitary splendor, heavy farm labor was often a social affair. The community was built at dances and potluck suppers held in conjunction with corn shucking,  making syrup from maple sap and sorghum crops,  shearing the sheep, and an assortment of other farm events that were relatively time-sensitive and needed to be done quickly. These days the tradition persists on small farms like mine, where the tiny size means mechanization isn’t an efficient option. It also offers a chance for people who possibly can’t afford to pay cash for premium heritage foods to barter their labor instead, benefiting the farmer, the livestock, and the families who come to help out.

I’m lucky to have good friends who are willing to barter their labor in this fashion. They show up to help dig over garden beds, clean the goat barn, move hay, trim hooves, harvest small livestock, and soon they’ll get to show up to help with the shearing. In return, I’m able to offer them products of the farm: meats, vegetables, fleeces, feathers, hides. They are a hard-working group of dedicated helpers, essential to my ability to be productive, but also beloved friends.

Young rabbits in the grow out pen

Young rabbits in the grow out pen

 

Continue reading

Living the Small Farm Dream….

Pic1_JamesandHollyHammond

For Throwback Thursday this week I was looking for something to also serve as a preview for our upcoming Farm to Table themed summer issue, and I found it in the Summer 2010 issue, which contains an article written by Rose Jenkins about a course given at Airlie called “Exploring the Small Farm Dream. ” The course was developed by the New England Small Farm Institute and sponsored by the PEC and the Local Food Project at Airlie. The purpose of the course was to guide potential farmers through starting a farm or food business. One of the couples profiled was Holly and James Hammond, who, after doing an internship at Waterpenny Farm in Rappahannock County and completing the course at Airlie, started their own small farm in Culpeper County on 3 acres, raising vegetables, herbs, and cut flowers.

I chose this article because in our upcoming issue we have articles that update us on both subjects: James and Holly’s farm and business, which will be covered in an excerpt from Our Local Commons in Charlottesville, and Airlie’s continued role in the Farm to Table movement, by our regular writer, Hardie Newton.  Enjoy, and pick up the summer issue to read more!

Photo: James and Holly Hammond entering their first growing season (2010) at Whispering Hills Farm in Rapidan. “Something like this is exactly what [we’ve been] hoping for,” Holly says. Photo by Rose Jenkins

Read the Summer 2010 article here.

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Pick up a copy

Our spring issue is out-and it’s a good one!

Subscribers should have theirs already, and I am in the process of delivering to newsstands.

pea soup for webThis issue features a section of beautiful Piedmont home profiles, an article with about veterans who return from service and take up farming by Marian Burros, and a photo essay by Doug Graham, photographer from Capitol Hill who found joy in photography again in photographing the local area around his home in Bluemont.

Also featured are the Poetry of Perry Epes about restoring a historical house in Loudoun County by our new writer, Morgan Hensley. Adopting ducklings and homesteading, native flowers, and helpful gardening gadgets by Carla Hogue are also explored. For wildlife, we have an article by Glenda Booth about the Snakehead fish which is spreading through Piedmont rivers, and our food section covers local spring foods, with recipes from Brian Lichorowic and Laurie Beth Gills. Our vineyard this issue is Glen Manor Vineyards by Kit Johnston. And for art, we have delicate handmade lace by the Piedmont Lace Guild.

And two articles from Walter Nicklin, founder of the Piedmont Virginian, round out the issue: “Where Have All the Hitchhikers Gone?” previously published online, and his regular Letter from Amissville, a reflection on our love for the Piedmont, especially in the springtime!

Oh….and our photo contest is coming up again…details coming soon on www.piedmontvirginian.com

We are now hard at work on the summer issue, which I am very excited about. We will have a large section on Farm to Table in the Piedmont, a photo essay on rivers in the Piedmont (perfect for summer!), some history about Suffragists and a memorial going up in Prince William to honor them, a profile of Larry Keel, Piedmont bluegrass musician, by Eric Wallace, and, of course, all our regular writers featuring poetry, art, the environment, recipes….covering everything that is special in our Piedmont.

You can pick up a copy at one of our local newsstands (see http://www.thepiedmontonline.com/page.cfm/go/pick-up-a-copy) or subscribe online for either our print or digital editions at http://www.thepiedmontonline.com/page.cfm/go/subscribe

Of course, as always, we thank all our advertisers, readers, subscribers, newsstands, writers and everyone else who supports our magazine!

Photo: Purple Podded Heirloom Pea Soup by Laurie Beth Gills

 

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