Saturday, June 29, 2013

#550 Vacation Virginia #10 - Woodson's Mill

For the second Vacation Virginia weekend in a row, our destination is a mill.

Woodson's Mill in Lowesville, VA is about 45 minutes south of Charlottesville, conveniently located near the home of our friend Kathy in beautiful Nelson County.   More than 200 years after its construction in 1794, the mill still produces stone-ground flour using the power of the Piney River.  We missed seeing the mill in operation, but enjoyed walking around the historic building in a spectacular riverside setting in view of the Blue Ridge.

Saunders Market is just down the road from the mill, so we stopped there and came away with an armload of goodies.  In addition to lots of farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, Saunders sells hand-woven baskets from Bolgatanga, Ghana.

After much peach tasting and serious debate, we choose 1/4 peck of the Early Red Havens to take home with us and make note of the peaches to come. 

Other items that found their way home with us are Woodson's Mill three-grain pancake mix, apple butter, and apple cinnamon barbecue sauce - the last on the shelf!

Other fun things on our agenda: lunch at the Briar Patch restaurant in Amherst and an outstanding performance of Violet by the Endstation Theatre company in the Sweet Briar College auditorium.  We even found time to stop at Colleen's Drive-In for a pineapple malt with extra malt!

Yours in enjoying another fun vacation - Virginia style,

Sunday, June 16, 2013

#549 Vacation Virginia #9 - McCormick Farm

Vacation Virginia #9, in celebration of our fathers, is a day trip to Lexington, VA.

Kelly and I are both lucky enough to have grown up on Missouri farms.  These farms ultimately benefited from Cyrus McCormick's 1831 invention, the mechanical reaper - only 50 miles from Charlottesville, near Lexington. Cyrus was only 22 when he invented and built the reaper on his family farm.  Today, the Cyrus McCormick Farm is managed by our friends at Virginia Tech and is a beautiful place to spend the afternoon enjoying the outdoors, walking the trail, and visiting the blacksmith shop, grist mill, and museum.

The drive from Charlottesville to the McCormick farm is a beautiful trip through the George Washington National Forest, across the Blue Ridge Parkway, and into the Shenandoah Valley.  Luckily for us, our route takes us by the Wintergreen Winery in Nellysford and Ron King's kettle corn booth at Afton Mountain, offering important victuals for what is about to come.

The final stop of the day is Hull's Drive-In Theater in Lexington.  If you miss the good old days of the Fork Union drive-in, then this theater is for you.  It is the nation's only non-profit, community-owned, drive-in theater.  And like Fork Union used to be, it is more a field than a parking lot. The theater is packed to see Man of Steel, a fun movie to watch on a cool night under the stars, a bright moon, and fireflies galore. 

Yours in celebrating our fathers, men of steel both,

Friday, June 07, 2013

#548 Mountain Lake Biological Station

In 2009, I made my first trip to the University of Virginia's Mountain Lake Biological Station, a residential research and teaching field station on a mountaintop in southwestern Virginia.

I quickly learned the study of snakes is central to the station's mission when a researcher examining the contents of a garter snake’s stomach (termed “barfing the snake”) became so excited upon finding a poisonous newt inside that the station director was alerted immediately via two-way radio.  

It's hard to overstate the level of excitement this generated. A crowd gathered and everyone was really, really excited.  I got excited about how lucky I was to see this apparently rare and thus exciting occurrence.

But I’m a lucky guy.  I've been lucky enough to visit MLBS along with my colleague Chris Gist every year since 2009 to help with geospatial training for summer researchers who work on many topics in biology.

Seems fitting that for our 5th annual visit we focused once again on snakes.   This time we organized teams of students to map the location of over 200 “snake boards”, stiff black plastic rectangles scattered around the station grounds.  Snakes love to hide beneath the warm snake boards. 

Herpetologists regularly check under every board, collecting the snakes, weighing, measuring, examining, and recording every detail.  Combining many years of these data with locations in geospatial software will give researchers new tools for analysis.  And that gets me excited.

A highlight for me on this most recent visit was the station director asking if I remembered that red letter day when they found the newt inside the garter snake.  Apparently the researcher still talks about how happy she is that I asked for a demonstration of her snake work which led her to check a nearby snake board at a time she would not normally visit and find for only the second time ever at Mountain Lake Biological Station, a garter snake with a newt inside. Now that's exciting.

Yours in asking the right question at the right time,

Sunday, June 02, 2013

#547 Vacation Virginia #8 - Floating the James

Let's add "float trip" to the long list of events organized by the University of Virginia Library's Scholars' Lab. From planning to logistics to weather, this brainchild of Chris Gist was a hit.

Friends of the Scholars' Lab met on a warm summer Saturday in Howardsville, Virginia, less than an hour south of Charlottesville. The folks at Howardsville Canoe Livery shuttled us upriver to Wingina where we loaded gear and launched five canoes into the sparkling James River.   
Photo credit: Bethany

This rural reach of the James meanders mainly wide and flat across the Piedmont.  We enjoyed plenty of water to lift our canoes off the rocky bottom despite lower than median water levels. 

Turtles, toads, and dragonflies escorted us to the perfect lunch spot, an unnamed gravel bar between Sycamore and Buford Islands where we devoured a highly-civilized Country French meal prepared by Chef Gist. 

After that delicious lunch, flat rocks were skipped, minnows seined, tattoos applied, pirate hats donned, and a fly rod deployed before we set out toward Howardsville. 
Photo credit: Bethany

At the end of the day we're all smiles. 
Photo credit: Bethany

The James River offered adventure, laughs, surprise spills, quick recoveries, and a real sense of accomplishment...not unlike every day in the Scholars' Lab.

Yours in enjoying the adventure,