Clockwise, from top left: Blackfriar's Theater in Staunton, VA, home of the American Shakespeare Center; National Cathedral in Guatemala City; church near Volin, SD; engraved stellae at ruins of Copan, Honduras; folk musicians in La Paz, Bolivia.
August 23, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Day trip to eastern Virginia / Chesapeake Bay
On Saturday, Jacqueline and I went for a day trip to the eastern part of Virginia along the Chesapeake Bay, one of those destinations we had planning for a long time. It was a combination of interest in the history of the Old Dominion, wanting to see some different scenery, enjoying fresh seafood, and (in my case) watching birds in the wetlands along the Chesapeake Bay; see the separate wild birds blog post. We accomplished most of our objectives.
We began the morning by heading east on I-64 past Charlottesville, and taking the I-295 bypass around the north side of Richmond. But on the east side of the city, where I-295 rejoins I-64, we encountered a traffic delay of 15-20 minutes, which was quite annoying. So, at the first opportunity, we got off the congested I-64 and took the back roads through New Kent County. We stopped in the town of New Kent to see the historic court house and other features. A local gentleman greeted us, and explained the history of the "ordinary" across the street, a kind of tavern in which there is a set price for all meals. msummerfieldimages.com
New Kent monument to fallen soldiers from the Civil War, and the historic "ordinary" across the street. "Lest we forget: Pamunkey Rifles, Barhamsville Grays, New Kent Cavalry."
We continued east, passing the two Indian communities in that part of the state: Pamunkey and Mattaponi. Soon we were passing over a high bridge into the town of West Point, and then crossing another high bridge. I learned that that town is a small port for commercial transport vessels, and a terminal point for a railroad line. After a few miles I decided to turn right, toward the southeast, and we arrived in the town of Gloucester about 15 minutes later. That was a very good decision, as the town was full of charming shops, restaurants, and historical sites. I was busy with my camera. Of particular note is Court Circle, around which the main street traverses, with several ancient brick buildings and a Civil War monument in the middle. After a very satisfying lunch at Olivia's Restaurant, we headed northeast, crossing the Rappahannock River along the very high and wide (two miles) Robert O. Norris bridge, named for a legislator who eventually became President pro tempore of the state Senate. (wikipedia.org)
The Robert O. Norris Bridge, over the Rappahannock River.
I did not realize it at the time, but there are apparently serious concerns over the structural integrity of that bridge, which was built in 1957; see nbc12.com. Anyway, that took us from Lancaster County into Middlesex County, into the part of the state known as the "Northern Neck," between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers. We stopped for ice cream in the town of Kilmarnock, and I briefly explored a nature trail along a lily-covered pond on the north side of town.
After a few more miles, we left the main highway (Route 200) and ventured east toward the Chesapeake Bay shoreline, arriving at Hughlet Point Natural Area after a while. I went exploring while Jacqueline rested, and she had a good reason for not joining me: Biting flies were everywhere! A boardwalk trail led through a dense wooded area, which opened up as the soil turned to sand. I could hear the waves, and rushed over to the beach, the first time I have been to the sea [or in this case, an appendage thereof] in nearly two years. That was nice. Then I trotted southward along a trail parallel to the beach, arriving at one of the observation platforms after five minutes or so. I was swatting away flies the whole miserable time along the trail. I was using insect repellant, but obviously not enough.
Next we headed north to the Dameron Marsh Natural Area, about ten miles to the north. It was a little trickier to get to, with a gravel road as the only access. The observation platform there was closer to the parking area than at Hughlet Point, so that saved some time, but the biting flies were just as bad. With lush marsh grasses everywhere around, this was a somewhat more photogenic spot than Hughlet Point. In the distance, I could see the port town of Reedville. But it was getting late in the afternoon, so I had to leave in a hurry.
Dameron Marsh Natural Area, an Osprey, and the Chesapeake Bay beyond.
We headed north again, and stopped for gas in the town of Wicomico Church, where I took some photos. The church itself (as opposed to the surrounding town) is an Episcopal Church, which is typical in that very Anglo-Saxon, very established part of the Old Dominion. After crossing the Wicomico River, we came upon U.S. Route 360, which terminates just a few miles east of that corner in the town of Reedville. That is where the ferry boat to the island community of Tangier docks. (Maybe we'll go there next time.) Instead, we turned left, toward the west.
We were looking for steamed crabs to take home with us, and finally spotted a van with "Mr. Crab" in big letters. BINGO! The vendor (an African-American) was very nice, giving us a special price since all the big-sized crabs had been sold, and added a few extras to the dozen that we paid for. We had a great meal the next day! When I lived in Northern Virginia back in the 1980s, we used to eat at Ernie's Crab House in Arlington, and it has been years since I have eaten whole steamed crabs like that. Yum!!! Anyway, we passed through the town of Heathsville and then Callao, where I took a bunch of photos of various stores. Why? Because Callao is the name of the port district of Lima, Peru, where Jacqueline grew up.
From there we passed through the town of Warsaw (!), after which the highway turned toward the southwest, re-crossing the Rappahannock River into the town of Tappahannock. There is a nature preserve on the north side of the river, which might be worth visiting again some time. Eventually we reached the I-295 bypass outside of Richmond, and from there retraced our path back to Staunton. Quite exhausted, we had a good night's sleep. After looking at the state map the next day, I determined that we visited nine (9) counties for the very first time:
- King and Queen
- King William
It was in Northumberland County that we saw most of the birds that day. Other photos from our trip can be seen on the new Chronological photo gallery (2016) page, which will eventually encompass all years back to 2003. (It is part of a general website reorganization project of mine.) That page also includes several more photos that I took at Swannanoa Palace one week earlier.
August 19, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Mountain hiking on a hot day
Rather than suffer in the scorching heat afflicting the Valley lowlands, Jacqueline and I drove up to Shenandoah National Park last Sunday and went hiking in the mountains. The temperatures were probably 5-10 degrees lower, but it was still very warm in the sun. Fortunately, the Appalachian Trail was well shaded for most of the way. If I had paid closer attention to the topographical map, I would have realized that we had to climb about 700 feet from the parking area at Blackrock Gap to Blackrock itself. Well, we needed the exercise. One of the trail signs was misleading, causing us to waste a few minutes. After resting and snacking, we headed back along an old track which parallels the AT for a ways. (I made a separate blog post about the birds we saw that day.)
The trail at Blackrock, with a view of the Shenandoah Valley.
Even more mushrooms!
Last week (August 8) I added a montage of mushroom photos that I had originally taken on July 1, 2015. There's probably many more in my collection that I haven't identified yet... Anyway, Jacqueline and I saw quite a few mushrooms along the Appalachian Trail during our Sunday hike, of which the most impressive was a small, frilly purple mushroom which I identified as Ramaria Fennica. So, for the third time this month, I have updated the Mushrooms photo gallery page.
Mushroom montage, North Mountain, July 1, 2015. Roll your mouse over the image to see an enlarged view of the Ramaria Fennica. Other species yet to be identified...
Visit to Swannanoa
After hiking in the Shenandoah National Park, Jacqueline and I visited Swannanoa Palace for the first time. It is located about a half mile south of Rockfish Gap, where the hawk watch is now getting underway. The Dulaney family, which owns the historic property (as well as the Afton Inn, at Rockfish Gap), holds occasional visiting days, and August 14 was the last opportunity until early September. It was every bit as impressive inside as I had imagined, and the marble and woodwork were simply exquisite. I plan to post several more photos from the interior and exterior in the next few days...
The front side (east) of Swannanoa Palace.
Swannanoa Palace was built in 1912 or so by Major James Dooley, who had served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. But he and his wife Sally May passed away during the 1920s, and the property was bought and the adjoining land was made into Swannanoa Country Club. In 1944, A.T. Dulaney led a group which purchased Swannanoa, and in 1948 the palace was leased to Walter and Lao Russell, the founders of the University of Science and Philosophy, a kind of New Age movement before its time. See philosophy.org. Their lease expired in 1997, and since then the palace has been in a state of limbo, in desperate need of repair and renovation.
August 12, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Rock star? Playing guitar in public
Inspired in part by friends from church who often play at parties or music festivals (see the photo below), I have been starting to play guitar in public over the last few months. "You're never to old to start!" Every Wednesday, Queen City Brewing hosts Open Mic Night, cosponsored by the Staunton Music Guild, which I "joined" a few years ago. (The SMG is very informal as an organization, but they do sponsor young musicians and hold occasional public events.) Fritz Horisk is the master of ceremonies, and plays guitar as well. I played there once in March, twice last month, and last Wednesday.
The "Harvest Band"* performs for Peace Day 2014, September 21, at Gypsy Hill Park in Staunton. We were playing Bob Dylan's "Blowing In the Wind," a popular protest song from the 1960s. It was the first time I played harmonica in public. On the left is Randy Hamblett (banjo), in back is Colin Hester (bass), and on the right is Matthew Poteat (mandolin). Thanks to Jacqueline for taking the photo.
* The "Harvest Band" is what we folk musicians call ourselves whenever we perform at Emmanuel Episcopal Church services. It's been over a year since the last time we did that, however.
My first Open Mic Night was back in March, during spring break. Otherwise, my class schedule conflicted with Wednesday nights. My first time didn't go so well, as my brain somehow froze and I forgot chords on two of the songs ("Colorado Song" and "Bitter Creek"), despite the fact that I knew those very well. I guess that's what they call stage fright. I also had a hard time changing the tuning on two of the strings after the first song. Part of the reason for being flustered was that I forgot to bring my harmonicas, forcing me to change my set list at the last minute. I at least managed a decent job on "Tequila Sunrise."
- "Colorado Song" -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
- "Tequila Sunrise" -- The Eagles
- "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" -- Eric Clapton
- "Bitter Creek" -- The Eagles
I planned to resume playing in late May or June, but I didn't do a second appearance until July 13. This time I had my harmonicas with me, and was accompanied by my loyal and supportive wife Jacqueline. There weren't many people there, however, probably just 10-12, including the musical performers. The second and third songs ("Standing On the Rock" and "Follow You Down") went pretty well, but I had problems with the other two, hitting the right harmonica notes on "Country Girl" and having a hard time reaching high notes singing on "Doolin' Dalton."
- "Country Girl" -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
- "Standing On the Rock" -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
- "Follow You Down" -- The Gin Blossoms
- "Doolin' Dalton" -- The Eagles
My third appearance was on July 20, and Jacqueline was there along with a friend and another guy. A whole entourage! There was a big crowd there that night, and we had good food from one of the mobile kitchen startup businesses that are becoming popular nowadays. Plus the great-tasting beer and ale brewed on the premises by the Queen City folks. I just about nailed all three songs, although I didn't quite get all the harmonica notes on "Long Train Running." (That one sounds awesome, if I do say so myself.)
- "Train Leaves Here This Morning" -- The Eagles
- "Long Train Running" -- Doobie Brothers
- "Like a Rolling Stone" -- Bob Dylan
My third appearance was on August 10, two nights ago, and Jacqueline was there once again. The harmonica on "Ring of Fire" takes the place of the brass quartet which Johnny Cash used on the original recording, and it yields a pretty good effect. (I have learned to play harmonica instead of the "original" instruments on many other songs, some of which might surprise you.) Sad to say, I missed a few notes on "Harvest Moon," which is a shame, since it's a beautiful song. But the last two songs by one of my favorite groups came across pretty well, even though they were not familiar to folks in the audience.
- "Ring of Fire" -- Johnny Cash
- "Harvest Moon" -- Neil Young
- "Beauty In the River" -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
- "Homemade Wine" -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
I look forward to playing at Open Mic Night in the weeks to come, time permitting, and perhaps at some other public venues. From that Nickelback song: "Hey, hey, I wanna be a rock star!"
Learning to play the harmonica
About three years ago I started learning how to play the harmonica, and I'm gradually getting better at it. Given the fact that I have been a big fan of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils since the very beginning (I saw them in concert in Vermillion, South Dakota in the fall of 1974), it is odd that it took me so long, since the harmonica is one of their "signature" instruments. So, I finally bought myself a harmonica, a cheapo Hohner model in the key of C. Many songs I play have a harmonica part in them, including ones by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young, and it sounds much better playing the guitar simultaneously with a harmonica. Within a few months, I was ready for better-quality models, which cost about $15 to $18. Within a year, I was proficient enough to play in public. (See photo above.) Now I am sufficiently particular to want high-quality harmonicas, which cost about $40. I already have two Hohner Marine Band models ("D" and "E"), and two Lee Oscar models ("A" and "G"). I need to get a high-quality "C" harmonica, and eventually a "Bb" and "F" as well.
One big step forward for me was getting a suitable harmonica case, enabling me to switch between different harmonicas quickly when needed. Since I couldn't find one that was suitable for my needs (a full set of seven harmonicas plus the holder), I decided to "do it myself":
The custom-designed harmonica case which I built in March 2014, using a cigar box purchased at an antique store, plus materials purchased from Michaels craft store in Waynesboro and the Tru Valu hardware store in downtown Staunton.
Almost all harmonicas are in a major scale, and here are the common keys:
- A (E) [Gbm]
- Bb (F) [Gm]
- C (G) [Am]
- D (A) [Bm]
- E (B) [C#m]
- F (C) [Dm]
- G (D) [Em]
Cross-harp / second position keys (where the root note of the scale is drawn rather than blown) are in parentheses, and corresponding minor keys are in brackets.
Standard harmonicas have ten holes, each of which plays a different note when drawn rather than blown. When blowing, the major triad of the chord occur in succession. For example, in a "C" harmonica, the blow notes are C - E - G repeated three times at successively higher octaves, plus a high C. Since each adjacent pair of notes is by definition part of the same chord, you can slide up and down while blowing, and it will sound OK.
Drawing notes is a different matter, however. Because there needs to be at least one complete octave scale in order to play most songs, there are some irregularities and "gaps" between some of the holes. As the table below shows, most adjacent note pairs are part of a chordal harmony, with one big exception: #6 and #7! They are only one note apart (A and B, in a "C" key harmonica), and there are no chords with adjacent notes, other than 7th chords and other chords with a fourth note. Usually, it doesn't matter if you are trying to play a particular note but also get an adjacent note, since they are generally in harmony. You have to learn to avoid drawing on #6 and #7 simultaneously, because it will sound terrible!
Notes in a "C" harmonica
The bottom line shows the difference between blown notes vs. drawn notes. ("1" = a full note, or two half steps on a fretboard.) As you will notice, the six holes on the left (#1 - #6) produce higher notes when drawn (compared to when blown), while the four holes on the right (#7 - #10) produce lower notes when drawn.
I knew I was making progress when I learned how to "bend" notes. That's the effect where the note drops down a half step or so and then returns, and it's achieved by carefully adjusting the pressure while you are drawing. Your tongue and lips need to be pursed, and it's tricky at first, but eventually it becomes easy. The opening harmonica part in "Follow You Down" is a perfect example. Other songs among my set lists above that feature "bent" notes are "Country Girl" and "Doolin' Dalton." (Bending while blowing is too hard to do without great skill, I have learned.)
Blues Travelers concert
A further inspiration for my harmonica playing was seeing the Blues Travelers postgame concert at Nationals Park on June 8, 2014. The group's leader, John Popper, is a phenomenal harmonica player. I'd love to learn how to play some of that group's songs (such as "The Runaround"), but the problem is that he changes notes much more quickly than I can.
John Popper, leader of the Blues Travelers at Nationals Park, June 8, 2014.
August 8, 2016 [LINK / comment]
But wait, there's more mushrooms!
Yesterday I wrote that I was pretty sure I had taken a photo of a rare "Dog Stinkhorn" mushroom two or three years ago. So, today I checked my iPhoto library and discovered that it was just a little more than one year ago: July 1, 2015. Jacqueline and I went for a long hike along the North Mountain trail that day, heading south from Parkersburg Pike at Dry Branch Gap in western Augusta County. We hiked about two miles, reaching a high point along Leadoff Ridge, where all of a sudden we encountered two bears that came crashing down out of a tree! So, we gave up on the idea of going all the way to Elliott Knob and turned back north. I had forgotten how many wonderful mushrooms we saw (and photographed) along the way. For some reason I didn't write a blog post about birding that day, even though I took a photo of a Black-throated Blue Warbler, plus we also saw a family of Ruffed Grouse.
So, for the second time in two days, I have updated the Mushrooms photo gallery page, adding mushroom photos from 2012, 2014, and 2015.
Mushroom montage, North Mountain, July 1, 2015. Roll your mouse over the image to see an enlarged view of the Dog Stinkhorn.
August 7, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Magical mushroom tour*
While hiking in the mountains yesterday, looking for birds, I came across quite a variety of mushrooms, and I posted a "sampler" montage of the best photos I took on Facebook earlier today. The variations in color, shape, and size were indeed "magical"! I have a mushroom field guide, but it pertains specifically to southern states, and I'm not sure if it includes mushrooms seen in the highlands of Virginia. I may need to get a more complete field guide. So, I will have to postpone identification of the species below until another day... I previously posted such a montage in my July 16 blog post about birding, and before that on July 18, 2013. Otherwise, I was surprised after checking my blog archives that I had not done more such mushroom montages, or individual species photos. I'm pretty sure I took a photo of a rare "Dog Stinkhorn" mushroom two or three years ago. Anyway, I updated the Mushrooms photo gallery page, for the first time in quite a while.
Mushroom montage, Shenandoah Mountain and Chimney Hollow, August 6.
* Obviously, that title is an allusion to the Beatles' album Magical Mystery Tour, and to the fungus species Psilocybin. (See dea.gov for more information.) But the original inspiration for my interest in mushrooms was a presentation by a nature photographer from Mendocino, California named Taylor Lockwood which I saw in Charlottesville in 1999 or so. (It was possibly at a Monticello Bird Club meeting, but I forget.) I was so awestruck by his dazzling, magical, exotic photos that I bought a set of jumbo-sized postcards he published, and I still have a few of them left. Thanks to Google, I found his photo gallery Web site: fungiphoto.com.
To see previous blog entries, go to the Culture & Travel archives page.