I was out watering plants and trees last evening since we haven’t had any rain for several days. Suddenly, the western sky turned bright golden.
I quickly wrapped up my watering, grabbed my camera and iPhone, and headed to a close location with an open view to the west. The golden glow had faded. The sun disappeared behind the Allegheny Mountains, but dramatic color remained.
The farmer had already cut the enormous cornfield and had turned loose steers to forage for spilled corn cobs. With Mole Hill to the left and the sunset’s remnants still lingering above the mountains, it looked like a scene out of the old west, not the Shenandoah Valley.
The vista was a beautiful way to close out the first day of September.
I searched for a decent location to photograph the latest lovely sunset in the Shenandoah Valley. I stopped when I came upon this scene of young steers grazing.
The Black Angus scattered in the rolling pasture filled the foreground, while the local landmark of Mole Hill, an extinct volcanic core, dominated the background. The sunset orange-tinted cloud hovered over the Allegheny Mountains in the distance. I imagined old Mole Hill had exploded out of eons of dormancy.
I couldn’t help but feel wide-ranging gratitude as I walked with a dozen other nature lovers. Billed as a bird walk, it was so much more than that. I wasn’t surprised by that realization.
Most in the group who took the tour, including the property owners, were in our third third of life. That is to say, most of us had more days behind us than we had ahead of us. That fact only made the pleasant August morning sweeter.
The landowners invited a noted local birder who tried his best to keep us corralled and informed. But Baby Boomers being who they are, we often overlooked our leader, and most of the group had moved on. Guilty as charged.
I attribute that to being enraptured with our surroundings. We walked the mown paths amid meadows of wildflowers, stands of woodlots, and the buzz of bees, the distraction of beautiful butterflies and plenty of avian species. There were too many times when I simply wanted to stay in place and absorb all that surrounded me. Believe me, there was lots to take in.
But we didn’t want to overstay our welcome. So, like it or not, this grateful group of nature enthusiasts kept moving. There was so much to see in such a short time.
Near the end, I lingered to identify a solitary sparrow that perched in a tree many yards away. My binoculars didn’t help much given the distance. While I waited for the expert birder to verify my find, a Belted Kingfisher zoomed over the rushing creek below me. Just then, an Eastern Meadowlark took flight overhead, and a gang of Barn Swallows abandoned their perches on the big round hale bales in search for breakfast.
The sparrow sat dutifully on the tree limb while the walk’s leader edged closer. Finally, it turned its head, revealing its pinkish bill. Field Sparrow, it was.
We saw 44 species of birds in our limited time. We got some excellent looks at songbirds and others. I was torn between birdwatching, snapping photos of butterflies, and enjoying the many summer wildflowers.
I was grateful for this kind couple to invite us onto their property and allow us to enjoy the fruits of their labor. After all, that’s how gratitude works. Blessings upon blessings create overflowing gratitude that begs to be shared.
Have you ever intended to photograph one subject and instead captured something entirely different?
That’s what happened to me last evening. I wanted to shoot the full super moon rising over the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. As soon as I left home, I could see there might be a problem. A large rain cloud hovered over the park, right where the moon was calculated to appear.
Hoping the cloud might move on or dissipate, I kept driving. I am so glad I did.
A full moon always rises as the sun sets. In the Shenandoah Valley, the sun sinks below the Allegheny Mountains that mark Virginia/West Virginia state lines to the west. It rises over the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east.
As I drove east, the last of the day’s sun rays illuminated the clouds over the national park. The closer I got, the more the clouds transitioned from white to peach to orange.
I arrived at my photo destination in time to capture the moment’s beauty. For me, this easily made up for missing the moonrise.
The group I was with Saturday morning was nearing the end of our fruitful bird walk. We had seen 44 species in about three hours as we strolled around this lovely acreage of rolling wildflower meadows dotted with woodlots.
As we neared the end of our bird walk, this regal-looking Red-headed Woodpecker flew in front of us. It landed on this fence post at least 50-yards away. I was game for a shot anyway.
My hand-held camera captured this compressed scene with my 1,200 mm lens fully extended. The fence posts were actually several feet apart. Clearly, this photo was a long shot in more ways than one.
I am always looking for new locations to capture sunsets. I accidentally found this spot on a dead end road.
While the sunset wasn’t spectacular, something else caught my attention. The sweet fragrance of growing corn filled my senses. Then I noticed how the soft evening light highlighted the emerging tassels of the cornstalks. The flow of the large cornfield took my eye right back to the Allegheny Mountains and the setting sun.
Weather nut that I am, I check the forecast regularly. Monday looked to be decent weather for hiking. Cooler temperatures in the higher elevations and no rain. That would work out just fine for several reasons.
Our daughter and her husband had left the previous Sunday to take our oldest grandchild to his college orientation in Richmond, Virginia. Of course, the university had nearly four days of activities for the new students and their parents.
That left the middle grandchild, Davis, and our only granddaughter, Maren, to check on. With them both being responsible teenagers, that didn’t require much.
With school out for the summer, Maren loves to help Nana with puzzles, baking, and other hands-on chores. She also mows our lawn. That left Davis and me to find trouble together.
Since we both like to hike, we visited Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia. It’s an hour and a half drive for us. We left mid-morning, but Davis didn’t take long to nod. How he could snooze in all that hilly, twisting driving I was doing, I don’t know. He woke as I slowed to photograph a Ruffed Grouse strutting its stuff on the Forest Service road near the mountain top.
After taking a few snapshots of this often elusive bird, we were soon in the parking lot. Other than a Forest Service employee, we had the place to ourselves. However, we hadn’t even started on the trail when I realized I had forgotten the insect repellent. Fat flies buzzed nearby, but none landed on us the entire time we were there.
Spruce Knob affords beautiful views on a clear day like today. Only a few puffy clouds formed over distant mountain ranges to the west. The air was a pleasant 66 degrees with little humidity and no haze to obscure our views.
We walked the loop trail that leads from the parking lot and back. The scent of the spruce filled the air. Wildflowers and birdsongs were abundant. We basked in both.
I know I slowed Davis down by constantly pausing to photograph wildflowers, birds, and butterflies. Trooper that he is, Davis didn’t complain.
I wanted Davis to enjoy this trip. It was one he was supposed to do at the end of the school year with several students and six teachers. The trip was canceled at the last minute when three teachers came down with Covid-19. In the end, all six were sick.
They were to camp out and visit Spruce Knob, Seneca Rocks, and Dolly Sods. All were in the same geographic area of the old folded mountains and valleys.
So, while Nana and Maren were enjoying each other’s company, and Davis’s brother and parents were occupied with college orientation, Davis and I explored some of the wilds and wonders of West Virginia.
We studied the large piles of giant rocks along the path and at the slope of the mountain, long ago rounded by millenniums of erosion from wind, water, ice, and snow. The teacher in me quizzed Davis about how the rocks got where they did. He graciously played along with my lame attempts.
We saw migrant birds and birds that should be migrants but reside here year-round. Dark-eyed Juncos commonly nest in Canadian provinces. The exception is the Appalachian Mountains.
Because these beautiful ridges hold the same habitat and provide the necessary nutrients, the birds live here and farther up the Appalachian range into New England. Davis wanted to know why the other Junocs migrated when the birds we saw stayed. I hope he seeks a better answer than I gave him.
We enjoyed the views east and west and headed to Seneca Rocks, where we would eat our brown bag lunches. When we arrived at the valley picnic grounds, it was 82 degrees and humid.
From there, we could clearly see the face of the vertical rocks jutting straight up. Eons ago, they had been parallel until the collision of continents forced them to fracture and face the sky.
Unfortunately, no rock climbers could be seen. The day was likely too hot for such strenuous activity.
We gathered our things and headed up. The trailhead started at the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac River. The bridge that crosses it goes by the same cumbersome name.
Davis was eager to let his long legs glide him up the well-maintained trail. My old weathered ones weren’t so cooperative. The first third of the path is the steepest. We rested according to my needs. Davis never complained or barged ahead.
We passed other hikers on their way down, and other younger hikers passed us on the way up. I noticed some of them didn’t have hiking shoes or water. We later trekked by some of those same hikers, now fatigued. We reached the top more than an hour after we had started.
The trail leads to an overlook platform that provides gorgeous views of the mountain ridge west of German Valley that the river continues to carve out. We rested and talked with other hikers who soon reached the summit.
Going down took half the time. Davis wondered about going on to Dolly Sods up the road a piece. I wisely said we would save that adventure for another outing. We still had that long drive home.
Adventures like these are the reason we moved from Ohio’s Amish country to Virginia. Now, with the birth of our fourth grandchild in Rochester, New York, we have additional opportunities to watch our grandchildren grow.
Our neighbors recently had us over for an evening of card games. When the late evening sun poured through their west window, my attention turned from cards to capturing this beautiful still-life portrait.
Friends told me that the Virginia Bluebells were at peak bloom along the Bluebell Trail in Shenandoah River State Park. I had to go see for myself.
The weather was perfect. Sunny skies and warm temperatures dominated the day. Both had been recent rarities in the Shenandoah Valley.
So, off I went, down what the Confederates called the Middle Road, to Timberville. From there, I took U.S. 211 east through New Market, up and across the Massanutten Mountain Range, and around the quaint town of Luray to U.S. 340.
A dozen miles later, I entered the park to find the empty entrance station. Due to staffing shortages, it’s an honor system to enter. You grab an envelope, place $10 in it, and deposit the fee into the slot. Hang the receipt from your rearview mirror, and you’re good to go.
And what a splendid day it was. First, I stopped at Cullers Overlook for a fantastic view of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, snaking its way north. Only a few more miles, and it converges with its twin, the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, at Front Royal. The majestic and historic Shenandoah River flows north to meet the Potomac River at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.
As glorious as that view was, I didn’t linger long. I wanted to see the Bluebells. It was all downhill from there to the trailhead a half-mile away.
With camera and binoculars in hand, I eagerly set out on the mile-long trail. A swarm of insects greeted me only a few steps onto the earthen path. I had forgotten to pack the bug spray, so I raised my tolerance level and soldiered on.
Soon I began to pass folks who had a head start on me. They assured me that I couldn’t miss the lovely flowers as they headed to their vehicles. They were right.
Once the trail straightened out, patches large and small of Virginia Bluebells spread across the forest floor like a blue and green carpet. They even lined the riverbank much of the time.
I had an ample selection of flower photo ops. Since I also enjoy birds, calls from high above told me that warblers and other songbirds were foraging for insects among the emerging leaves.
The hungry little birds moved fast and furious, fueling up for their continued flight north. To my surprise, my attention focused on more obvious winged creatures.
Several butterflies flitted all around the trees and flowers in irregular patterns. I soon learned to stay still and let the beautiful insects come to me. Several were puddling on the path wear they found damp spots. They extracted nutrients from the moistened soil. A few stayed in place long enough for me to get a few decent shots.
Of course, I kept passing other hikers, and a few bikers who surprised me from behind. The butterflies flew but often returned within camera range.
I didn’t see as many birds as I had hoped, but I counted the trip a success. Communing intimately with nature tends to fill you with joy and appreciation. By the time I left, my cup overflowed