I appreciate the simplistically specific way of naming roads in Rockingham County, Virginia. The roadways are numbered, of course, but the colloquial names are what people know. Slab Road is a prime example.
Hardly a half mile long, Slab Road connects two main county roads. Between the two is the Dry River, often devoid of water. A solid cement slab serves as the roadbed that crosses the riverbed from bank to bank. Thus, the unusual but appropriate name for a public road.
After some recent rains, the river flowed steadily over the slab, forming a mini-waterfall. I wanted to gather some rocks for a water feature I was assembling for our backyard birds. The high water limited my search to the south side of the slab. While collecting a few stones, I couldn’t help but notice the beauty of the evening sun filtering through the trees and reflecting off the smooth surface of the now not-so-dry river.
The need for a few flat rocks drew me to this inspiring scene that warmed my soul during this day’s golden hour.
Don’t let those lovely calendar images of spring fool you. The gorgeous photos of tulips, daffodils, dogwoods, and any other flowering plant or tree may last all month in the picture hanging on your wall. But you better hurry outside to see them before they rudely disappear.
That’s Spring in a nutshell. It can be as fickle as the weather because the weather, especially in the age of rapid climate change, affects when things bloom and for how long. Throw in a heavy frost or two, and the blossoms’ purposes are lost until next year.
I don’t mean to be sounding doom and gloom. After the long, dark, and in many places, cold and snowy winter, we celebrate Spring’s arrival. But we need to get out and enjoy it while we can. We can easily take the many blooms and fragrances for granted until they are gone.
I’m as guilty of that as anyone. The older I get, the colder I get. Consequently, I avoid being outside too long on blustery, chilly days. I know. My age is showing.
I’ll admit that I’m a fair-weather kind of guy. I need the sun to keep me warm no matter how many layers of clothing I wear. Still, I love taking in the rapidly changing spring scenes. The leaves start to unfurl once the blossoms fade. Depending on the species and the weather, it is not long until the plant or tree leaves are in their fullness. As the leaves mature on some plants and trees, they darken into a rich green.
We are fortunate here in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The first spring blossoms show themselves in the forests in late winter. Witch Hazel blooms can easily be overlooked. The white snowdrop petals are easier to see against the burnished leaf litter.
This year, February and March traded their weather. Varieties of daffodils and crocuses bloomed early and stayed late. As Spring progressed and the weather cooled, they became the exception. Pockets of the Glory of the Snow, Spring Beauties, Bloodroot, and Coltsfoot soon joined them.
The Redbud trees were gorgeous unless back-to-back freezes nipped their pretty pink blossoms. The impatient leaves soon pushed the petals to carpet the ground. Even the maples were in a hurry to begin their chlorophyll duties.
Soon neighborhoods, roadsides, and forests were ablaze with color in April. The azaleas, rhododendrons, Virginia Bluebells, tulips, wild geraniums, and poppies put on a show. The pollinators buzzed high and low.
So, here we are in May. The dogwood blossoms have faded, while their leaves stand ready, awaiting touches of sunshine and rain. They need both.
Together let’s pledge to get out and enjoy whatever is blooming in our neck of the woods. If we wait too long, we’ll only have the calendars to remind us of what we missed.
My wife and I recently celebrated our 52nd anniversary. We did so quietly.
Initially, we considered driving to Washington, D.C., to view the cherry blossoms at their peak. We had never done that, and living only two hours away, we could easily view the iconic flowers and be home before dark. We weighed our options and decided instead to stay close to home, which was my wife’s preference.
That decision paid dividends we didn’t expect. First, we slept in, which is not our routine. We usually awaken at first light. It felt good to start our big day well-rested.
After a quiet, light breakfast, we continued with a habit we started during the pandemic. We played cards and drank our morning decaf coffee. With the temperature hovering slightly above freezing, we were in no hurry to head outside for a few local adventures.
Traffic was light for the 10-minute drive downtown for an early lunch at a favorite restaurant. Since it was a Monday and not yet noon, there was no wait. We enjoyed our meals and the quiet atmosphere. They even had gluten-free bread for my brisket sandwich. It was nice to sit in the serenity of the ordinarily bustling restaurant. Our waitress even took her time bringing the check.
After lunch, we drove to a local arboretum and strolled around the artificial pond. Both buttery yellow and white daffodils colored the forested hillside surrounding the murky pond. Some flowers were already fading, while others were beginning to bud.
The aptly named star magnolias were also losing their luster. We admired some snappy-looking white and orange daffodils and various wildflowers beginning to grace the forest floor.
A young man approached us as we sniffed the blooms. He was the new marketing person for the arboretum, and we enjoyed an extended conversation with him about photography. My constant snapping of the shutter gave me away.
By then, the sun had taken the chill out of the air. That meant one thing: ice cream. We drove to a local ice cream parlor in a neighboring town. A kid’s cup is suitable for us now. My wife was more adventurous and ordered a caramel salted chocolate chunk while I stuck with my tried and true chocolate. We chose a table outside where my wife sat in the shade while I preferred the sun on my back.
On the way home, we stopped at another smaller arboretum at the north end of the small town. The place is more park than a botanical garden. A small, tree-lined stream called Cooks Creek winds lazily through a green space. Cooks Creek Arboretum is sandwiched between a hillside condo complex and a farmer’s still-fallow field stretching up to a big red barn.
Once the flock of pesky common grackles flew off, we heard a barred owl calling softly from inside an owl box fastened to a giant sycamore on the creek’s bank. The harmony of the owl’s twittering and the silvery gurgling of the stream brought a smile to both of us.
Please click on the photos to enlarge them.
With the return of the noisy grackles, we detoured to Silver Lake to check for migrating waterfowl. A quartet of ring-necked ducks floated and dived, floated and dived on the shallow lake’s surface. The lake’s Civil War-era mill attracts people far and wide.
Shortly after we arrived back home, the doorbell rang. A young woman handed my wife a bouquet from her sister and her husband, who live in Ohio. We appreciated their kind and loving gesture.
We snacked for supper, and after sunset, I drove to a high point in the countryside to take photos of three planets. Venus shown bright in the night sky, but I couldn’t find the conjunction of Saturn and Mars near the horizon. An invisible haze hung over the Allegheny Mountains, obscuring any starry beauty.
When I returned home, another kind of darkness fell. We learned of the horrific mass shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville. The sad news snapped us out of our anniversary bliss into the reality of today’s life in the United States. Our peaceful, quiet, and enjoyable anniversary day with my loving wife ended with a tearful thud.
I wish you could see the view from my winter window. It’s nearly the total opposite of the one from our home in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.
Each winter, my wife and I spend a few weeks away from the cold and snow. We’ve done so for a dozen years. We always head to Fernandina Beach, Florida, a small town that anchors Amelia Island, a barrier island northeast of Jacksonville.
The weather is not usually balmy there. After all, Amelia Island is Florida’s northernmost spit of land. Still, it’s not northeast Ohio, where we used to live, nor Harrisonburg, Virginia, where we moved five and a half years ago to be close to our three oldest grandchildren.
So, we pack up the van and head south for brighter, warmer days during winter’s darkest. Of course, when you rent a condo on the Atlantic Ocean, the weather is as fickle as a two-year-old. Sometimes it plays nice, and sometimes it doesn’t. Nevertheless, we take our chances and hope for the best.
So far this year, sunny, warm days have been the rule rather than the exception. We couldn’t be happier.
I often sit at my computer in front of large plate glass windows and attempt to finish my work. By work, I mean doing morning devotions, checking emails, and reading stories online. That’s my routine in Virginia. Only I look at neighboring houses, vehicles, pedestrians, and dog walkers passing by.
But I am easily distracted in Florida. Besides being a writer, I’m also an amateur photographer. I bounce from desk to balcony to capture the menagerie of what I see. A beautiful sunrise over the ocean equals a pleasant start to any day.
Then there are the beach walkers, dog walkers, beachcombers, Navy helicopters from a nearby Naval station, and so much more. I gladly take it all in before my first spoonful of cereal.
Please click on the photos to enlarge them.
I watch the tide charts as much as I do the beach. I’m not alone. Joggers, runners, bikers, and shell seekers use the flat, wet sand as their personal expressway. I see the same people at about the same time every morning doing their separate things.
The dark, swarthy, tanned skin tones quickly identify the veterans. The pasty-pale pedestrians are asking for sunburns. The younger generations pass their elders rapidly unless they’re trying to steer a dog in the same direction and pace they want. I’ve witnessed many a canine confab between northbound and southbound owners and pets.
People aren’t the only regulars that come into my view. Brown Pelicans play follow-the-leader only inches above the rolling waves. Resident Ospreys sail overhead, hovering high above the gentle waters if they spot a potential meal.
I keep an eye out for dolphins and whales, too. The dolphins regularly feed in the waters a hundred yards offshore. Last year I was fortunate to spot an endangered Right Whale and her newborn calf floating at the surface like logs. The bright morning sun glistened over their dark, blubber-puffed skin.
Pelicans, an assortment of competing gulls, and terns often follow the dolphin’s lead hoping for spoils that manage to escape, if only temporarily. I especially enjoy the antics of the Forster Terns that zoom along and then climb in a glide over a school of fish. The terns divebomb toward the salty sea, hoping to scoop up delicate sushi morsels.
I especially enjoy watching the smaller shorebirds dash to where the water recedes along the soft sand. Willets and tiny Sanderlings drill and peck for small crustaceans deposited by the rhythm of the waves. Somehow the tiny Sanderlings always manage to outrun the encroaching foamy water. Their little legs seem to move 100 miles per hour.
Please click on the photos to enlarge them.
The ocean itself has been unusually calm so far this winter. Most passing weather fronts that constantly stir up the waters into angry waves have thankfully evaded us.
Still, I love the tender interplay between the sky and the Atlantic. Their colors intermingle, making it difficult to tell one from the other where they meet at the horizon near the Gulf Stream.
Every once in a while, rangers cruise up and down the beach in their off-road four-wheelers. Their primary duties are to clean the shore of any trash or driftwood and to keep an eye on early morning and after-school surfers. They also stop to chat with strangers who quickly become friends. The latter seems to occupy most of the rangers’ time.
Farther out in the deeper water, I use binoculars to watch shrimpers ply their nets 24/7 unless the dense fog obscures them. Occasionally freighters and dredgers sit in the channel that leads to the little port of Fernandina Beach. Their bright white LED lights punctuate the moonless night’s darkness.
I see all this and more through my winter window. I am most grateful I can take it all in before we return too soon to my more mundane vistas.
My wife and I come to Florida for a few weeks each winter. There are many reasons we do so besides the warmer weather. Magnificent sunrises and sunsets enrich our lives.
The sunrises come to us. Our rented condo is on the beach facing the Atlantic Ocean. I only have to walk from the bedroom to the front windows to enjoy dawn’s show. Sometimes I stand in awe at the glorious beauty before me.
Sunset is a different story. An hour or so before the time for sunset, I check the western sky. If it looks favorable, we delay supper, and my wife and I head to one of several locations for picturesque photos.
Depending on where we go, we’ll head out 15 minutes to half an hour before dusk to be ready for nature’s glory to unfold. The image below was taken near a marina on Egans Creek in Fernandina Beach. I was fortunate that these fishermen called it a day at the sunset’s peak.
I found this when I checked the potential for a lovely sunrise at 6:30 this morning. With sunrise still 45 minutes away, these clouds should have been turning all shades of pink, orange, and red at this stage.
Instead, the low clouds set a foreboding mood, as if denying the sun its daily duty. Then I noticed the crescent moon in the photo’s upper right-hand corner. And the phrase, “By dawn’s early light,” came to mind.
For citizens of the United States, those words should mean something. They are in the opening line of our national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.” The lyrics come from a poem, “In Defence of Fort McHenry,” written on September 14, 1814, by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812.
I wondered how this sky compared to the one that inspired Key’s patriotic poem. Unlike the scene Key painted, thankfully, no bombs were bursting in the air here in Fernandina Beach, Florida, this morning.
But the mood of this photo, with the splinter of a waning January moon peeking between the clouds, also inspired me. I hope it does the same for you.
I’ve never been a beach kind of guy. I prefer the fields, hills, and forests. When we winter in Fernandina Beach, Florida, on Amelia Island, I head to Egans Creek Greenway for peace of mind. That’s a bit ironic since our rented condo is on the beach facing the Atlantic Ocean.
I enjoy watching dolphins swim by and the many birds of prey, shorebirds, and other avian species plying the ocean waters. I also delight in the lovely sunrises, though they have been few and far between this year. I’m not complaining. We’ve had plenty of clear blue skies and above-average temperatures in the two weeks we have been here.
The warmth and fair weather have allowed me to spend enjoyable hours on the Egans Creek Greenway. The Greenway is a preserved wildlife area sandwiched between two busy east-west roadways, including the northernmost section of Florida’s noted A1A Coastal Highway. It’s my sacred place, though it is hardly quiet.
Egans Creek Greenway is a place to discover all of nature’s wonders. Visitors can find alligators, Ospreys, butterflies, river otters, and much more in, on, and among the waters, marshes, and greenery. Opened at the turn of the millennium in 2000, the Greenway is an undeveloped park for conservation and passive recreational use.
Egans Creek runs north through the far northeastern section of this barrier island. Housing developments and commercial buildings like hotels constantly push at the edges, even though the area is designated a preserve. The Greenway is managed by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, which has its headquarters adjacent at the north end of the marsh.
The Greenway consists of over 300 acres of protected lands, which include slivers of marine woodlands, wetland bushes, and a sizeable briny marsh. Trails for walking, running, biking, and birding wind throughout the Greenway. Maps are available at the Greenway’s entrances, and benches are dotted along the grass-covered paths.
In the dozen years we have been coming here, I have found the Greenway my place to relax, explore, and rest. Its location forces me to focus on what is right in front of me and always watch for surprises. Last year a Northern Harrier swooped low across the marsh. Roseate Spoonbills make rare appearances.
I especially enjoy the creativity it affords me if I only take the time to see it. The stark contrasts of crimson buds of red maple trees against the shiny green leaves of Live Oaks create a festive feel. Or the orange and black of a lone Monarch butterfly settling on a barren stalk keeps me mentally alert and spiritually alive.
Please click on the photos to enlarge them.
An added enjoyment is meeting new people on the Greenway. Some stop to talk or inquire about what I am seeing. Others just run or bike right on by. Rowdy teenagers occasionally pitch a stick at a sunbathing alligator or spook birds with their boisterous talk.
Nevertheless, these experiences allow me to tune out the human-induced noises that permeate our lives. In the case of the Greenway, commercial jetliners approaching Jacksonville International Airport 30 minutes away buzz overhead. So do smaller planes taking off and landing from the local airport two miles southeast of the Greenway. And then there are the military helicopters flying up and down the beach from Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville.
Sirens wail away, responding to the next emergency. Trucks, motorcycles, and cars hum along the adjacent streets. Train engine horns from tracks along the riverfront invade the Greenway’s peace and tranquility.
Despite those acoustic interferences, I still find the Greenway a respite, a private sanctuary in a very public place. I accept that I cannot change those annoyances. I can concentrate on solitude and enjoyment in whatever I find each time I walk the Greenway.
My wife and I are fortunate to spend part of the winter months in northeast Florida. Our rented condo on the Atlantic Ocean affords many opportunities for photographic moments. It’s up to me to be on the lookout for them.
In this instance, I spotted a lone sailboat in the silvery reflection of the mid-morning sunshine. The waters seemed to shiver below a cerulean sky, creating a black-and-white, wave-like appearance to a nearly calm ocean.
As bright as the shimmering reflection was, I could still capture the sailboat on its silvery plate.
January’s Full Wolf Moon rose over the Atlantic Ocean about 15 minutes before sunset last evening, January 6, 2023. That made it rather difficult to find on the horizon. The moon easily blended with the pale pink background of the Belt of Venus.
I had my cameras ready, and my wife spotted it first. I aimed my 35 mm camera on the tripod and snapped away. I also used my point-and-shoot camera with a 1,725 mm lens when fully extended. I concentrated on holding it still enough to keep the photos from blurring. In addition, I took a few pictures with my iPhone.
The following photos show the sequence of the full moon rising. Please click on the images to enlarge them.
The photo above was my first shot once we spotted the moon. A large bird hovered over the ocean and appeared at about 11 o’clock on the moon’s face. The red object at the far right is a bouy that helps mark the channel into the St. Mary’s River that serves as the state line between northeast Florida and southeast Georgia.
The moon became more evident in just two minutes as it rose slightly above the ocean.
This photograph provides the view from our third-floor condo. Note the freighter on the horizon in the upper right-hand section of the photo.
Nine minutes later, the moon hung unmistakeably above the Atlantic.
With the sun now set, the full moon dominated the eastern sky.
Watching the moon rise over the ocean is always a treat. The unobstructed view gives viewers the opportunity to fully appreciate the spectacular sequence and beauty of another rising full moon.
Each winter, save 2021 due to the pandemic, my wife and I escape Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley for warmer climes. We head to Amelia Island, Florida. If you are familiar with Florida’s geography, you know that Amelia Island is northeast of Jacksonville. It’s the northernmost barrier island in Florida. The St. Mary’s River separates Florida from Georgia, so it’s not consistently balmy like Miami or Naples.
We stay in a rented condo complex only yards away from the Atlantic Ocean. On days when the weather is nice, it’s a great location. When the weather turns less than desirable, it can be downright cold. Nevertheless, the island and surrounding areas offer plenty of outdoor amenities like birding, hiking, and photography for me to enjoy.
Since we face east, I relish the many beautiful sunrises. However, the results are often somewhat foggy if a cold front stalls offshore. When we arrived on New Year’s Day, the temperature hit 75, and the sky was mostly sunny. By morning, we were fogged in. Still, I took the photo above as our first Florida sunrise in 2023.
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