Friday, April 22, 2011

Bluebells after the Storm

After work on Wednesday I went for a short hike in Bull Run Park to see how the bluebells were faring after the weekend storms. The area had been hit pretty hard and I wasn't really expecting to see any flowers so was delighted to see as I drove in, a carpet of blue defiantly blooming by the river banks.
There was a lot of debris still rolling down the river and caught up in the branches on trees on the banks. I helped out a bit by clearing some of the smaller shrubs of their load so their leaves could open properly.
Even little white violets were defiantly standing firm, still smeared with mud. These would've been completely covered by raging waters over the weekend.
i walked up and down the river bank occasionally slipping as the ground was still very wet. I marveled at how quickly nature recovers after these events and was walking slowly appreciating their beauty when my thoughts were interrupted by a guy holding a camera.
"Do you you know where the best flower shots can be found" he questioned. I stared at him incredulously and fought to keep my lips tightly shut. Really? We're standing in a nature photographer's paradise and he's asking me that? I simply shook my head and shrugged my shoulders then started to walk away not trusting myself to speak. 
I took some more photos of blossoms, again impressed how they were still on the branches after being beaten by heavy wind and rain just a few days previously. The sun was starting to set and a flock of gooses waddled past me contentedly grazing on the grass. Time to head home.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Blooms and Bright Lights

The whole of Saturday was spent being luxuriously lazy since there was a heavy storm passing through and any outdoor plans would be scuppered. It's been months since I've done this and boy, was it needed. I got DVDs and snacks after a sleep in then spent most of the day horizontal watching the screen or napping. Kota kept me company and napped with me, sometimes on my shoulders, my back, my tummy or above my head. We changed positions as a team. The sluggishness continued through to Sunday with Kota letting me sleep in until 9:30. Can't remember the last time we slept that long. Then after a long wake up period with breakfast in bed and the sun prodding bright fingers of light through my blinds, I decided to get up and get outside.
The wind was still quite strong and I had no interest in strenuous exercise so I went for a hike in the battlefields down the road and took a new trail. The wet ground and high water line were the only evidence of yesterday's heavy storms that had raged with thunder and lightning plus tornado warnings. I got wet knees as I took some photos but shrugged it off.
I also took the opportunity to take a photo of a dogwood tree that had caught my eye every year as I drove past it. Every year I'd thought about stopping to photograph it and never had, until now. Another task struck off my list.
I drove to another part of the battle fields and came across two people in the park road crouched down taking photos of a bug. Still feeling laid back I had no intention of disturbing them and quite happily sat and waited for them to finish so I could pass by. The redbud trees and dogwoods were all bursting open and it seemed to me that leaves which been been tight buds in the morning were now unfurling in the warm sun. I finished pottering around the park and noticed a small traveling fair in Manassas. I would be back later.
As darkness approached, I grabbed my camera and tripod and drove back down to Manassas for the fair. The lines waiting to go in were long but moved fast and before I knew it I was caught up in the swirling bright lights with throngs of people milling past. 
The Fire Ball ride caught in a long exposure and then at a fast speed.
This little girl looked so cute as she waited for the ride to start.
This ride was like a pendulum that swung from side to side, here it's static...
...and here going full swing. They didn't have a ferris wheel this time which was a shame as they're so colorful to photograph but I'd taken plenty of shots and was shocked to look at my watch and see it was nearly 11:00pm. Time to head home to bed and try to sleep with a kaleidoscope of colors spinning through my head.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Scuba Diving in Fairfax, VA

Just before Christmas Barb and I signed up to experience a taste of scuba diving. We had left it too long and needed to book a class quickly before the offer expired so we drove to Fairfax last Tuesday to see what it was all about. To be honest, I'd been in no hurry to take the class and was actually rather hoping we'd 'miss' our chance and lose our impetuously spent $20. I was nervous about trying this and knew it would be an issue because during my fire brigade training, I'd been very apprehensive about wearing breathing apparatus and this was underwater. 
We got to the shop early so pottered around studying the equipment.
I was taken with this iPhone holder. How cool to be able to play your iPod in the water. The other two in our class arrived and our instructor, Kevin, sat us down for an introduction and to go over the equipment.
We learned very quickly the basic set up of our buoyancy compensator, (BC), and how our regulators worked. And next it was into the equipment room to get fitted for our masks, flippers and BC's.
Barb trying out her flippers. I was very selective because obviously one wants everything to color co-ordinate. Once we had our gear it was back to the cars and a quick drive to the pool.
Kevin checking our BC's once again. We put these on in the water because they were bloody heavy. We'd also had to put weights in them along with the air already pumped in them. We could then dump or add air as required once we were underwater. The idea is to not float but also not to sink, it took some working out. Once in the water, we quickly donned masks and then were told to put our regulators in our mouths and hold our heads under the surface of the water. This was all happening a bit fast for me but not wanting to look a lemon, I complied. And didn't like it. Not one bit. No sirree. I was seriously considering the 'out' option. It totally goes against the grain to breathe while underwater even though your brain tells you it's safe. It's just not right. It took a lot of concentration to keep under but once I saw everyone else was doing it, I had no choice. With every exhalation, an explosion of bubbles thundered past my ears and I realized that I had to bite down on my regulator to keep it firm in my mouth. Each breath also had to be tugged from the cylinder so after every 3 or 4 breaths, I'd find myself desperately sucking in a huge lungful of air. I had to fight my desire to go up to the surface as it felt so weird to be breathing this heavy underwater.
After a while I learned to relax and started to find myself enjoying the sensation of a no gravity environment. I practiced with my flippers using them to build up a little speed and even had a little go at a 'Man from Atlantis' impression. There were a few other guys being recertified so I lay down on the bottom of the pool and watched them for a bit. But every so often I would need to go up just to have my head in the air again, even if I kept my regulator in. Kevin took us into the deep end of the pool which was about 12ft and we played at throwing a missile to each other so we'd have to lunge to catch it. It seemed that after a very short time we were all slowing down. Our class was coming to en end and I was shocked to discover we'd had nearly 2 hours in the water. We were exhausted and back on the side of the pool felt like we'd put on 100lbs.
Me and Barb using proper diving sign language to say, 'All's OK'. A 'thumbs up' means you want to go up to the surface. I can't believe I was smiling in this photo, like anyone can really tell with all that gear on.
Our little group at the end of the evening. I have to say The Dive Shop in Fairfax was absolutely awesome during this evening. The instruction was clear, easy to understand and we really got a thorough introduction into the sport. If I wasn't working and had plenty of spare cash, I might have pursued this further; it's definitely a sport that you have to acquaint yourself with intensely, like wearing a new skin, and although challenging, I could see that it would be a lot of fun and open doors to new worlds. But for now, this landlubber's gonna stick to the bike!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Pottering on the Potomac

Sunday was supposed to be a warm sunny day so my friend, Tom, and I went out on his boat for a chug up the Potomac. There was little sun and it was a bit chilly but undaunted we carried on. 
This house on the shore has its own chopper, handy for those shopping trips when you need a new pair of shoes for an evening out but can't be bothered with traffic. Thought the back hoe for gardening was a bit over the top though...
Whoa! We were so busy chatting that we never noticed this boat bearing down on us. 
This boat was obviously made by its owner and from this view it looked like the man was taking a trip in a barrel. Think I would've had a more comfy armchair in there than his folding deck chair.
This guy's kayak was impressively rigged out with floatation cylinders for better balance, racks for his rods and a fish finder computer. 
We saw a lot of ospreys, many of whom were busy nest building. I liked the trash bag on this nest, useful for those bones and bits of cartilage left over from a hearty meal. Looks like they've got their Christmas stocking up early as well.
There were also plenty of blue herons, and a flock of double-crested cormorants in a tree.
Gulls flew around the many fishermen that were on the banks of Occoquan. We couldn't go further up river since large boulders beyond the bridge blocked the way.
I thought this house was abandoned but Tom thought otherwise and the grounds did look well tended. It seemed a bit eerie seeing the roof covered with silent turkey vultures. Tom told me the birds don't defecate like other birds, all their body waste is regurgitated.Some interesting turkey vulture facts here.
We headed back to the docks and went in the boat club for lunch. Of course, it wasn't too long before the sun came out and started warming up the rest of the day. Oh well, there'll be more days on the river.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Caves 'n' Cars

On Saturday I met up with Steve from DCUE and we trekked down to Luray Caverns near Front Royal, VA. The weather wasn't looking promising but we were going to be underground so weren't concerned. These caves are more commercialized than Skyline Caverns with perfect walkways, railings and bigger groups but were better in that they didn't light up the formations like Vegas with colored bulbs.The formations were huge with fabulous textures, it was very difficult not being allowed to touch them.
We walked the tour with a guide who didn't need to explain anything as we were rigged out with headphones and receivers and simply needed to tap a number in at each stop to hear a description of what we were viewing. A member of the group noted that the kids' version was more fun to listen to and she was right.The photo above is looking up at the stalactites. We often lagged behind taking our photos and found ourselves suddenly clothed in black darkness as the lights went out. A bit daunting at first but we got used to it.
There was an organ at the end of the tour which was connected to a few of the stalactite pipes and we listened to a couple of notes as they were gently tapped. A little bit disappointed there as I'd been expecting a rendition of Greensleeves or something.
After the tour we drove into the town of Luray to eat lunch at the Station Diner. The menu had 3 different prayers to recite before our meal so to cover all bases Steve said all of them.
This guy was plugging the local tax help office and happily posed for a photo.
We decided to continue exploring so we took the long way back to NOVA down a road I'd not traveled before.
We saw this old garage covered in signs which raised a smile and then further along we came across an old car outside a workshop with hubcaps, spare parts and a cherub adorning the front. Curiosity was definitely piqued here so we stopped for a visit.
I went inside and stepped back in time to a dusty, dim but amazing office filled with ledgers, parts and memorabilia. I noticed people inside eventually and asked if it would be OK to take some photos of the junkyard known as HillBilly's in Bentonville. They were wonderfully accommodating and waved me up the hill stating that there were some cool old cars at the top. I could've stayed in there for ages looking around but the cars were calling.
Steve and I had barely crested the hilltop when we spotted a guy and girl from the office walking towards us. They chatted to me asking where I was from and then handed over a calender, some bumper stickers and a shot glass. I was chuffed. I've just started my shot glass collection and this would be a supreme addition.
There were so many old cars to photograph that I was initially overwhelmed and simply walked around just clicking aimlessly before I could start focusing.
This junkyard was the jewel of the afternoon as far as I was concerned and seemed to have parts for every vehicle under the sun; even an old Lincoln limo lay stretched out in the long grass and old school buses had new lives as stores for engines and lights.  We left with a few more gigs filled on our camera cards and I thanked the owner before we left.
We finished with a quick drive around the edge of Front Royal finding this old water tower and building which we were disappointed to learn was not abandoned. Oh well, it was time to head home anyway and christen that new shot glass with a tot of whiskey.