Friday, February 26, 2016

Spring is Summoned at Blandy

The rain poured down on Sunday but as soon as it started easing off I jumped in Stuart and made a beeline for Blandy Arboretum.  Bill had told me that the winter aconites were starting to bloom and I was anxious to see an early sign of spring.
There were few cars in the parking lot and as I walked to the main building the rain had failed to wash away the last of the snow, it was still dripping onto patches of grass adamantly. I trudged through muddy waterlogged gardens until I came to Dogwood Lane and then suddenly I spotted them. Because they were so fresh and new, they hadn't opened fully, so the sides of the lane were dotted with thousands of tiny golden globes. They positively gleamed against the drab earth colors below them, banishing the gloom of this winter day. Emerald green leaves were being tugged up out of the ground to surround them, reminding me on someone pulling up a coat around their shoulders.
Laden with crystal orbs from the rain which had only just stopped falling, they looked like jewels sprinkled upon a carpet, polished and sparkling citrines or zircons glowing on the ground.
The aconite is related to the buttercup but is different in that it's an exothermic plant. It produces heat to keep itself warm, giving off temperatures that will even melt any surrounding snow and protect it from frost.. The skunk cabbage also does this.
I spent a while crouching down to take close up photos and simply just to enjoy this first flower of spring. Their colors were so fresh and vibrant, looking as though they'd been thoroughly washed in the rain storm. I looked around but there was nobody else to enjoy this with, so I just stood and stared in grateful wonder.
Drops of rain clung to branches and the only sounds were the soft drips on to brown leaves below or an occasional bird song. I wondered around but saw no other colors peeking out from under shrubs or between rocks. I passed the greenhouse and saw it was filled with lots of beautiful golden flowers under heat lamps. I had no idea what they were and again there was no one around to ask. but it seemed that today had been a golden day, and I was glad I'd been a witness.

Stepping Back in Time on an Old Stage

Finally on Saturday the temperatures rose to a wonderfully summery 60 degrees. It felt positively balmy and definitely the kind of weather that you didn't need a jacket. But as we stepped out from the car in the warm sunshine in Philadelphia I zipped my coat up tight and activated my hand warmers.
We had all paid $55 each to photograph the old Lansdowne Theater, had been forewarned that there would be no heating and that it would be cold inside.
The Lansdowne Theater opened in 1927 showing a silent movie, Knockout Riley, It seated 1300 and featured a Moorish style architecture with bright colored paint and brocades. With its painted ceiling, chandeliers and the most impressive center light, it is still a magnificent spectacle when you first walk through the lobby into the auditorium. The colors have faded with paint curls scrolling down the walls, plaster dropping and leaving empty colorless crevices, but for the most part it's easy to imagine how this looked in its hey day. It has stood the test of time well.
This is the center ceiling light which when lit is incredibly beautiful and actually caused me to gape open-mouthed for a few seconds. There is so much detail in this theater that at first I just took a few snapshots while I took it all in. Intricately carved plaster work is everywhere, scrolls undulating across corners and arches while theatrical masked figures peer down from ledges.
I brought my grandmother's opera glasses with me to use as a prop but really no extras were needed to enhance the photos, there was already so much for the eyes to feast on.
And then the curator turned on the main light. What an amazing piece.
The theater held live performances on its stage as well as showing films, and even had a Kimball organ, purchased for $20.000, that was played during the silent movies by the local "Melody Mac" MacLean. It even produced sound effects such as bird song, car horns and alarms. But unfortunately the organ wasn't here as it was sold in the 70's to help pay for air conditioning repairs.
The theater was closed in 1987 for cosmetic repairs but when a fire broke out in the basement of some of the retail stores that were part of the building, the electrical system was badly damaged. Due to lack of finances the building languished until 2007 when the Historic Lansdowne Theater Corporation purchased it and continued with repairs with the help of grants. Their website is here, and they have repaired the roof and added a fire detection system.
We were also allowed upstairs into the projection room where two old projectors stood silently pointing towards the stage.
Old film reels were stacked on shelves in a dark cupboard that we had to light with a flashlight. We all formed an orderly queue as we patiently waited for our turn to squeezre into the cupboard for a few photos.
Sides of seats stacked in a back room, waiting I hope, for a time when funds will return them repaired to the seats in the auditorium. There's a lot of work that still needs to be done but it's obvious much restoration has already been done. Of course though, we were happy to see the peeling paint and battered plaster, it worked well with our abandoned preferences.
The theater continues to host events to help raise money for further restoration, something the local community is eager to help with. They have restored the outdoor ticket booth and started work in the lobby. They have even found the original organ in Arizona waiting to be repaired so it can be played again. I hope it finds its way home.
The theater also has a Facebook page here.
We left the theater and walked outside to a lovely warm day where we blinked hard in the sunlight. Lunch was had at a local diner and then we drove to the quay to look at the U.S. United States, an old liner that's waiting for its own restoration work to begin.
A huge and magnificent vessel that loomed above the buildings on the dock. I had hoped that we would be able to get closer but it wasn't to be, despite checking out all the fencing and side streets. So we poked lenses up against the fence and hoped for the best. Maybe one day we'll get the opportunity to get photos a little closer up.
It was dark as we headed home so no real urbexing was done apart from a quick stroll around the grounds of an old rayon factory that we'd been to a few years ago. Another place that we have on our list to revisit.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Sparkling Splendor of Ice

On Friday we were getting weather advisories left, right and center, warning us of the upcoming weekend atrocities. And indeed, on Saturday morning we were subjected to an arctic blast from Siberia with temperatures colder than the devil's deepest depths. With winds raging between 20-30 mph and blasts of 50mph, it was not a day where anyone wanted to be outside. There was snow, freezing rain and black ice warnings the night before so I drove very carefully to the recycling center in town to rid the house of all my rubbish. It seemed that that's what other folks were doing too as the center was quite crowded. I rushed home and snuggled in front of the fire with the cats and watched TV for the rest of the day with intermittent naps. Heaven.
But of course by Sunday I was bored and so grabbing my camera I drove very carefully and headed for the country lanes to find shots of ice. The sun was shining but it was still very cold with the temperature in the single digits, so I didn't wander too far from Stuart.
I found a lake near Front Royal with water tumbling over a wall down to a creek below.
I lay on the cold wall for the shot above, it makes me shiver thinking of it now.
After only 20 minutes or so my camera battery had died so I had to trudge back to the car for another, feeling very thankful that I had fully charged my two spares. The cold really saps the power from them. I trekked back to the lake to snap a few more shots, having to tread very carefully as the snow had turned to ice on top and was very slippery. But before another 20 minutes had passed the frigid air had beaten me back to the car and I sat inside squeezing my nice hot hand warmers that I'd brought with me, forcing warmth into my fingertips. I stopped for a coffee and a bag of Skittles for my next leg of self imposed photography madness.
Near Front Royal is a very pretty valley that has a river running through and is flanked along some of the road by a steep wall of rock which was covered in icicles. As I stepped out from the car I spotted a guy by the river fishing. Unbelievable.
Although from the photos above the road looks clear, it was actually quite busy and I was honked a few times by drivers as I took my photos. I wasn't sure whether this was because they felt I was encroaching into their road space or whether they though I was barking mad. Most likely a combination of both but after a while it became annoying and so I stomped back to Stuart again. And the fisherman was still there, and had caught nothing.
I took a tiny lane, that led uphill and away from the traffic, and after a couple of miles came across a small bridge with a creek running underneath. Despite the numerous 'no trespassing' signs, I'm sure every tree had one, I took some photos of the ice formations. There was a little house across the road whose owners could easily have spotted me, but I guess they deemed me harmless, or had no desire to come outside and shoo me away.
Regardless, I didn't push my luck by wandering too far along the banks. I only spent a few minutes snapping shots and then lunged for the car and my hand warmers again. Time to head home. Looking at my photos later I was impressed at the various patterns and formations Mother Nature had carved throughout the weekend. I added some color to a few but left most to their natural hues.
Sunday night the snow came and deposited a generous 3" throughout the dark hours and into the day, followed by freezing rain Monday night. Then heavy, torrential rain followed on Tuesday morning with temperatures nearing the 50's. That cleared a lot of the ice but a poor man died near our hill on Monday morning after colliding with a snow plough on slippery ice.This crazy weather is causing chaos and is showing no signs of leaving us just yet, we have more snow forecast on Tuesday...