Thursday, March 31, 2016

Spring has Sprung around Sperryville

Saturday morning meant another cycling session with the group. I almost pulled out as it was very cold and windy when I loaded the bike on to the back of the car, but I quickly berated my cowardly self and started driving. There were only 6 of us today and then after 8 miles or so, we dropped to 4. I was working really hard and felt pretty chuffed as I started using gears that I'd never engaged before and made myself pedal on the downhills instead of just freewheeling and relaxing as I'd done previously. We covered just over 21 miles and Alex announced we'd soon be ready for the 'big boy' route with a dreaded  hill which was then discussed for the next 5 minutes and was obviously held in revere. I may have to check it out on the sly before they jump me through that hoop!
On the way home, I stopped at a local park to see if there were any cherry blossoms in bloom.
 Looking up I saw Elsa from the Disney movie, Frozen, grinning down at me. It was an excellent day for flying kites yet some poor kid's pleasure had been cut short. It wasn't that high up though so I was curious as to why nobody had got it down for her. Maybe they were on their way back with some steps....
Back home I started on spring cleaning. Throwing open all the doors and windows so the gusts of wind could blow through the house.
 Kota was most put out that his nap had been disturbed and so my punishment was that he refused, very adamantly, to look at the camera when I wanted to take his photo. He twisted his head every which way, then finally jumped down and sauntered out the door flicking his tail furiously. Rosie Lee watched her big brother's dramatic exit and then chose to adopt his attitude, trotting out of the door after him before I could focus my lens on her.
On Sunday I drove to the Sperryville entrance of Skyline Drive but was bitterly disappointed when I got to the park and realized in my attempt to travel light, I'd left my pass at home in my handbag. The rangers have computers at the gate but can't check membership so I had to accept the fact that I would not be getting in today. Boo! I drove back down the mountain and stopped at Little Washington to see how spring had made it's entrance there.
I saw this view from the street and was very carefully balancing on my toes while trying to lean forward without encroaching on what I was sure was private property, when a young waitress approached laughing at my dilemma and informed me that I could walk through as it was the garden of the Little Washington Inn. This has a very expensive and well reviewed restaurant, and as I wandered through the courtyard I wistfully wondered if their food was prepared with as much care as their garden. I'm sure it was.
As I spotted this rock in the flower beds wonderful nose-twitching aromas were wafting out towards me and I looked longingly at the kitchen window where brightly polished copper pans hung. I could see I was being watched by a chef sporting a tall white hat so I didn't take a photo of the window. I'm sure he spotted me licking my lips though. I'll never have the privilege of eating here as the prices are so high, but I've heard the food and experience is exquisite. An idea of pricing is here.
It brought to mind the Blues Bothers' famous restaurant scene.
I carried on my stroll around the village but the cold was soon biting through my thin sweater so I made my way back to the car.
Driving through Sperryville, I stopped at the Creekside Cafe and Deli. I'd been meaning to try this place and was sure I could afford their prices! I walked into the small building and was promptly greeted with smiles. I ordered a breakfast egg, cheese and sausage (made locally) biscuit and a freshly made lemon slice. They had just brewed Sumatran coffee, earthy, heavy and rich without a hint of bitterness. My lunch came to less than $10 and was absolutely delicious. If I had room I would have wanted to eat the whole meal over again. The sandwich was full of fresh flavor, the biscuit buttery and warm. The lemon slice was divine, not too sweet with perfect pastry. I shall definitely be returning. I had to stop and finish my meal as I was dropping bits everywhere and spotting some vultures in a tree I stopped to watch. This was the 4th venue of vultures I had noticed this morning, and wondered if it was the time of year for migrating vultures to return.They were all watching me quite intently so I finished my meal with my window wound up. I'm sure they were eying the pastry!
I later followed some back roads that wound and bent along tricking streams. There seemed to be little brooks bubbling at every turn. Old long forgotten houses were on the verge of toppling from hilltops, clumps of daffodils brightened dreary leafy woodland floors and forsythia splashed bright yellow along dull brown branches. A fresh breeze was blowing through the car announcing spring with every waft that ruffled my hair. And there were little farm animals frisking through fields, lambs and calves chasing each other or sleeping under their protective mother's eyes.
The lambs didn't want to come close but I came across a calf who was very used to human contact and was obviously a family pet. He had no teeth so licked and sucked my fingers and arm while enjoying a lot of stroking and scratching from me. When I left after about 10 minutes I was filthy, but it was worth it. Who can ignore a baby animal wanting affection?
 This old school bus rotting quietly in a field made me slow down and stop for further investigation. There was other rusting machinery lying nearby and as I looked beyond it I spotted a beautiful old wooden house on the brink of collapse. I toyed with the idea of clambering over the gate and hiking up there to see it closer but the multiple 'no trespassing' signs made me nervous. Just as well I held back, because as I leaned close to the fence to frame a shot of the bus, a pickup truck drove by very slowly, its occupants glowering at me as they passed. I was glad I'd listened to my inner voice to not leap the gate, and also that I'd left Stuart's engine running. I finished up and decided it was time to head home, my 'drive about' completed with a photo of this very handsome longhorn youngster, who was happy to pose for a portrait.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Goodbye Winter, Hello Spring

The last day of winter was cold and wet, and as I drove to Leesburg on Saturday morning the rain started falling. I was meeting up with my new cycle group and Sandra was coming on the ride too. As I drove along contemplating how I could very well be stark raving mad a car passed me loaded with 2 kayaks, and I thought, well, at least I'm not the only one.
We did complete the ride, 14 cold and wet miles, and after lunch with Sandra, I rushed home to get the wood stove fired up. Snow was due later that afternoon but as I passed through Middleburg the flakes began to flutter down and by the time I got to my hill, it was falling thick and fast.
 Once indoors I threw out seed and nuts for the birds and Sebastian then settled in front of the crackling flames with Kota and Rosie Lee. A heavy fog was pressing down on the hill but the snow wasn't sticking to the road. I just hoped all the newly sprouting bulbs and buds would survive this icy blast.
Early on Sunday, the snow was barely hanging on to branches or the grass, it was melting fast. With dark skies and a sultry feel to the air, I drove out to look for signs of spring at Blandy.
 I loved seeing the higher elevations still capped with a covering of white and decided to take a detour to Mount Weather, wondering if they had any snow left. And as Stuart climbed up the steep hill we entered another land. It was Christmas card perfect snow, thick snow clinging to every branch and bramble. They had had about 3 inches up here but the roads were clear. I soon realized that it was melting fast as huge clumps fell down from the trees, landing on the road and the car. But it was beautiful.
 I parked up and walked into a small glade. It seemed as though it was still snowing until I realized that the soft thumps and flakes falling was actually the melting snow losing its grip on the trees and falling to the ground. I looked around at this tranquil beauty and thought of all the people who were in church as I stood here.. Looking up at the tree tops I thought, this was my church, this silent white woodland with its crisp clean air. I stood and quietly drank in the atmosphere. I felt very grateful that I'd taken the road up here, it had been spur of the moment decision.
Some bright yellow caught my eye and moving closer I saw it was a Spice Bush. It has fragrant leaves and later, red berries, favored by robins, catbirds, raccoons and opossums. These flowers looked so fragile, like little golden sunbursts on the delicate branches.
I suddenly realized that I was hungry and walked back to the car to leave. As I drove down the hill I noticed that where I had stopped less than an hour ago the snow had almost disappeared. It was melting incredibly fast. Again I realized how fortunate I'd been to witness this short moment of time and see this beautiful landscape. If I had come an hour later I would have missed the magic.
Down in Millwood I stopped at the Locke Store to grab a sandwich and coffee. Their food is amazing and today I chose their tuna sandwich, thinking I could munch it while driving. Not so, this was not driving food! Before I could raise the sandwich to my mouth globules of tuna salad landed in my lap, where luckily I had some napkins in place. There was so much filling of crunchy peppers, onions and lettuce, that it couldn't be really be contained by two slices of bread. I had to sit and eat it before I could move on. It was delicious, as was the coffee.
I made it to Blandy, relatively tuna stain free and had another walkabout to see how far spring had progressed since my last visit. It was holding back. Daffodils were shooting thousands of green leaves upwards but there were very few golden trumpets. I had hoped to see blossoms but these were also not wanting to open up. Every tree, shrub and bulb seemed to be holding their buds tightly closed in case more cold weather would try and surprise them.
But after walking about I did see a few brave displays. I love the Christmas Roses, or hellebores. These had been flattened to the ground by snow and rain on my last visit, so I was ecstatic to see they had fully recovered and were blooming abundantly, standing proudly under the conifers.
The magnolias were just starting to bloom too, and I just had to stroke those soft sepals, velvety outer leaves that protect the flowers while they're closed.There weren't many people walking about but the birds were plentiful, singing and squawking as they passed overhead. It was a joy to hear them. For some reason Virginian woods never have this wonderful accompaniment when I'm hiking, but Blandy seems to be Bird Heaven as there is always an avian choral ensemble whenever I'm here.
I took the long way home,stopping to take photos of a Christmas tree farm and the railroad at White Post. I then passed over the low water bridge at Front Royal. This is slated to be replaced this year so I took a video as I crossed it, here.. I'm sure the new bridge won't be half as interesting. There's even a Facebook page for it. The new bridge will apparently have railings, be two lanes wide and be much higher to allow small boats to pass under. And of course will likely be lacking in any character... There's an interesting article about it here.
And so having driven in a huge circle I ended up taking the back way to return to Marshall, passing along this little lane flanked by stone walls and nut trees, and often the spot to catch a beautiful sunset. Despite the rough surface I love driving along here, having never passed a soul each time I've pottered through, except once when an old farmer in his ancient Dodge truck stopped and helped me identify the nuts I was picking up from the wayside and who grinned in an understanding way when I told him I was helping a resident squirrel with his winter store.