Archive for May, 2008

Countdown to Gogol Bordello (Again)

Yay! It’s time for another Countdown to Gogol Bordello!

Earlier this week I followed through with a verbal commitment to my brother and bought my ticket to Gogol Bordello! So on June 19th, I’ll be meeting my brother, my brother’s girlfriend and my brother-in-law‘s cousin’s ex-boyfriend for the Richmond, Virginia show at Toad’s Place (anyone else out there going???  Aaron?  You know you want to!).

I’m psyched!

To share my excitement, here is a quick video I took with my camera at the 10/18/2008 show in Blacksburg, Virginia. Yeah, so what if the resolution and the sound aren’t that great? You get to see the energy of the band and how eclectic they are! In this video, you’ll see drums, an accordion, cymbals, a guitar, a violin and the lead singer playing a plastic bucket. Yup, a plastic bucket. How is that for diversity?


If you want better pictures of the band, once again I recommend Aaron Evan’s set from the October 16, 2007 show in Baltimore, Maryland.

As long as my brother doesn’t lose his shoe and his car keys like he did at the New York City show, I think a good time will be had by all!

May 29, 2008 at 1:38 pm 3 comments

All Things Olive Festival

A couple of years ago, my friend Meredith took me to a wine tasting at Villa Appalachia off the Blue Ridge Parkway. We enjoyed our wine sampling and then moved upstairs for lunch. While we waited for our food, we snacked on bread and some nearby olive oil. It was the BEST olive oil I’ve ever had in my life. It was easily the highlight of my day– Better than all the wines combined! It turns the olive oil was freshly pressed, using olives from the owners’ property in Italy.

So earlier this year when I saw an advertisement for the “All Things Olive Festival” at the same winery, featuring olives and olive oils from various regions, I was committed from the start. In fact, I made sure to work both Trail Days and All Things Olive into one weekend.

So the Sunday after Trail Days, Sean, Lud and I headed down the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway. We enjoyed a series of tastings – olive oils, olives, balsamic vinegars (including one that was 25 years old) and wines. We got to enjoy the beautiful scenery and finally, we had a nice lunch provided by the folks at Zeppoli’s. I thought it was a good day and well worth the $15 dollar fee.

Beautiful Villa Appalachia in Floyd County

Olive oils waiting for me to taste

Sean tastes an olive

Lud gets a sample of balsamic vinegar

Wine tasting!!!

The aftermath – oil stained sheet and plate full of pits.

Clematis at the winery

Beautiful Rock Castle Gorge from the Blue Ridge Parkway

I thoroughly enjoyed this event and would highly recommend it to almost everyone. You probably should like olives before signing up to go. For example, based on one of his Flickr comments, I venture to say that Clint is not the optimal attendee:

I actually think they are just about the worst taste in existence (especially the green ones) — out of edible food. Obviously I’m not including feces, rotten milk, and non-edible/non-food. But I have drank egg nog so rotten that it had chewy chunks in it (And then proceeded to finish Carolyn’s) – infinitely more edible than olives. The thought of martinis with olives sickens me.

And the only way to make an olive taste even worse? Put a pimento in it! They managed to one-up themselves!

If, on the other hand, you do not think chewy, chunky, rotten egg nog tastes “infinitely” better than olives… you might want to give the festival a try in the coming years. 🙂

More pictures of the All Things Olive Festival are available on my Flickr site.

May 27, 2008 at 7:15 pm 9 comments

The Groomsman Reunion Tour

(Hat Tip to Matt. I blatantly stole the post name from him)

Saturday was a busy day. I drove up from Blacksburg to the DC area with three dogs, made a quick trip to Safeway and then my Mom and I frantically worked on some Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles. The truffles were rushed and not quite as pretty looking as usual, but they still retained that oh so delicious taste. Which was good, because they were my dish for a BBQ at Stacy and Louise’s house!!!

The BBQ was a mini-wedding party reunion from Stacy and Louise’s wedding last November. On the bride’s side “my” bridesmaid, Jenn, was present. The groom’s side was all accounted for! Best man Kipp was there as well as Groomsman Matt and of course, Groomsman Vicky (that’s me)!

My favorite part of the day would have to be around dusk when our whole group went for a walk through a park and an adjacent neighborhood. We even ran into a doe with a tiny, tiny, spotted fawn. I didn’t manage to keep my camera still enough for a decent shot.

Down here in Blacksburg, I have been looking up so many trees lately that as I stroll through the forest I see a lot of familiar leaves. Up in Chantilly, Virginia, the only trees I could recognize right away were sycamores. It just goes to show the diversity found in Virginia… and it aptly demonstrates that I have a lot left to learn about trees. 🙂

Anyway, some pictures. Most of these are courtesy of Matt. Note that my post-Locks of Love hair is finally long enough for a pony tail again! SWEET! I celebrated by wearing a pony tail every day this holiday weekend.

Me and the other groomsman, Matt. (Photo by Matt)

Stacy and Louise (Photo by Matt)

Bridesmaid, Jenn (Photo by Matt)

Casey and Louise Laugh

@$(&ing low light at dusk!

I definitely enjoyed our reunion and found it to be a very good way to kick off Memorial Day weekend. Perhaps Stacy and Louise could be convinced to make it a tradition.

As for more pictures, Matt has a set of party pictures on his Flickr site. I have a small set up as well. Finally, I’m sure eventually Casey will have hers up too.

May 27, 2008 at 6:48 pm 6 comments

Measuring Trees, Vicky-Style

Another personality followed in Richard Preston‘s book, The Wild Trees, was Michael Taylor. Michael Taylor was not a scientist or a climber. He was just a normal man (one afraid of heights at that) who one day decided that the tallest trees in the world were yet to be discovered. So he went out into the woods and looked for them. When he first started his explorations of northern California, his measurement technique was crude, but cost effective.

Taylor made his clinometer out of a plastic protractor […], along with a piece of string, a thumbtack, and a wooden pencil. The device cost him forty-five cents.

Later he started using a 19th century surveyor’s transit and then even later he used a laser range finder. But according to The Wild Trees, “there is only one way to determine the exact height of a tall redwood, and that is to climb up into it and run a measuring tape down it.”

That’s exactly what researchers did in September 2006 when they measured Hyperion at 379.1 feet and confirmed it was the world’s tallest tree.

For the layman, like myself, there are a lot of a different ways to measure the height of trees, some using angles, some using sticks and some simply measuring shadows. Over the years, I’ve half-assed my own technique which makes Michael Taylor’s hand-made clinometer look cutting edge.

  1. Make Jimmie stand or sit next to the tree.
  2. Take a picture
  3. Upload picture to Flickr for safe keeping

Now, if I am ever inclined, I can open the picture up and count the number of Jimmies to the top.

Jimmie “measuring” an American Chestnut tree (the tall skinny one next to his butt)

The tree is at least 8.5 Jimmies tall. Since Jimmie sits at 29″, the tree is roughly 20 1/2 feet tall.

Jimmie’s expertises are by no means limited to trees. His services are just as applicable to rocks or tree tumors.

Dragon’s Tooth is a little more than 10 sitting Jimmies high.

Jimmie, with apprentice Henry, “measuring” a tree tumor.

Of course, one day Jimmie will have to retire from hiking. So I suppose I should practice some of those other techniques.

You know, as backup.

Though added accuracy wouldn’t hurt. 🙂

May 24, 2008 at 8:00 am 6 comments

The Peace Eagle

My favorite bird really didn’t do much to earn its title. It’s the chickadee and the only reason it was propelled to the top was because it was my maternal grandmother’s favorite bird. Sure they are cute, but I really did not embrace them until 2000 when my grandmother died. After that, anytime I saw a chickadee I was reminded of her and it made me smile. And from there my love of those little birds with the black caps grew.

BUT– my second favorite bird earned its right on its own volition. And, unlike the chickadee, I think it’s a less traditional candidate. It’s the turkey vulture or, as I indiscriminately call them and black vultures, buzzards. I ran into a few yesterday as I drove to Deerfield Bike Path for a walk.

Three “buzzards” just hanging out – the two on the left are actually black vultures and the one on the right is a turkey vulture.

I love these birds. A buzzard’s floating silhouette was a near constant fixture in sky when I was a child. They always looked so tranquil. Now whenever I see a buzzard above, I feel closer to my family and closer to home.

Turkey Vulture (Photo by Ms. Kathleen)

On the subject of childhood, buzzards evoke a memory that still makes me smile. One day my father was especially displeased with my younger brother. I was out in the yard with a gruff Dad, and he noted a group of buzzards circling above us.

“They know I’m about to kill Jay,” he said. 🙂

Painting by my brother, who was not in fact devoured by buzzards.

Buzzards are also sentimental to me on the emetophobia front. In winter 2002, I was visiting my parents and had a horrible bout of anxiety and appetite loss. One morning my father asked if I wanted to go to breakfast. To me, that was a terrifying request (and not because he suggested McDonald’s).

“I don’t know,” I said with tears in my eyes, “What if I get there and I’m not hungry?”

My father was not phased by this obstacle in the least. “Well, then we bring it home and feed it to the dogs!”

Sounded easy enough. I got in the car and went with my father to McDonald’s. I cautiously ate a few bites of a Yogurt Parfait before my fearful esophagus would swallow no more.

On our way back, Dad got enthusiastic, “Oh Vicky, you’ve GOT to see this!”

He took a few turns and suddenly we were at a townhouse development. Typical to Northern Virginia architecture, all the houses looked exactly the same. But then there was one house in the row that stood out. The roof was COVERED with buzzards… and subsequently had its fair share of buzzard crap as well.

“There are here every morning,” Dad said, “And then after lunch, they go and fly across the river.”

We laughed and pointed and laughed some more. We speculated. What was it about that ONE townhouse that made it such an appealing roost? How come they didn’t sit on any of the adjacent townhouses? Did they used to have a tree in the same spot? Do the owners of the house know they have visitors while they are away?

Eventually, we returned back to the car where the yogurt was waiting in the cup holder. I was now relaxed and happy and as we drove back to the house and continued to marvel about buzzards, I finished every bit of my breakfast.

The root of my worries that day was a fear of vomit. And here a bird whose defense mechanism is to vomit on its threats was my salvation.

Vicky’s unlikely hero (Photo by Vicki and Chuck Rogers)

“Turkey vulture” and “buzzard” aren’t exactly appealing terms. The scientific name is a little better– Cathartes aura where cathartes means “purifier”. But I think the Cherokees came up with the best name. They call the birds “Peace Eagles” because buzzards don’t kill to eat. They simply recycle.

From my perspective, “Peace Eagle” is the perfect name! When I see a buzzard gliding around in the sky, “peaceful” is definitely a word I would use to describe their flight. Their ability to make me think of my family and feel as if I were home again brings along a sense of ease, a feeling of peace. And one day way back in 2002 when even a meal was a scary notion, it was a group of buzzards who brought me the most important type of peace.

Peace from one’s own mind.

May 23, 2008 at 4:00 pm 16 comments

Henry David Thoreau on the American Chestnut

The Blog of Henry David Thoreau features a daily excerpt from The Journal of Henry David Thoreau. I’ve found the blog and its excerpts to be fascinating. Thoreau’s entry on October 23, 1855 in particular stuck out to me. He spoke of sympathy for an American Chestnut tree:

Now is the time for chestnuts. A stone cast against the trees shakes them down in showers upon one’s head and shoulders. But I cannot excuse myself for using the stone. It is not innocent, it is not just, so to maltreat the tree that feeds us. I am not disturbed by considering that if I thus shorten its life I shall not enjoy its fruit so long, but am prompted to a more innocent course by motives purely of humanity. I sympathize with the tree, yet I heaved a big stone against the trunks like a robber,—not too good to commit murder. I trust that I shall never do it again. These gifts should be accepted, not merely with gentleness, but with a certain humble gratitude. The tree whose fruit we would obtain should not be too rudely shaken even. It is not a time of distress, when a little haste and violence even might be pardoned. It is worse than boorish, it is criminal, to inflict an unnecessary injury on the tree that feeds or shadows us. Old trees are our parents, and our parents’ parents, perchance. If you would learn the secrets of Nature, you must practice more humanity than others. The thought that I was robbing myself by injuring the tree did not occur to me, but I was affected as if I had cast a rock at a sentient being,—with a duller sense than my own, it is true, but yet a distant relation. Behold a man cutting down a tree to come at the fruit! What is the moral of such an act?

I wonder how much more extensive his regret would have been, had he known what laid ahead for the American Chestnut?

May 23, 2008 at 8:00 am 2 comments

links for 2008-05-22

May 22, 2008 at 5:33 pm Leave a comment

Hearts in Nature: Prickley Pear Trail

At the Prickley Pear Trail on Wednesday, I found two more examples of hearts in nature.

Hearts climb up a tree courtesy of a vine.

If I decide to do a “Stars in Nature” series as well, then I’m all set!

May 22, 2008 at 8:00 am 3 comments

Prickley Pear Trail: First Blooms

Today I went for a quick hike with the dogs on the Prickley Pear Trail in the Poverty Creek Trail System. The rhododendrons at Mount Rogers aren’t expect to peak for another 2-3 weeks. But down a couple thousand feet at Poverty Creek, I found them blooming away. As an added bonus, the mountain laurel (real mountain laurel, not mountain pieris) was starting to flower as well.

Gorgeous rhododendron blooms over a beautifully textured bark

I love the shape of the wild rhododendrons and how they spread out and the branches twist and turn.

The first Mountain Laurel blooms opening up

More pictures of my trip on the Prickley Pear Trail can be found on my Flickr site.

Prickley Pear Trail
(From FS-708 to Skullcap Trail)

Mileage: 3 miles round trip

Elevation Difference: [Unsure, but I can say it doesn’t feel very steep]

4WD Requirements: Forest Service Road 708 is gravel and climbs a hill, but for the most part is well maintained.

Trailhead Parking: There is a nearby pull off on the left in front of the Royale Trailhead

Driving Directions:
(from Blacksburg, Virginia)

Take 460 West
After you pass Pandapas Pond, be on the lookout for Forest Service Road 708 on your left. There will be a dedicated turn lane for it.
Once 708 starts to flatten, watch for a wooden sign for the “Royale Trail” on your left. The Prickley Pear Trail is unmarked and starts across the street from the Royale Trail.

May 22, 2008 at 12:11 am 16 comments

Trail Days 2008 – Meadowview Farms

How could Trail Days possibly top the outrageous fashion, the wet crossfire of the Hiker Parade, the inspiration of Gitty Up Clogger Evan Ritchie, the excitement of the new Virginia Appalachian Trail License Plate, and the hilarious entertainment of the Hiker Talent Show?!?

It’s easy! Offer a tour of Meadowview Farms, where the American Chestnut Foundation is working towards a blight resistant American Chestnut.

A barn at Wagner Farm

Once known as the redwoods of the east, today’s American Chestnuts don’t get a chance to reach the formidable size they were known for. As they grow, they get infected with a blight that immigrated from Asia in the early 1900s.

A species that evolved in closer contact with the blight, the Chinese Chestnut, had developed a resistance to the fungus. It reminds me of the ending of War of the Worlds. “By a toll of a billion deaths, [the Chinese Chestnut] had earned its immunity…” But the Chinese Chestnut is a different tree and doesn’t grow nearly as tall as the American. The Chinese Chestnut may thrive in our gardens and yards, but because it grows so short it struggles in the forests. It can’t compete with the taller trees like my sister‘s favorite, the Tulip Poplar.

There are a variety of approaches in progress to try to restore the American Chestnut to its former glory. Some organizations like the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry work to identify the genes responsible for blight resistance. Other research focuses on the hypovirus which attacks the blight fungus. At Meadowview Farms, their prime focus is a backcross breeding program.

View from the Wagner farm with a new planting area.

They started with a generation of trees that were half Chinese and half American. Then they backcrossed those trees with fully American parents. That next generation was backcrossed with another pure American parent and so on. Through breeding, the researchers are slowly developing the trees that are blight resistant and increasingly American. At the farms, I saw trees that are currently 15/16 American.

Generation BC3F2 – which is 15/16 American. These trees are all the same age. The smaller trees are ones that take more after their Chinese ancestor.

For us humans, the online dating sites all have their own means for identifying successful matches. The backcross breeding program at Meadowview Farms may be more stringent than the reportedly fickle With each new generation, the trees are carefully evaluated. First, the researchers want to see trees with more American traits. A tree that exhibits the shorter stature or other Chinese characteristics is eliminated. Next, and more importantly, each tree is purposefully inoculated with the blight. Cankers are measured and only the trees that exhibit blight resistance will be bred. Meanwhile, to preserve a large level of genetic diversity, pollen is collected from all over the country to serve as the pure American parents.

And this whole breeding process isn’t as simple as putting two trees together and adding Cabernet Sauvignon to the mix. The flowers of the trees have to be bagged at just the right time. Then the flowers are manually pollinated with the proper parent. When you are talking about tens of thousands of trees, this time-sensitive task is nothing to scoff at.

An American Chestnut at Wagner Farm

After the tour of the farms was complete, I loitered around the American Chestnut Foundation booth at Trail Days. While I waited for my carpool buddy, I eavesdropped.

Discussion at the American Chestnut Foundation Booth

It seems oral history is strong when it comes to the American Chestnut. Every person who came into a booth had an anecdote or memory to share about the tree. How they used to eat the chestnuts, spotted some saplings recently, or heard the barrage of white flowers used to make our Appalachian Mountains look snow-capped in the summer.

I’ve seen the same phenomenon in my personal life. My Great Uncle recollects posing for a picture by a huge trunk as a boy. My father tells me about trees he thought were large survivors. Just last week, I ran into an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker near Rocky Gap. His trailname was “Freebird” and when the subject of American Chestnuts came up, he too had something to say:

“My grandfather told me that it used to be a squirrel could travel from Georgia to Maine, just on the branches of American Chestnut trees.”

Back at the American Chestnut Foundation booth, one of the volunteers opened up a brochure and showed a visitor an old black and white picture of a huge American Chestnut.

“I’ll never see one this big. You’ll never see one this big.” She said, “But maybe our grandchildren will.”

And that was my favorite moment of Trail Days.

May 21, 2008 at 11:18 pm 11 comments

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