Posts filed under ‘Great Uncle Chuck’

Introducing Sagan Charles

On Tuesday, July 12th, Ryan and I were quite surprised by the early arrival of our first child. He was born at Alexandria INOVA hospital at 12:02 PM which means he actually shares the birthday of his maternal grandfather, Lowell. Even though he was born in the hospital instead of our planned birth center, he was born medication free! And even though he was just short of 36 Weeks and was only 4 pounds 13 ounces, he was born healthy!!! ūüôā

Sagan Pseudo Smile Day 4
Our Son!

We named him Sagan Charles.

Sagan is a Slavic name that means “Wise One”, but that is a merely a happy coincidence. We selected Sagan as a homage to Carl Sagan, a great exponent of science and a man talented at communicating and sharing his passions. The landing site of the Mars Pathfinder is named “Carl Sagan Memorial Station”. Perhaps in our little Sagan’s lifetime, humans will step foot at that distant site.

Our son’s middle name, Charles, was selected for my Great Uncle Chuck. Well into his nineties, Great Uncle Chuck continues to set a wonderful example of being physically active. He bikes, works on his farm and once instructed *me* to “pick up the pace” on a hike. And although he is a World War II vet, an accomplished bridge engineer and has been to every state in the union (including Hawaii four times and Alaska twice), it is Uncle Chuck’s favorite accomplishment in life that will stick with me. My first visit to Great Uncle Chuck’s farm, he took me to a section where he planted White Pine trees roughly five decades earlier. “I made my own forest,” he said, “I think that is what I’m most proud of.”

Sagan and Charles
Carl Sagan (Source: NASA) and Charles Nichol

It’s not a given that little Sagan will share Ryan’s affection of science or my love of nature and trees. And it’s not mandatory. What we do hope for him is this– whereever his interests may lie, we hope he does find his passions in life, the things that invigorate him and inspire him and make him thirst for more.

The things that make one happy to live.

July 16, 2011 at 2:40 pm 15 comments

Cows and Calves

Last weekend, I visited the farm of my ninety-one year old great uncle. The last time I was up at the farm was April 2006. It is not a coincidence that when I visit, I target the month of April. That’s when the baby cows are born! I keep hoping to get the timing just right to witness a calf birth. In 2006, I found a goop covered calf being licked my its mother, so I think I just missed it. This year, the closest I got was a 2-day old calf:

I was two days too late to see this guy being born.

I did get to see plenty of calves and calf-related activities:

A group of baby cows


And I saw some older, but still cool looking, cows:

Black cow by white barn

A brown cow eats

So…. so what if I didn’t get to see a birth? That’s what YouTube is for. And I did get to see something is more rare– my ninety-four year old grandmother getting to visit her ninety-one year old brother!

More rare than amniotic fluid bursting in pastures

More pictures from my visit to Great Uncle Chuck’s Farm are on my Flickr site.

April 18, 2008 at 8:12 am 1 comment

Eat Your Cake and Wait for It Too

Also on Friday, Larry Bowman and I got to attend my Great Uncle Chuck’s 90th Birthday Party!¬† Great Uncle Chuck was visiting from his farm in New Castle, Pennsylvania.¬† He had Thanksgiving at his sister’s house in Richmond and then she organized a surprise gathering the day after Thanksgiving.¬† Uncle Chuck thought they were going to eat at Wendy’s (I suspect he is a fan of Wendy’s– everytime I visit the farm we eat a lunch there).¬† The guest of honor did become suspicious, however, when his sister made him change out of his Virginia Tech sweatshirt and into a nice dress shirt.¬†

The party was held at a local country club.  For lunch we had a buffet that featured fried clam strips, hush puppies and some kind of chilled potato and shrimp salad.  I got to sit near the head of the table and was squished between my father and my sister.  It proved to be the perfect locale.  I had easy access to my grandmother, Great Uncle Chuck and Great Aunt Carolyn.  Plus I got to talk about Borat with my father and compare hair color with my sister. 

After lunch, came my favorite part of any celebration– the cake.¬† Again I profitted from my position at the table.¬† Since we were near the honored guest, my father, myself and my sister were served pretty quickly.¬† After making a comment about how my sister got an icing¬†rose and I just got a plain piece of cake (I don’t think she picked up on my envy), I started to dig in.¬† I took my fork and scooped off that coveted inaugural¬†bite when suddenly I noticed all three of my oldest relatives were not touching their cake.¬† Uncle Chuck, Aunt Carolyn and Grandma all sat stoically with erect postures and hands no where near their desserts.

“Oh whoops,¬†” I said and slowly returned my cake-loaded fork to the plate, “I guess we aren’t supposed to eat yet.”

“Mmpf?” My father was in mid-bite and with a clank, he retreated his fork as well.

At that point I was glad to be sitting next to my sister, because we simultaneously noticed Dad’s plate.¬† In the time it took me to balk about the rose and start to eat, my father had nearly devoured his entire cake.¬† His plate was home to two measley bites (and I mean measley).¬†

A lot of words can be used to describe Sawyers.¬† Those words are typically not synonymous with the likes of “neat”, “patient”, “quiet”¬†and “polite”¬† ūüôā

But we sure do have some good laughs.

November 26, 2006 at 11:26 pm 4 comments

Fall Ode to Virginia Creeper

When Sean and I first bought our house in 2001, Tony Airaghi showed great vision.  He was one of the first people we brought over to our house.  In fact, we brought him over before we closed on it, before it was official ours.  Despite the whole house being vacant, Tony saw uses Sean and I had not anticipated.

  • When Tony was in the screened in porch, he noted the window that opened back into the kitchen.¬†¬†He rapped on the glass and said, “Hey– can you hand me another beer?”
  • When Tony went into the downstairs bathroom and saw how close the toilet was to the dryer, he sat down on the toilet, opened the dryer and started folding some invisible laundry.
  • Finally, when we went out into the backyard and looked up at 15 years of unattended growth and a collection of weeds, Tony got enthusiastic and said, “Nice!¬† You are going to love this shit!!!”¬† I was skeptical.¬† To me, it looked like a bunch of poison ivy, but he explained he was talking about¬†a plant called Virginia Creeper and that, “in the fall, it turns a deep red!”

We’ve been in our house for over five years now.¬† I haven’t once passed a beer to Sean through the kitchen window (no need- the screened in porch sports its own fridge).¬† I’ve also never folded laundry while using the toilet (though every now and then I will retrieve a few choice items from the dryer).¬† But Tony was right about one thing– I sure do love that Virginia Creeper.

And this year it seems more beautiful than ever!¬† All the Virginia Creeper has turned a deep maroon.¬† Meanwhile most of the trees remain a solid green.¬† As a result, when you are driving through the area, you pass by trees with green leaves and bushy red trunks.¬† It’s very obvious where the Virginia Creeper is.¬† I’ve been finding the 460 bypass between Blacksburg and Christiansburg particularly pretty.

There are those who are not fond of Virginia Creeper, who consider it a pest.¬† Last summer, when I visited my Great Uncle Chuck’s farm in Pennsylvania, we walked by some Virginia Creeper.¬† In¬†a very vague way, it was reminiscent of the scene in Amistad where Cinque, thousands of miles from home, sees a familiar plant (an African Violet)¬†in John Quincy Adams’¬† greenhouse.¬† I was only 400 miles from home, but still smiled when I saw the plant that bears the name of my home state.¬†¬†

“What do you call that plant?” I asked my Great Uncle proudly.

“A WEED!” He snapped.¬†

“Oh,” I replied meekly, “We call it Virginia Creeper.”

He may have sensed my disappointment as he quickly tacked on, “Well, we call it that too.”¬† But by that time, his opinion was clear.

My Great Uncle is not alone.¬† There are those who find Virginia Creeper to be a pest, those who have allergic reactions to it¬†like poison ivy and those who would consider it to be an invasive species.¬†¬† Perhaps I should as well.¬† But, honestly,¬†I’m too smitten with the leaves!

Luckily, I’m not alone either!¬†¬† There is evidence that people have been enchanted by Virginia Creeper for centuries.¬† In 1776 a committee of four Virginians (George Mason, George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, and Robert Carter Nicholas) designed¬†our state seal (which¬†also appears on our state flag).¬† There is a colorful border around the seal.¬† That border is Virginia Creeper and fittingly enough– its leaves are red.¬†

It’s Virginia Creeper in the fall, that is depicted on our state seal!¬†

That feels about right to me.¬† ūüôā

October 1, 2006 at 10:23 am 8 comments

Appalachian Trail and Invasive Species

This evening I got a letter from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy naming six threats to the Appalachian Trail.¬† A number of the items were items I had heard or read about before (particularly in editorials in the AT Journeys magazine)– new Wind Farms in Maine, expanding surburban sprawl in Northern Virginia and Pennsylvania, and the ongoing misuse of motorized vehicles near the trail.¬† There was one item that did stick out to me though– Threat #4 was “Invasive Species.”¬† They had an interesting quote:

Invasive species are the single greatest cause of loss of biodiversity in the US…

Now, the invasive species is something my relatives and I are definitely aware of, having had frustrating run-ins with them.  (Oddly enough, all three of these annoying plants were once recommended by the U.S. Government.  These are problems the meddlings of our own government brought on us!)

  • Crown Vetch (Me)
    For years now, I’ve battled crown vetch in my backyard.¬† I may have the Virginia Department of Transportation to thank for my woes.¬† Many highway departments, including Virginia, started planting crown vetch along the sides of highways and new roads.¬† It grew fast so it was intended for erosion control.¬† Alas, it grows quickly, chokes out the other plants (such as my poor periwinkle in my backyard) and it is tough to kill.¬† The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says, “prescribed burning in late spring can be an effective control” and they go on to say, “Burns may need to be repeated for several years to achieve adequate control.”¬† Great.¬† Good one, highway departments.
  • Multiflora Rose (Great Uncle Chuck)
    Everytime I visit his farm, my Great Uncle Chuck points to all these thick thorny bushes taking over his farmland and gripes about it.¬† When he first started his farm, the government encouraged (and paid) him to use this plant from Japan as a “living fence”.¬† He complied and got his nice little subsidy.¬† Then as the National Park Service so aptly describes, “Its tenacious and unstoppable growth habit was eventually recognized as a problem on pastures and unplowed lands, where it disrupted cattle grazing.”¬† This poses a problem for my Great Uncle as he runs a beef farm.¬† As a summary, my Great Uncle got a small subsidy right after WWII and years later, he is still paying the price!¬† He can’t kill his “living fence”– it’s been a half century and it is still plaguing him.
  • Kudzu (Carolyn and Clint)
    My sister and brother-in-law are encountering this one.¬† It took over their entire backyard within a week this past summer.¬† (Clint’s pictures on Flickr).¬† Kudzu originated from Japan and in the 1930’s the U.S. Government promoted it for, just like crown¬†vetch,¬†erosion control!¬† Just like my Great Uncle was with multiflora rose, farmers were paid incentives to plant it¬†during the 1940’s.¬†¬†Now, according to The¬†Amazing Story¬†of Kudzu,¬†it “covers over seven million acres of the deep South” and “there are a lot of people working hard to get rid of it.”

Even though, I’m very familiar with the downsides of invasive species, I guess never thought about them threatening the AT.¬†

That said, the biodiversity we have on the Appalachian Trail is one of the things I really embrace.¬† I love seeing all the variety of trees, fungi and plants.¬† In fact, I specifically felt (and wrote about) the abscence of diversity when hiking in Northern Minnesota and in Colorado.¬† Those hikes were fun and invigorating in their own right– but they just didn’t have the same spirit and the same feel as my beloved Appalachian Mountains.¬†

Sadly, if the multiflora roses, oriental bittersweets, mimosas, tree of heavens, privets, Japanese honeysuckles, English ivys and the coltsfoots of the world have their way, that spirit and feel won’t quite be the same.¬† Especially if the rhododendrons, mountain laurel, ferns, Virginia creeper¬†and trillians are choked out.

….I’ll probably still hike it though. ūüôā

P.S.¬† If you feel so inclined, I’m sure the Appalachian Trail Conservacy will be happy to take your donation to help with their trail maintenance and invasive species fights.

September 12, 2006 at 11:57 pm 4 comments

Football Fraud Fraud?

I’ve had season tickets to Virginia Tech football for, gosh,¬†I guess about¬†9-10 years now.¬† About once a year I also attend an away game.¬† I’ve traveled to three different bowl games.¬† I’ve paid $250 for a ticket to the National Championship game in 1999.¬† And during the 2001 season, I attended every game (home, away and post-season).¬† Yet still, deep down, I don’t feel like I’m a true college football fan.

I’m not devastated when we lose.¬† I don’t cut my hand punching kegerators and I certainly don’t break my ankle trying to tackle away my frustration from a loss.¬† I don’t spend my mealtimes for days afterwards rehashing individual plays, criticizing calls or analyzing our offensive line.¬† I can translate very few numbers to player names.¬† And I never seem to notice holding until someone starts shouting and pointing.¬† So sometimes I feel like my days are numbered.

“One day they will figure out I’m a fraud!” I often joke, “A Football Fraud!”

I was almost caught red handed in 2001.  We were leaving the stadium in Charlottesville when some folks stuck in the typical post-game traffic inquired about the game.

“Who won?” they asked.

“Tech,” I said.

“What was the score?”

“Uh…” I absolutely had no idea, not even the slightest clue, what the final score was!

Luckily, one of my companions answered quick enough that my ignorance went unnoticed!

This week marks the beginning of Virginia Tech’s 2006 Football Season and I’m starting to suspect that maybe my affection for football is stronger than I realize.¬†¬†In the past few weeks, I’ll catch a brief moment where the temperature and the wind¬†hits me just right to remind me fall is on its way.¬† Involuntarily, like Pavlov’s dogs, I get excited thinking about the upcoming games and tailgates and all the excitement and energy that accompany them.¬† I don’t quite salivate, but I have a large amount of anticipation.¬† I’m anxious for football season to begin!

Then more tellingРthis weekend I wrote a letter to my cousin Adam.  I start off the letter innocently mentioning that football season was starting soon and then before I realized it I had written multiple pages on the things I enjoy about college football.  I even reminisced fondly about the Texas A&M game we played during the rains of Hurricane Isabel. 

The William Morva news only got a couple of paragraphs.¬† Great Uncle Chuck only got a couple of paragraphs.¬† News on Carolyn and Jay got a paragraph each (Sorry Carolyn and Jay).¬† But Virginia Tech football— that warranted the bulk of the communication?

Somehow, somewhere along the line, it seems my claim to be a “football fraud” has turned out to be…fraudulent.

August 29, 2006 at 10:32 pm 8 comments

Pride, Nature and the Nature of Pride

The first time I visited my Great Uncle Chuck's farm was about three years ago.  During the visit, he guided me around his various fields on his property.  We visited the cows, of course.  We visited his man-made pond and we also visited a forest composed of mostly pine trees.  My Great Uncle had planted those pine trees when he first purchased the farm when he returned from WWII.  In the 45 years since then, the pines had grown tall and strong.

45 Year Old Pine Tree

"I made my own forest," my Great Uncle said, "I think that is what I'm most proud of."

At the time, I found his statement curious.  This man had a lot to be proud of.  Not only did he fight in WWII but he trained numerous pilots beforehand.  He was injured in battle and endured 11 months in the V.A. hospital recovering.  After that, he became a successful civil engineer.  His been to every state in the union– including Hawaii four times and Alaska twice.  He's visited numerous countries, including France when he 87 years old (and just seven months after a bad accident with a manure spreader!).  He remained busy after retirement, running his own beef farm.  And presently at the age of 89 he is in better shape than most 20 year olds.  But it is the trees he planted in his youth that he is most fond of.

Well, now I think I can understand his pride a bit.  So far in 2006, I've found myself proud of a couple of surprising scenarios:

Blaze on the Appalachian Trail
A couple of years ago a girlfriend and I took a wrong turn on the Appalachian Trail.  Afterwards, I sent a suggestion to the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club to put a switchback blaze right before the veer off.  On January 1st of this year, another girlfriend and I were on the same section of trail.  As we hiked up a small incline, I could see the tree I suggested above and the two white blazes now on the trunk.  They took my suggestion and they marked the exact tree I had invisioned.  And I felt proud!  We're talking about two 2" x 6" white paint rectangles.  And did I paint them?  No!  Someone else did the actual work, but still I was thrilled to have had a small part in effecting the Appalachian Trail.

Baby Grass
Sean and I have some dirt patches in the back yard.  Recently, I raked in some leftover grass seed.  This week, the little baby grass is poking up.   Every morning, I walk the dogs and look at those delicate wisps of green and I smile.  Again, I didn't do the actual work.  I didn't cultivate the seeds so they weren't desirable to birds.  And I didn't speed time breeding different species to come up with a grass that would grow in the murky shade of our backyard.  All I did was drop some seed, run a rake over it and spray it briefly with a hose.  Granted I did have to drag the hose back there, but even with that, the effort I expended does not justify the happiness and pride I have when I greet the baby grass in the morning.

So maybe there is something innate inside of us that predisposes to that kind of pride.  It would make sense, our ancestors for thousands and thousands of years have cultivated, domesticated and harvested.  I suppose those leanings still linger in our bloodstream. When we exercise them, it feels right.  And by doing something that feels right, comes pride.

A couple of weeks ago, I got to meet a very interesting Amish man by the name of Joe Mast.  He said a number of thought-provoking things during the visit.  One item comes to mind now:

Man came from the earth.  The closer to the ground he is, the better off he is.

April 26, 2006 at 9:18 pm 8 comments

Pennsylvania and Kansas Pictures

I had a whirlwind series of trips in the past week.  I went to Washington, Pennsylvania for business.  Right after that I drove to New Castle, Pennsylvania to visit my Great Uncle Chuck's farm.  I left the farm and drove 6 1/2 hours home through West Virginia to Blacksburg, Virginia.  I spent one brief night in my own home and then bright an early the next morning, I drove to North Carolina to catch a plane to Georgia to catch a plane to Wichita, Kansas.  The very next day I did a presentation, attended a meeting and after 25 hours in Kansas, I hopped a series of planes back to North Carolina and then had a 2 1/2 hour drive home to Blacksburg.  In less that 48 hours, I had set foot in six different U.S. states.

The trips were pretty darn tiring, but still had their benefits.  I got to add two new states to my Rollerblading Resume (PA and KS), plus I got to visit Uncle Chuck and a park in Kansas.  I got pictures on my personal web site:

Uncle Chuck's Farm… featuring baby cows!
Pawnee Prairie Park in Wichita, Kansas

P.S.  Found out how Uncle Chuck lifts his cow back up.  "Well you take a rope and your tractor…."

P.S.S.  Uncle Chuck's cow I spoke of– it's innards did not squish.  Quite the opposite happened actually.  Because the cow was laying down, it could not regurgitate and it could not manage the gas building up in its digestive tract.  It was that gas buildup and expansion that proved fatal to the cow.

April 15, 2006 at 11:46 pm 3 comments

On the Subject of Cow Tipping

Last weekend, commuting from a hike, a friend told me how when you tip a cow, the cow actually dies– it's internal organs get crushed.  It was an interesting factoid.  I didn't think too much on whether it was true or not– just filed it away in my memory banks.

Fast forward 5 days.  I was talking on the phone to my eighty-eight year old great Uncle who still single-handedly runs his own cow farm. 

When I asked him how he was, he said, "Well, you know, I had to bury a cow today."

He then goes on to tell me how the cow had been laying down too long and it was so fat it crushed itself to death! 

"Now when I see one laying down, I pick it up," he said.   He also added that he won't be feeding the cows as much.

What are the odds of two "crushed bovine organs" conversations occuring so close together?  I victoriously reported back to my friend, "It's TRUE!  The cow does crush itself to death!"

Sadly, this afternoon I was reading on Wikipedia that cow tipping may be an urban legend.  Not only does the entry report that the cow would likely not die, but it speculates that it would be very difficult for a crew of people to even sneak up on a cow and much less tip it.

But— it does support what happened with my great Uncle's cow:

Although cows can die if prevented from sitting upright for an extended period of time…

I do have a couple of unanswered questions.  For example, if it is so hard for several people to push over a cow— how is my great Uncle "picking up" a cow while it is laying?  I'm assuming the cow does most of the work.  I'm visiting the farm next weekend, so I'll do some investigating then.

April 1, 2006 at 3:57 pm 1 comment

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