Black Rock Summit

Peak of Black Rock Mountain

Back in college, I often drove out to the Blue Ridge to clear my head. A couple of hours on the Parkway or Skyline Drive did wonders to reset whatever was muddling my thoughts. My buddy, sometime roommate, often did the same. He was up from Guatemala for a while this summer, and we converged out in Shenandoah for a reset. He drove down with extended family from DC.

We met at Big Meadows for lunch, but before that I took a short solo hike to Black Rock Summit. We had a good two days of heavy rain after a week of sweltering heat here in Virginia, but the storm cleared out at dawn. Cleared out the air as well as my head.

The Appalachian Trail passes through here, paralleling the ridge. It’s easy to hop on the trail for short legs. This section passes over the summit, through a rubble field of shattered rock outcroppings. In some places, threading between fractured walls of granite, smooth faces like Inca stonework.

Scrambling up the blocks of stone, from the top there’s a 360 degree view. Tatters of clouds drift up the hillsides and tumble over saddles into valleys, tangle in the trees and hollers.

The lichen are vivid from the rain, and moss revives in cracks and crevices.

Nature is Metal ~ Wool Sower Wasp Galls

Wool Sower Gall on young White Oak

The tiny Wool Sower Wasp stings a fresh young stem and deposits her eggs. The developing eggs use chemicals like hormones to stimulate the tree to produce a very specific growth structure that encases and protects the larvae. This growth is not a normal shape or color or texture of the tree – the growing parasites within the stem tell the tree to do this, and how to do it.

If you open the gall, the larvae look like seeds packed side by side with fuzzy tails. The whole cycle takes two years to complete. Though strangely parasitic, it doesn’t hurt the trees.

Though the gall protects the young larvae from predators, and even pesticides, there are other parasitic wasps that have evolved special ovipositors that allow them to pierce the gall and deposit wasp eggs on the wasp larvae.

Even parasites have parasites.

Southern Northern Lights

Northern Lights in Scottsville, Virginia. Shot with an iPhone on a tripod.

We had a rare treat here last night. Just before midnight, the Aurora Borealis blew up big time.

People in Virginia got a chance to see something that rarely appears this far south. Folks up on the Blue Ridge and Shenandoah National Park had especially nice views. Some of their photos are amazing.

I missed the biggest flares, but was able to catch a little of it from the field next to the house before the clouds moved in. Wasn’t expecting much, so only had my phone on a tripod. Still, pretty impressive.

Ducks, Geese, & Peepers

Winter is almost over; sooner than past years, for sure.

Took a hike in the hills above a stream. The leaves aren’t out yet, but the sun and breeze are warm. Spring Peepers are back. Ducks and geese are migrating north again, stopping over in the sheltered backwaters.

When a new flock arrives, calling out, the ones on the water call back to them. Like the kids game we played in the pool blindfolded, “Marco! Polo!”

They set up quite a racket until the new arrivals land and get settled.

Piles of Possiblities

Tsundoku is a Japanese word for the art of surrounding yourself with piles of books you intend to read. 

I approve of this word.

Lexington, Virginia,
many years ago.

(Actually, not even 10 years ago.)