Monday, June 21, 2010

Working Vacation

Set your suitcase down at our house and you're liable to find yourself aching for a nap and early bedtime.  At 5:45 this morning, Larry and I were nibbling cereal and imbibing grape juice.  By 6:30 we were gently paddling the James River.  Mist obscured Blue Ridge peaks, draping curtains from the sky.  "Do you see them?" I asked, hoping I didn't have a detached retina.  I relaxed as our kayaks parted the low-floating sky.  This sort of thing, cool temperatures, and no one in sight, make a morning float worthwhile.

"See the drooping pawpaws?" points Larry, "in Alabama we rarely find ripe fruit because wildlife gets there first."  "Not so in Virginia," I answer, "we picked ten grocery bags last summer.  Karen made a pie and pawpaw wine."

Larry's my go-to guy for nature lessons.  Last week on his way North, he gave us an American chestnut tree to plant (mostly American, perhaps as much as 1/8th Chinese to make it blight-resistant).  Knowing he was stopping again on his way South, I made sure I got that sucker in the ground.  Besides, I believe we should invest in future generations and, if I'm lucky, we may get to roast some of its chestnuts before we die.  I also like the symbolism of blending Chinese and American cultures, a sign of future times as well as the past -- my father, though he was born in Bluffton, Ohio, lived until his early twenties in that land that no longer seems far away.

Needing more mulch for my garden, Boxerwood Gardens was a perfect fit for our next stop. Boxerwood, in Lexington, is an environmental education center.  I like contributing to Boxerwood ( because I can support two interests at once -- the environment and childhood education.

KB loaded up my pickup while Larry and I toured the grounds.  Quickly recognizing Dr. Munger's passion for exotic trees, Larry said, "I've never seen such a large grove of human-planted Bottlebrush Buckeyes, native to Alabama.  The evening fragrance of these blossoms is incredible."  They didn't smell too bad in the morning either.  Everywhere we went, different varieties of Japanese maples greeted us.  Admiring what is affectionately called "The Great Oak" prompted a short lecture on dendrochronology, tree-ring dating.  Larry anxiously awaited a dendrochronologist's report on a beam sample recently taken from his wife's family homestead.  Later, back at Elk Cliff Farm (our home), Larry identified two post oaks (quercus stellata) and explained that these 3-4 foot diameter trees easily could be older than the 10-foot plus "Great Oak" because post oaks are very slow-growing trees.  Later he complimented a cedar-crowded American Elm that stands along our fence line.  Let me tell you, Larry can come again any time -- he helps make our place feel very special.

Then came that nap I warned you about, two hours for Larry.  I nodded briefly, then planted a few rows of Blue Lake green beans and some sweet corn.  Remember that pickup full of mulch?  When Larry came to, off we went to my field garden to carefully lay the mulch on a protective barrier of miscellaneous materials (magazines, newspapers, cardboard boxes, rugs, blankets and plastic) underneath my electric fence.  While he kindly agreed it should prevent me from having to periodically whack weeds so they don't short the fence, I don't think it reassured him of my sanity. 

"I'm not sure anything could do that," says Virginia, "ask Jerry and Kathy."

At 9:15, Larry began to hint that his 2-hour nap needed renewal.

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