Archive for November, 2009


We had much to be thankful for at our first Thanksgiving in Virginia: our transition into retirement and a new sort of life has gone amazingly smoothly and we are loving every minute.  And of course we were thankful that Eleanor and Justin came down by train from New York City, and that Nic and Alison came out from Charlottesville.

Wednesday evening I prepared a “local” meal where the key ingredient of each dish came from our garden (fresh or via the freezer): yellow squash pancakes, pesto with spaghetti, three varieties of sunroom-ripened tomatoes, zucchini bread, and a vegetable medley of garden onions, tomatoes, string beans, lima beans, peppers, yellow and green squash, and herbs (click on left picture for a larger view).

On Thanksgiving Day we took “The Plunge” trail to the overlook in the middle picture, as well as driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway and stopping on the way back for a short hike to Crabtree Falls.  At Thanksgiving dinner, all agreed that the Polyface Farm turkey was the tastiest we’d ever had (also less fatty, since it got to run around in its life).

More pictures may be seen by clicking here.

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Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma introduced Joel Salatin and Polyface Farm to its many readers, and since then both have acquired iconic status in the emerging sustainable and local food movement.  Salatin himself is a prolific writer, and in addition to his various books, he writes an excellent column in Flavor Magazine, and has been featured in the recent films Food Inc and Fresh (these film links include short clips and photos featuring Salatin).   Duly inspired but also anticipating Thanksgiving dinner, Monika and I drove out to Polyface Farm today.  It’s a lovely ride over the mountains and across the Shenandoah Valley to get there.  Visitors are invited to explore the farm on foot, which we did.  It was fun to see the famous eggmobiles (which transport and house hens in  sequential feeding grounds).  We left with a Thanksgiving turkey, ham, pork chops and chicken parts (including feet!) for chicken stock, which is bubbling away on the stove as I write this post.  More pictures of our visit are available here.



Having introduced some of the frogs and toads on our five acre property in previous posts, this post is about two other species that also feel like old friends.  My sons and I used to be fascinated at the Insect Zoo of the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington DC by insects generally known as stick bugs or walkingsticks (technically phasmids), which camouflage themselves by looking like sticks or leaves.  We generally imagined these to be mostly tropical insects–which is indeed true–but we do appear to have several varieties here in Virginia.  Click on the left picture to see the detail of two walking sticks (probably Giant Walkingsticks) mating on the deer netting around our vegetable garden (in contrast to many species, males in the phasmida order are generally considerably smaller than the females).  Wild sex in the garden!  A new twist on the botany of desire.

Skinks too recall fond memories–my sons and I used to see them at Sunfish Pond along the Appalachian Trail in northern New Jersey.  Here we see five-lined skinks practically all the time around our house, pond, and potting shed.  They are strikingly handsome creatures, often with deep blue tails, as in the pictures above taken by our little pond.  One theory of the almost-neon tails is that they evolved to direct a predator’s attack to a part of the body that is readily severed and replaced.

Skinks are curious creatures, as the pictures taken by Monika below show: here a five-lined skink takes a quick look inside and finds the outdoors more to its liking!  (For larger images, click on any image and then Slideshow.)

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