16 years ago

In June, I will have lived here 17 years. Coming out of my first retirement to re-enter the education field for an additional 3 1/2 years. The first autumn I was here, just a few short months after arriving, there was a shooting by a young man who escaped from a guard at a local hospital, went on the run and ended up killing a law enforcement officer on one of the trails we walk each week. Then 16 years ago this week, the shooting by a student at Virginia Tech, killing 32 students and faculty occurred. I wondered what kind of community we were moving into. The news media were relentless for weeks, every counselor in the region helping with first responders, faculty and students. My temporary apartment was very near the building in which it happened.

It turns out, it is a very close, supportive community. One that we have grown to love with the activity of so much youth, culture, and still a small town vibe with local businesses and restaurants.

Yesterday, the University held it’s 15th 3.2 mile run for the 32. This was on top of the football team’s spring game, and other on campus activities. The town was bustling.

Sixteen years ago, I resented the media attention not allowing healing, but over the years, I have witnessed the healing, the memorials, the activities that are reminders, but also letting the families of those affected by the two events know they are remembered and that their hurt has not been forgotten.

This is not a political statement, as we live rurally and guns are a part of the life here for hunting and for protection from animals that destroy livestock and crops. But the wonton gun violence in this country is heartbreaking. The two events 16 years ago were my first encounter with it, but it now seems to be a daily news occurrence. It needs to end, there are other solutions besides gun violence to solve problems.


We live in the zipcode of a tiny Village. On April 1, 1901, almost the entire village was destroyed, leaving only a couple residences, two churches, and a stable. Two stores, a tavern, a hotel, the drug store, and a tannery were among the buildings destroyed.

“Newport was a thriving community with many businesses. An iron foundry, located on Sinking Creek, made pig iron from ore mined near Newport. A woolen mill in Newport obtained power from a 37-foot diameter overshot water wheel. The mill was later converted into a woodworking plant, then into a blacksmith shop and then into an automobile workshop. There were several mills including the Zell Mill and the Payne Mill. The town had three distilleries, each with a bar room.” Keister, Susie Reed (1969). A History of Newport, Virginia. Virginia Leader

The village now is a handful of houses, a US Post Office, a small general store with gas pumps, and two churches. There were two professional baseball players and a nationally known songwriter that called Newport home.

The village is surrounded by National Forest and farmland that is usually a mix of pasture and wood lots. With all of the woods, when we see smoke or a scene like the one we saw last night, we alert.

This was seen when I went down to make a late evening cup of tea, to the south east of us, just over the hill at the back corner of our farm. Knowing that the neighbor back there has recently cleared areas of woods for more pastures for his cattle, I texted him to see if he was burning piles. Since there is an open burn ban until after 4 pm, he had to wait until then to start the burn. We had a few light hearted text exchanges and he let us know that there were several more big piles, so we will see more nights like this.

Almost exactly a year ago, our sons helped me pull Autumn Olive bushes in the area where the bee yard was going to be placed and we piled them in the yard away from the house and the woods. That night, the guys tried to have a bonfire that was less than successful as the bushes were green. A second attempt latter in the spring or early summer still didn’t get rid of the pile, but left a ring of trunks and branches that the grass grew through. Today, I piled it all into a teepee type pile and mowed the grass as close to the pile as possible. This afternoon, that pile was burned.

Continuously dragging in the unburned portions until the pile was reduced to cinders. The cinders were shoveled into the burn barrel and allowed to burn down until dark. It was then thoroughly doused and lidded. On another day, when more time can be spent monitoring it, more small wood will be added to the burn barrel and allow it to burn down to a layer of ash. The barrel isn’t considered open burn. That area is in the upper edge of the hayfield, so it is good that it is now gone and the hay can now grow there and not be a mowing or haying hazard. Once the burn barrel can be moved, it will be placed a bit higher on the property and used to burn pruning from the fruit trees.

Signs of Spring

Though a single Hummingbird is visiting during the day, only the one has been spotted and not frequently enough to try to catch a photo. But other signs abound.

The apple blossoms against a bright blue sky, as I mowed below them yesterday, the second mowing already this spring, though less of the property is being mowed, with the hope of either more hay mowing or at least a wild meadow. Son 1 suggested last year when he mowed for me that too much was being done on the little riding mower. Without consistent teen helpers around, I agreed and less is being done this year. The section below the garden where the garden used to extend, and between the garden and the orchard where an extended chicken run used to be are very rough and hard on the mowing machine and the mower rider. I have self debated whether it could be smoothed with the tractor blade and reseeded, but somehow the chickens would have to be kept out while the grass grew or the effort would be fruitless. They have denuded two areas where the grass was thin to dustbathe already since being freed back to wander the farm. Trying to keep them penned is an act of frustration as they dig out under the fence and once a hen has succeeded, others follow. The entire run needs to be disassembled, expanded with new fence wire, a chicken wire base that turns inward a foot or so to prevent tunnelling, and a top. It isn’t worth the effort or expense to do that, so they free range and become hawk bait.

Part of the entourage that run to see what “treat” is in store whenever anyone steps out of the house.

A very poor photo, zoomed to the extent of my phone and cropped to further enlarge, of two Toms doing their spring dance to entice the 3 hen turkeys nearby. Zoomed as they are about 200 yards away. This dance is a sure sign of spring.

The first bird nest of the year in a Viola hanging pot, just put up a few days ago. Probably the Wren that builds in one of the pots each year, but I haven’t seen the bird on the rim yet and there are no eggs to identify. In a day or two, there will be eggs and in about 24 days, babies. It is hard on the plants in the baskets, but providing a nesting spot for the little Wrens is more important. Watering those plants has to be done carefully so as not to soak the eggs and nest. The only time I see them is on the planters, as Wrens don’t come to the feeders.

Today, the swallows were checking out the nesting box that they steal from the bluebirds every year. The bluebirds will get the second one as the swallows won’t occupy two as close together as the two in the garden are set. I still want at least one more house for the garden area. The birds help keep the insect load in the garden reduced.

The Peony’s are up. Though they are about 15 years old, they only began blooming a couple of years ago. Hopefully, they will bloom this year. It isn’t the best location for them.

And the lilacs are beginning to bloom.

The tomatoes and tomatillos have been planted deeply in tall single use plastic cups from fast food to allow them to grow more roots up their stems as many nightshades are prone to do, it will make for stronger seedlings when time to plant. At that time, they will still be planted more deeply than they are in the cups. Along with the pepper starts, they are spending their days on the back deck table in deep mesh baskets to protect them somewhat from the breezes, to harden them off and strengthen them for planting out next month.

Another sign is the proliferation of Carpenter bees. Living in a log home, they are inevitable, drilling into the fascia boards to nest and emerging on every warm day. Though we dislike the damage the woodpeckers do trying to get at the larvae, the bees do not sting and are pollinators like other bees. The fascia boards could be replaced with a material they wouldn’t use, but then the fear is they would attack the logs instead.

Definite signs that the dark winter has drawn to an end. There will be more chilly days, even a frost or two, but the worst is over. Today it will approach 80f here with clear, blue, sunny skies. There are a few days of cooler, not cold temperatures and some rain in the half week, but the trend is toward more consistent warmer weather.