Reclaiming Fall

D.C. weathered recent storms to emerge this weekend with two beautiful fall days.  Enough trees clung on to now fall onto the sidewalk and provide the crunchy fodder that defines this season.  Fortunately a few blocks in our part of the city retained their color into November.  For an added dose of orange, we traveled to Clemson, S.C. two weeks ago for a weekend wedding. There, the trees and the botanical garden retained their greenery, and the south welcomed us with warm breezes, sweet tea, and pumpkin pastries.  It comes as no surprise that Clemson has been voted the best tailgate in the South by the definitive source, Southern Living.

This weekend past we stayed closer to our (still) new home, taking in a quarter of a Georgetown football game and finding the remaining bits of fall and river debris at Carderock and one of our favorite hiking grounds, the Billy Goat Trails.  There, leaves still cling to the tress, along with moss and debris from the river that recently crested well above its normal banks.

Festival Finds

Something about this time of year pulls me home.  Perhaps its the scent of kettle corn cooked at the Hungry Mother Festival.  Or the antique and unique sights at the Highlands Festival.  This weekend, I’ll claim that it was the sound of bluegrass music from the Galax Fiddlers Convention.  Each one causes nostalgia, like a summer camp.  Go for a week; get your fill, and return to the quotidienne, exhausted, exhilarated and already looking forward to next year.

Bringing Home a Part of the Farm

We were driving back to our apartment yesterday evening when we passed a parked horse trailer.   This sighting would not be unusual where we had come from in the Shenandoah Valley, but we had already crossed over the Key Bridge.  Horse trailers and the namesake they carry aren’t that common here, so we slowed down to get a better look.  In the front yard of a nearby home, we spotted a pony, a goat, and a llama – a complete petting zoo driven in for a birthday party!

At the time, we had our own garden in the back of our Fit – a full harvest from the garden at my grandparents.  After spending the day picking a bushel of beans and mowing their substantial yard, we came home with some squash, cucumbers, peppers, and a container of hand-picked blackberries.  (We managed to leave the beans behind, though after picking through three rows, I thought I would never escape.)  This morning I discovered that I also brought back several bug bites, a burned shoulder, and the possibility of poison on my right forearm.

Trail Blazes

Raspberries from the trail

The first signs of summer have cropped up along our favorite part of the Canal Path.  During our run this past week, we spotted 32 geese of all ages and sizes, a single young deer grazing in the nearby wooded area, and more raspberries than we could count.  Though hardly noticeably during our running pace, their ripe red color screamed out when we stopped to walk.   We probably looked crazy when we stepped off the pebbly path to get a closer look.  Most of our fellow runners, walkers, and bikers, crept or sped by seemingly unaware of these bight blazes.  Though I don’t recommended eating them straight from the trail, I did carry a few home to thoroughly clean before tasting.  Though smaller than store-bought berries, they are just as flavorful as those found at the nearby farmer’s market, and they had even fewer miles to travel – a total of 2.5 in fact.  Though with the berry picking sidetrack, this “run” took us over an hour.

The Billy Goat Trail and Other Creatures

A clear sign that we found the Billy Goat Trail

My husband accused me of scrambling over rocks like a girl today.  He speaks the truth – I’m much less agile than my fellow hikers, who use their long legs or four-wheel-drive to quickly climb to the peak of the rock outcroppings that we encountered on the B and C portions of the Billy Goat Trail.  We sought out this trail in April, but ended up on less scraggly trail farther north in Great Falls.  Today, we parked at Carderock and started from the southern point of the trails.  The parking lot still had plenty of spaces, but the trails revealed a fair share of families, rock climbers, kayakers, and other dogs leashed to the owners.  Our hound enjoyed this trail thoroughly, bounding through mud puddles and over large rocks, but it’s important to note that dogs are not allowed in the A section of the trail, due to the rocks.  Fortunately, we have been building up to them.

Climbing ropes on the Billy Goat Trail

The rocks in this section of the trail provide ample surface for rock climbers, who tie their ropes to trees at the peak and rappel down to the wider path below. In addition to outdoor enthusiasts, the trails host other wildlife including plenty of toads and frogs enjoying the muddy terrain.  The recent storms were evident in the river as well, which swallowed trees down the bank from the trail and in some spots lapped at the dirt a few feet from our path.  Fortunately, we waited an extra day after the recent storms to let the water subside, resulting in a great river view from the Billy Goat Trail.

On the Trail of a Billy Goat

We soaked up what now feels like the last day of Spring by spending Saturday hiking the trails around the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.  Our intent was to find the Billy Goat Trail, a 4.7 mile craggy path that parallels the C & O Canal.  Dogs aren’t allowed on the northern-most section A, for good reason.  Apparently the path has some sizable rocks, hence the name, and hikers need to scramble over this part.  Part B and C are less strenuous, so I read.  We drove a little too far, missing the starting point for B, and landing squarely at the end of MacArthur Blvd at Lock 20 of the canal.

From here, we ran a portion of the canal path, a familiar turf that I’ve written about before, but through new scenery that included an overlook of the falls.  Unfortunately, the path is currently under construction, so after running into the fence about a mile and a half out, we turned back, clocked in the 5k and took the detour into the trails.  These are dog friendly areas, but leashes are required and recommended.  Within 15 minutes we saw enough wildlife for the dog to chase after in her dreams, including a medium-sized black snake and plenty of water fowl.  We walked almost back to the Anglers Inn, where we should have started on the Billy Goat Trail.  Instead we turned onto the Valley Trail, which led to the Gold Mine Loop.  This route took us up to a spectacular overlook, where we could see not only the path we had run earlier, but the falls.   Fortunately, the path back to the parking lot was all downhill.

The park service offers a map of the area, so you can plan your hike, but the interconnected trails are explorer friendly if you don’t want to plan ahead.  We made the trek in under two and a half hours but packed plenty of water for ourselves and the dog. Otherwise, she wanted to taste every creek that we crossed.

Chai, Chai Again

Like many D.C. residents, I’ve been under the weather lately.  The warm spring temperatures and up-close visit to the cherry blossoms resulted in a flair up of allergies.  After a regime of tea and honey, I resorted to more traditional remedies.  However, I’m still on the look-out for local honey.  Some believe that because honey contains pollen, an allergen, ingesting it in small doses can fend off later attacks.  With a family history of honey, I like to think that is true, plus it’s a great natural sweetener.

The honey at the local farmer’s market is within a 100-mile radius of the metro area, but there’s definitely a closer source in Georgetown, as identified in this News 4 story about a beekeeper who not only advocates for the bee population, but keeps eight hives on his rooftop.  It’s like a buzzing civilization above the city.

My tea of choice is chai.  It’s strong spices are one of the few things that I can still smell.  I discovered this type of tea in college, and it seemed so foreign then.  I grew up on hot black tea for breakfast and southern sweet tea for every other meal. Coffee was something reserved for holidays at grandparents houses, brewed strong to mask its staleness, or mixed instantly into hot water for a quick morning pick-me-up.  Now chai tea is something warm and familiar – pure comfort in a cup.

Traveling South for Winter

We haven’t had much snow in D.C. yet.  Temperatures have reached the mid to upper 50’s at least one day each week and have flirted with 60 degrees several days in January and February.  Mornings could be described as frigid, and at least two weekends have brought skiffs of snow, enough to cover the grass and the roads, but not enough to write home about. We did drive through one white-out a weekend ago, which felt like being stuck in a concrete snow globe.

Approximately 5 inches of snow

To resolve the lack of snow, we traveled south to my hometown in southwest Virginia, where not only did we receive eight inches of the white fluff, but also the fame of being the town on The Weather Channel.  We spent the long holiday weekend, curled up by the wood stove, watching episodes of our favorite TV shows (Gilmore Girls and Top Gear), and venturing out into the fields – first for fishing on the sunny Saturday and later for sledding on the snowy Sunday.

Fields of Fear

To get in the spirit of a season, a friend and I ventured to Cox Farms on Friday night for Fields of Fear.  We started with the Cornightmare, a maze of corn rows and interspersed with shacks of strobe lights, moving bridges, zombies, aliens, and evil clowns, and all other sorts of characters. We walked through with a group of six strangers, but came very close to them as we pushed through the features with body-sized black balloons.

After emerging successfully, we stopped by the games and concession stands, enjoying their spiced nuts and cider.  They farm keeps three bonfires raging at all times, both to stave off the cold nights and to provide additional entertainment.  They sell marshmallows by the bag and positing a bucket of sticks next to the flames for easy roasting. The only part that breaks into the romanticism is the wooden palates that they use in place of the logs.

To end the night, we boarded the haunted hayride.  The wagon tour traveled over at least four flood creeks, the last one almost reaching the wooden boards that we sat on.  With each stop, actors jumped from their hiding spots, but the most realistic element was the old tractor that almost stuttered to a stop over every large mud puddle. It never broke down, but stopped for an extended period in the old barn, where the strobe lights revealed wooden wizards working their magic and white unicorn seemingly out of place with the dark objects.

As we exited, we paused to check out the live animals on the farm and the toys and food for sale in the farm store.  Appropriately, the family’s black cat crossed our path, a fitting end to the evening.

Close to Home

Barbara Kingsolver and Steven Hopp might be nationally known for their book, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, but closer to home they have a difficult time selling their ideas about living off of the land.  In the book, they chronicle a year-long mission to eat only what they grow or source locally in Meadowview, Va. This feat or feast is easy during this time of the year, when gardens are plentiful, but more daunting in the dead of winter.  I picked up a copy of the book a few years ago to find out what grows when on the family farm.  Though I stayed on the lookout for asparagus in early March and took my chances playing trick-or-treat with the persimmon tree after the first frost in October, it did not revolutionize my eating habits.

According to this New York Times article about Hopp’s locavore restaurant idea, their attempt to get locals to eat local hasn’t worked so well yet. That’s because of the price tag. When everyone has a garden rather than the more traditional paved and manicured curb appeal and a grandmother who can cook as good as any trained chef, they don’t need to fork over $15 for a “local” meal.  Going out to dinner means eating something that you wouldn’t fix at home, Chinese food, for example.

Coming from the city now, I would probably try the fare at The Harvest Table, if only for a taste of the ideal that Kingsolver and Hopp strive for.  Then I would drive to a favorite roadside burger stand to savor some homemade raspberry ice cream.  It’s seasonal as well, but for less than $2, it’s a treat that doesn’t have to boast about where it comes from.