At Last — Spring Has Come to Naked Mountain

It has been a long wait for spring this year.  What a winter!  Naked Mountain had lots of snow and impeded my progress a number of times.  One time, my car got completely stuck at the very bottom of my road.  I loaded three days of fresh groceries into my backpack and hiked the two and a half miles up to the house in the snow.  It was tiring, but I was pleased with myself that I could do it without too much trouble at the age of 66!

But now comes the reward – spring!  I ventured out onto the summit to look for spring ephemerals.  I didn’t have to go very far; they were everywhere! In peak bloom were acres of Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) and Cut-leaved Toothwort (Dentaria lacinata).

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) blooming on Naked Mountain.

 

Cut-leaved Toothwort (Dentaria laciniata) blooming on Naked Mountain.

Here is a photo of a lovely blooming patch of Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea ripens).  This is not technically on Naked Mountain, but rather on the banks of Dutch Creek which flows at the Northeastern base of Naked Mountain.  It offers a fragrant welcome to all who make the sharp left turn up my road.

I also checked out the progress of a small colony of Shooting Stars (Primula meadia) on the edge of a small barren on the ridge top near the house and was surprised to see how many were popping up. Six years ago there were only two plants, now there are 16.  So, this colony is beginning to take off.  Naked Mountain is unusual for its massive quantities of Shooting Stars numbering at least ten thousand.

Shooting Stars (Primulus meadia) emerging on Naked Mountain.

I stumble on colonies in various places on the mountain and have been watching the progress of this one near the house.  The soil seems to favor their growth as it has a mafic substrate, specifically amphibolite, which has been metamorphosed from basalt.  So, the soil has higher concentrations of calcium and magnesium, similar to limestone, which is where Shooting Stars are more frequently found.  According to samples collected by Natural Heritage Program staff, it also happens to have lower concentrations of iron compared to most soils on mafic substrates.  I discussed this with Gary Fleming, senior vegetation ecologist with the Virginia Natural Heritage Program (DCR) who posits that since Shooting Stars are a prairie flower, the pathways to its distribution East in Virginia are limited by the barrier of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Shooting Stars must have the right alkaline soils, lower elevations, both of which describe Naked Mountain, and access to a prairie pathway.

How about that railway in the valley at the base of the Southeastern slope of Naked Mountain? Maybe, but it goes South, not West.  So, a delightful mystery!

 

 

Gratification!

Yesterday was a day to relish.  I traveled sixty miles from my home to Johns Hopkins Hospital to have what I hoped would be a final follow-up visit at the Kelly Gynecologic Oncology Service where I had been treated five years before for advanced ovarian cancer.  And my hopes were realized.

Dr. G. said that he had no real recommendation for further follow-up for me.  I was five years post-treatment and had not had a detectable recurrence of my disease. He said, “This is when we begin using words like cured.”  He said while oncologists never talk in terms of a 100 percent likelihood of cure, he could say I have a 90 percent chance of never experiencing a recurrence.  He said I was extremely lucky and it was a very happy moment for everyone concerned.  I thanked him for his help and said I owed my successful survival to everyone on the Hopkins team.  It was very clear to me the care was superb and critical to my outcome.

Dr. G. demurred a bit saying he would like to take credit when his patients do well, but some of this is also likely due to genetic make-up.  A friend in the room then asked him about any related cancers, that is, if one has had ovarian cancer, is there a likelihood of secondary, related disease.  Dr. G. said for those with the BRCA 1 or 2 mutations, breast cancer would be related.  He also noted that the BRCA genes, at least for ovarian cancer, seem to provide a protective quality making the cancer more sensitive to the chemotherapy drugs given to destroy it.  He said he often wonders about BRCA mutations when a patient has achieved a five year anniversary with no recurrence of disease. He then asked about my family history of breast and ovarian cancer.  This issue had been thoroughly discussed with my first GYN- oncologist, Dr. Bristow.  My family history is not without breast cancer victims, but all were stuck by the disease in their fifties, some generations skipped disease altogether, and no one but me had developed ovarian cancer.  This is not the typical disease profile for a family with BRCA mutated genes.  Dr. G. said I might want to talk with the Breast and Ovarian Surveillance Service and Genetic Testing group at Hopkins for the sake of my family members to see what they think.  I said I would.

Dr. G. said another related cancer is leukemia, a consequence of chemotherapy, but this was a small likelihood.  I had read about this in a fascinating book on the history of cancer and its treatment called, The Emperor of All Maladies, by Siddhartha Mukherjee.  It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2010.  I also knew that leukemia can be caused by too much radiation absorbed by CT scans, or other radiological tests, and especially as a consequence of radiation therapy.

But these small risks were worth the fight to defeat ovarian cancer.  That disease was going to kill me in a matter of a year or so.  I may never develop leukemia and I never miss a mammogram.  So, as Dr. G. said, I am now at the same risk as everyone else in the population for cancers like colon and lung.  It may sound strange to say this, but that sounds good to me!

As I left the exam room and gave my paperwork to the clerk to check me out, she asked me if I needed another appointment.  She could not have known how gratifying it was to answer, “No.”

 

Today is my Five Year Anniversary Post-Ovarian Cancer Treatment!

This is a momentous day for me and for anyone who has suffered from cancer.  Today marks the fifth anniversary since I finished treatment for advanced ovarian cancer – epithelial, stage IIIC. I was diagnosed in March of 2008 and received eight months of treatment involving two major laparotomies and nine cycles of both intravenous and intraperitoneal chemotherapy. I have been followed every six months since finishing treatment.  For three years, this meant a CT scan, plus a CA 125 blood test, an internal exam and careful questioning about symptoms.  At my three year anniversary, without signs of a recurrence of my cancer, I elected not to receive any more CT scans. From the time of diagnosis through my three year follow-up I had received a total of ten and had growing anxiety about hurting my apparent, and hard-won, good health by subjecting my body to pretty high doses of radiation with each CT scan.  I discussed this with my oncologist who acquiesced to my decision as long as I watched and reported any symptoms and continued to be followed with blood tests.  If symptoms occurred, or the CA 125 began to steadily rise, we would then do a CT scan to provide additional information.

I had my intravenous port taken out just last May, four and a half years after finishing treatment.  Given my diagnosis, the chances of a recurrence were over 75 percent, I was urged to keep the port as an “insurance policy.”  So, I did, faithfully getting it flushed every 1-2 months all those years. I paid out-of-pocket for these flushes as well as the CT scans since I had an individual insurance policy with a high deductible.  My total out-of-pocket costs in a year amounted to $20,000 before finally getting on Medicare last December.  What a relief!

I will travel to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore today to see the third gynecologic oncologist I have had since I began treatment, the other two have since left Hopkins for other venues.  This doctor was part of the team that treated me in 2008, so he saw me in clinic at least once and dealt with an infection in my abdominal medi-port site.  I don’t know if he will consider me “cancer free” at this five year mark without a CT scan, but I fervently hope so.  I am hoping he will say I am discharged from the Kelly Gynecologic Oncology Service to the annual care of a local gynecologist.  We will see.

This is a day for reflection.  The first thoughts and feelings I have are extreme gratitude for my apparent good health.  I have been able to truly push the anxieties of having had cancer into the deeper recesses of my psyche where it has only surfaced around my six month follow-up visits.  Much more difficult has been dealing with the profound feelings of loss after my husband’s death from pancreatic cancer just six months after finishing my own treatment.  He became ill the week before my last chemotherapy and had emergency surgery for a completely blocked gastrointestinal system the night before that last treatment.  It took three weeks to get a definitive diagnosis, and the completely devastating news that he had advanced pancreatic cancer.  That news was delivered to us in a room on the same floor, just steps down the hallway from where I saw my GYN- oncologist – my destination today.  So my hope and feelings of gratitude are tinged with sadness for my husband who died in otherwise excellent health at age 59.  Life, for sure, isn’t fair!

My gratitude goes first to the doctors and nurses and other members of my care team at Johns Hopkins who gave me top notch expert care.  This article published in the New York Times last March explains why that expertise is so critical to a good outcome.  The study featured in the piece involved more than 13,000 ovarian patients and found that two-thirds did not receive standard care recommended by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.  Dr. Bristow, the lead author on the study, used to head the Kelly Gynecologic Oncology Center at Johns Hopkins, and he was my gynecologic oncologist all during the active treatment phase of my care.  I not only had excellent, expert “search and destroy” surgery, I also had aggressive chemotherapy involving both intravenous and intraperitoneal delivery of chemotherapy drugs which research has definitively shown significantly improves survival.

Two paragraphs from the article offer, I think, surprising and strong reasons for ovarian cancer sufferers to feel hopeful:

“Ovarian cancer has unusual traits that make it more treatable than some other cancers. It is less likely to spread through the bloodstream and lymph system to distant organs like the lungs and brain. The tumors do spread, but usually within the abdomen and pelvis, where they tend to coat other organs but not eat into them and destroy them, said Dr. Matthew A. Powell, a gynecologic oncologist and associate professor at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

 And most ovarian cancers are extremely sensitive to chemotherapy, experts said.”

My gratitude goes secondly to my family and friends without whose steadfast support I could not have sustained the difficult journey of being diagnosed with a late-stage cancer, undergoing debilitating surgeries and chemotherapy, followed quickly and unbelievably by the illness and death of my closest best supporter, my husband.  Without these people in my life, I believe my medical team would not have been able to succeed as well as it seems they have.

Today we will see if I am done with this nightmare and can finally truly and completely move on.

 

Help Has Arrived!

Faced with a whole mountain infested with Ailanthus sprouts, the legacy of 10,000 mature trees killed over a three year period between 2005-2008, (see September 12, 2013 post) I called out for help.  And I got it today.  Ryan Klopf, PhD, Mountain Region Steward for the Natural Heritage Program , a Division of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation which holds the conservation easement on Naked Mountain, and Wes Paulos, Mountain Region Steward Operations staff came armed with backpack sprayers.

Ryan Klopf, PhD and Wes Paulos, stewards with the Virginia Natural Heritage Program treating Ailanthus sprouts on Naked Mountain

Together we surveyed about a fifteen acre area to treat with diluted Round-up (Glyphosate).  I scouted for what we hoped would be the margins of the infestation, and Ryan and Wes treated the small sprouts with the herbicide. Unfortunately, I never found the margin; Ailanthus sprouts showed up no matter how far down the North or the South slope I traveled.  Very discouraging.  But, we have a plan to treat the whole mountain, section by section next season, or as much of it as we can.  Ryan will equip me with a backpack sprayer that works; I have an old one that doesn’t.  I was impressed today that their approach is much more efficient than my painstaking hand-pulling method.  Ryan and Wes covered three times the area I have covered after 16 hours of work!  I have my pesticide certification, so this is something I am familiar with and I know how to apply the chemical as safely as possible to protect native plant species, pollinators and human species.

While I was scouting I saw a gorgeous Late Purple Aster with knock-your-socks off color.  I assume the species is Symphyotrichum patens, but could it be S. phlogifolium which Flora of Virginia notes occurs mainly in rich upland forests and dry calcareous woodlands?  That would describe Naked Mountain.

Late Purple Aster (? S. patens or S. phlogifolium) Blooming on Naked Mountain. Click on photo to enlarge.

I also encountered a small but very distinguished critter.  He, or she, was the size of my pinky finger, about ¾ inch thick, maybe ten inches long and curled up on the root ball of a downed tree taking a sun bath.

Baby Timber Rattlesnake curled up in the sun on Naked Mountain. Click on photo to enlarge.

Last evening as I was returning home from a fascinating short course on Pollinator Conservation Planning provided jointly by the Xerces Society and the Natural Resources Conservation Services agency of the US Department of Agriculture, I spotted an interesting plant blooming next to my lower gate.  Here it is blown up.  Can you see the pollinators at work? Click on the photo to enlarge it.  Do you know what this rather common, but gorgeous species is?

Finally, I need to tell you that I am now in receipt of my fabulous 65th birthday present from a very dear friend.  Here it is:

Lara Call Gastinger, the extremely talented botanical artist who produced it and recently visited Naked Mountain (See September 12, 2013 post) was also the featured speaker at the annual meeting of the Virginia Native Plant Society.  What a treasure this gift is!

Oh, by the way, I was elected Chair of the Conservation Committee at the VNPS annual meeting.  Looking forward to the challenge to serve an absolutely fabulous organization!

 

Special Visitor Comes to Naked Mountain

I had a very special visitor come to Naked Mountain last week:  Lara Gastinger, the principal artist for the Flora of Virginia.

Flora of Virginia artist, Lara Gastinger, on my deck on Naked Mountain.

Lara has received a commission from a friend of mine, a 65th birthday gift, to paint a watercolor portrait of a plant of my choosing.  Since I have so many wonderful plants to choose from on Naked Mountain, I asked Gary Fleming to help me decide.  Gary, senior vegetation ecologist with the Natural Heritage Program within Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation, has visited Naked Mountain several times and knows its flora well.  Gary suggested I choose Phemeranthes teretifolius (Fameflower) because it only grows in the Piedmont on mafic barrens.  Naked Mountain has many of those and several support this unusual plant.  The plant is unusual because each flower only blooms for one sunny afternoon and then progresses rapidly to fruit.  Lara wanted to visit the plant in person to help her complete her portrait.  I can’t wait to see it.  Lara is a truly fabulous botanical artist which a peruse of the Flora will immediately evidence.  You can read more about Lara and see her exquisite work on her website here.

During our visit, Lara and I took a short hike up to the summit of Naked Mountain.  She was interested in seeing the flora that were blooming in the thin, mostly Quercus prinus (Chestnut Oak) woodland that grows in the sparse soils between the lichen-covered rocks.  Below is a sampling of what we saw.

Gerardia laevigata (Entire-leaved False Foxglove). Photo by Lara Gastinger. Click on photo to enlarge.

Campanula rotundifolia (Harebell). Photo by author. Click on photo to enlarge.

One of the tasks I have been engaged in for two weeks is pulling literally thousands of Ailanthus (Ailanthus altissima) seedlings.  I first realized the problem when I checked the area around a tree on the ridgeline that had blown down in the July, 2012 derecho. I found 50-100 Ailanthus seedlings sprouting.  I then began checking all the blow down sights near the summit of Naked Mountain and began pulling dozens up to hundreds of seedlings in each site. Clearly, the damage from the derecho and this summer’s record rainfall has created excellent conditions for the Ailanthus seed bank to explode.  This is very discouraging since my husband and I killed probably 10,000 mature Ailanthus trees over a three year period from 2004-2007.  A check last summer (See the August 12, 2012 post) revealed almost no Ailanthus trees or saplings growing on Naked Mountain and the few that were found were treated with Garlon 3a via a hack and squirt technique around the base of each stem.  To now find that thousands of seeds are sprouting is overwhelming as I must try and monitor infested sites over nearly three hundred acres, much of it on very difficult, steep and rocky terrain.  But I am trying very hard to do this.  

 

One benefit of this lonely task is that it forces me to go out into tough terrain and so I see some interesting and completely new parts of the mountain.  I discovered, for instance, a second drift of Eurybia macrophylla (Large-leaved Aster).  This one is smaller than the one right at the summit that is about 20 feet by 20 feet in size.  Here is a photo of a selection of probably 100 plants in full bloom tucked in and around an old log.

Aster Macrophyllus (Large-leaved Aster). Photo by author.

I also discovered a rock cliff, covered with beautiful plants – grasses, ferns, flowers. on the top of the Northwest slope near the summit.  Several Fringe trees grew on top of the cliff. Here are a couple of photos from that discovery today:

Rock cliff on Northwest slope of Naked Mountain. Photo by author.

 

Rock cliff and Aster divaricatus (White Wood Aster). Photo by author.

 

 

 

Cardinal Flowers Galore!

When I returned to Naked Mountain from another summer family trip, this time to Cleveland, Ohio for a lovely wedding that took place on a bluff overlooking Lake Erie as the sun set and gulls soared overhead calling out their approval, another beautiful surprise awaited.  In a small seep right next to the road and measuring about twenty-five feet by eight feet, cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) were in full bloom.  As I photographed them I counted 87 plants in this small, wet space.  Most summers, this seep in August is damp, but not flowing.  This year much of the Eastern U.S. has experienced above average rainfall and the seep was running like it does in the spring.

Not so wonderful was the proliferation of Japanese Stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum) in the seep.  For six years, I have diligently pulled every blade I could find of this horrible invasive in late August, just before it goes to seed.  I have frequently had help in this work from local Master Naturalists.  We were making good progress:  Every year the infestation was noticeably less.  But this year, maybe because of the excessive rainfall, it was like starting over again –an explosion of the stuff.  So, after taking the photographs, I began a four hour session of pulling microstegium and only finished half the seep.  I will work on this again until I am satisfied it is clean! You can read more about Japanese Stiltgrass here.

A special benefit of spending quiet time doing this not-so-unpleasant task in the middle of a natural area preserve is appreciating being in a natural place.  Three Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies (Papilio troilus) worked the cardinal flowers for nectar as I pulled out the weed beneath them that would harm the plants’ ability to thrive and so diminish a helpful food source for the butterflies.

Naked Mountain Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly sipping nectar on a Cardinal flower.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another one…

 

Spicebush Swallowtails are easy to identify because they have two rows of orange spots on the undersides of their hindwings and they are the only black butterfly to flicker its wings as it perches on a flower. That makes photographing them a special challenge!  Their host plant is spicebush (Lindera benzoin) and sassafrass (Sassafrass albidum) both of which are in abundance on Naked Mountain.  You can read more about Spicebush Swallowtail butterfies here.

Then, I heard the distinctive buzz of a hummingbird’s wings.  I looked up to see a tiny bird that looked more like a bee hovering — checking me out.  I guess it didn’t like dealing with a human in the middle of a favorite nectar spot – it flew off.  I am sure it came back for a good meal after I left.

Sunflowers and Nodding Wild Onion Greet My Return!

Woodland Sunflowers (Helianthus divaricatus) and Nodding Wild Onions blooming on Naked Mountain

I returned to Naked Mountain after a three week absence spent visiting family and friends in New England.  What a welcome I received!  The small barren that is just a short walk from my house up a foot-tramped path is ablaze with masses of blooming Woodland Sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus) and Nodding Wild Onion (Alluim cernuum). What a show!  Tucked in along the edges of the rock were a few dozen Fameflowers (Phemeranthus teretifolius).  They were mostly already in fruit, but a few had pink buds that will open only on a sunny afternoon, and only for a few hours for exactly one day —  that’s it until next year.  Also blooming were a dozen or so Orange-grass, or Pineweed plants (Hypericum genitanoides).

Close up of Nodding Wild Onion Plants (Allium cernuum).

This little barren is such a pleasure – just steps away and a continuing display of gorgeous Virginia native plants.  The trees you see in the background are mixed Chestnut Oak (Quercus Montana) and (I think) Pignut Hickory (Carya glabra).  The small tree that is growing right out of the rock is a Persimmon tree (Diospyros virginiana) and it is covered with fruit. Also plentiful, but hard to see in this photo are Fringetrees (Chionanthus virginicus).  They put on quite a display in May, but I will wait until then to show this to you. The grasses include Poverty Oatgrass (Danthonia spicata) and other species that I have not yet identified.  I also know nothing yet about the various mosses and lichens that are plentiful in this barren – more fun discovery work!

I checked on the bluebird box and, as expected, it was empty:  The nestlings had fledged.  I took the box down and cleaned it out, disposing of the nest.  Under the nest I found hundred of tiny ants that probably made life pretty unpleasant for the little baby birds. That sort of insect infestation is a common occurrence in nest boxes.  I scrubbed the bottom and sides of the box with a wire brush.  Then I scrubbed it with a sponge dipped in mild bleach solution to disinfect.  I let the box dry thoroughly in the sunshine and then remounted the box – all ready for another brood.

Last evening, while I was dining on my deck as the sun set, a little flock of bluebirds flew over my head. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the little family that had its beginnings a few steps away in the nest box in the small barren where the sunflowers and nodding wild onion are now blooming….

 

Baby Bluebirds Have Hatched!

Five eggs found in Naked Mountain Bluebird nest box on May 31st.

Since the May 29th post updating you on the Naked Mountain bluebird box alot has happened. When I took the May 28th photo, only two eggs were in the nest. On May 31st, three days later, I found a total of five eggs in the nest. I didn’t check the box again until June 20th, three weeks later.  This is what I found:

Baby bluebirds found in nest box on June 20th.

Do you count four baby bluebirds, or five?

Then today, June 27th I checked again.  Here they are:

How many do you think there are?  While I was taking the photo, one of the parents perched in a nearby tree was chip-calling quietly, but persistently.  Earlier in the day, while crouched in my spying spot about twenty feet away from the nest box, I could hear the babies crying for attention when a parent arrived with an insect in its beak. But when I opened the lid on top of the box to take the photo, they were still and quiet.  I think the parent’s warning chip-calls were well understood and heeded!

I will not return to Naked Mountain to check on the box until July 23rd.  According to my Bird Behavior guide by Donald and Lillian Stokes, if everything goes ok, the nestlings will be gone.  They will have fledged.  This is what my book says about this phase:

“On their first flight, the nestlings are often capable of flying seventy-five to a hundred yards, often landing in the lower branches of trees and then working their way up to the higher branches. They usually start to give the Tur-a-wee call as soon as they leave the nest and this may help the parents locate them during food trips. Both parents will usually continue to feed the young for three to four weeks or more. However, if the female starts in on another brood, the male will do all the feeding of the fledglings.”

Stay tuned.

Bluebird Update: Survival Challenge Ends Well

It is time to give you an update on the progress of the Naked Mountain Bluebird nest box.  The new box was erected and discussed in the February 18th post, “Bluebirds Need Your Help.” On May 1st I took a picture of the beautiful nest and five very blue eggs that I found in

Naked Mountain bluebird nest with eggs. Picture taken May 1st by author.

the box and published it in the post, “The Birds Have Arrived on Naked Mountain!” I had planned to screw a protective cage onto the front of the nest box the day I had my car wreck on Naked Mountain – see the May 11 post.  I was waiting to do this until I knew the eggs would be about to hatch so that the mother bluebird would be less likely to abandon her eggs due to the new, possibly frightening, addition to the nest box entrance.  The cage has bent-back prongs on the ends to discourage snakes from trying to enter the box; they will avoid the prongs to prevent injury.  But, the tow truck arrived more quickly than expected to haul my wrecked vehicle off the mountain. And, I was scheduled to be in New York City for five days very shortly, so I drove to Northern Virginia in a rented sedan and did not get back to Naked Mountain, in my nicely repaired all-wheel-drive Subaru Outback, until May 23rd.

Author looking into the bluebird nest box on May 23rd. Photo by David Hopwood.

 

 

The day I got back, I hurried up to the small barren where the nest box is and looked inside.

 

 

 

 

 

This is what I found:

As you can see, the nest is not disturbed at all as it would be if a raccoon had predated the nest, and there are no feathers, or fluff from nestlings and just some fecal droppings on side of the box that was likely left by adult birds.  It has all the markings of a stealthy snake attack on the eggs with all of them consumed.  The big concern I had was whether the mother bluebird was consumed as well, trapped while sitting on her eggs.  Yikes!

I was very sad about this.  But in the hope that the mother survived and would just try again, I left the nest in place and screwed the protective cage on tight. Then, a few days later, on May 28,  I checked the nest box again.  This is what I found:

Eggs found on May 28th.

 

Hurray!! The drive for survival within these beautiful, seemingly fragile, little birds is really impressive! I’ll keep you posted on the progress of this nest box throughout the season

 

In the meantime, here are some wildflowers in bloom now on Naked Mountain.

Tradescantia virginiana blooming on Naked Mountain. Photo by author.

 

Can anyone identify the species of Penstemon in this photo?

Penstemon ?subspecies, blooming on Naked Mountain. Photo by author.

I am guessing either canescens or hirsutus, but the leaf matches the Flora of Virginia’s description for hirsutus perfectly, while the flower matches the description for canescens.  Can you help?  If you click on the photo, the enlargement allows you to see all the pubescence.

UH – OH; Car Wreck on Naked Mountain!

 

Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon meadia) blooming on Naked Mountain in 2011. Photo by Gary P. Fleming.

I was traveling back to my home on Naked Mountain last Tuesday after 24 hours of soaking, drenching rainfall as well as a hailstorm that left piles of icy pellets here and there. The rain was still coming down as I started up my 2.4 mile long road.  The road was a mess — gullied as deeply as ten inches in many places and with numerous sizable puddles in low spots. But I kept on. As I started up the steepest portion, I was a little unnerved by a torrent of water coming down the left side of the road, so I erred on the side of caution and steered the car closer to the right side of the road. I failed to see a large, dark log we had

Log that I hit trying to avoid rushing water on the left side of the road.

carefully positioned there during our road work last fall. (See  November 13, 2012 post.)  I hit it pretty hard and came to a crunching halt.  I got out to assess the damage and could see right away that the car could not be driven. The right front wheel was pushed against the back of the structure that houses the whole wheel casing.  I gathered up essentials in the car – twenty pounds of just bought groceries and a few other items – into sturdy bags and hiked three quarters of a mile straight uphill to my house.  Once I had put away the food, I called my insurance company and put a rescue in motion for the next day.

Smashed right bumper and wheel.

The worst thing about the accident was missing a hike down into the barrens to see the Shooting Stars in peak bloom – 10,000 of them!  I had to cancel a visit planned for Friday with Lara Gastinger, lead artist for the recently published Flora of Virginia, who wanted to see the Shooting Star show.  Too bad!

The car was towed to Charlottesville the next morning and I drove a rental car to Arlington, Virginia to spend time with a friend while the car is being repaired.  It will take two weeks.  By the time I get back to Naked Mountain, the Shooting Stars will be done.

One positive note was this:  I wait anxiously every spring for the return of two nesting pairs

Cerulean Warbler. Wikipedia photo.

of Cerulean Warblers from their wintering grounds in South America. Cerulean Warblers are listed as a species of concern by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because of lost habitat in the U.S. and on their wintering grounds. As I walked down the mountain to meet up with the tow truck, I heard Cerulean Warblers singing in two different spots. They are back from South America! It is extremely gratifying to be able to offer these beautiful creatures good habitat that is protected, in perpetuity, under Naked Mountain’s conservation easement held by the Division of Natural Heritage within the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.  You can read more about Cerulean Warblers here.