Archive for the ‘Around Town’ Category

Local Trees, Local Knowledge

Agricultural extension service helps identify plants in Alexandria

Kousa Dogwood fruit?

When I was young, my mother had a vegetable garden and we subscribed to our local extension service’s printed newsletter  that educated folks on soil conditions, pests and appropriate local varieties. The printed newsletter is long gone, but the agencies are just as helpful.

Case in point: My wife and I live adjacent to the George Washington Parkway, just south of Dyke Marsh,  which gives us the opportunity to observe the changing seasons through its diverse flora. Whether we are running, biking, or putting in our kayaks, there are hundreds of plant species greeting the eye. We are especially interested in the occasional shrub or tree that yields edible fruit.

During an evening walk about three weeks ago,  we noticed two fruit trees — one that appeared to bear crab apples and one that bore an interesting pinkish/yellowish fruit that  looked like something one might find in a Hispanic grocery store.

I picked a few fruits, along with their respective leaves and continued our evening walk along the river in perfect weather. When we got home, I uploaded photos of our finds and sent an inquiry to the local agricultural extension office in Fairfax, Virginia through their webpage  The good folks there got back to me in a day or two and helped me narrow down the possibilities. The photos I emailed to their specialist were low resolution, so we could not get a definite ID.  Turns out, we most likely did find crab apples and possibly the fruit of the Kousa Dogwood tree.

The crab apples

Crab apple?

are edible (especially to deer, turkeys and grouse!) and while bitter, they can be boiled down and sweetened to make jams, jellies or ciders.  The Kousa Dogwood fruit— no guarantee this is a Kousa — are edible and have a melony/sweet taste.

One word of caution though, I was advised by the extension agent to get a confirmed identification of both plants before tucking in to a confection of their fruits. The agent suggested I submit the fruits to the Extention’s diagnostic laboratory or visit a local plant clinic hosted by  the Fairfax County Master Gardeners.

We probably won’t be going to out to harvest crab apples by the bushel anytime soon, but it was great fun getting to know area plants by tapping into the expert knowledge of our local extension office.

The Hatfields and McCoys

Fascinating and entertaining — learn the truth behind the legend of the feud

I found this five-minute documentary while poking around the June 201o online issue of Blue Ridge Outdoors.

The Hatfields and McCoys — a Documentary

"Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

Virginia Public Hunting Areas – Google Maps

Public hunting land in VA

My neighbor and shooting buddy Isaiah put together this handy Google app that details all the public hunting areas in Virginia.  This is a great resource if don’t have access to private land, or if you just want to check out a new place to hunt.

Virginia Public Hunting Areas – Google maps

Bats in Belle View

Big Brown bat pups are common sights this time of year

What is that?!, shrieked my wife pointing out something brown and hairy that clung to the wall of our condo in the Belle View neighborhood of Alexandria two nights ago.

At first we thought it was a giant moth. I got closer and saw that it was a little bat. He was just hanging out – as bats do- and didn’t seem to be bothering anyone. In fact, he was kind of cute.

To find out what kind of bat the little guy was, I turned to my sister.  She is an avid caver and works part-time for the State of Pennsylvania checking on vulnerable bat populations. Some local species are being decimated by the dreaded white nose syndrome.

Turns out,  she thinks our neighborhood friend is a juvenile big brown bat. The young are called pups. My sister’s friend had one turn up in her kitchen sink the other morning. This time of year the pups are starting to fly and wander from their mothers and like any kid, they get lost, take chances they shouldn’t and get stuck in bad situations.

In about three weeks they’ll have learned and we’ll no longer see them in odd locations.

A Night at the Opera with Thiago Arancam & Co.

Placido Domingo and Thiago Arancam

Thanks to the thoughtfulness of the classiest friend anyone could ever ask for,  this outdoorsman, my wife  and my two Army buddies, Stacy and Steve recently had a wonderful night at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. We took in a beautiful performance of Madama Butterfly on March 8th, where our new friend Thiago Arancam was the  tenor.  Thiago and his wife Michela are staying with Stacy in D.C., while he performs this month – this run  at the Kennedy Center goes through March 19th.

Neither I nor my wife had ever been to the opera, but Stacy gave us, and Steve, tickets as a gift to celebrate my and Steve’s recent return from Baghdad. We also found out the night before that my wife is pregnant, so it was a real celebration. It was so wonderful to go to the Kennedy Center again. My wife and I saw the Nutcracker ballet there in 2008, so we knew we were in for a treat.

I am not a critic, so I can’t describe how wonderful the opera was in the proper terms or render honors to the performers sufficiently. So let me just tell you that I was moved to the depths of my soul by the majesty of God’s handiwork expressed through the maestro Plácido Domingo, tenor Thiago Arancam (Pinkerton), soprano Ana Maria Martínez (Cio-Cio-San) and baritone  Hyung Yun (Sharpless).

After the show we were invited to have dinner with Thiago, his wife and Stacy. We were joined at Clyde’s in Georgetown by Hyung Yun,  and John Marcus Bindel – a really great guy and a renowned baritone, who has performed with Thiago before.  John had us all laughing non-stop and I am sorry my wife and I had to leave as early as we did. Who would have known that opera singers were so cool? I guess if you do what you love for a living, and that happens to be singing beautiful music…

What does this have to do with the Great Outdoors in Northern Virginia, you ask? Well, access to the arts, great museums and our nation’s history – all while being near some of the best paddling, fishing,  hiking, camping and hunting in the country is what makes living in NOVA so exciting.

As it turns out, Michela was an amateur practical pistol shooting competitor in Italy a while back. Thiago has never been shooting and has heard it is great fun, so we made plans to bring the gang down to my hunting lease in Spotsylvania county for a day of target shooting and plinking soda cans at the end of the month.

I’ll let you all know how it goes at the range in a few weeks. In the meantime, visit Thiago’s website and hear for yourself what an awesome voice he has, and if you can’t make this run of Madama Butterfly, catch him in Tosca at the Opera Company of Philadelphia, next month.


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