It is hard to believe that the COVID-19 pandemic has raged on for more than 10 months in the United States. As the cold winter days settle in, there is no sign that this virus letting up either. As the air becomes drier and people are forced to spend more time indoors, the number of cases have skyrocketed. Hope arrived several weeks ago, with the first vaccinations administered to health care workers – our first solid foothold in this war. I was fortunate enough to get the first of the two part vaccinations, 3 weeks ago at my hospital. My reaction was similar to my flu vaccinations, I had mild chills for a couple days but otherwise bounced back quickly.
As I reflect on the past 10 months, there is no doubt this has been a difficult time for everyone in the world. During this trying time, it is no surprise to me that this pandemic has also taken a toll on mental health. Families and friends are separated and the feeling of loneliness and anxiety can naturally settle in. Everyone has their own way of finding center, of recharging and being uplifted. For myself, it has always been the outdoors.
In the winter, getting outside has its obstacles. But there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear. For us, getting outside is a priority and to let the kids run and explore new lands. Everything is a little slower in the winter, so we prepared for that – waking up just a little earlier, bundling up on more layers and packing the right food and snacks.
Our closest state park is the good ol’ dependable Pocahontas State Park. We wanted to hike the Beaver Lake Trail once again. The last time we took on this short 2.4 mile hike was in the summer of 2019. In the afternoon, it was going to reach a high of 46F with plenty of sun. I was surprised at how quiet the trails actually were. Breathing in the crisp, cool air while hiking under towering white oaks and sycamore trees was something that I missed. The trail certainly looked different without the foliage. It definitely sounded different, the chirping of birds cut through the bare forest, the snaps of twigs and sticks under our feet seemed to echo just a little louder.
It all felt good. The gentle wind on the face, the slight chill through the body, the movement of muscles, the sunlight, and the calming sight of a bare lake in the winter made everyone feel better.
Whatever it is that gets you to center, I hope you get to do more of it. Don’t forget to check on family and friends that might be more prone to loneliness or depression, a phone call or video chat goes a long way these days. I hope everyone stays healthy and safe. Vaccines are on the way. We shall prevail.
At the start of the lockdown in Virginia from the COVID 19 pandemic, we decided to grow a garden to get productive and hopefully have some vegetables to eat and share with our neighbors. I think this project was mostly started by our 2 year old son, who was insistent upon tilling the ground. At this point in time, we had no idea what the food produce situation was going to look like throughout the upcoming months. There were a lot of unknowns throughout the whole world and certainly still today. We didn’t want to ruminate….we wanted to get moving.
The first step was to remove all of last years tomato vines and to till the earth. We have a compost bin that we have been faithfully using to replenish the nutrients to the soil. It also helped that the previous owners, apparently had heaping loads of manure dumped into the garden.
By the first week of April we were already planting the first of the seeds. Strawberry, kale, etc. We also reseeded the lawn for spring time is probably the best season for our grass. The brutal Virginia summers pretty much just scorch the earth by July.
April 21, 2020
We spent the day reseeding the front lawn, there are stubborn sections of the front lawn that gets sun damaged every year and allows for the crab grass and bermuda grass to take root. Our plants are developing nicely indoors, it will soon be time to transplant them to the garden.
May 16, 2020
The garden has been coming along nicely. I do believe that this in large part due to a wonderful “normal” spring in Virginia. We’ve been hanging on to cooler weather and we’ve been loving it. It has still been in the 60s in mid May! We transplanted several of the seed bags to see what would happen. We put up some netting around the strawberries but it didn’t seem to do the trick. I think next year we will have to get a metal cage if we plan strawberries
May 23, 2020
We harvested our first carrots from the garden. Once again, the weather still remains pleasant. Our lawn is surviving and so far the temps are still just getting to the upper 70s. Today was a rare 82 F but it still felt very pleasant.
We have been picking from our rosemary and cilantro, some have already bolted. Bolting by definition is when the plant begins forming flowering stems in order to reproduce. Cilantro grows best in cool climates and moist areas. When it gets too hot, the plant anticipates that it will get too hot and dry and if therefore begins flowering and producing leafy stems that are no longer desirable as they lose their taste. It is a survival mechanism for the plant to reproduce as much as possible before it dies, but from a gardening standpoint, this is something that you want to avoid if possible. Plan to grow cilantro in early spring or fall when it is cooler.
May 30, 2020
June 6, 2020
We harvest our first beets along with another round of carrots. We’ve been working hard to diligently weed and water the garden. We still have yet to fix our irrigation system from the two cracked hoses. the hardest part is finding the right parts. Up until now, the weather has been excellent. We are starting to see some hot days. The lawn is beginning to show signs of yellowing.
June 9, 2020
Several of our carrots have fully developed and were eagerly picked by visiting cousins.
June 10, 2020
Spring showers cool off a hot June day. temps today in the high 80s. We got about 30 min of solid spring showers. the state of the lawn is as such, yellowing can be seen throughout. it’s trying to hang on. The maple tree in front is actually growing pretty fast. I think by next year it will be able to provide some pretty decent shade. sometimes I wonder if there are any treatments that can help the grass survive the brutal heat. This season has still been fantastic. Much cooler than averages in the past. This next week we are even expecting several consecutive days in the highs of 70s. awesome.
June 17 , 2020
We are getting one week of rain! We’ve got jalapenos coming in and green peppers and tomatoes.
June 27, 2020
July 10, 2020
July 15, 2020
The garden has been yielding a lot of veggies lately. It has been a lot of work to keep weeding them and watering them in this scorching heat. It has been in the mid 90s all week. Our son has been loving the garden and eating all veggies. The delayed gratification is something he is wrapping his head around. He also has a lot of pride in his garden. In a world of immediate gratitude and digital screens, a garden is the perfect way to fight all that.
August 1, 2020
This has been a brutally hot summer. Fortunately we are through July.
August 4, 2020
Summer showers have left our yard pretty flooded! It’s hot and the mosquito situation is bad.
September 19, 2020
September 27, 2020
October 4, 2020
Temperatures are consistently nice and cool. We do some lawn repair to try to grow some new grass.
October 20, 2020
With temperatures in the 60s, it is just glorious outside. the garden is still yielding eggplants, bell peppers, tomatoes, jalapenos, and kale. We did some light maintenance and trimming to keep the tomato plants at bay. We are heading to the end of the season.
By November we officially declared it the end of the garden season. Although even in the first week of December, I saw some green peppers and strawberries trying to grow. It was certainly alot of work and maintenance, but taking care of this garden has been a lot of fun, especially for our 3 year old boy. I can clearly see his new appreciation of plants and how food is grown, and how it eventually gets to the dinner table. Growing a garden is also a great way to get your child into eating vegetables. Even if the garden does not yield much, you’ll build great memories and hopefully learn something. We sure did. Stay safe and healthy out there.
We took the family to spend a couple of days on the Piankatank River. The water was calm and the wildlife was out and about. I was able to get a shot of the bald eagles that have been hunting our segment of the river for years. I’ve been breaking in the Sigma 100-400mm telephoto lens. I still have it attached to the trusty old Sony a6000 that’s been pulling it’s weight for the past 5 years now. Hard to believe it’s been that long. I still have much to learn about telephoto lenses, but it’s been a lot of fun. Happy Holidays to everyone. Stay safe and healthy out there…and keep those masks on! Cheers.
October 18, 2020 – It seems like the only normal thing in 2020 has been the autumn season. By late September, we had already experienced our fair share of chilly days in Virginia. This welcoming drop in the temperatures seemed to trigger the leaves to change color on time. Although tired from the busy work week, we needed to escape to the mountains, specifically to our backyard national park, Shenandoah National Park. We were going to take on what seemed to be a family favorite of late: the Black Rock Summit Trail. This easy 1.0 mile loop was where we took our son for his first hike, and now we were going to take our daughter there for her first hike.
We arrived at the park entrance to find a short line of cars. I think this was the first time I’ve ever had to wait in line to get into Shenandoah. It seemed like everyone wanted to escape quarantine madness and get outside. I don’t blame them. All along the way, people were pulling off at scenic outlooks to take photos of the fall foliage. The parking lot for Black Rock Summit was full when we arrived but we had no trouble finding parking on the side of the road. Our 3 year old son was able to hike the entire trail on his own this time which certainly helped! The paths on this trail are well marked and it is a short hike to get some amazing views, highly recommended if you have young kids in tow.
On the south shores of the piankatank where it opens up onto the Chesapeake Bay, we pitched our tent and settled in for my sons first overnight in a tent away from home.
All of Mathews County was draped in a thin layer of fog. The ground was damp the from morning dew and a chill was in the air reminding us that autumn was here. Such things did nothing to damper the spirits of a 3 year old boy. He galloped through the large field and marveled at the vastness of the bay. He stared at the migrating ducks as the made their way down south. He watched the sailboats from afar as they came in and out of view through the fog.
He had been raving about this camping trip for weeks and it was finally here. He would get to spend a night in a tent away from home and under the stars. We got to work setting up our gear and started a fire with the damp wood around us.
As we setup our site, the unmistakable call of a loon filled the air. I was surprised to see several loons in the bay fishing. They must be on their way south, because I have never seen them in this area before.
We spent the day chopping wood, catching crabs and fishing. Minh was familiarizing himself with a lot of the camping gear. We were joined by my parents and brother in the late afternoon at which point we added more wood to the fire as the night skies surrounded us. I could sense my sons excitement as the darkness surrounded us and only the glow of the fire would illuminate the campsite. He had no trouble sleeping in the tent and slept like a rock.
The next morning we were greeted with the sun! He was eager to get back out and fish. We also took a stroll down the road to see some of the neighbors cows. This trip was also a great opportunity for me to play around with the my new telephoto lens, a sigma 100-400mm for Sony alpha cameras. So far it’s been a blast to shoot with. After I took some photos of the cows, we went on some walks around the area and then packed up and headed home. He did not want to leave. He fell asleep in car immediately, and upon awakening, he asked me with eyes barely open….”when are we going canoe camping?”
From the moment he stepped foot in a canoe, my son has never been satisfied with just sitting and taking in the views….. He wanted to paddle! He was not even 2 years old and at the time there was not a paddle small enough for him. This was my chance to make him one. As with all projects, we both learned a lot and had a blast making it.
Selecting the wood:
Traditionally, canoe paddles are made from hardwoods. The definition of a hardwood is a species of tree that will yield a seed that has a coating on it, either in the form of a fruit or a shell. (Oak, maple etc). Softwoods, yield seeds that do not have any particular coating. Example: many conifers. The terminology is sometimes misleading because there are some softwoods that are actually harder than hardwoods, but in general, hardwoods are usually indeed harder. These trees take much longer to grow to the equivalent size and as a result are usually denser.
For a project such as this, you will likely not find the board of wood that you need from Lowes or Home Depot. Your best bet is to go to your local lumber mill or wood working store. In this case, we were fortunate enough to find our wood from Woodcraft. If you haven’t spent much time in a lumbar yard, some of the terminology might be confusing. You will hear the term “board foot”. This is the unit for which wood is sold. IT is misleading because it is actually a unit of VOLUME not length. A board foot describes a piece of wood that is 1inch thick, by 12 inches wide, by 12 inches long. Hence 144 cubic inches. For our project, we used a 3′ x 1” x 4” foot long piece of hard maple.
When you are selecting the wood, make sure that there aren’t any knots or wood defects in the areas that you will be using, ESPECIALLY in the shaft of the paddle. These knots can lead to weakness in the paddle and could eventually fracture down the road.
hand bench plane (I used a #4 Wood River plane)
jigsaw or bandsaw
sandpaper (120 and 220 grit)
woodburning pen (optional, if you want to add designs to the wood)
woodstain (if you want to stain the wood)
linseed oil (optional)
Selecting the design:
When selecting the design of the paddle, keep in the mind where the paddle will be primarily used. Is it flat water? whitewater? tripping? leisure paddling? There are numerous types of canoe paddle designs to choose from. These mostly differ in the shape of the blade of the paddle. Different paddle shapes will move different amounts of water. I’ve always prefered the beaver shape paddle, it is not too wide and it is not too narrow.
The Woodworkers Journal: provided a template for one of their Northwoods canoe paddle. A beavertail shaped paddle. I didn’t use these exact dimensions because we are completing a scaled down version for my 2.5 year old son. But I was influenced by the overall shape. Notice how the design templates are for one half of the paddle, when you are finished tracing that half, flip it over and trace it again to create the complimentary side. This will allow for the most symmetrical template possible. If you’re going to making many paddles over the years, consider making this template out of wood for safe-keeping over the years.
Once the outline has been drawn on the paddle, use a bandsaw or a jigsaw to cut out the paddle. If you spend extra time making the cuts as precise as possible, this will save you time later with the hand carving, shaving and sanding. I used a Bosch jigsaw.
Here is the video of the northwoods canoe paddle making process.
The key point to make during the remainder of the carving process is to maintain symmetry through the axis as well as throughout thickness. Use a gauge to mark the very center of the board on it’s axis as well as its thickness. The line, will let you know how close you are to your desired thickness of the blade. You may decide to vary the wood thickness based on the type of wood as well.
When working on a project like this, I want to emphasize the importance of knowing your tools and how to maintain them and to keep them functioning at their very best. There is no better example than the bench hand plane. If your tool is properly sharpened, maintained and tuned, this part of the project can be the best part. If your plane is not set up correctly, this could lead to a very frustrating experience.
In addition to keeping your tools finely honed, it is crucial to take into account the wood’s grain direction. Ideally your board is free of knots, this will make for the easiest planing. If there are knots, just be cautious of the grain drain direction change in these areas which could leave to tear outs. One way to battle this is to take shallower cuts if necessary. There are numerous tutorials online about how to read grain direction on a board.
Here is a useful video on how to set up a hand plane.
The handle is probably the most difficult part of the carving process. There are many different methods to tackle this portion. Some paddle companies will actually do this part all by a large drum sander. Others will use files to whittle away the handle. I prefer to use the spokeshave, although this can be a little, especially if you are making sharp turns. I sanded parts of the handle afterwards with a belt sander.
This step is entirely optional; I really wanted to put a logo on our canoe paddle, with a maple leaf (representing our Canadian heritage) and an oak leaf to represent our currrent home, Virginia. Similar to the wannigan I constructed, the wood burning process is a very enjoyable part of the paddle making process. Now if you were a professional furniture or paddle maker, you could consider just getting an ironing brand. Who knows? Maybe one day we will start canoe paddle business. It certainly seems like there are quite a few out there. There is one paddle company in Minnesota named: “Sanborn Canoe Company” that appears to be doing well. They specialize in artisan paddles.
There are different ways that you can finish your canoe paddle handle. While some people will varnish the entire paddle, others leave the handle unfinished. I opted for the latter. I left the handle unfinished and unvarnished. I later added 3 coats of boiled linseed oil on the handle. The decision to oil or varnish your handgrip is purely personal preference. I found that over long canoe trips, the feeling of a varnished hand grip can make your hand a little raw after thousands of strokes. Finishing with linseed oil, gives the handle a buttery smoothness, similar to an axe handle. Over the years of use, the grip will darken naturally.
For the canoe enthusiast, I can’t think of a more rewarding experience than using a paddling that you’ve created. It is also a fantastic father son bonding experience. As with other projects, I always find that I learn so much from even the smallest of projects. In this case, the big take home point, is that maintenance of your tools and knowing how to calibrate and hone them is essential to getting a precision job done. The hand plane was a joy to use once sharpened and calibrated. This holds true for the spokeshaves as well. Obviously with any project, the use of a work bench with clamps to suspend your work also makes the task of carving your paddle infinitely easier. Have fun.
**This is the best canoe paddle carving I have found on the internet. It features Ted Moores (craftsman) and this video from the 1990s was produced in Ontario, Canada.**
In the middle of the Outer Banks in North Carolina, you would never expect to find the tallest active sand dune on the east coast. At Jockey’s Ridge State Park, you can explore these sand dunes and more. The park covers an area of 427 acres and is the most visited park in the North Carolina park system.
The temperatures can apparently be truly desert-like in the hot summer months. Reaching 110 degrees F and the sand can be up to 30 degrees hotter. Our visit was in late September so there was virtually no one when we arrived. For our son, this was the largest sandbox he’d ever seen and he was thrilled.
* Make sure to bring plenty of water on those hot days. Sunglasses help too even if it’s not sunny, especially on windy days