Winter hike on Beaver Lake

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.

Victory Garden 2020

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 3-5

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.

Shenandoah National Park – Black Rock Summit

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. 

 

Minh’s first hike in Shenandoah, Black Rock Summit. 3/31/2018
Our first hike up Black Rock Summit. Shenandoah National Park. 7/23/2016

Building a Canoe Paddle

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.

His first canoe trip.

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.

Equipment/Materials:

  • hand bench plane (I used a #4 Wood River plane)
  • spokeshave
  • jigsaw or bandsaw
  • sandpaper (120 and 220 grit)
  • woodburning pen (optional, if you want to add designs to the wood)
  • clamps
  • tack rag
  • spar varnish
  • woodstain (if you want to stain the wood)
  • linseed oil (optional)
  • orbital/hand sander
  • protective eyewear

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.

2. Planing

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

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.

Watch this craftsman at Shaw and Tenney (an oar and paddle company based in Maine) shape most of the paddle using a large drum sander. Some people will say that this method is not truly “hand made”. Nevertheless, the precision is impressive.

Woodburning

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.

The finish:

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.

Personal preference, but I left the handle, unstained and unvarnished. I used 3 coats of boiled linseed oil to give it a buttery smooth finish, that will feel much better in the hands. Over time, the wood will darken naturally from the oils on your hand as well as the elements.

In conclusion:

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.**

Maiden voyage…..all smiles

Boreal to Barrenlands “Crossing Labrador” – a video series

I came across this great canoe video series, following the journey of four young men, as they make their way across Newfoundland and Labrador. There appear to be 13 episodes in total. I thought I’ve been in some buggy areas before in my life, but it is a fraction of what these guys endured. Amazing journey. Enjoy!

 

“On July 12th, 2019, Noah Booth, Alex Traynor, Dave Greene and Chris Giard will embark on a 35-day canoe expedition where they will paddle, portage and track their canoes 700 kms from the Menihek Hydro Dam to the coastal village of Nain, Labrador’s northernmost permanent settlement. The route is designed to traverse Labrador in its entirety where they will travel through three major ecosystems, and cross two heights of lands.

The key objective of the expedition is to gain a cultural and environmental perspective of one of Canada’s last remaining wilderness frontiers and become the first modern day team to connect Labrador City to Nain in one trip. Throughout, the journey will be captured through film to produce a documentary that will be submitted to film festivals, as well as be promoted through their social media platforms and sponsors. In doing so, they will highlight and pay homage to the historic travellers such as the Naskapi and Montagnais Innu people who have used these lands for generations as ancestral hunting grounds as well as the European explorers such as A.P. Low, William Cabot and most recently Herb Pohl who have mapped these lands through extraordinary exploration.”

Check out their website and blog here

Goshen Pass Natural Area Preserve – Goshen, Virginia

I remember the simple days back when it was just me and my wife. If we wanted to take a day trip out to the mountains, such a feat could be accomplished within a moments notice. Some light packing, some food and water and we were good to go. These days, with two kiddos, a simple day excursion requires enough packing for an expedition – everything from maps, first aid kits, spare clothing, food, water, toys for the car, diapers, and the list goes on. Although it definitely takes more energy to embark on such trips, the reward is also greater. There is nothing better than seeing a child’s reaction to the marvels of our natural world. Every breath of brisk, fresh air seems to infuse them with energy as they are pulled from one discovery to another. Whether they are seeing a new animal for the first time – hearing the rush of the river as it crashes into rocks, or feeling the textures of different tree barks, I believe that there is not a better classroom out there.

For Earth Day 2020, we planned for a trip to the scenic, 936-acre, Goshen Pass Natural Preserve in Goshen, Virginia just outside of Lexington in RockBridge County. Elevation: 1,350 ft (411 m). We were blessed with absolute perfect weather. High of 64F and sunny. We knew that our prime spring hiking days were coming to a close so we wanted to get out there before the Virginia vegetation took over. Even this late in April, it was still perfect, the mountains were later to bloom than the city. Awesome. Mountain flowers were in bloom and the new buds emerging on trees, created an emerald backdrop with beautiful displays of every hue of green.

Enjoying Earth Day 2020 on the Maury River in Goshen Pass.

As of April 22, 2020, the swinging bridge at Goshen Pass appeared to be boarded up and closed to the public possibly due to precautions for COVID-19. Unfortunately, they did not list this on their website.

The drive from Richmond to Goshen Pass is about 2 hours from Richmond, and it is a pretty one. The gentle rolling hills, and well kept farms provide a peaceful journey as you course your way through the mountain. The natural preserve is Virginia’s oldest state-managed natural area. The region was acquired in 1954 to protect the gorgeous 3.7 long gorge along the specatcular Maury River. There is certainly magic here still yet to be discovered. There is an old-age chestnut oak forest, pine-oak-heath woodland and rare species of plants.

Our original plan was to hike a 3.0 mile circuit that started at the famous Swing Bridge over the Maury River. Despite the website, saying that this area was open, we arrived to find that the bridge had actually been boarded shut! Fortunately, this area is large enough to explore without the main hike. We drove back 2 miles on Route 39 to reach the Maury Memorial overlooking the Maury River. This area has a shelter, several well kept picnic areas, grills, portable restrooms and best of all, great access to the Maury River. We decided to spend the day here, catching crayfish, observing wildlife, tenkara fly fishing and just enjoying the outdoors. Surprisingly the area was really quiet. Other than one other family, we had the whole river access to ourselves. I learned later that this segment of the Maury River was popular for whitewater kayakers during certain parts of the year. This is certainly something I would like to check out in the future. The area by the swinging bridge appeared like a good put in for a fun run. I guess what they say is true, the Goshen Pass area is one of the most beautiful spots in Virginia.

  • Public access for hiking at Goshen Pass Natural Area Preserve is available via a parking area off Route 39 and swinging bridge across the Maury River, both maintained by the
    Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) as an access point for the Goshen-Little North Mountain Wildlife Management Area (WMA). DGIF requires a WMA Access Permit
    for visitors age 17 years and older who do not possess a valid Virginia hunting, freshwater fishing or trapping license, or boat registration. Contact: the DGIF Field Office in Verona (540) 248-9360 or go to http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/access-permit/ for information on acquiring a WMA Access Permit.
  • preserve guide factsheet (PDF) and map are available to assist in planning your visit.

Happy Earth Day 2020

As we continue the fight against covid-19, don’t forget to take a moment to go for a walk, go for a hike, go for a bike ride – whatever you have to do to recharge and reconnect with Mother Earth. Hopefully, once this is all over, we will also learn to treat our planet and home better too…please be healthy and safe.