No picnics today!
No picnics today!
One of my favorite places on the property is the graveyard. Unfortunately, keeping it cleaned up seems to slip my mind. Granted, I drive by it at least twice per day but once I pull up to the house, a million other things command my attention. Usually it’s an animal or six.
But this week, just a few days before Halloween, the wind blew in just the right direction and I ended up walking down to the old cedar tree that once stood tall, sheltering the graves. All that’s left is the main trunk, splintered from what must have been a loud crash of its upper limbs. Thankfully, after all these years, the last pieces remain. Perhaps because it’s growing in a graveyard. There’s something sacred about graveyards. Either we’re afraid of what might happen if we do too much meddling, or we believe that it’s truly not ours to meddle with.
Beyond meddling, there may even be a certain amount of respect for the very tangible and instant connection to the past that you get by being in a graveyard. The person who slept and ate in the rooms where you now sleep and eat, who planted the trees that you now sit under, and who created a story of his or her own, is right beneath you. You can almost touch them. Or at least their mortal remains. At the very least, you can’t deny their existence or their contribution to the place that you now share.
I spent about an hour pulling weeds, touching the gravestone markers as I passed. They are beautiful. There are larger headstones and smaller footstones, each of stunning white quartz. There is something slightly ethereal about them. They are veined in greens, reds, and golds, sparkling when the sun catches them at the right angle.
One of the graves is the daughter of Randolph and Laura Owens. She was born around October 7th, 1893 and died on October 10th 1893. She was only three days old and buried at White Plains, in the grave by the cedar tree. That was 125 years ago this month.
There are two other unknown graves, marked simply with quartz and then there are the Gouldmans, Alexander and Virginia. I imagine how much they loved this place to be buried here. Either that or they had no choice! But considering the number of church graveyards nearby, I like to think it’s the previous.
Maybe I too will be buried here in the front yard. Maybe White Plains will kill me trying to rejuvenate it! In a 21st-century culture that values the transient nature of things and ideas, who’s to say where any of us will be in another 10 years. So much can change in only one year. But families like the Thornleys, the Gouldmans, the Quesenberrys, and others made their home here and died here. It’s the least I can do to stop by every once in a while to weed.
One of my favorite things about living in Virginia is the deeply rooted connection to equestrian sports. You can drive down most any country road and find horses and a rich culture of working, showing, and fox hunting.
I recently visited the Caroline Hunt in Caroline County, Virginia, for its Opening Hunt, the season’s first formal day of fox hunting. Originating in Virginia during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, fox hunting has deep roots in the Commonwealth, continuing today through many active hunts. According to the Masters of Foxhound Association, the oldest continuing hunt in the United States is the Piedmont Hunt of Virginia, established in 1840. As the MFHA points out, fox hunting in North America has evolved to focus on the chase, rather than the kill. Most hunts are no-kill hunts, ultimately trying to ensure safe passage for the fox.
With most hunts starting early in the day, you often wake up before the sun has even considered getting out of bed. Although you have likely bathed, groomed, and prepped your horse the day before, you will still need to get everything together, being sure you haven’t forgotten something important (like boots, cap, or flask!).
Arriving at the day’s fixture, or location of the meet, can be a social affair, seeing old friends and tacking up your horse for the day’s ride. Stirrup cup, or a nip of something to warm the bones on a cold morning, is a fun way to loosen up those tight muscles – and nerves! Depending on the day, stirrup cup can be more or less formal.
Above: An informal stirrup cup and snacks from an earlier fall hunt. Photo by Paige Riordan.
The group then convenes for a blessing of the hounds that is performed each year at Opening Hunt. It is also an opportunity to thank the landowners for their contributions and generosity of allowing passage through their land and along their fields.
Now the group and hounds are ready to hunt. Riders in the field follow a leader as part of a flight. First flight is fastest, includes jumps, and is for experienced riders, while second flight is for those wishing a somewhat slower pace and no, or less, jumping. In Virginia, the terrain can be a mix of hills, wooded lands, open spaces, and jumps such as logs and fences. It’s very common to pass through working farms and planted fields.
Above: Riders at the Caroline Hunt. Photo credit unknown. Above: Riders in the field follow through the woods. Photo by Patrick Heffernan.
While it’s a very social event, there is a technical side that drives the day. The hounds are well equipped and trained to identify the scent and track the fox long distances across the varied terrain. The Huntsman and hounds maintain the trail while hunt staff hold perimeters to ensure safety of the hounds. In a modern landscape, roads, railroad tracks, and other potential dangers are never too far away. When the hounds are gone “away” on a trail, the route can be a fun and exciting journey for riders in the field.
Above: The Hounds are working hard. Photo by Patrick Heffernan.
Above: Tony Gammell, former Huntsman at Keswick, after Opening Hunt in Caroline County. Photo by Patrick Heffernan.
After a long day in the field, there is nothing better than coming back for the Hunt Breakfast, a time to share delicious food and drink with members and guests. The nourishing power of a home-cooked meal and a welcoming community of people committed to the land and nature warms even the coldest of winter days. Thank you to the Caroline Hunt for always being welcoming and hospitable.
For more information about fox hunting, visit the Masters of Foxhound Association website. Also, check out the video below demonstrating riders and hounds of the Caroline Hunt in 2012.
Although a pleasant surprise this morning, the snow left an eerie blanket of grey across the farm. Each branch and leaf had just enough layered snow to create a sharp contrast in the dim, early morning light. With no enhancements necessary, the photos give a usually hidden glimpse at the wildness of the old trees. These are my favorite days here.
The old linden tree and swing
The eighteenth-century garden terraces overlooking the spring
The sun starts to warm the sky
Sitting at my desk on Sunday morning, a little nervous each time another major gust came along, I heard the crack. With knowing resolve, I got up and headed to the window to see which of the trees it could have been. Was it another part of the pine? The Elm? One of the ash trees? It didn’t take but a second to see the second large branch of the old pine tree snaking across the side yard and over the driveway. It had taken out a few privets and a small ash tree in the process but thankfully it stayed away from the house and the Elm this time.
With many coastal areas devastated after hurricane Matthew, we were thankful that the storm brought little more than a day of rain and some hefty winds. Unfortunately, a full day of sustained winds with gusts over forty miles per hour was just enough to take out the second part of the tree that had already been compromised.
The old pine tree’s second major limb snaked across the lawn and driveway
Now homebound, with no way out and no choice about it, we grabbed the right tools and began to tackle this monster. If nothing else, there had to be a path through before the impending Monday morning work hour. Somehow, “massive tree across my driveway with no way out” sounds a bit too much like, “dog ate my homework!”
Chris clearing the small limbs from the area. The firewood should last for a few outdoor fires!
Several hours later with a twenty-four inch chainsaw, a log splitter, and ample amounts of gasoline, the driveway was clear enough for a car. The rest of the fallen limb could be handled over the next week. Of course, the big next task is planning for the final core of the tree since it is the largest and most unpredictable of the three. Hopefully we will have enough time to plan for this one!
Thankfully the renovation storms inside have died down, but the summer storms outside have raged many nights. It seems that three or four blow through each week, marked as blobs of orange and red on the radar screen. When you have a large number of eighty-year-old trees scattered around your house, and little resource to keep them as well maintained as they should be, a brightly colored radar blob can be an easy source of anxiety.
With last week’s storm, our fear came true, and we lost part of the old Eastern White Pine. It was inevitable, and we had even planned to remove it in the next couple of months. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had a different timeline.
With the wind howling and the rain pounding against the study windows, I could still hear the characteristic woosh that only a forty-or-fifty-foot-plus great White Pine could make as it fell. And then there was the expected, and yet very shocking, crack and thud.
With a flashlight in the rain, and a deep fear that it had hit the corner of the house, I could see just enough to know that the tree had thankfully missed the building. Unfortunately, it landed on the side of the old Siberian Elm, taking a large branch with it.
Over the past few days, we’ve managed to cut up the smaller pieces, moving them out of the way to prepare the bigger logs for firewood. It’s not hard to see why the Eastern White Pines were so prized in colonial days. This single felled leader is beautiful and strong wood. Known as “mast trees,” and used extensively in ship building, Eastern White Pines were the source of many attempts at control during, and leading up to, the Revolutionary War.
It remains to be seen how long we can wait before removing the other two leaders. One is even taller than this one, and neither are in structurally sound condition. Once this pine is gone, there is only one other on the property. It’s perhaps time to think about planting a couple more for future generations.
Many years of wisdom
The old pine in the snow