February 28, 2011

Grumble Grumble...

I just paid my monthly health insurance premium: $495. That's a lot for just one person with a $1200 deductible! Last year the rate went up to $412, and that was after I dropped the dental coverage. (It was fairly useless anyway because no dentist within an hour's drive participates in Anthem's network.)

We used to have joint coverage but now my spouse is on Medicare. Well, I'll be eligible for that before too long... actually all too soon considering that it means I'm getting old!

Meanwhile, I've stopped going to the gastroenterologist in Winchester because his office gives such poor service. This is the same reason I stopped going there two years ago. Their phone system reminds callers that they are unimportant by having a frustrating automated service, and then if you finally get someone (instead of a full voice mailbox), it's a support person who promises to call back and then takes 4 or 5 days to do so. My final call there was to report that the prescription medication gave me chest pain and it took a full week to get a call back!

So now I'm relying on one of my other doctors to handle my heartburn issues. He's farther away but his office staff is pleasant and helpful. And he's extremely knowledgeable and pays attention to what I say and important things like what drugs I'm allergic to.

February 27, 2011

Swans in February

Dayton, Virginia

Frank got a new camera and we tried it out. Many of my pictures came out blurred! Guess I need to read the manual.

These photos were among the better (not blurry) ones that I took yesterday. It was a nice day and we drove to Dayton and Harrisonburg.

I've photographed swans at the Silver Lake Mill before. Yesterday they were not in the lake but were swimming in the creek below the dam.

Like swans? See more swan pictures.

February 26, 2011

Downy woodpecker

This woodpecker is one of the birds that enjoy our suet feeder. She's not as shy as the pileated woodpecker, who is large and strikingly handsome but hard to photograph.

Downy woodpecker looks up every 3 or 4 taps: tap tap tap look, tap tap tap look. I can get close enough (on the other side of the window) to take a picture by moving a little bit while she taps and standing still while she looks around.

Woodpecker-related article: Reflective streamers deter woodpeckers from pounding on homes.

February 25, 2011

Carolina Wren on the Suet Feeder

I'm glad I put a suet feeder in front of the living room window because I enjoy seeing birds up close. Some of them are shy and hard to photograph but this one did not seem too concerned.

February 24, 2011

You Can't Go Home Again... If It's Not There

Last week I drove up to Northern Virginia and met Marie for a short time. I wanted to see her before she leaves the country for a world tour.

After lunch we drove by the address where we used to live off Duke Street. It has really changed! When we drove by there in 2008 it was a vacant lot with some construction equipment.

Now there's a large new house, a mansion compared to the rambler that we lived in.

When we lived there, the neighborhood was called Delta and it consisted of steel-framed houses built after World War II. A few of those homes are still there, like the blue one you can glimpse behind the new house. In the 1950's they were "contemporary" but eventually they were sturdy but way out-o- fashion.

Now the neighborhood is called "Coopers Grove" and the homes are expensive. Here's the back of the house that replaced mine.

The location is still excellent. It's a short drive to downtown Alexandria and an even shorter drive to the Beltway. And the back yard overlooks a little park.

Here we see the view that I had from my back door. And that was why I bought the house in the first place!

Also, I was rather desperate to move from the townhouse that I was selling in Delray. We had next-door neighbors there who frightened my children, kept me awake with their Saturday night fights, and even broke in to my attic. So the peaceful yard that I found here promised tranquility. And I lived there for 14 years and really liked it.

Stream Valley Park

Although the neighborhood I left in 1998 has changed dramatically, I found that there is still a public path leading from Taft Avenue to the stream valley park. It's now marked by two stone posts on either side - much nicer than the old wire fence that was there next to my little house.

The sign introduces the "Strawberry Run Stream Restoration" program of the City of Alexandria. The creek makes its way to Cameron Run.

It appears that a channel has been dug for the creek and new trees planted. I felt nostalgic seeing the little park and the bridge which I crossed with Guppy so many times.

Marie posed on the bridge for me.

February 23, 2011

The Wilson Bridge

A View from the Alexandria Waterfront

Before I picked up Marie in Alexandria on Friday, she texted that her bus would arrive about 15 minutes behind schedule, so I spent the extra time driving down to the Potomac River and back. Old Town has not changed much, and since it was a beautiful day, people were enjoying themselves. I even saw someone blowing bubbles.

Sometimes I miss Alexandria. It's a great town! Well, sometimes the pollution bothered me in the summer, but otherwise it was wonderful.

This picture shows the "new" Wilson Bridge. I'm much more familiar with the previous bridge, which opened in 1961. But this one looks more graceful.

Marie is Going On Another World Tour

My younger daughter Marie Javins leaves on March 1 for a 10-month journey around the world.
It's the tenth anniversary of her original world tour, so she decided to leave her job and make another grand tour. It won't be the same for she'll go to many places that she hasn't been before. And this time she won't be sticking to surface travel — after all, she's already done that, and it's expensive and time-consuming.

I feel some anxiety about Marie being so far away, and the world has changed since she made her world tour in 2001. Of course, there was a huge change in 2001, at least as far as our perception as Americans of how other cultures feel about us. She was in Zanzibar on 9/11 and saw the shocking news in an internet cafe. You can read about this in her book or in her online journal.

And of course, now the internet and other technologies have contributed to change in far-away places, and we see regimes changing so suddenly that political stability seems to be a myth. This is not the time I'd choose to travel the world. But of course, I am older and in a settled stage of life. So have your adventures while you are young enough to relish them. Godspeed!

February 22, 2011

Owl Standing by the Road

Mt. Hermon Road, Shenandoah County, VA

We saw this owl sitting beside the road on Saturday afternoon. He did not leave when we stopped the car; I thought he looked dazed.

Perhaps the high winds that day had tired him out, or knocked down his favorite tree. Or perhaps he had fled the brush fire that had been put out near Conicville.

Tell me what kind he is if you know. He appeared to be over a foot tall and had a white breast.

We didn't want to block traffic so we drove away after I took the second picture. I hope he was okay.

P.S. A commenter points out he is likely a hawk.

February 21, 2011

Heated Civil War Hospital Tents

LFCC Field Trip, 10/30/2010

We ended our Third Winchester Tour at Shawnee Springs Preserve, site of the Sheridan Field Hospital after the battle in 1864.

A few years ago, tents were erected there on platforms as part of a Civil War Living History event. Professor Noyalas explained that the hospital tents were heated from under the floor using a trench warmed by a fire pit at the end.

The Battle of Third Winchester (Opequon) resulted in thousands of casualties. It was the beginning of the end of Confederate control of the Shenandoah Valley.


Shawnee Springs Civil War Hospital

Shawnee Springs Preserve
Winchester, Virginia

This historical site and wetlands area opened to the public in 2004, preserving the site of a tent-city created as a Union Army hospital. The Civil War Trails marker tells us:
Federal medical authorities established the largest temporary hospital of the Civil War in the aftermath of the Third Battle of Winchester on September 19, 1864. Union Gen. Philip H. Sheridan's medical director, Surgeon James T. Ghiselin, on September 22, ordered Surgeon John H. Brinton to lay out a 4,000-bed facility. Brinton in turn ordered 500 tents and medical supplies for 5,000 patients that had been positioned at Northern rail yards, as well as 20 physicians. Since many public and private structures in Winchester were full of injured Confederates after the battle, the new hospital held Union casualties. Designated Sheridan Field Hospital, the huge facility extended from Shawnee Springs northward to Jacob Senseny's house on Church Ridge.


February 20, 2011

The Stine House at Fort Collier

Winchester, VA

Fort Collier was built around the Stine family's home which had stood there for many years. However, the house was destroyed during the battle at Fort Collier in September of 1864. It was rebuilt after the Civil War.

The people of Winchester suffered during the war, as skirmishes and battles raged through the town. It is said to have changed hands as many as 72 times!

Further Reading:

Lecture at Fort Collier, Winchester

Here we see Professor Jonathan Noyalas (on the right) telling the story of Fort Collier. He mentions that Yankee prisoners were put to work building the fort. They were taken at the Battle of Falling Waters in nearby West Virginia.

(This post is part of a series about the Battle of Opequon/ Third Winchester. See all Third Winchester posts.)

Brief video — Click Arrow to View

Earthworks, Fort Collier

Northern Shenandoah Valley: The largest charge in the Civil War made by cavalry against infantry was here.

In 2008 I visited the site of Fort Collier in Winchester and shared a picture of the entrance on this blog. Two years later I returned there on a field trip sponsored by Lord Fairfax Community College.

An excerpt from an interpretative sign summarizes the significance of the fort:
The fort saw little action until late in the afternoon on September 19, 1864, when, during the Third Battle of Winchester, it became a focal point of the engagement. Here a great Union cavalry charge led by Gen. Wesley Merritt turned the battle against Gen. Jubal A. Early’s outnumbered Confederates. The charge was earthshaking and memorable. A Confederate infantryman who survived the attack later wrote, “I never saw such a sight in my life as that of the tremendous force, the flying banners, sparkling bayonets and flashing sabers moving from the north and east upon the left flank and rear of our army.”
Chances are that the soldier who wrote that ran for his life! The Federal charge was composed of 6,000 cavalrymen in five brigades. Among the many Confederate soldiers killed was their commander, Colonel George S. Patton, grandfather of the famous World War II general.

Earthworks at Fort Collier

February 19, 2011

Russell Hastings Marker in Winchester

The Third Battle of Winchester ranged over a wide area and touring the entire battlefield today is best done partly on foot and partly by vehicle. The new battlefield park is east of I-81 but other sites lie about 3 miles away, within the city of Winchester and west of the interstate.

Portions of the battle took place near Fort Collier, whose earthworks still exist. Near there is a large industrial park, and inside a patch of grass surrounded by asphalt is a lone marker. It marks the site where a Union officer named Russell Hastings was wounded.
Hastings survived the bullet, which damaged his knee, and lived until 1904. He commissioned the marker after the war. The top of the marker reads Gen. Russell Hastings 23rd Ohio Inf. The side of the marker reads Wounded 19 Sept. 1864.

Hastings was adjutant general to Lt. Col. Rutherford B. Hayes (later President). After the war, Hastings was elected to the Ohio legislature and served in other public office until 1872. He remained friends with Hayes and also William McKinley. In 1878, Hastings married President Hayes' niece. See Hasting's bio with links to his memoirs.

You may notice that Third Winchester is called Battle of Opequan there, which should be spelled Opequon. The Opequon is a long meandering creek in the area, and locals pronounce it with the accent on the second syllable, uh-PECK-un. (I had thought it would sound like Occoquan, but there's no relationship except that both names were Native American words.) Anyway, the battle can be called either Third Winchester of Opequan.*

On the day we toured the battlefield, strong shadows made it impossible for me to get a clear photo of the marker, although I enjoy the odd appearance of this picture. You can see a conventional photograph of the marker along with location specifics on the HMDB page.

February 18, 2011

October Landscape, 3rd Winchester Battlefield

Winchester, VA

The battlefield park for Third Winchester was in private hands until a few years ago, so it is not cluttered with monuments like some Civil War battlefields. The landscape is partly wooded and partly open fields.

Trails here can be reached from the First Woods parking area or the Redbud Road entrance. The graded trails are pleasant for walking but extensive enough for a nice hike. Although the park was opened primarily as a historic site, it is much enjoyed by local residents as a place to walk or ride bikes. There are no facilities as far as I know, so bring drinking water if you plan to spend the afternoon.

Below we see the Hackwood House. Originally built in 1777, it caught fire during the Third Battle of Winchester. Union troops used buildings on the site for a hospital, September 1864.

February 17, 2011

Touring the Third Winchester Battlefield

In October I spent a Saturday touring sites of the Battle of Third Winchester with a group from Lord Fairfax Community College. Our leader was Professor Jonathan Noyalas. Previously I've taken two classes with Prof. Noyalas: Uncertain Freedom: The African Americans' Civil War in the Lower Shenandoah Valley and the Battle of Cedar Creek.We began our tour at the north parking lot of the county school complex on First Woods Drive. (See the HMDB map.) These pictures show the first part of our walking tour, which was rather long but pleasant.
The battlefield park features a number of interpretative signs. One of the first ones we saw starts out like this:

The Third Battle of Winchester - September 19, 1864
Bloodiest Battle of the Shenandoah Valley

Gen. Jubal Early assuming that Gen. Phil Sheridan was yet another cautious Union commander, divided his roughly 14,000 troops on a wide front north from Winchester. Sheridan planned to use his army of 39,000 men to attack the portion of Early's force near Winchester. Early, however, learned of the impending attack and raced to concentrate his army at Winchester.
For the rest of the text, see HMDB.org.

February 16, 2011

Civil War Talk and Tour: Second Kernstown

There will be a single-day class in the Northern Shenandoah Valley on April 9, 2011. See the LFCC Announcement for Civil War History: Every man must take care of himself: The Second Battle of Kernstown. The instructor is Jonathan Noyalas, seen here in the class I took in October (19-second video).

Lord Fairfax Community College is near the Middletown exit on I-81, just north of where I-66 comes into the Shenandoah Valley.

Also, I see that Kernstown Battlefield is offering a "First Kernstown" tour on March 26, 2011.

View these Other Kernstown Posts

February 15, 2011

New Guide to Virginia's Civil War Sites

I received a complimentary copy of the new edition of Civil War Sites in Virginia: A Tour Guide by James I. Robertson and Brian Steel Wills. I was pleased to get it because I wore out my old copy of the 1982 edition, which I sometimes carried with me on trips to Civil War sites because it gives directions.

This new version includes one of my photographs, a picture of the Kemper House in Port Republic, where Turner Ashby was taken after being mortally wounded near Harrisonburg. They give me an illustration credit on the last page of the book.

February 14, 2011

When Benny was a Puppy

Here's Ben when we first got him. He was about 5 months old. This was back in 2003 when we still lived in Montclair.

He was quite a handful! We sent him to board with a trainer for 2 weeks. It turned into 3 weeks, and at the end he could walk on a leash and sit on command. But that was about it!

Since then he's learned a repertoire of tricks but he's still a handful. He has a fearsome growl that scares people, and sometimes he still pulls on the leash. Training continues.

February 13, 2011

People at the Lincoln Cemetery

I knew I was in the right place even before I saw the old Lincoln homestead or the "Lincoln Cemetery" sign because there were so many cars parked along the road — perhaps a hundred. A crowd had turned out for the Lincoln's Birthday ceremony on Saturday.

Leaving the Lincoln Ceremony

Linville, VA on February 12, 2011

  1. Reporters carry their equipment back to their vehicle.
  2. Note the house in the background - it was built by President Lincoln's great-uncle Jacob.

See all my Lincoln posts.

February 12, 2011

Today's History Events in the Valley

Today I had a busy day because there were two events that I wanted to attend: a genealogy workshop at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley and an annual ceremony at the Lincoln Family Cemetery. I wound up going to the morning session at the museum and then driving south for an hour to the Lincoln event.

While at the museum I took time to tour the new exhibit on photographer Hugh Morrison. His work was good and particularly interesting are his portraits of people dressed in work clothes, often dirty or ragged but still photographed with dignity.

I've intended to go to the annual Lincoln ceremony for several years but snowy weather and other obligations interfered. The event takes place even when it snows, but driving in snow and standing outside in bitter cold weather are not things I enjoy. Today the snow was mostly gone and the temperatures were above freezing so I didn't want to miss the opportunity. It was windy though.

I'm glad I went. The talk was interesting. I've stopped at the old Lincoln farm before but had not been up to the cemetery. President Lincoln's ancestors lived at the property, which lies between Broadway and Harrisonburg along Harpine Highway, Route 42.

February 11, 2011

Lincoln's Assassin

I see the Lincoln Society of Virginia has updated their site to list the annual ceremony tomorrow and the 7th Annual Lincoln Symposium in Bridgewater on Monday, April 18, 2011. The latter event features author James L. Swanson, who wrote Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer.

I just finished the audiobook version of Manhunt and it was exciting. Flawlessly narrated by actor Richard Thomas, it reads like a great adventure story. With John Wilkes Booth and Davey Herold are on the run, it's a doomed road trip but a fascinating one. I felt some sympathy for Herold, who could have deserted the wounded Booth and saved his own life but chose to look after his partner-in-crime. Booth, however, is not a sympathetic character, although Swanson portrays his misguided idealism with insight. He was a fanatic with a huge ego. Unfortunately, he had the ability to convince a handful of men to follow him, first in developing a plot to kidnap Lincoln and then changing the plot to assassination.

With the assistance of Confederate sympathizers, Booth and Herold managed to elude detectives and Union cavalry for 12 days. However, they fail to cross the Potomac on the first try and later, after reaching Virginia, tarry too long on the Garrett farm, even after the Garrett family tries to get them to leave. Whether they would have escaped death if they had not made these errors is impossible to say for certain. Personally I think that Booth would have failed to keep his identity secret and would have been caught eventually.

February 10, 2011

Ducks at JMU

On previous trips to the arboretum in Harrisonburg we found ducks in the large pond or in the creek that feeds it. This time they were in the smaller catchment at the bottom of the terraced gardens. I happened upon this when I walked down from the upper parking lot — the pavilion parking lot was closed that day.

February 9, 2011

View of the East Campus, JMU

James Madison University
Harrisonburg, VA

The sprawling JMU campus includes a new section on the east side of Interstate 81. I believe this modern building contains the dining hall.

I took this picture Sunday from the Edith Carrier Arboretum, which is also part of the university.

February 8, 2011

Zig-Zag Shadow

Harrisonburg, Virginia

This split-rail fence borders the Edith Carrier Arboretum on University Boulevard. It was constructed in a rustic style often used by farmers in the Shenandoah Valley and nearby mountains.

A zig-zag fence uses a lot of wood but can be constructed without digging holes or even using nails.

Yes, I've posted some similar pictures, especially Shadow of a Zig-Zag Fence (near Mt. Jackson) and Shadow of a Fence (in Winchester). In fact, I've focused on fences so many times that Fences is one of the categories I use for tagging my blog entries.

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February 7, 2011

New Glass Bird Feeder

This isn't the most practical bird feeder we own. I bought it because it's pretty and hung it on the deck so that I could take pictures like these, with light coming through the colored glass and a bird posing on a perch and the mountain ridge in the background.

I'd like to thank the tufted titmouse for cooperating. He's a brave little fellow and did not fly off even when I approached the glass door to take his picture.