Monday, December 28, 2015

Helping a small corner planting spot

In my historic neighborhood, there's an old corner store.  It's a simple store, largely catering to the less affluent folks in the housing project down the street.
After mulching
But it's front row and center to one of the main streets through our neighborhood, and right next door to a thriving neighborhood restaurant, so its corner planting spot is quite visible.  And, after recent city stoplight additions, it's even more so.

I volunteered (on behalf of my garden club, but really just me) to help clean it up some months ago, just before the incident of the hands, which had my right (and dominant) hand practically useless, followed by traveling, and then a nasty virus that laid me low for 3+ weeks.

So I was glad to get over there yesterday, pick up a bit of trash, and throw pine mini-nuggets over the square, hoping that they'll break down enough by spring to create a bit of a planting bed, for something that might not be trampled....

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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Lovely winter hikes

Even if the unseasonably warm weather seems odd for this time of the year, it made for some lovely winter hikes.

The views along Beaver Lake were fabulous yesterday.

Sycamores at Beaver Lake (along Merrimon Ave) in late afternoon
Today, along the Blue Ridge Parkway (walking a segment of the Mountains-to-Sea trail), the views were equally nice, complete with strange balmy air, more suitable to April than December.

View from the Mountains-to-Sea trail, below the intersection of Town Mountain Road and the BRP
Fungi, moss, and lichens
Woody was happy.  He was cooling off in a muddy spot.

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Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas fern

A piece in the NYT today reminded me how fortunate we are to have native Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides, a fern that's evergreen in a winter landscape.

Polystichum acrostichoides
Various stories about its common name exist; being green at Christmas seems like enough of an explanation for me, although stocking-shaped leaflets sound reasonable, too.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Snow and other thoughts

Five years ago, we were here in Asheville at Christmas.  There was a lot of snow.  It started early, and continued, with snow on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Quite different than today's early morning thunderstorms, with even more rain after a rainy night, and WARM temperatures.

Mocha and me -- December 12,  2010

We've almost a week more of unusually high temperatures, apparently, before they moderate to something more normal.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Remembering holidays and Christmases past

Thinking about Christmas...

A search of previous post with the label "Christmas" brings up not only travel posts of Christmases away, but remembrances of our last snowy Christmas with Mocha (our 2nd Golden) and our first with our current fellow, Woody, as well as posts that have Christmas fern in the narrative or "Christmas Eve" as a tag.  Go figure. 

A search for "holidays" was equally revealing, although it brought up some of the same posts.

My mother (and my dad, too) believed in giving back at Christmas, even though we were a secular family (my mom, a philosophy major,  took my sister and me to Unitarian fellowship for some time), but my sister (who grew up to be a music teacher and is musical in all ways) and I loved singing carols, and we made Christmas cookies and had Christmas dinner, and gathered folks to the table (foreign students who were far from home).

My sister and I learned about the philosophers of the world (and the founders of the major religions; they were wise people, my mom said).  And I don't have any reason to consider it otherwise, although I'm more or less a humanist, and not a believer of anything much beyond the basic good of people.
Christmas lights in Lecce, Italy
"Home" at Christmas for the first time (since the last ones with Mocha and Woody), after a very many away traveling, seems both welcome and disconcerting.  

What DOES Christmas mean, after all, to two secular folks who grew up with Christmas traditions, but don't practice gift-giving (to friends and relatives), but will go to a Christmas brunch, hosted by friends in the neighborhood, and share dinner with equally secular friends?

We've continued the holiday giving around food, shelter, clothing, and animals, both here and in distant places.  

We'll mark the tradition by going to a Christmas Eve celebration, as we've done in places around the world, from Mexico, Columbia, Chile, Vietnam, Italy, France, Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, Dominica, and Costa Rica, and other places that I'm not remembering at the moment.  There was a memorable Christmas Eve in Arusha, Tanzania, but that one wasn't celebratory!

Wishing peace for the world at this time of the year and blessings to any of you that read this.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Curious natural rhythms

The rhythms of the natural world seem a bit askew here so far this fall and early winter, even among our native plants, but especially the Asian ones, many of which are starting to flower now, some months in advance of what they "normally" would in a place far afield from their genetic home (cherries, quinces, forsythia, and Jasminium...) 

Quince buds from spring, in a another year, down in the Piedmont
I'm hearing Carolina Wrens singing loudly, perhaps not unusually, but the frequency this time of year?  And the occasional male cardinal?

Hmm, at least there haven't been any daffodils yet -- they probably need at least a bit of cold before they are triggered to flower.  We'll see what (is now calendar) winter brings.  Normally I think of winter in the Carolinas of the Southern U.S. from mid-November to late February, since we often have warmer days in February, variable weather in March, and by April, we're solidly into spring, depending on any odd vagaries.

A former colleague, at the botanical garden in the Upstate of SC, was an old-timer, now gone -- in my early years there, he wouldn't plant warm-season bedding plants in the front display gardens until after May 1st.  I think those days are probably gone, too (along with planting bedding plants, as well).

The tulips that aren't prechilled, the hours of chilling needed for apples, and peaches -- well, how they fare remains to be seen in the months ahead.

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Monday, December 21, 2015

Winter Solstice

I'm glad that today marks the shortest day of the year. 

I'm not particularly happy when the days are shorter, even if the temperatures are mild, as they've been this year.  It's still dark when I get up, and dark before I finish cooking dinner.

Yes, I remember my days in Germany when it was even darker, and the light was for a shorter period of time, and I now imagine my friends elsewhere in Northern Europe (Ireland, the Netherlands, UK) enveloped in the dark, but...  I'm glad the days will be getting longer.

We have often been off to much brighter places by now, having traveling at winter break, as academics for decades, without family obligations around holidays.

Home this year, in the mountains, for the first time, it's interesting to mark the solstice, and the holiday season.  Neither of us are religious at all, now in midlife, but we've grown up with the secular traditions of Christmas, and my gardening companion, with the traditions of Catholic celebrations behind him -- well, we enjoy marking the transition of Christmas and New Year's wherever we've been in the world. And we'll do that here in our mountain town in Western North Carolina.

That's often included Christmas Eve masses in small parish churches in Latin American countries, or a massive one in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, or a freezing one in Rome, up on the hill, on a trip to Italy after 9/11.

Lights in Hoi An
But what I'm remembering this evening is a wonderful Full Moon celebration in Hoi An, Vietnam.

We had wonderful trips there over two travel seasons.

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

An orchid in winter light

Standing at the sink, and looking left, the buds on a coral-colored orchid reflected a clear yellow in the afternoon light. 

orchid in late afternoon light
The brightness of the buds surprised me, but the late afternoon sun focused their glow, in a way not particularly captured by the iPhone, but something to remember, nevertheless.

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Saturday, December 19, 2015

Remembering an Irish beach

Poking back through images, actually looking for something else, I came across photos of this beach on the Dingle Peninsula.  Remarkable at the time, and compelling to come across this evening, too.

A Dingle beach, full of geological interest
Just having returned from a lovely neighborhood concert, there is something grounding about these photos. 
a stacked collection

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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Winter light

The rain has blown through, bringing colder air and freezing temperatures back, at last, to the mountains.

evening light to the far side of the ravine
The combination of clear, dry air, pushing out last bits of clouds gave a luminous quality to the evening light. 

towards the ravine
 My iPhone didn't do a great job capturing what I saw (especially in the other direction, at sunset), and I'm realizing that I really need a replacement for my ancient digital Nikon D100 SLR, too, if I really want to keep getting those out-of-the-ordinary images.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Fun with ceramics

My usual themes of trees and green emerged on a recent excursion with a new friend, met through a watercolor workshop.  With lots in common, we were both interested in checking out a local paint-your-own-ceramic item sort of place (we'd both walked by it for some time without ever checking it out).

So heartened by mutual interest, we set off, and had an excellent afternoon experimenting with fluid ceramic glazes on our bowls, and wondering how they'd come out, while talking about all sorts of things.

Here was my bowl, unfired.

unfired bowl
And then what it looked like, after firing, at least propping it up for a rudimentary photo.

after firing
Some of the green was darker than I thought it would be (more "kelly green" than a natural green), but the bowl is quite nice, really, and the glaze covered it completely (I wasn't sure about that).

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Monday, December 14, 2015

Late fall sedums

This matrona sedum struggled early on, but has been in its heyday for the last few years.

It was beautiful in the late afternoon light today.  The iPhone didn't capture it appropriately, but perhaps enough.  The dried, senesced flowering stalks were luminous, and rusty brown, in the waning light.

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Leeks in December

Who knew that I'd be out harvesting young leeks and dividing up my perennial leek patch in December?

a December leek harvest
But they're flourishing in this unseasonably warm weather, and I'm finally feeling well enough (after a nasty cold-like virus) to actually enjoy it.

Lovely to be in the garden this afternoon, continuing to tidy cool season greens here and there, too. 

I transplanted (!) some red romaine lettuce seedlings that had been hanging on in flats (looking scrimped) -- hmm, who knows.

I sowed the final spinach seeds from one of this year's packets -- ridiculous, but you never know. 

One of my good gardening friends (always experimental) and one who doesn't follow the "rules" has lovely Swiss chard, spinach seedlings, hardy-looking onion relatives of all sorts, as well as young cilantro plants everywhere.  Maybe the La Nina or is it the El Nino effect that's bringing us this continuing warm weather in the Eastern U.S. will keep things warm for a bit more.  It's certainly predicted through the week ahead.

A woodchuck that crept out from the ravine ate my cilantro plants while we were traveling in October, so I have no homegrown cilantro at this point (I had to send out my gardening companion for cilantro for our dinner this evening.  Aggravating, as it would have been flourishing now!)

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Friday, December 11, 2015

An orchid in winter

We have a row of orchids along the kitchen windows, which have flourished in the light there.  This is the first year that they've re-flowered, testament to their site and evolving care (not mine).

This one is particularly lovely;  illuminated by late afternoon light, its graceful stem, elongated by the sun's changing angles over the day, frames the edge of the window looking towards the deck.

orchid in late afternoon light

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Thursday, December 10, 2015


For the first time in many years, we're not traveling over winter break, staying at home in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

The academic schedule of decades has yielded now in "graduation" to a more flexible one, so mid-January to early February is a more appealing time to travel, and escape the relatively mild winters for a few weeks, before spring wildflower season begins, not so long afterwards.

Curiously, FB keeps reminding me of my posts last year, as we were about to head off (to far south, in Argentina and Chile), so that has me thinking about conundrums of travel.

Travel brings such a widening perspective, where ever we go.  If more Americans traveled, I think it would bring more scope to how we perceive "immigrants"and "refugees."

My great-great grandmother left Germany in 1848, with her five young sons, to escape the draft into the Kaiser's army (at least that's how the story is told).  They established the Wagner Brothers Clothing Store in Ellinwood, Kansas as adults.

"Quality has no substitute" was their motto.


Monday, December 7, 2015

Beautiful evening light

I'm grateful for the light surrounding our house in the mountains.

We have morning sunrises from the kitchen window and deck and evening light from the front door and side windows.

In winter, the light slants low, illuminating the house throughout the day, including my small ground-floor studio space.

Recovering, now, from a nasty virus, I was glad to be able to take a nice rest (not my usual mode) on the couch looking out at the evening light.  I searched out a late August view.

Here are a couple of late October versions.

Sunsets in the mountains are good.  I'm grateful.

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Sunday, December 6, 2015

Lovely fall carrots

A harvest sample
I'd bought some carrot seeds in late summer from a "seed collector" - an eclectic fellow who had obtained these seeds from a source in India, bred traditionally by a researcher looking for heat tolerance.  The seed collector was mentioned in Organic Gardening magazine (now Organic Living). His business is called The Rare Vegetable Seed Consortium.

I had acquired purple and deep orange varieties, sowed them late, without much anticipation of anything, as we were traveling in late September and October, so not around to water.

But much to my surprise, my harvest (prompted by the late 20° F overnight temperatures) yielded a small bunch of totally delicious purple and orange carrots.  They were good both fresh and roasted.  Encouraging, to be sure.

Carrots are NOT an easy vegetable to grow in the Southern US!

The best looking one!
I see that Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has picked them up from the original collector, who introduced them here.  Good news for keeping these great varieties alive.  I bought them from the collector's small company, but Baker Creek is "mainstream" now.  This is a good thing as these are a delicious and productive variety that needs wider distribution.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A mix of sedums

Sedums are wonderfully versatile plants.  They're drought-tolerant, diverse in their textures and colors, and many are hardy over winter, in our Zone 7 mountain basin.

A nearby short-term rental house has a new planting that is really quite nice.

front garden sedums
These looked luminous on a rainy morning.

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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Golden sugar maples

The sugar maples down in the ravine forest below the house keep on bringing fall color in golden yellows. Sheltered from frost, they've been late to turn color (and definitely late to lose their leaves).

Sugar maples, in late afternoon light

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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Late fall color and dog treats

A last blast of fall color with Japanese maples and native maples has been lovely. 
Across the street
 An odd confluence of minimal fall frosts & freezes, combined with warm weather has extended leaf season for natives and non-natives alike. 

I'd never had thought I'd have the door open to cool off the house on November 28, as I'm simmering turkey broth from an "echo" turkey this evening, post-Thanksgiving spent with relatives. (My gardening companion likes "left-over" turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, etc. and this is his birthday week, so....)

 A favorite walk of mine is to loop up and around the historic Grove Park Inn. 

The downward side of the loop comes along Kimberly Avenue.  A dog-lover (I'm imagining in memory of one) has kindly put this up, as a stop along the way, for those of us who have furry friends along on our walks.
Dog treats

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Saturday, November 21, 2015

Writing, connecting, and other thoughts

Spending a day in talks related to writing (at the NC Writers Network Fall Conference) has been interesting.

Considering myself a writer (narrative non-fiction? creative non-fiction?) has been a bit of a leap, but with a lot of professional writing and over 1650 posts on this blog, I suppose I qualify.

There are so many different "genres" of writing represented in participants, from fiction, to creative non-fiction, to memoir, to non-fiction, and poetry.

And it seems like most of us write simply for the experience, pleasure, and joy of expressive writing.

Some of the participants make a living from writing, but my sense is that most of us there simply love to write, in whatever format.

In writing about nature, I enjoy feeling grounded in the natural world, in everyday reflections about gardening and what I've observed.

Writing blog posts focused on something that I did, observed, or experienced -- that's been magic to me over the 8-plus years that I've been writing posts.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A first freeze

We finally had our first "real" freeze of fall last weekend. 

I was distracted by watercolor classes, an art walk through the River Arts District, and planning various upcoming activities, travel, etc. so hadn't done too much aside from running out and harvesting the last tender bok choi leaves, from plants which turned out not to be so tender after all.

Thankfully, I'd already harvested all the peppers, so just needed to clean up the droopy carcasses this week.  The greens, herbs, sugar snap peas, parsley, etc. all look just fine, of course.

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Friday, November 13, 2015

Trees and mountains

I was in a watercolor class today, with a favorite teacher, Elizabeth Ellison, in a class that's about really about learning watercolor techniques and "tools to use." 

I was so delighted to somehow produce a couple of pleasing studies, one of mountains, channeling (again) the Rockies of my childhood, not the smooth mountains of the Southern Appalachians where I live now, and feel at home, and the other, following Elizabeth's mention of a beech, turned into a remembrance of a sycamore.


tree study

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Sunday, November 8, 2015

Ugly vegetables...

My generous and good friend gave me a box of sweet potatoes last week.  They didn't look like sanitized supermarket sweet potatoes, to be sure.  And they supposedly needed more curing to store well.

Some of them were VERY large, and warty-looking.  Some had been nibbled on, she thought, by field mice.  And there were oddities on their skins, too, perhaps caused by "wireworms."
The glass bowl is a full quart, just to provide some perspective. The half sweet potato is 5" wide X 4" high.
I've never grown sweet potatoes successfully myself (woodchucks ate the shoots as quickly as I could plant them), but I was interested, too, of course.

A participant in a class later in the week, spotting the box in the back of my car (curing in the warm weather), asked "Are they still edible?" 

I said, yes, of course, they're just not cleaned up like our supermarket sweet potatoes (and clearly all of the large and unusually shaped ones must go somewhere else than our human food stream, as I've never seen any that looked quite like these before).

However, I've now roasted, peeled, and eaten some -- they're delicious.

It reminds me of how important gleaning work is, and the importance, too, of recognizing what's good food, even when not "beautiful."

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Friday, November 6, 2015

Another magical view

The historic Grove Park Inn is a wonderful place for sunsets, and at least so far, they're happy to be open to the public for gazing, walk-throughs on early morning walks, and views, in general.

And they're delightfully tolerant of Woody, although he's clearly over the 25 lb. limit for dogs at the hotel, nor is he staying there.

view from the President's lounge- Grove Park Inn
Guests and employees alike enjoy him as as we cruise through the lobby towards the Sunset Terrace, or around to have a glass of wine and a beer in the enclosed space towards the east.  Magical.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Evening light

Fall color and evening light have stretched out magically; the unexpected warm weather has extended fall color...and the clouds this week -- both in the morning and the evening, have been wonderful.

All of this has made pre-dinner walks (even after daylight savings time and early darkness) quite lovely.

This evening's loop around Beaver Lake in North Asheville (a favorite walking place) -- special, indeed.

Walking at Beaver Lake

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Sunday, November 1, 2015

The magic of ginkgos

We've had ginkgos at the three houses that we've lived in over the years we've been homeowners.

The first came with the house.  It was magical.  It was a lovely shape, probably induced by early pruning, and released all of its leaves in a carpet of yellow.

I have a lovely snapshot from long ago of my gardening companion, Tim, with our first Golden, Chessie, playing with the fallen leaves -- I don't think that I've digitized it, but it's vividly in memory.

Ginkgo in front of house
We planted at least 5 ginkgos in our Piedmont garden, grown from seeds collected from female trees on campus.  They had gotten very large and were spectacular by the time we left that garden last spring, but hadn't revealed their sex!

Here in the mountains, we planted a known male, with excellent color, from a favorite local nursery in the Piedmont. It replaced an unremarkable red maple in front of the house.

It's lovely right now.

Fall gingko
We had a pair of luminous ginkgos at the South Carolina Botanical Garden, my workplace for over 2 decades.

This was one of them.

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Friday, October 30, 2015

Gardening for nature

I've been gardening for nature and encouraging others to do so for over three decades, now that I'm thinking about it.  Hmm.  It's good work and I'm glad to have had the opportunity to do so.

Doing another program tomorrow morning has me musing --

I thoroughly updated my presentation to suit Western North Carolina and the Southern Appalachians, where I now live, but not without a bit of wistfulness for our old garden in the Piedmont, too, as I deleted images that I'd talked about for a long time. 

I'm not sure that the stewardship and care of planting has been particularly appreciated by the new "owners" of the site, just from a remark or two that came our way.
Glad to come home (late August, 2015)
But, whatever, gardens and landscapes change, and that's the story.

How do we, however ephemerally, change the places where we live for the better?  My gardening companion and I plant natives, plants that work for a living, and ones that have great meaning.  Those have been our screens, and my talking points over the years.

So I'm glad to look back at the stewardship that we've done, too, in our landscapes.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Fall sunset

Fall color is at its peak now in the Asheville basin, spilling down from the higher elevations to, perhaps briefly, illuminate the ridges surrounding the city and our neighborhoods.

The view of our neighbor's hickory in sunset light was wonderful this evening after a couple of days of rain.

Hickory and sunset

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

View from the deck

The fall colors are muted this year, because of rain and warm temperatures, but are still wonderfully vivid.

They're close to peak now, a good couple of weeks late, I'd think,

Hickories, maples, black gums, buckeyes, etc. illuminate the ravine view.

ravine forest view in fall

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Planting more greens

I rescued some transplants from my local Ace hardware store yesterday, and planted them today, in newly cleared beds, free of green beans at last.

The transplants were rainbow Swiss chard (looking OK), some very nice looking Pac Choi (which will be taken out by the first hard frost, but I'll enjoy how attractive they are, in the meantime), and some Mizuna (ditto).

Maybe I'll even get a few sugar snap peas from the vines that are now tentatively climbing up the trellises -- it's all about whether the mild weather holds for a while through next week and early November!

It's totally nuts (from a gardening perspective), but we live in changing times (in terms of climate) as well as many other things...

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Being at home and in the garden

After a wonderful trip to Ireland, it's good to be home in the Southern Appalachians.

Tall trees, green hills, and the start of vibrant fall color, late this year, I think.

We've just about finished the last of the green beans after returning home (darn, I hoped the freeze/frost last weekend would have finished them off, but they've actually been quite good, developing slowly over the weeks we were gone, especially the broad Romano and Cranberry beans, not to mention the Emerite and Kentucky Wonders). Now it's on to the last of the lettuce, before harvesting mustards, etc.  We might even get a sugar snap pea or two if the weather holds.

I'm thinking I might put in some very late transplants from the local hardware store (just for fun), as well as sowing some more greens. Might as well take advantage of the increasingly warm climate, I suppose...

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Coming down Healy Pass

My gardening companion took this photo (with my iPhone) coming down Healy Pass on the Beara Peninsula, on his way back to meet me after my writer's retreat.

Coming down Healy Pass
We looped back through the pass again on our way back, through the Dingle Peninsula, and then back to Shannon and home.

Here at home, there's fall color, still lots of leaves left on trees, and final green beans to harvest. But that waits for another post.

The western Atlantic coast of Ireland we visited, and especially the southwestern coast and peninsulas where we spent the most time, were magical.  

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

A last Beara dusk

It may not be the last time I come here, but walking the high road back for dinner, for a final evening session, it was still magical in a dull light.

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