Tuesday, December 14, 2010

To Everything There is a Season

A Year in Groveton Woods

The first snow of the 2010 season has snapped me to my senses.  Granted, it was just a dusting, but the point is that I was just getting into Fall, and now Winter’s already threatening! It was a chilly 58 degrees in my bedroom early this morning, and a little colder downstairs in the kitchen before the coffee pot came on. Though I enjoy the lower utility bills that accompany the transitions between cooling and heating seasons, maybe it’s time to break down and fire up the furnace. Yes, it may be time to admit that summer's really over, and old man winter's really coming. There’s still time to embrace and enjoy the best season o-f-all—Fall!

Ice over an eddy in Rock Creek preserves remnants of DC's first snow on a gray day in 2010.

Earlier this Fall, I walked to and from my polling station to vote. I took some new pictures of scenes around my neighborhood.  I have now taken pictures of some of the same landmarks in all four seasons. Here in words and pictures I proudly present, “To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn) There is a Season” aka “A Year in Groveton Woods.”

Four Seasons, Virginia Style


I began this seasonal photo journal of life in Groveton Woods just after the record-shattering snowstorms of 2009 / 10. Being snowed-in turned all of us Groveton Woods condo dwellers into real, bona fide neighbors. We met each other before the streets were plowed, when offices were closed and the power was iffy. There was nothing to do but go outside and shovel. And soon, it was like a block party. United by a common cause, we pitched in until all 148 driveways were clear.   


Winter rolled into spring. April in northern Virginia means bright, clear blue skies, deep green grass, lots of birds singing, and buds, blooms, and bees everywhere.   On a soul-cleansing walk one day I passed right by a couple of landmarks that earlier this year had been covered in record-breaking snow: the Groveton Woods marquee, and the little stream that runs parallel to Harrison Avenue.  The sight of these same landmarks in the full glory of spring gave me something to think about as I walked through the neighborhood.


Summers can be oppressively hot and humid in Virginia, particularly the part of Virginia where I live and work: close to sea level and surrounded by concrete and water.  The summer update photos reveal my neighborhood landmarks in a harsher summer light producing starker contrasts and the desire to find shade and air conditioning.


Autumn brings a welcome relief from the heat. The days get shorter, the nights get cooler, and neighbors fire up grills for tailgaters and block parties. It’s harvest time, time to reap rewards and count blessings. The Boys of Summer yield to the Gridiron Greats. Changing leaves are a main attraction in a climate with four distinct seasons. The colors started changing first in the Blue Ridge Mountains just west of here. By late October, the changes were sweeping through the trees along the nearby Potomac.

Still Life: A Study in Seasons

Ever notice how differently familiar objects appear as the Earth revolves around the Sun? I looked at three things in the changing heat and light of our four seasons: (a) the stream near Harrison Road; (b) various flora that decorate the neighborhood; and (c) the Groveton Woods marquee.

The Stream

Winter: Wind-blown, snow-laden branches snap and fall on the frozen stream.
The unyielding ice shatters.  The branch is stuck. Nothing moves.

Spring:  A branch falls and the water absorbs it and continues flowing.  Even though I am scared, I need to be more like that stream, not tense and brittle, but calm, relaxed, flowing.

Summer: a trickle of water barely quenches the parched embankment and the harsh summer sun casts a stark shadow. The deer sleep in the cool shade and only come out at dawn and dusk.

Fall: The colors are the story. Not only are the leaves fading from deep green to drier, crisper auburns and yellows, but the light and air quality are accentuating the change. As the humidity fades, the air thins, and the sun strikes a bit more softly.

 Seasonal Flora

Winter:  the only flowers in the winter are a bouquet of icicles hanging from my gutter

Spring:  purple bottle brushes bloom along the Rock Creek Parkway

Summer: A butterfly bush is loaded with at least 40 butterflies

Fall: Our neighborhood is on fire with these brightly colored trees

The Groveton Woods Marquee

Winter: Hunker down, dig out, talk to your neighbors (!), huddle, and rest

Spring: Spring forth, circulate and pollinate

Summer: Harsh light of a bright summer sun renders everything, even the colorful blooms, in a high contrast wash of intense light.

Fall: The blooms are long gone. A little color comes back though in the form of the bright blue sky and the many shades of green in mature plants.

Life in Motion: Things We Do In Different Seasons


National Weather Service says DC has broken a 111-year-old record for total season snowfall: 54.9 inches, besting by half an inch the old record set in 1898-99. Near-neighbors and net-neighbors shared humorous names for the common calamity: Snow Mas!, Snowtropolis, Scoopapalooza, Snowmaggedon, Apocalypse sNow, SnOMG!, Snowzilla, and Snow-Be-Gone.


Simultaneous Easter, Cherry Blossoms, and sunny days bring record-setting hordes of tourists, swarms of bugs, and clouds of pollen.  The pollen count was 4400 one day, ten times the normal for spring.  Different season, different records.  On a motorcycle ride I encountered a cloud of wind-driven pollen so thick it found sinuses I did not even know I had.  Then, down by the edge of the Potomac, I hit a dense cloud of bugs too stupid to get out of the way.  Fortunately (?) the next thing that happened was a cloudburst so sudden and so drenching that it washed all the pollen and bug juice from my goggles and nostrils.  There’s probably some humor in spring-time calamities, too.


There’s a good reason that Congress takes off the month of August. Man, it’s hot and muggy here in the summer. The dog days are good for catching an evening Nats game or driving to Ocean City for a day at the shore.  The air-conditioner runs non-stop, 24/7, to combat the heat and humidity.


School starts up again and all of the vacationers are suddenly back, clogging up the commute. The boys of summer yield the mantel to the pigskin players as Football season kicks off.  The air conditioning system can finally take a break in October. There is a month when Nature goes through a rapid transformation. Harvest season. The leaves are turning. People want to sit out on the porch and drink lemonade and talk to the neighbors again—you know, neighbors? Those people you met last winter in the snow storm? 

Neighbors enjoy each other’s company an impromptu block party tailgater around the grill and cooler on a recent Fall evening, just before kickoff

As the tree sap slowly drains back, life all around the trees near our stream also slows down a bit.  The harvest is in. Grounds crews have raked, vacuumed and mulched all the leaves from the gardens in and around Groveton Woods. Christmas trees and lights are going up in windows around the block. And the furnace is on. Yes, Virginia, the holiday season is approaching.... 

2010 has been a good year.