The Sweet Family in 2010

Updated: 18 December 2012


A Snowy Winter
Our place, ice storm

The new year started off just like 2009 ended — cold and snowy. There was a brief late-January thaw but February brought another 30 inches of snow overall. We got off easy compared to some areas further east that got 30 inches all at once. The total snowfall for the season was 79.8 inches, a record since I've been collecting data. I kept hoping for another quarter inch in April so we would break 80 but it never came. The snow and cold weather delayed the start of sugar season. We did not open our trees until early March, at a time when we are often finishing up.

During one snowfall the temperature hung just below freezing, causing the snow to cling to everything. I went out at midnight to take the photo of our winged euonymus bush, below left, cloaked in a veil of white. During the January thaw I caught Beth enjoying breakfast in bed. She is getting along in years and has quite severe arthritis, so walking is difficult. Generally she eats standing up but on this day she cleaned up the entire pile of hay without without getting up.

Winged euonymus Beth

During the largest February snowstorm, snow from the previous storm still clung to the kitchen roof, sliding very slowly down and melting just a bit, forming a cornice and a curtain of icicles outside the kitchen window. Note the bird (a bluejay) flying toward the feeder in the lower right corner. A few hours later, as the cornice continued to grow, the icicles leaned inward. The longest one is just touching the siding. Shortly after I took the second photo, the whole thing broke off. The second row of photos shows a bluejay (left) and a red-bellied woodpecker and another bluejay (right).

View from our kitchen window Icicles Bluejay Woodpecker and bluejay
Spring Trip to Orcas Island

Char flew to Seattle in April to visit her sisters and other family on Orcas Island. Kathy went along on the westward leg of the trip and stayed a week before returning to Roanoke. Char was there for a month and returned on her own. Since Kathy had taken their rental car back when she left, Char flew from Orcas to Seattle on a small plane, then back to Roanoke via Charlotte. She had a great time and survived the travel quite well.


Above, Char leaving for her trip to Washington.

Upper right, Three sisters: Thelma, Char, and June.

Lower right, Rosario Harbor on Orcas Island.

Thelma Char June
Rosario Harbor
Summer Trip to Pennsylvania
Amtrak Four Generations

In July, Char traveled by train to Philadelphia. From there she went first to Bev and Charlie’s home in Hatfield and then on to granddaughter Lynne’s home in Lancaster. She is seen boarding Amtrak’s “Cardinal” in Staunton and, at right, with Nathan, Lynne, and Evan Bertz and Beverly Stanley. She was there for several days and had an outing at Hershey Park among other things. I drove up to Lancaster on 1 August so I could meet the great-grandsons for the first time and then brought Char home the next day. We stopped at an orchard in Maryland to buy peaches. We have no local fruit this year due to a hard freeze in late May.

Spring Farm Work
Locust Locust

Meanwhile, back on the farm I was getting into spring chores. Part of a large locust tree had fallen across the road on Stark Ridge during the winter and we cut the rest of it to prevent a future roadblock. A couple of sections were good for posts but mostly it made a large pile of firewood. The big job for spring was digging out a second road up Stark Ridge so we can build a proper fence for our cattle. We have had a light-duty fence winding through the woods. It worked but needed constant maintenance. I plotted the route of least resistance among the trees. The photo at right shows the toughest and steepest section. After grading out this road we built high-tensile fence along it. This also opened up a couple of acres of new pasture on the ridge top. Chris helped after school and we had Shane back for a week in May, after Virginia Tech let out, while the fence was going up.

Pine Tree Road
Pine Tree Road Pine Tree Road
Family Visit in August

In August Stephanie and son Kevin drove from their home near Minneapolis to Pennsylvania to pick up daughter Julia, who is now in her third year at Penn State. The three of them came to visit us for almost a week. During that time Kathy and Jeff came up from Roanoke and several nearby friends came by, so we had a crowd much of the time. Kathy and Jeff are engaged, with the wedding planned for October 2011.

One afternoon we hiked up to Piney Point (group photo below). It rained on us so we are all a bit bedraggled. Our house is in the distance, right at the tip of the pine tree behind Jeff’s head. We have cut some trees there in the past to open up the view. It looks like we will need to do it again soon. I took all three Brondanis caving at Water Sinks. I think they largely enjoyed the trip but Steph was scared spitless by the small keyhole passage leading to the Sideways Section. There are pix of that section (but not the keyhole) in the 4 January 2008 trip report.

Steph took Julia back to Penn State on her way home. Shortly thereafter Kevin went to Brazil to stay with relatives and work for a year or so. He is teaching English to Portuguese speakers and improving his Portuguese in the process. We are told he is having a great time. Write to us Kevin!

Char Julia Steph Char Kevin Steph

Char, Julia, Steph. Photo by Kevin Brondani

Char, Kevin, Steph. Photo by Julia Brondani

Julia and Reckless Family

Julia and Kathy’s dog, Reckless. Photo by Kevin Brondani

Julia, Jeff Smith, Kathy, Kevin, Char. Photo by Stephanie Brondani

Piney Point Group

John Sweet, Jeff Smith, Kathy Gregg, Julia, Stephanie and Kevin Brondani, Ed McArdle and Jaime Letourneau. Photo by Shane Wiseman

Fall Trip to Maryland
White's Ferry

In September we made an overnight trip to Dickerson, MD, to attend a reunion of U.S. Whitewater Team members. They had a gala feast with speakers and entertainment but the main draw was the chance to meet with old friends. I was able to visit with two or three dozen folks, many of whom I have not seen for 20 years. Pictured below left, Char is talking with Barb and Rick McKee. Barb was my doubles partner for many years. We raced in the 1981 World Championships. We also stopped briefly at the home of Davey and Jennifer Hearn, who bought our business five years ago.

We stayed with Bill Bickham, one of my very first paddling buddies, and Ann Somerville that evening and then attended the U. S. Slalom Nationals the next day. The course is on the cooling-water outflow from a power plant. It has been specially outfitted with large concrete obstacles to make an outstanding whitewater course — and the water is always warm! Pictured below right is Devin McEwan, son of my good friend Jamie, near the top of the course. Some of the rules are quite different from my racing days. One change that is obvious in this photo is the one-pole gate. Previously there would have been a second pole near the stern of the boat. The move here is to make a 360° turn around the single pole.

On our way home we were able to avoid driving back through DC by taking White’s Ferry across the Potomac. For a four-dollar toll we avoided the city traffic and saved more than half an hour on the trip home. A ferry has been active here since 1817. The present boat is named after Confederate General Jubal Early. It carries about 20 vehicles on each trip and is guided across the river on a heavy steel cable, visible in the foreground. Here the ferry is going back to the Maryland side after we got off.

Team Reunion Dickerson course

Flowers and Wildlife
Crocus Dutchman's Breeches

Crocus, the first flower of spring

Dutchman's Breeches, my mother's favorite spring flower

Flower Poinsettia

An unidentified flower, observed while road grading

Our poinsettia, still holding red bracts in late March

Japonica Night-Blooming Cereus

Japonica and forsythia in mid-April

Night-blooming cereus in mid-August while the family was here


Daylilies along the stone wall in our fronot yard

Molting cardinal
Renewed cardinal

Birds molt and renew their feathers annually. Usually it is not very noticeable but this cardinal was with us much of the year looking quite bald (left).
Finally, in September, its feathers were growing in again, just in time for winter.

Snake Christmas cactus

We saw this snake in the grass in May but were unable to identify it.
We thought it must be albino; according to Ted Carns it is an albino milk snake.

Our Christmas cactus bloomed for Halloween and Thanksgiving this year.

Fall Trip to Pennsylvania

In late October we journeyed to Latrobe, PA, to visit long-time friends, Tom and Paulette Irwin. Tom was one of my best paddling buddies while at Penn State forty years ago. Barb and Rick McKee and Dennis Peterson drove out from New Jersey to join us for the weekend. The Irwins built their house on a rural lot outside of town, surrounded by fields and woods. They have enhanced it over the years through a large addition and various outdoor projects. Both the Irwins and McKees have been to our place several times but this was our first visit there. On Saturday we explored the property and talked and ate.

On Sunday morning we visited a nearby acid mine drainage reclamation project on Monastery Run, then drove east to Laughlintown to visit Tom’s sister and brother-in-law, Kathy and Ted Carns. They live in the woods on top of Laurel Mountain, off the grid. It is an amazing and interesting place. The original stone camp was built by Ted’s great uncles in 1926 as a much smaller cabin, which Ted has added on to in all directions. Ted started out there as a live-in caretaker, then bought the place in the 1990s, making major renovations and additions along the way. In addition to the house there are a dozen or more smaller buildings and a greater number of tractors, trucks, other vehicles and untold bits of equipment and resources he refers to as his “artists pallet,” including a sawmill, so they can make their own lumber from trees on the site. They get electricity from solar-pv panels and a wind turbine, hot water from another solar panel, and they collect methane gas and ethanol for fuel from composting and fermentation. And, of course, they burn wood for heat. They are energy self sufficient. Ted was interviewed on a local radio station in January 2005. Here is the transcript of that program and here is the audio of it, running about 5 minutes. They have also been featured on Finland Public TV and recently a documentary about them won Best Picture at The International Deaf Film Festival.

Updated   Since our visit in 2010, Ted Carns has written a book, Off On Our Own: Living Off-Grid in Comfortable Independence, which is available from Amazon and other book sellers. They have also put up a web site with more photos and a lot of info about them and their home. I do not endorse everything said but it is interesting reading and a good complement to the book. The web pix are in color while the book (aside from the cover) is black and white.

Irwin House AMD project

The Irwin's home near Latobe, PA

Paulette and Tom Irwin at the Monastery Run AMD project.

Carns House Guest House

Ted Carns in front of his house near Laughlintown, PA.

The Carns’ guest house and other things.

Solar array Stairway

Rick McKee looking at the solar panels and lean-to greenhouse attached to the Carns’ house.


The interior of the house is as eclectic as the outside. Ted and Tom in the dining room, Kathy and Char beyond, in the kitchen.

The stairway to the second-floor bedroon is carved from a gnarled tree truck. There is a similar one in the guest house.

A Few Odds and Ends
Cowpasture River Amy's Road

On one of our ventures this summer we forded the Cowpasture River at a site I used while in college to wash my car and just play in the river. A companion and I camped in my pickup in the middle of this ford about 40 years ago.

In late summer I worked on a neighbor's road to construct passing spots, this being one of several. It was a very narrow lane where passing was, at best, difficult. I also tried to improve drainage.

Our shale bank Post pile

We have a shale bank that I have been excavating for years to surface our own roads. I recently removed trees so I can increase the working area.

Our post pile and some firewood. We will be undertaking another big fence project next year, which will use many of these.



Happy New Year to All
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