Sunday, September 24, 2017

Back Home, Iceland Day II.

9-24-17 SHORT HILLS: We got back from Iceland last night and picked up the dogs this morning. I have edited all the pictures and will start posting the trip reports. Today I revised Day I and added some more pix and will do Day II.

9-19-17 SELFOSS, ICELAND: It was still raining this morning, but there was less wind, and it was warmer. We left the hotel for our first stop on the 'Golden Circle'. After pix at Thingvellir Lake, we drove to Gulfoss for a magnificent waterfall. It has two drops and moves tons of water per minute. We took pix from the intermediate level first, then walked down to a lower site for more pix and got soaked by the mist. Lastly we walked up to the top for yet more pix and the gift shop where Judy got a new sweater.


Redwings, Eurasian birds rarely seen in the US, are prepping for their migration. We saw them many places.

Thingvellir Lake, Iceland's biggest.

A rugged horizon near the lake.

Gullfoss falls, the lower half generating a lot of mist.

The upper and lower falls, getting close means getting wet. The water is from glacial melt and rain.

Geysir is a few minutes away and has many hot springs and geysers. Guess where the term ‘geyser’ comes from? The original Geysir is not performing now with any regularity or frequency since a recent earthquake rattled the area, but another geyser at Geysir has picked up the wetwork. It was surrounded by camera-toting crowds before each eruption. There are many minor hot springs steaming away, some with dramatic blue coloring. All these sites have a gift shop, restaurant and big crowds.


Little geyser.

Big geyser with fans.

Big geyser sends the water high and in a spiral.

We left for lunch at a farm restaurant where we had excellent trout and homemade ice cream. Cows are fed their lunch and milked in a different part of the building. After lunch we played with the farm dogs and admired the Icelandic horses. The rain had ended and the sun was shining through the clouds.


Efstidalur is a working farm and has a small horse herd, lots of cows and sheep and sheep dogs.

Another redwing.

Our last stop of the day was at Thingvellir National Park, which is in the rift valley between the separating North American and European tectonic plates. Iceland itself sits on the Mid Atlantic Ridge, which is the structure on the ocean bottom, left by the retreating tectonic plates as they move away from each other, thereby creating the Atlantic Ocean. As the plates move away from each other, magma from the Earth’s mantle fills the gap, and the Atlantic gets wider by an inch or so each year.

On Iceland, the space between the plates is stretched and rifted as it is pulled apart. The stretched out terrain is ruptured and fissured and sinks downward. This sunken structure is called a ‘graben’.

Iceland is also located on a ‘Hot Spot’ where the earth’s Crust is thin and the Mantle layer of the earth is close to the surface and magma from the Mantle frequently spills out onto the surface as lava, creating new land.

Thingvellir National Park is also culturally significant as it is the site of the first clan gatherings after Iceland was initially colonized in 874 by the Scandinavians. The clans met and camped here yearly to make laws and settle disputes. All significant political and cultural events and anniversaries are celebrated here.


Thingvellir National Park is on the rifting zone of Iceland where the Eurasion and North American tectonic plates are separating. This is one spot where the lava has fissured.

Thingvellir National Park with a series of waterfalls and a river through the rift zone.

By dinner time the sun was out and the rain and wind had stopped. At 10 PM it was still only partly cloudy, and we had an aurora, not big and fancy, but clearly enough to be a demonstration of what it’s about. I took some pix with the iPhone with an aurora app that are of fairly poor quality. A couple people in the group got good pix with tripods and long exposure times. Hopefully they will share, and I can show good images.


A sample of the Aurora we saw. The show lasted a couple of hours. The red things are satellite dishes.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Iceland Day I.

9-18-17 SELFOSS, ICELAND: We flew Icelandair from EWR to Keflavik International Airport [KEF] arriving early in the AM and connecting with our Smithsonian Journeys group and getting on our bus to begin the tour. We drove to Reykjavik from the airport to pick up a few other travelers, and then went to a Radisson Hotel for breakfast.

The city houses two-thirds of the country’s total population, about 350,000. Most of the construction we saw is new, box-like concrete structures with nearly flat roofs and running to four or five stories. Older houses have pitched roofs and are of wood construction or with metal siding and roofing. The whole city is heated with geothermal hot water supplied to the town by a geothermal plant 16 miles outside of the city.

It was about 40° and raining and windy all day. We visited that geothermal plant, Hellisheidi Power Station, for a tour with an engineer. The plant generates electricity mostly used for aluminum smelting and hot water for heating and washing to almost all of Reykjavik. The smell of sulfur permeates the whole area.

Next we went to Ion Luxury Hotel in a fairly isolated spot where we are spending a few nights. We started with lunch and I did a hike after lunch climbing a small mountain behind the hotel with our guides and about a dozen of the group. We climbed the lava formations, pretty much overgrown with grassy vegetation and a mix of blueberries and lupin and other plants. The rain, clouds and fog stole away some of the views, and the wind was brisk at the top. It was about an hour up and down. There was not a bird or bug to be seen on the hike, probably due to the weather.

All of Iceland is of volcanic origin, mostly basaltic lava. New eruptions happen every few years. In most of the places we have seen so far the lava is well on the way to being soil. Iceland has no native trees, but many trees have been planted including spruce, pines, aspen and a few mountain ash that I noticed in the city. Originally the island was forested, but the initial settlers used all the wood for shelter and heat.


Greylag geese are everywhere in Reykjavik, especially the traffic islands. They are about to migrate after a breeding season here.

Hellisheidi Power Station with explanation of geology supplying steam for the turbines to generate electricity and hot water to heat almost of all of Reykjavik.

This is what most of Iceland looks like, lava fields covered with moss and grasses.

Lava vent on the hike.

Our hotel on the left from the mountain top. You can see the extent of the last lava flows into the valley.

Wild lupin grow on the mountain, acres and acres of it.

More lupin.

We saw lots of red, mostly blueberry in fall color.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Garden Trauma.

9-16-17 SHORT HILLS: I have been busy clearing the foundation plants away from the foundation to allow the painters access to the shingles for sanding and then priming and painting. I think it’s better to do a controlled trimming then letting them just trample the shrubs, but by the time they make four trips around the house, everything will be a mess.

 Hopefully the plants will recover with a good growing season. I also pulled up the fences that keep the dogs out of the beds. They were entangled with the ground covers, ivy and pachysandra and lamium. I would almost rather let the house paint just peel away than do all this trauma to the gardens.

 I saw ‘Mother’ last night, Judy didn’t want to go. It’s a mash up of bible stories set in the present and mixed together with quite dramatic crowd scenes and riots. Jennifer Lawrence does an Oscar-worthy job. The other principals were all excellent as well.

 Tomorrow we go to Iceland.

 New blooms: abelia.


The roses keep coming out.

The other crape myrtle, this one's in red and flanked by two smaller crape myrtles planted last fall. The fences are to keep the dogs from digging up the the soft dirt and to keep the lawn mowers from over zealous trimming.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Crape Myrtles Arrive.

9-11-17 SHORT HILLS: I don’t know if climate change affects the frequency of hurricanes, but it just seems logical that hotter water has more energy, is less viscous, evaporates more easily, and hotter air also has more energy and certainly holds more water vapor, all of which make storms more intense.

The weather here is lovely, warm afternoons and cool nights. I have continues to do pruning and weeding and trimming. Now I am working on the foundation plantings to prep for the painters, who arrive in a few weeks. I removed a lot of bamboo stalks from the sunroom area, some dead, some too close to the house. First I cut them down and then cut them up to fit into the cars for dump runs. Judy was a huge help dragging them out to the driveway, and then driving them to the dump when I filled a car with the cut up stalks. There were four carloads. That was the biggest job of the painting prep, so far.

We planted two crape myrtle trees, Lagerstroemia muskogee, crepe is also acceptable if you want to go français. Actually the guys from the Farm planted them as they were good sized with big root balls. They’re each about six feet tall, one pink and one red flowering.

Our ash trees are already showing fall color and beginning to drop leaves, and one sugar maple on our street has some orange. I don’t know if this means an early foliage season or not, but hints at that. The ash are the last trees to leaf out in the spring and the first to dump in the fall. Could one say that they are the most deciduous?


Crape myrtle flower cluster with many buds yet to open. Each cluster of stamens and styluses is surrounded by six crinkled petals. If you look closely at the buds, you can see that they are hexagonal.

Maizie likes this one best. It's about six feet tall.

Ash trees are already turning...

And so is this sugar maple.

Another crape myrtle flower getting a visit from Mr. Bumble.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Now Painting Scheduled.

9-8-17 SHORT HILLS: We had a nice rain two days ago, I think it was the remnant of hurricane Harvey. The new roof apparently worked well. The roofers were supposed to come back today to finish the interior work under the new skylights, but they canceled. I used to have a rule—never pay in full until the job is completely finished—which I failed to follow.

I have continued weeding and pruning in the yard. There’s always something else to do. The house will be painted in a few weeks, and I will have to trim the foundation plants for the workers access to sand and then paint.

The indoor plants have come back inside after their summer vacations outside. The Autumnal Equinox is two weeks away.


Butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, has plenty of buds yet to open.

Caryopteris is drawing lots of bumblebees.

Butterfly bush sans butterflies.

The new roof and peeling paint. The new color will be a slightly lighter gray.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Brooklyn Heights.

9-3-17 SHORT HILLS: We spent yesterday afternoon in Brooklyn Heights at the waterfront park. I have mentioned the park before—aging, dilapidated, unused piers have been turned into a huge recreational area. There are green spaces, ball courts, walkways, bikeways, playgrounds, BBQ facilities, kayak and sailboat rentals, fishing, restaurants, ferries to Manhattan and other destinations, harbor cruises. It’s all underneath the Brooklyn Bridge and in sight of lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

We visited Val and Steve and met Alison and Dan at the River Café for an excellent lunch and post-prandial walk. We watched all the river traffic while we ate. Judy and I headed back to NJ just as the rain started.

New blooms: hostas are managing a few flowers even though they have been eaten.


East River between Brooklyn Heights and lower Manhattan.

Lots of green spaces still being added, one more pier is being converted to another park.

Kayak instruction, sailing, fishing and venues for all the 'ball' sports. The Statue is on the horizon to the left. That big orange ship is the Staten Island ferry.

Black duck or mallard?

More ducks, these look more like mallards.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Roofing.

8-31-17 SHORT HILLS: This will be a first—a no pix post. Unlike Texas, the weather has been pleasant here, but I guess we’ll get the remnants of Harvey this weekend.

We are in the midst of getting a new roof, and if they finish Friday as scheduled, we’ll stay dry. Actually there was rotted wood roofing, under the shingles, that has been replaced, but one spot was so bad that a roofer put his foot right through the roof and ceiling of the sunroom. They will repair that tomorrow.

I have been out in the yard trimming, weeding and pruning, but there’s lots more to do. Also I planted six butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, and another butterfly bush, Buddleia davidii nanho blue, in the area where the big ash tree came down two years ago.

Judy and I went to the Farm in Chatham Township, a huge nursery, and bought two large crepe myrtles, that they will deliver and plant, probably next week.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Pleasant Dry Weather.

8-28-17 SHORT HILLS: The weather has been channeling the September that will arrive next week. The afternoons are in the seventies and dry, while the nights are in the fifties.

I have done a little pruning and weeding, tested and repaired the sprinklers. They always get problems with clogs in the nozzles, and plant growth often interferes with the back-and-forth movement.


The other color of Rose-of-Sharon.

Clematis. I forgot to mention this as in bloom in the last post.

Hydrangea flowers last a long time on the plant, subtly change color and dry very nicely.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on a butterfly bush. Photo from my iPhone is of marginal quality.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Back in NJ.

8-23-17 SHORT HILLS: Yes, we’re back in NJ a bit earlier than planned so Judy can get some dental work she’s been looking forward to. She came down a day before me, while I closed up in VT. When I got here yesterday, it was 90° but felt like a 100° because of the high humidity. After last night’s T-storm, it’s pleasant today and in the seventies.

Much weeding needs to be done.

Most of the trees and shrubs look OK, but there are many brownish and curled up leaves. Cicada make a nighttime racket. Some shrubs have been nibbled on by deer, I suppose, and all the hostas and lily turf were eaten by someone.

In bloom: caryopteris, hydrangea, roses, rose-of-Sharon, plumbago, white snakeroot, butterfly bush, red spirea and forsythia have a couple flowers each.


Rose-of-Sharon also comes in a mauve. I'll try to post one of those next time.

Caryopteris is a smallish shrub with late-season blue flowers that may last into November. Here it's adorned by Hobomok Skipper.

Plumbago is another fall bloomer with vivid blue flowers, about three inches tall.

White Snakeroot grows everywhere in the yard. Is it a weed or a wildflower?

Here's another pic of the Skipper. Like most of the skippers, [s]he's about an inch long.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Monarchs are Back.

8-20-17 VERMONT: Monarch butterflies have returned to the pasture. There are at least three—two are male and the third is probably a female. I saw three together at one point, but it’s hard to count them because their flight is random, and they seem to disappear sometimes when on a flower. They are feeding on golden rod and mint flowers. The males have a small black lump on the hind wings that is thought to produce pheromones. There are plenty of milkweed plants busy producing their seed pods that could host monarch caterpillars.

We were at the Cornish, NH Fair yesterday with Shari and Dave. We had good Fair food, saw the tree chopping contest, watched ox pulling, saw cows and miniature horses and heard a little country music.

We have had a few rainstorms that delivered 1.75 inches over the last week. That was enough rain to partly fill the culvert with sand and gravel. I shoveled it out today, about twelve wheelbarrow loads that I used to fill holes in the pasture and driveway.

New blooms: Joe Pye weed, tree hydrangea, more asters.


Monarch butterflies feeding on mint and goldenrod flowers. This is a male, there is a swelling on the second black line counting up from the lower edge of the back wing. That swelling marks the male Monarch and may be the source of male pheromones.

Probably another male on mint flowers. I'm pretty sure the third butterfly is a female.

Cornish, NH Fair midway.

That falling 'tree' is supposed to crush the soda can standing in the shadow of the tree-just missed.

Ox pulling. All the teams had an easy time with this beginning weight.

Oxen and handlers watching the competition, except for the team facing the other way.