Rt. 151 South, Piney River & The Blue Ridge Parkway

It had been a while since we’d gone on an adventure, and while we both had tons of things to do, it was a pretty day–not too cold–and so we headed towards Nelson and Amherst Counties.  We didn’t have a specific plan, and sometimes that works out perfectly!

We took back roads to Rt. 151 South in Nelson County, and followed it to the community of Piney River.  As much as we’ve traveled around the state, this is one area we hadn’t visited!  We passed a sign that said something about a trail, so we turned around and went back.

Very pretty trail, indeed!

Unfortunately, we quickly learned that pretty places are not always healthy places…  According to a sign on the trail, a chemical company operated in the Piney River community for 40 years.  While it was good for the local economy, it ultimately caused an environmental disaster.

Chemicals from the company leached into groundwater and into the Piney and Tye Rivers.  The EPA designated it a Superfund Site in 1982, and another company related to American Cyanamid took over cleanup efforts in 1990.  After a decade, these efforts were considered complete, but the area is still monitored and tested.  (We passed “burial mounds” and other “containment” units along the trail behind tall fences–pretty creepy).

Over the years we’ve traveled along many of Virginia’s rivers, and the Piney and Tye Rivers aren’t the only ones that have been contaminated by industrial waste.  Unfortunately, the damage that has been done to rivers–especially before stricter EPA regulations took effect–isn’t something that can be completely reversed.  EVER.

Case in point, these are signs we’ve seen along the Maury and Shenandoah Rivers, as well as along all the James River…



As we read the signs along the Railway Trail about the Piney and Tye Rivers, we had to wonder.  What will happen if the EPA is, indeed, intentionally gutted for the sake of economic growth under our current political administration?

At any rate, the Piney River seemed to be a good place for one of our “blessing the water” crystals….




After we left the Railway Trail, we continued on Rt. 151 South until we reached Rt. 29 South.  After a short drive on 29, we turned onto Rt. 60 West in Amherst, VA.  Oh my–what wonderful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains!


Our plan was to follow Rt. 60 West until it met the Blue Ridge Parkway, just east of the town of Buena Vista.  When we saw signs about a couple of parks, however, we impulsively turned onto Lowesville Road to check them out.

Enroute to the parks, there were beautiful pastures surrounded by mountains.  Rural Amherst County is really quite lovely….



Our first stop was Stonehouse Lake Park:


Funny story to tell about our visit to this park….  We could see a couple of boats out on the water across the lake, but as I was looking toward the left, I caught a flash of something white and blue diving into the water to my right.  What was that?!

A few minutes later, I saw it again, and my first thought was that it was some sort of small bird dropping down to grab a minnow or bug.  But I didn’t see it come back up!

I mentioned it to Wayne, and he said he saw it drop into the water, too, but thought he saw it quickly fly back up.  We were totally puzzled.  What kind of bird would do this?  And if it wasn’t a bird, what was it?  Was something falling (at an angle) from a tree into the water?

We finally (and I do mean finally) noticed that there was a fisherman up on the bank behind the trees, casting his line into the water with its weighted white and blue bobber. Oh, geez…!  No idea if he heard us discussing this “strange phenomenon” or not, but if so I guess he had a (well-deserved) laugh at our expense!  Fortunately, we’re able to laugh at ourselves, too. 🙂

After leaving Stonehouse Lake Park, we went to Thrasher’s Lake Park.  Another man-made lake (along the Buffalo River), it is 36 acres in size, and it was completed in 1977 by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA.  The views here were simply stunning.

As I walked up on the earthen dam, this is what I saw, looking to my left, and then to my right:



Unfortunately, the wind started picking up while we were at Thrasher’s Lake, which made it pretty darned cold.  Wayne opted to stretch out on the side of the dam in the sunshine, and I put the hood of my sweatshirt up.  Brrr!


We left the lake and made our way back to Rt. 60, and then to the Blue Ridge Parkway.  As many times as we’ve driven this road along the crest of the mountain, we never fail to be awed by its beauty….

View in my passenger-side mirror as I was stopped at an overlook:



As we got closer to the north end of the Parkway, we saw ice on some of the rocks.  Yes, it was definitely getting colder….


In the early evening as the sun began to dip behind one of the distant ridges, everything was bathed in a warm, orange light….


Such a nice day!

To view an interactive map of our route, click on the link: https://drive.google.com/open?id=16hBIQ8_Amty8SFdNcvv0cVH1oIc&usp=sharing









Posted in Adventures & Travels | Comments Off on Rt. 151 South, Piney River & The Blue Ridge Parkway

Familiar Faces + New Cats

Things were quiet (TOO quiet) for a couple of weeks when we had the unseasonably warm, Spring-like temperatures.  I hadn’t seen the white & calico girl at the feeding station for over a week, and the most regular participant–the orange and white girl–hadn’t show up for several days.  My co-worker, who picks up the food bowls most evenings, said that some nights there was food left in the bowls.   That information–combined with reports from members of the maintenance staff who said they’d seen coyotes moving closer and closer to the main campus–left me feeling quite concerned.

To try to find out if the cats were still visiting at all, I set up the trail cam on Friday, February 24th and let it run through Monday morning, February 27th.  When I had a chance to review the pictures on the card, there were some big surprises!

First up was the orange and white kitty.  She apparently noticed the trail cam when she came to the feeding area a little before 5:00 pm on Friday.  I love these pictures of her, and I was so happy to see her!


Shortly before dark on Friday, the girls (who are helping with the ferals on the weekends) picked up the food bowl.  A little later, at almost 7:30 pm, an unfamiliar cat showed up on the trail cam.  I’m not sure what’s up with the bottle-brush tail, but I guess something (the flash of the camera?) startled it.  I wish more of its face was in range of the camera, but the mark of white on the back right foot may help to identify it in other pictures.

I was absolutely DELIGHTED to see pictures of the white & calico girl in pictures from next evening, Saturday, February 25th.   She, like the orange and white kitty, intently checked out the trail cam, and this made for some nice “selfies.”


As I went through more pictures, however, I realized that THIS white and calico was the first one I trapped, and not the one (white & calico #2) who regularly comes to the feeding station!  Well, whatever–I was very happy to see #1, too!

The food bowls were picked up again before dark on Saturday evening (thanks, girls!), and shortly before 2:00 am on Sunday morning,  there were some totally crazy happenings at the feeding station.  Yikes!!


I don’t know who this kitty is….  I thought it was the gray cat I first saw in late January, but the markings don’t seem to match, especially with the dark patch under the throat in the pictures above.  Edited to add that I HAVE seen this cat before–saw it on the trail cam on February 1st:

At any rate, the cat apparently escaped safely, because the next image just showed the raccoons!

About a half hour later, at 2:16 am on Sunday morning, the raccoons were gone, and the camera captured a cat investigating the feeding station.  Is this the same cat as the one with the bottle-brush tail in an earlier picture? Notice the white mark on the back right leg….   I don’t know!!  (BTW, if you click on the picture, you’ll get a much larger view.  Just be sure to click back instead of x-ing out of the picture.)

A little before 9:00 am on Sunday morning, the orange and white girl was back….


The next surprise–HUGE surprise!–was an image on the trail cam Sunday afternoon.  I think I know this kitty!  Several weeks ago, my co-worker and I saw this cat and a gray cat down over the hill, some distance from the feeding station and the dumpsters.  My co-worker had said they were being “noisy,” and at the time I wondered if it was possibly two males getting ready to fight.  Well, this is pretty obviously a male, given the big, fat face with the injuries on the left side, and it’s the first time I’ve seen it near the feeding station.


On Monday, February 27th, shortly before I got to school, the other white and calico girl (my regular visitor) had her picture taken, too.


While I was so relieved to see 3 of the 5 TNR girls over one weekend (the orange and white girl and both white & calicoes) I’m again made aware of the number of cats on campus.  Just because I haven’t been seeing anyone during the school day, they’re still out there, but following a different routine for some reason.

I’m going to set the trail cam out for another day or two to try to get a better idea of who’s visiting and when they’re most often visiting.  I may have to try trapping during the late afternoon over Spring Break, but obviously it will have to be before dark to avoid trapping raccoons….

Posted in Animals & Wildlife, Feral Cats | 2 Comments

And the Cats Keep Coming….

I didn’t trap anyone last week (sigh…), and I just haven’t had the time this week to set the traps out.  However, I HAVE set up the trail cam a few times.  Sometimes there’s been nothing on the camera, but on the evening of February 1st, I got a couple of good pictures:

I’m pretty sure that the cat in the foreground is the long-ish haired black kitty.  If you look closely, it appears that the top of the left ear has been tipped.

But take a look at the cat behind her with its perfectly pointy ear….  I’m wondering if this could be the orange kitten that I couldn’t trap last month (even though I trapped its sister). Could it have grown that much between the last time I saw it and now?  I’m not sure….

And this picture was also on the camera:

At first I thought it was the gray cat with white socks that I saw last week:

But nope–the gray kitty doesn’t have as much white on the side of its face.  (!)

Weather and time permitting, I’ll try to set out the traps again a few days next week.  Based on my pictures and others I’ve seen, I guess there are at least 4 untrapped cats coming to the feeding station.  (And yes, I’m probably naive by saying “4”…)

In the meantime, I’m trying to find some other boarding students who will be willing to help out with feeding on the weekend.  The girls who’ve been doing this for the last few weeks have been great, but they’re teenagers who’d really love to have a weekend “off” to sleep until noon!  As a thank you for their help, I made each of them a cat-themed coin purse. 🙂

Posted in Animals & Wildlife, Feral Cats | Comments Off on And the Cats Keep Coming….

And Even MORE Cats…..

Last week one of my co-workers told me that his children had seen a couple of half-grown kittens on another part of our large campus.    After the kids showed me where they’d seen them (in and around a large pile of cut trees where a new road is going in), I set up the trail cam to see if anyone showed up.

The camera didn’t record any kitties, and there have been no new sightings…. 🙁

On Monday, January 16th, the only cat I personally saw was our regular–the orange and white girl.  She visits the feeding station just about every day.


On Tuesday, January 24th, I saw a really fat kitty approaching the feeder.  I got my camera, zoomed in, and was surprised to see that this was the second TNR white & calico girl that I hadn’t seen since I released her on January 13th!  Clearly, these cats are eating well somewhere, but I’m not sure if they’re just eating leftover food from the dining hall that they find in the dumpsters, or if they’re finding food somewhere else.  No clue…


The orange and white girl also showed up again on Tuesday. No surprise, there. 🙂


People on campus have told me they’ve seen the long-haired TNR black kitty since she was released on the afternoon of January 13th, so I know she’s doing well, too, and one of my co-workers said she saw her at the feeding station.

Early Wednesday morning (January 25th), I got a text from my co-worker about two cats “acting strange” down in the woods–cats she hadn’t seen before (oh geez….).  One was gray with white feet, and the other was white with some orange on it.  She said they were making a lot of noise.  Hmmm… Territorial dispute OR a girl and boy kitty in the early stages of “courtship”?

I wasn’t sure what to do since we weren’t aware of these cats coming to the feeding station, and I wasn’t totally prepared.  But since I still HAD traps, I set out a total of four in a couple of different locations.  I had some not-too-smelly canned food to use as bait (surprised I had it in my car–ha–imagine that….) AND I put some food in the feeding station to try to draw them closer.  Soon, one of the “new” cats–the gray one–made its way to the feeding station.  I didn’t see the other new one, though I’ll admit that I’m not ALWAYS looking out the windows of the art room! 😉



This one cautiously ate, then disappeared down into the woods.  It bypassed all the traps, but I guess I’ll set them out again tomorrow using better “bait.”

While I might “RE-catch” some, I’d sure love to trap the two we spotted today in order to add them to the Clipped Ear Club!

Posted in Animals & Wildlife, Feral Cats | Comments Off on And Even MORE Cats…..

Friday Free-for-All Ferals

When I got to school on Friday morning, Jan. 13th, I was relieved to see that my “captives” had made it through the night okay….

Both had eaten and used their litter boxes, and they warily looked at me (or didn’t) when I moved the blankets and boxes.


I was surprised to see that the black kitty hadn’t removed the tape (marked “Black Cat #3”) from her head.  I guess it had been very busy in the surgery center on Wednesday!

I gave them some more food (using a paper funnel to pour it into their bowls), and covered them up again before my first group of students came in the room.

During our mid-morning break–which was followed by my planning period–I got together with the teacher who’d found the abandoned kittens to see if we could figure out what had happened, and why two of the kittens had died.  Unfortunately, my theory of “no access” for the mom cat to get back to the kittens seemed very unlikely, as the basement of the old, old building where they’d been found has more holes in it than a chunk of Swiss cheese.  At least I discovered that this was certainly a place that a LOT of cats could use to get out of the weather and stay warm if they wanted to!

Due to a field trip, I didn’t have any students during my last class of the day. After the other kids had gotten to their classes and the campus was relatively quiet, I decided that it would be a good time to release the two cats in the crates.  As before, I had to put each crate on a blanket and then drag it the length of my classroom to the stairs.  The white & calico girl wasn’t particularly impressed with this mode of transportation, but at least she didn’t start beating herself against the bars of the crate.

Using boxes and pieces of cardboard to help guide her in the right direction, she hopped out of the crate and made her way down the stairs.

When I released the first two cats in December, both immediately went out the door and around behind the art building.  This girl, however, went across the parking lot and towards the lotus pond, so I don’t know where her “home” is.

I repeated the drag-n-barricade routine with the black kitty.  She is SUCH a beautiful cat….


After I’d closed the door at the bottom of the stairs, I moved the smaller crate back into the room and got it ready for the NEXT kitty–the other white and calico cat that I needed to pick up at the SPCA.

When I called to let them know that I was on my way to town, I asked what time she’d been spayed.  To my surprise, she’d had her surgery right after I’d brought her in on Thursday!  That was very good and unexpected news because I thought it would be done on Friday since I’d gotten her to the SPCA clinic late in the day.

By now I think I’ve traveled every possible route between the school and the SPCA.  Shortest route (but not necessarily the fastest) is about 18 miles, and the longest is about 22 miles….  It was a little before 4:00 pm when I arrived, and a staff member went to the back to get my girl.

While I waited, I asked about the kitten that my co-worker had brought in on Thursday. They didn’t have an update because one of their vets (who wasn’t in) had taken her home to care for her.  They DID know that she seemed to be doing better before the vet left with her, so they were hopeful.  Not totally optimistic, but hopeful….  Again they said it seemed unlikely that 8-week old kittens (their estimated age) would crash in less than 24-hours after being separated from their mother. If it had been really cold (which it wasn’t), that could have contributed to it, too, but they really just didn’t know…. 🙁

When they brought White & Calico Cat #2 out to the clinic desk–in the trap and covered with a blanket–we started talking about options.  I had fully intended to keep her in a crate overnight (especially before I knew she’d been spayed the day before).  But it was nearly 60 degrees on Friday afternoon, and I’d be back to the school before it was dark….  If I kept her in overnight, I’d have to let her go on Saturday when we’d almost certainly have rain or freezing rain and much colder temperatures, and there was no real warm up in the forecast until Tuesday.

One of the staff members added that this particular kitty really, really hated being caged, and she’d continued to damage her nose on the bars of the trap.  For that reason, too, she thought that it would be better to let her out as soon as we got back so she’d have time to get to her “safe place” (wherever that might be).

Decision made (with some reservations), I put her in my car and took this picture of her before we left.

I don’t know how much these cats understand–I’m sure it’s a totally unsettling experience for them since they’re very mistrustful of humans to start with!–but I talk to them the whole time we’re in the car.  I told this little girl that I was thinking about letting her out instead of keeping her confined, and told her, too, that I’m trying to make the best decisions that I can for them.  They may not always turn out to be the best decisions, but it’s all coming from a place of love, and that was the best that I could offer.

So one more time, I drove around to the back of the art building, and I set the trap down in almost the exact spot that it had been on Thursday morning when I’d caught her.  I continued to talk to her, telling her that I loved her, telling her that I hoped she would heal quickly, and asking her to forgive me for all of the scary and painful things I’d brought into her life.  Then I opened the door.

She quickly ran towards the back of the tractor shed, and I thought she’d zoom out of sight. Instead, she stopped, turned around, sat down, and she looked at me.  I continued to “think” good thoughts towards her–visualizing my love and healing energy flowing around her–and she continued to sit and to look at me.

In that moment, I felt that this little clipped-ear, bruised-nose, and cut-tummy girl DID understand….

I don’t know how long this mutual “looking” would have gone on, because just then some kids came running over, asking if I’d trapped another cat.  I told them that I’d just released one, and pointed towards the kitty.  They just got a glimpse of her, because she quickly turned and ran down the hill into the woods.

Two girls asked if they could help feed the cats–actually begged to be allowed to help feed the cats–and I said that would be great, as long as they understood the situation and the precautions they’d need to take.  We all reconvened in the art room, and I gave them food, extra bowls and a lot of instructions, including the part about bringing in the food bowl at night so as not to attract foxes, raccoons or other predators.

I’d left my camera in the car so I just had my cell phone camera, but when we looked out the window, we could see the orange and white cat (that I hadn’t seen since Wednesday!) and the white and calico cat that I’d released earlier in the day!  I could also see the black kitty down in the woods walking towards the feeding station! We were ALL excited!

The girls will put food out for the cats this weekend, and I’ll take over again on Monday.  When I got home I followed up by sending them an email with even more instructions (i.e. WASH YOUR HANDS!) and I smiled when I received an email in return from one of the girls with a picture of the food bowl (in the dorm) with a “DO NOT TOUCH” sign on it. 🙂

So am I done trapping ferals?  I don’t know.  I sort of thought I was done after trapping the first two adults and the four kittens!  I never really expected to be doing this (any more than I ever expected to get involved with baby bats over the years…). But at least I’ve gained some good cat-trapping skills in the last month, and there’s still an unseen/untrapped male cat somewhere on campus….

I’m still thinking of the way that Cat #10 (White & Calico #2) looked at me when I released her, and it reminds me of one of my favorite quotes that I’ve had on my website for years:

“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”
~ Henry Beston, Author (1888-1968) The Outermost House

Heart image from openclipart.org


Posted in Animals & Wildlife, Feral Cats | 2 Comments