ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs Serial storyteller, poetry pusher, digital doodler, flâneur.

Photo of the Week?

Rosslyn Boathouse: photo of the week?

Rosslyn Boathouse: photo of the week?

This is your last chance to fuel my ego! Until next time…

This ominous photo of Rosslyn boathouse is in the running for‘s Photo of the Week and your vote could be the tipping point.

The photo was a spontaneous iPhone-born Instagram post that I shared right after Hurricane Isaac passed through Essex, New York. (Remember Hurricane Isaac? It’s gotten difficult to keep them all separate, and to think that only a few years ago we figured hurricane troubles were about the last problem we needed to worry about in the Adirondacks.) If you’re interested in the rest of the back story for this image, check out “Photo of the Week: Hurricane Isaac”.

Voting ends today, so if you’re feeling generous, supportive or just a little wild, please consider voting and/or sharing this post with your friends. I’d love to see this photo featured. Thanks for your help. Vote HERE.

And, if you’re feeling inspired (and I hope that you are because a Monday without inspiration is deadly!) feel free to share your own personal Photo of the Day in the comments below. I’d love to see what cool pics you’re hiding on your mobile phone.

Rosslyn Redux: May Update

I’ve been a little more quiet than usual during the last month, and I hope that you’ll forgive the frequent ellipses. I’ve shifted gears to focus on a steady stream of Rosslyn programming over at the Rosslyn Redux blog. This has been a great way to funnel my blogging energy during the revision process…

Sally Lesh & Hyde Gate “One of the unanticipated joys of living at Rosslyn (aka Hyde Gate) has been discovering the property’s legacy… One recent reminder was the first chapter of All My Houses in which octogenarian Sally Lesh chronicles her itinerant life story by way of the many homes in which she has resided… Lesh opens the memoir with her birth on Janurary 19, 1921 in Boston, but the title of her first chapter and the origin of the journey she intends to chronicle is Hyde Gate, Essex, New York…”

Hail Storm & Apple Tree “An ancient and neglected apple tree… For six years I pruned and nourished the crab apple tree back to health… then the clouds erupted in a short but angry tantrum of driving rain, mothball-sized hail and driving wind. When the hail and rain stopped and the fog cleared, the crooked fruit tree had fallen, snapped off at her stem.” (video eulogy)

2011 Lake Champlain Flood Retrospective “Rosslyn boathouse is dry. Lake Champlain water levels are low. Our waterfront weathered winter — what winter there was — and spring without incurring the destructive flooding which tormented us a year ago… But all is not forgotten. Fully half of Rosslyn’s waterfront, maybe more, remains a boulder piled mess. Thousands of pounds of stone rip-rap installed last spring to stabilize NYS Rt. 22 buried two hundred year old cut stone retaining walls.”

Mary Wade’s Rosslyn “Each winter Essex residents celebrate the holidays early during a weekend-long event called Christmas in Essex. It was this tradition which connected me to Mary Wade, a folk artist who lives in Willsboro but runs a seasonal gallery in Essex each summer. She creates painted wooden models, silhouettes and paintings of historic buildings in Essex that are collected by her fans all around the world.”

Rosslyn Unplugged “Yesterday, Thursday, May 15, 2009 was windier than a subway median at rush hour. Lake Champlain wind blasts reached 50 mph. The forecast had threatened gusts up to 90 mph. The rain drizzled off and on all day, but the fellow building the stone wall near the mud room stuck it out and got the job done.”

Just Google it! “I collaborated with John Brookhouse of 1o’Clock Multimedia on this “long winded” but amusing Google Search vignette which was part of Redacting Rosslyn v1.0 at The Depot Theatrein Westport, New York in August 2011. Although I concepted the content and story arc, and even most of the search queries, Brookhouse was the video maestro who morphed my vision into a far more creative story than I could have managed on my own.

Fox & Squirrel Revisited “At the end of April I posted about a fox that was frequenting Rosslyn to grab a quick squirrel breakfast or supper whenever the urge struck him… Although the fox seems to have moved on, his apex predator slot was quickly filled by an always hungry hawk who’s dietary preferences run to dove rather than squirrel…”

Just Google it? “This video is one of several exploratory forays into the Google Search vignette I included in my Redacting Rosslyn v1.0 performance last August at The Depot Theatre in Westport, New York. Blending readings from my Rosslyn Redux manuscript with oral and digital storytelling, the event was a collaborative attempt to animate type, words and documents into interactive narrative.”

Rifle & Eggs “‘Mornin’,’ Wes said as he pulled the pantry door shut behind him and greeted Griffin with a scratch behind the ears. ‘Good morning,’ I called back from the kitchen where I was scrambling eggs. ‘You don’t want me to run that thing on the tennis court, do ya?’ he asked…”

Excavating Rosslyn “‘I look at it as an excavation, if you will,’ says the architect… Pete Lackey of Charles Myer and Partners in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is referring to “taking the long view” on renovation, specifically to reawakening the heart and soul of a building instead of willfully or inadvertently altering it… In our case, understanding Rosslyn involved literally and figuratively excavating the historic home.”

Rosslyn Roundup, May 4 “It’s time… to share everything Rosslyn-related that I didn’t get a chance to post over the last few weeks. Champlain Valley springs are unpredictable and exciting, sometimes arriving early (this year) and other times hiding behind rain, rain, rain (last year)…”

Rosslyn Rattlesnake “Have you ever ever heard of an Eastern massasauga rattlesnake? Or a Sistrurus catenatus? … As unlikely as it may seem, I now suspect that I may have spotted a massasauga rattlesnake with markings totally unlike our local Adirondack timber rattlesnakes.”

Orchard Rumination “Lately I’ve been reflecting on all the trees I wish I’d planted in the fall of 2006 and the spring of 2007. We’ve been adding new trees for a year now — a half dozen or so each spring and fall — and yet I can’t help but imagine what might be today if I’d started earlier. Fruit trees ten or twelve feet tall would still be blooming. We would have been harvesting apples and pears and plums and apricots and peaches for a couple of seasons by now…”

Reawakening Rosslyn “‘Rather than trying to coerce the house to do something new, we tried to reawaken it.” In Taking the Long View Paula M. Bodah refers to the renovation of a Victorian house near Boston, Massachusetts in unusually anthropomorphic terms… Despite the unfamiliar reference, Bodah’s terminology is precise, accurate and familiar. In the case of Rosslyn, reawakening is precisely how I describe our renovation process, though I didn’t understand this at the outset.”

In been a prolific blogging stretch at Rosslyn Redux and a meager stretch here. Sorry. Perhaps I’ll do a better job of balancing in the future?

TrekEast: An Essex-Willsboro Rendezvous

Photo credit: Phil Lacinak

Are you following TrekEast? Essex resident John Davis (@trekeast) is changing the world one pedal, one paddle stroke and one step at a time.

Of course, those who know John would say, “He’s been doing that for years… His whole life!” True. But his latest adventure — an historic 4,500 mile, human powered expedition from Key Largo, Florida to the Gaspe Peninsula in Canada — is a bold challenge to life (and development) as we know it in the Eastern United States. John intends to inspire you and thousands of others to connect the Eastern Wildway in order to save it. Discover John Davis’ TrekEast!

John started out in Florida’s Everglades National Park where he was joined by a wayward band of Champlain Valley friends and adventurers:

That night, my Adirondack paddling friends Brian Trzaskos, Larry Barns, and Reg Bedell arrived, with a week’s worth of delicious food prepared by Brian’s wife Susie and my wife Denise as part of their Flying Pancakes food service. So our paddling team was gathered: Brian ( is a physical therapist and teacher of tai chi and other healthy disciplines who is himself extremely fit and strong. He’s an experienced climber, hiker, and paddler, and had done much study of the Everglades in anticipation of this journey (more than I’d found time to do). Larry ( is a professional photographer and outdoors person whose work has appeared in many magazines. Reg (essexlaw.organd is a southern gentleman turned environmental lawyer who longs to see restored the rich wildlife he knew decades ago in the South. Ron you’ve already met, as Wildlands Network’s conservation scientist and Southeast director – one of the best things to happen to our organization in years. We are a varied but strong five, with plenty of outdoor experience but little on-the-water time in the Everglades. (TrekEast Blog)

The laughter and storytelling that these characters enjoyed doubtless inspired John as he set out on his ambitious mission. John will be joined off and on throughout his ten month expedition, my wife and I among the fortunate ones who’ll travel with him in person. And many, many more will follow via social media data stream as John posts updates and tweets and blog posts to transport you vicariously into the bicycle saddle or the soggy kayak seat with him. Consider weaving yourself into the narrative…

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Essex Family Transforms Tragedy

When Louis Comeau headed into work April 8, 2003, he had no idea his life was about to take a tragic turn. As the accomplished attorney rounded a bend on Route 22, a large block of ice flew off a passing truck and slammed into his car. He didn’t have time to react. “It went through the windshield and shattered his skull,” Comeau’s wife, Jani Spurgeon, recalled… (Press-Republican)

This was one of the stories that my wife and I learned early on after arriving in Essex. Even before meeting Mr. Comeau I heard the story from others. I also heard how the community had pulled together to support the family during the darkest weeks after the accident. I was impressed with the depth of empathy among neighbors, the sense of responsibility, the sense of extended family. I remembered the small, tight-knit community where I had spent four years of boarding school.

I’ve only glimpsed faint shades of this since, while teaching at Santa Fe Preparatory School in New Mexico, for example. Living in Washington, DC and Paris and Rome I belonged to looser, more fluid and transient communities. Perhaps it was the places I lived or the people I associated with. Perhaps it was me, my age, my preference. But the idea of community had grown abstract and peripheral for me.

I met Mr. Comeau in person several months after we started renovating a house in Essex. At first we simply exchanged casual greetings passing on the street or when he walked his dog past our front porch. And then one summer afternoon our neighbor invited me up on to her front porch for a cool beer and to get to know Mr. Comeau. He was smiling. He’s always smiling. He told me that he had known my father, that they had overlapped as lawyers a couple of decades prior. He entertained us with anecdotes. He was charming and complimentary. He laughed. We all laughed. It was easy to understand the community’s embrace when his luck faltered in 2003. It was easy to accept that I wanted to be a part of this community.

Reading the article, “Family pushes for proposed snow-removal law“, this morning reminded me that support and nurturing are only one part of a tight-knit community. Maybe they are the easy part. It’s human to reach out and help those we know personally, those we care about. But it’s also easy to stop there, to nourish our immediate community and stop there.

Almost eight years after Mr. Comeau’s life-altering accident, his wife, Jani Spurgeon is transforming his tragedy into a common good. This is more than a close-to-home illustration of civic responsibility. Ms. Spurgeon is transcending loss and hurt and suffering in an effort to help others far beyond Essex, far beyond the community who reached out to her. She is distilling value from devastation. And she is inspiring all of us in the process!

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Essex-Charlotte Ferry Breaking the Ice

A true North Country winter! The Champlain Valley is blanketed, no… quaint, but no. Rewind. The Champlain Valley is buried beneath another 15-18″ of fresh snow. Beautiful. Picturesque. Unless you’re pushing a shovel! (Or trying to get somewhere…)

Getting somewhere is the learning lesson topic of the day. Why get anywhere other than right here. Stop driving the desk and go out for a ski! Shortly I hope to do just that. But first a glimpse at the now mostly frozen lake. I shot the fuzzy video on my phone this morning to show that the Essex-Charlotte ferry is still managing despite the ice. This vessel is technically not an ice breaker and can only manage to navigate until the ice becomes thicker than 3″ thick. Which — I’m guessing now — isn’t too far off. In fact, it’s already well beyond that near our dockhouse. Then we’ll reallyhave to stay home and play in the snow!

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Another Rosslyn Boathouse Postcard

I missed an opportunity to bid on another great old photo postcard of Rosslyn’s dockhouse/boathouse in an eBay auction this weekend! The photograph shows the Essex-Charlotte ferry early in the 20th century and beyond the ferry boat the Rosslyn boathouse is distinctly visible and looking very much like it does today.

The Monti and The Moth

The Monti is my kind of place. Well, almost. They’re all about live storytelling and they’re all about community. So why almost? Because they aren’t a short walk away. They aren’t even in my community…

The Monti is an organization that invites people from the community to tell personal stories without the use of notes.  It’s just simple storytelling.  Each month, events are held around the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area and as far away as Greensboro.  The goal is to create an intimate, open, and fun atmosphere where people can relate their personal experiences to one another through narrative… by inviting interesting people with amazing stories that amuse and compel.

And for two and a half years they’ve been selling out their shows. In fact, they’ve grown so popular that they’ve launched The Monti StorySLAM during which audience members are invited to tell 5 minute stories on a specific theme.

Each night promises an unexpected and refreshing night of provocative entertainment.

This sounds like The Moth, another storytelling institution that intrigues me. I discovered both via NPR and have wiled away way too much time on their websites plotting participation… and imitation!

The Moth… is an acclaimed not-for-profit organization dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling… The Moth has presented more than three thousand stories, told live and without notes, by people from all walks of life to standing-room-only crowds worldwide. Each show features simple, old-fashioned storytelling on thoroughly modern themes by wildly divergent raconteurs who develop and shape their stories with The Moth’s directors.

I believe that storytelling is the glue of community. No, not just the glue. Storytelling is the lubrication of community. No, not just that either. Glue and lube? And lately I’ve been wondering if Essex, if the Champlain Valley is ready to plunge into our collective narratives. I believe (and hope) so!

Update: I’ve created a related oral storytelling mashup called Storytelling Unplugged for further information, and I’ve received a few notable additions from @TheMonti that I’d like to pass along (first four), and in the process of exploring these, I’ve stumbled on to some others. What am I missing? Please contact me via Twitter (@virtualDavis) or use the contact form on the the virtualDavis website. Thanks!

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The Day the Gingko Leaves Fell

The Day the Gingko Leaves Fell - 3

The Day the Gingko Leaves Fell

Gingko Biloba carpet with Lake Champlain backdrop!

Each autumn the leaves of an enormous old Ginkgo Biloba tree in our yard retain their leaves until the frigid end. They’re among the last leaves to fall, and they remain green until just a day or two before cascading down. And when they decide it’s time to let go, they all do it at once.

An enormous canopy of a tree reaching about 100 feet tall covered in thick foliage one day and naked the next. It’s dramatic. And slightly surreal.

This morning, Wednesday, November 3, 2010 was the magic moment. We experienced a deep frost last night in Essex, NY, and I’m pretty certain that it’s the sudden temperature change which triggers the the leaves to fall.

The photos I took this morning capture the scene before anyone has driven up the driveway and marred the perfect carpet of almost succulent Gingko leaves. Perfect timing too because the wonderful father-son team who mow our lawns and remove our leaves come today. This is fortunate because the Gingko leaves fall so thickly and they are still so lush and heavy (unlike the crisp maple, ash and oak leaves which blow around in the breeze) that they smother the lawn. Prompt removal to the compost serves the lawn AND next spring’s gardens!

More Gingko Leaves:

Lake Champlain Sunrise

One of my favorite experiences living in Essex, New York is watching the sun rise out of Vermont’s Green Mountains, reflecting across the surface of Lake Champlain. This morning, the dense cloud bank on the eastern side of the lake created a dramatic effect, a narrow glimpse of color and light, refracted on the bumpy water then gone, snuffed out almost as quickly as it began. Once the sun rose into the clouds the light flattened and the mood changed. An interesting start to this post-Labor Day week…

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Four Horse Power

Four Horse Power (via Meandering Margaux Media)

While wandering the Champlain Valley this morning, I happened upon these five, Chad and four draft horses, cultivating an Essex Farm field located at “The Four Corners”. I stopped to watch. No video or still camera with me, so these blurry moments are captured by my mobile phone. Only wish I’d recorded my conversation with Chad. He was smiling ear-to-ear as he spoke, clearly loving his work. He said that the horses were working hard to drag this large implement, but that for him there’s little difference between driving a team of two and a team of four. By autumn, he said, he plans on stepping up to a team of six draft horses, three in front of three. The transition to six horse power will demand more complex harnessing and more complex driving skills. But he’s looking forward to it!

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