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Pick up a copy of the Fall 2014 issue, on newsstands now! Click the following link to find the closest location to you:

Our newest issue includes our annual fall art guide with artwork from around the Piedmont. 

Featured stories include Virginia's Moonshiners, Hot Air Ballooning in the Blue Ridge, lamb recipes, two local art clubs: The Loudoun Sketch Club and Firnew Farm's Artists' Circle, photo contest winners and more! 

Take a peak at other featured articles on our homepage:

Rites of Autumn

Rites of Autumn

By Walter Nicklin

After a personal or professional setback of some kind, to put things in perspective, people will often say some variation of: “The sun came up this morning, and the Earth’s still spinning on its axis.” Things aren’t so bad after all, they’re saying, for the natural order of things is still in alignment.

To be precise, that axis to which we’re all accustomed is at 23.4-degree tilt in orbit around the sun. That means that for half the year the Virginia Piedmont is inclined toward the sun, whose rays thus shine more directly; for the other part of the year, the Virginia Piedmont is tilted away from the sun, whose rays then are more oblique.

As the sun “crosses” the equator around September 22 – the autumnal equinox – the natural world here in the Piedmont takes note and responds accordingly. Even those humans normally insulated from the natural cycle of things can’t help but notice, too.

Growing up in Warrenton – then more of a village than the Washington metro suburb it is now – I quickly learned the signals of autumn’s arrival: school, football, apples, pumpkins, and colorful leaves. Yes, most indelibly, fall meant the turning and falling of the deciduous leaves. The poplars were the first to go, with their soft golden yellows; then the scarlet of the maples; holding out the longest, the browning of the oaks.

Today, the leaves still change, of course, because the Earth’s still spinning on its axis around the sun! But instead of the leaves themselves, the people looking at them – the so-called leaf peepers – have become perhaps the most obvious harbinger of autumn. The weekend traffic stretches bumper-to-bumper on Interstate 66 from Washington and Interstate 64 from Richmond heading west toward Skyline Drive. “The Leaf Brigade,” a lot of rural Piedmonters call them.

Also changed from the changing of seasons past are the apples. There just aren’t as many as there used to be. Many of the Piedmont’s small family orchards have been abandoned or turned into other agricultural uses, not able to profitably compete with the scaled-up operations in other parts of the country.

While there are still plenty of pumpkins hereabouts, we also now have something called Pumpkin Latte, the seasonal offering from Starbucks announcing autumn’s arrival.

Also new are the brown marmorated stink bugs. Reports from around the Piedmont this year claim that the pests started seeking shelter to overwinter as early as the end of August. That their preferred shelter seems to be human shelter is only fitting, since we humans are the ones who introduced the invasive species to the United States in the first place, just a few years ago, via container ships from China apparently. That winter seems to start later and later each year, we can also blame on ourselves, specifically our carbon footprint.

Yes, the Earth’s still spinning on its axis, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t keep turning the natural order of things on its head.

Virginia’s Moonshiners

1909 photo by Bain News Service via Library of Congress. 

Virginia’s Moonshiners: Tales From the ‘Hollers’

By Kristie Kendall

“Mama said, ‘A gallon jug of moonshine whiskey with rock candy in it always set on the mantle piece over the fireplace in the living room in the home where she was raised. ‘It was part of our way of life and everyone could use it at their own free will.’ I have heard her say many a time, ‘Where it came from, I don’t know, but one thing for sure, when the level dropped within a couple inches of the bottom of the jug, it would fill up again. It appeared we used very little of it, and many a time it seemed to do much good.’” 

— John W. Stoneberger, Memories of a Lewis Mountain Man, 1995


John W. Stoneberger’s mother grew up on Lewis Mountain in Greene County within the hollows of what is now Shenandoah National Park. His grandfather, John Scott Roach was well-known for serving whiskey and brandy in his home, as it was one of his ways of being hospitable to neighbors and a servant of God. Historically throughout Virginia, people made and drank what is often referred to as “moonshine,” although the meaning behind the word has become muddled through the years.

Due to popular culture and television shows like “Moonshiners,” the public’s understanding of moonshine production as a practice often differs from reality. The basic difference between a “moonshiner” and a legal distiller, is that the legal distiller chooses to licenses his operation and pay taxes on what he sells – the “moonshiner” chooses not to.

Historically, the production of liquor has been taxed since the mid-1600s by the British government. In the early 1700s, the British government had an issue with people smuggling brandy on the coast of England and introduced the term “moonlighters” to refer to these individuals. Apparently the term stuck. The United States followed suit with an excise tax from 1791 to 1802. Following the first excise tax, the United States imposed a second one from 1813 to 1817 and in the midst of the Civil War, a high tax specifically on whiskey. By the 1880s, many people were distilling liquor throughout the Blue Ridge Mountains with licensed operations. But the temperance movement was gaining ground. By 1909, many counties in Virginia had banned both the sale and production of alcohol. When Prohibition was enforced nationwide in 1920, the market for true “moonshine” exploded.

The following are reprints of newspaper articles from the Greene County Record, dating from 1922 to 1925. It paints a vivid picture of some residents’ reactions to the Prohibition movement in Virginia’s Piedmont.

For more of the story, including the newspaper excerpts, please pick up a copy of the Fall 2014 issue, on newsstands now at one of these locations:

The copper worm from a distilling operation in the Nicholson Hollow area of Madison County. Photo courtesy of Shenandoah National Park. 


Coyotes, Our Elusive Neighbors

Photo by Jeremy Vandel, Creative Commons. 

Coyotes, Our Elusive Neighbors

By Celia Vuocolo

For those of us old enough to remember when Looney Tunes ruled the afternoon cartoon television slot, the name Wile E. Coyote holds fond memories of a scrappy canine and his many failed attempts at catching the infamous and speedy Road Runner.  To many children this was their first exposure to Canis latrans, who, next to the Gray Wolf, is North America’s other well-known and often misunderstood wild canine.

While Wile E. Coyote is known to prowl about on the flat, long desert highways of the American West, our Eastern coyote here in Virginia inhabits a different kind of backdrop. Coyotes are found in almost every environment in our state: forests, fields, suburbs, and city alleys.  They are a notoriously secretive and seldom seen species.  If you do happen to see a coyote, it is most likely due to chance, illness (such as rabies, mange, canine distemper, etc.), or because the animal has become desensitized to humans, which is often the result of either intentional or unintentional feeding.

The Eastern coyote is not native to Virginia and instead appeared sometime in the 1950s. The coyote moved right in to the top predator niche, which had been vacant since wolves were extirpated from Virginia sometime around the turn of the century.

Once established, the coyote has done very well in Virginia.  Prey abundance, human food sources (dumpsters, trash cans), diminished hunting and trapping pressure, and incredible versatility have increased the coyote population; and it shows no sign of slowing down.

Preventing conflicts with coyotes can be achieved in a few simple steps:

» Remove access to outside food sources. This could be as simple as purchasing a more secure garbage can, feeding your dog or cat inside, or removing unfinished pet food from your porch.

» Protect your dog and cat when they are outside.  Do not leave your pets unattended in the backyard (this goes for children too!) or walk your dog without a leash.

» Contact VDACS or USDA Wildlife Services Virginia Cooperative Coyote Damage Control Program to get information about controlling coyote damage if you are experiencing issues with your livestock.

For more of this story, pick a copy of the Fall 2014 issue at a newsstand near you: 

Sketching the Countryside

Vintage, Oil/Canvas, 12" x 24" by Elly Friedman. 

Sketching the Countryside

Since 1946, members of the Loudoun Sketch Club have been recording the scenes of  serenity

By Mary Champion

It’s Tuesday morning somewhere in western Loudoun County as a steady stream of vehicles arrive at a privately owned historic property. Their occupants emerge armed with cameras, sunhats, easels, and sketchbooks.

They rapidly scatter over the property, seeking the perfect vantage point from which to paint or photograph. Some gather under large trees to paint a home built in the 18th century; others trek out to the farthest corners of the property, seeking a vista over bucolic fields with the iconic Blue Ridge mountains on the horizon. A temporary sign at the property entrance announces “Loudoun Sketch Club” (LSC), a group of painters, photographers, and sketch artists who share a love of the Virginia landscape and create art in the great outdoors. It’s a tradition that dates back seven decades.

In 1944 three Loudoun County artists, Evelyn Marshall, Vinton Pickens, and Betty Tiffany, began to meet at each other’s homes to paint. Club archives tell us that while they were painting at Pickens’ Janelia Farm (now home to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute) Pickens’ husband remarked, “You’re a bunch of hot sketches, aren’t you?”

The name stuck. The women exhibited under the name “The Hot Sketches” for a time, starting with a small exhibit at the 1945 Waterford Fair called “A Day with the Hot Sketches.”

Rock Hill, Watercolor, 5" x 9" by Mary MacDonnell. 

The Loudoun Sketch Club officially was formed September 10, 1946, at the instigation of Vinton Pickens. She was an artist, visionary and first chairman of the Loudoun Planning Commission, which was also formed with her urging in 1942. By 1947 the group had about 12 members, all by invitation. They held shows at Leesburg Baptist Church and the Leesburg Courthouse. By their third annual show they had changed their name to Loudoun Sketch Club, and continued to hold annual shows at a variety of venues. There was no show in 1957. Instead, eight club members painted a series of murals depicting historical scenes and events to celebrate the bicentennial of the founding of Loudoun County. These murals, now showing signs of age and water damage, still hang in the Loudoun County High School auditorium.

Today the Loudoun Sketch Club has grown to 170 members, including a good number of men who are no doubt happily unaware of the club’s original name.

Shelburn Glebe, graphite, 8" x 11" by Robbyn Holmes. 

On Exhibit

A Treasure Trove of Visual History

Seventy years of painting the Piedmont has left behind a treasure trove of visual records of this bucolic and historic area. The public can view paintings and photographs by Loudoun Sketch Club’s current members at two venues this fall.

» Oct. 18 is the day of the Aldie Fair, and the Sketch Club plans to compliment the art show with demonstrations of plein air painting by club members throughout the day. The exhibit will be open Oct. 10-20

» The annual Sketch Club exhibit at Hillsborough Vineyard will run from Nov. 22 to Jan. 5, with a reception on Sunday, Nov. 23.

More information on these two art exhibits and the Sketch Club may be found at

For more of the story and additional artwork, pick up a copy of our Fall 2014 issue at a newsstand near you:

Rock Hill Garden, watercolor, 15" x 22" by Lorrie Herman. 

Photo Contest Winners 2014

Congratulations to our 2014 Photo Contest Winners! 

All photos are property of the photographers. Please do not download or copy. 


Classic Piedmont 

Old Waterloo Bridge, Fauquier/Culpeper Counties by Coy Ferrell. 


The Great Outdoors 

Hazel River, Rappahannock County by Gary Anthes. 


Pets *Grand Prize Winner* 

Boundless Joy, Free Union by Grace Elliff


Conservation and Farm Life 

Dawn Suprise, Castleton by Gary Anthes 

Lamb Recipes

“What Do You Mean

He Don’t Eat No Meat?

That’s Okay, I make Lamb”

 By Brian Lichorowic

A quote from a popular movie (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”) says it all. Lamb—the most misunderstood red meat. Fans of culinaria understand that opinions on lamb never reside in a gray area – either you love it or you hate it.  For those that love it, I mean really love it, it ignites a true passion, pride and heritage. It’s something that as the weather turns cold it gains in popularity.  Lamb is the traditional dish of 15 million ethnic Americans – Muslims and Christians of all denominations, specifically the Irish and the Greeks.

Spring lamb remained a mainstay on the Sunday menu and during holidays at my family’s inn, located in New York, when I was growing up. Set menu: roast pork, ham and lamb.  Roast leg of lamb with gravy and vegetables. Finished and plated with this silly spiced apple and parsley garnish. We served ungodly amounts of it, plating over 1,200 dinners on an average Sunday, to busloads of hungry old ladies, one after another. They would eat everything on their plates and snag the sugar bowls and salt and pepper shakers with them on the way out.  I guess it was a sign of epicureal satisfaction. Then we’d have the occasional rogue, “blue hair” swagger back into the kitchen with a 20-gallon shopping bag in hand asking nicely for the leftover leg bones for later. She’d snag another sugar bowl as she left the kitchen.

Some cultures revere lamb the same way we do a large, succulent Maine lobster – as a primal treat only to be consumed at a time of celebration or when the urge hits and I’ve got a couple hundred bucks burning a hole in my pocket. Sometimes just spying the guy with the lobster tent at Gilberts Corner in the summer will do the trick!

For the rest of the story and recipes, go to our "Recipe of the Season" page:

Fall Desserts

Desserts: Snapshots from the End of the Day 

The Castleton Festival 2014 Opening Night 

Photos by Logan Mock-Bunting 

Joan Tobin, Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae of Japan. 

Dietlinde Turban Maazel and Nancy Gustafson

Opening of Madama Butterfly. The late Maestro Lorin Maazel is sitting in the front row. 


2014 Alltech FEI- World Equestrian Games (WEG) Preparatory Event at Great Meadow, July 26-27 

Photos by Tony Gibson Photography,  

Phillip Dutton riding Mighty Nice in the show jumping event, winning first place. 

Buck Davidson riding Ballynoe Castle RM, splashing through puddles, cross country event, placing second. 

Hannah Sue Barnett riding Harbour Pilot to third plae in the final ranking for show jumping. 

Point leaders from the WEG prep trials, Hannah Sue Burnett, Phillip Dutton and Buck Davidson. 


Salamander Resort and Spa: a "Birthday Bubbles" first anniversary bash in Middleburg  

Photos by Mona Botwick 

Owner Sheila C. Johnson cuts the birthday cake. 

Pastry chef Jason Reaves puts on his finishing touches. 


For more dessert photos pick up a copy of the autumn issue:

The Decline of the Monarch

Wild Ideas: The decline of the monarch

Pam Owen explores the complex life of the iconic monarch butterfly and the reasons for its 15-year population decline. 

By Pam Owen

Historically, millions of monarch butterflies return to their overwintering grounds during Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebration at the end of October. Last fall was different, according to a Nov. 13 article in the New York Times:

“This year, for the first time in memory, the monarch butterflies didn’t come, at least not on the Day of the Dead. They began to straggle in a week later than usual, in record-low numbers. Last year’s low of 60 million now seems great compared with the fewer than three million that have shown up so far this year.”

An iconic butterfly species, the monarch (Danaus plexippus) has been in decline for the past 15 years, according to a study published in Insect Conservation and Diversity (March 2012). Monarchs overwinter in high-elevation fir forests of Mexico and journey up to 4,000 miles north to breed in the summer. During the 2009-10 overwintering season, the study’s authors write, the total area in Mexico occupied by the eastern North American population of overwintering monarch butterflies reached an all-time low and, despite an increase, remained low in 2010-11.

Photo by Patricia Temples. A monarch chrysalis.

The reasons for the sudden collapse of monarch populations are complex, mirroring the insect’s complex life cycle, but they all the actions of Homo sapiens, starting with habitat loss. The monarch’s habitat has been disappearing through conversion of land to development and crops here in the U.S. and illegal logging in Mexico. Unstable weather due to global warming, with abnormal temperatures or precipitation, is also cited as among the causes of monarch declines.

Photo by Patricia Temples. A monarch caterpillar feeding on milkweed.

At the core of the habitat issue here in the U.S. is loss of native plants, specifically milkweed. While adult monarchs will feed on a variety of flower nectars and fruits, their young will only eat milkweed species, in the genus Asclepias. The most common species, prosaically called “Common milkweed” (Asclepias syriaca), is only one among more than 20.

They all produce toxic chemicals that deter most other animals from eating the milkweed and, in turn, the monarch. According to the same New York Times article, some monarchs can escalate their war on parasites by seeking out more toxic types of milkweed.

Land conversion is not the only threat to the monarch’s habitat. Federal subsidies have incentivized farmers to put every last acre of available land, including part of the U.S. conservation reserve, into corn and other crops used for biofuels. Most of the crops are genetically modified, primarily by Monsanto, to resist the herbicide glyphosate, the prime ingredient in Roundup, produced by the same company. Farmers can then use more lethal doses of glyphosate to destroy every native plant growing on cropland, including milkweed, without destroying the crops.

According to the Insect Conservation and Diversity study, Iowa alone has seen a “drastic reduction” of common milkweed growing in glyphosate-treated fields: a 90 percent loss from 1999-2009, and a 79 percent loss from 2000-09. We’re basically turning our native ecosystems into sterile, toxin-filled monocultures.

There is increasing pushback on the war on milkweed. Last year my conservation email lists lit up with requests from members for sources of the seed so they could plant more milkweed on their land. Conservation organizations have also been pushing to protect public lands where milkweed normally grows. As an Oct. 13 article in the New York Times put it, “After decades of trying to eradicate milkweed, gardeners are being encouraged to plant it in their gardens, and townships and counties are being asked to let it thrive in the roadside ditches.”

Will planting more milkweed here in the U.S. save the monarch? Its fate is tied up with its historic migration route. Not only are the fir forests being decimated by illegal logging, but ironically, people’s love of monarchs have led to increased numbers showing up in the overwintering grounds, disturbing the masses of monarchs that congregate there.

Photo by Patricia Temples. An adult monarch on butterfly weed, in the milkweed genus. While monarch caterpillers will eat only milkweed, the adults feed on nectar and fruit from a variety of plants.

Abnormally high or low temperatures and precipitation caused by global warming have also led to increased monarch mortality, according to the authors of the Insect Conservation and Diversity study, among others. Those monarchs that do manage to find a place to overwinter and survive the weather and the ecotourists are finding their journey north increasingly challenging, as habitat along the way continues to disappear.

What about monarchs in Rappahannock? Data now being collected through the Old Rag Master Naturalists’ butterfly count (as part of the North American Butterfly Association’s annual count) will help chart the butterfly’s progress, but the three years of data collected so far is insufficient to show real trends. What we do know from the count is that alarmingly few monarchs have been recorded in the three years of the count and, unlike many other butterfly species counted, the trend for their numbers is not upward.

Although the number of species recorded in the 2013 count (41) had declined by almost 20 percent from the previous year, the number of individual butterflies counted more than doubled that of 2012 and almost quadrupled that of 2011.

Of the 4,798 individual butterflies counted last year, 2,375 of them (nearly half), were eastern tiger swallowtails. In contrast, only two monarchs — 0.04 percent of the total — were recorded. The previous year, the monarch percentage was up to 0.3 (eight individuals) and in 2011, it was 0.2 (two individuals). (See my column last August for more about last year’s count.)

Photo by Patricia Temples. An adult monarch butterfly perches on a boy's hand. 

It’s not surprising that the eastern tiger swallowtails fared better than the monarchs, although the actual numbers of swallowtails are pretty amazing. As across the animal kingdom, it comes down to generalists versus specialists. While the monarch young only feed on milkweed, the eastern tiger swallowtail’s young will dine on the foliage of many trees; if one tree species declines, the swallowtail can just shift to another.

Unfortunately, data from the Rappahannock count is also in line with results from the Fauquier County NABA count, according to Louise Edsall, assistant director and beekeeper at Environmental Studies on the Piedmont, which manages the neighboring count. In an interview last summer following both NABA counts, she said that, as in Rappahannock, fewer than 10 monarchs were counted in Fauquier in both 2012 and 2013.

A participant in Project Monarch, a program of Monarch Watch, Edsall says in 2011 she was raising more than 50 of this species’ from eggs collected on milkweed in the wild: “I tagged over 100 monarchs in 2011. This year [2013] I have yet to find the first egg or caterpillar. So sad.”

She is not alone in being concerned. According to that New York Times article, some experts fear that the butterfly’s spectacular migration “could be near collapse.”

© 2014 Pam Owen

How you can help monarchs

To help monarchs, plant more milkweed, push for monarch conservation and help with monitoring local populations. Citizens are invited to join the Rappahannock butterfly count on July 15. Expertise is not required and basic training in butterfly identification is provided. For more information, contact Don Hearl at 540-825-6660 (540-672-5712 after 5:30) or

To learn more about monarchs and other butterflies, check out the following sources:

Pam Owen's column will appear monthly on For more columns by Pam, go to, or follow her blog:








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