Enjoying The Bounty Of Clarke County Grown And Handcrafted Buying Local And Shopping Small

By Victoria Kidd

“Buy local” is a term often used to voice advocacy for supporting local agricultural operations. Its business complement is “shop small,” a term used primarily when talking about supporting small, locally owned businesses. Americans are increasingly making the support of local businesses and the purchase of locally grown food part of their shopping routines, and more Clarke County businesses are responding to the demand. The decision to buy from local growers, makers, and producers is one with implications great and small.

Let’s consider a tale of two Saturday morning shoppers. We’ll call these local gatherers Libby and Amy. Each needs to pick up a few things to make a home-cooked family meal. Libby heads to the grocery store. Amy heads to a local farm market.

Libby enters the store and grabs a shopping cart. Her first stop is the produce section, which was recently renovated to include faux wooden finishes and other components that are designed to inspire the feel of a regional farm market. While the atmosphere may feel like a local farm market, the store’s offerings are anything but local. It offers her strawberries grown in Mexico, apples from South America, and other items imported from half a world away. Periodically, a hidden machine rumbles to life and sprays a mist over everything. Today, as Libby reaches in to collect mushrooms packaged over a week ago, the machine sprays her. Water splashes over her hand and the first few inches of her jacket. “Great,” she says, turning to find something to clean it off with.

At that same moment, in a farm market a mile away, Amy is asking a local grower for suggestions on how to prepare the eggplant she is buying from him—she’s planned a special meal tonight. He gives her a few tips, then says, “I’ll email you a terrific recipe from my wife—actually, I’ll text her in case you need ingredients from the market.”

Her shoulder bag—a giveaway from a recent small business Saturday event—already brims with the morning’s finds. A delightfully fragrant candle (the product of a local business) sits weightily in the bottom of the bag. A small sack of deep-red radishes, two cucumbers, and various other items that will create a fresh salad nestle beside it. Carefully laid across the top is a fresh-baked loaf of rosemary bread accompanied by locally produced cheese.

Before returning home, she stops at another locally owned business from which she has started purchasing meats and dairy products. She gets pork from pastured pigs, and picks up eggs from chickens that have the distinction of being known as “heritage breeds.” Throughout her day, she will interact with the local people who invest their lives in the production and sale of real food.

Amy is not alone in her choice to spend a weekend morning at a farmers market or locally owned business instead of the grocery store. The “buy local” and “shop small” movements are gaining momentum, and many are finding that purchasing from local providers is something that does not need to only be a part of their holiday shopping routines. It is becoming more a part of their weekly household shopping routines.

The Virginia Food System Council, an organization working to strengthen regional and local food systems while supporting the producers at the start of the system, has a pledge program that encourages Virginians to commit to spending just $10 a week on foods grown locally, by Virginia famers. It’s a seemingly small amount, but the collective value of doing so could mean big things for the buy local movement. According to the organization’s website, if every household in the state committed to doing so, it would bring $1.65 billion dollars into the Virginia economy each year. (You can take the pledge and learn more about them at http://virginiafoodsystemcouncil.org.)

Aside from the economic reasons to support local producers, the organization notes that eating locally grow food that is in season reduces one’s carbon footprint, supports good farming practices, and could impact one’s overall health if you specifically seek foods grown with limited chemical interventions. But it’s more than that. “Honestly, you should eat local food not just because it tastes better and is healthier, but because knowing your farmers and food producers is good for your soul,” says VFSC. “Because knowing where your food comes from helps you understand your connection to your community, your bioregion, your Earth.”

If you find that buying locally grown food is good for your soul, you may consider the soul-sweetening benefits of shopping small too. There is some contention regarding who started the shop small movement, but ironically it took the gigantic American Express credit card company to put millions behind a nationwide marketing campaign. The company has been advocating for what it calls “Small Business Saturdays” since 2010, when it launched the campaign to steal consumer’s focus away from big box retailers during the holiday shopping season. Clearly American Express sees the economic potential of small-scale vendors.

According to American Express, through efforts to support small retailers who accept the company’s credit card, upwards of $5.5 billion was spent on Black Friday in 2012 alone. Since the success of that year, the company has expanded its efforts to connect businesses with consumers on every Saturday, every day really, by offering signage, promotional materials, and other support for programs to capture attention and garner sales.

Having a powerhouse like American Express promoting small businesses, and VFSC advocating support for local food producers, helps. But the most genuine voices are those of the farmers, makers, small business owners, and crafters who work to share something grown, made, or produced with pride.

Clarke County has a lot to offer. There are plenty of options when it comes to filling your fridge with locally made consumable goods.

Let’s return to our two hypothetical shoppers. Libby and Amy will both arrive home with everything they need. One will have had an efficient outing; she’ll prepare that which was produced at a scale that some would also call efficient.

The other’s outing did take longer—by choice. Her purchases, from providers like the ones at the Clarke County Farm Market, will impact sales for locally owned businesses. She’ll prepare food that is seasonal, incredibly fresh, and with every bite she’ll make a note to herself to next week tell her farmers how good it was.

The next time you need to make a purchase, think about where you’ll shop and where your dollar goes. It’s been said that to live in Clarke County is to love Clarke County. Perhaps there is no better way to prove that affinity than to buy local and shop small.

See the accompanying guide, page 14, for a listing of some of our favorite local shops, markets, wineries, and more.

We Make the Road, the Road Makes Us

By Liz Kirchner

Centuries ago, travelers on horseback navigating the landscape with a unique, lifted, horse-top perspective—seeing further than a person can on foot—crossed fields, forded rivers, and clambered up the grassy flanks of the Blue Ridge seeking easy passage to gaps and notches making their way to lands west. Horses and riders made the early roads and traces, about 100 by 1775, that criss-cross what has become Clarke County. Those old roads, full of the stories that link people to place, dwindling to bridle paths and odd berms in the woods, lost to most, have been kept from dissolving entirely by generations of horsebackers who, still roaming those woods and viewing the landscape from the saddle, may have saved old roads from dissolving entirely.

Now, those roads and the stories they tell have been researched and mapped by historian equestrian Matthew Mackay-Smith. Working with the Clarke County Historical Association and Long Branch Plantation, his work, concentrating on King’s, Berry’s Ferry, and Commerce roads, is helping others learn how to see the roads that made us.

“Understand this was howling wilderness and if you got lost out there, you lost more than your glasses,” he said, painting a picture of rugged Colonial travel.

For Mackay-Smith, born in 1932, it’s been a life seen from atop a horse. He is a veterinarian and co-founder of Equus magazine, winner of the Tevis Cup hundred-mile Sierra Nevada endurance ride, and considered by many to be the father of equine sports medicine. “My father [Alexander Mackay-Smith] was an amateur historian of the highest imaginable quality and I admired him, followed him around, including on horseback. Horse-backing for him and for me was hunting the fox, which means going cross-country, which means you get to see the geography and the geology and the population dynamics—and all from just a little bit higher up. Not so high as to be obtuse, but to give you a little perspective and give you a little character to subtle variations in relief.”

From horseback, he began to put the land’s history and its geography together. “As I grew up and grew older, I found myself running narratives either with my mouth open or closed depending on the availability of ears,” he said.

The land, marked just once by a wheel, will keep that mark for a century. Mackay-Smith says we all can, and should, look for old roads. “This particular patch of countryside is criss-crossed by things that are obviously old roads, once you recognize what to look for,” he said.

Matthew’s wife Winkie, listening to the conversation, added, “You can also see a road with a skiff of snow—about an inch of light powdered snow and a good breeze afterwards. It’s like rubbing a gravestone.”

When looking for old roads, keep in mind criteria for where a horse-forged road should go. Or, if you find something you’re convinced is a road, but is plowed ground, ask yourself, advises Mackay-Smith, “What subtleties should I adduce? What should I look for on my near horizon to be a magnet to draw me along? A town? A spring? A dip or gap on the horizon?”

Almost always on horseback, Colonial travelers chose routes that provided solid footing, clear from undergrowth with frequent access to grass or the springs that checker the karstic landscape of Clarke County. For example, Ashby’s Gap was originally called Ashby’s Bent—a Scottish word for heath and grassland where trees don’t grow. Horses could maneuver up steep terrain.

“Thus,” writes Mackay-Smith in the exhibit, “old roads….”


Run perpendicular to rivers and along ridges to avoid soggy ground;

Follow routes relatively free from rocks, breaks, or other obstacles;

Are 4 to 8 feet wide, allowing ox-cart and wagon passage.

The roads frequently appear to be sunken, with berms of earth and stone as high as 8-feet on either side. In places where the imprint fades, faint traces can often be seen in a braided fashion suggesting several iterations of one route.

His best tip for reading the landscape to spot an old road: Imagine you are on a horse.

History’s all around us: a strange groove in the woods, a sharp bend in a winding lane, a clump of daffodils where there is no house. Matthew Mackay-Smith’s historical work “Riding Through History,” is on exhibit at Long Branch Plantation, and will move to Clarke County Historical Association in Berryville this spring with a set of taped lectures and maps.

The project untangles the network of roads we see today by identifying three primary colonial roads: King’s Road, Berry’s Ferry Road, and Commerce Road (whose old roadbeds are still there) as the foundation of lanes and roads connecting houses, towns, mills that form “the patterns, designs, and structure of a landscape influenced by human activity.”

A Builder of Houses Which Become Homes

By Wendy Gooditis

 For many people, myself included, the concept of home is irrevocably tied to the basic sources of contentment and joy: family, security, stability, refuge. Home is many things to many people, of course. For some, home is a town. For some, it is a beloved person. For some, it is the experience of a particular activity (think on horseback for a dedicated rider, or at the helm for a zealous sailor). Most commonly though, home is a physical abode: it is, for many fortunates, a structure with a roof, a foundation, walls, floors, plumbing, lighting, heating, and cooling.

Looking around my home today, I am choosing to celebrate the people who are responsible for creating these containers in which we keep ourselves, our activities, our memories. Today I salute the builders of the houses which become our homes.

There are many lucky families in Clarke and Frederick counties who are living in houses built by Patriot Homes, a local company which has been around for 25 years. Founded by Dennis and Gail Tomsey, this is an example of a company which built its reputation along with its houses, as exemplified by the number of repeat clients they have served over the years. One client has had Patriot Homes build three different houses for his family. Another had them build a modest house when there were four in the family, and then a bigger one when they grew to six. Then a house for their aunt. Now there’s talk of downsizing as the kids have grown (and, by the way, one of the kids is engaged and maybe a small house in time for the wedding). Families grow and shrink and spread out, and Patriot Homes accommodates them. This is how a builder’s reputation grows. In fact, two successful real estate agents who had worked with any number of local builders chose Patriot Homes when the time came for them to build their own houses.

In conversation with Dennis Tomsey, I learn a little bit about the highs and lows of the building trade. I hear about the thrilling first years, when the couple went out on a pretty long limb, buying 63 lots in Pembridge Heights and founding their shiny new company. They set up a trailer office and built the first house as a model. Dennis says “Before we finished that first house, we had probably sold 24 houses. A lot of them I sold from the hood of my truck! We worked seven days a week.” During one busy year, they built 17 houses chosen by buyers from a number of models.

Following that impressive beginning, Patriot Homes began building in Pioneer Heights, working on six to twelve lots at a time. In this period, the company began building custom homes for people who owned lots and had a specific idea of the sort of house they wanted. Times began to change, and Patriot Homes found themselves building fancier houses on bigger lots, often in Oakdale Crossing and Raven Pointe. As real estate values climbed, lots became more expensive, and buyers wanted larger and more elaborate houses to suit the bigger lot sizes.

No one knows better than a builder that the real estate market can behave like the proverbial rollercoaster—a ride which exhilarates some and makes others ill. Well, when the ride swooped through 2007, builders everywhere started feeling queasy. Patriot Homes was no exception. The company found itself with several beautiful homes, built at a cost which the market would no longer support. But Patriot Homes was solid enough to hold on, and Dennis took a long, hard look at the market, coming to the conclusion that the houses which were selling in those cautious days were smaller houses at lower prices—specifically, the old reliable 2,000 square-foot ranch house. So those were what he built on the extra lots the company owned, and they did indeed sell. The trend continues even now. Dennis says “Out of the last 12 houses we’ve built, only one is a two-story.” Quite a change from the madcap days of just a few years ago when bigger was always better. The ranch house, after all, has a very wide appeal, from first-time buyers to single-parent families, empty-nesters, and retirees.

When I ask Dennis to what he attributes his staying power through the heights and depths, he says, “Our success has been that we build a quality home that has real value for the dollar. Most of our sales come from referrals, from people who have lived with that quality.” Their team of subcontractors has mostly been working with them for 12 to 15 years or longer. That in itself is another indication of success, in my opinion.

Patriot Homes also does renovations, additions, garages, decks, sun-rooms, and other projects. They converted a cabin to a contemporary. They built a fantastic contemporary house with three levels of glass cantilevered over a lake. They have built colonials and Cape Cod-style houses, contemporaries and Craftsmen. They are nothing if not versatile.

On the market at this moment is a beautiful example of the company’s work. It is a 3,000 square-foot Craftsman-style home on more than two acres in the Stonymeade subdivision in Frederick County. It backs up to farmland with lovely mountain vistas. The details, such as those of the shelves in the back entrance space, and the materials, such as the real stone which wraps around the lower exterior of the whole house, set this home apart. It is bright and airy, spacious and inviting.


Wendy Gooditis is a real estate agent on the Chip Schutte Real Estate Team with ReMax Roots at 101 East Main St., Berryville, VA 22611, phone (540)955-0911. She be reached at Gooditis@visuallink.com or at 540-533-0840.

Around Clarke in Dec/Jan


20 “Museum Hours”

95 Chalmers Court, Berryville. 7pm. Doors open at 6:30. When a Vienna museum guard befriends an enigmatic visitor, the grand Kunsthistorisches Art Museum becomes a mysterious crossroads which sparks explorations of their lives, the city, and the ways artworks reflect and shape the world. In German with subtitles and in English. NR; 106 minutes. The 2014 Fall Film Series is presented by Barns of Rose Hill and Magic Lantern Theater. $5.00 for Magic Lantern and BORH members, $8.00 for non-members. For information email kelli.hart@borh.org, or visit www.barnsofrosehill.org.

21 Duvall Designs

Holiday Open House. 2053 Millwood Road, Millwood. Noon – 5pm

21 Long Branch Holiday Reception

6–8pm. Following Old Bethel’s candlelit Christmas Service, guests are invited to a WWII Home Front Holiday Reception at Long Branch Plantation. 830 Long Branch Lane, Millwood. www.visitlongbranch.org. 540-837-1856.

22 Red Cross Babysitter Training

Clarke County Parks and Recreation. 225 Al Smith Circle, Berryville. 9am-3:30pm. This course has a unique interactive, educational format that challenges youth. It is designed for 11-15 year olds and can help participants care for children and infants, be a good leader and role model, make good decisions and solve problems, keep the children you baby-sit and yourself safe, handle emergencies such as injuries, illnesses and household accidents, write resumes and interview for jobs and much more! Participants learn by doing. There will be a half-hour lunch break, bring a packed lunch. Successful completion of final tests is required for certification. 1 class. Instructor: Mary Veilleux. Ages 11-15. $81.

24 Christmas Eve Service

Christ Church Millwood. 809 Bishop Meade Road, Millwood. 5pm Candlelight Communion with Children’s sermon. 8:30pm Carol Singing. 9pm Candlelight Communion Service. See Advertisement for more information.

24 Christmas Eve Service

Grace Episcopal Church. 110 North Church Street, Berryville. 5pm and 11pm at Grace Church. Carols begin at 4:30 and 10:30.

27 Live Music

M.L. Flenner. Winchester Book Gallery. 185 N. Loudoun Street, Winchester. 7:30-9:30pm. M.L. Flenner is an indie/folk/pop musician from Inwood, West Virginia. Continue to enjoy your holiday weekend by watching M.L. Flenner perform a mix of both covers and originals at the Winchester Book Gallery.

29 DoTerra Oils

Clarke County Parks and Recreation. 225 Al Smith Circle, Berryville. 6:30-8:45pm. Ages 16 and up. A New Year, a new you – We’ll explore the business opportunity that DoTERRA CPTG Essential oils has to offer you.  Restore your mind, body, and wallet – it all starts a drop at a time.  1 class. Instructor: Lorrie Roberts $4 per person.

31 First Night Winchester

Various locations throughout Old Town Winchester. The largest, safest, family-friendly, non-alcoholic, budget-friendly, non-profit New Year’s Eve celebration in the Shenandoah Valley. Offering entertainment for nearly every age and taste: musicians, dancers, arts and crafts, magicians, comedy, and more. Events kick off at 10 am and culminate at midnight with the Apple Drop and a spectacular Fireworks display. One button is good for access to all First Night events. $10 each for the first two buttons; $8 for each additional button. Children 10 yrs & under are FREE. Visit www.firstnightwinchester.com for more information and locations where buttons are being sold.


3  Free Try Fitness Day

Clarke County Parks and Recreation. 225 Al Smith Circle, Berryville. 10am-9pm. This is your chance to try before you buy! Our instructors will be onsite demonstrating Zumba, Tone & Sculpt, Various Yogas, Total Fit, FITT Forever, Fluid Motion, Sit & Get Fit, Kempo/Self Defense so you can find the class(es) that fit your needs! See the schedule online at www.clarkecounty.gov/parks or call 540-955-5140 for class schedules and more information.

3 Benefit Concert

“Where’s Aubrey: Benefit Concert for The Downstream Project”. Barns of Rose Hill. 95 Chalmers Court, Berryville, Va. 8pm. Doors open at 7:30. Where’s Aubrey has played together since 1985, writing and performing all original music since the turn of the millennium. Rhine Singleton’s original songs, cloaked and hooded by Gary McGraw’s improvisation on the fiddle and mandolin, range from old timey folk music through modern jazz. Special Guests: The Bitter Liberals (Allen Kitselman, Clark Hansbarger, and Mike Jewell) will join Where’s Aubrey for a few songs. All proceeds from the concert will go to The Downstream Project.  $20 in advance, $25 at the door. For information email kelli.hart@borh.org, or visit www.barnsofrosehill.org.

4 Chipotle Fundraiser

CCHS Band Day at Chipoltle. 2012 S Pleasant Valley Rd, Winchester. 5¬9pm. Bring the ad in this month’s Observer to Chipotle between 5 and 9pm on Sunday, January 4, show it on your smartphone or tell the cashier you’re supporting the cause to make sure that 50% of the proceeds will be donated to Clarke County Band Association.


9 “The Nine”

Barns of Rose Hill, 95 Chalmers Court, Berryville, Va. 8pm. Doors open at 7:30. Founded in 2008 by singer/songwriter Justin Trawick, “The 9 Songwriter Series” is a touring live music event based in Washington, DC. The show was created with the idea of nine artists getting together and combining their talents in order to play in nicer clubs and to larger numbers of people. Each installment features nine solo singer/songwriters performing in rotation and often sitting in with each other. To date, over 60 different artists have participated in “The 9” at events in DC, Arlington, Bethesda, Baltimore, Annapolis, New York City, Richmond, Charlottesville, Charlotte, and Philadelphia. This show will feature some great artists including Justin Trawick, Melissa Wright, Kipyn Martin, Chelsea McBee, Old Man Luedecke, and others TBA. $12 in advance, $15 at the door. For information email kelli.hart@borh.org, or visit www.barnsofrosehill.org.

9 & 10 International Saxophone Symposium

Masterclasses, lectures and recitals take place throughout the day Friday from 2-7pm and Saturday from 9am-6pm at Shenandoah Conservatory at Shenandoah University (Armstrong Hall, Goodson Chapel & Ruebush Hall). All events are free and open to the public. Tickets are not required. (View Schedule in related article).

Main Stage Concerts: U.S. Navy Band Concert Band with Vincent David, James Houlik, Michael Ibrahim & the Navy Band Saxophone Quartet. Friday, Jan. 9, at 8pm, and U.S. Navy Band Commodores with guest artists Miami Saxophone Quartet, Saturday, Jan. 10. 8pm. Both performances take place at the Patsy Cline Theater at John Handley High School and are free and open to the public. Seating is limited. Tickets are required and will be available soon at the Symposium website. http://www.navyband.navy.mil/Saxophone_Symposium.

10 Young Naturalist Program

Blandy Experimental Farm, 400 Blandy Farm Lane, Boyce. Grades 1-3, 9-11:30am. Grades 4-6, 12:30 to 3pm. FOSA Young Naturalist Program begins with CSI:Solving Crimes with Nature.

540-837-1758 Ext. 224 or www.blandy.virginia.edu.

17 Taarka

Barns of Rose Hill, 95 Chalmers Court, Berryville, Va. 8pm. Doors open at 7:30. Taarka is a virtuosic ensemble of 5-string violin, mandolin, guitars, string bass, and vocals featuring high-energy performance & innovative, beautiful compositions and songs, weaving the sounds of old & new from world folk, Celtic, bluegrass, jazz and classical with rock energy & master musicianship. $15 in advance, $20 at the door. For information email kelli.hart@borh.org, or visit www.barnsofrosehill.org.

24 Senior Open Forum

Barns of Rose Hill 95. Chalmers Court, Berryville. 11am-1pm. Join Professionals Working 4Seniors for an open forum and discussion on the topic of growing old, how to navigate the changes and what options are available in our community that provide help to families and our elders. Call Karen Cifala for more information 303-817-9374 or email her at kcifala@gmail.com. Light refreshments will be served. Free.

24 Bumper Jacksons

Barns of Rose Hill, 95 Chalmers Court, Berryville, Va. 8pm. Doors open at 7:30. The Bumper Jacksons are a big, fat party! Hot and sweet, their early jazz and country repertoire paints America’s story from New Orleans’ brothels to Appalachian hollers. Unafraid to scrap together new sounds from forgotten 78’s, the Bumper Jacksons boldly and elegantly balance paying homage to the traditions while fashioning their own unique, DIY style. They perform the old traditional sounds of America, heart-wrenching and youthful, and always in the spirit of raw adventure. $15 in advance, $20 at the door. For information email kelli.hart@borh.org, or visit www.barnsofrosehill.org

24 FOSA Seed Exchange

Blandy Experimental Farm, 400 Blandy Farm Lane, Boyce. Bring seeds, plants, roots, or cuttings to exchange with other gardeners. No invasive species. 10am-2pm. For information call 540-837-1758 Ext. 224 or visit www.blandy.virginia.edu.

The Weather Outside Is Frightful

by Amy Mathews Amos

Maybe you started thinking about it when the first wintery blast of air arrived before Thanksgiving. Or maybe it didn’t hit you until the first seasonal viewing of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, when the talking snowman shivers recalling the blizzard that almost canceled Christmas.

But admit it. At some point in recent weeks you started wondering: Will this winter be as cold as last? What was up with that polar vortex last year? And in the strange new world of global climate change, is this the new normal?

The short answer is, no one knows.

Scientists stopped using the term “global warming” to refer to climate change years ago. And you almost never hear them refer to the greenhouse effect anymore—the basic phenomenon that’s at the root of current climate change. That’s because, although 97 percent of climate and Earth scientists agree that carbon dioxide emitted from fossil fuels is warming the planet, they’re less certain about its regional effects.

Don’t think snow globe, where a shake of the hand triggers a uniform cascade of predictable weather throughout the land. Think shopping mall traffic jam, where cars on over-packed roads spill out onto neighboring streets in confusing new patterns, spawn unpredictable fender benders, and generate even more gridlock in unlikely places. We know that the last weekend before the holidays will be crowded. But we’re not sure how all that extra traffic will play out on the ground.

The same is true with climate change. Some places—such as the Arctic—are noticeably warming. In 2012, September sea ice in the Arctic hit the lowest levels recorded since measurements began in 1979, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—declining almost 14 percent per decade. Climate change is happening most rapidly in the Arctic possibly because warming temperatures get amplified when snow and ice start to melt. Brilliant white surfaces that once reflected sunlight back into space disappear, replaced by dark water and soil that absorb sunlight rather than reflect it. In other words, all the exposed water that used to be covered in sea ice now traps even more heat in Arctic ecosystems, facilitating even more melting, more heat, and so on.

So doesn’t that mean a warmer winter in the Mid-Atlantic? Not necessarily. Some scientists believe that climate change is leading to more extreme weather events in the mid-latitudes of the planet. That means more heat waves in summer, but also more cold snaps in winter as the frigid polar vortex that normally stays high in the stratosphere above the Arctic, becomes unstable.

Dr. Judah Cohen is one of the scientists leading this work. He’s Director of Seasonal Forecasting at the consulting firm Atmospheric and Environmental Research in Massachusetts, and a research affiliate at MIT. “There have been a lot of reports in the media that melting sea ice is causing all kinds of crazy weather,” Cohen said in a recent telephone interview. “There are all of these theories out there; all these researchers working independently. We’re trying to make a little order out of the chaos.”

Cohen recently coauthored a scientific review of those theories. His own research links the amount of snow cover in Siberia in October with weather in the continental United States the following winter. More snow in Siberia means it’s more likely the polar vortex will dip into our neck of the woods a few months later. The records go back to the late 1960s. Since 1988, according to Cohen, October snowfall in Siberia has been expanding. Why? Possibly because more exposed water and warmer Arctic temperatures lead to more moisture in the air. Then, as the weather cools in the fall, this moisture drops across Eurasia as snow.

What happens next is uncertain, but there are several possible—and most likely interconnected—theories.

One theory is that storm tracks get shifted. Atmospheric pressure over the Arctic fluctuates from year to year. In years with low atmospheric pressure, the polar vortex contracts. Cold air stays near the pole throughout the winter, pulls storm tracks northward, and allows southwesterly winds to bring milder weather to the continental U.S. In years with high atmospheric pressure, storm tracks get pushed south and bring cold polar air behind them. Years with high levels of October snow fall in Siberia coincide with years of high pressure over the Arctic, pushing cold air south.

Shifts in the jet stream might also contribute. The jet stream refers to the constant winds that blow from west to east across the northern hemisphere. Those winds are driven by differences in temperature between the warm tropics and the cold Arctic. As temperatures in the Arctic warm at a faster rate than those in the tropics, the difference between tropical heat and Arctic freeze decreases, slowing the jet stream. A strong jet stream holds the polar vortex in place. A slower jet stream allows it to meander farther south and spill out into mid-latitudes.

And finally, changes in sea ice and snow cover could alter normal planetary atmospheric waves created by topography and differences between land and ocean surfaces. Heating can increase the amplitude of these waves, injecting more energy from the lower troposphere high into the stratosphere where the polar vortex resides. That extra energy bombarding the polar vortex can make it unstable, and eventually break it apart. Once that happens, the frigid air that was contained in the vortex spreads south.

“None of this is mutually exclusive,” said Cohen. “There’s definitely overlap and dependencies.” But trying to sort out exactly what’s happening with so many different systems working across a global scale is challenging. Computer models that try to capture all these components often end up with different results.

Other climate scientists have completely different theories about the regional implications of climate change. Dr. Kevin Trenberth, a Distinguished Senior Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, believes that changes in ocean temperatures and currents in the Pacific drive winter weather across North America and Europe far more than changes in the Arctic do. In particular, a 15-year pattern that he believes contributed to frigid European winters from 2009 to 2013, and our cold temperatures last year, has shifted. That, combined with the formation of a weak El Nino, suggests that this year could be different: Namely, cooler and wetter weather than normal in the South and Southeast, and warmer, drier weather in New England. Sandwiched in between these two regions, “West Virginia and Virginia are hard to say,” he concedes.

And what has Cohen found? He hadn’t yet issued a formal public forecast when this article went to press. But he did share a vital piece of information: October snowfall in Siberia this fall was the second highest on record.

Rudolph could be busy.

Amy Mathews Amos writes about environment, health and history from her home in Shepherdstown. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Pacific Standard, Earth Touch News and elsewhere. She serves on the boards of the American Conservation Film Festival and Marine Conservation Institute and blogs for The Downstream Project at thedownstreamproject.org. Follow her @AmyMatAm.

Welcome 2015 With a Bang at First Night

 By Victoria Kidd

 As we are all hustling about this busy season, 2014 is quietly slipping away. Crowds will soon assemble at familiar locations to collectively count down to the start of a new year. It’s a time of year loved by people the world over. Maybe it’s loved because we like to mark the conclusion of things. Maybe it’s because a new year, full of promise and opportunity, gives permission to forgive grievances, forget missteps, and wipe clean one’s slate to start anew. Whatever the reason, there is no shortage of ways to celebrate New Year’s Eve, but First Night Winchester is one of the most popular attended locally to mark the last few hours of the waning year.

Its popularity has grown progressively from its early roots in 1986 when local resident Kathy Nerangis first conceptualized the idea of having a New Year’s Eve celebration of the arts. Today, First Night Winchester Executive Director Christine Germeyer describes the event as “an affordable, nonalcoholic celebration that unites the community in all its diversity through the visual and performing arts.” Entertainment is at the heart of the event, and each year offers something new for attendees. This year’s line up is one that makes Germeyer extremely proud.

“I could go on and on about the entertainment,” she says. “I’m disappointed I won’t be able to catch it all because we’ve acquired some great performers this year!” Throughout the day, performers will take the stage at locations in and around the downtown area, including a number of local businesses and churches whose support is critical to making the event successful. In fact, one of the most appealing things about First Night Winchester is that attendees can enjoy a wide range of entertainment at a variety of venues that are (generally) within walking distance of each other.

Some will spend their evening enjoying what is being offered by returning performers Mean Mary, Tricky-Person Productions, the Blue Ridge Thunder Cloggers, the Yesterday Swing Orchestra, the Rainer Trio, and the Robbie Limon Band. Alternatively, Skyline Indie Film Fest is presenting the 1957 classic “An Affair to Remember” at the Dharma Yoga Studio, while local performers (including VocalPoint, Apple Valley Ringers, Jona Masiya, and others) will be sharing their homegrown talent with everyone.

While these talented entertainers can be appreciated by people of all ages, young (and young-at-heart) attendees will likely favor the chance to visit the creatures of Reptiles Alive or the robots accompanying performer John Hadfield. These evening performances complement the Ronald McDonald visit, face painting, music, and activities occurring earlier at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley. Additional performers offer more music and energetic entertainment for the kids throughout the night while a model train layout set up by the Model Railroad Club of Winchester offers the chance to see tiny locomotives run on 18 scale-miles of track.

If all of that isn’t enough to keep small hands and minds occupied, the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum is offering free admission after 4pm to First Night button holders. Buttons are the means of entry to the day’s events. They can be purchased at various locations throughout the area for $10. (Children ages 10 and younger are admitted free.) The fee is nominal, considering the fact that the button grants you access to as many of the days events—over 30 in total—as you care to attend.

Those events culminate in what has become the official countdown of the Northern Shenandoah Valley. Well-known WINC-FM radio personality Barry Lee is the official emcee helping attendees say goodbye to 2014 as they watch the “Apple Drop.” (What did you expect? A ball?) As the first few seconds of 2015 pass by, a large fireworks display will provide the percussion for impromptu performances of Auld Lang Syne that will assuredly break out.

It’s a day full of events that represent lots of hard work and dedication from many volunteers and supporting businesses. Germeyer explains, “It is a year-long undertaking to produce a community celebration this large. Our partnerships with the churches, retail businesses, museums, hotels, and restaurants are key to our success.” Sponsors such as Shenandoah Valley Westminster-Canterbury, the City of Winchester, Water Street Design, Bank of Clarke County, McDonald’s, Valley Health, and others are integral supporters of First Night Winchester, which is actually a nonprofit organization. (The necessary support of businesses may be apparent to most attendees, but it should also be noted that there is significant support provided by the city each year.)

In addition to securing the aid of local businesses and city authorities, there is the matter of the simple logistics behind the event, including everything from lining up talent to ensuring there are enough workers on hand at each venue. “Applications for entertainment consideration start coming in as soon as the New Year begins,” Germeyer says. “There really isn’t any “down time” throughout the year. Obtaining sponsors, securing venues, and finding volunteers are just a few of the elements that are crucial to our survival.”

For most attendees, all of that planning and hard work is evident each year. Repeat attendees find something new to enjoy, as scheduled performances change annually, while first-time guests have an entirely unique experience, according to Germeyer. “A first-time attendee is always amazed by the variety and quantity of entertainment,” she says. “Often, they are struck by the beauty of the church settings and the charm of Old Town. Our Apple Drop is sure to warm their hearts and the fireworks make for a great way of welcoming the New Year. Old Town Winchester is an inviting place and those first-time attendees will make their way back.”

If you are a First Night Winchester “newbie,” visit www.firstnightwinchester.com to see the performance and event schedule and plan out your experience. Be sure to obtain your button by visiting one of the eight service locations or by reserving one through the site itself. (Buttons are available while supplies last, so plan ahead.)

Whether you welcome 2015 at First Night Winchester or quietly at home, we hope you will share your New Year’s tidings, resolutions, and photos with us on our Facebook page. We wish all of our readers in Clarke County—and beyond—a very happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year.

Bank of Clarke County: 133 Years in Pictures

story and photos By Claire Stuart

In its 133 years, Bank of Clarke County has gone from horse-and-buggy days to mobile apps. Starting with a single branch, its twelfth branch opens in 2015 in Ashburn, Loudoun County. This fall, the bank unveiled a timeline photo display in the lobby of the Berryville branch, highlighting important people and events.

John Hudson, senior vice president and marketing director, sat down to talk about the bank’s history. Hudson, who has been with the bank for 31 years, was a shareholder before joining the bank’s staff.

He recalls, “I wasn’t with the bank in 1981, but when I read the annual report, I noticed that 100 years of history had been condensed into just a few pages.”

In 2003, Hudson was asked to write a history of the bank for its 125th anniversary. It took him three years to research and write, culminating in a fascinating and attractive hardcover book called Since 1881, generously illustrated with photos of people and historic documents. It was published in time for the shareholders’ meeting in 2006. Hudson credits the many people who assisted him, particularly Margaret Barthel, previously the bank’s official historian.

The story of Bank of Clarke County is actually the story of the area and three banks. The end of the Civil War wiped out the South’s banking system, which was based on confederate money. Clarke County had been a prosperous agricultural area before the War, growing wheat, corn and other grains, cattle, and fruit. There were mills, and there was mining and logging on the mountain. As the economy recovered and business returned to Clarke County, a bank was necessary.

In 1872, the Bank of Berryville came into being. Unfortunately, it was poorly managed and problems were found in the books. It was discovered that they were cashing checks for people with no money in the bank. The bank became insolvent and went into receivership, with Mr. Ammashaddi Moore, Jr., a local attorney, named as receiver. A cousin of Moore’s was president of Bank of Berryville. He refused to give the receiver the keys to the bank. Moore climbed through a window to take legal possession of the bank, and it closed in 1878.

Berryville was again left without a bank, with the nearest banks hours away by horse-and-buggy. By 1881, the necessary capital was raised to institute the Bank of Clarke County. Its first president was Ammashaddi Moore, Jr. The new bank had no physical home, so business was conducted through the office of the County Treasurer until a building could be raised.

A lot was purchased on Church Street and construction began. Hudson’s book gives an account of workers digging for the foundation and finding old human bones. Nobody knew of any burials there, so it was first assumed that the remains were those of American Indians. However, coffin nails found at the site contradicted that assumption, because Indians did not make coffins. It was later learned that the bones were probably remains of Revolutionary War soldiers, but nothing further is known as to what happened to the bones.

Construction was completed in December 1881, and Bank of Clarke County opened for business.

In 1887, disaster was averted, thanks to a local coachman, Anthony Cook. He had driven a group home from an event in the wee hours of the morning. As he returned the horses to their stable, Cook spotted fire coming from the bank and sounded the alarm. The fire had started in rooms rented to a club on the second floor, where a lighted cigar had been thrown into a spittoon full of sawdust.

The first robbery occurred in September of 1889, when burglars entered through a window. The valuables were locked in the vault, so the burglars ended up empty-handed except for a small gun they found. One robber had been barefoot, leaving muddy footprints, but the other left shoeprints.

In 1900, the bank got running water, and in 1903, its first telephone. It remained in the same location until 1906, when it bought the building on the corner of Church and Main.

Deposits dipped in 1914, when the wheat crop failed and an epidemic of hog cholera broke out. The disease was so widespread that the bank bought a supply of anti-hog cholera serum to keep on hand to sell to farmers. By 1919 agriculture was again strong.

A new bank in Boyce

In the early 20th Century, the town of Boyce was booming, says Hudson. Business flourished, the Boyce train station was a major stop, and southern Clarke County needed its own bank. An impressive Classical Revival building was constructed, and the independent Boyce State Bank opened in 1908.

The first robbery of Boyce State Bank came in September of 1926. Cashier Cornelius VanDeventer chased the robbers down the street with his cane but failed to catch them. They were apprehended three days later, and most of the money was recovered. The bank seemed to be a target for robbers over the years.

Hudson, a ninth-generation Clarke County native, grew up in Boyce and wrote a history of the town in 2010. He says he had a personal connection to the Boyce State Bank: his mother worked there from 1965 to 1981. “And she was robbed six times!” he added, the last time while he was a student at Boyce Elementary School.

The Bank of Clarke County weathered the Great Depression, while many banks failed. It remained solvent and was only closed when President Roosevelt’s forced “bank holidays” were instituted to prevent runs on banks. In 1934, the bank became a member of the F.D.I.C. and deposits were insured up to $5,000.

In 1935, Bank of Clarke added a second branch with the purchase of the Boyce State Bank, which was in good financial condition. The Boyce State Bank’s building was donated to the town of Boyce in 1987, and now houses the town hall. Bank of Clarke operated with two branches until 1992.

The digital age and new branches

The bank purchased its first computer system in 1983. A credit card program was launched in 1985. The first ATM was installed at the Berryville office in 1989. Online banking became available in 1999. Berryville’s first drive-through opened in 2003.

The first branch outside of Clarke County opened in Winchester in 1992. By 2010, there was a branch network in Winchester with seven locations. In 2010, the first Loudoun County branch opened in Round Hill, followed by another in Purcellville in 2013.

To Hudson, Bank of Clarke is a community bank with a three-county market. It has $600 million in assets. “As a community bank, we serve everyone from cradle to grave,” says Hudson. “And I like to say that we serve people even beyond the grave with the trust department!

“We want every customer to have everything they need, without trying to sell them something they don’t need,” he explains. “The type of service a 70-year-old wants differs from what a 20-year-old wants. We meet all age groups. Younger people want the electronic things. In the past 12 months, we’ve rolled out a mobile deposit app where you can take a picture of a check and deposit it.”

They now offer instant-issue debit cards. “In the past, you had to wait ten days after application to get a card in the mail. Now you get the card in the bank and can use it immediately. It’s safer, too. It can’t be lost or stolen in the mail.”

In the Bank of Clarke, says Hudson, priority is placed on the connection with customers—so that a person deals with another person, not just a bank. “You are never truly off as a banker in a town like this,” he says. “People stop and talk to you anywhere—on the street, in church, in the store. This still exists here in banking. I hope it never goes away.”

Hudson says that he is not what you would call a history buff, but he is interested in history to which he is connected. He urges everyone to talk about the past with family and those around them. “Don’t ever miss that opportunity. The loss of history is irreversible.”


Copies of John Hudson’s book Since 1881 are available at all Bank of Clarke branches for $20.

Home Care, a valid option

Deciding how to care for Mom or Dad as they age can be overwhelming. Many professionals predict care giving and health care are increasingly returning to the home. Sonna Russell , a local resident and a professional in the senior adult industry, says, “Technology is a huge factor in the ability for a person to stay at home. Part of the dilemma for adult children is the dispensing and management of medications. Automated pill boxes are available to insure that medications will be taken properly. The pill is dispensed and a buzzer goes off until the pills are taken. Some units even notify caregivers through the phone system. The cost to purchase one of these pill boxes is minimal compared to the cost of other alternatives.”

Health care is often the biggest expense in retirement—and the hardest to predict. Family members should take steps to be proactive about caregiving expenses. Things to consider when opting to stay at home are the costs of installing ramps, railings, and lifts. For persons with dementia, other additional safety measures might need to be added. One resource for information on this is the Alzheimer’s Association.


Families might want to hire a friend or a private caregiver. This often saves money. Using additional services can result in good care. Families should keep the following in mind:

Do a background check on people other than family; there may be a small fee.

Ask for personal references.

Define the terms in establishing the caregivers’ Social Security taxes.

Check your homeowner’s insurance policy for coverage of any unexpected incident.

Make use of resources like a parish nurse or area aging agency.

Enroll in meals on wheels; contact the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging.

Provide outside socialization like attending a senior center, or an adult day service.

Record caregiver’s time and payments for care; it’s tax deductible.

Check with Medicaid regarding compensation for the family member caregiver.

Ensure the family caregiver receives respite; non-medical care, aging services, churches, friends, etc., are all good resources for respite care.


Taking care of Mom or Dad at home may not be possible for the family members themselves, and may depend on factors like the type of care needed, time off work, and the physical and mental strain on the caregiver. To help with this decision, families need to first consider two major differences in the types of home care available:

Skilled/Medical Home Care. All skilled care must be physician-ordered, verified through an assessment and provided by licensed professionals. Therapies include physical, speech, and occupational therapies. It is paid for by Medicare for a designated number of days. Skilled home care companies are inspected by the state and regulated by Medicare. To check a care facility in your area see www.medicare.gov/homehealthcompare.

Non-Medical Home Care is available where- ever the person lives. It is not covered by Medicare, however it may be covered by Medicaid, long term insurance, or veteran programs. Services include:

Companion Care: medication reminders, light housekeeping, shopping and errands, grooming, meal preparation, transportation and live-in services.

Personal Care: bathing, hygiene, walking and mobility assistance, oral hygiene, continence and toileting care, and eating assistance.

Adult Day Service: offers extended hours for working families, transportation, meals and activities. The staff includes a social worker, a registered nurse and a recreational director. Medicaid or a sliding scale fee as well as long term insurance may cover these services.

Benefits of using a non-medical company are: flexibility in matching caregivers to clients, giving on-going training to certified aides, and providing specific training for dementia related care. Using a licensed company relieves the family of overseeing the caregiver, Social Security reporting, and background checks.

Hospice Care provides care in the home, local nursing homes, and assisted living facilities for terminally ill patients. Hospice not only offers medical care, but also delivers support for families in many different ways. Social workers, counselors, and clergy support are a part of the service. Blue Ridge Hospice provides an eight-bed inpatient care center in downtown Winchester as an alternative setting for some patients and their families. Hospice care is covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and most insurance companies. Care must be ordered by a physician.

There are so many wonderful options available now to help lighten the burden of providing home care.  Families who choose to provide care at home using a combination of these services, along with adult day service, ultimately can provide quality care for their loved ones with less stress.


Local Resource list


Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging




Blue Ridge Hospice Skilled and Companion/Personal care




Alzheimer’s Association Helpline




Virginia Senior Navigator




The Adult Care Center of the Northern Shenandoah Valley




Karen Cifala is a senior real estate specialist with Remax Roots in Berryville. Her interest in Seniors carries though into her work on a daily basis. To reach her you can call her at 303-817-9374 or email her at kcifala@gmail.com. Join her on Saturday January 24 at the Barns of Rose Hill from 11-1 for a Free Open Senior Forum discussion with Professionals Working 4Seniors.

Barn Owls At Clermont

Story and illustration by Doug Pifer

This past year I spent many hours inside the big barn at historic Clermont Farm just outside of Berryville. While working onsite in connection with a couple of events held there, I learned that barn owls have lived in one of the silos for many years.

Back in early February, I noticed several of the highest barn beams were streaked white with droppings, and below them I found dried droppings and owl pellets littering the floor.

Barn owls capture and feed upon small mammals and birds, which they swallow whole. Their strong digestive juices dissolve their food. Indigestible remains like hair and bones they regurgitate as pellets. Owl pellets tend to accumulate underneath perches and sites where owls nest and roost. For naturalists, pellets indicate the birds’ presence and what they’ve been eating.

The pellets I found on the floor of the barn under the white-streaked rafters were dark gray masses of hair about the size and shape of marshmallows or tater-tots. When fresh they were lightly coated with what looked like clear varnish. Pellets come out wet with the digestive fluids from the bird’s gullet but soon dry into lightweight, fragile masses that fall apart easily. These consisted entirely of rodent hair and bones. A few had starling feathers.

In late September I returned to the big gray barn. The contents had been rearranged to accommodate the summer’s hay harvest. The back doors were left open for fresh air to circulate.  And I noticed new owl evidence: fresh pellets, droppings, and feathers on the floor below where the birds had perched.

Later I observed, at the base of the silo where the barn owls nest, a pile of pellets that had disintegrated in the rain. Among them were many whole skulls and jawbones of house and field mice.  That’s why the barn owl is often called the farmer’s best friend. Unfortunately, barn owl numbers have suffered greatly from unrestricted use of rodent poisons around farm buildings,

All feathers are miraculous but owl feathers are especially unique. I sketched a barn owl killed by a car near White Post several years ago. At that time I learned that each colored feather on a barn owl has a teardrop-shaped spot of black and white near the tip, like a logo, that marks it as belonging to a barn owl. Nearly half their feathers are pure creamy white.

The biggest feather I found was shed from a barn owl’s left wing. I admired its “logo” spot, creamy color, and markings of dusky brown and golden tan. Most remarkable, though, was its “soundproofing.” A fine fringe edged all sides of the feather. Its upper surface had a velvety, pile-like finish. This made the markings on the feather softly blended, as if marked with colored chalk. Its purpose is to muffle the friction against other feathers while the owl swoops upon its prey.

Instead of rustling wings, a hapless mouse hears nothing at all.