A Place to Connect, Create, Inspire: Sourwood Forest is Seeking Writers for Summer 2024 Residencies

Sourwood Forest in Western Amherst County, Virginia inspires through direct experience in nature, fostering curiosity, artistic expression, and wellbeing. We are currently seeking writers* for residencies in May, June, July, August, and September, offering flexible dates and rates. The spacious home is on sixty acres of untrailed forest, where the nearest human neighbor is a mile away. Inside is space for two residents, affording each a private bedroom, desk or table, and comfortable chair. Residents share a bathroom and are welcome to use the house’s main kitchen and communal spaces. For information, search Judy C. Strang in faculty and staff at Washington & Lee University and send an email to that address (Note: Sourwood Forest is not affiliated with Washington & Lee, I’m just having technological problems with the contact form on this website). *Visual artists who don’t need much indoor space and who work with natural materials are also welcome. Continue reading

When the River Runs Muddy

This winter brought much needed rain to the Pedlar River watershed. With rain comes runoff, and with runoff comes sediment. Sediment is the fancy word for the loose sand, clay, silt and other soil particles that are dislodged from the land by rainwater and transported by stormwater runoff towards bodies of water. While runoff and erosion are natural processes, human activities on the land can drastically increase the rate at which sediment enters our waterways, making sediment pollution the #1 type of water pollution in our region of the James River watershed. (State of the James Report Card 2021, James River Association). Our local waterways have been looking cloudy after the big rains this winter. Sediment is what makes that cloud in the water.  The color of that cloud varies depending on what kind rock, soil, and clay runs off the land or makes up the stream bottom and sides. In the Pedlar River, the sedimentation cloud often looks orange, like our clay soils. Activities that expose soil are the main causes of sediment pollution in the Pedlar River watershed–such as logging, removing trees and shrubs from steep slopes and near streams, farming practices such as tilling, use of pesticides and fertilizers near streams, unprotected streambanks in fields and livestock pastures, and construction practices that do not follow Best Management Practice guidelines. Here’s the quick dirt on why we need soil to stay on the ground and out of the water, plus info about how you can make sure your property keeps its sediment to itself. Please, read on and do your part to protect our streams and rivers. Sediment is considered a pollutant because it degrades the quality of water for drinking, wildlife and the land surrounding streams in the following ways: It clouds the water, preventing animals from seeing food and harming aquatic vegetation. In streams, sediment disrupts the natural food chain by destroying the habitat where the smallest stream organisms live–organisms that are food for fish. And sediment can clog fish gills, reducing resistance to disease, lowering growth rates, and affecting fish egg and larvae development. Sediment increases the cost of treating drinking water and can result in odor and taste problems. It fills up storm drains and catch basins to carry water away from roads and homes, which increases the potential for flooding. Nutrients transported by sediment can activate blue-green algae that release toxins and can… Continue reading

Blessed Rain

Hurricane Ian’s outer flank is stirring up the woods, dropping much needed rain all over the Pedlar River watershed today. Yesterday, before the rain started, I took photos of the river at a place very familiar to me. I don’t remember ever seeing the Pedlar here so low. I’m sure it must have been this low during the drought (circa 2000-2002), but my memory isn’t what it used to be. What I do know is that area friends and neighbors have been noticing the low water this year more than ever before. Is this because we have reached a certain age where we can feel sure about our comparisons of “these days” with the past, perhaps? Or maybe it is because the swings from rain to dry are extreme enough for even those who don’t pay much attention to notice. This time of year is unsettling for many reasons–day length changing fast, trees changing color, squirrels racing about and all those signs we don’t even realize are triggering the oldest part of our animal beings into a sense of “Winter is coming! We must put up food and get the nest insulated!” These brainstem instincts are much stronger than the civilizing forces that allow us pretend we are somehow above and in control of nature. But the usual anxiousness of Autumn “these days” occurs within the larger context of climate change. What I think is different for me this year is the degree to which I’m accepting disruption as the rule. I know that my time of becoming more familiar with this natural place I call home has ended; and for the rest of the time I’m able to live here, home will continue to become less familiar by the season–because of climate change. The familiar becomes strange and strangeness becomes the norm. October is still a beautiful time, even in this topsy turvy world. What is here now is worthy of witnessing and celebrating. I’m reminding myself of this daily, hourly, and this minute while I look out at the neon red berries on the dogwood tree, her leaves shiny wet and tinged with burgundy, her soaked branches swaying in the wind. The thirsty world is drinking blessed rain, and for the moment that’s what matters most. Continue reading

Pedlar River Institute’s Sourwood Forest Residency Program Begins!

Nature offered us a perfect spring day for the opening celebration of Sourwood Forest’s first artist residency week! Thirteen people went into the forest to draw using charcoal pencils made from the trees that grow there. Judy Strang, Christine Forni (multidisciplinary artist) and Amy Eisner (poet and teacher) collaborated to create an event where guests were treated to poetry, group conversation, refreshments, and a chance to try their hands at sketching in the woods. Everyone left energized, having been nurtured by the forest and by each other. The opening celebration forecasted what future half or full day workshops may include: a mix of art making, poetry, reflection, and environmental understanding. Event leaders Judy, Christine and Amy had first met when they were residents at Vermont Studio Center in June of 2017. Even then, Judy was speaking of her desire to host artists at her house, but it wasn’t until late in 2021 that the three began to talk about the start of Sourwood Forest: it would be marked by Christine and Amy coming to Judy’s place as the first “residents” for what Judy was calling “an experimental week.” When Judy indicated she’d like to host a public event as part of that week, Christine described her “drawing you outside” (see her instagram #drawingyououtside for more information). Christine offered to make charcoal pencils from trees in Sourwood Forest ahead of time, so Judy sent her a box of twigs in March, having carefully chosen them and documented their harvest. As a poet and teacher of poetry to visual artists (at MICA in Washington D.C.), Amy used her talents with language to integrate Christine’s “drawing you outside” activity with Judy’s intention that guests connect and reflect within the forest. She chose and arranged words—her poems and the writing of others—to weave the two and a half hours into one whole experience rather than a series of disconnected activities.  “We’ve just begun to imagine what could happen here,” Judy said, remarking on the positive responses from her guests to the event and to possibilities for Sourwood Forest in the future. She had started with a list of six invitees, and several of those had reached out to their contacts, resulting in a wonderfully diverse group–one that will likely help Judy find more creatives to take part in future residencies. If you’re interested in a Sourwood Forest Residency, send your inquiry through our Contact… Continue reading

Little Irish Creek Diversion Pipe will be Removed!

As of July 22, 2022, the City of Lynchburg has decided not to renew the permit that has historically allowed it to divert water from Little Irish Creek into the City’s reservoir. Thanks to all those who spoke out in defense of Little Irish Creek and the Pedlar River. Please leave a reply on the My Pedlar Story post and let’s begin to bring together the story of the Pedlar River watershed as seen and lived by those of us who live near it and understand its value to the world. For many decades, the City of Lynchburg has had a permit from the USDA, via the USFS, to divert water from Little Irish Creek into the Pedlar Reservoir, which is the main source of drinking water for the City. Last renewed in 2002, this 20-year permit came up for renewal in 2022. The 12″ diameter pipe is fixed in a pool of Little Irish Creek not far upstream from its confluence with the Pedlar River. Little Irish Creek is a pristine trout stream and the first stream to feed the Pedlar River below the reservoir dam. The way the pipe is situated, its opening captures the main flow of the creek at all water levels. The pipe takes the water through a hillside and across National Forest Land to the reservoir, which is located on acreage owned by the City of Lynchburg. Since the pipe has no apparatus on it to regulate how much water enters it, it diverts water all year long, regardless of season or rainfall. Since the future of Little Irish Creek affects the future of the Pedlar River, the fact that the City of Lynchburg has decided not to attempt to renew the permit is good news! Removal of the pipe will be a positive change for Little Irish Creek, the Pedlar River, people who have land adjacent to the Pedlar River, people who make use of the public lands in the watershed associated with Little Irish Creek and the Pedlar River, and everyone who lives in the lower Pedlar River watershed. DO YOU CARE ABOUT THE PEDLAR RIVER? If yes, add a reply to MY PEDLAR STORY: This is a community in the making, and the future of the lower Pedlar River depends on it! Since Little Irish Creek is within the George Washington National Forest, the USFS and its parent organization, the USDA,… Continue reading

Looking for Big Trees

I knew I wasn’t going to save the lovely beings I was walking among, but I do think they made a big impression on the young photographer walking behind me and taking pictures (by young I mean at least ten years younger than me). She was not an experienced hiker, but very game (”I’m not used to walking where there’s no trail,” she said). She soon felt lucky, though, to be the one chosen for this photo shoot, which was only happening because one of the paper’s regular columnists had managed to convince the editor that big trees were worthy of a Sunday spread. Especially big trees that would soon be no more. That patch of forest had been marked for skidders and chainsaws, based on the USFS forest plan of 2014, still in force in 2020, which designates the Pedlar District for timber interests. Age class average for trees in this parcel, so they said, was 94 years, and 94 (though more than ten years older than me) isn’t old for a tree. I was thinking to myself how much has changed since 2014. The way the world is now, many people never see trees as old as these. Ever. But what the young person following me was learning first hand was that forests are so much more than trees. I was happy about that. The place had been left alone for more than her lifetime, I imagine, and it had begun to become itself. It had forest magic. When the next forest plan revision comes up, will there be a call for more old growth allotments in the Pedlar District or anywhere in the National Forest? These trees are almost there. Too bad they won’t be here when USFS plan revision time comes around. To tell the USFS what you think about how this forest should be managed, send comments to Nicholas.redifer@usda.gov. For a recent News&Advance article on the project see News&AdvancearticleSundayOct4 Continue reading