Headwaters Welcomes Leslie


Leslie Ashman recently transferred to the Headwaters Chapter from the Banshee Reeks Chapter in northern Virginia. To help introduce her to Chapter members, HMN Stephanie Gardner corresponded with Leslie to find out a bit about her and her work with the Master Naturalists program:

How long have you been involved in the Virginia Master Naturalists program?

Let’s see… My VMN participation began when I started classes at Banshee Reeks in September, 2015.

Please tell us the story behind the name of Banshee Reeks, the chapter from which you transferred!

Taken directly from the Friends of Banshee Reeks website (a not-for-profit organization supporting the Nature Preserve that’s home to the chapter). Being of Celtic descent myself, I personally love referring to hills and dales as ‘reeks’.

“In the early part of the 19th century, the owner of the farm now known as ‘Banshee Reeks’ was said to be of Irish/Scottish descent. In the Gaelic language, ‘banshee’ is a female spirit and ‘reeks’ refers to hills and dales.

According to the story, one night the farmer went into the town of Leesburg to attend to personal business and also paid a visit to the local saloon. While traveling back to the farm, the wind howled and the animals of the night made much noise. Upon arriving home, the farmer was in such a state of mind that he claimed that he heard a banshee on the reeks. The phrase was altered over the years and the area became known as ‘Banshee Reeks’.”

What were some of your favorite past volunteer and leadership projects with VMN?

Working with a group of committed volunteers to re-invigorate the Communications Committee was very rewarding. Over time, production of the newsletter had unfortunately fallen to just one or two volunteers who kept it chugging along. We enhanced the content and structure of the newsletter, created a robust website and grew followers and coverage on our Facebook page. As a result, I was invited to assume the role of committee chair.

The project that held the most meaning for me was the planting of nearly 100 trees at the Preserve in cooperation with the Journey Through Hallowed Ground (JTHG) Living Legacy Project, whose mission is to plant a (native) tree for every soldier who fell during the Civil War. A new trail was cut for the planting and members of the community came out to plant, after which we had a lovely dedication ceremony. I like to think of the beautiful allée of Redbud, Sassafras, Black Gum, Dogwood and White Oak that will mature there in years to come.

I remember that you mentioned an interest in trees.  In what areas will you continue to volunteer or are looking forward to exploring?

In addition to trees’ contribution to surrounding flora and fauna in the organisms that they support, I’m in awe of our CO2/O2 symbiosis with them; along with how effectively they mitigate erosion, and filter groundwater and runoff before it hits our waterways. I’d love to do more JTHG plantings, and perhaps some riparian buffer plantings. I know that the landscape and needs here are different from the suburban community I came from in Northern Virginia (where the majority of land in the county is owned by HOAs), but I’m excited to learn more about this area. I’d also like to find ways to work with children and families.

Do you have any favorite memories of amazing, odd or funny moments in your VMN training and volunteer work thus far?

While amazing to me, this anecdote falls more within the realm of the sentimental. It’s definitely one of my most memorable. In training, our last class was on Botany and it was held in April, which meant that our field work included a wildflower walk along the trails of Banshee Reeks. I was enthralled when I saw my first Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria). I thought that they were just so prim — modest in their beauty — and yet, somehow resplendent and altogether adorable. That’s a lot of anthropomorphism to attribute to one small flower!!  I wondered about that, and it wasn’t until a few weeks later that I realized that they provoked such a feeling of joy because they reminded me of a pair of Dutch dolls that my mother had given me when I was very young, and of the wonder I had experienced whenever she and I were planting flowers around our house – or strolling in the Nature Preserve behind our property over half a century ago. The flowers evoked a powerful happy childhood memory. This is probably why the Stewardship pillar of the VMN program is so meaningful to me – preserving the landscape so that others can create connective and meaningful memories of their own – all intertwined with the larger environment.

Please tell us about other interests and hobbies that you enjoy.

I enjoy beading – making jewelry – with a variety of beads. Mostly, I work with semi-precious stones. It’s a wonderful creative outlet and I get to wear beautiful pieces of the Earth when I’m done. My reading interests tend toward New Age metaphysics – kind of challenging to explain, but am happy to share with anyone intrepid &/or curious enough to inquire! J  I love travelling, and did just subscribe to Babble to improve my French.

Are you enjoying the Shenandoah Valley?

It’s really beautiful here, which is one of the reasons that I extended my job search into this area. I’m enjoying meeting the people and getting out to festivals that offer and promote all the homegrown, local products – including the food, music, history and culture – of the Valley!

Leslie says the photo with her above is “… taken at the Isle of Staffa, a fascinating basalt pillar of an island off the coast of Scotland, near storied Iona Abbey and where, it is alleged, Druid initiations were once held.”