Hot Tea…Party On!

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It was hard to tell difference between the water and the air last week; I came out of both feeling soggy and on the wrong side of refreshed. Wading through the river for a castaway water bottle was much the same as channeling through the weeds for an emptied bag of chips. But there was some pleasure in filling two bags of garbage to overflowing. I take my overblown feelings of success where I can find them.

Although what I found was not so peculiar — abandoned campfires, lost fishing gear, and discarded food and drink containers — the details were just off enough to entertain me every now and then. For instance, this situation:

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Beside this:

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My thought? Only the most refined revelers on the Monocacy drink Earl Grey tea while melting synthetic fabric over an open fire. Do you think that Bigelow might like that for an ad campaign? Or a bit of co-branding with the DNR? We could always include 3M as well because of the Post-It Notes. Were these partiers writing scraps of poetry and submitting them to the flames as offerings to the Muses? I can only imagine. Leaving the lighter in the fire is such a nice touch.

Apparently I’m feeling a little snarky. Maybe I’m still just a little sore about being fooled by this lure I found under the water nearby:

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I thought at first that I was seeing a cool larva of some sort. It didn’t take me long to realize my mistake, but it wasn’t until I pulled it up that I realized what it was supposed to be.

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A crayfish? I can still barely see it. I guess the fish didn’t buy it either.

It’s hard to think clearly when it’s hot out.

 

Waste

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Waste is not just another word for trash. It’s a place, abandoned, uninhabitable and barren; as an action, it means the destruction, withering away, and purposeless consumption of something (or someone) valuable; as an adjective, it describes something rendered useless. We have waste grounds and waste lands. We waste our time, or our money, or ourselves. When we’re sick, we waste away. At war, we lay waste.

One of the wildflower guides that I use describes the location in which some plants grow as “waste places,” while another refers to the same type of terrain as “disturbed.” Both names evoke a sense of wrongness and unease. Biologically, ecologically, environmentally, this feeling of wrongness is absolutely correct. The  plants that grow in these places are “alien,” “non-native,” and even “invasive.” Why would I want to have anything to do with a wasted, disturbed space full of aliens, like these?

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Milk-vetch
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Cranesbill
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Storksbill
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Mayweed

 

I’m not sure. (But maybe it’s because of these very same aliens, or, as I like to call them, wasteflowers). At any rate, I go, and make the best of the disturbance and waste, which, as a human, I am responsible for in the first place. I clean what I can, appreciate what I can, and hope for the best. We cannot undo everything that we’ve created and destroyed, but that doesn’t mean we should waste it, either.

 

UPDATE: For a comprehensive guide to invasive (not simply non-native) plants of the mid-atlantic see this guide by the National Park Service:

https://www.nps.gov/plants/alien/pubs/midatlantic/midatlantic.pdf

 

Revelation and Rambling

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This week has been a revelation. The melting snow has pushed the Monocacy just a little over its usual borders. It flowed from streams, trickled from sunny banks, and washed in from streets and drains. As the swelling river turned a muddy brown, the land returned to a green slightly brighter than when we’d last seen it, before the snow fell.

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For most of the week, I was exiled from “the island” by the river’s rising waters, left to gaze longingly at the carpet of green, where I knew early spring flowers were blooming. It’s the most wondrous time of year for the place, when it seems most clean and bright and promising (I’ve been known to call it “Fairyland”). But my side of the river isn’t without its own curiosities.

Again and again this winter, I’ve meant to write about the Canada Geese that travel over us in noisy flocks at dusk. It’s a particularly wintry phenomenon that I associate with clear skies and bracing cold. It seemed only fitting, then, that on winter’s last day, I watched about a hundred of them take off from the soccer field at Riverside Park.

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As they flew over the Monocacy Boulevard bridge, I noticed a Red-shouldered Hawk perched on a taller tree in the forest retention area (which got some much-needed attention only last December).

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It’s just a smudge in the distance in the picture that I took of it, and the geese merely specks, but with my naked eye it cut a regal silhouette, and I got a glimpse of its burnished chest when it glided from its perch, crossed low over the path in front of me, and headed into a stand of trees on “the island,” well out of my reach. Despite knowing that it was unlikely that I’d spot the hawk again, I hurried to the edge of the river and searched in the direction I thought it had gone. As expected, I didn’t find the bird, but I did see a tall, white American sycamore, which reminded me that I was supposed to take a picture of my favorite sycamore (because, yes, I have one) for the Maryland Biodiversity Project’s American Sycamore Facebook Blitz (because, yes, they had one). I was too late for the blitz, but I set off down the path the next day to photograph “my” tree anyway.

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Isn’t it beautiful? It’s branches like gnarled, work-weary hands, reaching for the sky?

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It even makes trash look good:

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(Needless to say, among the things revealed by the melting snow was quite a bit of trash, and I couldn’t help but think that the juxtaposition of these two things meant that someone had a pretty wild night followed by a pretty rough morning:

Or maybe it was just a few ill-conceived hours.)

Alien Invasions

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While many plants are just now budding and flowering and sprouting leaves, there are others that have retained some degree of color all of this mild winter long. Besides the obvious evergreens like holly, juniper, and pine, one of the most prominent of these plants on the floodplains of the Monocacy, and throughout Frederick, is the Japanese Honeysuckle, or Lonicera japonica.  It’s a non-native vine that attracted gardeners with its delicate flowers and heady aroma and then, with the fast-growing tenacity common to all invasive species, escaped its tidy beds and uncoiled itself across the wild landscape, binding trees and suffocating the native groundcover. I’ve been taking photos of this intruder, intending to dedicate some part of a blog post to it, so it seemed a great opportunity (or at least prompt) when yesterday a Facebook post from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources informed me that it’s National Invasive Species Awareness Week. I’ve written about invasive species several times before, often to complain about their less-than-desirable attributes, like itchiness, or poisonousness, and I keep a running list of them in my Wildflowers of the Monocacy page by noting the word “alien” behind its common name. You can find a more exhaustive list of these aliens here, at the site of the Maryland Invasive Species Council (MISC).

Unlike the usual trash I can just pick up and stuff in a bag, invasive species cannot be eradicated in a moment. A few days ago, when I took my father into the mountains of the Frederick Municipal Forest to find a trout pond, he found himself distracted by all of the Japanese Honeysuckle that had insinuated itself into the underbrush. Despite his poor balance and aching joints, he began trying to disentangle it. After a great deal of work (and a little pain inflicted by the brier patch the honeysuckle had infiltrated), we did manage to pull some of it up by the roots. It seemed a sorry effort when we stepped back to see all that remained. But I can be stubborn, too.

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Trashscapes

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The warmer weather that has been hounding us most of the winter surpassed itself over the long weekend, bursting into a series of summery days that resulted in a) lots of human activity and b) lots of human trash. My elbows are still recovering from the weight of the garbage bags that I had to carry home, and I have far more recyclables than my 2 bins and bi-weekly collection schedule can manage. While I usually take a sort of housekeeperly pleasure in cleaning around the river, weekends like these are overwhelming. It’s frustrating to have to leave things behind (such as a stash of cans squirrelled beneath a log) simply because I don’t have enough bags to hold it. That’s when I remember that this is a job that is never finished. Like laundry. (Actually, I found some of that, too).

Two days of collecting were particularly intensive. On the first of these, the boys and I encountered a fire circle with one log still so smoking hot that it took little more than a dry leaf to reset it aflame.

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After we hauled the log farther into the water, I set about gathering a case’s worth of beer cans, a six-pack of bottles, and other such picnicky miscellany. I couldn’t help but see the irony in having to clean up yet more Budweiser “America” beer cans, which have splashed across them the lyrics of “This Land Is Your Land,” by Woody Guthrie, a song that highlights the natural beauties of the United States. (For the song’s history, see the concise NPR story http://www.npr.org/2000/07/03/1076186/this-land-is-your-land). Yes, indeed, this land is for you and me. I wish that we could all remember that. And behave that way.

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On the second day, I found an entire campsite’s worth of garbage. Literally. A tent had fallen down an eroded bank into the water below, along with a slew of cans and food wrappers, mostly submerged in mud and impossible to extricate. As I filled up all three of the bags I had brought and two more bags that I found, I was grateful for the broken, soft-sided cooler, which served as an excellent trash receptacle after I dumped the muck that had accumulated inside of it. To reach the makeshift site, I had to ford the river twice, which, since my five-foot frame was so weighed down, required that I carry everything back in shifts.

All of this activity managed to startle a fox, who zipped past me in all of his sly regalness. He wasn’t twenty feet away, but my hands were too full to grab my camera. Perhaps it was the campsite that had attracted him in the first place. It’s hard to tell. But he didn’t appear drunk, and there was very little but alcohol left to consume. I, unfortunately, stank with beer that dribbled from the cans as I collected them, and I’m pretty sure that the odor, combined with my bag-lady appearance, is what earned me a few nervous stares from families with small children on my way home.

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Another Perspective

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Traffic on the Monocacy Blvd Bridge over Riverside Park.

When I’m in the woods or on the banks of the Monocacy, it’s easy to find tranquil places and to take beautiful pictures. When I take a step back, however, the perspective necessarily changes. The fact that it is an urban river becomes clear and beauty more difficult to capture. Lately my boys and I have been spending a lot of time at Riverside Park in the city of Frederick, which is a short walk from our home. It has a boat launch  (for kayaks and canoes, mostly), a soccer field and is the starting point for most of the paved trails along the river, but truly it would be difficult to find a less park-like setting.

While the Monocacy does run through the park, it is hemmed in on one side by a large parking lot and on the other by an expanse of road and warehouses. There is also a clear view of the Monocacy Boulevard bridge, which is always busy with traffic making its way to the shopping malls and housing developments along Rte. 26 (also known as Libertytown Rd.). One of the larger stores is a Walmart, which is due to close within the next week because a much larger one has been built just across the street. As yet, there is nothing scheduled to move into the soon-to-be-vacant building.

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L to R: Trees along the Monocacy, soccer field, flood retention pond, Walmart. The Blue Ridge mountains are in the background and construction refuse area in the foreground.

The (now) older Walmart is divided from the park’s playing fields by a man-made pond, which receives the runoff from the store’s parking lot. This helps to keep the river clean, of course, except for those times when the river floods and the fields, parking lot, and retention pond become one massive body of water. Usually, though, this body of water sits on its own, host to Canada geese and the occasional heron. What is more remarkable about the “pond” than the geese, however, is the massive quantity of construction materials that is piled alongside it. From the park’s parking lot, a gated gravel road leads to a flattened space where trucks and earth-movers regularly dump dirt, old asphalt, chunks of concrete, twisted rebar, and other such miscellany. Much to my chagrin, my boys like to climb on these piles, and I spend much more time than I’d like hanging about in what is, at best, a very big dirtpile, or, at worst, a dump. When I’m not gathering trash of the plastic sort, I look toward the mountains and try to wish away the warehouses, cell towers and machines obscuring my view.

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The gravel road to the retention pond, with the soccer field and trees along the Monocacy in the background.

But to wish everything away would be to wish myself away. I live in one of the developments on Rte. 26. I drive over the Monocacy Blvd. bridge. I buy groceries in a shopping mall. Frederick was settled early in this country’s history, and the Monocacy has been supporting it since its founding. The people and the river are inextricably linked. We rely on it not only for our drinking water (yes, it’s true!) but for fishing, farming and recreation. Not only should we take care of it, we must. And there can be beauty in that responsibility.

Connections and Clean-Up

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The Monocacy River, which is the largest tributary of the more famous Potomac River (it flows by George Washington’s home, Mt. Vernon), has several tributaries of its own. One of these is Israel Creek, which is part of the lower Monocacy watershed. For the most part, Israel Creek winds its way through farms and pastures, collecting runoff on its way to the Monocacy. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, in an effort to combat the erosion that encourages this runoff, has organized a planting of 1,000 trees along the banks of Israel Creek where it passes through a cattle farm in Woodsboro, Maryland. It is calling for volunteers to help with the planting tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. For more information, read the Frederick News-Post article, “Hands Needed to Protect Creek in Woodsboro,” and to sign up, go to:  http://www.cbf.org/events/other/md/restoration-events.

Update: SLE (Stream-Link Education) maintains such riparian plantings every fall. See http://www.streamlinkeducation.org for more information.

 

A Bag on the Water

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The waters of the Monocacy slow to near stillness mid-summer, when the moisture in the air feels equal to that in the river. At the end of a narrow dirt path, hemmed in by the stinging nettle, poison hemlock and japanese hops that the boys call “itchy plants,” you can find a deep, wide expanse of water that is more pond than stream. My old labrador likes to stop here for a drink (which I don’t advise unless, like her, you have a stomach made of steel). Yesterday, we both looked across to see a plastic bag floating on the surface of the lethargic water. It was impossible to reach from our side of the riverbank, but I did pick up a few fishing supplies. Float on.

Glass and Consequences

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Glass bottles, in various states of brokenness, litter the banks and waters of the Monocacy River. When they are whole, I pick them up without hesitation to place them in the recycling bin when I get home, but when they’re in pieces, which is far more usual, I undergo an internal debate that goes something like this:

-Hmm, I don’t think I can pick up that piece of glass without cutting my fingers.

-Oh, for God’s sake, of course you can pick it up safely!

-But what about the bag? It’ll cut it open, and then everything else will spill all over the place!

-Just excuses.

-Okay, fine, that bit is big enough to make it worth the risk, but what about that piece? It’s so small that the river will just carry it away and smooth it into nice river glass. Like sea glass. People collect that stuff, don’t they? It’s pretty.

-No, you idiot! If you leave it there, someone –or something- will cut themselves on it!

-But it’s biodegradable…it’ll just turn back into sand!

-Oh, c’mon, you know glass is dangerous: just pick it all up!

-Okay. Sorry.

Yes, it’s true, I have a pretty mean internal voice, but that’s a topic for another time, and, at any rate, it has a point in this situation. Last year, my younger pup cut her paw on an old beer bottle. Not only did she bleed profusely all the way home (and, once we got there, all over the floor), she also managed to cut a tendon that kept one of her toe pads lying flat. Now she walks about with that toe poking up, as if she constantly needs us to wait a moment. It’s awkward, but, according to the vet, painless, and it doesn’t seem to inhibit her curiosity or spastic jump-and-zoom behavior. Still, I’d rather she not cut her foot again, and she adamantly refuses to wear shoes (yes, I’ve tried), so I really need to pick up the glass, despite how pretty it can become after being churned by a river for several years.

Oh, and, also, having better taste in beer doesn’t make you any less of a litterer.

Trashology, Part 2

Most of the trash I find is repetitive and unremarkable: soda and beer cans, plastic cups and bags, miscellaneous wrappers.  On occasion, however, I encounter something curious, unique either for its innate qualities or locale, and when I find these things, I photograph them, catalog them mentally, and move on.  But now it’s time to settle up and, piece by piece, present to you my sideshow of the strange and remarkable Trash on the Monocacy.

A bird whistle?

 

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It says it’s a Glo-Coater Wax Applier.

 

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In case you didn’t pick up your spork.

 

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I haven’t figured out the make and model yet.

 

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I wouldn’t trust it.

 

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I think that’s Snoopy. Or maybe Woodstock. Definitely Peanuts.

 

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And, last of all, in my Pollyanna-ish moments, I like to think that someone placed this bottle so conspicuously on this branch so that they could come back for it later. When I’m objective, I realize someone was just, well, not thinking.  But, when I’m tired and cynical, this looks like someone flicking the bird at the river.  Today is wet and gray, so I’m thinking definitely the bird.

The good news: none of this trash is on the Monocacy anymore.