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.

 

Cinderella Story

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Last August, it was Barbie. This June, it’s Cinderella. I found her after wading through a growing jumble of invasive japanese hops on “the island.” My son was throwing stones into the water on the opposite side of the river, where the trees are tall and plentiful enough to offer relief against the heat that has overtaken us the last few days. On “the island,” I sweated, dust and gnats and plant juices clinging to my damp legs, and collected my stash of garbage.

As I photographed Cinderella, turning her over to catch her at different angles, recording her placement on the disturbed earth, I began to feel as if I was in some twisted parody of a police procedural. Later, when I mentioned this to my husband, he conjured his best Lenny from Law and Order and quipped, “Well, it looks like she won’t be getting back before midnight.”

As a girl I was obsessed with Cinderella, especially the Disney version, with the ice-blue dress and nipped waist. I had a small book accompanied by the seventies version of an audiobook, a record recording of a magical-voiced woman reading the words to the story, interspersed with a cue to turn the pages. Curiously, although the book cover depicted the classic Disney Cinderella, the interior illustrations were in an entirely different style, more slapdash, and her fairy godmother blessed her with an entirely different dress as well: white and pink, with cap sleeves, and a massive hoop skirt festooned with what looked like crinkly pastel-colored garland. It was this dress — not Disney’s — that inspired the endless drawings of princesses I doodled between the ages of four and six.

Later, in my early feminist stage, I felt ashamed of my younger preoccupations with princesses and Barbies. I took some solace in the fact that my Barbie play usually involved operatic sagas that ended with Barbie friendless and homeless, begging on a street corner in rags. Even my princess obsession eventually evolved into an interest in mythology and, much, much later, a manuscript for a distracted fantasy novel. But I can’t deny that this early focus on external beauty certainly had some influence on my how I regarded my own appearance (that is, poorly). I didn’t escape my teenage years unscathed.

Nonetheless, I think of Cinderella fondly. It was a shame to find her abandoned in the dirt. But I threw her out anyway.

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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A Brown Study

Despite a day or two of cold and a recent dusting, this has been a decidedly warm and un-white winter. And spring is coming quickly; already I’ve heard the territorial whirr of a red-winged blackbird, and violets and celandines are sprouting beneath last year’s crispy leaves. It’s likely, then, that this winter will remain the winter that really wasn’t. I could mourn this (and, honestly, I do), but I can also make do with what the river and woods will give me: a rainbow done in shades of brown.

Recently, in the heart of the “island,” I made what has become one of my favorite discoveries: a fallen tree, debarked, drilled upon, and worn away by weather, animals, and fungus. It is like a massive canvas, revealing masterpieces frame by frame.

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They are mostly Impressionist pieces, I think, or perhaps Expressionist. I can see Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” or Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” to name two more famous works. Another fallen trunk I found assumed an altogether different color and texture, slightly more Cubist, perhaps, a tree trunk reassembled:

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Then, we can move on to something equally textured and also, thanks to the mud left by recent rains, brown. Also decidedly Modern. Our trash:

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“Bicycle Seat”

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“Beer Can”

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“Styrofoam Cup”

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“Self Portrait with Plastic Bottle”

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.

A Cold Wind

Winds gusted up to 41 miles per hour over the weekend, ushering in colder weather and, as it turns out, lots of plastic bags.

I used a large one from Pier 1 to gather up all of the others, as well as some wrappers (evidence of Halloween is still out there!) and scattered pages of newspaper. The wind also scattered some more natural debris, like this little nest of grass and cottony seeds:

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It likely belonged to a mouse or some other small rodent sheltering in the tall grasses just beyond the floodplain. Last week my younger dog managed to stir one out of a hollow log along the sandy banks of the river. Although I didn’t get a very good look before it disappeared, I saw enough to know that it was a long-footed mouse.  There are several species of mice in Maryland (see Maryland’s DNR mammals page for a list). This one, I hope, was able to make a new home for itself (if a hawk didn’t get to it first).

Yesterday, as the winds were calming, I discovered the first ice on the river. It was thin and only very spotty, but still a sign that winter is coming.

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I like winter, so that is something to be thankful for.

Trash that Mocks

This is one of those days when I have more ideas than I can possibly fit into one coherent post. Do I write about the red-tailed hawk that I knew was there before I saw or heard it because of the quantity and variety of birds that were in a tizzy as I made my way down to the wetlands? Or the man with the Save the Chesapeake license plates who threw a cigarette butt out his window as he drove down Monocacy Boulevard? Or maybe ponder the seasonal nature of trash?

Well, there, I’ve written about all of those things without really writing anything at all. So let’s move on. To pumpkins.

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About a week ago, I came across this discarded pumpkin at the edge of the woods. Its paint made clear that it was a Halloween leftover, but I assumed that it was a whole pumpkin until I came upon it a few days later, when it looked like this:

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Someone (or something) had flipped it over to reveal its Jack-o-lantern face, more frightening in its decay, I’m sure, than in its candlelit prime. But, in me, it inspired more questions than fear. Namely: what is it that makes something trash? Is it simply something discarded, or is there some judgement behind the word? If something is trash must it be something that has been devalued or deemed worthless? If we tell someone that their work is trash, typically we are not saying that it has been placed in the garbage but that it is “bad.” Is this a fair judgement on trash?

Can trash be “good”? Well, yes, for instance, some “trash” can be made into something else, like scrap metal into another machine or even a piece of art. But that requires taking the trash out of the trash, transforming it into not-trash, which implies that it was never really trash in the first place. Then, for instance, there is this pumpkin, which, besides its paint, is natural and compostable. It first can feed the wildlife that we can see, like squirrels and these ants:

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Then it can feed the wildlife that we can’t see, like fungus, bacteria and microbes. It will ultimately break down and return to the earth. So, it is “good” correct?  Discarded but not devalued?

If it is “good” trash, do I leave it? Or does the paint render it less desirable? Or do I move it to a proper composting bin? What is the right thing to do when you run into a painted jack-o-lantern in the forest and no one sees you?

For me, apparently, it is to ask so many questions that I stop making sense.

Art Trash/Trash Art

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Kit-Kat in Black and White

When first beginning my blog, I hoped to capture some beauty in the trash I find. Occasionally I entertain myself with close studies that approach (yes, merely approach) the artistic in composition or contrast, but most of the time trash really is just a blight on the natural landscape. An unwelcome interruption. Still, I photograph what I find. Even if I’m not making any artistic contributions to the world, I am at least leaving a sort of sociological record. (Can you see the future dissertation title: “Bud Light and Flavored Cigars: A Study of the American Consumer in the early 21st Century”?)

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7-Eleven, Coffee in the Leaves

 

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Annie’s and Minute Maid on the Shore

 

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What I Like About You: Japanese Hops and Coca Cola

 

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Coffee and a Yogurt

Summer Inventory

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The Monocacy is low enough now that new trash (that is, old trash that is new to me) is revealed every day, and I’ve been able to reach places that were covered in water only a few weeks ago. Rusty cans, broken bottles, fishing line, shoes, and socks: they’re all out there, waiting to be discovered. I haul out up to 3 bags a day, but I’m always leaving something behind. Here’s just a sample of what I find in a day:

Bud Light cans (5)

Corona Extra (caps and glass bottles, 3)

Krispy Kreme box (1)

Coca Cola Cans (2)

Busch Beer cans (2)

Tequila (1 large glass bottle, shattered)

Skoal (1)

Fanta can (1)

Grab & Go Chocolate Milk jugs (2)

Coors can (1)

Bud Ice bottle (1)

Gatorade (small plastic, single serve, 1)

Orbit Gum (1 empty package)

Salt packets (7)

Disposable Plate wrapper (1)

Green napkins (?)

Burger King bag (1)

Trolli Sour Brite Critters (1 bag)

Walmart bag (1 plastic)

Eagle Claw hooks (1 pack)

Fishing line (3, tangled)

Float (1)

Bottle caps (unidentified, 9)

Doritos (1 bag, family size)

Diaper (1, with wipes)

 

Shoe

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A shoe without its mate is a forlorn thing, especially if it’s somewhere out of place, like on the side of a road or, like yesterday, in the muddy shallows of a river. Where is the other shoe and, more importantly, where is its owner? I could concoct a million stories about how this lovely black flat found itself in the Monocacy, but there is only one true one, and I almost certainly will never know it. Still, I like the possibilities.