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.

More Trash Talk


In honor of our recent Independence Day, I’m returning to my main topic: trash. The 4th of July produces a lot of it, in the form of picnic scraps and recreational debris, like firecracker wrappers, cigarette stubs, and fishing paraphernalia. For now I’ll think of the trash as evidence of our ability to rejoice, in spite of the storms, literal and figurative, that are pounding our nation.

It’s Not My Party


This piece of trash is just wrong on so many levels. First there’s the picture. We all know that’s not a cigar in her mouth. And, if the picture isn’t obvious enough, the words all over the wrapper will give you a hint: XXL, Wet Mango! Besides all of that innuendo (which is much too subtle a word for something that immediately inspires the knowing guffaws of two adolescent boys), there’s the product itself. Mango flavored cigars? I would ask who in the world would ever be tempted by such a combo, if it weren’t obvious by this open wrapper that clearly there is someone out there who thought, “Hey, great idea!” The sort of someone, by the way, who leaves this:


In case you can’t tell, that’s the remains of a fire on a well-used trail by the Monocacy River. In addition to cigars, the anonymous fire-starters also consumed Juicy Drop taffy, hot dogs, and Mountain Dew. And, for some reason, instead of using their plastic bags to carry away their trash, they did this:


Yep, they burned them. Both of them. Like I said, just wrong.

Trash Collecting Fail


My older son is obsessed with watching “Fail” collections on YouTube. He finds them hilarious, but, since they’re really nothing more than compilations of people hurting, maiming, or making idiots of themselves, I can hardly stand them. Then again, I’ve never been a fan of physical comedy; I cringed watching “Mighty Mouse” and “Tom and Jerry,” and the “Home Alone” movies are horrific to me. Besides, the word “fail” is way overused.

Nonetheless, I had my own “fail” on a recent trash collecting mission. While heading home after an uneventful afternoon, I heard my son call my name on the trail behind me. I turned to find him balancing a large round object in one hand and the handlebar of his bike in the other. By the way his shoulder sagged in one direction, I could tell that the round object was heavy, and he was having difficulty maintaining his direction on the muddy trail.

“Look what I found in the water!” my son shouted proudly, “A bowling ball! I actually tripped over it!”

He dropped it on the ground with a thump so that I could examine it, and, after taking a picture, I offered to carry it to the bike trailer for him so that he could ride his bike more easily. After he agreed, I hefted the thing from the ground and propped it against my chest with both arms.  It was heavy, most definitely not the ball of a lightweight bowler, but I’m not a weakling and was unconcerned with making it down the hill to the trailer. Unfortunately, the trail was slicker than I realized, and almost instantly I slipped onto my butt and lost my grip on the ball, which rolled quickly and inevitably back into the river. When we followed it to its entry point, my son looked at me accusingly. The ball had plunged straight into a deep embankment, where it could neither be seen nor reached by the longest stick we could find.


I suggested that maybe we would be able to reach it this summer when the water level fell. My son leveled me with an incredulous glance. I admit that, considering the amount of rain we’ve been having, a drought seems far-fetched. But, you know, if the water level fails me, I’ll find another way to, uh, unfail.

In the Other Details

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, animals can camouflage themselves and render themselves easily missed by my pathetic human eyes, but, as it turns out, so can some trash. A brown plastic bag half-buried in dark earth is barely more visible than a toad amongst leaves, and a faded can of strawberry Fanta covered in long, dead grass hides itself as easily as a moth against the bark of a tree. Other bits of garbage are fortunately more obvious, even if it’s a green Heinekin bottle under long blades of similarly green grass and stinging nettles. I see you, brilliant blue Bud Light label, and you, you bag of ranch-flavored sunflower seeds. (To which I say: is that really necessary?)

I also see the curious looks I get from the more regular trail-walkers when they catch me knee-deep in garlic mustard taking a picture of a beer bottle. With my unkempt hair, old rubber boots, and muddy jeans, I’m certain that I look more bag lady than responsible mother. Once or twice I’ve tucked my phone in my pocket and pretended to be birdwatching just to save my reputation. (Because birdwatchers are such exemplary people? I don’t know.) I guess I should hold my head high and just tell them I’m a trash-collector who writes a blog. I just haven’t gotten there yet.

Portrait of a Cup from Cici’s Pizza


Inside the hollow of a tall tree, surrounded by tendrils of new poison ivy, lies a paper cup from Cici’s Pizza, red-and-white striped straw still emerging from its depths. Since it is inside of the tree, no one can see it, or at least this is what the owner of this empty cup believed. He looked at this nook and thought “trash receptacle.” No matter that others see the same space as a home for wild animals, or tree nymphs, or gnomes. Imagination varies wonderfully from person to person. Thoughtfulness, however, is usually a more constant trait.

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?



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



In case you didn’t pick up your spork.



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



I wouldn’t trust it.



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



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.

Your Servant


Choices, circumstances, and the general vagaries of life have led me to my current occupation, the title of which seems to change according to time or point of view.  What I would have called a “housewife” growing up, is now, for the most part, a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM), but other terms I’ve heard used include domestic engineer (blah), domestic diva (ick), or homemaker (eh). In any case, the job comes with no pay or social security benefits, lots of judgement and guilt, and repetitive tasks.  Of course I’m very lucky to be able to stay at home and rely on someone else’s income.  It’s a privilege to be available to help at my sons’ schools, take them to their appointments, and field the emotional crises that their needs dictate.  It is wonderful to be able to adapt my schedule for my husband’s honestly difficult and stressful job.  My troubles are that of a middle-class white woman living in America, which renders them the least troublesome of all troubles in most of the rest of the world.  I am intelligent enough and unselfish enough to see that. But sometimes I do want more. Not more things. Just more. And it’s out there.

Collecting the Monocacy’s trash and writing this blog is part of the more.  What’s ironic, however, is how much the task can resemble my occupation.  After all, what am I doing, really, but cleaning up after people?  Usually the debris is so random and spread apart that the cleaning is rendered impersonal and therefore can assume an abstract expression of environmentalism.  There are times, though, when I just feel like some stranger’s beleaguered mother.  There is, for instance, an area on the “island” that a group of people use for a campfire every weekend.  When I’m doing my rounds on Sunday or Monday, I find, in addition to their ashes (which are dangerously close to a massive pile of dried wood, leaves and other kindling-like materials), beer cans, food wrappers, and miscellaneous garbage. A photo collage would do the scene justice:

In case you’re wondering, yes, that is a silly putty egg.  There was a deodorant cap, too, for the person who, I suppose, while sucking down his beer, noticed his pits stank.

But I’m not judging.  Oh, well, of course I am.  And isn’t that where this problem started?  I feel judged and so I judge, and we’re all a little more unhappy even though we imagine we’re the opposite? There are days when I feel tremendous joy and gratitude, when I understand how very lucky I am. And then there are days when I feel as if I’ll never get to the top of the trash heap (or is it the bottom?  I’ve gotten lost in this metaphor). Either way, I’m here, and so is the trash.  And so is the river.

Save the Invertebrates

Foraging for trash proved a lifesaving mission yesterday.  While exploring the island, I came upon a bright yellow container advertising “18 Canadian Nightcrawlers.”  Since the top was off, I could see that there was still dirt inside. Assuming that a fisherman wouldn’t leave perfectly good bait to shrivel in the sun, I dumped the soil to put the container in my bag and was surprised to see several long, meaty worms fall writhing to the earth.  Hastily, I gathered them back up into the container.  But, after looking around in vain for the careless fisherman, I agreed with my boys that we should liberate the nightcrawlers (poor, displaced Canadians) and give them an opportunity for a new life on the Monocacy.  The boys decanted and reburied them a safe distance from the water.  On the way home, I attempted to throw away yet another piece of garbage, a random square of cardboard caught in some wintry underbrush, when I discovered a few snails clinging to its underside.  It was an easy decision simply to return the cardboard to the ground with snails intact.  After all, cardboard biodegrades, and the snails weren’t being particularly offensive.

UPDATE, 6/14/16: I have since learned that I absolutely should not have liberated these nightcrawlers as they are an invasive species that can harm the native wildflower population and change the composition of the forest floor. Read more here. My apologies. I really am ashamed of my ignorance!

UPDATE, 4/11/16: It seems I’m destined to uncover little critters.  Today, trying to lift a piece of plastic (which I have since learned is irretrievably buried in the sand), I found a most impressive wolf spider.  He wasn’t inclined to have his picture taken, so I had to chase him around a bit. Thankfully, I don’t suffer from arachnophobia. (To be honest, I only mentioned that last bit because I have to take advantage of the few times Greek comes in handy).



Teasel is what is called a “noxious weed.”  Spiny throughout, from leaf to stem to seed pod, it grows tall, branches out, and lasts through winter as a brown, hollow version of itself. Even as I trample it, it catches and tears at me, scratching my hands, pulling at my boiled wool jacket, yanking my hair.  It shreds holes in my garbage bag, too, forcing me to abandon my trash-gathering task earlier than planned, but it’s hard to resist venturing into the thistle, when tattered plastic flaps from its bones like a poor man’s banner.