Yesterday, just for fun, I recorded the brand of every piece of trash I gathered.  I was exploring new territory, an open meadow with lots of prickly shrubs that I usually avoid (see the sign above), and the quantity of cups and cans overwhelmed me.  There was much more than I could carry:

Deer Park Water

Mountain Dew (Diet and otherwise, many times over)

Dairy Queen


Monster Energy

Bud Light


Harris Teeter (migrating trash, apparently)



Coca Cola


Olive Garden


Starbucks (for Tammy, whoever and wherever she is)



Rockin’ Refuel

Fanta (orange)

A&W Cream Soda



Rita’s Italian Ice

I brought all of these home, some for the trash can, but most for recycling.  Unfortunately, the city only gathers the recycling every other week, so I always end up filling the recycling can, bin and extra cardboard boxes of my own to overflowing.  I’m a little concerned about how much more trash warmer weather will generate. I might have to start begging my neighbors for recycling space.

Trash from the Past


I guess I’ve always had a thing for trash: digging for it, documenting it, and treasuring it. While the blog’s subtitle calls me a “girl,” by now it should be obvious that I’m long past being any such thing, at least in externals. I’m old enough to have accumulated  a number of identities, and one of my favorite ones, one which I thought was never to be picked up again, was archaeologist.  In my twenties, I got an advanced degree in Greek, Latin, and Archaeology and did some digging for a few summers at some classical sites. It’s actually not as exciting a job as most expect.  While I was in the trenches, tourists often asked whether I had found any gold.  I smiled and said, “no,” because I understood that they meant the shiny mineral, but I had found some of my own gold: potsherds, pieces of glass, dirt floors, roads, foundations, and even a tiny marble head. In other words, I had found ancient trash. And, to me, it was fascinating.

The trash I’m finding today could be the treasure of tomorrow.  So should I feel bad about picking it up?  I’ve decided no.  What I find is shreds of plastic, tin cans, agricultural waste, bits of clothing, machine parts, et alia (see, I do know Latin), that has floated down the river.  Its lost its cultural context and, therefore, is of little future value for those who may wish to understand us, say, 1,000 years from now. In other words, there’s no need to give myself a pat on the back for leaving a yogurt container to be buried in the sand.

There are active archeologists (note the different spelling for those who work in North America…wow, I am such a geek today!) working along the Monocacy River.  In fact, there is a large Native American settlement off Biggs Ford Rd. that has been excavated multiple years by the Archeological Society of Maryland.  From approximately 1000-1500 AD, it was occupied by peoples of the Montgomery and Keyser Complex. For more details and pictures from the 2014 expedition, see the link below.

Oh, and it’s April, so happy Maryland Archeology Month!


The Process

Our stretch of warmth has continued, and the evenings are lengthening, which has meant that my walks aren’t so solitary anymore.  I should be glad that we’ve reached the magical 65-degree mark that pulls everyone from their homes, but I’m enough of an introvert (and self-suspected misanthropist) that I’m actually more anxious and annoyed. So, back to the trash.

Yesterday, my very first pick-up was large enough to fill my entire trash bag and force me into early retirement.  It’s just as well, because, as you can see in the first photo, the sun was setting by the time I finally wrangled the boys out the door.  There was only time enough to visit what the boys call “the hideout,”which isn’t really very hidden at all.  It’s just off a public trail, but so far below it that it can feel secluded.  The climb down to it becomes more treacherous after each flood, as the water erodes away the soft earth held together only by the roots of imperiled trees.  It is these roots that we must use to reach the hideout, and they make such uneven steps that I daily expect someone to twist an ankle. At the bottom is a stream, separated from the main river by a small “island” of trees.  The stream remains connected to the main river unless there is a drought, but the water flow is never tremendous. Unless there is a flood, I can wade across it in my green rubber boots, which is what I needed to do last night to retrieve my one large piece of garbage.

Under the roots of a decaying tree, half-submerged in the water, was a tangle of sticks, leaves and something else, white and, from what I could tell, plastic. (See the second photo, above). As I approached, I noticed tiny minnows shifting beneath the water, illuminated by the slanting light of the setting sun. My green boots sank in the mud and my movements, stirring up the muck of winter, quickly obscured them. To avoid falling into the slightly deeper water near the white plastic thingy, I used a stick to dislodge it from its nest of leaves and twigs.  It was heavier than I imagined, but I managed to toss it onto the rocky peninsula that extended from the riverbank, where I shook it out to reveal what we see in the third photo, a big old bag of Purina horse feed, weighed down by the gallons of mud it acquired on its trip down the Monocacy River.

After draining it as much as I could, I stuffed it in my trash bag, where it sat drying while I engaged in a few light-saber duels with my youngest.  His stick was less rotten than mine, so he won. I tried to persuade him that he should cheer me up by carrying the trash bag home, but he wasn’t buying that argument.  My arm still hurts.

About Trash on the Monocacy

The Monocacy River is my river. I’ve lived along many, including the storied Mississippi, but the Monocacy is my home. A little urban, a little rural, deep in parts, but much too shallow in others, neglected, overused, dumped in (and on), ugly as often as it is beautiful, it is home to thousands – no, billions – of plants, animals, and people. I walk through it every day, pleased in its averageness, finding places for children to play or dog noses to sniff, taking note of the birds and change of seasons, gathering stinking mud on my boots, and I try to make plans and make sense. What have I done right, what have I not done, what should I have done, what will I do, what are my children doing, what will they do, is there anything any of us can do that will make any difference? Always, as I walk, I pass crumpled bottles, dirtied cellophane wrappers, and shredded plastic bags, tangled in trees, half-buried in mud, and hidden beneath dead leaves and grass.  These bits of garbage interrupt me, and, while at first I let them irritate me, I have finally let them answer me.  Now, with my own used bag, I set out to find the trash, ferret out each piece, and actually notice it, acknowledge it, put it in my bag, and leave one small part of the Monocacy a little cleaner, a little more what it should be, a little more itself. My actions aren’t original, of course, and I’m not a particularly spectacular environmentalist (which a smug part of me might hope to be). In fact, I’m more than a little selfish, because I like to see beauty, and that’s why I act.  It’s in so many things.  Even in the trash. And its disappearance.  That’s what this blog is about.  Finding the beauty in the ugliest, most ordinary, most overlooked places and things.  The trash on the Monocacy River.