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.

Scraps

Sorting through my photographs, I realized that there are several that I set aside for a particular post but then, for whatever reason, never used. Although it conflicts with my need for some sort of focus for all of my writing, in an effort not to completely lose sight of my intentions for these pictures, I’ve decided to set them all out today, with notes, like a disorganized scrapbook page. (I have tried scrapbooking before, and it just isn’t in me; neither is keeping an immaculate house. Truly I am a failure as a homemaker.) But, of course, having written this paragraph, I’ve assigned a theme.  Why do I do that?

These photographs were to be about line, texture, and symmetry. The old wasp’s nest also reminded me of the huge hornet’s nest that hung inside the ‘Walking Stick’ shrub in my backyard when I was little. I ran right into it during a game of SPUD and suffered the consequences. I never developed a fear of stinging insects, though, perhaps in part because my father took the nest down that winter and allowed my brothers to hang it in their bedroom from the central light fixture. Also, I’m clearly not allergic to them.

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I found this and spent the rest of the day with R.E.M. songs streaming through my brain.

Peek-a-boo trash: before and after. I nearly missed this Starbucks cup when the only thing visible was the green straw.

And, of course, I’m still running into the problem, months later, with other sorts of trash. (Yes, Bud Light, again).

My mixed-breed, young Rosie, is obsessed with sticking her head in holes. (Mostly made by groundhogs, I think). I’m a little afraid that one day she’ll pop back up with a bite on her nose. My friend’s dog once got bit by a squirrel, and the poor thing bled profusely. The dog was fine, but the car never really recovered from the trip to the vet.

Okay, so now I’m fighting the urge to write a summary paragraph. Mission almost accomplished.

 

Delinquency

Thinking about anything has been like slogging through mud lately, so facing the mental gymnastics of writing has been impossible. Whether Christmas, brain chemistry or lack of sleep is to blame, I have no idea, but I’ve been hanging on with a meagre and unhealthy diet of popular fiction. It’s fun while it lasts, but leaves me hungry and unarmed for the simple tasks of daily life.

Even in this half-wakeful state, I can walk through the woods and pick up the trash. A few days in a row, I found plastic bottles filled with balls of tin foil, like this:20161209_163649.jpg

I did puzzle over them a little but wasn’t completely suspicious until I found this alongside them:

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When I googled this combination of objects, I found that, yes, I had a right to be suspicious. I immediately disposed of the objects (though the ammonia kept leaking through my bag) and carefully did not mention them to my boys, who would be all too interested in their explosive chemistry.

Fortunately, they’ve been distracted with their own, much less poisonous and more peaceful, project: the building of a shelter made of fallen branches. It is the perfect size for two boys, one adult, or a couple of curious dogs (and I know this because we’ve tested all such combinations). My oldest even used a bit of my trash to decorate its facade.

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Because you can do more than one thing with an empty bottle.

A Model Dog

When I’m taking pictures for my blog, I generally make a point of moving the camera so that my images don’t include my old labrador companion, Poppy. Since she makes a point of shadowing me, no matter how her bones ache, excluding her isn’t a simple matter. Yesterday was no different: I paused for a picture, and, while I fiddled with the composition and perspective, she walked into the frame. Again,

and again,

and again.

It’s hard to be too upset, though, when, first of all, she’s sweet and adorable, and, second, she often improves the pictures, imbuing them with life and interest that landscape alone sometimes can’t. Even if it is a brilliant fall day, which it was.

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Besides, she’s been known to help me with the trash every now and then. Yesterday she carried a McDonald’s coffee cup all the way back to the main walking path for me…and there wasn’t even anything in it for her to eat. (She is a labrador, after all, and her motives and motivations are usually pretty simple and obvious.)

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She really is a very good dog.

 

Love, Up Close

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This is the very first image I posted on my blog: my original header.

Initially I hesitated to use it because the Monocacy, the polluted but lovely southern river for which this blog is named, is nowhere to be found. Ultimately, however, that is one of the very reasons that the picture is so appropriate. A river is more than the water that flows into it; it is the land that surrounds it. It is the land that determines its health. It is on the land that I find most of the trash that pollutes its waters.

But this image is really about the heart spray-painted on the trunk of the dead tree. Ostensibly it is vandalism, a sort of trashing of nature, but the symbol and its underlying message imbues it with its own sort of beauty. It also reflects my feeling toward this small part of a much larger ecosystem. This heart on this tree is on a small island on a small river (the Monocacy) that flows into a larger river (the Potomac) that flows into a delicate bay (the Chesapeake) that opens into an ocean (the Atlantic). This space is so much more than it seems. And so is the tree.

Let’s look a little more closely. A heart:

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And more closely still. An imperfect heart:

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And even closer. A mere smudge:

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Or something more. This heart on this dead tree is the marker for an entrance to a whole other world. It hides the holes made by birds looking for insects looking for food looking for a home. If I were a microbiologist, I could say more, but even my limited knowledge allows me to appreciate the complexity of the life provided by this rotting trunk.

And appreciation is what this blog is about. Appreciating the ugly in order to appreciate the beautiful. Appreciating the moments that make a small life big. Appreciating the life around me so easily overlooked. Appreciating how often things are not quite as simple as they seem. Appreciating a world of writers, thinkers and artists who may not think of themselves as any of these things.

Love from the Monocacy.

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)

 

A Few of My Favorite Things

Because I can’t pick just one thing when I have such little time to write, and The Sound of Music is inspiring any time of the year…

A doe, a deer, a female deer. There’s a Where’s Waldo scavenger hunt going on in downtown Frederick this month, but at the river we like to do things a little differently.

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Raindrops on…Sharp-winged Monkey-flowers. Because the bloom of the mimulus alatus is beautiful, but the common name is even better.

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Ford every stream. Seriously. It’ll cool you off.

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How do you solve a problem like… trash? Clean it up, one piece at a time.

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Monocacy Milkweed

The milkweed is just beginning to bloom now, both in the open spaces along the river, highways, and farm fields and in my small garden in the backyard. There are many kinds of milkweed, but the sort that I see on my walks is Asclepias syriaca, or Common Milkweed, a dusty plant with broad, green leaves, a vein of magenta, and large, drooping clusters of pale pink, surprisingly intricate flowers. In my garden I grow Asclepias incarnata, a more slender-leaved native commonly known as Swamp Milkweed, and Asclepias tuberosa, a more delicate, orange-flowered variety called Butterfly Weed.

Milkweed is most famous for being the host and primary food source for the larvae of the Monarch butterfly, which has been dwindling in numbers in recent years. While there was a slight uptick in the population overwintering in Mexico the past two years, it’s still threatened primarily by loss of habitat. Planting milkweed and conserving the land on which it grows will help combat a further decrease in the Monarch population.

A few years ago, we managed to host a Monarch caterpillar in our Swamp Milkweed. The rubbery-looking creatures are fascinating and even quite beautiful. Perhaps it’s not a big surprise that they grow to be one of the most identifiable butterflies in the world. Let’s keep it that way.

There’s Poison on the Trail

As I walk by the river these days, I am overwhelmed by itchy green things. Poison hemlock plants tower over me on their purple mottled stalks, their delicate white flowers opening like tiny parasols over their broad, finely-cut leaves. They are as poisonous as their name suggests (it’s the extract of this hemlock, conium maculatum, in fact, that likely killed Socrates), which might strike me as ominous if I wasn’t so busy avoiding the Japanese hops spreading their itchy tendrils all over ground. Both of these plants are invasive aliens, crowding out the less rigorous (and, quite literally, less irritating) native plants, like the nodding pale touch-me-nots pictured below. Native or not, I photograph and identify every flower I see on my Wildflowers of the Monocacy page, which I hope will help others who wander the trails by the river.

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