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,
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.
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.)
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”?)
7-Eleven, Coffee in the Leaves
Annie’s and Minute Maid on the Shore
What I Like About You: Japanese Hops and Coca Cola
I’ve posted about the wonders of nature’s camouflage before, but a chance meeting with a mantid (stagomantis carolina, I think) persuaded me to revisit the topic. I’m sure that you can see the marvelous bark-colored creature above, but can you see it below?
Much more difficult, isn’t it? It’s a miracle he didn’t get stepped on. The funny thing is that I didn’t even realize I was taking a picture of this insect, a Green Stinkbug nymph (5th instar, chinavia hilaris):
I simply meant to take a picture of the touch-me-nots. But he matches perfectly – clearly a cool pre-adult with style. He needs to give this grasshopper nymph (a schistocerca nitens, I believe) some tips on not being quite so matchy-matchy monochromatic:
And they all need to explain to this mylar balloon that its attempt at camouflage is an absolute fail:
That green is too bright, and it’s altogether too shiny.
Poor Barbie. Dismembered, beheaded, and thrown away by the Monocacy River. I passed by her for days before I finally stopped to pick her up. It’s not that I didn’t notice her or even think about her; I just kept hoping for a better conclusion.
It’s been a rough summer here along the Monocacy. First I realized that I had to move my father into a new living situation from York to Frederick by the middle of August ( see In Knots). Then my husband slipped down one of the river’s taller banks and tore his quadriceps tendon, which required surgery and a long recovery at home that isn’t over yet (see The Monocacy Rocks for the general site of the accident, and be forewarned!). And, finally, school was out. The less said about that, the better.
Poor me. But at least I’m not Barbie. I do have my head, and I’m back on my blog. That’s a much better conclusion.
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.
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.
A funny thing happened today. I was flipping through the Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin (Vol. 97, no. 4), scanning for names I recognized (as one does with such things), when I came upon an article called “Talking Trash.” Of course, a title like that caught my attention, and the first sentence was even better: “In Astrid Lindenlauf’s Archeology, Anthropology, and Sociology of Rubbish class, students are examining a rich trove of ritually deposited archaeological finds – votive offerings to the Goddess Athena.” A class about rubbish? Why did I ever abandon my graduate studies thinking that there would be no job at the end of them?!
The article proceeded to detail how Ms. Lindenlauf’s students are researching the various items that Bryn Mawr College students leave at the statue of Athena in Thomas Great Hall, a long-standing tradition particularly observed during exams. As a graduate student, I wasn’t as much a part of such rituals. Having been educated entirely by the public school system through college, I was, in fact, a little jealous of such traditions, obscured, as they seemed, by the curtains of privilege.
Often I felt at a loss in the private school setting, perhaps even doubly so in the classics department. During my first year in college (at the very public University of Maryland Baltimore County), I had a professor pull me aside to remark on how well-written a paper of mine was and to ask which school I had attended. When I answered Frederick High, she looked a bit stymied and asked, “Is that a public school?” I shared this story with my 12th grade English teacher during the following break, expecting her to take it as a compliment to herself, but instead she got angry. “Why shouldn’t a public school be as good as a private one?” she asked. I saw her point and tried to remind myself of it whenever I felt a bit smaller answering questions about my background in graduate school. No, my father wasn’t a professor or doctor or lawyer. No, I didn’t have the money to do that (fill-in-the-blank). No, I have no idea who that person is. It is difficult, though, for a girl who often feels like she has somehow fooled everybody into believing that she is smart and capable, to thoroughly shake the feeling of not belonging.
Somehow, though, I find myself and my ideas reflected in the pages of this austere institution’s alumnae bulletin. I fight against the notion, but did I really always belong? Do I still? Are my ideas worthy? Strange how a little article can arouse such memories and doubts. Not so strange how much those memories and doubts can hold you back and even stun you into immobility. I have so many stories and ideas that I haven’t shared because I’ve been fearful that they aren’t good enough. Certainly in some cases it’s true, but all of them? It’s still a hard thing to click “publish” every day that I write this blog. The fear and doubt don’t go away. But I’m doing my best to ignore them.
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.