My Heart Flow with the Waters

I live on a lovely little bay off the Potomac River, downstream from Washington, DC. It’s alive with turtles and catfish and migrating water birds. Bald eagles nest in the woods nearby, along with osprey, woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks and many other birds.

it blocks the light, killing plants below, rotting makes a stinking black mess

But my bay, and the larger Chesapeake, is choked with foul rotting algae much of the year, the result of excess ‘nutrients’ from farms, sewage, run-off and lawn fertilizers. The sewage plant has recently had to absorb the waste outflow from a gigantic new development over 12 miles away, with more than 5,000 residents and 13 million  visitors annually.

While National Harbor has brought jobs and tourist dollars to Prince Georges County, which has never benefited as much as surrounding counties from DC’s economic growth, this overwhelms the sewage treatment facilities resulting in more filth in my bay.

Few people consider how their toilet flushing, lawn chemicals, street run-off or local farm waste are affecting our natural environment.

And yet our river is quite healthy for an urban river, as the birds and  the fish who still live here will testify. In many places the situation is much, much worse.

The voracious habits of the developed world, now exported to China and India’s millions of aspiring workers, are only accelerating the pace. In my lifetime we’ve destroyed most of the ancient forests on the planet, and killed half of the wild creatures that roamed the earth.

Consider this, from Joanna Macy & Jennifer Berezan:

Please be thoughtful in your choices that impact our world. Consider what you can do and give to help reverse the damage our people do to the world.

Alice Ferguson Foundation
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Indigenous Environmental Network

Get me to the River

2008 photo by miss karen on flickr

Yesterday was our first sweltering day this summer, appropriate, perhaps, on Summer Solstice. My mission was to fetch a friend from BWI airport, normally about a 75 minute drive. For some reason, traffic was jammed in all directions, and especially coming back. ugh!

The outside temp at 6:45pm was 97f/36c but ten minutes later, eight miles south and in the shade the thermometer read 84f/29c. What a difference a forest makes!! At peak summer, the change from urban heat island to rural cool is usually more like 10f/5c.

Cranky as all get out, I picked up the dogs and headed for the Potomac. They were ecstatic, of course, leaping from the car and racing down the shady trail. Lily was slurping cool water, belly-deep, when I finally arrived with gimpy Seneca, helping her climb over logs to get to the water’s edge.

The water was clear and cool, lapping the gravel beach. Branches hung down sheilding me from the view of the fishing pier. I shucked off my shirt and shorts and joined them, enjoying my first river swim of the year.

Where I grew up, the river was the stage on which life was played. In the summer, one would return from a hard day’s work, sticky and hot, and shuck one’s clothing en route direct from car to seawall. Depending on the number of observers and the time of day, one plunged in wearing some or all of one’s clothing. I remember standing on the sandy bottom and scrubbing the spagetti sauce and mayonaisse out of my uniform with a bar of ivory soap, the Harsen’s Island method of Pre-Wash.

Now, the embrace of the cool river as a reward for a hot summer day is not everyone’s cuppa. So many folks I know think of it as nothing but a filthy drainage ditch. Growing up in love with a river iss one of those things I took for granted, not realizing how extraordinary the rivery life was. Fast forward to Summer Solstice 2012 and find me in my underthings, paddling in the Potomac. Like a happy wet dog.

wet happy dogs

It’s a rare pleasure for more than just the obvious reasons. While the Potomac at Mount Vernon is healthy enough for bass and eagles and blue herons, it’s often choked with algae, a thick slimy green bloom of overgrowth, the result of fertilizer and sewage providing far too many ‘nutrients’ into the stream. The stuff gloms all over the native river grasses then dies and rots into a foul black stuff I call ‘dead spinach.’ Often this gunks up the river so badly I don’t even want to wade in it.

For whatever reason, this year the shore is relatively free of it, and thus the visible beach and the almost-clear water. So there I was, in bliss, the crazy lady swimming in the river. I could hear the murmur of conversation from the fishing pier and the laughing of water-skiers, fallen nearby. While I floated in the cool a bird came in low and landed on driftwood log near enough to see that it was a green heron.

So I float, weightless in a cool bath, spinning slowly under a hazy sky. What better place to be on a day like today?

The River Flows to the Sea

Sad but Not Surprising

Two days after River Cleanup and the first bits of trash have already washed ashore.

It’s not  messy boaters and fishing folk who create all this litter, as some assume. The bulk of the trash is washed down from storm sewers all over the metro area. When you toss an empty package or bottle, even into a bin, odds are it can find it’s way to the river.

Before the Clean-Up

Washed into drains from all over DC, tennis balls are common enough on my beach for the dogs have learned to look for them.  I’m sure that boaters aren’t dumping buckets of balls overboard! But I am busy training my girls to fetch plastic bottles!

Good news about river trash!

Hundreds of volunteers showed up Saturday all up and down the Potomac watershed. I joined friends and neighbors at the National Colonial Farm across the river from historic Mount Vernon. We enjoyed the low tide and beautiful day that allowed us to clean miles of shoreline. Now hikers, fishing folk, blue herons, eagles and osprey can all enjoy the shoreline without trash. For a little while.

But I did notice some improvement while trash-picking Saturday morning ; there was much less foam trash than  in years past.  Alice Ferguson Foundation‘s Trash Free Potomac 2013 has taken a survey of common logos found in river trash and pressured the biggest offenders (this year McDonalds , Pepsi, Deer Park and Budweiser) to change their packaging to biodegradable materials, and it looks to me like this has helped!

The biggest scourge at the moment is plastic bags and bottles. Please make sure your plastics are properly recycled, and replace them when you can with reusable containers. All of us river dwellers thank you!

Pollen, Flowers, Flying Things & Food

It’s that time: the air is filled with …. stuff!

Maple seeds helicoptor down. Dusty white oak ‘flowers’ cover my patio and clog my gutters. I’m sneezing and sweeping. There’s a fly buzzing on the screen. I swat a mosquito. A cabbage butterfly and a honeybee cruise by.

This week members of the Local Food Forum gathered to view the film Vanishing of the Bees. It’s an academy award nominated documentary about the rise of Colony Collapse disorder that reveals the impact of agribusiness on honey and bee farmers worldwide. Until I saw this film I had no idea beehives were trucked all over the country. Or that monoculture agriculture provided no food for bees, leaving 1000s of acres essentially sterile, absent of the buzz of insect life.

Of course, for our immediate comfort, that’s what many of us want. I don’t want creatures who sting and bite, eat my blood, may give me a disease, eat my crops, even my clothing!  I even hate the look of certain creepy things on the wall. OUT! It’s easy to think: “Go away, die, life is better without you, you horrible thing!”

Insects are not easy to identify with. They seem very alien to us, in fact many fictional aliens are based on arthropods. They do not have the soft liquid single eyes of mammals, but weird compound orbs. No familiar warm mouth with pink tongue, but a frightening orafice with pincers and palps. Their skeletons are on the outside their bodies, and muscles inside, the inverse of our structure. They appear sneaky, subversive, ugly, evil, insidious.

But know that the bees, the butterflies, the wasps, even flies and mosquitos pollenate our food and flowers, and provide the food for birds, fish and other wildlife. Know that like us they are born, learn to live, walk, fly, feed themselves. They struggle to find food and shelter, mate and create offspring. Bees live in a highly organized social order, a matriarchy devoted to creating a sustainable community that makes more than enough food in order to insure survival of the community.

When they are successful, we have the sweetness of honey. And, oh, yes: fruit and flowers.

Please consider this when you wish the bugs away, or reach for that pesticide. There is a web of life that connects all things, and we, and the insects, are intertwined within it.