Thursday, November 17, 2011

What do Lilly Tomlin, Bear Creek, Los Padres, and Rock Creek have in common?

"I always wondered why somebody didn't do something about that.  Then I realized I was somebody."
                                                                                                              - Lilly Tomlin

Bear Creek is a beautiful trout stream in Garrett County, Maryland.  In most places it has steep, wooded banks on the southern side, rising nearly straight up a mountain, and a sparsely wooded flood plain on the northern bank.  Towering hemlocks and stands of rhodedendron mix with beech and maple and oak, and in fall it's a magical place to hang out.  I can see why Native Americans used to live along this stream.  A friend of mine is lucky enough to have Bear Creek just outside her back door, and has found many artifacts while digging her garden. Trout fishermen are it's main "users" these days, mostly during the spring.  I always thought fisherfolk would not be likely to leave trash since they value their experiences of being out in nature doing their thing.

I've learned differently.

During the last few weeks, I've started cleaning up along Bear Creek between Friendsville and Accident.  There's a lot there, I was dismayed to discover, mostly out of sight of the road.  People tend to fling things out their car windows in locations that make them difficult to see from the road, like down banks around curves.  This makes them harder to find and retrieve, too!  But I am up to the challenge.

I started out at the pull-offs, and there are about five of them along this stretch of road.  And I started with two tires, which someone had been obliging enough to leave in plain view at a pull-off.  I didn't see any trash in the flood plain between there and the stream, and was feeling the magic of the place in the yellow-green woods, when, back by the road I noticed a beer bottle to the left of the pull-off.  And another.  And another.  And many others...iced tea, soda, hard liquer, water, chewing tobacco, more and more beer...I quickly filled my bins and headed off to the landfill, not having finished.  My haul included hip-high wading boots, so, so much for fisherfolk being environmentalists.  Hopefully most are.  What I've been finding is that, in both directions from the pull-off, the litter was mostly down banks around curves, and I can't blame those on fishers.

When I went back a few days later, the pull-off was trashed with Halloween candy wrappers and pages ripped out of a school planner.  Kid perps!  Further in that direction I found car parts, including a back seat and broken headlight casing, in amongst the beautiful fall leaves and beer bottles.  Good place to put 'em, folks!  (By the way, the Friendsville trash collection site is about equidistant to this site, but in the other direction from town.) 

As I was picking up, I started thinking about how what I do is similar to hunting.  Think how great it would be if all the hunters out there put all their gear and effort into retrieving and recycling trash instead of killing deer!

This is from a sign posted by the U.S. Forest Service in Los Padres National Forest:

Cigarette butts............................................1-5 years
Aluminum cans............................................80-100 years
Orange peels...............................................up to 2 years
Plastic bags................................................10-20 years
Glass bottles...............................................1 million years
Tin cans.....................................................50 years
Wool socks.................................................1-5 years
Plastic bottles...............................................Indefinitely

Here are some pictures my daughter took of Rock Creek Park in Silver Spring, Maryland.  This creek and park runs into our nation's capital:

Unbelievable, isn't it?  In this day and age?  In a supposedly modern, 1st world, enlightened country, capable of putting a spacecraft on mars?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Treasures from the Deep

Since our early eight inches of snow is keeping me from picking up trash, here are some pictures of "treasures" I've found in various old garbage dumps. 

This first one is an old toy car.  Note the axles for its missing wheels.

Next are three unusual antique bottles.  The medicine bottle on the right I wrote about in my last blog.  It says: Dr. T.W. Graydon / Cincinnati, O / Diseases of the Lungs.  The one in the middle is a beautiful old perfume bottle.  It's light purple, which probably means it used to be clear glass and was made before 1911.  Its upper surface is out of round, and the sides still have uncut extra glass along the seams.  I don't know if that makes it more or less valuable, and it would make a good History Detectives episode to figure out how it ended up near an old house site in the woods of Appalachia!  I also found a woman's lace-up boot near it.  The green bottle I don't know anything about.  I just like the shape and size of it.

Next is a a beautiful aqua Ball mason jar for canning, that says Ball / Perfect Mason and has a 7 on the bottom.  It makes a good vase or, if I could clean it well, a grain storage jar.  Beside it is an old RC Cola bottle with a painted-on label.  In the pale yellow you can barely make out: Royal Crown above the RC.  It was made prior to twist-off caps.

And last is a picture of a very interesting mechanical pencil, a shot container for a gun, and an apparent sunglasses lens.
These were all found in the same vicinity as the old medicine bottle.  The mechanical pencil has writing at the top end that says: Wahl Eversharp / Gold-filled  Pat.  Made in USA.  My daughter, who noticed the writing, and I researched it.  The Eversharp pencil was invented by Charles Keeran in 1913, and he applied for a patent in October, 1913 and was granted it in March, 1915.  It was first produced in New York by Heath, a company known for their fine etching on jewelry, etc.  Then in October, 1915, Keeran signed a contract with Wahl Adding Machine Company in Chicago to manufacture them.  They took it over and booted Keeran out!  I suspect this is one of the first mechanical pencils in existence, since he got it patented.  It has a very fine design all along it.  There are also threads inside the top.  There's a blob of rust at the point end, which would have to be chemically removed.

The copper shot box has a label, which when wet, has some legible words:  ---ILLINED / EL 10 / Center Fire  / Winchester  /  1916.

The lens I don't know anything about.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

What's Left Behind

As I've been digging up old dump sites lately, I start to reflect on the items I use on a regular basis that will survive me.  Someday, like Hamlet examining a skull, someone will find pieces of this pot or these dishes or this car, and they will try to reconstruct what my life was like.  It's impossible to do, of course, which is why I don't like reading fictional accounts set in prehistoric times.  What gall!

BUT----I do love having that close contact with people's lives, handling what they've left behind.  Before I was horrified by old dump sites, found everywhere near old house sites, in nearby ravines.  I felt it was such a travesty!  And while I still do, I also, now, see them as an opportunity to explore the past.  Some things "sink," get covered up by inches of decaying leaves and roots and plants.  There they become part of the new lives of bugs and roots and mosses and molds.  Sometimes I'm reluctant to disrupt these new adaptations; I've found roots going in one end of a broken bottle and out the other, and I've found entire ant colonies living in old bottles.  I've found bottles that look like little terrariums, full of diverse plantlife.  But I do disrupt them.  I feel I'm healing the earth by removing broken glass and rusty metal debris, like splinters under the skin.

And sometimes things get uplifted to the surface, probably by frost heaves.  The other day I was walking in the woods and saw the side of a flask-shaped brown bottle.  I nudged it with my toe, and it came out whole, a beautiful antique medicine bottle, embossed with words.  I looked it up on the internet, and it's worth about $47.  It was made in the late 1800s by a doctor in Cincinnati for diseases of the lungs.  I started probing with a trowel in that area, and found several buckets of broken glass and rusty metal.  The latter included lots of big nails, some of them square; pieces of chain; and a broken spatula.  One bottle piece was a beer bottle embossed by the Cumberland Brewing Company, which was in business from the late 1800s until the early 1950s.

Here's a picture of the Youghiogheny River, which was up and muddy, near whose banks I found an old dump site:
And here's what I found:  the tip of the iceberg:

It was in what looked like an old mill race, parallel to the river.  Lots of crockery, glass, and a few metal pots.

This summer my husband and two friends paddled down a most pristine part of the upper Blackwater River in Canaan Valley, WV.  The river is narrow and meanders in a round-about way through a bushy nature preserve.  They did sixteen miles that day.
And THIS was the ONLY piece of trash they found on the entire trip:

They had great debates about what it was, and finally decided it was a golf ball!!!  Another example of how wildlife tries to eat and can be harmed by trash.  Imagine how like an egg this must have looked!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Flotsam and Fishbones: The Alaskan Waters

Last summer, 2010, I was one of the luckiest people in the world. I got to go see Alaska and British Columbia’s Inside Passage, not on a cruise ship, but on a study tour with 23 other college professors & instructors, most expenses paid by the National Endowment for the Humanities. We started in Juneau at the University of Alaska Southeast (in nearby Auke Bay), and ended in Vancouver, being shuttled around by planes, ferries, and busses. We were studying the native cultures of the Yup’ik Eskimos and the Northwest Coast (especially Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Kwakwaka’wakw, and Coast Salish). It was definitely a highlight of my life, and I got to share a lot of what I learned with my students all last year. I also presented to the Western Maryland Division of the Archaeological Society of Maryland this past March.

Anyway, as soon as I got settled in my dorm at UAS, I walked down to Auke Bay to see the water. The scenery was amazing, of course, and everything looked raw and pristine. But the first thing I saw washing up from the water was an ammunition belt, buckled, full of bullets! The next day a paperback book washed in.

This summer I read a book called Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings by Jonathan Raban, published in 1999, about a trip he took in a sailboat from Seattle to Juneau and back. I highly recommend it! He writes kind of like Bill Bryson. But anyway, he has a passage in there about the junk in the oceans—even in a supposedly untouched place like Alaska, the last frontier.

The tide ran in lazy swirls and fingerling whirlpools. I drove through a tide-meet of flotsam—a sinuous, unbroken line of stray logs, green branches, yellowed chunks of polystyrene packing, soft-drink cans, condoms, fish crates, frayed rope-ends, old boots, half-eaten apples, a broken caneback chair, a rubber ball. Wherever two tidal currents come into collision, they form a long thin floating junkyard, to which all superfluous items in the neighborhood eventually gravitate. These trailing windrows suggest to the eye the natural affinity of the unwanted: all the local orphans collect here, jostling together in a buoyant democracy of abuse and neglect. I passed through every tide-meet with care, always hoping to rescue an abandoned fender, a Japanese glass float, or any of the other useful and decorative things that sometimes showed up in these anfractuous garbage dumps. Nothing this morning. The gulls were having a good time of it, though, picking over such delicacies as the triple-decker club sandwich that most likely had been tossed by a sated cruise-ship passenger. (333-4)

That last image reminds me of an incident this summer. I was in Wal-mart’s parking lot, directly in front of the store, with cars and pedestrians milling around. A two-seater pickup turned right in front of me, and as it was turning, the back window opened and a teenaged girl threw a half-eaten sandwich on the pavement, right at my feet! I tried to catch her eye and yelled Hey!—but they were gone. I was stunned and angry. Now, admittedly, half-eaten sandwiches are biodegradable, but who wants to see them or step on them?

So you might wonder if we have anything to learn from the Native Americans on this issue. You know, there you are out in a vast natural landscape. All your food scraps and raw materials are from the earth and will return to the earth. So what do you do with your fish bones and seal bones, etc. Toss them, right?

Wrong. First of all, most people know that Natives are notorious for using the entire animal. Every body part has a use. But what about fish bones? Fish bones are discarded, but not just tossed. In both the Yup’ik and Northwest Coast cultures, every part of the universe is alive and sentient. Every rock, every piece of driftwood, every fish bone, and even the dirt and garbage on the ground is alive and aware. If you treat those fish bones with disrespect, leaving them around for people to step on, you won’t have any luck fishing next year. You have to carefully collect them and place them in a thankful manner back in the water near where they were found to ensure those fish will want to return to you the next year. Whenever I pass a squished animal in the road, I think how horrified the Yup’ik people would be to see how we treat animals.

Related to this, driftwood was what made travel into the Western Hemisphere possible. The original people came along the coast, not inland, using driftwood for fuel. The Yup’ik and Northwest Coast people believe you shouldn’t pull driftwood out of the water but only use driftwood that’s washed up and dried out of its own accord. Otherwise, you may have trouble finding more driftwood in the future. Then, when it’s beached and dry, it has offered itself to you for your use. But you should also turn driftwood over now and then, so it doesn’t get tired of being in the same position.

Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be surprised if that ammo belt and book had fallen off of a boat owned and operated by Tlingits. The Natives quickly acquired and put to use any modern tools that would help them, and attempts were made by both the American and Canadian governments and missionaries to wipe out the Native languages and cultures. Many Yup’iit still have a subsistence culture, though using some modern tools, and many still speak their language. Along the Northwest Coast, very few survive who grew up speaking their native languages and living in the old ways, though their values have often been passed down. And there is a huge revival, and attempts are being made to resurrect the old customs and arts all up and down the Inside Passage.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lyme Disease, Corporations, and Rising Above It All

from “The Ponds” by Mary Oliver:

     Still, what I want in my life
     is to be willing
     to be dazzled—
     to cast aside the weight of facts

     and maybe even
     to float a little
     above this difficult world.

Sometimes that’s what it takes to not be discouraged by what has been done to the world—people to the earth, people to people, people to animals, animals to animals, “nature red in tooth and claw,” as Tennyson so aptly described the latter.

And how about bacteria and viruses to people and animals? Yesterday I watched a documentary about chronic Lyme disease, called “Under Our Skin.” It’s really scary, but if the HMOs would stop controlling everything, the research holds out hope for those with Alzheimer’s, MS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and Parkinson’s, not to mention Lyme disease!

How did we let our lives fall into the hands of the puppeteer HMOs? Though I mean this rhetorically, this is actually answered in Michael Moore’s movie, “Sicko,” which makes you feel sick to be living in the USA, with private companies running our health care. And related to HMOs are all corporations, which the documentary “The Corporation” explains have all the characteristics of sociopaths.

I highly recommend all three of these documentaries. They should be required viewing. What will it take to throw off the yoke of corporations? Laws and red tape have gotten so complex, people don’t even know they’re being abused—and outright killed—by these corporations. Paranoia? I think not. I think that’s the world we live in.

So either we live lives of engagement, involving constant anger and frustration, or we try to turn it off, to rise above it all and just enjoy what we can of what’s lovely in this world. I know for me, I do some of both. I contribute to some environmental groups which are grappling with the corporations in the courts and sign their e-mail petitions, and locally, I pick up trash and try to call people’s attention to that and other environmental problems I notice. And I try every day to get outdoors—out any doorway—and feel my way back into nature, to melt into the woods…

This is the balance I’ve found.

As for battling the HMOs, everyone viewing the films mentioned above would be a good start, including our representatives in the government!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Six-legged frogs, Japanese Knotweed, and Lawn Mowers

I'll have to add to my levels of hell, one level down from people who throw recyclables out their car windows, people who mow grass without picking up the trash first!  I spent several hours in the hot sun Saturday picking up shredded little bits of plastic and paper left by some idiot on a lawn mower.  This was at the bottom of Pysell Road---again.  I was so hot afterwards, I retreated to the cool, shady old dump site by the stream, further up Pysell Rd. in the woods, and fought with the greenbriar and deer flies instead.  There were some interesting finds there, most notably eight half-gallon-size brown glass bottles that said "Austin's A-1 Solution."  I googled it, and they're bleach bottles.  Unlike everything else I was finding, they weren't broken!  It's tempting to save some of these unbroken finds, but I don't think they're old enough to be worth much.  They all have twist-off lids.

Earlier in the week I was busy with other environmental concerns.  I happened to notice in the Garrett County Weekender that some Mennonite kids had a plastic duck regatta in the Casselman River near the old bridge (built in 1813).  I read the article to see how the heck putting a bunch of plastic ducks in a river can raise money for a charity, and hoping they got them all, when a line jumped out at me.  It said:  "The youth were delighted to spot a six-legged frog during the event." 

Well of course I was horrified, and the next day I was on the phone all morning, being referred to this person and that person, trying to notify the right people in the scientific community, at the Mennonite church, and the state EPA.  Finally I talked to Ed Thompson of the Natural Heritage Service who's doing a study of rare and endangered non-game species, such as hellbender salamanders, in the Casselman River.  He's the first person I'd spoken to who was a horrified as  I was.  The first thing he said was, "That's right where the Grantsville sewage treatment plant discharges into the Casselman!"  He said the presence of that frog may be a clue to the disappearance of the hellbenders, too.  We had a discussion about all the possible causes of such genetic deformities, including pharmacueticals not being removed at sewage treatment plants, herbicides and pesticides from farms, and plastics.

Here's the really frightening part, though.  He said there was no one to report this to.  He said there's no governmental organization set up to respond to environmental incidents like this.  But he said he'd try to involve those higher up, and I agreed to let the town of Grantsville's government know, which I did.  He was also going to talk to the church to see if anyone had collected the frog, which he wanted to see.

Then the next day, I put a letter to the editor in the local paper about how trash affects wildlife and ends up in the ocean affecting wildlife there, and explained Maryland's litter control law.  While I was there talking to the editor, I proposed an article about an invasive species, Japanese knotweed, which is taking over our river and stream banks.  He asked me to go through Liz McDowell at the Savage River Watershed Association, who has written such articles in the past.  I've got some good pictures of it.

It reallys scares me because it's huge, as you can see in this picture of an abandoned house in the Spring Lick flood plain!  It's about 8 feet tall, so it shades out and crowds out all the native plants, and it totally changes these unique stream valleys such as I described in my last blog, Sang Run.  It's really heart-breaking how it's changed Spring Lick.  I've seen it along the Savage (as shown here),

the Potomac, the Casselman, and the Youghiogheny.   I've even seen it in isolated spots at higher elevations.  I saw on a website about invasive species that to kill it, you have to cut it back three times per growing season.  It has hollow stems that shoot up every year.  Here's what the leaves look like:

                          Death to Japanese Knotweed!!!

Well, that's enough bad news for one week.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sang Run Road: Trashing Paradise

My friend Shirley asked me about how I came up with the name Ginseng for Garrett County's literary magazine back in 1997, so I told her about the history of hunting for wild ginseng in these hills, how it was--and still is--worth a lot of money.  The Chinese, especially, value the bitter root as an aphrodisiac and energy booster.  It's become pretty rare in the wild.  It's been cultivated, but that kind isn't worth nearly as much as wild ginseng.  And around here it's pronounced gin-sang, sang for short; hence, Sang Run Road.  And for those of you reading this in New England or elsewhere, "run" is what people in the mid-Atlantic region sometimes call brooks, streams, or rivers. 

Much of my trash picking up so far has been along various stretches of Sang Run, including today.  It is a pristine stream, cool and shady on a hot day, with towering hemlocks and maples above and stretches of wild rhododendron here and there along the banks.  Ferns, mosses, and a wide variety of delicate wildflowers flourish along its banks and floodplain.  There are many sections of it with tiered rock outcrops along the sides, giving it the feel of a cool, damp grotto.  In the sunny spots are large, primeval-looking skunk cabbage--not nearly as large as I saw last summer in Alaska, but still lush and verdant.  There's no poison ivy at this elevation and very few strands of greenbriar to detract from its sweet nature.

In fact, the Nature Conservancy owns a stretch of it, and today I was picking up just upstream from their property.  At first I didn't see much to pick up there.  I mainly stopped because I'd seen a big tarp blown off of a pickup on the side of the road, but I started exploring further in, between the road and the stream, and then across the stream, and I found quite a bit.   I made about eight trips back to my car with my buckets full of bottles and cans and plastic bags, broken glass and shotgun shells.  I also found lots of little pieces of styrofoam in some flood debris, along with woven plastic feed bags and a piece of house siding.  One thing I'm going to have to go back with leather gloves for is a lot of plastic tangled up in barbed wire, complete with a rotten fence post!  So I was doing a lot of jumping to and from mossy stepping stones, balancing on logs, and occasionally bashing my head on rhododendron!  But it was beautiful, and I was glad to be out in the day.

Last Friday I picked up a different section of the road, across the Youghiogheny River.  It's still called Sang Run Road, but it goes up over a mountain ending at Cranesville Road, where you're almost into West Virginia.  That section of the road is remote, mostly state forest land, including a primitive camp ground.  In early spring, I'd seen a lot of trash along this road, so I wanted to go back for it.  The trouble was finding a place to park off the road.  I finally found a spot, but the road looked like someone had cleaned it up!  I was hopeful, but no such luck.  Once you get out walking, you realize that a lot of it has been thrown ten or twenty feet off the road, and plants have leafed out, hiding the mess.  Without ever moving the car, in one hour, I picked up 18 gallons of plastic bottles, 9 gallons of glass bottles, and 18 gallons of trash.

And all this was from a clean-looking, fourth mile stretch of road in the wilderness!  Among the plastic, I found four milk bottles full of animal teeth marks.  Whether they're bear or fox or what, I don't know, but as you can see, wildlife DOES interact with trash and is affected by it!  Three of the bottles are shown here:

The forests of the Appalachian Mountains are unique.  It's the oldest mountain range in the world, and with all its nooks and crannies, varying elevations and amounts of daylight, it is the most diverse forest in the world, more diverse even than rainforests.  And it seems like ever since the logging companies arrived in the 1800s, people have done nothing but rape and trash the land and the rivers through logging, mining, and dumping trash.  Now they're clear-cutting our mountain tops to erect gigantic windmills and messing up the land and water with fracking, and still the dumping of trash continues.

Well, at least Sang Run is a little cleaner today.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Garrett County Roads: Repeat Offenders on Mosser, Pysell, and Sang Run

Yesterday I finally finished (for now) picking up the litter down below the guard rail at the bottom of Mosser Road!  It was a huge job, taking four separate trips.  My bins hold 18 gallons, so I figure I collected a total of 102 gallons of trash and about 18 gallons of recyclables from that area alone.  I finished by fishing some cups, cans, and plastic bags out of the lake there, and as I left I saw three fish.  Perhaps they'd come to thank me.  The trash at this location included a lot of packaging material: cardboard boxes, tape, styrofoam chunks, and sheets of plastic bubble wrap in amongst the usual cups, straws, bottles, and cans.  Here's a typical array:

There is a repeat offender here, too.  It's someone who throws styrofoam coffee cups with a napkin neatly tucked down in each one from the right hand lane, waiting for the light at the bottom of Mosser Road.  If you know this person, please ask him or her to stop.

Then I finished up at the intersection of Sang Run and  Hoyes-Sang Run Roads.  In the bushes along the right side of Sang Run Road, upstream from the intersection, there were eight cans of Reddi-Wip!  Strange addiction!  I also found there two 4-inch PVC pipes, about a foot long each, filled with concrete.  And down in Sang Run itself, I fished out one of those woven plastic feed bags, caught on a stick, all ready to go with the flow down to the Youghiogheny, the Monongahela, the Ohio, the Mississippi, to the Gulf of Mexico.

Leaving that area, turning the corner towards the Yough, I passed a Garrett County road crew truck with clean-up implements sticking up out of the back.  I felt like waving to comrades but was pretty sure they had no idea about who I was or what I was doing.  Then, BAM.  Not 20 feet from the turn, right under the 25 mph sign, was a paper bag with a full six-pack carton sticking out of it.  Now how could the road crew drive right by that???  Why don't our road crews ever pick up obvious, large trash like that?

So I pulled into the pull-off opposite the bag and collected it.  It was clean, recently placed there, and there was a generic styrofoam fast food container beside it.  This made me wonder if the Garrett County road crew could be the perpetrators themselves!  Years ago, road crews would leave their lunch trash at a pull-off on our road, so I wouldn't put it past them.  But in this case, I certainly hope it wasn't they who were drinking the two Michelob Ultras and five Bud Lights and then driving a multi-ton dump truck!

Don't worry, guys, whoever you were!  I got your backs!  I recyled them for you.

So now we have four repeat offenders:  The Keystone Light perp on lower Pysell Road, the styrofoam coffee cup with a napkin perp on lower Mosser Road, the Reddi-Wip perp at the Sang Run intersection, and the 20 oz. milk perp along Sang Run near the whitewater put-in.  If you know any of these perpetrators, please remind them of the law:  a $1,500 fine and possible jail time for each offense.  Of course, there are other reasons to not throw trash, but apparently these people don't care about the rest of the world.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How the Trash in Appalachia Affects the Oceans

Perhaps you've heard of the "gyre" of plastic floating around in the Pacific Ocean.  I'd heard of it, and I envisioned a sort of solid-looking mass of water bottles and milk jugs, and I thought, "Why don't people with big boats go out there and start picking it all up?"  I even thought of suggesting that to the Sea Shepherd Society, now that they finally managed to stop Japanese whaling (Yay!!!). 

The very night I mentioned that to my husband, he called me in to see a show on TV about just that.  It was a documentary called Bag It.  It explained that there is not just one gyre, but five, where ocean currents come together: one in the North Pacific, one in the South Pacific, one in the North Atlantic, one in the South Atlantic, and I think the other one was in the Indian Ocean.   The one in the North Pacific is estimated to be somewhere between the size of Texas and the whole United States.  And--here's the even worse part--the plastic breaks down from the sunlight into little tiny bits that float beneath the surface. 

Bag It also showed how whole colonies of sea birds are dying from eating plastic, not to mention endangered sea turtles.  They showed the contents of the stomachs of dead ones--full of plastic.  Think about how the ocean is supposed to be to these animals.  Everything in sight is edible, if you can catch it.  Sea turtles love eating jelly fish, and often mistake plastic bags floating in the water for them.  I've got to see Bag It again, but I think they said something like 90% of marine animals have died!!!  It's horrible!

So how does all that plastic get into the ocean?  Down our rivers and along our shores.  So we here in the headwaters of the Potomac River, the Casselman River, the Youghiogheny River, the Cheat River, the Monongahela River, the Ohio River, the Chesapeake Bay, part of it starts with us. 

And if the marine animals are eating the little bits of plastic, no doubt the land animals are too.  I've already written about how styrofoam breaks down into little bits.  I've also noticed that the lids of soda cups become brittle very quickly and fall apart when I try to pick them up.

This past Saturday, my husband and I paddled down the Upper Casselman River for nine miles, from Jennings to a mile or so above the Pennsylvania line.  It started as a small creek, only runnable because we'd recently had 5 1/2 inches of rain.  We went behind a brick factory, still in operation, and there were a lot of old yellow bricks tumbled into the stream.  I don't think they're toxic or anything, though.  The main pollution we saw were plastic bags, both floating in the stream and among the debris from the recent flooding.  Plastic shopping bags.  I didn't have any way to collect trash at the time, being in a little kayak.  Fortunately, they became fewer and fewer as we went along, and then there were none from south of Grantsville and for most of the remainder of the trip.  Two exceptions were along the drainage ditch from Rt. 68, where the trash just came tumbling down, and in an eddy near the southwestern base of the old Casselman River Bridge.

If you're reading this and you live near there, please see what you can do about collecting these.

At our take-out spot in Pennsylvania, there was a sign posted on a tree of the litter law!  I was glad to see it, until I realized I was standing on a huge mound of gray sludge, probably illegally dumped by some fracking operation!  And right behind the sign were about 20 bald tires, in amongst the plants and trees.

Note to Garrett Countians:  We need to outlaw plastic shopping bags!  And if you want to help pick up trash, let me know.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Trash and the Law

My county government doesn't quite know what to make of what I'm doing.  The issue came up when I requested to be able to dump roadside trash without buying an annual sticker.  I got a copy of an e-mail where various levels were discussing me.  Some were concerned that this not get out, as it might make for bad publicity. They finally decided I was a civic group of one!  So they made me a laminated pass with my name, picture, and vehicle tag number on it.  It identifies me as a Garrett County Volunteer, and I have permit #001 for Roadside Litter Disposal.  

In the nick of time, too.  I picked up 72 gallons of trash today, plus about 18 gallons of recyclables, just at the very bottom of Pysell Road and a bit on 219, and then most of it was down below the guard rail at the bottom of Mosser Road.  It was wet, muddy going after our 5 1/2 inches of rain!  It seems like someone "dropped" (wink, wink) a lot of old scraped-off caulking at the bottom of Pysell Road.  And I'll still need to go finish up at the bottom of Mosser. here's the big news...this morning I was researching Maryland's litter laws.  Just yesterday I called the DNR about the disposal of deer remains from hunting, and they said on private property it's up to the land owner, but on public property is okay to leave the remains where the deer is "harvested," so long as it's not visible from the road.  However, the Maryland litter law includes animal remains, and it is illegal to leave them on any public or private land!  Now, why would the DNR police not know that???'s illegal to dump on your own land!  That means that the big concrete slabs that appeared in our stream valley behind my house one day about three weeks ago were illegally dumped, even if the perpetrator gave permission or (hush, hush!) did it himself on his own property!  And the penalties are quite hefty!  If those slabs weigh more than 500 pounds, the person could be sent to jail for five years or be fined $30,000 or both.  Now I certainly wouldn't want a neighbor to have to go through all that.  But I sure would appreciate it if he'd remove those slabs and put them in the landfill where they belong.

I think Maryland residents need to be reminded of the litter laws.  Even someone throwing a cup or can out a car window is subject to 30 days in jail and/or a $1,500. fine.  And it would behoove a county like Garrett that relies on tourist dollars to spruce itself up, even if no one cares about how it's affecting all the animals.

I'm thinking of starting a national movement called the Anti-Litter League.  It's something we ALL should be doing!  If you drive around complaining about all the litter but wait for others to pick it up...guess what?  I've learned that it usually doesn't happen.  You've got to MAKE it happen, yourself! 

So I googled Anti-Litter League, and there is an organization by this name in Ireland, and it's very active!  It seems like the whole country is involved in contests to see which areas are the cleanest, and they have different categories, like school areas, cities, neighborhoods, businesses, etc.  They get funding from the equivalent of the EPA, and the county governments and businesses are very active in promoting this effort.  What they're shooting for is European standards of cleanliness!  So apparently, we're WAY behind Europe in this effort. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Messages in the Trash: Pysell Road in McHenry

I just went out between rain squalls into the glistening green and black woods to seek buried treasures from the past, back before plastic, when all was glass or metal, crockery or porcelain. They are lodged there near the stream in the moss, among the rocks and tree roots, once trash, now mysterious relics to be prodded and unearthed--broken or whole--back out into the light of day.

Who played with this 30s style toy car, rusting away? Who poured wine from this finely crafted glass flask, tumbling grapes sculpted down the front? I even found a tiny ship in a small, broken bottle! And a beautiful piece of pink glass plate, flowers molded on the rim.

This was a popular dump site, judging from the amount that comes to the surface year after year. When you walk around, you hear the broken glass beneath your feet, often just out of sight, which is why I like to remove it. Remember my blog about the two bears drinking out of the stream I walked past once? That was here, right across the stream from all this broken glass, some of it shards sticking straight up, ready to puncture unsuspecting feet. Between 4 and 5:30 I removed two big bins of glass, but there's a lot more there. And there are other things: composition roofing, hoses, rusty bed springs, remains of spark plugs and light bulbs, chunks of crockery, asphalt curbs (!), shoes, but mostly all different shapes and sizes of bottles, from tiny purfume bottles to some broken off necks 3 inches across. I can't imagine what those huge bottles looked like! Maybe there's a whole one farther down.

Farther down the hill, near the grocery store, when I was picking up there last week, I found a message from someone, inadvertently sent some windy day, no doubt. It was a grocery list on the back of one of Gary Larsen's Far Side calendar pages from March 18, 2007.

The cartoon showed two adjacent buildings, one with a sign that said Institute for the Study of Migraine Headaches, and the other with a brightly lit sign that said Floyd's School for Marching Bands. Out of the migraine headache building poured an angry mob, wielding pitchforks, rifles, and baseball bats. The caption read: The dam bursts. This seemed intended for me, as I was diagnosed with migraines about two months ago, luckily long after my daughters spent many years in high school marching bands!

On the back, in neat, casual cursive pencil, was the list: milk, baby carrots, baking pototoes, mushrooms, ww Ritz, colby.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Day Three of the Trash Wars: Picking up Garrett County one road at a time

Today is Friday the thirteenth, and there were thunderstorms roaming around all day, so I didn't get out until four. Meanwhile, I went through five bags of office paper from my office, setting most of it aside for recycling. Man, I put a LOT of work into preparing for all those classes! Some of it I'd forgotten about, like the grammar quiz for my seventh graders at Frankfort Middle School, which must have been around Halloween, because all the sentences had to do with vampires, ghosts, bats, wolfman, etc. And questions about the movie Moby Dick, the version starring Patrick Stewart, that I showed my 11th graders at Keyser High School. I loved that movie. And all the vocabulary and quotes and discussion points about The Red Badge of Courage and Things Fall Apart... It was hard to throw it all away. (In fact, I saved some. ;) )

So I ended up with five cloth bags, each half full, of office paper for recycling. On my way to the recycling center, I decided to pick up some trash along Mosser Road on the hill near 219. There wasn't a whole lot there, for a change, but I did get a plastic grocery bag full of trash between the bottom and top of the hill. But then I thought to look at the bottom of the hill below the guard rail, and OMG---another motherlode of trash, and it's all so close to the lake!!! It was horrible! And of course it's been collecting there for years, way down in a grassy wasteland, out of sight from the road. Walking down the hill in the grass, I could HEAR plastic bottles crunching under my weight, out of sight beneath the matted grass. I filled four more bags full, but I'm going to have to go back another day.

We should all be ashamed. This area I'm talking about has a little stream down to the lake and is a prime duck nesting habitat, right next to a quiet part of the lake, with bushes and privacy, although it's in sight of Funland. Perhaps the most insidious trash was pieces of broken styrofoam coolers, little chunks of them here and there in the grass. They come apart into tinier bits, little orbs of styrofoam about the size of a capital "O" on this page. I'm sure such bits look like food to some birds and animals, and they float forever...

I'm definitely going back there soon with bigger trash bags. I wonder how many tributaries into the lake are like this one?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Day Two of The Trash Wars

I went out today from 3-6 p.m. along various parts of Sang Run Road and Sang Run itself. There was plenty to be picked up. This time I got more recyclables, and I've discovered something really stinky: old milk bottles. Yuck! Someone is a repeat offender along Sang Run Road, throwing out pint-sized milk bottles. I had to air out my collection bins when I got back home.

Part of the trash problem may have to do with drinking and driving. People don't want to be caught with open or empty beer bottles or cans in their vehicles, so they toss them out. That's probably 90% of the glass and aluminum that I collect. I even used stepping stones to get one beer can in midstream right behind the old election building. Gross! And I'm proud to say I stopped a good bit of plastic from getting to the Gulf of Mexico today.

Down one bank near the intersection of Sang Run and Hoyes Sang Run Road, I hit a motherlode of tossed bottles and--I was startled to see---deer skulls and bones, some partly in old feed bags, thrown there by hunters. I didn't collect these. I've also seen this under the powerlines near my house, and the bones stick to the bags. They're not made of burlap these days, but some kind of plastic--of course. :( There was also a tire, and they no longer have tire amnesty days at the fairgrounds. I called and they said they can't afford to do that this year, so it's $3 a tire to toss them in the landfill! I'm sure that will lead to more dumping all over the county. Dang.

When I was at that intersection, some redneck in his gigantic, new pickup revved his engine and sprayed gravel. I took it as a comment on what I was doing. No doubt he saw it as a criticism of his way of life, and his family has been tossing trash here for generations. I'm the newcomer, the outsider, the transplant, and who am I to come in and start cleaning up after him? They don't call them "white trash" for nothing, I guess. I also guess they can't shoot me for picking up after them.

I've decided that all broken glass goes into the trash bin, not the recycling. That way I only have to handle it once. And a note to anybody following in my footsteps (and I hope there will be many): bring earplugs for when you throw the glass in the recycling trailers!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Picking Up Trash

An unlikely topic for a blog, you say? Well, think again. Like John Brown's prophetic oath, I am devoting the rest of my life to picking up trash. Litter. You know, the junk on the sides of the roads and rivers.

I love walking along country roads and along rivers, and I do it a lot anyways, so why not bring a bag along and pick up ignorant people's trash while I walk? It's such a simple concept, I don't know why everyone isn't doing it!

So why am I picking up trash?

*****For the animals, so they don't eat it or get caught in it. Those cigarette butts look like mighty tasty, fat grubs.

*****For the exercise and vitamin D. It really is exercise! Why walk and pump and stretch in one place inside a smelly gym, when you could be out in the beautiful day, wandering around like John Muir, and helping mother earth at the same time?

*****So it doesn't get washed into streams, rivers, and eventually the ocean, where the sunlight breaks down the plastic into bits that float below the surface, looking for all the world like tasty, nutritious krill, fish, plankton, etc., that MORE animals eat and feed to their young, who all starve to death, their stomachs full of Bic lighters and McDonald's straws.

*****Because I have trouble sleeping. I need a lot of exercise in order to even have a chance of sleeping, and I need to feel I'm doing something to help repair the poor abused earth in order to not lie there worrying about it and feel like I'm part of the problem all night.

*****To set a good example. People will see what I'm doing, and they'll hit themselves in the foreheads and say, "Why didn't I think of that?" And before you know it, there will be all sorts of people getting off their lazy butts, bending over and over and over, picking up trash. And they'll smile at the sun and the wind and each other, and say, "Hi!"

*****To recycle. A lot of the trash you see along the roads is recylable, which makes the people who threw it out of their car windows doubly damned. I'll have to update Dante's Inferno to add another layer to Hell for these folks. "Litterbug" is too touchy-feely a word.

OK, so I've just quit teaching after fifteen years of it. That was enough. I've paid my dues. Now I want to seriously walk all over my county picking up trash. I got my grades in on Sunday.

Yesterday, Monday, I went to Lowe's and bought three big trash bins with lids. (This was after much measuring of my trunk and potential bins.) Two fit in the trunk of my Toyota Echo (42 mpg!), and one sits on the back seat with a seat belt around it. One is for plastic, one for glass and aluminum, and one for trash. I also bought gloves coated with rubber. I put a small bucket on the floor of the back seat to hold my gloves and some plastic grocery bags (light weight and have handles) and some clippers for briars, in case I need them. Armed with old jeans, hiking boots, a cap with a bill, and sun glasses, I started out.

I started at the bottom of my hill, which is near a grocery store. All kinds of trash there. I picked up mainly TRASH trash, and relatively few recyclables: plastic bags, plastic straws, cardboard and styrofoam cups and lids, newspaper inserts, real estate signs, bottles, cans, about a hundred Christmas present tags (?), about a million cigarette butts, etc. At first I wasn't going to pick up the cigarette butts, but then there were so MANY of them, and I thought about how they might look like food to a bird or small mammal. So I'm glad I got them.

A man in a pickup pulling a trailer stopped and yelled out the window to thank me. I yelled back, "You're welcome." He seemed to think it all came from the grocery store, but I informed him that it's everywhere, which it is. I've been looking.

I worked up a sweat out in the sun, and although it's good exercise, like any exercise, it might be best to do it during non-peak sun hours. I'd use two bags, one for trash and one for recyclables. When one was full, I'd go back to the car and sort them into their bins. It was kind of hard to avoid getting the handles of the car dirty, even with the gloves, which are kind of a pain to keep taking off and putting on. But they're worth the effort. I should probably start carrying wet wipes, too.

When the trash bin was full, I drove to the nearest trash collection & recycling center. I explained to the attendant what I was doing, as I don't have a sticker for my car. He laughed, for some reason. (?) And he let me dump my trash bin without a sticker. The recycling is free, of course. I even recycled a couple of pieces of non-aluminum metal.

So I'm pooped and a bit done in by the sun, but boy, it looks better down the hill!