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.