Wetlands Never Disappoint

Wetlands never disappoint. Dyke Marsh along the Potomac looks different every day.  Sometimes it is a field of tall grass with great blue herons and snowy egrets among the reeds. Red winged blackbirds sing their distinctive song as they cling to the stalks. Other times it is a mud flat with no animals at all to be seen. In winter ice adds to the scene on the coldest days. These changes can happen over the course of a single day.

Huntley Meadows Park is a nature preserve about two or three miles from Dyke Marsh in Hybla Valley. It acts as a massive filter for all the homes and motor vehicles that climb the hills around it. Unlike Dyke Marsh this wetlands changes over longer periods. A few years ago, park managers decided to let the park go, to let nature do its thing unimpeded. Beavers began constructing dams and now the water level which used to come and go with the rain and snow.

After a day of appointments, I was not in the mood for a bike ride so I took a three mile walk in Huntley Meadows. There was no foliage on the trees. The park was all grays and browns amid overcast skies. The path into the park leads to a boardwalk over the swamp. The water level was as high as I have even seen it thanks to the beavers. Canada Geese were holding a get together next to the boardwalk. Dozens of them sticking their beaks in the mud to get the roots of the swamp grass.

As I proceeded along the boardwalk it became clear what “like grass through a goose” means. Footing was rather messy as the geese had gone for a stroll along the boards.

A few mallards and what looked like a pair of hooded mergansers darted away as I walked along. It is too cold to see turtles and amphibians yet. Better that the sights were the sounds. Mostly there were none. The faint rumble of a passenger jet or motorcycle gave way to quiet.

The dams had allowed water to build and build into the woods where the boardwalk gives way to a groomed path. If you want to use the dirt service road you’ll need a pontoon.

After a second loop through the swamp I head back to the car.

I thought about being a kid running through the swampy woods near home. All that remained of our local wetland was Dead Man’s Pond where we made rafts out of felled tree trunks on summer days.

Wetlands never disappoint.

Winter’s End? – A Walk in Huntley Meadows Park

We are tantalizingly close to spring. The cherry trees in DC should be at peak bloom in less than two weeks. This weekend was cold. Cold for around these parts anyway.

I took a day of rest yestimg_7580erday. We watched basketball and lolled around the house. Today, we started filling out retirement forms. If two people with masters degrees can’t figure out the forms, something is amiss. We planned for this. We each have about ten questions for HR people. It will only take a few minutes to finish all this nonsense. Then I wait until my birthday and launch into the unknown. It’s one part scary and one part exciting.

To get my calm on before the paperwork, I went for a walk. Huntley Meadows Park is tucked away off US 1 in southeastern Fairfax County Virginia. It is little known and I hope it stays that way. (Don’t tell anyone, okay?)

It is what I as a child called “woods”. Not a forest just woods.img_7570 And there is a big swamp (they call it wetlands to make it palatable to neighbors). The swamp used to run dry from time to time, but nowadays the beavers have been allowed to dam it up and the water is high and wide. A boardwalk winds its way over the waters.

Huntley Meadows is different each time I go. This time of year the beavers were nowhere to be seen but there was a very loud hawk (or maybe a vulture) circling overhead, some mallards and coots and Canada geese floating about, and a great blue heron stalking his lunch. I startled a flock of grackles in the woods. They would launch in unison, fly 10 or 15 yards and land. Then I’d catch up to them and they’d repeat the process. I could hear the call of red wing blackbirds, one of the few bird calls I recognize from my days hanging out near Dead Man’s Pond in Albany. (If there was a dead man in it, he had decomposed. I never saw him.)

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The trail through the woods is well groomed, unpaved, and flat. I did a figure 8 which probably amounted to 2 miles total distance. It was just enough of a walk to wake me up and chill me out.

There are some more pictures over on my Flickr page. I used an old Canon EOS Rebel digital SLR. I was stunned at how much better the pictures are than the ones I take on my point and shoot camera and my phones. I will try to remember to bring this camera with me to events in the future.

A Proper, if Reluctant, Recovery

After totally botching a recovery ride yesterday, I decided to give it my all today. It being a national holiday, the last one for many weeks (a stretch of the calendar that I call The Long March as if it is comparable to Bataan), I slept in. Then I did what most old farts do, I ate a slow and methodical breakfast and read the dead tree edition of the newspaper. The good folks at the Washington Post had the decency to load up the sports page with baseball stories causing me to cry tears of joy in my Rice Chex.

Next came some web surfing. This is normally utterly unproductive, especially when accompanied by solitaire playing. Today was an exception. I learned (and saw with my own eyes) that the bald eagles at the National Arboretum have produced one egg. You can watch the entire process of egg sitting on the webcams that the U.S Department of Agriculture set up. This is a phenomenal time killer as not much happens for days. It is oddly addictive, however.

Interspersed with eagle watching and solitaire playing, I read some of Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country. It is a funny travelogue about Australia, which I happened to have visited a couple of years ago.

At about 1 pm, I tired of my sloth and jumped aboard Deets for a ride to my local bike shop to have my front derailler looked at. It started throwing the chain to the inside a couple of days ago and I couldn’t get the appropriate adjustment screw to adjust.

Lucky for me there appears to me a time warp going on in DC. It feels like April. Flowers are coming up. Pollen is dusting cars windshields. The sun is warming bicyclists in shorts.

I expected there to be a long line at the bike shop and was delighted to see there was none at all. The mechanic on duty made quick work of the adjustment advising me to put the chain in the biggest gear before fiddling with the adjustment screw. I knew there had to be a trick. The adjustment was free (thanks Spokes Etc.) and I was on the road in no time.

I stopped at the scenic jersey barriers at the Belle Haven Marina for a photo op. Pay no attention to the ugly developments on the far side of the river.deets-at-marina

I rolled into Old Town and could see that the Presidents’ Day parade was still going on. I took the Wilkes Street tunnel from Union Street to check out the proceedings. The air in the tunnel was about 10 degrees warmer than on the street. It was also dark owing to the fact that I was wearing sunglasses.

A walker said hello and used my name. It was Bruce who I worked with until recently. He was dressed in white. Immediately behind him was a group of four or five people including his wife Paula – with whom I still work – dressed in her mandatory black. They looked a bit like Spy vs. Spy from Mad magazine.

I stopped to take in the parade. I couldn’t for the life of me get my phone to work properly to take a decent picture in the glare of the sun. I saw some bagpipers and what looked like Mummers driving itty bitty cars.

Having marched in parades for six years during my military school days I can only tolerate them in small doses. I hopped back on my steed for a slog along the perimeter of the parade and its crowds.

Once I found a street that would take me back home across  the parade route I took it. Slowly. The idea was to recover from the last two days. I took the hilly route home, mostly to test out the derailer. It worked fine.

After 17 miles, I dropped off my bike and drove to Huntley Meadows Park for a quite stroll in the woods. As I drove down the entrance road, I passed dozens of cars parked, an overflow from the normally empty parking lot. So much for solitude. Now I know what there was nobody at the bike shop.

So I bagged the idea of a walk in the woods and came home.

Sometimes recovery happens. Sometimes it is thrust upon me.

 

Miscellaneous Bikeless Sunday

It was a rather peripatetic Sunday at the Rootchopper Institute. Yesterday, winter returned with the biggest snowflakes I think I’ve ever seen. It was a clumpy dusting if that makes any sense.

Mrs. Rootchopper and I spent few hours playing house tetris. It’s really fun. You move your belongings out of the top two levels of your house into the bottom two levels so that the moving company can take on all the really heavy stuff tomorrow. Then the floor refinishers come in to do their thing for the rest of the week.

After the tetris was finished, I mowed the lawn in shorts and a long sleeve t-shirt despite the fact that it was a breezy 45 degrees outside. I simply refuse to give in to the idea that it’s still this cold outside.

Next up was watching the Nats game on TV. I could have gone to the game but nothing says misery quite like watching baseball and freezing your ass off. With the score tied, the cable company inexplicably started showing a cooking show for kids. This was followed by a PSA featuring realistic looking gangbangers. Yes, junior, finish off that banana oatmeal bread that we made from scratch while we watch these homies shoot up.

Finally, after the Nats had taken a three-run lead, the game came back on.

The Nats won 4-2 so I headed over to Huntley Meadows Park to check out the wetlands.  Huntley Meadows consists of over 1,500 acres situated in the Hybla Valley. The rest of Hybla Valley is suburban sprawl. It is bounded to the northeast by Beacon Hill. All the nasty stuff that comes off our cars or is sprayed on our roads of is spread on our lawns drains into these wetlands which act as a filter for the Potomac River. This sounds gross, I know, but the park is really just woods and a swamp. What’s coolest about Huntley Meadows is that it is never the same as the last time you went. It used to be that the wetlands were maintained by deliberate human intervention. Nowadays, it seems that the humans have backed off and let nature take over.

Today, the park was dotted with beaver lodges. One of them was actually built into the boardwalk that goes out into the swamp. Another seemed to tower five feet above the waterline. I could clearly see beaver dams in various places and the high water that was building behind them. Canada geese, coots, and a couple of great blue herons were visible. Soon there will be turtles and snakes and other critters. The only downside to the park is that it is becoming increasingly popular. Ten years ago I could walk the two-mile trail and see only a couple of people. I probably saw 20 or 30 today.

When I came back home, I turned on the TV. The Nats came was being shown again. As luck would have it, I got to watch the part of the game I missed. We still won.

Tomorrow is an off day so that I can supervise the moving crew. In about a week we get to play house tetris in reverse. If you are nice, you can come over an play. It’s fun. Really.

Time to go take some pain killers and muscle relaxants.

Here are some pix from the park.

 

 

Surrender Winter

Having survived a couple of atypically stressful days of bike commuting, I was looking forward to doing some errands by bike today. Mother nature was not on board.

Shortly after waking, I did my 45 minute yoga routine (doctor’s orders) and 15 minutes of less than fruitful meditation. Yoga and meditation are supposed to go hand in hand but I spend so much effort concentrating on my form and my breathing while doing yoga that I have nothing left for the sedentary portion of the program.

I am getting a bit better at balancing which is not saying a whole lot. My routine ends with one pose that involves sitting on your lower legs and leaning back. This is supposed to lead to the reclining warrior pose. The reclining warrior involves leaning all the way back until your head and shoulders rest on the floor. Very relaxing. That is of course if you don’t have bicycle quads and bad knees. I am lucky if I can get to a 45 degree angle before my knees start chanting, “Fuck yoga, Fuck you.” Be one with your cartilage is my mantra.

Suffice it to say, I do only as much as I can. The can’t poses all involved stressing the quads or doing a headstand. It still amazes me that at one time in my life I could actually do a free standing head stand. It is also true that at one time in my life I drank heavily. Coincidence? I think not.

Having endured my weekly self abuse session, I decided that the howling wind and 23 degree temperature was not bike friendly. I drove to Huntley Meadows Park for a walk in the woods. Please don’t tell anyone but Huntley Meadows is an oasis of calm in a sea of suburban ick. A trail through the park makes something of a figure eight. About 1/3 of the trail is a boardwalk out into a wetland.

As a kid I spent many a summer day on Dead Man’s Pond in Albany. Big sections of tree trunks made for awesome rafts that we would pole across the scum-covered water. To my nine year old eyes, Dead Man’s was enormous. In reality, it was probably smaller than an acre in size. Not true of the wetlands at Huntley Meadows.

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The recent decision to allow beavers to do their thing has greatly expanded the wetlands. Only a few years ago, the swamp would drain completely during parts of the year. Now the waters go well into what was once woodland. Beaver lodges are all over the place. I think the most interesting thing about the wetlands is that it never looks the same from visit to visit. Today it was iced over. A couple of times my weight on the boardwalk put stress on the ice and it made a surreal creaking sound. The wind kept my time on the boardwalk to a minimum. Thankfully, only a few other people were in the park. Once I made it back into the woods all I could hear was the sound of the wind, the groaning the trees, and the occasional chirp of a chickadee.

I did two laps through the park, warming as I went. On my final circuit a couple with three young boys stopped and pointed into the woods. A small deer was about 100 yards away munching something on the ground.

I drove home and figured the animal portion of the day was over. As I pulled into the driveway, I spotted six robins bounding on my front lawn. An hour later, Mrs. Rootchopper, camera in hand, woke me from a brief nap. A fox was hanging out in the backyard. It’s the first fox sighting we’ve had since last spring.

Spring. It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

Surrender winter.