Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Baltimore Community Garden Experiment: Lead by Example

Cover crops - peas and clover - are starting to pop up
I happen to think that dirt is important. And that dirt has value. And I think you'd agree that it would be stupid to fill a wheelbarrow with soil from your yard and dump it in the stream that runs through your neighborhood park. Right? But that's what gardeners and farmers do every winter in Maryland and throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
We seem to still be holding onto the "clean fields" farming and gardening aesthetic of 18th century Europe and not paying attention to soil - one of our most important resources......and also happens one of our most serious pollutants when it gets into the water. Here's an example of what a typical garden looks like during the winter, when we receive the bulk of our annual precipitation (and runoff):

Over the next 6 months, somewhere between 50 and 100 pounds of good, nutritive soil is going to wash off of that garden plot and into the nearest street drain, which outfalls into Herring Run in central Baltimore. The easiest and cheapest way to prevent this, which also happens to be the easiest and cheapest way to fertilize your field or garden for next spring, is to plant winter cover, like these Austrian field peas I've started, and the white clover that's just starting to germinate in the first photo in this post.

The field peas store nitrogen underground, and will eventually be tilled into the soil before I plant next summer's garden. In the process, the roots and knotty vegetation will also keep rain from hitting the soil directly and washing it away. Seems like common sense, and yet out of about 40 gardeners at my "City Farm," I haven't seen one other person put down winter cover. That's giving away a lot of soil to an urban stream that doesn't want or need it. I'm doing 4 test plots for cover crops in my garden and I hope that other gardeners pick up on the technique and results next year......what else can I do?

And for the record, winter cover doesn't just have to be composed of plants you don't want to eat. Here's some other residents of my winter garden:

Winter Density Lettuce

Salad Bowl Lettuce

Space Saver Spinach

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Indian Summer Afternoon at Loch Raven

T enjoys a Macanudo and watches a wide range of shooting talent
Every time Brother T prepares to roll into Baltimore, there's an excited, several-weeks long discussion of "What will we do outside?!" Last weekend was no exception. But with both of our nerves tired and frayed from life and work, we began to dismiss more activities than we started to plan. Quail Preserve Shoot at Gunpowder Game Farm? Naw, too expensive. Last day of early duck season? Naw, too warm. Deer hunt? Too warm. Saltwater fishing on the Bay? Too windy. Bass fishing on Loch Raven? Naw, too windy and just a bit cool. I don't know that we've ever been so unmotivated. And I'm pretty sure we'll regret our October laziness if T visits in February when there's nothing to do, period.
So we slept late and eventually wandered over to Loch Raven Trap & Skeet once again. We packed a cooler of various sport drinks and ice tea formulations, a few cigars, and a few cases of ammo. For once - and as a direct result of bowing out of all other activities - it was nice to take our time and not hurry from one outdoor venue to the next. We only shot four rounds over the course of three hours, but we took time to chat about repeatedly missed shots, timing, and placement, which, again, is a welcome change from our usual hurried pace. Both of our scores bounced around the same numbers, and I'm beginning to get confused at why my trap scores with the 20ga. Gold Hunter are higher than more scores with any 12ga. shotgun (which technically offers more speed and 1/3 more shot).
These are among life's "good problems to have," so I don't plan on fretting too much about it. Relaxing, in the busy fall season, and with a toddler in the house, is a rare feeling. No regrets about taking an afternoon to enjoy the feeling.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

River Terrace Forest - Landforms of the Chesapeake

Olmsted Island, Great Falls of the Potomac
This is a tough one. It doesn't involve any of my well known havens of the coastal plain - mud, sand, gravel, tidal water. None of those. Instead, let's pop up the fall line of the Potomac (and the Susquehanna, to name another) and look at a rare piedmont landform within the Chesapeake Bay watershed - which after all, extends into central West Virginia and southwest New York. River Terrace Forests - or Bedrock Terrace Forests, as they're sometimes known, are harsh, semi-permanent habitats that exist within the floodplains of certain rivers. The plant and animal communities continued within are pretty unique.

River oats, Poverty Grass, Red-cedar, and Virginia Pine
River Terrace Forest, or International Vegetation Classification Group CEGL006209 (helpful, huh?), is dominated by a variety of plant species, namely oak, hickory, and pine species that can withstand winter flooding and incredibly shallow and poor soils. Some of the Potomac islands immediately above Great Falls are incredible showcases of this rare habitat type. Basically, the large granite islands act like clay pans that prevent drainage or penetration by tree roots - a far more common habitat type called "Piedmont Hardpan Forests."

Possumhaw Viburnum and River Oats
In this unique habitat, soils develop as soils do - from the collapse and weathering of bedrock and the deposition of organic and mineral matter on the surface. Unlike most other areas, the islands will get overtopped by high velocity river flows every few decades, stripping the young soil and returning the islands to bedrock and whatever plants held on through the storm. As a result, these areas never really progress through a normal plant succession model. You'll notice that all of the trees are less than 6" diameter.
Pretty diverse system - and few invasive species
According to Wikipedia, the entire island's plants and wildlife were completely wiped off the map in the floods that followed Hurricane Agnes in 1972. And apparently picnicking around the island's rocks was popular through the 1940s. It was chilly on the day of our trip, so the wildlife sightings were really minimal. I hope to return on a warmer day and see what I'm pretty sure will be a good diversity of reptiles and migratory songbirds using the island.
Thanks for stopping by.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Own the Season - Get Outside!

Surfing Cape Henlopen, Delaware / October 2003 (waterproof disposable 35mm)
Tugboatdude is on his way to fast land, and then into town, and I am looking forward to a weekend of epic outdoor storytelling that always is a part of our time together. Any time my brothers and I are together there's a great opportunity to rehash some of the classic triumphs and debacles we've shared outdoors.
You may be wondering why I chose to throw in this very summery-looking photo today, officially in late October. It relates back to the title of this post, though. In most of the mid-latitudes, the next 60 days encapsulate many of nature's most special days - from the turning of the leaves, to the migration of fish and wildlife, to the winter's first snow. If you're one of those people who says "hunting is not for me," and "I don't care about all that stuff," just go spend some time outdoors (preferably with a child). Find something beautiful, whether it's in the middle of a city park, or a Federal Wilderness Area. Remember it. Blog it. Photograph it. And look forward to it next year. Make it yours. Fall is a wonderful season.
The photo above is from a great day surfing in what was an amazing fall season of surfing. It wasn't summery at all. Air temperatures and water temperatures were both in the 50s. My friend Todd (at the time, a college student, and now a full fledged water quality scientist in Florida) and I surfed that morning at Cape Henlopen in Delaware, at the Mid-Atlantic's only point-break style wave. It was a lot of fun. You can see that wave in the background of the photo, looking north toward Cape May, New Jersey. As the word of good surf spread, the crowd increased and we moved down the beach to surf some other groins (shoreline protection structures that often create a surfable wave). We had the area to ourselves and it felt like we caught a thousand waves that day. I took this picture while I was just floating and relaxing on my back, waiting for the next set of waves to appear. Many of my surfing buddies don't hunt or fish. To them, fall is about hurricane season and praying for the delicate balance afforded by a large storm that sits safely offshore and produces high quality waves for several days at a time. So don't be fooled by the lack of colorful leaves, pumpkins, hayrides, or tree stands and duckblinds. This is a picture of fall.
What does your picture of fall look like?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Before There Was River Mud

Sunset at Joshua Tree National Park, CA. December 2005 / 35mm
I have been doing a bit of organizing lately and I came across an amazing number of decent photos - taken before this blog launched - that were really evocative for me. I've been actively working on my photography skills (and photographing quite a bit for work) since I turned 21 in 1995 and got a Pentax Manual K-mount 35mm from my parents. I'm going to make a point of sharing a few of those images and stories from time to time.
I took the photo above when Amy and I were on a cross country trip in December 2005. We flew from Raleigh to Phoenix and drove across the desert to San Diego. It was maybe December 27th and we were exhausted from a family Christmas and our flight. We visited some old NC friends in Phoenix for a night and then hit the road. I guess we understimated the vastness of the Mojave Desert - I'm sure we're not the first or the last - and we rolled into Joshua Tree National Park about 30 minutes before sunset. We had a really quick hike around the visitors center, took some pictures of the desert vegetation, and suddenly darkness was upon us....that's the desert for you.
The photo was one of those moments where I felt like things might be okay. My job at the time was literally destroying me from the inside out, our family income had flatlined like many peoples' around the world, and I just needed a break. 60 miles across the California border, here was this beautiful sunset. I have seen an awful lot of sunsets over oceans, mountains, forests, and deserts. And a thousand more over highways, either in my face or in my rear view mirror. This one, though, this was beautiful. I will never forget the way the sun burned through the clouds on that cool evening in the California desert.
And there's a reason I will never forget that moment of peace - I had no idea what whirlwinds were headed my way! Two days later, I would mangle my right foot on some volcanic rock while surfing in Ensenada, Baja Norte, Mexico. I dislocated 3 toes and couldn't walk. I think I mentioned that we were in Mexico in a fishing town. And a rental car.
That was just the beginning. In the chaos of boarding our flight while I was in a wheelchair in the airport, Amy accidentally checked the bag containing our passports and her clothes. We never saw it or our passports again. About two weeks later, as we attempted to cool our heels back in Baltimore, Amy's paternal grandfather died in western North Carolina. Less than 30 days later, my paternal grandfather - one of my heros - died in New York City. About 45 days later, I was offered a job with Ducks Unlimited (which changed my life), and my old employer fired me two days into my "two week notice," forcing me to sell my old car to pay the bills.
So much good came out of that period, even in the short run, that I don't even think I'd call it a "low period." It was complicated and ended up providing the structure on which I've built the last five years. And amazingly, I had no idea that any of that stuff - none of it - would happen as I stared west into California at that sunset.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Now a Blog of Note? Possibly. Featuring Words of Wisdom? Less likely.

To my regular readers, and those who regularly steal - I mean borrow permanently without asking or recognition - my photos and content - I'm trying to be a little more participatory in my blogging and possibly expand my composition skills a bit. This means actually asking other people what they think of my blog and how I could improve it. True, there's something to be said for not messing with over three years of mediocrity.....but why not?
One of the groups I ran across was a blog called Words of Wisdom who regularly showcase blogs that they consider to be "of substance." You are reading their selected blog (yay!) for October 18, 2010. Please check out their page if you haven't already!
To Words of Wisdom readers who have followed over from the jump, please take a few minutes to poke around, kick the tires, and let me know what you find entertaining and not-so-much out of what I've thrown together in the last few years. I am always trying to improve my writing, so have at it. As you may be picking up already, I am an outdoors maniac. I have been one for as long as I can remember. My faulty memory, hectic lifestyle, and need for a good journal of my travels and lessons kind of pushed me into blogging in 2007. And here I still am.

Pam & Sandy from Words of Wisdom asked me to list my three favorite posts. With almost 300 under my belt, that's a challenge. Among my favorite AND those receiving the highest traffic are:

Goose Ground Zero - Maryland's Eastern Shore ( January, 2009)
C&O Canal at Great Falls of the Potomac (November, 2009)
Light Tackle Lunchbreak on the Chickahominy (June, 2009)
No Alligators in Virginia. Zero. None (May, 2010)
South Carolina Low Country, Day 2 (April, 2009)
Cicada Killer, Qu'est Que C'est? (July, 2009) - still not sure why this receives so much traffic!

Thanks for stopping by & be sure to introduce yourself!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Down Time is Not Allowed!

Rain. Big rain. Gunpowder River, Maryland
So what do I do when I have an extra 60 minutes during the day inbetween business obligations? On a day when the barometer is dropping like a stone and the air and water temperatures are both in the 60s, I get outdoors. No question. Such a phenomenon appeared on my schedule (at the last minute) this week and I couldn't help myself - I had to try to get out. Unfortunately, the pressure kept dropping and the skies opened up as I was putting on my boots alongside the Gunpowder River in central Maryland.

Yup - not exactly a passing shower
So I also threw on my uninsulated rain bibs and headed down to the river's edge. I tossed a good variety of lures, with a 2.5" YUM Pumpkin Craw getting a HUGE strike but no solid hookup. All in all, I lasted about 25 minutes before everything started leaking and I noticed that I was giving off steam. Time to go back to work. BAH!
Hey buddy, I hope you don't catch anything either!
But do you see the leaves on the trees? Fall is around the corner, mi amigos. And I don't regret that I gave it a shot. Been awhile since I haven't caught a single fish, but I guess this was my day.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

One Secret Old Tip for Building an Offshore Duck Blind

Step 415: Grab a bunch of bored buddies. Step 416: Get a bigger boat.
Just kidding! There is no one step. The first 414 real steps involve making sure you have the legal right to hunt the spot, have the right to site a permanent blind on the spot, and then have the permission of a half-dozen Federal, state, and local agencies to actually build the blind. Those steps take about 1 year; in our case, it took 3 years. We had been paying the state of Maryland for a few years for the right to erect a permanent offshore blind in the creek. The "young bucks" (sad - we're all 28 to 42) of our hunting club got together on a saturday and finally made it happen. The landowner was able to secure three used 20' x 12" telephone poles (full of nails and bolts, of course). The guy selling them to us was nice enough to cut them into 10' sections. Then we just had to get them down the 80' cliff to the creek!
OK, that part's done
We rented a hydraulic jet pump. None of us had ever used one before. We got it put together and figured out in about 20 minutes. Six brilliant minds at work! Slowly, the posts went in.

Another portrait of safety
Within a few hours, we had six poles in, each 5-6' deep in the sand. While this seems like an obvious case of overkill for a 10' x 6' duck blind, the late winter ice in this creek is no laughing matter, and has torn duck blinds to shreds before.

At least we know the pilings will be there next spring!

38 days until goose season

Friday, October 8, 2010

A 120 Minute Maryland Mountain Getaway

Heading north toward Gettysburg, that topography?
Continuing on my theme of making the best of things, I tried to turn two inconveniently scheduled meetings in the foothills of western Maryland into a worthwhile and relaxing day. It kind of worked. On the way up to the morning's first meetings with Trout Unlimited and Maryland DNR, it was great to get away into the hills a bit - and I am not a mountain person. But I was reminded of Gillian Welch's "Lowlands" and I thought that the lyrics might have some merit toward the "I-95 corridor" life that so many of us lead...those fortunate enough to still be gainfully employed.
What is this weight on my mind?
And what is this new sense of time?

It's the open fields, and my friends that are gone
And I've been in the lowlands too long
With my first meeting wrapped up in the foothills, I started up the Blue Ridge Escarpment to Catoctin Mountain, home of Catoctin Mountain National Park, Naval Facility Thurmont (aka Camp David), and Cunningham Falls State Park for a long lunch.

Up, up, up the escarpment along Big Hunting Creek
And of course, by "lunch," I mean playing in the water. There are a few public lakes in the area but nearly everything is fee-driven, which of course cuts down on the amount of use and pressure. My kind of place. There was no staff from any agency around, so I just left my annual pass in the windshield and backed down the boat ramp....
Lunch was delicious today....I didn't eat a bite
I picked this spot because it was centered amongst the day's work activities, but also because it has a largely forested watershed, and we've had over a foot of rain in the last 10 days. I also believed that since the area is nearly 2,000 feet above sea level, the water would be cooling off. Well, I was wrong about that. According to a few of the old-timers there, I'm a few weeks early. Fishing was extremely slow, but I impressed myself by observing the conditions - deep, clear, cool water, good rocks, with vegetation only growing right above the bottom. I remembered the last time I fished this type of condition. The magic lure was a 3" pumpkin craw. I tied one on. On the second cast over a fallen tree.....
It's no trophy, but I worked hard for this fish!
Shortly after, I checked my watch and realized it was time to head out to an all-afternoon field meeting with the Potomac Conservancy. I dutifully packed it in and headed back to work. Still, it felt great to know that my actual fishing skills are what landed this fish. Would have felt even better if I had landed 30, using said skills. Just a few hours later, I had wrapped up my day in the mountains and headed home....about 30 minutes too late to miss rush hour traffic. Didn't matter though - I felt mentally cool & refreshed and when I got home, we took Hank over to the Tot Lot. Think this won't recharge you after a long day?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Getting Stuff Done

Tidal wetland creation in southern Maryland
So, here it is again- the season of getting things done, getting outdoors, and trying to time the weather just right. Summer had no choice but to relent, given the challenge of two coastal storms in 5 days, who brought with them 13 inches of rain. As the sky clears and the air pressure stabilizes, things are getting really hectic.
At work, we are trying to get as much habitat restoration done as possible before seasonal in-water construction restrictions come into play (ranging from October 1 in some trout waters, to November 15 in heavily-used waterfowl roosting areas, to February 1 in anadromous spawning waters). These restrictions don't let up until April to June, so it's imperative to get as much done now as possible.
At home, we're trying to regroup after Hank's birthday party and the backlog of home projects that ensued. This is also my wife's favorite season to be outdoors, so we have a lot of "fall activities" planned that generally involve apples, pumpkins, and hay; as well as baked goods and alcohol involving the former two. The garden is basically planted for winter, assuming that the newest round of spinach, lettuce, and pea seeds are successful.
Things are getting ready to happen afield, too. Successful October days in the woods or water are very inconsistent for me - a result of the hard to predict whims of fish, ducks, deer, wind, tides, and waves in these rapidly changing weather patterns. I'm planning on some fishing in the next few days, and we are also building a new waterfowl blind on the river where I hunt over on the eastern shore. There is promise yet!
I hope you are all having a great autumn so far and the season is starting to show its colors where you live. Thanks for stopping by.

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Over 12 years ago, I started this blog. There were very few conservation or outdoor blogs at the time, few websites with fast-breaking con...