Thursday, May 30, 2013

Goodbye, Community Garden

DeWees #43 in its award-winning glory, July 2010

As gang violence continues to permeate the area near my old community garden / City Farm (DeWees City Park, North Baltimore), I decided it was time to go.  Oh, I wrote a letter.  Of course I did.  And it's below.  But actually leaving was a lot less ceremonious.

I made two trips to the garden to grab my perennial plants, so carefully tended over the last three years (and award winning in two of those three), and dumped them into used plant pots from a bulk nursery.  I pulled all my irrigation line and let them sail into a bucket.  I put them quickly into my truck.  I left my old shovel at the gate.  And I left.

It's frustrating and sad that basic legal activities like gardening in a city park in broad daylight are no longer safe from interference by hoodlums.  It's also sad that almost no upstanding citizen in this city is allowed to carry a weapon, either openly or concealed.  Oh, of course, "long gun open carry" is legal, but lawyers assure us that anyone carrying a long gun in public will get charged with disturbing the peace.  Ergo, there is no right to protect yourself in public.  Meanwhile,  a murder is committed almost every day, and in the majority of cases, no one is ever brought to trial.

Luckily, as I've written here recently (please read my article "Of Gun Control and Garden Beds), we are blessed with new sunshine from recently downed trees, and we can now grow our own food successfully at home.   It seems like an unlikely coincidence that such a thing would happen at the same time that the City Farm site was becoming a danger for my family and I.  Doesn't it?

Here's the letter I wrote to the City Farm coordinator.  Her response was very polite and apologetic, and she vowed to send the letter onward, as will I.  Her job is a tough one, and she's making a real effort to turn some bad community situations into green lots where people can grow food and enjoy civil fellowship with one another - something that is sorely needed in this City.

City Farm Gardens Coordinator
Department of Parks and Recreation
City of Baltimore                                                                                                                                      May 15, 2013

Dear Ms. M,
It is with disappointment that I must withdraw from membership and participation in the DeWees City Farm.  I do not request a refund, but I do request that my plot (details attached) be reassigned to another gardener ASAP.  This is my fourth year at the site, and the gardeners, City Rec and Parks staff, and volunteer leaders have been perfect. 

I spent a lot of time at DeWees, and it paid off, not only with harvest but when I collected the "Most Beautiful Garden" award in both 2010 and 2011.   However, several times over the last year, I have noticed a downturn in the safety of the community, culminating with multiple threats of violence made against me by neighborhood individuals not involved with the City Farm program, with repeated news reports of significant gang violence and murder less than one block from the park, and with a murder two weeks ago, approximately two blocks from the park. 

I originally drafted this letter with individual, detailed accounts of the threats made against me by school age children, on school days, on multiple occasions, but the recent murder near the edge of the park (April 30), along with the continued gang violence on the other side of the park associated with the Black Guerrilla Family pretty much speaks for itself.

Starting in 2012, and throughout the course of Summer 2013, I saw dozens of illegal dirt bikes, several police chases, frequent (single) gun shots, and open air drug dealing right inside of DeWees Park or right in front of it, on Woodbourne Avenue.  Gardeners were advised to leave significantly before dark, since obviously the City cannot protect citizens on City property for reasons that someday should be explained to someone.  

This is a really sad statement about life in Baltimore, and the security provided (or afforded) to citizens while they are engaged in legal activities on City property, where there should not be a security threat on any type of regular basis.  The City Farm program is worthwhile and attempts to engage citizens of all ages and all walks of life in the production of food and the "stewardship of life" so to speak.  There are hundreds of scientific studies that document the benefits of gardening to youth, men and women in crisis, victims of violence, prior violent offenders, people with terminal illnesses, and our seniors.  

The City Farm program attempts to provide an opportunity for these positive, potentially life changing experiences in neighborhoods throughout Baltimore.  As a conservationist, taxpayer, City resident for 15 years, City homeowner for 9 years, and father, I am extraordinarily disappointed in the City's inability to provide safe places for these important community activities to occur.   I don't know what it will take to change this scenario, but I promise that I won't be there to see it.  We'll garden at home from now on.   Good luck with the City Farm program.

DeWees #43 when I took it over in March, 2010. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ways in Which My Three Year Old Has It Tough, Smartphone Edition

I really love being a Dad.  Being a dad has brought me a level of serenity and patience I've never known in my life.  But sometimes, when I've worked two jobs in one day, and I come home after the righteous, twice weekly 15 hour day, and I walk in the house at 10pm and my son is still wide awake and wanting to play with action figures -with me -, I think to myself, "I was born a generation late and a generation early."   We all know what the Baby Boomers have managed to achieve (wealth vs. cost of living not likely to be replicated in this country....EVER), so there's no need to retread that, but so many people may be out there, asking, "How are the kids handling this crazy world, these days?'  Well, I'll show  you, straight from my Android. 

$5 milkshake and $4 muffin not suiting his palate.  Yes, he also has a balloon. 

Largely disaffected over the quality of the ice-cold organic raspberry lemonade he is drinking
out of a holographic Spiderman cup.  While I run around and clean dead rats out of rat traps.

Barely interested in the fact that 30 year old men will comply
with requests like, "Now you have to put on a Batman mask!"

Photograph taken a few seconds before this mustache was declared to be "too hairy."

Spent 40 minutes at the playground with his "girlfriend" C in this exact pose,
no idea what they were talking about, but it appeared to be serious.
Afterwards, they played sprint-tag FOR AN HOUR. 

This pushup is too melty.

Enjoying "Home Alone 2" but with no remorse over the fact that Mom and Dad can't watch
the TV for the entirety of this 4-hour showing (commercials). 

Demanded to go outside to "draw a picture of rocks."

Only slightly less than bonkers even when presented with bedtime reading like "THE STORY OF DARTH VADER."
When I was a kid, we had to read crap like "Amelia Bedelia."

Friday, May 24, 2013

New Garden, New Critters

Thanks, caterpillar, for eating half the leaf and pooping on the other half
The "new" garden and yard are exploding in spring sunlight, fresh off of having three large trees removed last summer/fall.  The east-southeast facing back yard now gets solid morning sun and decent afternoon sun until the big orange ball goes over the roof of the house in the early evening and begins its nuclear assault on our front porch.

I was complacent with several shrubs just being "shrubs" and offering up a few meager flowers and even more meager berries.  No more, sir.  And with the increase in vegetative production has come....the critters. And even critters who eat critters.

Phidipus jumping spider crawling around in the shade, looking for pooping caterpillars...
Sweat bees!
Iron Man stopped by to plant some onions...
This ladybug was hunting pretty hard for aphids!
My spring project was to run rainwater irrigation to all five garden beds.  Three are done...and I'm done too.
Time to go fishing. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Back to the Beach with Hank

Hank's first mole crab - uncommon on our MD and DE
beaches where sand dredging has occurred 
We recently got to make a trip back to my hometown of Virginia Beach for a weekend.  The weather was atrocious, and even though I brought my fishing tackle, the 35kt winds and gray, misting skies kept me off the water for any serious  pursuits.

But I did to partake of one of my other beach pasttimes, which is to get Hank to the beach.  I love the coast and the beach, and while we live just 200 feet from a stream and about 6 miles from the high tide line, we are 150 miles from the ocean.  It is too far, and it has been since I left the beach, then the mountains, and moved to the piedmont in late 1998.  I feel like I owe it to Hank to show him how great and wondrous the beach and the ocean are.  They are some of the most brilliant examples of nature - and God - at work.

These are the best times.
Hank sneaks up on Mommy with two ray egg cases

Monday, May 20, 2013

Forgot How Many Fish I Caught

I had fun fishing.  That's a rare thing these days.  Burnt out.  Tired.  Stressed.  But I had a little free time one evening between the end of work and the beginning of...more I decided to wet a line.

It's not been a productive fishing season thus far, relative to past years.  This is largely attributable to weather patterns, but let's not forget my mental state - I've broken two rods this spring after having not broken one in about seven years.  Just thinking, in both cases, in two different swamps, that I could force that lure loose from that beaver dam with just one more...snap.

Weedless lures are the call here
It was good to get out this time and just fish.  I fished hard, and a bit nervously, but it worked.  I had fish on the line quickly, almost all bass, and they were chasing my lures all over the place.  Catch. Release. Catch. Release. Catch. Release.  It was so much fun.   Toward the end of my allotted time, I saw a six pound (or so) fish, somewhere close to 20 inches, following my lure as it passed by a log on each retrieve.  I switched up to a bigger lure (5 inch black floating pin minnow) and with a few twitches, the Big Boy was blowing up the water right behind it.  Suddenly, an 11 inch largemouth swooped in and grabbed the lure - on several other fishing days, I'd have been thrilled to land such a fish.  Even in the moment, that irony wasn't lost on me.  Nervous, actually shaking, I tried again and again.

Big lure, tiny bass
The big fish kept giving chase, short striking as if out of hesitation, before another smallish bass would fly in at top speed, grab the lure, and give me a fight.  After five bass in a row (some as small as six inches) while targeting a different fish, I gave up, and had to get out of the swamp and out to an evening meeting about a wetland restoration project.

It was great.  I tried to remember how many fish I caught, and I couldn't.  They all kind of melted together, along with the smell of the swamp, the sound of the tree frogs, the sight of big snapping turtles, and deep breaths during an evening afield.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Writing Inspiration vs. Life Inspiration

My writing has been...uninspiring...lately.  Maybe it's the lack of fishing and the focus on  uninteresting but critical parts of gardening, like half-inch compression fit irrigation valves.  Maybe it's finishing a semester of part-time teacher and looking forward to only having one job all summer.  I don't know.  This blog continues to do well...regardless....

I'm hoping on some inspiration soon.  Of course, being focused on doing "the good work," being a good parent, and trying to set up our new (hopefully) sustainable garden is all pretty inspiring.  But I'm understanding more and more that inspiring lives don't necessary make for inspiring writing.    And I'm understanding which of the two is more important. And hoping the bleed-through will give you all something fun to read.  AND STARTING LOTS OF SENTENCES WITH CONJUNCTIONS, but hopefully not ending them with prepositions. Some thoughts I've been keeping in mind:

And if you prefer to hear it:

Monday, May 13, 2013

Skunked, Skunked, Skunked

An absolutely perfect looking pond on Maryland's Eastern Shore.  Who knew that a fat tide would blow in
100,000 gallons of saltwater, two hours before my arrival?  Who knew that 50,000 osprey hunt this lake for big fish all day, every day?

It's late at night.  There's a thunderstorm passing through, dumping another half-inch of rain into our stormwater system, which of course drains into our rivers and lakes with no type of treatment, detention, o r processing.    My ultralight rod is out there in the rain, with a white beetlespin lure on it.   Ready to fish.

I think I've caught fish on three of nine trips this spring.  They've gotten bad enough to not warrant their own blog posts.

But this will pass.  The semester's almost over, leaving me with only one full time paid job to juggle fishing against for the next three months.   I'm really hoping that my last few years of scouting and trying new spots will pay off, even if it rapidly gets hot and spring suddenly ends (and the bass spawn suddenly begins).  This will pass.  Watch out, fish!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Native Bees Are Back

I love bees.  We live too close to too many people, including an endless sea of hyper-allergenic children and their hyper-litigious parents, to have honeybees at the house, which is a shame.

However, we still need bees to pollinate our garden and our flowers, and to be honest, we just like having bees around.  So, lacking the space and privacy to manage honeybees, it made a lot of sense when we first bought our house to make sure we were providing habitat for bees.   Having read about some of the most common native pollinators, blue mason bees, on the internet, I requisitioned an old log from a creek bank in Fall 2004, drilled it full of 3/8" holes (the diameter preferred by blue mason bees), and watched with great satisfaction as the "bee condo" filled up the following spring.

While it's common knowledge that America's native bees are far more efficient pollinators than the European Honeybee, we all depend on the Honeybee for its summer-long active season.  Most native bees, it turns out, have life cycles timed to maximize their success in gathering pollen or prey, depending on the species.   The third or fourth iteration of the "Native Bee Box" that I created was inspired by a now defunct webpage from Sierra (CA) Audubon, featuring several different diameters of cavities.  This way, the same "bee nesting habitat" can be used several times throughout the season by a wide variety of native bees.

Identifying the species of bees can also be challenging.  Some species, like carpenter bee and sweat bee, are quite easy to recognize after anyone's seen them a few times.  Others, like the numerous species of blue/black mason bees, red mason bees, long-eared bees, and many others are just too hard to figure out, given the fleeting nature of field observation.  When I've sent photos to bee experts, the universal response is, "Need more pictures."  Doesn't matter how many I send, it's always 300% too few.

Other than provide these bees a home, I really don't do anything for them.  They keep coming back, and I always make sure they have plenty of flower pollen to eat.    Now that I've abandoned the community garden, and built up the home garden into something respectable, I look forward to watching the bees every day.

And...spoiler alert...with the 17-year cicada hatch headed north in the next few weeks, I eagerly anticipate that the Cicada Killer wasp, another solitary native "bee," will be wreaking absolute havoc in our neighborhood.  Should be some interesting photos:  3" cicada vs. 2" wasp.

The new 'Upper Garden" (1 of 3 veggie growouts at the house), complete with 300 gallons of rainwater-fed drip irrigation

Version 2? on the right, version 3/4 on the left

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Are Kids Really That Tiring?

"It must be exhausting!", people say, "to have a little boy running around everywhere."  Then they proceed to complain about  how their Combat Fitness instructor doesn't respect the workout schedule laid out by their Body Pump instructor.  And it is so exhausting, you guys.

But honestly, they are right - they don't know how right they are, really.  Hank doesn't sit still.  Ever.   How do you convey that chaos, that anarchy, that blissful unlimited well of energy to someone who's only occasionally exposed to it?  You can't, at least not in words.

Sure, that are all kinds of memes on Facebook like, "A child's smile could power the world" and all kinds of other nonsense that makes me want to barf.  And I've tried letting people see videos of Hank in action, but it
just looks like we wound up a toy and let it bounce into the wall repeatedly, which is what Hank does for fun.

The boy has boundless energy and a nearly limitless imagination, constantly asking us questions like, "Where does outer space end?" and "If Otto the Cat died, and he lives with God and Jesus now, does he live in Jerusalem?"  Keep in mind, this is a 3-year old, who also thinks the biggest cut-down in the world is to call someone a "Poop Face."  It is absolutely exhausting and unimaginably rewarding.

But don't take my words for it.  Here is Hank in action.  He wakes up at 6am and goes to bed at 9pm.  Every day.  No naps.  No quiet.  It's Meteor Hank, and he is getting ready to make impact....




Do you see all that youthful energy and exuberance?  It's awesome.  But it does take a toll.  Guess how much energy I have?

About that much. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Chesapeake Bay Trophy Rockfish - Awesome Fish, Still Lots of Work

Yeah, I know this blog is hot off of a complaint about the tediousness of chasing spring rockfish in the Bay. Shhhh.

A board member at work offered to take my coworkers and I out on his boat to chase the trophy rockfish that are swimming up and down the Chesapeake Bay.  Some fish are on the way north to spawn, others have already spawned. All in all, we put out 10 lines on two planer boards, plus two deep lines.  Parachute  rigs on each line.   Fish run north and south; boats run east to west.  Parachute rigs looked pretty sharp - all white and chartreuse - typical colors for all-year work in the open Bay.

The take?  A 38" (21 lb) fish and a 37" (16lb) fish.  Both were specimens.   Happy to say I had my hands on the rod both times they tipped....and happier to say that I handed both of them off to other coworkers who don't get to fish very often.  It was a good, relatively quiet time out that was punctuated by a few exciting minutes with big, big fish on the line.

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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...