Tag Archives: Maryland parks

Reddy Branch-connecting the dots

Because, as I survey all that I command, all I see is a carpet of rose and other invasives. I made more progress on Friday afternoon, connecting the dots of my clearings. Dots. White in a sea of black. Black in a sea of white? Hope in a sea of hopelessness? I am keeping a close eye on the spot in front of the maple. If the forest floor succumbs to quickly, I may as well.  Its only been a week since my last photo so there is no significant change. I just like the big maple tree. Old trees impart a wisdom not found in human words or actions. Our foolishness is only compounded the more of these old souls we destroy.


Here are the after effects of the next stop up on the ridge, behind the hollies you see uphill from the maple. My son and I did this work.


This is a photo from my previous post showing the before:


Despite the 90 degree heat, I choose to come out to the site. Being a Friday afternoon, I needed some time before the tasks of home presented themselves. I moved up the ridge, to the next area, behind the fallen tree in the background of the above photo. Friday’s work was particularly difficult as everything was so small. There were no huge vines to cut and pull. It wasn’t large rose where you can pull back, step, and then swing. No, this was on your knees, bending at you waist, small work. In the 90 degree heat, wearing long sleeves and jeans because of the ticks. I was mad as hell by the end. I’ve drafted a post about all the vituperation running through my mind. Maybe I’ll post it. It didn’t help that I had eaten my breakfast reading about the Antarctic sea ice collapsing and scientists wondering if the United States Congress will need scuba gear by the end of the 21st century in order to continue with their sound and fury that signifies nothing. Not really, but, what the hell! See, I’m mad. But I’ll save it for another post. I’ll stick to the facts here.

So, below, is the before of Friday’s work. Notice the bittersweet climbing to the sun. The large vines you see are native grape. There is holly and other native shrubs in the background. It’s all the vegetation in the foreground that shouldn’t be there. IMG_20170519_160159674IMG_20170519_160144666

And here is the after. As I organized the photos to prepare for this post, I realized that I had not taken shots from the same angle and that my finger is in one of the shots I did take. I’m going to blame the heat. In the following photograph, you can see that I pulled all of the bittersweet from in front of this log.


This next photograph is taken looking down hill. I’ve cleared the honeysuckle, ivy, a few rose bushes, several privet bushes, and the bittersweet. There was quite a bit here that I wasn’t sure about. I think there are young trees in here. I’ll be back with my identification book. I want to get to the left of that downed tree and start clearing some of the larger rose bushes. Ten feet behind me is the ridge clearing. So, I’ve, more or less, connected the dots. I finished my time here by pulling out another dozen rose bushes that had been simply cut down last winter. There are few left where we had focused so much effort. I need to clear up by the trail where it takes the sharp right. That will be the next day’s work.


I found this little gem in the ridge clearing, under a oak sapling. A rather pathetic May Apple specimen. But, it’s something. I don’t know enough about how these plant propagate and what it means for soil chemistry, but I know that it’s a good thing to see a native plant where there was once nearly 100 percent ivy and honeysuckle cover. And, look at all the dead rose and ivy under and around it! And that is a small oak sapling to the left, getting sunlight because there are no non-natives bushes on top of it.  I’m still mad. And I’m going back. What else can I do?



Reddy Branch after a week of rain

May 12

It’s been raining all week so the plan was to pull as much of the young bittersweet as possible from the hillside between the small area in front of the big maple and hollies and the larger area up on the ridge. My son and I had worked on this area several years ago, cutting things down but not pulling. You can see the long term impact of simply cutting things down. Absolutely nothing accomplished. The key culprits in this photo are young bittersweet and rose. We also pulled autumn olive, porcelain berry, and English ivy. It was hard going, harder than usual. The forest floor was tangled even without the invasives; there were a significant number of downed limbs and other detritus. Finding our way to the roots of the multi-flora was much more complicated than simply pulling back the stalks, stepping on them, and swinging the pulaski to sever and pull the root. I don’t think we got all of them. I know we will be back to clean this up further, likely in the winter. This area is really a bald patch in the forest. Either the larger trees need to extend their coverage within the canopy or some saplings need to come in; without this, I am concerned that we’ll be back in a few years, doing the same job. I believe this is a northern red oak in the foreground. Those leaves are immense, 9″ to 10″.


The following photo shows progress being made; the large oak in the foreground of the above shot is now just behind me, to my right, as I take this photo. There was not much to salvage in the tangle. One small oak sapling and several sassafras. We did not completely recover the ground (to protect from erosion and to provide cover from invasive seeds returning all too quickly) with what we had pulled as I was concerned about the bittersweet re-rooting. We pulled yard upon yard of young vine. One small success story was one fern plant. Rather pathetic but perhaps it can now spread. Another success were a few stalks of native blackberry; I am not sure that this is a good thing as that might mean that a significant amount of sunlight is penetrating through the canopy. We’re supposed to be standing in the middle of the woods not in a thicket. Now that I think about it some more, my son did uncover two small hollies.IMG_20170513_115701872

This is another, closer shot of the mess we left behind. The ivy has been cut and pulled from the ground; that is just remnants left on the tree. There is still much to be cleared in the background. Next time. IMG_20170513_115713051_HDR

The photograph on the left is Virginia Creeper, a native vine. This vine will provide a winter food source for birds. I’m not sure this vine is old enough to produce berries, but the presence of native vines is a welcome sight. On the right, are the flowers on the American holly. The red berries of the holly tree are also an important winter food source.


This next photograph is of the ridge. The work today is part of my year long goal to clear twenty to thirty feet in from the trail, starting at the beginning, at the field, all the way up to the top where the big cherry tree is. Maybe a quarter mile? The big cherry tree is about thirty feet to the left of this photo; the trail is behind me and to my left where it takes a sharp right at the top of the ridge. The ground is partially cleared and there are a number of young saplings of a variety of trees. Under the big cherry, things do not look good. It is a big, unhealthy old tree with significant openings in its crown. There is garlic mustard and bittersweet growing like you would see in a meadow underneath that tree. I am very worried that this tree will come down in one of our summer storms. It will fall right on the spot I’ve worked so hard to clear and it will open an immense hole in the canopy.  I am hoping that we will have this clearing project done by the winter. Then we’ll start moving north, heading slowly toward the more open woods and the two old farm oaks. The heat hasn’t hit yet so I am being very optimistic about our desire to get in here come July and August when even six in the morning can feel pestilential and tropical. The ticks are predicted to be bad this year and this is a major hesitation for me.


On the way out, coming down from the ridge, I took another shot of the area in the front of the big maple. No significant changes from last time; it is just good to see the forest floor and to see that it is obvious that work has been done. I have other projects in other places and other plans so it may be June before I return.


Sculpture-Reddy Branch

“It is well with me only when I have a chisel in my hand.”-Michelangelo

I envy those who can create a physical object of beauty. A painting from a blank canvas, a functioning mug from a lump of clay,  a marble statue of defiance, a statue of a mother, in mournful resignation, the body of her dead son draped in his final vulnerability across her lap.

I do not have paint brushes, a potter’s wheel, or hands that can mold or chisel.

I stand in awe of artists like Michelangelo. To create timeless beauty out of nothing but imagination and native genius.  Michelangelo took two years to carve David, in the rain, out in the elements, with little rest, and with little food. How admirable, the single minded focus. The contribution to history. Apparently, Michelangelo said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to find it.” Did this man approach every block of stone with inspiration and a drive to find the beauty within it? With what passion did he move through his life? Was his genius a blessing or curse? Was it thrilling to be able to create such a work like the Pieta or was it a torment only momentarily relieved? Somewhere in between? Was Michelangelo pleased with his Final product or did he have regrets? Did he ever want to smash his final work out of frustration or disappointment?

I admire Michelangelo’s genius as much as I admire the single minded focus. That ability to tune out the inner and outer noise and to see only the task at hand. I have never had that. Perhaps that is what makes one a genius-single minded focus. Not sure. I know that I don’t have it. My attention span has a far greater resemblance to the flitting butterflies that are vanishing from our woods and fields.

I work with far humbler talents and much less skill. I have no ability to create something out of nothing. However, I too must rely on imagination as I cut, carve, and mold something anew out of what nature has provided. Instead of a beautiful human form captured in stone, I see a mighty, ancient forest held in thrall to the depredations of the past and the mistakes of the present. I feel what should be the cooling shadows cast by the missing chestnut,  elm, and  hemlock that belong to and would do much to sooth these warming lands. I see more of what is missing than what is present. I have no ability to recreate this beauty; at this point, that work is left to the scientists working on their hybrids and biological controls. I can only help that which remains.  I do not have a block of marble, a lump of clay, a blank canvas. In front of me, I do not have a form waiting to be freed, I face an imperiled habitat needing rescue. I work with urgency.

I must imagine the mighty oak arising from the space I have chiseled out of the rose with its interwoven stalks that stretch for yards. I must cut and slice with my pruners to provide the shelter for the soil and opportunity for compost. Stepping back from my work, I must reevaluate what is to be removed and what will stay. David‘s muscles, sinews, and veins are the bark, leaves,and veins of the trees and bushes I must identify as I carve. As Michelangelo is a master of creating the human form, I work to master identifying the forms of the native plants. I must study, allowing for observation and refocus, before I make my next cut.

Carefully, in order not to destroy the beauty I am attempting to free, I must trim the honeysuckle vine from the hornbeam; I must gently tug the bittersweet from the ground to not trample the Christmas fern; I must wield my mattock with care as I swing to pull the privet from its place in the center of the emerging masterpiece. I would not want to harm any snakes or turtles that are not as selective as I about their shelter. I would not want to carve too much, being faced with the failings of my mistaken chiseling.

I must rely on the hope that this place, this space, the moments I spend in this open-air workshop will create something worthy of history. I will not be here when and if, the oak sapling joins the canopy of trees far over my head. I will not be among those who may wander these woods centuries from now, admiring the soaring trees, the flowering understory, and the clear running creek. I just have to hope, to have faith, that like David, someone will see the value and protect this masterpiece that is these woods. My work rests on this faith.

“Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I can accomplish” are words also attributed to Michelangelo.  I know that the work of clearing Reddy Branch is the work of decades. Even if I created a steady calendar of group work days, working alongside those that have a kindred faith, time would still work against me. Even if I were to work year round, I would not have enough hours in my life to finish this task before me. But, what excitement and comfort there is in knowing that my hands will not be forced to be idle! I am blessed with a near endless canvas upon which to work.  I have acres of woods to carve and chisel and it is good.

Sunday morning-Rachel Carson park


With my afternoon to be filled with lifting, digging, and hauling plants for the local parks, I found myself hesitant this morning to work on my own garden, though the salvia, rosemary, lavendar, and sage were ready and much needed to be done before I could plant them.

But, I knew better.

Far more frequently now, I pay the price for wanting to stay at the same speed and intensity of  my twenties and early thirties when I could run before breakfast, deconstruct a deck by lunch, and bike with my kids before dinner.

With hands aching as I type, I know better than to work in the garden all morning with what is to come this afternoon. And I have a half marathon to begin planning for. I ran some good miles last night. Though I would love another fast three or four miles, I know I need to wait until tomorrow. The race is in the fall but avoiding injury is as much a part of my training as proper nutrition or increasing the time allotted for stretching as I go longer distances.

Somehow time wins no matter how fast you think you can go. Funny how that works.

So, in my restless frame of mind, I wandered up to Hawlings River, the Rachel Carson Park, where I have done a great deal of winter photography.

Arriving later than my usual dawn hour, my choice of trails was dictated by the presence of groups in the park. I guess there was a guided hike or two going on this morning. Having no desire to negotiate other dogs, as mine was with me, or any desire for pleasantries quite yet, I took whichever direction was quieter. Sometimes silence is golden while company is brass. This morning was one of those times.

Down by the river, the native azaleas were in full bloom, beating out the mountain laurel which will bloom in June.  I would have wandered and taken more photographs but that would have meant letting the dog off leash, and, with other dogs around, too much trouble for a mind already seeking a little less of that.


Continuing along the trail, heading away from the parking lot and the more traveled parts of the park, the wide trail, used by horses, is lined with ferns. The woods are so dense here that you can sense the urgency of of all this life pushing down into the soil and up to the sun, crowding and jostling. Thousands of tulip poplar saplings push up through the understory in this park, so much competition in this rich habitat.



Unfortunately not flying, (was it gleaning moisture from the mud?) this black swallowtail was in the middle of the trail. I helped it off, not wanting it to be crushed by the horses or other trail users.  I left it among the mayapple and fern.


The park system mows  every few years or so up by the parking lot to provide invaluable meadow habitat. Swallows, bluebirds, and butterflies can be seen quite frequently here. If nothing else, the meadow is simply a beautiful landscape. I enjoy taking photographs here.


Bicycle Race

I was not planning on writing this morning but saw this morning’s word, Cranky, and I had to respond.

Of course, cranky means to be ornery, difficult, fussy. A descriptor my wife and daughter both use to describe me when I’ve been inside for too long.

But it made me think of getting out on my bike. Working the crank to get rid of the cranky.

Why the title of this post? Among the pleasures of teaching is to be introduced to children who you know will be interesting adults. Years ago, I had a student who loved to sing the lyrics of Queen’s Bicycle Race. He was a fascinating kid-eccentric and always coming up with something thought provoking.  I sometimes find myself humming the tune (off key) of this old song when I am eager to get out on one of my bikes.

After 15 years of hard use, I just had the hybrid rebuilt with new crank shafts.  With the heat and humidity of this area’s summers, riding is the way to go. Running is just punishment. Spring is the sweet spot to get out.

I know I’ve written previously about some biking around here but I get excited and ready to put the bike on the car when I think about the options.

One can ride from Washington D.C., Georgetown to be more specific, to Pittsburgh via the C & O Canal National Park and then, picking up the GAP trail, on to Pittsburgh for a total of about 300 miles-with no need to ride on roads and with little need to cross major roads. For 184 miles, one can ride with the mostly undeveloped Potomac River on one side and the old canal on the other. Almost two hundred miles of old trees, locks, lock houses, and the wildlife that thrives within this corridor. There are myriad places to access the trail with easy parking lots. This photo captures some of the Virginia bluebells found along the trail in April.


The GAP (Great Allegheny Passage)  trail then climbs from Cumberland, Maryland up to Pittsburgh. I’ve only biked small portions of this trail but it is equal in beauty to the C & O, changing your view from the river to one of the mountains and farms of Western Pennsylvania. This trail takes you through long tunnels cut through the Laurel Highlands and into old railroad towns that will present you with lodging and meal options. You can camp,easily, along the C & O Canal, but I do not think you can do this on the GAP.

There is a simple freedom to riding. I wonder what Thoreau would say about riding’s ability to let you explore; I think there is a meditative element to biking. You can let the rhythm of pedaling help you zone out and the safety of being on a trail prevent you from having to worry about navigating around automobiles.  And you can enjoy the view.

But, enough writing. Time to get the bike on the car. See you on the trail.





Reddy Branch-dogwoods

I continue to learn more about these woods as we move deeper into the verdant spring.

My son and I returned to the hill and ridge line by the hollies, seeking to finish what we had started over the winter-clearing the hillside and opening it to native growth.

It was easy to find a focus this morning as the dogwood, Cornus florida, are in full bloom, the white flowers bright against the grays of the larger trees and the green of the rose. It is gratifying to find something native and to clear the invasive plants away from it. After an hour or two of work,

Like with the spicebush, which is now moving from yellow blossom to leaf, the dogwood, a native tree, became the target of our ongoing rescue mission. This simple tree, common throughout the Eastern United States, is, along with the eastern redbud, a harbinger of spring. I have found no redbud in these woods; another hope-perhaps with more clearing, these common trees will find their way here.


As we worked through another enormous hedge of intertwined rose, we uncovered nearly twenty ash saplings, at this point, little more than three foot long sticks crowned with quarter inch leaves. This evidence of new growth under such battered older growth (as you can see in the pictures, there are many down trees and broken branches) gave us more of a desire to not only cut the rose down but to take the time and energy to pull roots as well. Seeing young ash trees is especially heartening as the county park system has justifiably felt the need to cut down larger specimens due to infestations of the emerald ash borer which is destroying ash trees throughout the Eastern United States, endangering millions of trees and striking yet another blow against the biodiversity and health of the forests. It is imperative that there be a young generation of trees ready to replace the old.

I attempted to take pictures of the young ash leaves but either my skill or my camera does not allow for focused close-ups. I will be working on that this year. There is so much to the minutiae of the forest. I cannot capture adequately the endless details that speak the language of the forest.

Unwilling to leave, I returned to where we had cut over the winter and found the floor of the forest full of regrowing rose that had not been pulled. Alas, this is the consequence for simply cutting and not pulling. I am confident that if I left this rose alone, I would return in the winter to find that it had sent forth three or more feet of growth over the summer. I did not; while my son returned to the car, I swung the Pulaski a few more times, digging out another half dozen roots.


I am determined to see this quarter acre become the nucleus of the forest reborn, so I will be revisiting it after I work on other areas, giving it at least a few minutes during each of my visits. Many of the small gray saplings in this photo are ash. That is more rose under the broken cherry tree. To the left, on the large oak, is dead English ivy.


I do not know if this maple in the picture below was growing last year or if its growth is the result of the rose no longer impeding sunlight and taking nutrients. But this photo captures the hope and promise of our work. This tiny sapling is already in full leaf and will, if the deer do not browse it, have a good chance of growth this year. That is Japanese honeysuckle that will need to be pulled before too much longer. Much of the grey you see is rose cut over the winter.


I am eager to return.