When I was young, finding water was fairly easy. An old farmer would take a forked apple branch, some of the younger fellows used a wire coat hanger bent into the requisite “Y,” and head out to the area one proposed digging a well. It was called “dowsing.”
Holding the branch by the short legs, the long end poking out in front, the dowser would begin to walk around. Eventually, the tip of the divining rod would dip toward the earth. At the point the rod dipped deepest – hopefully, pointed straight down – the person in need of water started digging.
I often tout the idea of getting the kids down to the swimming hole. Let them splash in the creek, and watch the fish and turtles that live in the water and on the shores. Let them flip over rocks and identify some of the larva.
One of the ways biologists determine the quality of water is to check for macroinvertebrates such as May and Stone fly larvae. If the water is too polluted for human consumption, it also will not support the bugs – or the fish that feed on them.
While many of us have been quibbling over the details of our Distracter-in-Chief’s latest tweet – or more recently, his sudden lack of early morning digital shouts to his public – most of us are, for various reasons, not paying much attention to some of the more important edicts he has, with less fanfare, issued and will continue to issue. It’s not that what he is doing is secret; too many of us are simply not paying attention.
When Scott Pruitt was made head of the Environmental Protection Agency, we understood on some level that he would like to abolish the agency, and there was media commentary noting the incongruity of placing in charge the guy who had mounted 14 lawsuits to block the his new subordinates from doing what their name seem to indicate they should be doing.
At the tender age of about 10, I got my first lesson on the subject of cleaning up after oneself. We’d gone to visit Gramma and Grampa in Watertown, Mass., a little way out of Boston. I always liked visiting their home, a really old-fashioned place with a parlor – a small room off the living room, home to a couple of rocking chairs no one actually sat in. In fact, the big set of double French doors to the parlor was rarely not closed.
TThree Black Vultures showed up in the backyard Tuesday and headed for our stream. They were not looking for food; they craved water. They hover over us every day; that was the first time any of them landed so near our house.
Drinking water is in short supply in many wild places. We are in a time of year when water levels often are low, but Marsh Creek, in places where it normally only is low, is nearly dry. I was shooting pictures of a pair of Great Blue Herons looking for enough water to support a fresh frog for lunch when a Mallard drake swam by, about three feet over the surface of what used to be the creek. There was more water in the humid air than in the stream bed.
On a nearby fence rail, a dozen starlings sat with mouths open, panting. Other critters presumably have found shadier places to await sundown.
Beside a road off Pa. Route 34, somewhere north of Gettysburg, Don Yost and John Deere team up to pull a chisel plow through a field of corn stubble.
Last year was no-till for the field, and the crop was corn. No-till means the ground is left unturned, the roots of the previous crop keep the hillside from flowing to the bottom in heavy rains, and new seed poked into the earth with a tool made for the task.
I am diabetic. It’s no big deal, relative to the millions of other folks making Big Pharma rich with sales of antidotes to the sugar-water guzzling ways of our early years. I would go to bed with a bowl of corn chips, a bowl of salsa, a Pepsi in a Big Gulp cup, and television. Now I take, among a small smorgasbord of medications, metformin, a.k.a. Glucophage. It’s one of the mainstays of the diabetes treatment industry.
The flock of mallards launched from the creek, reminding me that a bright orange vest might be a good safety idea during deer season, but not so great if one is trying to slip up on the ducks. Indeed, most birds have excellent eyesight. They require it. Unlike ground-locked critters that can lie low and wait to spot something moving, birds are the movers, and sometimes quite fast. If they are going to eat – or at least not be eaten – they must spot their targets a long way off and make quick friend-or-food decisions.
The ad for a big-screen television shows a picture of a still, blue lake. A canoe is pulled up on its shore. In the background, a stand of pine trees of indeterminate species frames one side, a fall-colored mountain range the other. You can almost hear the loons calling each other across the water, as they have done for thousands of years, maybe longer.
Here on the East Coast, the lawn mowing season is winding down. A little earlier each day the sky looks like a storm brewing. Times have changed; I need less time each day to recognize it’s not a storm, but the westering sun that causes the early-graying sky.
Here in South Central Pennsylvania, those of us who do not regularly water our greenery find it still needs a periodic trim, but not like the rain-pressured growth that bogged down the Troy-Bilt when we returned in July from a wedding in Florida.
When the EPA turned Colorado’s Animas river yellow, Republicans launched an all out offensive. Early this month, workers for the federal watchdog poked a hole in a wall blocking the outflow of effluent from the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colo.
The online political magazine “The Hill” reported the agency was playing defense as GOP lawmakers attacked it for causing the outpouring of toxic fluid, and then not holding itself “to the same standards as private companies that pollute.” For a few days, one of the most picturesque rivers in the American West resembled a flow of used mustard after EPA workers released millions of gallons of trapped poison from the mine – a situation the EPA normally is charged with preventing.
It occurs to me the EPA, contrary to opponents’ claims, has held itself tightly to private company standards. The federal, public, agency, once it was faced with the impossibility of disguising all those miles of once beautiful river turned baby-poop yellow, circled the wagons and began following a script with which many reporters are too familiar.
It was night at the edge of the woods, the first night in awhile the sky has been so clear. We settled back in the water to watch for shooting stars, a.k.a the Perseids.
The Perseids is an annual shower of dust and ice trailing from Swift-Tuttle, a comet that whips around us every 133 years, leaving a trail of comet-junk in its wake for us to pass through on our own annual trip around the sun. As those pieces succumb to the gravity of our Terran planet, they burn up in the friction of our atmosphere – and no, they do not get to the ground – normally. If you’re watching the sky and you see a “shooting star” and it disappears while it’s still high in the sky, it is gone and did not collide with Spaceship Earth.
The ice is gone from my favorite paddling pond. There’s a saying from somewhere in my past that 75 percent of Earth is covered with water. Clearly, the saying goes, God intended for man to spend thrice the time fishing as working. It’s probably closer to 70 percent, but the point is well made.
About 97 percent of the planet’s water is ocean saltwater. Of the three percent that is freshwater, nearly three-quarters is trapped in polar ice and glaciers, leaving about two percent drinkable.
Or “A Mini-road-trip through the forest near home”
Cabin Fever is that ailment that forces one, eventually, to either leave the house or kill everyone too slow to escape. I opted for the former.
“Where are you going?” She Who Must Be Loved queried.
“Up on the mountain,” I replied.
It’s not much of a mountain, compared to some I’ve hiked or driven on, but it’s reasonably close to home, and not unenjoyably populated. Time being a little short, I drove, stopping a few times to get out and look closer at various eye-catchers.
If you wear jeans, you wear water. It takes 2,000 gallons of water to make that pair of denim waist-to-ankle coverings, and another 650 gallons for the T-shirt to top the ensemble.
Growing, processing and shipping the coffee from a mountain producer to the cup you held while deciding which T-shirt and jeans to wear used another 37 gallons of water. The medium burger and fries you may have for lunch adds another 673 gallons, most of it expended in watering the growing beef and potatoes, then processing the harvest into food you can grab onto.
When a train carrying 3 million gallons of North Dakota crude oil crashed Monday in West Virginia, it offered some exploding video for the evening television news. It also derailed 19 of 109 cars in the train, leaking oil from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota into a tributary of the Kanawha River. The latter supplies drinking water for hundreds of thousands of West Virginians.[pullquote]Will there be reliable drinking water in Alabama or North Dakota after the snow melts in Boston?[/pullquote]
The crash was the latest in a series of accidents, many of them fouling nearby water supplies:
- March 2013 – Exxon Mobil’s Pegasus pipeline spilled an estimated 210,000 gallons of Canadian crude oil into the town of Mayflower, Ark.
- July 2013 – An onboard fire and resulting brake failure loosed a train carrying millions of gallons of Bakken Crude on a downhill run that derailed in the town of Lac Megantic (Quebec at the Maine border), virtually vaporized the town, and turned the nearby lake and river to black goo.
- Nov. 2013 – A train carrying 2.7 million gallons of crude oil derailed while crossing a wooden trestle across a wetland near Aliceville, Ala.
- April 2014 – A derailment sent multiple cars into the James River near Lynchburg, Va.
- Jan. 2015 – A break in a 12-inch pipeline injected an estimated 50,000 gallons of North Dakota crude beneath the ice of the Yellowstone River. In the past eight years, according to the Associated Press, the pipeline’s owners have leaked nearly 334,000 gallons in 30 such incidents.
- Jan. 2015 – Three million gallons of well-drilling wastewater poured into the Missouri River from a broken collection pipe in the North Dakota oil field.
- Feb. 14, 2015 – Twenty-nine cars of a 100-car train carrying tar-sand oil from Alberta, Canada to Eastern Canada derailed in a remote wooded area of northern Ontario.
A recent newspaper story about efforts to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay noted Pennsylvania does not have frontage on the bay. That is not quite accurate, unless one is a real estate seller.