Solitude

Undisclosed location in eastern Montana, 11 August 2018

When the crush of urban life becomes too much, I can always close my eyes and travel in my mind to places where time and space become one. It may be disconcerting to some that there are places without roads, powerlines, and Starbucks. Here your soul can become of place and the place can become of soul.

This is a value of wilderness. It makes us better people. In solitude we are free.

Ginkgo: another living fossil in the DC area.

Metasequoia is not the only ‘living fossil’ tree in the DC area. One of the most common street trees in DC is Ginkgo biloba the only surviving species of Ginkgoales – a gymnosperm lineage that traces back to the Mesozoic (~290 million years ago).

One of NE DC’s numerous street side Ginkgo trees in fall colors. 27 November 2021

The Ginkgo is pollution, heat, and cold resistant. Ginkgo is also pleasing to look at. For these reasons Ginkgo is a popular urban tree. The Ginkgo has male and female plants. The male plants are pretty good citizens; the female plants in the fall drop their fleshy, slimy, putrid-smelling seeds (you could call them ‘fruit’ but gymnosperms do not produce fruit). In Boise, ID there were some streets that were so nasty and slippery with Ginkgo seeds that bicycling and walking were difficult.

DC has a 24c registration to use chlorpropham to prevent female Ginkgo trees from setting seed.

DC has about 800 female Ginkgo trees and actually has a 24c (a special pesticide registration) to spray the trees with chlorpropham. The urban forestry people spray the trees at night, this year the spraying was done 19 April 2021. The communication of the spraying is well done, the city makes sure to mention that ‘the chemical’ is used to inhibit sprouting in potatoes we eat, so it is safe. The city doesn’t use the chemical name, chlorpropham, and doesn’t mention that the chemical is banned in the EU due to toxicity concerns.

Ginkgo leaves have interesting an interesting shape and venation. NE DC, 27 November 2021

The Ginkgo, like the Metasequoia, is native to China. As a gymnosperm Ginkgo is wind pollinated, and therefore does not support pollinators. Ginkgo, being non-native, does not help DC (and other urban areas) support a native ecosystem. However, as a living tree, it does provide shade, muffle sound pollution, etc.

This stainless steel tree is part of the National Art Gallery. While beautiful, this tree is not wildlife friendly.

‘Living fossils’ provide us a glimpse of how organisms solved ‘the business of life’ millions of years ago. The weird venation, motile sperm (like cycads), crazy secondary shoots, and stinky seeds all have evolved out of the angiosperms, yet are still with us in this plant. It is pretty cool to think of Dimetrodon and Edaphosaurus perhaps enjoying the shade of Ginkgo trees along the Mesozoic roadways of their Nation’s capital on a hot day just like we do today.

Another of NE DC’s numerous street side Ginkgo trees in fall colors. 27 November 2021

An Anacostia River Clean Up

Kelly and I were out paddling on the Anacostia River earlier this week. We had stopped to pull a tire from the mud and since I was out of the boat I did a quick clean up of the surrounding shore.

Finishing up. Note that an entire bag was filled on this small stretch of beach. Anacostia River, MD, 24 November 2021 photo by Jim West. http://www.jimwestphoto.com

It was a coldly pleasant November day. As Kelly and I were talking and bagging trash, a gentleman popped out of the shoreline brush. I think he thought we needed help. When he saw what we were doing, he asked to take some photos. Long story short, Jim West is a professional photographer (www.jimwestphoto.com) and you, dear reader, get to enjoy some photos on the blog not from a cell phone.

Finishing up. Note that an entire bag was filled on this small stretch of mud/beach. Anacostia River, MD, 24 November 2021. photo by Jim West. http://www.jimwestphoto.com

We weren’t expecting pro photographer documentation of the pick. Kelly is still in her boot and not able to wallow about in the freezy mudflats along the river’s edge. No body likes to be photographed when not at their peak. But, Kelly is willing to do what she can until she can get back into full action.

Loading trash onto Kelly’s kayak. The trash bag sat way too high on the tire, so the trash bag was relocated to the front deck. Anacostia River, MD, 24 November 2021. photo by Jim West. http://www.jimwestphoto.com
Catch of the day! Plastic Pepsi crate, 4 bags of plastic bottles and films, 2 large pieces of plastic, 2 tires, and 2 rubber (plastic) ducks. Anacostia River, Bladensburg Waterfront Park, MD 24 November 2021

The real heroes of this story are the park staff at Bladensburg Waterfront Park. They deal with a lot of trash and are always very gracious about it. Without their support, doing any sort of river clean-up would be much more difficult.

The ducks.

Neighborhood clean up

Our neighborhood in NE DC had some issues with dumping. Even though there was years of trash, it didn’t take too long to clean it up. I am always amazed at what a difference a half hour of effort can make. Even though it seems ugly and hopeless, you never know until you try.

Before 22 October 2020
Almost done 22 October 2020
Complete. A wheelie bin packed full of trash and a wheelie bin full of recycleables. 22 October 2020

In addition to making the neighborhood look nicer, removing the trash had to make the area less attractive to rats and remived some mosquito breeding containers. After the clean up, the area is staying fairly clean.

A Dueling Creek clean up.

Dueling Creek Natural Area is a small spot near our house. As such we go there a bunch. Everytime I go, I pick up some trash. Last winter I took before and after photos of a trash pick up. It is amazing the difference a few minutes can make in how things look along the trail.

Before. Dueling Creek Natural Area, 17 November 2020
After. Dueling Creek Natural Area, 17 November 2020

There are many reasons to pick up litter, but for any who don’t understand the simplest reason to pick up litter is: there are many things I can’t control, but I can control what I do (unless it involves chocolate). The before and after photos are about 10 minutes apart and do show a difference. A small investment in time yielding big results.

It isn’t very pretty…

Bicycles are a multiplier of human effort and a magic way to travel. Long distances become shorter and errands become quicker. The crazy part is a bicycle still allows you to be part of things, while in a car you are isolated. Bicycles are a mode of travel that can be good for you and for the environment.

Riding a bicycle is an amazing way to go places.

I have two bicycles: a nice touring bike and the bicycle I ride the most – an urban bike. The requirements of urban riding mean that a good urban bike is sturdy, stable, and comfortable. My urban bike is a 1996 Schwinn MOAB steel frame mountain bike. The tires have been swapped over to slicks, the paddle shifters are swapped to friction shifters, The handlebars have been cut down, lights are in play, and BMX style pedals have been installed.

My bike looking spiffy at Colmar Manor Park, MD. 10 July 2021

The process of turning a nice mountain bike into an urban bike started with changing out 2.1″ knobbies for 1.5″ road tires and adding lights. The front light is a nice 400 lumen rechargeable unit. In back I have a strobe unit and a small LED flasher. I also run a helmet rear light and a backpack light.  I like to think the lights make riding safer, but the fact is DC drivers make my reflective gloves, safety coat, and lights nothing more than a prayer for mercy to the gods of bad driving. Next I cut 2″ off each end of the handlebars. It is amazing how much this has increased my comfort – both in improved riding position and in tight spaces. The swap to BMX pedals has made any shoes riding shoes. I never really liked the paddle shifters, and in traffic I just prefer to not mess with the irritation.

The seat on my urban bike

The seat is the original seat. I didn’t like it at first and ran a nicer seat when this was a mountain bike. Eventually, the nicer seat was torn up and replaced with the original seat which has become more comfortable as the seat has “aged” (of course my butt has also aged which may also play a role).

Urban bike at bike rack: big cable and super heavy U lock

The seat helps my bike to survive bike racks.  Bike racks can be nasty affairs that can damage your bike and they also attract bike thieves. Urban bikes spend time in bike racks. Because my bike is old and has a nasty saddle it isn’t very pretty, but that is the beauty of it. So far it hasn’t been stolen.

The National Arboretum

Located right here in Washington, DC, the National Arboretum is a very interesting place. A result of a law passed in the 1920’s it was open to the public on a daily basis in the late 1950’s.

Fall color, 14 November 2021, National Arboretum, Washington, DC

The National Arboretum is a real Jekyll and Hyde sort of place. It can be super crowded or it can be empty. There are really cool collections, and I am often wishing for more interpretation so I can understand the botany better. It is the biggest arboretum I have been in, but it is schizophrenic and tries to do everything, so individual aspects can be small.

1 June 2021, National Arboretum, Washington, DC
26 February 2021, , National Arboretum, Washington, DC

A major draw is the old columns of the Capitol building. While not actually trees these things are a major draw for people – as if DC doesn’t have any historical columns anywhere else that column history enthusiasts can enjoy. The same goes for the abundant roads throughout the arboretum – as if there is no place else for jackasses to drive in DC. 

26 February 2021, , National Arboretum, Washington, DC

My favorite spot is the Fern Valley trails (which have been closed to public for most of the pandemic). This the native plant collection of the arboretum. There are other interesting collections – plants are always pretty darn cool.

Azalea in bloom. 5 November 2021, Azalea Collection, National Arboretum, Washington, DC
5 November 2021, Azalea Collection, National Arboretum, Washington, DC

5 November 2021, Mount Hamillton Trail, National Arboretum, Washington, DC

29 May 2021, Mount Hamilton Trail, National Arboretum, Washington, DC
Magnolia. 29 May 2021, National Arboretum, Washington, DC
Witch hazel. 6 March 2021, Hamamelis collection, National Arboretum, Washington, DC

26 February 2021, Azalea collection, National Arboretum, Washington, DC

The arboretum is 400+ acres of plants in DC. It is on the Anacostia River which gives it connectivity to other green spaces. Bald eagles nest here. There is a stream restoration project. Bonsai trees that are 100’s old. There is a grove of Metasequoia. You will always find a cool and amazing plant.

6 March 2021, Supreme Core, Washington, DC

After hiking around the arboretum it can be nice to have some Cider. The Supreme Core is the closest refreshment to the arboretum and a groovy place to hang out apres hike. Cider comes from trees, so cider seems a natural celebratory beverage for a successful arboretum adventure.

Chesapeake Arboretum

In Chesapeake, VA there is a gem of an arboretum called the Chesapeake Arboretum.

Map of Chesapeake Arboretum

The Chesapeake Arboretum was absolutely gorgeous and well-groomed when we visited.

The map is available on site. Chesapeake Arboretum, Chesapeake, VA. 6 September 2021

The trails were super cute and there was a good amount of interpretation.

The trails are very cute. Chesapeake Arboretum, Chesapeake, VA. 6 September 2021
Asimina triloba, pawpaw. Chesapeake Arboretum, Chesapeake, VA. 6 September 2021

The arboretum is small, but makes for a pretty hike in a very pleasant woodland and you might even learn something. I know we were very surprised with what a great job Chesapeake, VA has done with their arboretum.

Oncopeltus fasciatus: a garden pest?

It is starting to get cold here in DC and we have been putting our garden to bed. Today was the final pepper harvest.

Final harvest of peppers: poblanos, guero, jalapeno, and some sweet peppers. About 2 kg. Washington DC, 19 November 2021

The harvest was going along pretty normal until I started in on a variety called ‘Sante Fe Grande Guero Hot Pepper’. One branch of the pepper bush had a colony of ~15 Oncopeltus fasciatus (a.k.a. milkweed bug) on it – specifically on two ripe peppers. Of course I didn’t have my phone and by the time I got back most of the colony had scattered.

Oncopeltus fasciatus adult and nymph on pepper. Washington DC, 19 November 2021.

Oncopeltus is a member of the Lygaeidae, a true bug family that tends to feed on seeds. Milkweeds are their primary food source. In our yard Asclepias syrica and Asclepias tuberosa are not as favored as the single Asclepias incarnata plant in our native garden, but all will see Oncopeltus use. Nerium oleander is also reported as a food plant for Oncopeltus. I found no reports of Oncopeltus using any plants in the Solanaceae, such as peppers.

Here is a monarch (a milkweed butterfly), Danaus plexippus, nectaring on Asclepias incarnata in our yard. Washington DC, 29 July 2020. In addition to milkweeds attracting cool butterflies and bugs, they also attract really groovy beetles – milkweed should be part of every home landscaping project!

Next year I will keep my eyes open and try to document this fascinating use, or learn that a really cool one off behavior occurred this year in our garden. I used the term garden pest in the title of this post, but that is a silly concept. In our garden we have come to celebrate the diversity. So if I have to plant an extra pepper plant for Oncopeltus, so it will be.

Metasequoia

Metasequoia glyptostroboides is a gorgeous tree. Native to China, you can find Metasequoia on college campuses and botanical gardens around the world. The reason Metsequoia is de rigueur for educational collections is because it is a living fossil.

Metasequoia grove, National Arboretum, Washington DC, 14 November 2021

The first fossils of Metasequoia were found in 1939 and when the trees were found in China and recognized. A tree that was present during the late Cretaceous (50 million years ago!) when dinosaurs were still extant was found to still be with us.

Metasequoia grove, National Arboretum, Washington DC, 14 November 2021

If I were to choose a tree as a ‘living fossil’ it would be covered with thorns, foul smelling, slow growing, and short of stature. Thankfully the I did not get to choose the attributes of this tree.

Metasequoia grove, National Arboretum, Washington DC, 14 November 2021

I had only seen plantings of 1 – 3 Metasequoia at various places in my travels and had always been struck by what stately trees they where. At the ogrod botaniczny at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland I was transfixed by a grove of Metasequoia – it was so beautiful.

This cypress-tupelo swamp is also very beautiful, dominated by two trees with buttressed trunks – one which even has deciduous fern like leaves JUST LIKE METASEQUOIA! (and cypress has those groovy knees…), Black Bayou NWR, Louisiana, 23 June 2021

While Metasequoia is beautiful, so are most trees. A grove of trees can be wonderful. However, native trees in a natural setting always makes me glad. Go enjoy some trees today!