I posted Obsessed with Phosphorus several years ago. I had done a little research on the element, including the 61-mile long conveyor belt in Western Sahara that can be seen from space. In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, we all know phosphorus as one of the big three pollutants included in the Bay’s pollution diet. Recently, I read Dan Egan’s book, The Devil’s Element – Phosphorus and a World Out of Balance, and realized there is a lot more to mysterious #15 (that’s periodic table talk) than I had known. In fact, “P” could just as easily stand for “paradox” as phosphorus.
We have always known that long-term maintenance was part of the picture for stormwater BMPs. However, for many years, that notion was an annoying rattle in the background as we’ve gone about the often more gratifying work to design and install BMPs. Now, maintenance is front-and-center with any project. Most practitioners would agree that lack of adequate maintenance is unacceptable, as the result is not good for the site, for water quality, or for the property owners and public. Poor long-term maintenance also represents a huge betrayal of the initial investments of money, time, creativity, and energy we put into planning, designing, and installing the practices.
Gratitude for Trees
There are no Truffula trees around here, but I am particularly thankful this season for the trees in my yard, neighborhood, parks, down along the river trail, and out in the forest. Over the past months, the value of trees keeps coming up in conferences, conversations, my Toastmasters club, and books and articles. You don’t have to be knocked in the head by a black walnut to realize how fortunate we are to be accompanied on life’s journey by trees.
The ancient alchemists attempted to transform base metals into gold and silver, endeavoring to enrich low-value materials. Today, there are modern-day alchemists out there working diligently and largely under the radar to transform many materials upon which our society places very little value: stuff otherwise headed to our landfills for disposal.
Dispatches from the Cryosphere
For the majority of us in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed (with the exception of New Yorkers and those from northeastern PA), we will likely not encounter moraines, fjords, drumlins, eskers, or kettles on our watershed ramblings. These are just a few of the landscapes left behind by the massive Laurentide Ice Sheet that dredged its way across Canada and the northern tier of the U,S, 100,000 to 11,000 years ago.
However, there are still places on this remarkable planet that are covered with ice – the Cryosphere.
The Cryosphere is the part of Earth that is frozen. Think ice sheets, glaciers, permafrost. The “cry” in Cryosphere is derived from the Greek krios, meaning cold, but I can’t help think of the double meaning here as these fragile systems melt away.
I’ve walked this way many times – the route down to the river trail. I walk further downhill along narrow sidewalks, along a utility substation with buzzing machinery, down a gravel road. For some reason, it feels different on this day in an oddly menacing way. I spot a utility pole and can barely see the pole for the vine that is using it as a trellis. I quicken my pace, not knowing exactly why. As I draw closer, I notice that the vine – I recognize it now as kudzu – is not only creeping up the pole but also laterally along the ground, and has in fact covered an area several hundred feet in diameter.
It was fifteen years ago, and the meeting conference center meeting room was standing-room only. I took one of the remaining standing spots at the back of the room. Everyone looked expectantly towards the front of room, note books and pens at the ready to write down whatever secret watershed code was to be transmitted from. . .some type of watershed guru? The person who occupied the speaking position happened to be my boss at the time – Tom Schueler. Tom’s demeanor gave me the impression that he would rather be in one of many other places (probably a wooded trail along the Patapsco River) than standing there with a crowd holding onto his every word.
I glance at my to-do list full of tasks. I am glad for the list, but also feel overwhelmed. How about you?
We in the environmental biz are in it for more than a transactional relationship with individual tasks to check off. However, our everyday experience can oscillate between the higher calling and the compulsion to just get some stuff done, and the load feels like a burden. It seems lately my conversations with colleagues are imbued with this sentiment. It makes we wonder if my relationship with my to-do list is merely a transaction, or something more; something about what we want to express about ourselves in the world?
We donned our navy-blue coveralls, helmets, headlamps, and gloves and headed up Cave Hill on the trail. After short steep hike, the cave gaped open behind a locked gate to the right. We descended some stairs hued into the limestone rock by long-ago adventurers, and soon were in a giant room filled with various formations.
The turning of the new year made me nostalgic for the Grateful Dead. This is odd, as I was never a committed Dead Head (but there was that amazing show at RFK Stadium with The Dead, Tom Petty, and Bob Dylan, along with the giant mud pit). I think my nostalgia was fueled by the realization that The Dead were the original Troubadours of Stormwater — a little known fact, even in the water resources biz.