Tag Archives: environment

Why?

Our Saturday morning routine is for Jim and me to breakfast out followed by the Farmers’ Market for the weekly meat, some sourdough bread, and whatever produce is seasonally available until our garden is producing.  We are starting to see some greens and got a big bag of fresh spinach and a large bunch of scallions.  Some brats, a pork Boston butt, a bit of beef to go with the chickens we froze in the fall and we are set for the week.

Lately, we have noticed a lot of litter, not just on our road, but on the main road between Blacksburg and home.  A couple of weeks ago, Jim decided to clean up our road and did a small portion of the road down the mountain.  Today, the litter got to us and after we unloaded the market goodies, we donned gloves, grabbed a box garbage bags and headed back out.  We parked on a wide grassy area in a curve where our car could be seen from both directions and set to work.  Jim worked down one side, I worked down the other.

In 1/4 mile, we collected 8 bags of beer bottles and cans, soda bottles, drink cups, hard liquor bottles, food wrappers, plastic bags, fast food trash, styrofoam containers, and cigarette packs.

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We had a few drivers wave at us and one stop to make sure our car had not broken down, but no offers of help.

I hate that it all went in the landfill, but we weren’t about to sort through the bags to filter out the plastic bags and styrofoam to recycle it.  When we got to the convenience center, we saw about a dozen more bright orange bags that are given out by the road crews to people that want to clean up litter that had also been brought down.

I don’t understand the mindset of people who think that throwing their trash out the window is okay.  I hate to think what our beautiful country road, that leads up to a historic lodge and is traveled by many visitors daily, would look like if good citizens didn’t clean up for the thoughtless.  It disturbs me more that half a bag of that litter was on 2/10s of a mile of our dead end road that is traveled only by residents and delivery people.

Virginia, it is time to return to bottle deposits and for our country to take a stand against plastic bags and styrofoam.  That might not eliminate the problem, but might help reduce it.  I wish that we could clean up all the way to Blacksburg, but we will instead tackle a section of our mountain road at a time, until it is cleaned up.  I guess we should look for the source of the orange bags.  They can be left tied on the side of the road and the local refuse collectors pick them up on their route.

Native or not

This is haying season and the grass surrounding our “yard,” the acre or so that we regularly mow around the house, garden, chickens and orchard, is quite tall and thick.  One neighbor mows, rakes and bales all of the fields around us including ours for a split of the hay.  In our case, he takes all but what I need for the chickens and the gardens and in exchange he grades our driveway, plows us out in the snow and provides occasional emergency help like the day I got a 30 foot piece of black plastic conduit wrapped so tightly around the bush hog blade that Jim and I couldn’t free it. That is another story from another day.

Watching the uncut hay blow in waves in the wind reminds me of the song “America The Beautiful,” with the line amber waves of grain.

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Jim is tall and his beast, the mastiff is in that grass, standing.

The yard is cut in three levels right now, the area closest to the house is mowed with a lawnmower, from there to the edge of the fields around the trees that we have planted was bush hogged a couple of weeks ago and the fields are awaiting their first seasonal mowing as it is cut into hay.  Each level has its own display of wildflowers and as I look them up, I realize that almost none of them are native plants.  Some more invasive than others such as the multiflora rose, autumn olive, Ailanthus altissima (Tree of Heaven), kudzu (fortunately we aren’t dealing with this one on our land) and stickweed.  The Autumn Olive was actually introduced and encouraged by the Department of Agriculture as a yard ornamental and though we have never planted one, we spend our time pulling and mowing them to keep them from taking over.  Tree of Heaven is one of those you see in Parade Magazine as a quick growing tree for your yard, “buy it now for shade in 3 years” spiels.  They also are invasive, though I have recently seen an article that it may be dying out on it’s own, we can only hope.

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This is Moth Mullein, not native Mullein and though pretty, it is also an import and is so prevalent in some states that it is considered a noxious weed.

Daisies like the yellow ones above and these from the edge of the driveway were introduced from Europe and are now found in most states.

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Red and white clover are also European imports and it is difficult to buy pasture grass seed that doesn’t contain one or the other, they are good nitrogen fixers along with Hairy Vetch which is used as fodder and is also European.

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As we look at our trees on the mountain, few are native species.  Nearly all of the native grasses have been replaced by grasses from other countries.  It isn’t just the flora that has been affected, also the fauna.  We live with invasions of Nutria, stink bugs, gypsy moths, ladybugs, Hemlock wooly adelgid that is killing the hemlocks.  Insects killing the ash trees, blights that killed off and nearly made the American Chestnut extinct.  At the time of the European settlers, the American Chestnut was a predominate species in these mountains.  Many of the old farm houses are built with Chestnut wood beams and if you have ever had the pleasure to stay at Big Meadows Lodge on the Skyline Drive, it is built of American Chestnut.  The woods we see now would look alien to the settlers and the Native Americans that lived and roamed these mountains.

Some of these species have been deliberately introduced for a specific purpose and it has back fired.  Others have crept in; in or on the hulls of ships or in their water ballast, carried by migratory birds, accidentally brought in imported produce and plants or released from research facilities.

The prairies of the west have suffered similar fate and few if any stands of native prairie grass still exist, grasses that were taller than the men that cut it.  The wetlands are host to non native grasses such as Phragmites australis  that is choking out the native marsh grasses and the oyster beds, changing the ecosystem; and snakehead, zebra mussels and catfish overwhelming the animal populations.

The environment has changed, but we don’t have to continue to contribute to the destruction of it.  Research landscaping and flowering plants before you use them.  Buy from nurseries that specialize in native species.  Pull and destroy non native invasive plants before they choke out the native ones.  Support efforts to restore some of the majestic native species such as Chestnuts and Hemlocks.  We each need to do our part.  We can’t return to the past, but we can each do our part to halt further degradation of the ecosystem.

 

The Dump

We live a rural life in our retirement, in a county that has only about 15000 residents.  Since we bought our property, several suburban changes have been made along the main Route that bisects the county, installing town water instead of wells to most of the residents along that route.  To dispose of your garbage, if you live on a main paved secondary road, there is garbage pick up once a week.  If you live off of the main route or the paved secondary roads, you still have well water and you pay a mandatory monthly fee for the privilege of taking your garbage to one of 4 collection sites in the county.  We fall in the later category.

This is a fairly recent development, within the last decade or two and before that, the rural method was to have a garbage pile on your property or find a place that no one would complain and dump it.  Taking your garbage to the collection center is a hard pill for some of the folks up here to swallow and many have the mindset to never throw away anything and to take anything that is free, because maybe someday you will find a use for it.  As a result there are properties that regardless of how close their neighbor is, have junked cars, dead tractors, collections of plastic yard toys and yard ornaments, piles of half rotted lumber, barrels and buckets of who knows what, old tubs or toilets, you name it and it is in their yard, creating an eyesore.  Don’t get me wrong, that is not the norm.  You see many neat well kept farms as well.

Another facet of cattle raising land is the use of old tires to hold down tarps over silage or to line the edge of a difficult to fence area as the cows won’t step inside or over them.

Our 30 acres was used to graze cattle, then miniature horses prior to our purchase.  The land had been rented out to various farmers over the years.  And our land has a natural sinkhole with a creek running down into it and then disappearing into the a cave.  Two edges of the largest hayfield had well over a hundred tires placed in an alternating double row, just in the edge of the woodlot.  The sink hole was a repository of many years of dumping, right off the edge of the cliff, so that the junk fell near and into the creek.   This wasn’t just cans and bottles, but an old wringer washer, part of a car, an old stove, a water heater, rolls of rusted fencing and more tires.  This bothered us, a lot, and every weekend that we could visit our land before construction, we came armed with boxes of huge garbage bags, work gloves and boots and we loaded and hauled sacks and sacks of glass and plastic out of the pile.

Once we brought our trailer up to store, we started collecting the tires and had to pay to drop them off, not at the nearest collection center, but the central one in the county.  Each tire costing us $1.50 to leave it.

Two summer’s ago, a neighbor, Jim and I with our tractor and the neighbor’s long steel cable, spent a couple of day hauling the big junk out of the sinkhole and piling it up in the edge of the closest field where one of the local men came and loaded all of the metal onto his truck to take to the metal reclaiming site for whatever money he could get for it.

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We thought when that was hauled away that we were done with the worst of it and had done a part to help clean up the environment and local groundwater.

When the leaves fell this fall, we noticed another tire in the edge of the woods, then another, and another.  Now that the snow has melted and before we get any more rain or snow, we hooked up the trailer, put on our work clothes and dragged 15 more tires out of the edge of the woods.  We are afraid to say that we have finally gotten them all, because that might jinx us and we will find more.  For now, the sinkhole, the barn, and the edge of the woods look better.  We will never get all of the old rusted cans and broken glass from the edge of the sinkhole, but hopefully, each year, Mother Nature is dumping a new load of leaves to compost over them and they are settling into the earth.

Life is good on our mountain farm.