Crossing the border into Virginia, the sun shimmering over the glassy surface of the Roanoke River, I was in pretty high spirits. For the first time in a while, both Turtle and myself were firing on all cylinders, Turtle fully re-wired and a brand-new alternator and my legs finally feeling better after endless months of struggling with a torn adductor muscle. I knew I had a couple of weeks to get the rest of the mid- and north-eastern states planted to allow my trees to settle in before the really cold winter months swept through, and was happily up to the challenge.
I started in the Occoneechee forest, looping my way around ponds and glades on the endless miles of trails covered with a thick carpet of oak leaves and pine needles. After the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it was nice to be able to escape from everything; in ten minutes of running, you can be out in (what feels like, at least) the middle of the woods, your only companion the rhythmic crunching of the leaves underfoot and the energetic chirping of birds conversing high above in the leafless canopy. After arriving back to the van I headed out in the other direction, shovel in one hand and a hefty soil-filled bucket of fifty Red Oak trees in the other. Biting into the soft earth, each scoop came up a mixture of dirt, clay, and the occasional segment of a very unfortunate earthworm. I pondered about the amazingly small kick-start these living creatures needed, which could be accomplished in under a minute with a few generous scoops of my shovel. Humans (and many other mammals) spend years, even decades, growing, learning, and establishing our identities under the care of our parents or guardians; all these trees needed is about 40 centimeters of soil dug from the ground and their roots inserted and covered with the loose, churned dirt. Ten, twenty, fifty years from now, all because of that simple act, a massive, towering wooden giant will add its sprawling branches to the canopy of the forest. (With any luck, fifty of them in the Occoneechee forest, at least!)
Wending my way north, the landscape became decidedly more boggy and coastal as I crossed into Maryland. The crunch of dried leaves underfoot was replaced by a wet squishing sound as I strode into a forest in central Maryland, misty rain still lingering after a couple of days of chilly, damp weather. I didn’t mind, however, as the soggy earth made it much easier to scoop holes for fifty small Dogwood trees, and ensured there would be plenty of water for their first few days in the ground. As I continued north the clouds opened up with a blast of sunlight just as Turtle crested the midway point of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the water glittering on the tops of small waves whipped up by the wind coming in west from the Atlantic. Delaware offered a similar climate and the wet, dewy forests that seemed to permeate the Chesapeake watershed. I was amazed at the endless crisscrossing rivers and streams that stretched their tendrils across the landscape, turning the map into a spider’s web of blue veins carrying water from far inland towards the Atlantic. In fact, the Chesapeake watershed encompasses six states and contains over 100,000 rivers and streams, ranking as the third largest estuary in the world. With so many rivers, streams and tributaries feeding in from the far reaches of the watershed, agricultural and urban runoff has collected in the bay and become concentrated to concerningly high levels of certain chemicals and nutrients. Efforts such as the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative, among other programs, have been launched to help restore the bay by helping farmers and communities to better regulate the substances that eventually find their way into the waters of the estuary. The health of the bay has seen substantial improvement since the 1970’s when efforts began to address the ongoing water quality issues, and it is important that these efforts continue. Trees and other plants throughout the extensive wetland system act as a natural filter for pollutants and toxins, cleaning the drinking water for the more than 17 million people that live in the watershed. Hopefully the newly planted Red Oaks and White Dogwoods will be up to the task!
This week, I challenge everyone to make one small change to reduce your water consumption. When washing your dishes, plug the sink and fill the bottom with a small amount of water instead of leaving the tap running; dial back your shower from 12 to 9 minutes every day; leave a small bucket out to catch the rain, and use that to water your plants or garden rather than tap water. Small actions such as these, when multiplied by the millions of people across the country, can have a profound impact on reducing our strain on our natural resources!