I begin to panic. As I stare into an open Styrofoam container of frozen fillets of lionfish wrapped in plastic and tucked in between blocks of dry ice, I wonder if the $120 I shelled out for this package will be worth it. Eight friends are coming over for dinner the next afternoon and here sit only three pounds of frozen fish. Torrents of doubt stream through my mind. Are lionfish safe to eat? Am I really going to serve frozen fish? Do I even have enough? Will the beautiful crimson and ink-striped skin look the same after singed by the hot flames of a grill?
You belong to no one, everyone, yet you exist in the shadows of politicians and history. You have a reputation of being forgotten.
I stride past sweet honeysuckle, but traces of decay, drudgery, death, make me crinkle my nose and hasten my pace. Low tide unveils muddy banks hoarding plastic water bottles and old tires — relics from a habitually neglectful era. Unbeknownst to the great blue heron watching me with a statuesque neck and suspicious eye, lead, beryllium, and arsenic dwell below her feet, masked by turbid eddies.
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“As we hustled into our tent and sleeping bags, somberness settled on us, a stark contrast to the circus stirring outside. It was five o’clock in the evening.
It could have been ten minutes; it could have been two hours. Time slipped into a void. Winds ricocheted off the cliffs sending an amplified thrum through the tent walls that narrowed my wandering mind into a tunnel lined with closed doors. I carefully opened each one — letting the possibilities flood my mind, weighing the risks and outcomes, trying to make sense of all the unknowns.”
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I reach up with my right hand and slip a tooth-sized aluminum nut into a crack running through the greenstone rocks of Little Stony Man—a cliff outcrop in Shenandoah National Park. This minuscule piece of metal and a rope are all that protect me from a 20-foot drop to a ledge below.
Continue reading on Blue Ridge Outdoors.
Bugfish, pogy, American sardine. The menhaden gets talked about in various ways, including how it’s an important link in the marine food web and concerns about overfishing. Standing on the pier at Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in Solomons, Maryland, I witnessed the stunning dance of menhaden—the largest fishery in the bay, by volume.
Bloom. It doesn’t sound that bad. The word may conjure up the image of spring crocuses popping up out of the ground. But start talking about harmful algal blooms, Pseudo-nitzschia, and domoic acid poisoning and people begin to realize that something more threatening is happening. Last week during the annual American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, researchers warned that abnormally warm Pacific waters, commonly referred to as the “blob,” were linked to a record-setting harmful algal bloom outbreak along the west coast of the United States. To make matters worse, this outbreak could be exacerbated by the current El Niño event.
Sitting in the front of a canoe, I dipped my paddle into the salty waters of the Damariscotta River, a 19-mile long tidal river that feeds into the Gulf of Maine. Morning sunlight shimmered on the surface. A faint breeze rippled the water. All was calm on my morning paddling trip at the end of June. Marianne—a longtime Mainer and family friend—steered us away from the dock, doing her best to keep us in a straight line as we headed to an island to scope out an eagle’s nest.
As I worked on my J-stroke on the starboard side of the canoe, it seemed like I was stirring a big simmering pot of jellyfish stew. Moon jellies were so thick that with every dip of the paddle I smacked dozens of them. Their translucent bodies mesmerized me. Especially their inability to escape as I repeatedly assaulted them. Their umbrella shape pulsed, uncovering four bright gonads symmetrically placed in the center and lit up like Christmas lights. Tentacles flailed around them like outstretched greedy hands. I had grown to dislike jellies—having been stung one too many times as a kid by species like sea nettles that would leave welts on my limbs—so I experienced some guilty pleasure from whacking them with my wooden paddle.
When viewed from above, the fjords of Greenland look like arteries carrying water and ice from the heart of the mainland ice sheet. At the head of these fjords are some of the world’s largest glaciers. Called marine-terminating glaciers, they constantly recede and advance with the change of the seasons. And every so often, a piece of ice breaks off.
The pieces are never trivial. Imagine a chunk of ice miles across and as tall as a skyscraper, most of it submerged below the water’s surface. The ice crumbles into the ocean, rolling and bobbing around like a rubber duck in a bathtub, and slowly floats out to sea. Ice that used to be part of the glacier now drifts around the ocean as large free-floating icebergs, steadily melting. Occasionally, one of these calving events gets caught on film.
For a long time scientists focused on warming air temperatures as one of the leading causes of the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. Now, researchers have turned their attention to where the ocean and ice meet, typically at the head of fjords that contain these marine-terminating glaciers. By collecting more samples plus using new tools, researchers are shining a light on the complicated underwater picture of how warming Atlantic Ocean waters speed up the melting of the ice, which contributes to sea-level rise.
(Image credit: Fiamma Straneo, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
It’s disturbing, the wilderness.
Disturbing in a way that makes your skin crawl as every flying bug closes its eyes and runs straight into your mouth or climbs across your neck. You swat, smack, and search with your fingers. Yet, the relief of this movement will only last for a few seconds.
Disturbing in a way that makes your eyes dart up and down, left and right – as you stumble on rocks and trip on roots, or when the leaves rustle next to the path as you walk by. Just a small chipmunk. But next time, it could be a snake.
Disturbing in a way that makes your mind run from one dark scenario to another as a cacophony of birds falls silent, the wind blowing through the trees suddenly stops, the bugs humming in your ears vanish, and an eerily silence floats in the air.
Disturbing in a way that makes your heart beat faster as an approaching storm darkens your path and threatens with lightening.
As one heavy hiking boot steps in front of the other and the sharp end of a pole pokes in the mud, you trample through a grove of mountain laurels that aimlessly fall to the ground with a brush of a shoulder. Daddy longlegs scamper under a log for protection. Millipedes coil up and release a cherry-almond scented cyanide to try to keep you away. You scramble down a path of crumbling rocks and delicate plants to shorten the journey – avoiding unnecessary exertion at all costs.
The path in front of you widens into a well-worn route guarded by dead chestnut branches, reaching out – as if to ask why. Why do you take the pathway of disregard? Why do you bring disease from Europe and invasives from Asia? Why do you tarnish the streams, pollute the sky, and rape the land? Why do you disturb?
This story was inspired by a residency in Shenandoah National Park and accompanied reading.