Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Under Water

I live at nearly the top of the hill, yet a river flowed in the backyard today. But nothing like below--this is the same area of Accotink Creek where volunteers with Friends of Accotink Creek picked up trash on Saturday. The bottom photo shows the bike path completely under water. Good the county picked up the collected debris and trash this morning.

Every time there was a break in the deluge, two adult foxes ran around my yard, foraging. Animals sometimes know about weather events before humans. What does this portend? Should we build an ark? Some roads have been and still are closed.

Monday, April 28, 2014

They Got Down and Dirty

The Potomac Watershed cleanup this April 26 run by Friends of Accotink Creek yielded a lot of trash. On three sites that run through or are close to Mantua, volunteers picked up more than 600 pounds of trash NOT including more than 100 packed-full bags of recyclable and non-recyclable trash.

In the Accotink Creek, more than 200 volunteers ages 4 to 73 found: a leather golfbag, numerous tires (for autos and trucks), room-size carpets, a bicycle, a washing machine motor, bed box springs, a metal baseball bat, a bra (that's Ron Wilcox modeling his find below!), and thousands of plastic water bottles and metal soda and beer cans, plus other stuff. For some, it was a family affair, as for the McKnights in the bottom photo. Thanks to the several Scout troops who showed up, and to our neighbors on Barkley who brought their friends and all the kids to pitch in (last photo here)!

Next time you're walking along the Cross County Trail in our parks, remember that these people worked so hard! Take your trash back home with you to recycle or dispose of properly.

There's another cleanup May 3, the final one until the Fall. See the site for more info.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Scat: A Wild Twist

I know my scat. Foxes, raccoons and deer routinely leave it on old wood railroad ties, on slate pathways, in piles of oak leaves, and sometimes right near the front step on my house. I don't mind sharing the outdoors with them. (Their scat doesn't scare me; bear scat, that's another story. When we see that in Mantua, I may stop my daily walks.)

Neighbors in my forested area just a (hard-pitched, long) stone's throw from Washington, D.C., have sighted coyotes frolicking in their yards. Definitely not dogs, they say, but wild animals prowling for food. 

The first coyotes were reported  in Northern Virginia a few years ago, so this is no surprise. Two years ago after a snowfall and before the snowplow came, two coyotes sauntered up the middle of my street, illuminated by the private Kmart parking-lot type light that an elderly neighbor paid to erect. The coyotes were yellow against the snow, with a loping walk unlike most domesticated dogs.

In 2011, I reported this on our community website:
A neighbor reported that an animal that appeared to be a wolf had been hit on Route 50. Another neighbor reported that he saw what looked like cougar in the woods. So what wildlife lives in Mantua?
We are fortunate to be near parkland and woods, and it helps to remember that critters like raccoons (Mantua Elementary school’s mascot) have been here for a long time. For about a decade, we’ve been seeing more foxes.
We called federal, state and county agencies to ask whether wolves and cougars are among us. Here’s what an endangered species biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says:
“I can tell you that there are no wild wolves in any part of Virginia, but you all do have a healthy population of coyotes, and these can get rather large and be confused as a wolf. The other thing is the possibility of someone owning a wolf or wolf hybrid (wolf crossed with a dog) and one of these being possibly hit by a car. It is my opinion that the animal hit on Route 50 was most likely a coyote.
“As for cougars, the only ones that would be in your area would have to be some person/s pet. There are too many people in this country who feel they need to own such animals, and they often hurt someone or get loose. I work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and our agency is responsible for those plants and animals that have been federally listed as endangered species. The eastern cougar is listed as endangered, but a recent review by our agency has found that there is strong scientific evidence that the eastern cougar is extinct. This does not rule out the possibility that some western cougars may be making their way east.
“Northern Virginia does have bobcats, but these animals are very shy and elusive, doing most of their hunting for prey at night. I have worked with resource agencies for 23 years and have only seen a bobcat two times.
“I feel it is very safe to say that there are no wild cougars in Fairfax County.”
To learn what wildlife lives in Fairfax, go to
But here's the twist on the recent coyote sighting: A neighbor says a wildlife biologist analyzed the coyote scat and found wolf DNA. Does this make the animals more dangerous, or less, or does it matter? Do we need to do more to protect small domesticated animals? Do we need to protect the baby foxes in the neighborhood? (One is shown below near a tree.) Coming soon: The Coyote Wolf? I've got my camera ready!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Where Old Tires Go

Dozens of tires, thousands of plastic bottles, paper candy wrappers and snack bags, a car fender, an engine block. That was the haul from just one day last year when volunteers cleaned up three Fairfax County parks that run through the Mantua neighborhood. Much of it was in the creek and streams and rivulets that are part of the Accotink Creek watershed. People with good intentions fished out stuff thrown by people who are too lazy or stupid to know or care about the damage they cause to the ecosystem.
Friends of Accotink Creek, a volunteer group, put up a blue tent and asked people to pick up litter along parts of the Cross-County Trail where Mantuans and others in nearby neighborhoods bike and hike [we're talking to YOU in Foxcroft Colony, Stonehurst, Covington, Hampton Court, Circle Towers, Providence Hall, Pickett's Reserve, Pine Ridge]. And this year on Saturday, April 26, at three locations FACC is asking people to help again.
FACC has an exhibit on why this cleanup matters, and children of all ages can learn something. Philip Latasa, the soft-spoken heart and brains behind FACC, often wears a green turtle hat at cleanups as he dispenses gloves and trash bags. He can tell you about the effort to get rid of invasive plants that choke out native ones, about the living creatures in the stream areas, and about why it matters. There's even an artist who makes sculpture and 3D posters out of the junk found in the stream areas. And the stuff is pretty cool! Here's Philip with a stash of tires he found. 

Oh. And students can get community service hours for picking up trash. Bring a friend. Chat. Keep the texting to a minimum. Enjoy Nature.
9 to 11 a.m.  Accotink Creek at Pickett Road bridge (Thaiss Park, near the ballfields)
noon to 2 p.m. Accotink Creek at Barkley Drive bridge (near Karen Drive)
3 to 5 p.m. Accotink Creek at Woodburn Road bridge (where it floods when it rains hard)

More at: 

Wear old clothes and closed-toe shoes! Turtles and and toads and snakes might be around. Long pants and sleeves are recommended. Show up and look for the blue tent!

I hate housecleaning. But if we don't help clean Mother Nature's house, who will?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Before Mantua, Mills

What came before? What came before my house, my subdivision, the roads in Mantua (said Man- TOO-ah by residents, as opposed to MAN-chu-a like its Italian namesake)?

Off the trail in the section of Eakin Park between Pickett Road and Barkley Drive, signs attest to an old mill, Chichester Mill. When the land is dry, you can see hand-hewn posts and stones that were part of the operation. That's it. If there was no Fairfax County sign saying so, most people would not know where to look.

There used to be eight mills on Accotink Creek, stretching from Fairfax Circle Mill to past Accotink Lake, where one operated south of Route 1. The mills ground grain into flour.

Daniel McCarty Chichester's mill was on land willed to him by his father in 1796. A water-powered grist mill diverted water to his mill via a channel called a mill race. That's what you see remnants of today. His small operation started after 1801 and lasted until 1839.

On a sign, an 1869 plat shows where the mill races were and who owned the land. Chichester's mill was long gone when the plat was made. In 1869, I would have been standing on Peter Gooding's land, or J. Maynard's, or William G.'s

The park area today is often underwater. Owls live overhead. Through erosion the creeks are becoming rivers. The land in 2014 looks nothing like it might have in 1869.

How can we preserve the treasure within our neighborhood?

(Those are raccoon paws in the sand.)

My Scarecrow

The snow finally melted, so I planted spinach, lettuce, basil and snap pea seeds. As I did, I got paranoid. It seemed as if the lovely birds in my neighborhood were dive-bombing to get a better look, sitting on fence posts and even hopping in the driveway. They also were loudly broadcasting to each other where their next meal would come from: my garden.
In years past, I've run out the front door to shoo them away, nearly falling down the steps. I'm sure the neighbors thought it hilarious to see me chasing birds.
But this year, I outsmarted them. I made a scarecrow.
On wire hangers I put my torn red flannel shirt, too-tight-busted-zipper blue pants, and woolen gloves. I've seen birds sit on the old gray baseball cap perched atop the head, which is an upside-down plastic Trader Joe's cookie tub stuck onto a pole. (I'm totally into repurposing and recycling, etc.)
But those birds are smart. I watched one morning as a male Cardinal knocked the baseball cap off the "head." Five minutes later, he and two friends were scavenging seeds. I ran out, replaced the cap, and repositioned the scarecrow's arms. That worked. For awhile.
My fake figure scared at least someone: My sainted husband as he walked to get the morning newspaper.
Guess I should remember that only fools plant seeds in Northern Virginia on April 1.

Last year even snakes tried to feast in my garden. Here is one caught in the deer netting:

Year 'round, I have wildlife in the yard. This was in the Fall (my garden area is at right):

The deer aren't scared by people. I took this from the porch. He/she and three friends later munched on azalea bushes (which I did not tell my husband; I do the veggies, he does flowers).
This is why my garden has deer netting. But soon I'll be up early chasing birds and deer away. Sigh. Such is the life of the (organic) suburban gardener. But those wonderful spinach creations that I make daily--frittata, quiche, filled pasta (like ravioli), white pizza with spinach-- are more than worth the aggravation.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Virginia Time Travel

I love the feel of a book, the older the better. Writing online is fun, saves trees, yadda yadda yadda....but for the sheer thrill of holding something that connects past and present, there's no place like the Virginia Room in Fairfax County's Regional Library in Fairfax City. Just a few miles from home, it's where I go to learn more history about where I live.

This week I went to find out more about grist mills that once operated along county streams, but I got sidetracked. There are shelves full of books about Civil War reparations, Confederate soldiers, cemeteries public and private where locals probably locate ancestral secrets.

But my family ancestry stretches to Eastern Europe (where many relatives still live), so in Fairfax I must live vicariously by researching someone else's roots. And sometimes roots turn up in a place you least expect it--like the Fairfax Museum and Visitor Center.

A few months ago, I took my sister and my brother-in-law from southeastern Pennsylvania to the Fairfax Museum, a well-cared-for former schoolhouse with a permanent exhibit on former local residents and area history. A 1756 map showed land just one tract away from George Washington's Mount Vernon owned by John Posey--my brother-in-law's surname. John Posey operated Posey's Ferry, also marked on the map, which ran from a dock on the western side of the Potowmack River to Maryland.

As a retirement project, through my BIL Lee Harrison Posey has started compiling a family tree, something he hopes that his four children and eight grandchildren will some day appreciate. John Posey may be the most famous ancestor he's found.

On a search for ancestral land, we drove to the Mount Vernon area. The piece of land sloping down to the Potomac that was Posey's still sports a small dock, but it's a private land in an area where million-plus-dollar houses are going up fast. We stood in the roughed-in-street near a developer's trailer and imagined what it might have looked like more than 250 years ago. The creeks and inlets that pierce the land all around here once were John Posey's. We drove to a street around which the river bends, gazing at well-secured mansions, each home distinctive in its own way.

At the library, in abstracts of Fairfax County deed books, I learned that Posey rubbed elbows with George Washington. His land, which grew to 351 acres, was separated by only one tract of land from Mount Vernon. He is identified as a "planter," later landowner and "gentleman"--a self-made man. He had as many as four tenants who worked the land for him, and owned nine slaves. (By comparison, according to the records, Washington owned more than 2,000 acres and had 88 slaves. Not all landowners had slaves.)

Posey's ferry, according to records, "later belonged to Washington, who had it discontinued because of lack of use." Records starting in 1754 detail Posey's buying and selling land. He was indentured to others, and others to him. Land changed hands often, for money "pounds sterling," "current money in Virginia," or "pounds and shillings."

In 1754 Posey sold 630 pounds of tobacco (I think; the record was unclear). Did he plant tobacco?

Whatever he planted, he got in a bit over his head.  In 1766 Posey and 4 others were brought to court before Sheriff Sampson Darrell for owing "one thousand pounds current money in Virginia," owed to "Sovereign Lord George the Third"--the English king. One of those who owed was Abednego Adams. An African American?

Later Posey sold to George Washington slaves to satisfy a debt. Posey had married Martha of the Harrison family, which increased his land holdings. By 1767, it looks like he was in way over head; records (including one in his own hand) show that for 200 pounds sterling he sold to Washington "goods and chattles to wit twenty horses and mares...80 heads of hogs...8 good feather beds...4 guns, 2 of which are silver mounted" plus 1 ferry boat, 1 scow, 1 battle (a flat-bottomed boat), 1 tent, and 3 cases with silver spoons. So much for the wealth.

My brother-in-law says his "second cousin, six times removed" was indeed an interesting person. Thanks, he says, but he's not a direct descendant. He does, however, have a brother named John, and the Harrison name has been used as a first or middle name for generations in the Posey family. Now it's clear why.

Next time at the library, I swear I'll learn more about Fairfax County grist mills.

I'll bet some of my neighbors could share their famous local ancestor stories. (Post a comment below.) Promise I won't get sidetracked like I did with John Posey. But he must have been a heck of guy to go from modest means to wealth and back again (or worse, if he's selling his beds and pigs to George Washington).

If only he'd been able to keep that land near Mount Vernon, history would have been rewritten.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Cheap Staycation: Walk My 'Hood

I love getting away, but sometimes it just isn't possible for health, money or other reasons (and sometimes I just like the comforts of home). So I've been exploring my suburban Washington, D.C., neighborhood. It's called Mantua and is in Fairfax County, in northern Virginia.

I know that the term staycation has fallen out of favor, but I can term my explorations as such because that word fits. Truly, I am lucky to live in wooded hills packed with wildlife. Last weekend while on a walk, a raccoon peeked out of a storm drain pipe. Red foxes walk through my yard every day, searching for squirrels too stupid to stay on trees. There are baby foxes, I suspect, in the yard in back of mine.

There's a Lotte Korean grocery store on one edge of the 'hood. I walk there to buy fresh inexpensive vegetables and fish. A Trader Joe's is at another end of the 'hood; that's where I go for cheap wine and wonderful cheeses. A post office is on the same road. My neighborhood has 1,550 houses (more households, if you count apartments within some and multi-family living situations), yet there is no blue mailbox to deposit mail. Even with online bill-paying and email correspondence, it would be nice to have a place to deposit a birthday card or sympathy card. (I hope that even the most social-media conscious among us dares not send email when someone loses a family member of friend. Then again, I fear I'm just a dinosaur for thinking that people like to actually talk to people.)

Mantua's boundaries roughly are between Route 236 (Little River Turnpike), Route 50 (Arlington Boulevard), Prosperity Avenue and Pickett Road. Each of these carries lots of cars. Usually I am the only one walking on them. My explorations will go as far as I can, now that this long winter with snow still on the ground on March 26 has turned to Spring.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My 'Hood

Gardening in the shade of glorious tall trees--only dummies would try it. Okay, so I fall into that category. Snow is still on the garden on March 26. I have spinach and lettuce seeds all ready to go. Cardinals and squirrels have been scratching through the snow, hoping to find something. Never have I planted a garden this late. It's officially Spring.
This year, I didn't start seeds indoors, as I have a few times. Poor old Frisker passed away last year, but I learned that even an old cat could not resist the temptation of climbing on a wobbly ancient card table in front of the living room window to nibble on greens.
I've given up on zucchini, although one year I had a baby-sized one and made my husband take a photo of me holding it. The horrendous storms we seem to get every year flood the roots.
Ditto for cucumbers, which attained only Gherkin-pickle size in my plot.
Yellow beans? Unfortunately, they thrive no better than green varieties.
To get even a cupful of raspberries from my plants, I need to wake up around 5:30 a.m. and compete with birds. They usually win.
This year, I'm going to plant a smart garden.
But first the snow must melt so I can put up deer netting (which works for catching squirrels, as well as trapping snakes, like last year).
Oh, yes, besides squirrels and birds, a herd of white-tailed deer munches on anything they can reach.
That's why I hope my green-thumbed neighbors who go more for landscaping lawns than growing veggies plant some deer delicacies.