Yes, there really is a Trump brand softball. But wait! There’s more.
I spotted this particular ball yesterday evening while kayaking on the Potomac River maybe a half mile downstream from Trump National Golf Course. The ball was barely visible on the shoreline in a swampy mix of mud and decaying leaves. My feet made a sucking sound as I went to retrieve it.
Back at a gravel bar I washed the mud and algal slime off the ball and took a picture. Then I checked into CNN: The House had just taken its vote to condemn the president for his racist comments.
Clearly the river’s idea of a joke.
A couple of additional items of interest. For one, the ball was made in China. It says so in small type on the reverse. Also the name of the model of the ball, the “stote,” is the obsolete form of the word stoat, aka weasel. This stealthy and highly effective carnivore belongs to the genus Mustela, whose members have pungent scent glands used for marking territory and attracting females. Of course the river knew all this.
It was like an Easter egg hunt. Heading down to the Potomac at Old Angler’s Inn, I spotted three “No Parking” signs. At the base of the first lay a little green bag, knotted at the top. The next one yielded a yellow bag. At the third, no bag.
Not a bad ratio. It comes from knowing where to look.
There’s not much in the world of trash more disgusting than bags of dog excrement. But the poop bag phenomenon goes beyond disgust, and even the issues of trash and littering. The thing that makes it interesting is this: the places the dog poopers choose to discard their bags.
Nearly all of the hundreds of poop bags I’ve spotted on the trails down by the Potomac River have been placed deliberately—by something, in something, on something, or tied to something.
Search for a reason. Why should this be? Maybe the dog poopers use these visual markers—trees, rocks, signposts, etc.—to help them better locate and retrieve the bags at the end of their walk. Clearly this sometimes happens, as when they put the bags on or by their car.
But in the case of the “No Parking” signs, the poop bags were still lying there three hours later. Nearly always, once a dog pooper sets down his poop bag, it’s for good.
There must be another reason why dog poopers place their poop bags where they do. I have some ideas that seem plausible even if they are not backed up with any empirical data. I admit I’ve never actually seen someone put a poop bag by a tree, let alone spoken with the dog pooper who has done so. Nor have the bike patrollers and rangers I’ve asked. The poop bags just appear, like crop circles in the fields of English farmers.
So I’m offering the following thought experiment as a way of framing the issue and hopefully to encourage others to present their own ideas.
A likely scenario. We’ll imagine our dog pooper, a nice gentleman in his mid-60s wearing a tan coat and pressed corduroy pants. He turns onto the towpath by the C&O Canal, half pulled by a yellow lab with that grin particular to this breed of dogs when their tongues are hanging out.
The man looks appreciatively into the woods and at the river beyond. His lab sniffs about the edge of the path.
Abruptly the dog stops, spins around three times, and jackknifes into position. On cue, the man slips a yellow bag out of his sleeve and bends down. He coaxes the nuggets into the bag, vaguely aware of their softness and warmth. He knots the bag’s corners and pulls them into two little ears.
Now comes the critical moment. The man could take the bag with him, swinging it at his side like a squirrel hunter after a successful day in the woods. Or he could simply throw it into the weeds. But he does neither. Instead, he approaches a nearby oak tree, and at its base he sets his bag, its little ears standing erect. The man turns away and he and the lab resume their walk.
The dog pooper’s mind. Why did he set the bag by the tree? I believe that the answer has to do with how the dog pooper thinks—and in many ways, how we all think.
Like the rest of us, he lives according to a set of personal standards of right and wrong and good and bad. His standards establish his patterns of behavior in all aspects of his daily life—personal cleanliness, filing taxes, honesty in dealing with others, and on and on. He’s proud of his standards and considers them to be high. He runs his finger along the top of his picture frames to check for dust. His landscaping company encircles each of his trees with a ring of dark mulch.
Obviously, he is not a litterer. In fact, he despises people who litter, and dismisses them as his social inferiors. Yet he himself set down his poop bag, and walked away.
The operative word, I believe, is “set.” His act was deliberate and intentional. He didn’t toss the bag aside, like some goober dropping a Twinkie wrapper out of the window of his pickup. He took care of his poop bag as a man who takes his obligations seriously, including his responsibility to maintain the public spaces he enjoys. Implicit in his act was the notion that he was somehow dealing with the bag.
As he continued his walk his mind shifted to his work at the office and to his family. Every step increased not only his physical and temporal distance from the poop bag, but his mental distance as well. When he ultimately arrived back at the oak tree he ignored the bag and headed straight into the parking lot.
He opened the rear hatch of his Range Rover and his lab jumped in. Just after turning into his subdivision his mind flashed an image of the poop bag he had left by the oak tree. “Darn,” he said to himself. “I forgot the bag.”
‘You take care of it.’ To his credit, at least our hero intended to deal with the poop bag himself. For others, intentionality means leaving it to somebody else.
Take the broader issue of trash. This area down by the river is a “trash free zone,” which means there are no trash cans; what you bring you take out. The Park Service supplies plastic bags, but from there on, it’s up to you.
It sounds like a good idea, both because it keeps park maintenance costs down and engages park users as stewards in protecting what they value. Yet I’ve actually seen these same Park Service bags, stuffed with soda cans and food wrappers, tied to the trash-free zone signs.
In the same way, at least some dog poopers place their bags by trees or signposts not as markers for themselves, but for others. “Here’s my poop bag, all tied up and ready to go,” they are saying in effect. “You take care of it.”
Poop bag fairies. I offer these ideas as a starting point for solving the poop bag puzzle. There may well be other explanations. People think and act the way they do for all kinds of reasons.
For example, some clues could come from our evolutionary history and our deep ties with kindred species. Many animals—and famously wolves and dogs—choose very specific places to perform their bodily functions to mark territory and attract mates. Does placement of poop bags by people reveal some cue from our distant evolutionary past?
Maybe it has to do with aesthetics. Carefully placing a poop bag in just the right spot may be a dog pooper’s way of expressing pride and affection for his pet and its unique production.
Perhaps it goes beyond mere aesthetics and enters the realm of religion and magic. In nearly all faith traditions, believers carefully place their images and offerings by something, in something, or on something, like children putting their tooth under the pillow for the tooth fairy.
I could go on, and maybe I will in a subsequent post. But for now, enough is enough. It wouldn’t do for the writer to appear odd or eccentric.
I started taking photos of dog poop bags along the trails by the Potomac River after I started to notice something odd: In virtually all cases, the dog poopers had carefully placed their bags by something, on something, in something, or tied to something.
This was clearly an aspect of human behavior that needed to be documented. And so I set off to do just that.
Over time I found that my photos of these little plastic sacks, each with its unique cargo, served as more than mere documentation about the workings of the human mind (see ‘The Poop Bag Puzzle’). I began to appreciate how many of them challenged—and occasionally complemented—their natural settings with visual statements about the relationship between man and nature. Some even aspire to rise to the level of art (see ‘Poop bag portraiture’).
Following below is what may be the world’s first photographic excursion into the world of dog poop bags. Each photo has a message, and many can even lay claim to a certain kind of beauty, some even bordering on the sublime.
Sitting proud, with the C&O Canal in the background.
A poop bag punctuates a sign telling people to tend to their trash.
An ornament hangs in a reflected tree.
Something new at Mile 11.
Ears in the relaxed mode.
Bridge over the C&O Canal.
Flattened on a storm sewer cover.
The security of a good tree trunk.
Revealed by the springtime thaw.
Sunny accent for a common curbside (photo courtesy of Roberto Rodrigues).
A composition in green and blue.
Can’t decide on which post? Put it in the middle!
Somehow it just landed there.
A designer bag proudly sits on an oak stump.
Fresh and plump.
A geranium would have also been nice.
Historical marker describes canal houses.
Don’t let your poop bag get too close to the river.
In a grip of iron and concrete.
It’s a threesome.
An addition to nature’s palette.
A poop bag emerges from hibernation.
Here’s at least one bag that will be reunited with its owner.
Nice looking car.
A dangerous river, even for poop bags.
Celebration of spring.
Crushed by branches blown down by a windstorm.
Glowing in the afternoon sun.
Spot of color on a government-issue sign.
A poop bag contemplates a fork in the trail.
No permit needed for poop bags.
Cherry blossom time.
On a bluff over the Potomac River.
In good company.
Composition with rocks.
Sentinel on the Potomac River.
An aristocrat of poop bags.
Dog pooper will be back for this one.
A carefully placed offering peeks out of a storm sewer vent.
A simple overhand knot is all it takes.
By next day a windstorm had blown it into the canal below.
Poop bag parked in a no parking zone.
A nice day for a walk–or just leaning against a tree.
A classic spot at the base of a mighty oak.
While dog poopers favor oaks, beeches will do in a pinch.
Late afternoon n a bed of duckweed.
A sign misses one important detail: a poop bag at its base.
Poop bags making their escape.
Yellow swallowtail stalks a partially hidden bag.
A search for fact and fable in the Potomac River watershed