Category: River log

And then there were three

First a duo. . .

I hesitated to do back-to-back posts on dog poop bags since I don’t want this website to appear unserious.  But today’s report clears up a little more of the mystery surrounding the special place these little plastic sacks occupy in the world of trash. It also shows the risks of rash conclusions.

. . . then a trio.

About midafternoon near the footbridge by the C&O Canal at Lock 8 I spotted two dog poop bags. As usual, they were carefully placed, in this case at the base of a sign warning about littering and about this being a trash free park.

When I returned an hour later I found to my bemusement that the poop bag pair had become a threesome. I was about to continue on when in the distance I saw a man with a dog on a leash and his daughter riding a scooter. They were headed my way. I waited, thinking there might be a connection.

An old lockhouse, a
revered national park,
and a carefully placed

Eureka! The man picked up the third bag and he and his daughter continued on the path up the steep hillside to the parking lot. A bright red cardinal in the bushes broke out in song.

But then, partway up the hillside, the man tossed the bag on the ground and continued on his way. He did it in such a natural, offhand manner. I felt let down and confused.  Until I noticed that the

A tossed poop bag isn’t
the end of the story.

girl had also left her scooter there lying on the grass. The man was clearly going to let his daughter and the dog into their car and return for the two items.

Problem solved. Every dog poop bag has its little story and the endings can be sad or, at least in this case, happy.

One piece to the poop bag puzzle

I think I found a missing piece to the puzzle of dog poop bags.

All us who know the C&O Canal towpath know about dog poop bags. Leash in one hand, bag in the other, at the strategic moment he or she swoops down to capture their prize and tie a good secure knot. What happens next is the puzzle.

I’d like to think that most dog owners do what’s responsible and the little bags end up in the household trash. But evidence to the contrary lays alongside the towpath path like little blue, yellow, and black sentries.

A dog poop bag patiently awaits
its owners.

It’s not just that I don’t like dog poop bags. It’s that there’s something going on here that transcends the subject of an unsightly and particularly disgusting kind of trash. I’ve noticed that the bags are not randomly tossed aside, like beer cans or plastic water bottles. Instead, most are carefully placed at the base of a tree trunk or post, by a rock, even in the end of a hollow tree. Why do people do this? I have some ideas, which I will write about later. But for the moment, I just want to pass along this one incident, since it’s breaking news. It also happens to be good news.

The bag I found today was leaning against a tree on the side of a little path that connects the canal towpath to the parking lot at Carderock. It was white and a little bigger and floppier than most.

I knelt down to take a picture of it. (Yes, I really do take photos of dog poop bags, and I’m not the only one. There’s at least one other, naturally a Brit. ). Just then I noticed a threesome approaching me on the towpath—a man, woman, and a dog. Happy for the chance to give my shot a little context I waited for them to get closer so I could make it a foursome.

They must have seen me. What were they thinking? I knew what I was thinking—that I must have looked pretty foolish.

I headed to my car, and just before I got in I glanced back and saw something I had never witnessed before: The man picked up the bag and took it with him. Their car happened to have been parked right next to mine. I could see that they were a nice couple, with happy smiles and scruffy clothes. Their dog looked friendly.

Of course I’ll never know if my obvious interest in their dog poop bag had anything to do with their asserting ownership of it. I don’t think it did.

Riverbed on a hilltop

It looks like the Potomac river bed,
but minus the shells and fish.

I went poking around a rocky riverbed today that ran along the crest of a hill. It looked just like the bottom of the Potomac River, though without the fish and the shells. It also looked a little like a NASA photo of ancient riverbeds on Mars.

In all three cases, the giveaway was that the rocks are rounded. Some were as small as jelly beans, others as big as melons. I picked up a baseball-sized rock, and it felt good in my hand. Most were shades of cream, grey, or reddish brown. Some were startlingly white. They lay scattered about on the dark forest floor, like super-sized fairy dust.

They told a story about a restless river, a Potomac that shifted one way and then another, cutting down into the landscape and leaving evidence of its meanderings on what would become the hillsides we know today.

The rocks were mostly quartzite, a tough, hard material forged by heat and enormous pressure from sandstone lying deep under the earth’s surface millions of years ago. But there are no quartzite deposits here in the Piedmont province of the Potomac valley. The nearest is over 30 miles away in the Blue Ridge mountains, near Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. According to geologists, chunks of the rock broke off from the mountains long ago and tumbled into the river. The river transported them downstream, bumping and scraping against themselves and the river bottom, like semiprecious stones in a rock tumbler.

Created by heat and pressure,
shaped by a raging river.

The river as sculptor. How long did did it take the river turn these jagged, angular pieces of rock into the rounded objects lying around me? Did it carry them downstream inch by inch, mile by mile, over hundreds or even thousands of years? Or did it whoosh them down in one or several full swoops?

Until recently, most geologists would have backed the slow-going scenario. According to the longstanding geological theory called uniformitarianism, geological events unfold in measured, incremental changes. But in recent decades, geologists have been taking a  livelier view of how geology works. The new theory, called catastrophism, recognizes the important role that sudden, violent events have played in shaping our world.

The catastrophist view is the apparent winner, according to the authors of a paper that describes the origin of similar deposits on the Virginia side of Great Falls a few miles away. They postulate that the rocks were transported and shaped by “one or a few” massive floods that were double the magnitude of the 1936 flood, which is the biggest on record.

The authors of the paper couldn’t pinpoint when these events took, though it could have been as recently as 70,000 years ago. Or it could have been much longer go. The rocks on the hillside have told part of their story, and we’ll just have to wait for the rest.