Raccoons, and guess what

Guess what I did tonight? I took photos for a FOOD POST and I’m really, truly going to post it this week! Unfortunately, it’s not an original recipe, but to me it’s kind of important so I thought I would document my process and share. In the meantime, how about a raccoon update?

See this horde eating? They just moved to an outdoor cage and my lord, they are a really cute and fun bunch, but they are HYPERACTIVE. Feeding them is the last thing I do before leaving their cage, so here they are focused on the food I just put down, but prior to the food, that swarming they are doing? I was like the food in this picture. THEY WERE ALL OVER ME. They are SUPER interested in EVERYTHING I do, so they “help”. I try to sweep, there are two raccoons pulling the broom away from me, three climbing up my leg, one on my head, and one dumping the contents of the dustbin back onto the floor. I try to clean their litter boxes, there is one who won’t get out of the dirty litter box, one dragging the Clorox bottle off somewhere, one tearing up the roll of paper towels, one actually snatching the paper towel I’m currently using to wipe the box away from me (ripping it up in the process), one dumping the contents of my trash bag onto the floor, one climbing my leg, and one on my head. I try to hose the floor down, there’s two climbing me, two attacking the hose, one playing in the stream of water, one dangling from the ceiling and undoing my ponytail, and one on my shoulders. CHAOS. Sometimes you get a crew that doesn’t even bother waking up when you come in to clean, or they slowly straggle out with mild interest, and with those types I always think, “oh, you guys are boring”, but let me tell you, it takes about a 1,000 times longer to clean when they scramble out of their nest box to “help” like these guys.

Because these guys are still kind of young, we’ve been giving them Cheerios and formula for breakfast, even though we usually don’t give any formula once they’ve moved outside. That will only last a few days, then they’ll be eating all solid food, which includes specially prepared trays of various fruits, veggies, berries, nuts, and meat, as well as dog food.

Did you know raccoons are musically gifted? Well, they’re not, but they sure love playing with wind chimes. That’s one of their hammocks from which they like to lean down and pull my ponytail holder out from my hair. I always look REAL classy after being in there.

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Roosevelt Island, DC

Man, I’d really hoped to have an actual recipe by now, but {excuse}, {excuse}, {excuse}. I have even photographed a few dishes, but ultimately did not deem any of them blogworthy and I don’t want to post something lame just to finally get a food post up on what is supposed to be a food blog. So pardon me for a little while longer while I indulge myself in more random photographs of wildlife and Parks Near Renae.

When I used to think of national parks, I’d think of the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, and after moving to Virginia even Shenandoah, but the National Park Service comprises more than just those huge, beautiful expanses whose names are so familiar. As I mentioned in my previous post, the C & O Canal is a very long and skinny national park, and in fact, there are a lot of (free!) national parks in this area (mostly due to it being the metro area of the nation’s capital). Theodore Roosevelt Island is a tiny national park I never even knew of until somewhat recently. As I’ve mentioned, a lot of my spring park hopping this year has concentrated on the Potomac River and Roosevelt Island is right smack in the middle of the Potomac River, between DC and Virginia.

I wasn’t in a rush to get to Roosevelt Island for a couple of reasons: 1) as it’s technically part of DC, I feared that getting there after work (when I do a lot of my Potomac admiring) would be a traffic-related nightmare, and 2) the maps state it has barely 2.5 miles of trails, and since my photo rambles double as my exercise on the days I do them, 2 miles of hiking seems barely worth my while. However, the Potomac Heritage Trail (many portions of which I’ve been hiking this spring) and the Mount Vernon Trail converge there so I figured if I needed to I could tack on a mile or two on one of those, so with beautiful weather yesterday afternoon, I made my way there…shocked to hit almost no traffic on the way! And as it turns out, Roosevelt Island was nicer than I’d expected and definitely worthwhile. Plus there are a lot of unmarked trails that aren’t on the map and which probably double the actual trail miles. I was in an infrared mood, so most of the pictures were taken with my infrared-converted camera.

This picture is taken from underneath the Roosevelt Memorial Bridge which takes I-66 into DC, turning into Constitution Avenue. (I seem to find myself UNDER a lot of bridges I used to only go OVER a lot recently…) The buildings are the cute neighborhood of Rosslyn in Virginia.

The same bridge:

The same bridge, right next to a boardwalk over a tidal marsh on Roosevelt Island THAT I NEVER KNEW WAS RIGHT THERE all the times I’ve driven over that bridge.

A bench overlooking the swamp:

It must have been low tide, because I was surprised to hear this deer rustling around in the tidal marsh. Can you see her?

This is Washington Harbor in Georgetown from across the Potomac:

In the distance is the Key Bridge taking Route 29 into Georgetown:

Now I’ve circled around the perimeter of the island (on the unmarked trail that goes along the beach and is thus longer – and far more interesting – than the marked trail), so this is Rosslyn again:

And I made a friend!

The actual memorial to Teddy Roosevelt is in the center of the island, and when I turned onto one of the paths leading it, a gorgeous buck standing smack in the middle of the trail 30 feet from me and I surprised each other. He let me take his picture then ran off. If you live near deer, you know that if you see one, there’s more nearby, and sure enough, I walked right up to this beauty who’d been scoping out the scene before following his friend:

With a whole island devoted to it, President Roosevelt has a lot more features to his memorial than Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. There is a statue in the middle surrounded by several monoliths bearing quotes from the man. This is the “nature” monolith:

A bridge. While here I encountered TOURISTS! From Nashville! I don’t encounter them as often after moving out of DC and I have to say, they are a lot more pleasant to be around when they are milling around a mostly deserted island and not FAILING TO STAND TO THE RIGHT on the metro. :)

There was water in the moat that goes around the memorial …

… but none in the two bowl-shaped fountains:

Here’s the statue, although what I was really taking a picture of was the glowing leaves in the tree.

The compressed version of the following photo makes the wording hard to read, but the text of the sign is as follows:
TRASH FREE PARK
Trash cans are not provided in this park.
Please take your trash with you when you leave.
Carry in, Carry Out

Random capitalization of the last line aside, THAT SIGN IS CLEARLY LYING.

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Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Park

When I first moved to Virginia, I didn’t like it very much. There is a lot to dislike about Northern Virginia: the traffic here is just about as bad as it is in LA; it’s way over-developed; there are creepy developments of ugly, new, cookie-cutter houses – all on top of each other, natch – all over the place; the traffic is terrible; a lot of the people have a disgusting sense of entitlement; there is an annual car tax; the traffic is terrible; sometimes it seems like there’s nothing more here than shopping plaza after shopping plaza after shopping plaza; the traffic laws are draconian (15 mph over the speed limit is considered “reckless driving”…and they’ll arrest you for it if they feel like it); the winters sometimes suck (read: it snows too much); there are always helicopters flying overhead; and did I mention the traffic is terrible? On top of that, in our early years here, voters passed an amendment outlawing same-sex marriage, which is one of my “causes”, and public library hours were drastically shortened due to budget cuts, which just infuriated me. Moreover, I have few friends here and I’m too shy to make any more. So although I don’t think I’d ever classify myself as an unhappy person, I wasn’t too happy about the state we were living in.

But somewhere along the way my perspective changed, and the more I explored the area I live in, the more I grew to love it. I got involved with volunteering, and I started going to parks more often, at first looking for wildlife to photograph, and then just because being outside makes me happy. I came to realize that this area has an amazing number of high quality parks, and all kinds of trails and paths apart from that. There are tons of really awesome things to explore here. Sure, there are still helicopters, and sometimes you can’t even escape traffic noise, and sometimes it takes you five times longer than it should to GET to the park because traffic is so bad, but it’s also hard to go ten miles and not come across a park – if you include little neighborhood parks, you probably can’t even go three miles without hitting at least one park. I haven’t lived in many states: just Maryland, DC, and Virginia, but I know our park system is better than Maryland’s and DC’s (although DC isn’t really a state, of course), and now all of the sudden I find myself wondering if when we do eventually move from Virginia (which has always been the plan), if I’m going to miss it terribly. (And not only that, but thanks to our new Attorney General the same-sex marriage ban was found unconstitutional earlier this year (although it’s still in effect at this time), and a couple years ago Fairfax County restored regular library hours.)

I think most people agree that water, in the form of a river, creek, lake, bay, ocean, or whatever, improves any park experience, and one reason there are so many awesome parks nearby is our proximity to the Potomac River. Because the river is so historic, much of the land that runs along it on both sides is devoted to parks and trails, many of them containing not only beautiful views and abundant wildlife, but both colonial and Civil War-era ruins, Native American artifacts, and ancient geological features. Proof of continuous human use for the past 12,500 years has been found in the site now known as Riverbend Park! Though I am not a history buff, I became interested in some of the history surrounding the Potomac River, so I read a book or two about it, and I’ve started scouting out hikes I can do along the Potomac. One of the most important pieces of history was the Chesapeake & Ohio (C & O) Canal, which ran parallel to the Potomac River on the Maryland side (the Potomac forms the boundary between Maryland and Virginia for those of you not up on your U.S. geography) and which was a very important source of transportation of goods prior to the dominance of railroads.

Today all 184.5 miles of the C & O Canal towpath – from Georgetown in Washington, DC to Cumberland, MD – comprise a very long, very skinny National Park. You may be familiar with the “rails to trails” concept where old railways are converted to biking/pedestrian trials; well this is a “towpath-to-trail”. In many places the canal itself no longer exists, but the towpath remains and is popular with cyclists and hikers. There are stops with restrooms (and often, historical markers and the remains of the old locks), most with parking, every few miles, and designated camping areas every 15 miles or so. On Memorial Day, I decided I wanted to see the Monocacy Aqueduct, which crosses the Monocacy River just before it joins the Potomac, so I hopped in my car and headed to my home state of Maryland. Just over the Rt. 15 bridge and a few miles south, I found:

Both sides of the Civil War loved burning bridges, and the Confederacy tried several times to destroy the Monocacy Aqueduct before eventually admitting it was just too damn strong.

I guess time and neglect are harsher foes than explosives, because a few years ago, the Monocacy Aqueduct was beginning to crumble. Fortunately it has since been restored, though of course it is no longer used as an aqueduct. As part of the C & O Canal towpath trail, bikers and hikers bike and walk over it.

You can also climb up to the sides …

… but be careful: there is no railing on the north side.

(It’s hard to get a perspective here, but it’s a few-story drop to the river.)

Here is the towpath just past the aqueduct: many miles of the trail look very similar to this. As you can see, the canal is no longer there:

After a few miles north on the towpath from the Monocacy, you come to Dickerson Conservation Park, which is mostly used for fishing in the Potomac, but where the towpath actually runs along water (only 25 miles of the 184.5 are watered today):

Keep walking and you’ll come to Nolands Ferry. The towpath goes over this culvert.

A little further still and you come to Point of Rocks. This is the Route 15 bridge in Point of Rocks, taken from the towpath. Here is a somewhat annoying fact: there are only three ways to drive between Maryland and Virginia: the American Legion bridge on 495 (a.k.a. the Capital Beltway), the Point of Rocks bridge, and White’s Ferry, which is another stop on the towpath, and also literally still a ferry, which means it’s somewhat slow, doesn’t operate at all hours, and incurs a toll. As a Virginia resident whose entire family, and many friends, live in Maryland, it can be pretty frustrating that the only practical way to get to Maryland is 495. (495 is almost always a traffic nightmare.) It’s not practical to take Route 15 to get to Baltimore, but it is a very pretty drive if you are trying to get to some other areas of Maryland, and standing there in Maryland after hours of hiking in the sun, I found myself happy to get into my convertible and drive across the Potomac once again to get to my home in Virginia.

Sigh: “happy”, “home”, “Virginia” – did I really just string all those words together in one sentence??

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