Sunday, August 23, 2009

Photo is of what's left of an albatross chick with bottle caps and cigarette lighter in its digestive system. This is part of the reason we pick up litter from the river. It's a global issue, not just local.

We had a great day on the River yesterday, Saturday, 8-22-09. It was a special trip because we had on board the Monongahela Monitor Mr. Alex Lang, a new reporter for The Dominion Post, our local newspaper. He was interested in doing an article about our river cleanups and was new to the Monongahela River. He's also new to Morgantown, having recently received a master's degree in journalism at Columbia University.

We departed our marina dock just as the Arkwright, a boat owned by Consol, was coming out of the lock northbound with loads of limestone from the Greer dock just above the dam. As she steered out, we headed in, chatting up Mr. Lang about the river and our litter project. Naturally, he got an earful. (Photo courtesy Consol Energy).

We found, as we knew we would, a mother lode of litter along the west bank above the dam, the most high-tech we've come across: among the bottles and cans and Styrofoam was an old computer monitor (circa 1998) clearly marked WVU Hospitals.

We also got a bumper from a red Pontiac. So, if you've lost one up river, let me know.

But the great part was seeing the Osprey! Maureen and I were down in the river among the litter. Alex was on the boat pulling in our full bags, and right over our heads went this huge bird with a pretty good sized fish in its talons.

Later, we took Alex upriver to see some of the sights (a couple having lunch on the deck of a barge near the Morgantown Ordnance Works, a flock of turkeys in the field, the calm river reflecting the height of summer color on its placid surface) and yet another osprey gave us a great show, diving and flying around our boat. He took a close look at us, and I believe thought, "Hey, people, thanks for getting that stuff off the river." He might have.

Anyway, it was a perfect outing and the article should be in the paper on Sunday, 8-29-09. (update: it's now scheduled for September 27.)

A thought: the Morgantown Ordnance Works should be a preserved historical site. It was one of three in the US under very heavy security, developing heavy water for the first atomic bomb. I took some people out for a trip on the river and one of the passengers was amazed we had one of these. He had just been in Norway, and the Nazi heavy water plant is a tourist attraction there.

Monday, August 17, 2009

I don't know if you can see this, but it's a guy sleeping on his bass boat. He ran a line up over a low-hanging limb, flattened himself out on the deck and went off to dreamland.

It was pretty warm this past weekend, but there was a little breeze across the water, and things were quiet down at the river. There were some big fluffy white clouds, and I tried this guy's maneuver, too, for a while after a cool swim.

I was looking up into the clouds, which were pretty high, and I saw a lone dot moving across the white background. It was a bird, soaring so high up that it was just a speck, unnoticed, except by someone laying on his back looking at the sky. I don't know why, but the bird immediately made me think of a kayaker way out at sea. Alone and pretty much non-existent except to himself.

If you can do it, I highly recommend this posture. First get somewhere that's quiet, where a breeze comes up every so often. Drop anchor or tie off in a shady spot out of the channel. Lie on your back and look up at the clouds and think what they look like as they change shape.

Sweet dreams!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Weekend on the river

I guess it was Friday that I saw the Aliquippa come up with loads of sand. Consol owns her too. So I'm catching up on this posting. This is beginning to seem a little bit like the shipping news for Morgantown, mile 102.

On Saturday, we went early to the Farmers Market, which is quite an event in Morgantown. The parking lot was full at 8:25 a.m., and the market was thronged with people -- and plenty of produce, now that the harvest season is well under way.

But we didn't spend much time there. We were on a mission.
The big deal this weekend was our river cleanup.
Maureen and I had talked some weeks ago to the lockman at Morgantown, and he showed us where a lot of litter had gone up behind the upper land wall at the lock and dam, and we determined to come back and get that some day.

Well, Saturday was the day. There's about 10 feet of water behind the wall, so we were able to take the Monitor in there and get right up to the litter.

Maureen jumped into the task immediately - literally - going right in among the floating jetsom and really suprising me with her enthusiasm.

She's really gotten to be as fanatic as I am about this effort. We just like to see how nice the river looks after we're done in a spot.

We've speculated on how long that litter would have been stuck behind the lock wall. I suppose it would have floated out and back behind the dam evenually. We've begun to think that perhaps we are having an effect.

And believe it or not, we are really having a good time. This is a wife and husband activity that gives us a feeling of togetherness - that's the best I can describe it - that we both feel and appreciate.

We weren't out too long before our deck was pretty full and we retuned to the marina.

Maureen and I want to do the whole river, Fairmont to Pittsburgh, starting next summer. We've discussed this and understand that it would be quite an undertaking. We're trying to decide just how to go about it. It would probably take all summer and part of the fall. At right, Maureen enters our "catch" into the Monitor's log book back at the marina. The lock and dam can be seen upriver in the background.

We had the pleasure of seeing a fellow launch his rowing scull. He, like a lot of others, thanked us for doing the litter cleanups.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Osage Arrives

It was a warm day yesterday. Not unusual for these parts in August. So after work I took off and ran down to the river along the rail trail and took the Monongahela Monitor out. We chuged up below the dam, scouting for litter to pick up during this weekend's clean-up.

I was also scouting for a good place to swim. That's not hard, but since the City of Morgantown decided to hack down the trees along the east bank, the privacy along that side is not what it used to be. Don't get me started.

As I was coming down river toward Morgantown, I saw a large boat with
foam in her teeth coming round the bend in the distance below the Westover Bridge. It was the the Coast Guard Cutter Osage, homeport of Sewickley, Pa.,

The Osage, a 65-foot inland river tender that pushes a 100-foot barge, has an area of responsibility that covers the Allegheny, Monongahela, Ohio, Kanawha and Big Sandy rivers in and throughout the Pittsburgh area.

According to the USCG web site, the crew maintains about 800 aids to navigation in and along the rivers' banks, while also brush-cutting areas around shore aids during the summer months.

I waved to the crew and said welcome to Morgantown. They went on up through the lock, and I had my swim, finding a good spot below Old Lock 10. As I headed back to my dock, a rather large cruiser came into the marina. A bunch of guys from Ten Mile Creek.

There is almost always something interesting to see and do down at the river. People to meet. Especially in the summer.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Birds to see

I love to watch, and often hear before I watch, the belted kingfisher. On the river, if you are in a kayak or other quiet vessel, you can hear this bird, which, it seems to me, must chatter as it flies. The bird perches on the limbs, overhanging the water, and watches for a form down below; watches, and waits, and dives for a meal.

Also seen often is the wonderfully large blue heron, who drags his feet behind him as he flies. Once, while kayaking near Round Bottom (mile 106-107) at night, I came upon a heron but didn't know it. With a loud crow-like call, the great bird flew off of the tree branch over my head.

Scared the heck out of me. Funny how fear puts an indelible impression on our pasts. Reminds me of the time I came across a man, his wife and son in a small boat near Uffington (mile 105). This is just a couple miles below Hildebrand Lock and Dam.

I was swimming across the river and noticed that the people were getting out of the boat, way out in the river. I mean it looked like they were doing an abandon ship. So I took The Monitor across and sure enough, their boat was sinking. The wife, sitting like nothing was wrong while the water rose around her pudgy ankles, was saying some rather unkind things about her husband, the son was looking as if he'd like to see both parents drown, and the husband was, in chest deep water, trying to push the boat up on the bar that is right off of Booths Creek. I hooked up with them, got in the water, and we managed to find the leak. The man looked to me like he was going to need cardiac care right away....

Well, turns out this was the guy's birthday present and its maiden voyage under his command, and, well, he didn't know about the drain plug in the bottom that ought to be plugged up before being launched....

So, we stuck something in the hole, the man bailed, while the wife kept up the disparaging remarks and the son looked on in despair. We got her to float pretty well and I towed the wreck and her near castaways to the boat ramp. But back to the issue of fear. I told them - for as their savior I was in a position to give advice, that they should be happy. "Years from now, you'll remember this outing," I preached. "Had nothing happened, you'd a had a nice boat trip, but nowhere near so precious a memory as this event has been."

I think they thought I was a jerk, but I believe in looking on the bright side. Might as well, the other side is pretty grim.

Well, I'd meant to talk about the little green heron some, but that fear story rolled out, and I'm a little pressed for time right now. I'll come back to that one. By the way, the blue heron isn't blue and the green heron isn't green.

Monday, August 10, 2009

On Saturday I met Vernon Lloyd down at the river. I was on the Monongahela Monitor, coming across from the west side to clean litter off the east bank below the new hotel and conference center, and I saw this guy on the bank. In retrospect it's interesting that I thought he might be a drunk.

You see those sorts along the river. But Vernon had a pail and something else in his hand and I determined he was fishing. From about half way across the river I thought he looked like Ernest Hemingway.

I ran the Monitor up onto the bank and hopped ashore and started picking up litter and asked him if he was getting bait. He had a net he was throwing out, and the answer was obvious, but I just wanted to start a conversation.

He said he was catching shad for bait, little fish swimming in his pail, beautiful tiny flecks of silver.

He thanked me for cleaning up the river and said he could remember the Mon from 40 years ago. He said it used to be orange. "People just don't know how much it has changed, " he commented. Then he told me about his life and how he'd just missed Vietnam. He had enlisted after not-so-good grades in agriculture at WVU and his enlistment was up just before the US jumped into the quagmire of Southeast Asia. But he found his own quagmire: alcohol.

He hit the bottle pretty hard and lost everything he owned, including a house in Morgantown. "I had to get help - I had to get out of that!" Seems he found the Lord and AA. But, I thought he was, perhaps, a drunk.

From a distance.

But then I saw he had a pail and a net for fishing on the Mon River. Drunks don't fish, I've noticed.

The MedExpress Triathlon Convinced Me

I decided to start this blog because of the unusual sight of hundreds of humans, clad in black wet suits and white swim caps, leaping from the Morgantown Marina dock into the Mon river Sunday morning just after sunup.

Reminded me of the penguins standing in a row and throwing themselves into the sea. The humans were lined up on the dock in what must have been 4-5 groups of 100 swimmers. Then the signal would sound and off they would go - just like penguins! A group of about 10, then another, then another.

It was a really neat sight. I had camped on my pontoon boat, The Monongahela Monitor, on the west side of the river, anchored near the shore right by Old Lock # 10. I watched the sun rise over Morgantown, made some coffee, had breakfast and then watched the penguins (swimmers). Pretty soon there were hundreds of arm failing in the water and legs kicking up water. You could hear the splashes.

You have to understand, now, that this is a most odd and, to my mind, auspicious sight. People don't generally swim in the Mon because they think it's polluted.

This triathlon may be one of the best ways of changing the backward opinion of the Mon River. But we need more people to come out on these hot days and take a swim. I've been thinking about starting the Mon Organization for River Fun and Swimming, or MORFS. What do you think? (Photos by Bob Gay of The Dominion Post).

So this blog will be about what I see on or around the Mon River. Sometimes I just don't think people see what I see, and I'd like to share this....