Earth Day musings: A natural reconnection

I’m an outdoorsman. At least I used to be. My earliest memories are fuzzy visions of recreating in the great outdoors. I was a Boy Scout and my dad was our scoutmaster. Dad insisted that the troop camp one weekend a month throughout the year, except for June and July, which was reserved for a two-week Scout camp. Then there were the family camping trips up and down the East Coast. Later, my friends and I threw a tent and sleeping bags in the car trunk for road trips to scenic spots.

Terry F. Liercke, president of the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, led a Nature/Bird Walk.

Terry F. Liercke led the Nature/Bird Walk. Click on the photo for more images on my Pinterest page.

I carried on that tradition when I began my own family. My daughters were in diapers and barely crawling when I began taking them on family camping trips. We camped, hiked, snow skied, and water skied throughout California. When we moved to Virginia, we explored the Shenandoah Mountains and Valley by foot and canoe, camped at Pohick Bay Regional Park, and kayaked off Chincoteague Island.

But somehow my daughters aged and so did I. Somehow my outdoor excursions became limited to performing yard work. I had lost my connection to nature. Daughter Clare pushed me back with a recent gift of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Washington, D.C. On Saturday, I took my first guided nature walk in years.

Our guide was Terry F. Liercke, president of the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia. Our venue was Mason Neck State Park, which was celebrating its 2014 Eagle Festival. Initially, I was disappointed because our hike was to be along the Bay View Trail, the trail I had hiked the week before. I wanted to hike the Eagle Spur Trail. It was, after all, the Eagle Festival and I wanted to see a bald eagle, or two, or three! But I grudgingly plodded along with about a dozen others.

It wasn’t long before I realized I was seeing the trail with new eyes. I learned, for example, that oak trees, including the native oaks of this mature hardwood forest, can host 534 species of moths and butterflies. The bird boxes in the freshwater marsh were erected for the wood duck. Mayapples and spring beauties adorn the forest floor. Blueberry bushes grow in wild abundance. Butterflies and bees avoid azaleas because they are non-native plants. Beaver and Canada geese live in harmony, or at least the goose we saw napping on a beaver lodge. A pair of osprey flew overhead as we approached the shore of Belmont Bay. But no eagles, until one of our group called out, pointing to a spot above the early spring’s leafless canopy, “Is that a bald eagle?” It was. Eagle Festival mission accomplished.

Bald eagle flies over hikers.

Bald eagle flies over hikers. Click on the photo for more images on my Pinterest page.

One would think it would be difficult to visit the park and fail to see an eagle. The Mason Neck peninsula juts into the Potomac River about 20 miles south of Washington, D.C. Like Italy, the peninsula is shaped like a boot. Mason Neck State Park comprises the top of the boot along Belmont Bay. The Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge is the boot’s sole on the banks of the Potomac River. It was the first national refuge created specifically to provide bald eagle habitat. Gunston Hall (home of founding father George Mason) and Pohick Bay Regional Park run up the Achilles tendon bordering Gunston Cove and Pohick Cove, respectively. Together, the four entities provide wildlife with 6,000 acres of protected land in which to thrive. Dozens of bald eagles call the peninsula home. One of them had to fly overhead.

Caroline

Caroline “CobraCaroline” Seitz explains how the eastern rat snake she is holding is a bald eagle food source. Click on the photo for more images on my Pinterest page.

And one did. Our nature walk and mission concluded, I was drawn to the Big Tent by the energetic voice of “CobraCaroline” enthusing her young audience with a show-and-tell of native reptiles. Caroline Seitz owns Reptiles Alive! LLC, which performs live animal shows throughout the Greater Washington, D.C., area. In addition to being an entertainer, Seitz also is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Along with her enthralled youngsters, I learned that the eastern rat snake is among the bald eagles’ taste treats, although 90 percent of an eagle’s diet consists of fish. I also learned that the eastern snapping turtle can grow to 75 pounds. Happily, even I can outrun a turtle.

Someday, I may have to. Because I’m back to nature. Anyone want to mow my lawn while I’m hiking the great outdoors?

###

If you go:

The park is in southern Fairfax County, about 20 miles from Washington, D.C. Access to the park is via U.S. 1, then five miles east on Route 242 (Gunston Road) to the park entrance.

The address is 7301 High Point Road, Lorton, VA 22079-4010. Phone: 703-339-2385703-339-2385. Email: MasonNeck@dcr.virginia.gov

Passenger vehicle parking fees: $4 weekdays; $5 weekends.

There are no campgrounds at Mason Neck State Park, but camping is available at nearby Pohick Bay Regional Park.


Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Excellent blog post, Tom! Glad you’re getting back into nature. It’s good for the soul. You can get a battery-operated inflatable mattress for your next camping trip. Even I’m too old to sleep on the ground!

    Take care, Steph

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  2. Posted by Lena DeMonte on April 24, 2014 at 12:41 am

    Great piece for Earth Day – glad you are reconnecting with Mama Earth.

    Love, Lena

    ________________________________

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