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My Friend’s Special Birthday Celebration: An Environmental Group Clean-Up

What a rainy morning, today, Saturday, September 8, 2018! A flood watch was predicted for our area in Philadelphia, PA. Torrential rains poured for hours! However, inclement weather wasn’t going to keep me from celebrating my dear friend, Anne’s birthday. We consider each other sisters! :-) Dr. Anne is a biologist, conservationist, ecologist, educator, writer (writes scientific papers), and teaches a plant medicinal and biology classes at a university in Philly. She is such a warm-hearted, loving, and compassionate person who has traveled around the world and loved in different countries. Anne has helped different people groups to take care of and plant the proper trees and native wild plants for a particular geographical area. One year she supported coffee growers in another country, too.

Anyway, is wasn’t unusual for Anne to invite several friends and new students from her college to an environmental clean-up in the form of a birthday celebration in a section of the Wissahickon Valley of Fairmount Park system. The park system has more than 2000 acres of lovely shaded forested woodlands, gently rolling hills, meandering creeks, tumbling waterfalls, glistening lakes, well-maintained trails for walking, hiking, biking, jogging, running, and horseback riding. The seasonal changes occurring during the four seasons of the year are absolutely breathtaking! Historic Victorian boathouses grace a picturesque waterfront, too. Three environmental centers, a wildlife refuge center, and Shofuso Japanese House and Garden, Philadelphia Public Zoo, public spaces for incredible concerts, and more amenities are available for avid park lovers. Fairmount Park is an incredible semi-hidden gem (meaning folks are surprised and astound upon discovering this astounding treasure trove. Oh, and one more thing: ARTWORKS! An astounding array of public artworks such as sculpture dot the park landscape as well.

On the day of Anne’s birthday, rain showers were forecast, the cleanup was to occur rain or shine with temperatures around 67 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Anne texted me the night before to see whether or not I was still coming, and I told her I was still going! Yay! I possessed attitudes of adventure, learning, excitement and enjoying nature. Above all, I certainly wasn’t going to miss her important birthday celebration of cleaning and removing trash from our glorious, magnificent parklands! Why her idea of a cleanup? Because, as she stated, she believes in giving back — back to Mother Nature who has sustained, nurtured, and fed us through millennia! Anne picked me up at 
8:15 a.m. I wore a plaid shirt, jeans, socks, sweater, a scarf, a straw hat, socks, and a pair of old, comfy sneakers. I was prepared to ROCK (that is get muddy and dirty *smile*). Annnnd…the rain continued.

United By Blue, a business, sponsored the clean-up, along with other supporting organizations such as Friends of the Wissahickon. United By Blue is dedicated to picking up one pound of trash from our waterways and oceans for every product it sells. United By Blue started organizing and hosting cleanups throughout the United States; because, they deeply desired to make a make a much bigger impact through personal, participatory, direct actions instead of just writing checks. Blue staff ardently believe in being and living as responsible stewards of nature. Regarding their own products, they use responsible materials, for example, recycled polyester created from reused plastic bottles.

After we arrived at one of two parking lots of the Valley Green Inn, Anne fixed me right on up with a spare rain coat and size 7 men’s waders that she plucked from her car trunk. Walking around to the front passenger side where I sat with the door open, Anne held up an umbrella and told me to swing each leg out and showed me how to point each foot, toes down, to slide them into the bulky gray-green waders. I was so awkward (fingers fumbling), as this was my first time wearing waders! Then I stood up, put on the raincoat, fastened the hood, and snugly placed my beige straw hat on top of my rain hood. Then we meandered over (or maybe I should say I “clunked” over with my heavy, clumsy tread, like some kind of robotic creature. lol.) to the service tents to sign in and get our supplies. We received a blue garbage bag for recyclables such as glass bottles and aluminum cans, a white garbage bag for what I call junk trash, and heavy-duty clean work gloves. Long, vertical trash pick-up tools were also passed out. But, our group of five didn’t receive any, as volunteer staff told us that they had run out. Many people had signed up to volunteer.

In addition to the cleanup tools and materials, the organizations provided food and drinks: healthy well-balanced energy bars, water, bottles of unsweetened green organic tea, Gatorade, etc. Later, after the volunteers finished their stints, another great organization, honeygrow, (yes, that “h” is lowercase.) served us a delicious fruit salad containing different fruit like blueberries, with a drizzle of honey, shredded coconut, and bit of chocolate. Yummy! :-)

After the initial eating and drinking and gathering our tools and supplies, a group picture was shot and announcements and directions given. We were divided into three groups. Our own smaller group of five, along with the larger group, hiked up to Devil’s Pool area. This lovely area was temporarily closed so that trash could be picked up and repair made to the area. DP is a very popular place for visitors, but too many people had left it trashy. People have also drown in the pool, who couldn’t resist illegal diving and swimming in the treacherous water.

Finally, it stopped raining as we wound our way up to Devil’s Pool. The paths, stepping stones, and rocks were muddy and so slippery; and I was wishing for my walking pole that I’d left at home. I have fibromyalgia, and it wasn’t easy for me to maneuver around and/or over a few areas. (I enjoy gentle walks and hikes, though.) So, one of our team members made two walking sticks for herself and for me from found tree branches. Come to think of it, if we open our eyes, minds, and hearts, nature can provide many inexpensive solutions for our everyday needs! My walking stick was a wonderful aid! :-) We ended up in some steep terrain picking up trash. I found myself on a narrow path, with a huge drainage pipe (I think that’s what it was) to my right and a steep incline that dropped off to my left filled with trees, underbrush, and, of course, trash. One young woman who wasn’t on our little team came up to me and asked could she toss trash into my two bags; because, her’s was already filled, and I said, “Sure!” So, we formed a little partnership where she climbed up and down that incline, tossed up bottles and cans onto the path, and I picked them up and placed them into my recycling bag. Let me tell you, some of that trash was truly weird and gross! However, one item was interesting, a time capsule! Volunteers wrote a message for the capsule, and reburied it for the next park visitor.

Approximately 130 volunteers picked up roughly 2,336.5 lbs. of wet, soggy trash — over a TON — that was separated into recyclables and raw trash around Wissachickon Creek and environs, including Devil’s Pool. Wissahickon Creek is a tributary of the Schuykill River. Therefore, our hard work keeps more than a ton of trash from polluting the river from which a major portion of Philadelphia’s drinking water is drawn. And, our loving work keeps this huge trash from collecting and drifting further downstream. Here’s another fact to keep in mind the importance of our cleanup: Too much plastics and other garbage end up in circulating ocean currents called gyres. They can turned into dense marine vortexes of garbage. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, one of the most largest and famous trash vortexes, is twice the size of the state of Texas in the US! Just imagine an area this huge choking the life out from any living thing!

After the cleanup was finished, many of us peeled off layers, since the temperature rose, and we were perspiring and hot. After turning in our bags of recyclables and trash, plus our supplies, we ate our fruit salad and traipsed to Anne’s car. Anne popped her trunk open and took out a wonderful, decadently delicious chocolate fudge birthday cake. We sang happy birthday to her. What an incredible day full of blessings everyone enjoyed!

Anne, the birthday person, second from left. I’m on the right. :-)
Anne’s cake was on top of the blue cooler with white lid. She
Our group picture before we started. I’m wearing purple raincoat and straw hat to the far right. Anne is standing to my left. In picture on the right, trash is being collected before weighing it.