Last week I had the privilege of taking to the skies, and I must say, the rawness with which Assateague and the surrounding coastal landscape exemplifies this time of year is astounding. At 2,000 feet above, the desolate, wild image that the Island of Assateague and our Coastal Bays portray only deepened the respect I have for this area’s coastal ecosystem. The effect these cold winter months have on the islands, marshes, and wildlife of Maryland is nothing short of amazing. From above, the image is an embodiment of Mother Nature. With chunks of ice floating on the surface water at the mercy of the wind and tides, vegetation that has gone dormant as it awaits longer days ahead, and beaches absent of the crowds they are often associated with, one would be convinced they have found a piece of coastal wilderness lost in time. I am drawn to this area because of the beauty in the solitude it offers.
After a brief fly over of the Island, our flight itinerary took us further inland. The image from above shifted, and the peace of mind that a natural landscape offers was replaced by a sense of disappointment. The purpose of our flight was to capture aerial views and geographic coordinates of poultry factories in the area. Referred to as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), these mammoth poultry factories are spreading across Delmarva at an alarming rate. The issue isn’t new, and is in fact a main campaign at Assateague Coastal Trust as we vigilantly work to protect water quality, the health of our communities, and the health of the coastal ecosystem from agricultural pollution.
Peering out of that tiny plane window, I saw a landscape scarred by the hand of man. We’ve all seen these factories. Take a Sunday drive down the many back country roads, and you would be hard pressed to not notice the metal chambers sprawling across the majority of the open fields. Looking at the CAFOs from above, I am struck with emotion similar to that which I feel when passing by them on the ground. These huge industrial sized poultry CAFO’s are not just unpleasant, they are repulsive. They are creeping into our communities, and they are threatening the very land and waterways to which we owe our deepest respect. It is the land and rich coastal ecosystem of this area that has provided every resident that calls this place home the opportunity to flourish in such a remarkable environment.
With a birds eye view, I also note just how close these CAFO’s are to a place that has given people of this area and afar so much. On land, the proximity of these CAFOs to Maryland’s coastal bays isn’t as clear. Above the canopy of trees, however, it truly is terrifying to acknowledge the encroachment of the poultry industry on our coastal landscape. For those that doubt the problem at hand, I urge them to take a brief glance at any recent aerial photograph of the area. Navigate the region for five minutes on Google Earth. Poultry CAFO’s are taking over our rich land at the expense of our communities, wildlife, and water quality. What I saw on that flight was an industry driven by profit, slowly encroaching on a Land that is priceless.
I wonder how it might look if the massive poultry houses plaguing this area were actually small family farms. The poultry industry sells the public with an image reminiscent of the good American life, complete with a red farm house and rustic wood fence surrounding a country plot of roaming farm animals. The real image is that of massive metal buildings that have scarred this region physically and mentally. So, I would like to ask big chicken, what happened to so many of the small family farms I once knew in this area? Like the wise artist Graham Nash said, “my advise to you is to not take advice from the dealers who are handing out the cards.”
It is time to recapture the essence of this Land, and stand in defense of the Eastern Shore for the beauty it holds and the beauty it’s capable of procuring.
The Eastern Shore is my home. I left it nine years ago and returned last February. Though I have been back on my home turf in Assateague for a year now, it only took a few days upon my return to acknowledge the many problems big poultry is inflicting on our communities, the land, and the wildlife. Let's take a stand.
Please feel free to visit ACT's Community Healthy Air Act (CHAA) page to learn how ACT is working to help local communities in their efforts to ensure CAFO emissions are regulated.
Through rain, snow drifts, bitter cold and wind, I’ve spent months waiting for the opportunity that presented itself earlier today. Representing one of my favorite wild animals, the Red Fox, this little lady gave me the opportunity to witness her elusive ways. A rare moment that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. I spent nearly a half hour trekking behind her as she led me through standing water, ice, shin high marsh mud, briars, and the dune system on Assateague Island State Park. With nose to the ground and an unwavering focus, she remained adamant in her daily chores despite my presence. Carry on my friend, tis’ a nice day…
Reminding everyone to get outside, explore, and recognize the beauty this Land has to offer.
You can't look for it. The value of living in the present, opening your mind to the universe, and listening to the voice of Nature is validated at those moments when we feel that deep connection to the rawness of Earth. Finding that connection by listening to the land and its components is a practice many have neglected in their pursuit of control and the lure of false security. We go about our lives with expectations, and in those expectations, we have preconceived ideas. We have been taught, somewhere along the line, that we must control everything, and that money and power brings us greater control. It is this control that pools the wool over our eyes, and makes many oblivious to not just the beauty and complexity of Nature, but the answers which Nature is attempting to convey.
I habitually use the term Nature in my writing, and it begs the question, what is Nature? Nature is everywhere and it is represented by the biological organisms and the physical processes that depend on each to ensure life occurs in the most harmonious, efficient manner possible on this planet. Those that understand Nature this way will agree with the philosophy of a man-Nature disconnect that routinely surfaces in my posts. Our society is neglecting the need for a true relationship with Nature and the Land it inhabits. At risk is our ability to communicate with Nature and understand the Land.
Earth, Nature, and the Land is as real as it gets. I truly believe that Mother Earth and the laws of Nature that comprise her are aware of those that respect the Land and share their energy with it. The reward for those that develop this connection with the Land, listen to Nature, and understand the importance of place on Earth can not be acquired by power, politics, money or possessions. There must be an understanding between man and Nature, and a relationship must exist between the Land and its inhabitants if we wish to continue residing here.
Many walk through this life with preconceived ideas, looking for answers in places and enterprises that pull us further away from the Land. The mass of individuals comprising today’s society are failing to keep rhythm with Nature. Should we continue to move forward under the aforesaid circumstances, we will continue to forfeit the many gifts Nature has to offer.
My fascination with Native Americans and their relationship with the Land exemplifies the connection we must strive for today. Wisdom resides with the Native American, and there is much we can learn from their ways and their words. The late 19th century Teton Sioux medicine man, Brave Buffalo, once said “I have noticed in my life that all men have a liking for some special animal, tree, plant, or spot of earth. If men would pay more attention to these performances and seek what is best to do in order to make themselves worthy of that toward which they are so attracted, they might have dreams which would purify their lives. Let a man decide upon his favorite animal and make a study of it, learning its innocent ways. Let him learn to understand its sounds and motions. The animals want to communicate with man, but Wakantanka does not intend they shall do so directly – man must do the greater art in securing an understanding.”
Too many people today are using their souls to bargain with enterprises that return nothing of purity. We are putting our trust and soul into men that are taking that energy and contributing to the very enterprises that pull us further away from what it is that we not only need, but what we all long for.
If we stop to think about the problems facing the world today, we will see that those problems are a manifestation of man forgetting his place on this planet. Our “advances” have actually set us back, and removed us spiritually from the Land. The condition of the Land, the health of the Earth’s biomes, and the Spirit of man are in jeopardy if we continue to treat it as a resource, and neglect communing with Nature.
Inspiration for this post comes from an evening a couple weeks ago in which a snow storm, a pine tree, and a camp fire spoke words of wisdom, like that conveyed by Brave Buffalo. After a large offshore low migrated up the coast and moved north of the Mid Atlantic region, our landscape was left under a thick blanket of snow and a sharp northeast wind that ushered in a bitter cold. An excellent opportunity for the game of wildlife hide and seek awaited. Warding off cabin fever, Lindsey Buckman and I scurried up to Cape Henlopen Sate Park. Single digit temperatures and thigh deep snow drifts tend to keep the hiking trails in this area relatively quiet, from the human. Lindsey welcomed the opportunity as prime time to savor a moment with the infamous snowy owl, and I was convinced that the endless tracks in the snow would lead me to the always elusive, and forever mystical, solitary red fox. Nature spoke through the many warblers, finches, blue birds, and herons that went about their daily lives on that cold January afternoon. Nature guided us through the woods and the sand dunes with the foot prints of local fox and racoon. After a few hours of trekking through snow drifts and unable to spot an owl or a fox, it was apparent that we were looking too hard. With silence on our side, snow on the ground, and a plethora of tracks, I was certain the owl would appear before us and the fox I had been tracking would reward my efforts. You can't look for it. In a way, I was trying to control how Nature would speak to me, and by doing so, I wasn't fully open to the language of Nature. I was limiting myself to one language, but Nature speaks many languages and answers us in different ways. Knowing those languages and the manner in which they are conveyed is the skill we must preserve if we are going to understand this world and our place in it.
After returning home, my mind was open, I was relaxed, and in rhythm. I had spent a day hiking through snow with my best friend observing the local wildlife at one of our nearby State Parks. Clarity and sense of the world happened because I was open to the Land around me, and thankful for the simplicity our Earth offers. I was content and at ease with the warmth of the fire that Lindsey had made on the snow in front of my rancher. I had warmth around me, snow beneath my feet, and the shadow of the trees above my head. And in that moment, in the small notch of a pine tree that rests in front of my house, a woodpecker was seeking a last minute refugee from the wind and cold. As we stood in front of this amazing bird, literally inches away, admiring it as it huddled into this perfectly spaced hollow of a pine tree, a fox dashed pass the fire and into the small tract of woods in front of my house.
...all in a day.
Leave control out of your life. Open your mind to the Land. Renew your relationship with the Earth. Listen to Nature. Sometimes the answers we're looking for are nestled in the notch of a pine tree.
And just like that, an entire county can shut down. It's weather like this that first sparked my interest in science and the natural world. The power of Nature continues to, and will always keep things in check. The snow. The cold. The wind. A few elements on this planet that are oh so humbling. Nature speaks to us every day, and today she is speaking loud enough for everyone to hear. Enjoy the snow, stay safe, and read a book.
We all feel the need to get a little fresh air from time to time. The outdoors is an invaluable resource. Immersing ourselves in the outdoors enables us to develop a level of respect and understanding for the animals and physical processes that characterize the outdoors. By doing so, we can improve our health, and the health of the environment. More so today than ever, getting outside and away from the hustle bustle of our everyday lives is critical. The outdoors allows us time to free our minds and forget about the stress society places on us. From something as simple as taking a short walk along the waters edge, to embarking on a week long kayak trip down the Sinepuxent Bay, getting outside, moving our bodies, and listening to our surroundings offers our minds, bodies, and soul a temporary escape. With Winter in full force and the recent cold spell that's become the talk of the town the past couple weeks, getting outside may take a little extra motivation. This time of year many dread even a walk to the mailbox. But Winter, and the cold this special season brings has much to offer. Cold, dry air brings the horizon into focus and resides as a prime time for Nature photographers to take advantage of the exceptional clarity. So, layer up, fill the thermos with some hot coffee, and take a stroll through you local walking trail. Go for a walk in the woods. Visit your National and State Parks. I think you'll find that once you're moving around and listening to the land, you'll develop an appreciation for cold weather. This is a shorter piece than I would usually post, and intentionally, because I'm ready to get back outside, explore, and learn. Stay warm folks, and enjoy.
I recently returned from a two-day trip across the Chesapeake Bay. With minimal and inconsistent surf the past few weeks, and my inability to sit still, I was desperate for a little adventure. My friend Lindsey Buckman and I made our way across the bridge with little more than a camera and an old pair of binoculars. My intention was to gain a better understanding of individuals in today’s society and their relationship with the Natural World. As I've grown older, I've learned to listen to Nature and the signs it tries to convey to us all. If you learn to refrain from the man-made distractions in today's world, and focus on the ways Nature speaks to us, you realize your place in the world. Watching people, how they interact with others and their surroundings, how they carry themselves, and the strength of their relationship with Nature holds many of the answers to the challenges facing the world today.
Since I was in undergrad, I have been intrigued by the disconnect that has evolved between man and Nature. Nature, in all of its biological and physical forms, is as real as it gets in this life, and it is becoming very apparent that the majority of people in first world societies are losing their connection to that reality. The disconnect has been a slow evolution, and it has therefore gone unnoticed. This past weekend, visiting the Nation’s Capital, the disconnect was even more apparent.
I split the trip into two days. Day one I would spend in D.C., and Day two I would escape to Great Falls National Park in Virginia. I strategically stopped in D.C. first, knowing myself and the anxiety I get in cities, the National Park on Sunday would bring me back to the reality I prefer, and serve as a kind of cleanse and renewal.
My time in D.C. clarified a couple things. I believe distractions are the primary cause for the erosion of our relationship with Nature. That's not to say all distractions are negative. There are two kinds of distractions, those that bring us closer to each other and the Natural World, and those that pull us further away from our connection to everything that is real. In D.C. the later was pervasive. I do not by any means detest technology, without it I wouldn't have had the chance to create The Marsh and you wouldn't be able to read what I have to say, but the advent of smartphones and social media and the extent to which people have become so reliant and, yes, addicted, has removed us from reality. We have created a world so separate from Nature that as we walk around looking for solutions in our phones, computers, and "leaders" (yes, I'm placing "leaders" in the same category, distractions), we are walking past answers that are right there in Nature. Not everyone is going to find the formula for World Peace in the lone oak tree that rests in front of the Department of Justice, but I am saying that if we slow down, listen to Nature speak, and stop trying to control everything, the real world, the Natural World, will reveal itself and our connection to it will begin to heal.
The divisions among people and classes, and the disconnect between man and nature is real, and it is most prevalent in our cities. I spent the day walking around D.C., listening. I saw anger on peoples' faces. I saw a lack of compassion among people that have separated themselves into classes (a result of greed). Extreme wealth beside extreme poverty. Priorities were out of touch with what really matters. I saw the disconnect. The further removed from Nature we become, the further the decline in the health of people, and the environment. What I saw further demonstrated the disconnect we've fostered.
Take what I observed in D.C., and drive 30 miles west of the city, and you'll find you are free from those distractions that have led to the disconnect. 30 miles, that's barely a half hour by car, but the difference in energy, clarity of mind, and public morale would lead one to believe they've traveled an entire continent and discovered a piece of nirvana. The first thing I heard was the pace of time. You can actually hear different speeds of time. If you haven't yet, you haven't slowed down enough, and listened. Nature is on real time. We live our daily lives on a time that is separate from Nature, but, if you take yourself to these places, and open up to them, you will find yourself adjusting to the time difference. Keep listening. Nature talks a lot, and we have everything to learn.
It isn't just in D.C. that the disconnect exists. D.C. is just a place where negative distractions are evident. I've used it here as a representation of the disconnect I've identified for over a decade. Great Falls National Park isn't the only place we can find happiness, peace, understanding, and Truth. But it serves to show that we need Nature, we need quiet places, we need to get back to what is real.
These places show us who we are. They demonstrate that we are not in control and only part of something far greater than any city. They are humbling places, and they have something to tell us. We just need to listen. What I've learned is that place takes two forms. One is physical, the other resides in ourselves, in our soul. Where is your place.
We live in a complex world, and the variables that have led to the disconnect are just as complex. I am still trying to understand the disconnect, and probably will for the duration of my time on this Earth.
Written by W.R. Weiland
Coast Kids is an environmental education program of the Assateague Coastal Trust. Through a hands on, outdoor approach, we are teaching future generations the importance of healthy ecosystems, and connecting kids to Nature. Visit our Coast Kids page for more information.
Today, with the advent of smart phones, it seems everyone is a professional photographer. What a photograph represents to the photographer, though, I believe is what separates photographer as artist, and photographer as a dispassionate passerby. I am by no means a photographer, but when I see something that resonates an idea, inspiration, or feeling, I want to capture that moment, be it through music, writing, or a photograph. The photograph I've included here is not what many would think to be an image worthy of drawing attention to. That is until I can explain why this picture was captured. The first day of December, 2017, I was kayaking through the marshes and small bays behind Ocean City, MD. With a turning tide, I noticed quite a bit of leaf litter meandering on the surface. If asked what sights a typical day on the water brings, a leaf probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind. A leaf is formed on land. The fact that this leaf, along with a myriad of other leaves, pine needles, and driftwood found its way into the coastal bays where I was paddling resides as a visual case in point that what is produced on land, ultimately finds a way into our waterways. Think on that for awhile.
There is something strikingly primitive about Winter. Winter is the wind and cold that grip a landscape. It is an overcast sky that casts a shadow over the land. There is a rawness in Winter that is both savage, and humbling. The rawness that is in Winter stresses the importance of the most basic human needs: food, shelter, and health. Winter is wise and it can teach us who we are. Winter reaches out to help people look inside themselves, reflect on the past, and contemplate the future. Deciduous trees heed Winter by dropping their leaves, giving us a chance to glimpse deeper into the forest, and, if we listen, to ourselves.
Reminding everyone to enjoy Winter. The seasons are a reflection of the soul.
It’s Sunday morning, the morning after the first snow fall of the season. With the Winter solstice still a week and a half away, the eastern shore is experiencing a taste of the Winter season that is yet to come. The scenery on Assateague Island this morning did not disappoint. With the Sun slipping lower on the horizon as we approach the first day of Winter, some of you have probably noticed the exceptional sunsets over the past week. With an almost mystical array of orange and pink hues painted on the horizon, I think many would agree that his time of year and the ways our natural world conveys a changing season is a privilege not to be taken for granted. Compliment the unique angle of a Winter Sun’s rays with a beach coated in a couple inches of snow, and Assateague Island emits an energy that attracts the individuals of this area with a special connection and dedication to the Island. The raw wildness that still hangs on in this area ceases to amaze me. Mike Trivitz, Lindsey Buckman, and Billy Weiland greeted this morning on Assateague with appreciation and a smile.
With colder weather settling over the region I know many are already in anticipation of warmer days to come. As an enthusiast for the outdoors and advocate for bringing people back to nature, I hope my words reside as inspiration and motivation to get out there and enjoy the nature that is all around us. It is here for us to learn, and here for us to enjoy. Winter is an amazing time of year folks. Go for a walk in the woods. Look for our native birds. Smell the air as one season moves out and another moves in. Walk to the edge of a marsh, and listen.
The Marsh was created by ACT’s Communications and Programs Assistant, Billy Weiland. The idea behind The Marsh is rooted in the philosophy that to care about this planet and develop a connection with Nature, people must immerse themselves in the environment. Graham Nash put it perfectly when he said “you have to feel something before you create something.” Nature has everything to teach us, and it is our responsibility to listen. Developing that connection with Nature necessitates a level of respect and understanding of our natural world. Too many have become disconnected from Nature. The Marsh is here to inspire people to get out and explore, learn, and develop a deep relation with our natural environment. Earth is an unbelievable planet. The complexity of physics that govern it, and the diversity of life that inhabit it offer endless opportunities of discovery, be it self-discovery or scientific discovery. So, welcome to The Marsh, bringing people back to nature through adventure, literature, and the arts.
If you would like to contribute a story or photos that align with the philosophy of The Marsh, please email samples with your name and contact information to Billy Weiland at email@example.com.