Tag Archives: Springfield

Marge Says

Seniors get exercise and catch up with friends during a water aerobics for arthritis at South Run RECenter.

Seniors exercise and catch up with friends during a water aerobics for arthritis class at South Run RECenter.

Oh, we all have our aches and pains, our pacemakers, joint replacements and health problems but they seem less significant when we are there together. Besides, none of us is particularly stunning in a bathing suit at this point in our lives anyway.

Marge says to me, “Why don’t you write a story about us, George? We’re a unique group.” Indeed, I guess we are. We are the ten o’clock water aerobics arthritis class at South Run Park. Of course, far from all of us are in that class because we suffer with arthritis. I mean, when you are a senior, who wants to rush to get up and get to a class at 8 or 9 in the morning? Coffee and the newspaper are much more fun until you can get your body going, and we all agree that it takes longer and longer for that to happen. Oh, we all have our aches and pains, our pacemakers, joint replacements and health problems but they seem less significant when we are there together. Besides, none of us is particularly stunning in a bathing suit at this point in our lives anyway.

The first task of the day is counting the men. Are there four or five of us today? Maybe six. Where is Joe? Haven’t seen Dave since last week. We have a new guy. One day we are going to outnumber the women. Bill, the lead counter, is 89. If only I could live to 89, I should do half as well as he. Bill is an amazing gent. He travels all over the United States visiting family, makes several annual trips to Florida on the auto train and is in a perpetually positive and humorous state of mind.

There are scores of interesting folks, Anna, who talks frequently of her sick cat, and though in her 80s leaves class and invites all of us to meet her and friends at McDonalds for lunch every day, who says McDonalds appeals only to young folks? Sam, who says he is trying to overcome 45 years of inactivity, May, always with tales of the wild kindergarten grandchild and those teachers who reminisce about their experiences in the classroom. Politics is outlawed and that is good for all of us.

Don’t get the idea that water aerobics is not serious business, it is. However, first we need to find out what Pete has planted in his garden, how tall the corn is, if there are any signs of tomatoes yet. How Shirley’s and Fred’s trip across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary went. Who is reading what book and will they share it when they finished and a dozen or so other equally important things.

In a fifty-five minute class surely there is time for a little bit of chatter before, Carolyn, the instructor says, “If all you are going to do is talk, then move to the back corner.” All gets quickly quiet for a few moments and we attempt to follow the instructions all the while amazed at Carolyn’s energy level and how easily she can move her body in ways that most of us couldn’t even twenty years ago. She is patient with us as she yells out, “Watch your posture, stand up tall, you’re leaning.” Or our favorite, “faster, faster.” I am always certain that I am the only one that is leaning forward. But I know I am not the one going slow.

After about twenty-five minutes we grab our noodles and ride them like we did our pretend ponies when we were little kids. What fun! Who can paddle without their legs touching the bottom of the pool, who touches and who cheats doing a combination of both. On occasion, we take the noodle in one hand and swing it wildly in the air making certain that as we do it splashes the water periodically so someone will complain they are getting their hair wet. Of course we stretch the noodle in every possible uncomfortable position.

In the end, Carolyn wishes us well and tells us that we are finished for the day. Whew! We are tired but it is time for our reward. Out of the pool, we grab towels and rush to the hot tub to finish our conversations, relax, check on everyone’s weekend, children, and grandchildren and just soak in the warm water. It seems that we have plenty to say. We bid our farewells and then it is off to our own activities until Monday, Wednesday or Friday, whichever one is next.

Thinking about us, I am reminded of the quote from Margery Williams “Velveteen Rabbit”: “When someone really loves you, then you become real. Generally by the time you are real most of your hair has been loved off, your eyes droop and you get loose in the joints. But once you are real it lasts forever.” A collection of grandmas and grandpas, we are about as real as it gets and in spite of our lack of hair and loose joints, we can always count on having a really good time.

Written by George Towery

Treasures in Silence at Hidden Pond

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Sometimes the easiest way to observe nature is to stay put and let nature come to you.  You might relax on a park bench and notice a frog flip into a pond, or pause during a walk (I like to schedule my pauses for the uphill sections) to quietly let a deer browse ever closer.  You learn that good things come to those who wait. 

Staying put also is one way to survey wildlife. 

The annual Northern Virginia Bird Survey, hosted for 18 years by the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, employs this method for counting all the birds that can be heard or seen. Surveyors stand for five minutes at specific points located 250 meters apart.  The yearly June survey identifies the breeding birds in our area.  Is it probable that some birds are missed by this method?  Yes, but it nevertheless provides a good snapshot of what’s around. 

Taking part in the survey is also a good exercise in attention span.  Try it. Go outside, be quiet, and see how many birds, butterflies or frogs or whatever you choose you can count in five minutes.  I have found in conducting these surveys that I have a three-minute attention span, because I invariably look at my watch after three minutes.

This year, I surveyed birds at six points at Hidden Pond Nature Center and along the Pohick Stream on June 30. These are the 36 species I recorded: 

Cedar Waxwing

Great Blue Heron (not breeding)
Red-shouldered Hawk
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift (fly over)
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Acadian Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Blue Jay
American Crow (fly over)
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Carolina Wren

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
White-eyed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Northern Parula
Common Yellowthroat
Scarlet Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Eastern Towhee
Song Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle (fly over)
American Goldfinch

Now it’s your turn. Here’s another opportunity for a few peaceful moments outdoors. Grab a book or download an app about bird identification or bird calls. Head out to a nearby park. There are over 400 of them in the county. Stand still. Five minutes. Okay, three. Listen. Look.

Turned into a nice day, didn’t it?

By Carmen Bishop, Hidden Pond Nature Center

Lawn Runoff Fuels Duckweed Problem at Hidden Pond

Along with neighbors who enjoy hiking tranquil trails and families who bring their children to play on the playground at Hidden Pond Park, over 50,000 people visit the nature center each year. Many of them venture to the pond to see the frogs, turtles, and other aquatic life. Children participate in netting programs where they learn about insect larvae, damselflies, and diving beetles by scooping them out of the water. But the popular pond in Springfield has a problem, and Manager Jim Pomeroy is reaching out to neighbors for help. 

Duckweed grows on the surface of Hidden Pond.

Each summer a thick, unsightly mat of duckweed spreads across the surface of the pond. This floating layer of green inhibits the nature center’s ability to use the pond as an educational resource, and its unattractive appearance may have an adverse effect on visitation during the summer months. To combat the annual duckweed scourge, Pomeroy, with financial assistance from the Friends of Hidden Pond, has mailed letters to over 500 households in the neighborhoods surrounding the park to explain the problem and offer a solution.

“Duckweed is a very real problem, and I intend to make a dent in it through education and awareness,” said Pomeroy, who welcomes calls and visits to discuss the issue. “We want to take care of an important educational resource and, hopefully, this outreach helps our neighbors become better acquainted with us and they come enjoy the park,” he continued.

Duckweed is a small, floating plant with a single root that dangles beneath the surface. It provides food for fish, waterfowl, and other aquatic life and naturally occurs on most ponds. But given the right conditions it can take over by forming dense colonies which effectively block sunlight from reaching submerged aquatic plants. As the vegetation is snuffed out, the entire pond habitat suffers. Aquatic animals and fish lose their food source and shelter, and the pond’s reduced oxygen levels make it difficult to support life.

According to Natural Resource Specialist Kristen Sinclair, “Duckweed responds really well to bursts of fertilizer. It acts almost like an algal bloom and does very well in shallow, stagnant water.” This is where Pomeroy thinks neighbors can make a difference. In developed areas, like the neighborhoods surrounding the park, one of the major contributors to excess nutrients in waterways comes directly from lawn runoff.  When it rains, fertilizer not taken up by turf is carried down storm drains and into streams, rivers, and ponds. “If residents were to fertilize in an environmentally way, it would have an effect,” he said.

Soil test kits help homeowners choose the correct about of fertilizer for their lawns.

In his letter to the neighbors Pomeroy suggests a solution to limiting over-fertilizing and preventing under-fertilizing. Residents can learn exactly what their lawns need by testing the soil with a simple kit available at the nature center and at all Fairfax County public libraries. The kits have instructions on how to collect a sample and where to mail it for analysis. The fee for a routine analysis is $10, and recommendations are usually generated within three working days. Pomeroy points out that homeowners and homeowners associations that rely on lawn care services may request soil testing and ask that they be conservative in what they apply. Taking a simple soil test may save neighbors money on fertilizer, will certainly benefit the environment, could help alleviate Hidden Pond’s duckweed problem.

The duckweed problem isn’t a new one at Hidden Pond, but it’s one Pomeroy has seen grow measurably worse during his 30-year tenure as manager. Pomeroy and his staff have tried different ways to control duckweed over the years, but nothing has been able to stop its spread. A common method for removing duckweed is to simply rake the pond’s surface in the same way leaves are raked in the fall. “We tried paddling around in a jon boat and scooping it out, but it grows faster than we can possibly remove it,” Pomeroy said. A notch was cut into the wooden flashing to allow more duckweed to exit the pond during rain events, but it wasn’t effective. In 2009, an aerator was installed to stir up the water column and force oxygen into the deeper areas. This tactic helped, but it just wasn’t enough.

Children use nets to explore Hidden Pond.

Applying aquatic herbicides has been suggested since it seems to work well for golf course ponds. However, these chemicals are not very selective and will kill virtually all submerged aquatic vegetation, such as various arums, buttonbush, and water lilies. “Because we use the pond as an educational resource, we have plants in the pond we want to keep. That ties our hands as far as using herbicides. The whole system would be lost,” explains Pomeroy.

New methods of adding various enzymes and aerobic bacteria to digest decaying plant matter which would deprive duckweed of nutrients have yet to be proven safe and effective. “It’s a very tough problem, especially in older, woodland ponds where leaves continuously fall into the water,” said Pomeroy. “We encourage a lot of vegetation along the shore to take up excess nutrients,” he added. Pomeroy and staff have also planted cattails and other aquatic vegetation in a small pool above the pond designed to capture sediment, pollutants, and excess nutrients.

Of course, weather plays a big role in the health of the pond. If the area receives adequate rain throughout the summer, the pond is constantly refreshed and the duckweed can’t flourish. Conversely, during prolonged periods of drought the problem is much worse. So until the results of the soil tests are returned, a wet summer may be the only deterrent to duckweed’s return.

Written by Matthew Kaiser, deputy public information officer