Monday, April 22, 2013

An Ode to Loud Ponds and Raucous Springs on Earth Day

A few weeks ago I had some family come down to spend the weekend in Virginia; one of the highlights was exploring the small pond on the edge of the property with my young cousin. He was particularly interested in the numerous newts (Notophthalmus viridescens) walking along the bottom and swimming through the open water. We wondered aloud how they avoided the mouths of the bass patrolling the area and tried to figure out what a few particularly amorous amphibians were doing.

A week later and spring officially began when the Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) in the marshy wetland around the pond started piercing the night with their calls. Not long afterwards Pickerel Frogs (Lithobates palustris) could be heard uttering their long snoring call during the day. Green Frogs (Lithobates clamitans) won't start with their banjo-like calls for some time now, they prefer the summer months for that, but the males had appeared in advance to establish their territories. They congregated near where the spring water - also our source of drinking water - emerged from the mountain behind us to feed the pond and where my partner and I harvest watercress for our salads. Not surprisingly, a few scaled and frog-eating creatures wanted in on the action and a Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon) appeared reliably each day to catch the sun's rays in the warming weather.

The small pond offered plenty of opportunities for wildlife-watching and it was exciting to gauge the changing seasons as the animals appeared and went about their business. Living alongside this pond has been one of my favorite parts of living outside of town.

So, it was with some surprise and concern that I arrived home the other day to see the pond like this. 

A newt suspended in paint
It was almost as if the water in the small pond had been replaced with milk. In talking with my roommates, they revealed what had happened: every year the university with which I am affiliated hosts a large event designed to encourage undergraduate students to volunteer within the local community. Homeowners throughout the area ask for help with various projects and students spend the day completing these tasks. 

The landlord that owns the house where I board had enlisted volunteers to help paint the fences that run throughout the property. After they completed the work, one or more of the students had decided to clean their painting supplies in the pond

It is interesting to try to imagine how others perceive the things in nature we value. But, it is difficult to understand how this pond, a home and territory for wildlife, could be considered by someone as merely a sink for washing off chemicals.

Bass make their way through the murk
The mountain spring that feeds the pond might help eventually flush the paint out (although I'm not sure where the chemicals will end up after that). I'll be watching (and listening) to see if the amphibians suffer any ill-effects. It's no fun finding fault in people volunteering within the community, I just wish that we emphasized that commitments to society are incomplete without a strong environmental ethic.

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