Trashy Treasures and Where to Find Them

It took a pandemic to slow me down.

Twenty-four years of consistent travel as a live events graphic designer had blinded me to an impending and abrupt about-face on March 6, 2020. Sure, rumors were circulating and headlines ticking, though I had just checked into my flight online, and the show team was already on site and two days into set-up for a conference with more than 40,000 attendees. It happened, nonetheless. To this event and almost every other, worldwide. The stage lights went dark.

Fast forward, and it’s 2023. COVID-19 still looms, albeit less threatening. It’s as if we downgraded from the threat of a T-Rex rampage to being eye-gouged by thawing Iguanas in wintertime Florida (it’s a thing)—unpleasant, but less deadly. This is not to minimize the adverse effects COVID-19 is still having on people around the world, only to point out that it will fall in line with the likes of influenza and the ‘common’ cold someday soon, in no short thanks to our brilliant scientists and tireless (and very tired) healthcare professionals and essential workers.

By the way, live events are back and thriving.

I found lockdown inspiration in the dirt.

I digress, as most of us have grown tired of pandemic talk. Let me instead share with you a lighthearted account of my downtime during 2020-2021. For years, I dreamed of slowing my hurried work pace to make time for leading nature outings and painting. Unexpectedly, I came to a full stop, and I stumbled into a project that would take on a creative and quirky life of its own.

I began exploring all the nooks in and around my home base near Washington, D.C. Anything that would get me out of the house (and not into someone else’s) was fair game. I strolled new-to-me urban parks and wooded trails on the outskirts of town. I discovered a personal fascination with street art and my desire for inclusion at the edge of a drum circle. Art and community refused to be lost among the chaos and quarantining. And the out-of-doors became the prime venue for all.

I noticed something else too—trash, so much trash. I typically collect litter from the trails I trek, though I made a new mission of it during lockdown. And my finds would become my treasures.

I call them "Trashy Treasures."

It started during one of my quarantine outings below the sandy cliffs of the Chesapeake Bay. There, in the distance along the road to the cliffs, lay a spaceship in ruins. As I approached, I noticed its saucer-like shape, despite its mangled metal.

Photo © Lisa Barry | A mangled spaceship on the side of the road

I bagged my find and stashed it in my car trunk only to research later that it was a common chimney cap. This uncommon trashy treasure would become the first of my many adventures in upcyling over the next five months.

Already having an online presence for my evolving Ecopsyched! initiative, I decided to cross-pollinate my upcycle adventures on the Ecopsyched! YouTube channel as well. Because what else did I have to do during downtime? Recording my artmaking offered both an opportunity to fine-tune my video-editing skills and practice my on-camera presence. The latter has since earned a double strike-through on my list of desired skills.

Off I trudged into YouTube land in the dead of winter with a mangled chimney cap, an industrial mallet, and my red and teal spray paints. What emerged was a port-hole frame for one of my original illustrations, a working clock, and business card holders made from the spaceship’s brackets.

Photo © Lisa Barry | Ecopsyched! upcycle art from mangled chimney cap

Watch The First Ecopsyched! Upcycle Episode

Alternating Friday launches between destination videos with trash collection and upcycles of that trash, I created 22 weeks of content. What was intended to be a downtime hobby became a 50-60 hour ‘work’ week, often involving editing into the wee hours to ready my videos for posting on Friday mornings. But the passion was pure. Not only was I spending most of my time outdoors, but I was also solving unconventional puzzles as I created experimental art. I was in a heaven of my own design.

From snooping outside an abandoned castle to strolling beneath D.C.’s iconic cherry blossoms at peak bloom, I produced unique destination videos, a mixed media painting inclusive of shattered castle glass, and a wine glass ring holder fashioned from a Fireball bottle…and so much more. My viewership is modest per YouTube metrics, though my most popular episode, Vanadu Steampunk Upcycle featuring my steampunk bottles, still makes me delight in artsy endeavors.

Photo © Lisa Barry | Ecopsyched! steampunk upcycle from found bottles

Watch the Vanadu Steampunk Upcycle Episode

Creative adventures are for everyone!

I share these adventures to highlight the accessibility of restorative outdoor activities and enriching creative expression to everyone. Anyone can hike a trail or visit a nearby park and collect trash. Anyone can upcycle tossed materials with the limited supplies they have on hand, human-made or earthen. The opportunities to solve puzzles of my own making and create one-of-a-kind artworks have been the most rewarding aspects of Trashy Treasure upcycling for me. Perhaps you’ll find such puzzlingly creative adventures rewarding too. And you’ll be healing our green spaces to boot!

With gratitude for our shared experiences;
may they be more often open-air and playful.

-Lisa B

Keep reading for 10 D.C. area adventures to add to your must-see list (in no particular order).

If you find yourself in the Washington, D.C. Metro area with an itch to explore, consider visiting these fascinating sites featured during my upcycle adventures.

Calvert Cliffs State Park

Photo © Lisa Barry | Fallen tree at Calvert Cliffs State Park

Visit Calvert Cliffs along Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay and collect shark’s teeth among the shells. Visit in the off-season for an abundance of collectibles.
HINT: Walk below the cliffs with caution (obey posted access signs), as sudden landslides of sand and vegetation are common.

Learn more:
Calvert Cliffs State Park

Watch the Ecopsyched! Below the Cliffs Episode

Seneca Quarry and Stone Mill

Photo © Lisa Barry | Abandoned stone mill at Seneca Quarry

Head off the beaten (C&O Canal) path to discover this abandoned stone mill. Head deeper into the thickets to discover the quarry, where blocks of red stone lay frozen in history beneath the chiseled hillside.
HINT: Visit during the winter months to avoid the lush vegetation of summer and spring that makes these locations difficult to reach.

Learn more:
Seneca Quarry

Watch the Ecopsyched! An Abandoned Stone Mill Episode

The Castle at the National Park Seminary

Photo © Lisa Barry | Dilapidated castle at the National Park Seminary

This English-style Castle at the National Park Seminary is mired in history. Walk to the far edge of the Seminary grounds to explore this hidden treasure before it’s sold and transformed.
HINT: You will not be able to enter the castle, though there are opportunities to peek through battered doors and dusty windows.

Learn more:
Castle at the National Park Seminary

Watch the Ecopsyched! Lonely Castle Episode

High Rock

Photo © Lisa Barry | Lisa B beside High Rock

Drive the incline to High Rock and gaze over the sun-drenched valley below. Imagine the hang gliders who once launched from this site before such activities here were banned. What do you think of the graffiti art at High Rock?
HINT: Don’t venture too close to the ledge, nor trek the hillside below the rock, as accidental falls have proven to be tragic for some visitors.

Learn more:
High Rock

Watch the Ecopsyched! Graffiti at High Rock Episode

Meridian Hill Park

Photo © Lisa Barry | Drum circle at Meridian Hill Park

Wander this urban meeting ground known for its Malcolm X affiliation. Feel the beat with a pop-up drum circle or bring a picnic and lounge on the lawn.
HINT: Visit during the warmer months to enjoy the cascading waters of the massive, tiered fountain. The fountain is turned off during winter.

Learn more:
Meridian Hill Park

Watch the Ecopsyched! Meridian Hill Park is Malcolm X Park Episode

Vanadu Art House

Photo © Lisa Barry | Steampunk station wagon outside a house called Vanadu

Marvel at one man’s steampunk transformation. Clarke Bedford’s strategic placement of all things cogs, trinkets, antiques, and machine parts are found around and inside his home and multiple vehicles. Some folks have even reported seeing him driving his creations around town.
HINT: A visit to Vanadu is a feast for the eyes outdoors, though you may request a closer look from the homeowner.

Learn more:
Vanadu Art House

Watch the Ecopsyched! Vanadu Art House Episode

Murals of Washington, D.C.

Photo © Lisa Barry | Row house mural in the Kalorama neighborhood of D.C.

Washington, D.C. is decorated with mural art. From massive building-side paintings to quirky alley art, it’s a challenge to travel through the nation’s capital without a visual feast of its culture.
HINT: If you’d like to take in all that D.C.’s street art has to offer, plan ahead and map your mural road trip through the city’s grid to maximize your sightseeing time.

Learn more:
Murals of Washington, D.C.

Watch the Ecopsyched! Painted D.C. Episode

Rachel Carson Greenway Trail

Photo © Lisa Barry | Northwest Branch River along the Rachel Carson Greenway Trail

The D.C. region boasts several Rachel Carson hiking trails. For a beautiful 7.3 mile loop hike along both sides of the Northwest Branch River, visit the Rachel Carson Greenway Trail just outside of the city. Ten minutes into the trail from a busy thoroughfare, the sounds of the city fade.
HINT: Hike the trail in early-mid March for a glimpse at first blooms and a chance to hear the frenzied chirping of recently thawed wood frogs in scattered vernal pools.

Learn more:
Rachel Carson Greenway Trail

Watch the Ecopsyched! Spring Fling Frogs Episode

Washington, D.C. Cherry Blossoms

Photo © Lisa Barry | Cherry blossoms at peak bloom in Washington, D.C.

Stroll beneath D.C.’s iconic cherry blossoms for an enchanting afternoon. The cherry trees typically bloom in late March/early April, with the region’s winter weather the determining factor. The National Cherry Blossom Festival will be held on Sunday, March 25, 2023.
HINT: Time your peak-bloom visit with help from the Cherry Blossoms Watch below. Don’t forget your camera!

Learn more:
Cherry Blossoms Watch

Watch the Ecopsyched! Cherry Blossoms Episode

Annmarie Gardens Enchanted Summer

Photo © Lisa Barry | Fairy home on the grounds of Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center

Each summer, Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center hosts its Enchanted Summer at the Garden. All are invited to submit an entry form to create a fairy or gnome home for the summer display.
HINT: Visit Annmarie Gardens on Sunday, May 21, 2023 for their Fairy & Gnome Home Festival. Visit all summer long to walk the grounds in search of fairy and gnomes among their hidden homes.

Learn more:
Annmarie Gardens Enchanted Summer in the Garden

Watch the Ecopsyched! Fairies in the Forest Episode

Happy exploring!

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