NJWILD and NJWILDBEAUTY readers know I walk the Pole Farm most days, and sometimes twice in one day. It’s a place full of flowers and creatures, never the same twice.
As grateful as I am for every living facet of this jewel, I turn to poetry to admit, there is something I am wishing:
lately, there’ve been reports
of black bear sightings
along many of my daily trails
–regrettably, a day or so
after my eager excursions
at the Pole Farm
I follow very deep
extremely straight tracks
incised through mud
in the dark wood
and o, how I want them
to mean coyote
near Keefe Road,
next to my parked car’s back tire
this stack of very pointy
could very well be
don’t get me wrong
I’m happy for brown thrashers
rare monarchs, sipping
among flowers taller than I
on the bridges trail
where the fox roams
I count twenty paces between
bursts of “eau de terroir”
does it matter
so very much
that these sites
belong to the bears?
CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN
Late August 2014
Realize that the reason the wild creatures thrive at the Pole Farm is because it has been preserved by wise, courageous, persistent, attuned people.
Do whatever it takes, especially in the ballot box, to save NJ land at every turn!
You never know what gifts await on a walk on the Pole Farm. Entering at the corner of Cold Soil and Keefe Roads in Lawrence, by the restored red barn, around 7:30 a.m., I turned left into the half woods.
Immediately, autumn made itself present, first with the spiciness of new blooms and some past their prime, then with the pungency of fox. For awhile, I progressed through a mingle of fox and wild fruits. Berries dangled on all sides — crimson, gold, orange, blue-black with green highlights. Some were at peak, and some evidently beyond. Fox was replaced with eau de brewery, as though someone had left a hefty tankard of dark ale out on a nearby pub table.
I hope I did not see the invasive but beautiful porcelain berry. I did see the invasive and irresistible bittersweet, –still brassy, not open to its golden cores. In childhood, my mother would gather this and settle it into her antique pewter pieces, along the living room mantle.
I was out there for birds. A fellow strider had told me last week that 8:30 was too late — 5:30 is best. 7:30 is also too late. In two Pole Farm hours, I heard only the whining of catbirds, the complaints of jays. Saw catbirds, saw jays. May have heard a distant Eastern pee wee or two. Possibly yellow warblers murmuring in thickets over by the second observatory.
These woods, this morning, were dark and deep, but not lovely. Partly because of deer browse, partly on account of invasives, and who knows what percentage of the ugly parts are due to storms, not only Sandy! It’s all second- or third- or even later-growth forest. Which means too uniform, pretty thin, multiple trunks sprouted from stumps of long ago.
In spring, to be sure, truly wild (not planted by Mercer County) flowers emerge in the dark reaches. In June, fireflies rise in those stretches, earlier than anywhere else. Tanagers and rose-breasted grosbeaks arrive and carry on vocally for a few late spring weeks. But today, on the day after the day after Labor Day, silence ruled. Color was very rare.
The planted fields are awash in towering gold flowers which I think are coreopsis, but have to check with experts to be sure. Milkweed pods are still green, fat, not ripe and ready. Queen Anne’s lace seems to be trying bravely but feebly for a come-back. The tall dark purple ironweed is way past its prime and still intense, especially welcome against all those fields of gold.
A famous painting from Tudor times is titled “The Field of the Cloth of Gold”, and that describes the Pole Farm Meadows this morning.
However, few birds and fewer butterflies. For a long while, near the second observatory, I watched a healthy monarch feed and feed among what should be coreopsis. The vivid orange-and-black beauty drank its fill of each blossom before moving on to the next. With wings closed, without my binoculars, this living creature resembled a mat of dead foliage. Open, it turned into a flame.
Here and there, among the very welcome cattails in the ditch, tiny yellow cloudless sulphur butterflies winged singly. A little larger than my thumbnail, but not so large as a quarter, they waft and float — a far less purposeful flight than that of the monarch. Ultimately, by the end of the trail, I’d seen about a dozen of these pale yellow visions. They are the color of Normandy butter, if not whipped Normandy butter. Two did a glorious pas de deux, although this surely cannot be mating season.
Others at the Pole Farm always are the essence of cordiality. All but a horde of young runners sang out, “Good Morning.” At the finale, a woman in a bright blue shirt with a dog that looked like His Master’s Voice, praised the welcome breeze, adding, “Aren’t we lucky to have this trail!”
Lucky indeed. The Pole Farm is not an array of soccer fields and lights, or worse — some sort of planned community, because of local courage. The Pole Farm exists because land trusts and individuals and Mercer County deliberated, solved, resolved, raised funds, saved the land, then provided handsome structures and informative signage. The Pole Farm exists because, in New Jersey, preservation is seen as the vital force for future health of humans, of wild creatures, of the state itself. Remember that when the question of funds for Green Acres Funding appears in your ballot box this November.
Everyone who birds needs excellent optics. Trouble is, they are so terribly expensive. Every once in awhile, and maybe even now, Cape May Bird Observatory has key discounts. In all seasons, CMBO will assist with the perfect purchase.
Even so, though I have been birding for so many decades, my work for a non-profit does not leave me “discretionary income.”
A friend gave me Bushnells when she upgraded to Swarovskis.
I used the Bushnells gratefully and faithfully.
Until this spring, when suddenly they would not focus.
I went onto Bushnell’s web-site and used Contact Us.
I said something to the effect that “I was given these, I don’t know when. I have no paperwork, nor does my generous friend. I cannot focus them. May I give you a credit card and ask for repairs.”
This enlightened company has a whole procedure in place. A very crisp and welcoming notification said to remove everything from the binoculars, send them $10, yes, ten dollars, and they would see what they could do.
Amazingly, a number of weeks later, a beautiful box arrived. Inside that was another beautiful box, with a beautiful case, and beautiful binoculars.
Mine had traveled ‘naked’, as instructed.
Theirs came complete with strap, protective cups, instructions, and that gorgeous case.
Mine did not come with an invoice.
BUSHNELL STANDS BEHIND ITS PRODUCTS.
These are the newest, with all the ‘bells and whistles’. These have the light-gathering miracle, so that I may see in half-light and dim times and against the sun.
Now, carrying my Bushnells, other hikers ask, “What have you seen?”
People request my help in identifying birds they’ve encountered.
I myself can follow birds on the wing, for the first time.
I had specialized in raptors and shorebirds because their movements were pretty predictable. Now I see the bird with my eyes, and immediately ‘trap’ in in my Bushnells.
If you think you need to see better to bird better, you’re right.
Call CMBO. Let them advise you. Get your Bushnells and know they’ll be with you forever!
NJWILD readers know that, certain times over the near-decade of this blog, the Packet has done something so that I cannot enter images again. This is now. Maybe this blog has to be my essay collection, and NJWILDBEAUTY for the very easy, quick, cooperative WORDPRESS will become the repository of photographs to convey NJ’s essence.
Often, I take new birders on their very first trip to ‘The Brig’. The Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge, near Smithville and (of all things!) Atlantic City, is an 8-mile dike-road excursion into bays and impoundments, the latter of which have managed salinities. Except when Sandy raised the parts per million of salt in the impoundments to the exact level of the bay, different plants grow on each side, attracting different wildfowl.
One can count on peace, beauty, serenity, and rarities.
If you log onto NJWILDEAUTY, the home-page photograph of clouds and water is the essence of the Brig, except that it doesn’t have any birds in it.
That’s never the case, however.
Our latest excursion took place on Friday. The ‘beginner’ is a natural, and our (Prius - ideal birding vehicle because silent when stopped) vehicle’s driver is at the upper end of both skill and persistence.
First steps onto the Leeds Eco-Trail out toward the bay brought us the expected red-wing, ospreys on the nest, the sound then sight of marsh wrens in shrubs, and the impossible, almost-never-seen KING RAIL!
Perhaps even more amazing was to see the nest of the marsh wren, woven like a vertical football, out of mud and rushes, in among the shrub’s thin top branches. It seemed like pottery one might find in the most arid stretches of Indian country out west.
To see this nest, since I cannot give you a picture of it, thanks to the wonders and frustrations of modern technology, open The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior to WRENS, and David has painted this exact, and hardly ever seen, phenomenon.
That book is really essential, after his splendid Sibley Guides to Eastern Birds - which is the size to fit in your cargo-pants pocket. This is a tome, as is his first Bird Guide — masterpieces that held sway at the top of the New York Times Best Seller list for months when they came out. David and other experts fill the pages of Bird Life and Behavior with essential details of habitat, plumage, feeding, breeding, nesting, perils, etc. There was a time when I kept one copy in my trunk and one next to my bed. I gave my sister the trunk-copy, and the other, well-thumbed, highlighted and notated, is here in the study.
The best way to become a birder is to get OUT there in (preserved) nature, and see them.
The next most important step is reading the guides, on the trail and back home afterwards
The background essential act is reading books by birders, such as Kenn Kaufman’s Kingbird Highway; Wild America by Roger Tory Peterson (who changed American bird identification from shooting them to studying field marks) and the Briton James Fisher, as they zoomed across some of Canada and most of America in search of our specialties. Decades later, Pete and Linda Dunne followed many of their tire tracks, with Linda photographing their Featherquest.
That’s enough for the library for now.
NJWILD readers, what books would you suggest to someone new and determined?
Thanks for reading, for birding, and above all for preserving New Jersey land, as with D&R Greenway Land Trust and the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association. Without habitat, remember, no birds!
We are in the midst of the Sixth Extinction — the most catastrophic, wide-ranging and even violent in natural history. Read Elizabeth Kolbert’s best seller on this topic, and do everything you can to slow this dire process.
Turkey Tail Fungus, Marsh, Winter 2014 cfe
We always called it “The Hamilton/Trenton/Bordentown Marsh,” this northernmost freshwater tidal wetland in our 3-coasted state. Powers that be have changed its name to “The Abbott Marshlands”, to honor Dr. Charles Conrad Abbott, whose early archaeology in what we might call New Jersey’s Everglades, put our state on the map decades before modern day scientists would confirm that Indians used our Marsh 10,000 years ago.
The Great Beech, downed by Hurricane Sandy, en route to Beaver Point cfe
I’ve been told the Indians named Spring Lake for the spring which caused it.
Beaver Lodge, Marsh cfe
I’ve been told that the beavers dammed this water, birthing the lake.
First Willows, Spring Lake cfe
On trail walks with experts, walks beyond counting, I’ve explored in all seasons and relished all seasons in a wetlands that seems like a dream, in the heart of our state capitol. I once met Governor Corzine at Drumthwacket. He had called a Poets’ Night, with an opulent reception. Basically, none of us knew why we’d been invited. I decided to use that night to teach him and his aides about the Marsh. He was convinced, called the (already indoctrinated) aides to his side, said, “Get me to this Marsh.” I’ll never know if he did. However, I do know that, as I strongly suspected, even though it is minutes from government buildings, he knew nothing of this New Jersey jewel. My motive was that our governor could walk the Marsh and ponder the imponderables, immensely supported by beauty of this magnitude.
Botanist Mary Leck, one of D&R Greenway’s founders and still on our Board, served as Professor of Botany at Rider for decades. She specializes in the Marsh, and has discovered and named species beyond counting, starting with jewelweed ages ago. Her husband, famed ornithologist Charles Leck, is also a professor emeritus, with Rutgers, in the field of Environmental studies, as they do not have a department of Ornithology.
Beaver Close-Up by Brenda Jones — taken in D&R Canal near Aqueduct, Princeton
Clyde Quin and Warren Lebensperger are the men I call “Godfathers of the Marsh.” They grew beside and within it. Talked to its denizens, evaded the shots of one of the more notorious. They walked where the Indians walked, and tell tales of Lenni Lenape remnants. They also know where the owls nest, where eagles raise their young, every fox den with its multiple entries and exits, and the swan havens. Clyde and Warren, Mary and Charles are quiet and wise, gently wry, thoroughly brilliant and natural teachers. To walk with them is paradise — and easily achieved. Google either Friends for the Marsh, or Friends for the Abbott Marshlands. Join them many weekend mornings around 9 a.m. One time, with Charlie and Mary, we watched a snake wake to spring. Clyde taught me how to see turtle noses in the lake. In May, orioles are everywhere. In a May of many tent caterpillars, cuckoos were everywhere.
Goose Trails, Spring Lake cfe
Mary and Charles’ favorite time in the Marsh, however, is winter. “We can see the beavers’ breath.”
Weeds on Tiptoe, Spring Lake cfe
Well, I haven’t seen beaver breath. But on a recent winter walk, with Linda Arntzenius of Town Topics and poetic fame, we found a spectacular beaver lodge. And on Easter, with a friend from Toms River, we stood transfixed, in daytime, (beavers are nocturnal) as a beaver swam determinedly past at the bridge exiting the woods, heading toward the lake.
Beaver Snacks — “Let the Chips Fall Where They May” cfe
NJWILD readers have ‘heard me and heard me’ urge walks in nature in all seasons. I’m threading this love song to the Marsh with pictures from Linda’s and my excursion. Imagine, if it’s that gorgeous when frozen solid, when the trails were only one foot(e)fall wide! because of snow and ice, how glorious it is now that the turtles are up and sunning and swans are nesting.
Spring Lake — Where Turtles Will Lurk cfe
Go to the Marsh. Support Friends for the Marsh and D&R Greenway, who preserved this haven.
Honor Nature in our time before climate change wipes away its glories.
Swan with Cygnets, Marsh, by Brenda Jones
Pole Farm Barn, before restoration by cfe
In this spring’s erratic weather, it is a blessing to squeeze in even a brief walk anywhere out there in wild nature.
My move to Lawrenceville has brought me within less than a mile of the “Pole Farm”, off Cold Soil Road. Entering by the red barn, newly designed and managed trails and significant historic signage tell the story of that new park and lead the walker on, on, on.
Last night, I began at 6:30. The sky was occluded, but light beckoned beyond the tree line.
Peepers were deafening. These tiny frogs had a very late start in their mating rituals this year. They’ll cry out, in bell-like tones, piercing, actually, from any vernal pond. Luckily, the re-designers of the Pole Farm understand the value of these temporary pools, which will never have fish, and therefore provide safe haven for salamander and frog eggs, laid the first rainy but not freezing night of spring.
Peepers are no larger than a quarter and impossible to see. They are also impossible to ignore — to the point that you almost want to cover your ears if you’re nearing them. They, however, don’t like the sound of human footfalls, and will silence as you arrive.
Redwing at Sunset, Pole Farm by Brenda Jones
Overhead, cranky redwings seemed almost dutiful in their territorial sounds.
Shrubs along the fine hard gravel path are still only beginning to pop buds, even though it is now May.
There are always the nicest people on Pole Farm paths. It’s as though it is our wild secret garden. Just being there creates fellowship.
I paused at the strong handsome bird blind, reading the very good descriptions of bird field marks and songs, then hurried on.
In the distance, clouds the color of chinchilla billowed, with honey light behind them. Pure Turner, and I wanted to get closer and closer to that sunset.
Bucolic Beauty, Pole Farm, before restoration by cfe
However, what’s this? Not rain! Not again! Not after yesterday’s deluge that turned both Cold Soil and Rosedale into rivers, then lakes, and the bottoms of rivers the next day!
Pole Farm in Rain
Walk home faster.
Rejoice in peepers, redwings and Turner sunset.
Plan the next hike. Sunday. After lunch in my new home, with friends of long standing.
Pole Farm Trail Before Restoration by cfe
As NJ WILD readers know, when ‘the world is too much with me’, I escape in book and memory to France.
Lately, I have been suffused with the savory memory of my solo excursion into a Truck Drivers’ Restaurant, a Relais de Routiers in Vernon, France, near Monet’s Giverny.
I had taken the train from the Gare du Nord in Paris, in order to see Monet’s gardens, on the last day of October, the last day it was open that year.
In France, of course, EVERYthing shuts down at the sacred hour of lunch. So one does not disembark from the train and go straight to Monet’s home. No, one seeks food.
Across from la gare/the train station, was the Relais de Routier, a rest-stop restaurant for truck drivers. The word ‘relais’ probably goes back to days of riding horseback and traveling by stage. Tired horses were exchanged at relais. And, probably like our taverns in the Pine Barrens, voyagers were refreshed with foods.
I opened the door into a dark room full of people who are, as the French say tres, tres content. The dim room was abuzz with a quiet hum. The long tables with their firmly starched thick white linens reminded me of the Last Supper, even to Da Vinci’s folds. Down the middle of each table ran a row of alternating bottles of red and white wines, all opened, all without labels. Seated everywhere were men in the blue of the laborers.
The burly proprietor came graciously to me, wrapped in his immaculate white apron, ties circling the ample waist more than one time, black shoes gleaming. He showed no surprise that I would enter, nor expect to eat there, though I was the only woman.
He ushered me to a central chair, at the central table. Everyone in the restaurant was already savoring his first course, a beautiful mosaic of a terrine. Sitting down, looking around silently, I thought of American truck stops, of their eternal hamburgers and French fries.
My table companions were quick to pour me a glass of white, a glass of red - for, obviously, there would be courses for these natural appreciators of cuisine.
The pink and ivory terrine gleamed, encircled with what seemed the crown of a French king, wrought of golden aspic. It nestled in a leaf of hearty yet quintessentially soft butter lettuce. A hefty pottery pot of gherkins (minuscule pickles) and another of the very tiny white onions, was soon proffered by my fellow diners.
My entire being was one great smile.
I always love being in French restaurants in France, where that lovely language cascades all around me, as though I were sitting under the gentlest of waterfalls.
But there were further riches to come. The proprietor proudly served the most bountiful (and what proved to be the most succulent) pot au feu (dare I profane it by calling it beef stew) of my life. The meat had been simmered most tenderly for hours, obviously with plenty of large bones in the crock, for the flavor of purest deepest darkest richest beef pervaded all. That meat was so tender, you could cut it with a spoon. There were liquidities and richnesses in that dish such as I have never known, or may have known in long-ago childhood when food wasn’t ruined yet for commercial reasons in our country. Plump bright carrots and luminous potatoes of a buttery gold were shot full of beef flavor, yet held their own.
After we all relished this feast came a delicate salad such as I had known in Manhattan years at Cote Basque, La Caravelle and the Four Seasons. The French do not toss their salads. They “fatiguer” them - meaning, turn them more gently than a new-born, in the perfect coating of perfect proportions of wine (of course!) vinegar and olive oil and a touch of Dijon mustard, impeccably combined. The leaves stood up tall, glistening as though in sunlight. Each bite of lettuce was an epiphany and I don’t even like salad.
After the salad came the cheese course. A hush fell over that table of truck drivers, who had been so cordial all along. Even the crew by the bar and jostling the pinball machine seemed to catch the reverence with which the local cheese, Camembert, was welcomed. Golden perfection, runny yet firm, pungent, fragrant — this local cheese, for this was, indeed, Normandy.
But another surprise awaited. O, I forgot to mention, there wasn’t any menu. The truck drivers trusted the proprietor and I trusted the truck drivers.
Of all things, dessert arrived, and it was oeufs a la neige: “Eggs in the Snow”: egg-shaped tender snowy meringue with a delicate coating of the most subtly flavorful custard.
I could not believe my taste buds, nor the gossamer quality of that meringue, the silken custard, the flecks of tiny vanilla bean, coating my spoon, filling my being with flavors and scents. Every truck driver finished every droplet of that delicacy.
As I thanked my table companions for their welcoming fellowship, I realized, “Carolyn, never before and never again will you have a meal of this quality with such special people.”
I went to the proprietor and managed to tell him in my very American-accented French, “I have eaten oeufs a la neige at Cote Basque and Caravelle in New York, the creme de la creme of restaurants in that town. No one’s version equals yours. I am amazed and grateful.”
My table companions and I filed out of that bright/dark room into full Normandy sunlight and the high clouds of Boudin’s and Jongkind’s canvases — they to their trucks, I to my Monet afternoon.
They could repeat the experience.
When I was a teen-ager, a new top hit song, [I believe by Pat Boone], was “April Love.” When it came out, this song had no special meaning for me. However, it was in April, that my first love reached out to me in a very unusual way.
Each weekend, I worked at Shrine of the Little Flower Rectory, for Father Charles E. Coughlin. He had chosen me from all the girls in Shrine of the Little Flower High School. From 7 til 3 every Saturday and Sunday, I answered phones and welcomed people to the rectory. Father Coughlin, for all his political infamy [about which I knew nothing at that time], was by then a simple parish priest of extraordinary eloquence. Most calls were to find out when he was speaking.
I have never known why, –considering that I was such a tabula rasa–, Father C would frequently have one of the Franciscans take the desk, inviting me to his palatial dining room. (I always thought King Arthur’s in Cornwall looked like that). We would share a sumptuous breakfast or magnificent Sunday dinner. It was at his table that I first tasted figs, first savored garlic in the best roast pork of my life. We talked and talked, and I have no idea about what!
One April Saturday, I was studying at my desk in the Rectory, when Tom, –steady boyfriend of my best friend, Sally–, suddenly popped in. He sat himself down, as though we did this all the time. Tom, in effect, talked of cabbages and kings. I went along, baffled by the purpose of his visit.
Finally, he blurted, “John (his best friend) would like to know if you would consider going with him to the antique car show tomorrow.”
I laughed out loud. Just that week, Sally, Tom, John and I had been listening to a nun drone on, –and pretty much take all the life out of–, the Priscilla and John Alden story.
Tom looked surprised at my laughter. I sat back in my desk chair, –like an executive at a major conference–, answering, “Tell him, ‘Speak for yourself, John.’”
It was Tom’s turn to laugh, and he went outside shortly thereafter to drive to John’s house. Tom’s car was the envy of Detroit - where everything was factory-made and identical and ever more huge in the 50’s with wings and fins and chrome and bumpers. In Detroit, you either loved cars and wanted to know everything about them, or fled them, ignoring all. I was in the latter school. Tom’s response to the uniformity was to fiddle with his willow green Chevy convertible. He would proudly use words I didn’t know, like manifolds, cams, lowering this, speeding up that. Well, it was a hot rod. To me, the best thing Tom did to that car was to take a Ford grill — I guess that’s what you called it. A horizontal bar of chrome with a circle in the middle that looked like a propellor to me. He inserted it in the front of that Chevy. You cannot imagine how shocking that was in a town where you were either a General Motors person or a Ford person. Now I see that Tom made the first hybrid.
Off he went, cruising faster than usual, the legendary Woodward Avenue. To John’s house.
The phone rang,. I answered, “Shrine Rectory.”
“This is John. Tom tells me I”d better ask you myself, if you would go to the antique car show with Tom and Sally and me tomorrow.”
“Yes, I will, John,” I responded. “The only trouble is, I don’t know anything about cars.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he reassured me.
Which is how I came to be cruising Woodward the next day, en route to the car show, with Sally and Tom in the ice-green hybrid, the most popular boy in our school at my side.
You have to picture Shrine girls, in their ghastly shiny navy blue serge uniforms, brilliantly designed to make every lovely teen look hideous, dumpy and frumpy. No lipstick. Horrible uniform blouses with cuffed sleeves at the most unattractive point of the arm, and those round “Peter Pan” collars that were so hard to iron without wrinkles. I personally had to wear ghastly Oxfords, though most of the girls didn’t have whatever was purportedly wrong with my feet. They could wear, at least, handsome thick wool socks and shiny penny loafers with real new pennies in them. Add to this that I was (well, it won’t surprise anyone) a bookworm. School was just an interruption to reading. Even though I went to all those basketball games - Tom’s father was our coach — I couldn’t stand the sport. Nothing I did was cool. Nothing about me would have lured anyone.
John was the most independent person in that school. He simply refused to play any sport. John had his own jazz band. He had to play in the (pathetic) classical orchestra in order to borrow the school’s bass for his weekend music with buddies.
John made the first stereophonic high fidelity system in our school, and I was invited as the only girl, to its inauguration. “The guys” didn’t dare protest. I remember trains and ping pong balls coming out of the left of the room and zooming to the right. I also remember the Dukes of Dixieland and Benny Goodman (a movie had made his music popular again) throbbing through John’s recreation room.
He absolutely loved to read, which was frowned upon by almost all, as decidedly ‘out of it’. Since John’s parents were both dentists, he could buy books to supplement the rotten collection that passed for Shrine of the Little Flower library. There was something named The Index which forbade most worthwhile books. I used to take the complete Sherlock Holmes home every year and read it from cover to cover. I was that desperate. John loaned me Fitzgerald and Hemingway.
We studied together. He helped me with math, which seemed absolutely superfluous to me, but was essential in that school He pretended that he wanted me to help him with English, which he certainly didn’t need. John, like Father Coughlin, was naturally eloquent. He could talk anyone in the school into anything, even though he wasn’t on teams.
What he and I loved best was dancing. The Lindy (we called it jitterbug) and the Charleston were our fortes, but he could dance a superb fox trot and even waltz. Not Viennese — this was the Midwest, remember. But that would come later in my life, with someone from Switzerland.
One night, late in spring, John stopped studying, turned to me and announced, “I’m going to tell you something I’ve never said to anyone in my life.”
I had no idea what he meant.
Sitting there with his books and papers open on his lap, John declared simply, “I love you.”
I was stunned, yet not surprised.
But I had to tell John something like, “I care a great deal about you. But I cannot say that.”
“It doesn’t matter,” repeated John.
Soon thereafter, in chapel (we had to attend Mass every morning before school), the three pews of Junior girls rose as usual to go to Communion. There was a gasp in the church, but I didn’t know why. Boys didn’t go to communion. It wasn’t the in thing to do, by any means. Imagine my surprise to kneel at the altar, and realize Johnny (he’s allowing this nickname by now, to me alone), at my side. He kept that up from then on.
One day that spring, we were all in English class again. My favorite, and his. Shakespeare was the topic. Macbeth the play. For some reason, I had been allowed to wear ‘flats’ instead of the clunky Oxfords that day. I was in the front row, right in front of the nun. My right leg was crossed over my left, and every fiber of my being caught up in Macbeth.
Suddenly, one of the boys in that class snatched my dangling flat and flung it out the upstairs window.
Nuns didn’t punish boys. Only girls. My being barefoot in class would have been a transgression beyond belief.
In a flash, Johnny, without so much as a by your leave, dashed down the aisle and out that classroom door. There was a cathedral hush in that schoolroom. Even the nun couldn’t speak.
Suddenly, the classroom door was flung open. Johnny dashed up the aisle to the front of the room. He actually knelt and put that slipper on my foot.
Needless to say, after that, I could heartfully say to him, “I love you.”
We were together junior year of high school to junior year of college. He came back to me, when I moved to New York after graduation. After his first year in medical school at University of Michigan.
The last thing we did together in Manhattan was to see West Side Story, right after it opened. It was a Wednesday Matinee. Then I took him to the set of ABC Studios, where I was the food stylist doing some complex thing for General Foods on live television with no retakes and fake foods like you wouldn’t believe.
Neither of us wanted to part, but New York had changed me. Medical School gave John his life — he became the head of a Radiology group in Mississippi. And a gentleman farmer — odd that farms matter so much to me now - but to neither of us in the Shrine years.
But Medical School interfered with growth in other regions.
I didn’t know this — but Johnny did. He had always been there, out in front, protecting me, teaching me, leading me. I hadn’t meant to change.
We reconnected in the 1980’s by letter and a couple of phone calls.
Johnny wrote in that first letter, “You are my first love and I love you still. Everything I became in my adult life, I owe to you.”
The song, “April Love” has a line about “sometimes, an April love, can suddenly brings showers. Rain to grow the flowers for your first bouquet.”
Our April love never brought showers. Nowadays, people would say, “We were on the same page.” This would have been quite literally true, loving the same literature so passionately. Longing for the Paris of Hem and Fitz and Gertrude and Alice (think Midnight in Paris recently… O, I hope he saw that!). Planning to discover Paris together.
I was to make that town my own over and over again, with my husband, Werner, with and without our daughters, with Sally Patton of Princeton when she lived in a garret and studied cuisine at La Varenne, the top site for such a gastronomic quest. Visiting Pat Cooke of Princeton when she lived in St. Cloud, above Paris. Tromping it in running shoes, jogging parts of it, making it my own in new ways. Eating alone in cafe’s on the Quai Voltaire especially, where I should have eaten with Johnny. Following every rue, with rue, that our Paris dreams never came true.
Our last phone call held a remarkable revelation from this fine, this noble man.
“There’s something I have to tell you, that you’ve never known…”
“What’s that, Johnny?”
“My first two wives were named Carolyn. My third is the age you were when I saw you the last time.”
It’s April now. My April love still nourishes me. I hope it continues to sustain this wonderful person.
His last letter to me revealed, “You are the only person who’s ever called me Johnny.”
Eagle/Gull Contest Above Lake Carnegie, Aqueduct, Princety by Bill Dix
NJ Wild readers know I have been extremely concerned about reports of an injured, even a dead American bald eagle, not far from the nest of ‘our’ Princeton eagles. The mysterious aspect of these reports is that none of the viewers either took a picture of the bird on the street, nor called 1-877-WARN DEP, as instructed on the yellow signs near ‘our’ eagles’ nest. Nor did they reach out to any nearby municipality, — Princeton, Plainsboro or West Windsor, to find out who the animal control officer is with regard to Mapleton and Seminary - there at a crossroads of towns and counties.
Therefore, we will never know if an eagle was indeed dead, as precisely reported.
And we will never know why the bird had fallen.
IF YOU COME UPON AN INJURED RAPTOR, THERE ARE STEPS TO BE TAKEN. First of all, take pictures and immediately call the Mercer County Wildlife Center in Titusville. While it is illegal even to possess a feather of a raptor, let alone the entire bird, it is legal to transport a found bird to the Wildlife Center. They have seven (7!) vets on call, and trained volunteers, who are experts at evaluating harmed animals in our region. If the animals dies, these experts perform necropsies, so that the cause of death is known.
The phone number of the Mercer County Wildlife Center is 609 303 0552.
No, a necropsy doesn’t bring a dead animal back to life. But learning the cause of its demise can help other wild creatures.
Think outside the box, when you encounter a harmed animal. Consider the greatest good.
Call the experts.
‘Our’ Princeton bald eagles have indeed been seen “performing incubation exchanges.” They’ve been photographed successfully fishing and returning to the nest.
I only know officially of one egg — but there could be more.
These creatures are our brothers and sisters. We are their keepers. Be vigilant. Be responsible. Call the experts.
NJ WILD readers know I cherish all seasons. Yes, even winter!
You also know I make nature excursions most weeks, in quest of her wild beauty. I don’t necessarily seek any particular season.
However, I discovered a photo file called “Desperate for Spring.” It takes place at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, — across our Delaware River, below New Hope. As I wrote on my new WordPress blog, NJWILDBEAUTY, re Bowman’s: “Visit. Join.”
Walk Bowman’s cold early spring trails with me now, and see why.
Start with the ugliest plants as winter leaves, which I’ve also seen this winter at Sandy Hook, and would see at Island Beach, had I braved that wondrous park since Sandy: This is to show you that this isn’t the only bitter winter in recent memory.
Recumbent Prickly Pear Cactus, Bowman’s, March ‘09
Fallen Leaves to Nourish Spring Growth, Bowman’s, March ‘09
Better Luck Next Week! — Bridge over Pidcock Creek on Medicinal Trail March ‘09
First Spring Herald Emerges from Oak Duff, Bowman’s, March ‘09
More Desperate for Spring Even Than I — Bowman’s, March ‘o0
First Flower of Spring, Skunk Cabbage, Bowman’s, March ‘09
And that wasn’t a snowy winter. Two people I know have seen skunk cabbage emerging nearby (D&R Greenway Preserves near Princeton.) This plant is exothermic — has been measured, inside the spathe at 60 degrees. Can melt ice and snow. But it’s having a hard time this year.
Now walk Bowman’s trails with me a little later — and see what lies ahead for us. I usually go every other week, from March’s own emergence, onward. Not this year.
An Ignition of Skunk Cabbage, Bowman’s, early spring
Emergence of Royal Ferns, Bowman’s, Early April
Bluebells, Ferns, Mayapples, in April at Bowman’s
Now, walk with me a little later in the serenity of Bowman’s (deer-fenced) woods and trails. Her flowers are only native. To Bowman’s, this means, here before “Contact” — with Europeans…
Eponymous Twinleaf - Bowman’s Shop Named After This Spring Ephemeral
Bluebells Already — Early May
Beech Drops in the Beechwood, Early May
I’ve given you early Bowman’s, so that you can experience the adventure, even before the yellow lady’s slippers, the sea of bluebells up to your knees, the toad trillium, the awakening of snakes, the bellowing of frogs…
Beech drops may be the ideal culmination of our sprinquest. For they may be the ultimate emblem of hope. These tiny tendrils actually have minuscule magenta flowers at their tips. They are found only in beech groves (which also create neat microclimates, if there are enough beeches.) Beechdrops grow from very old dead beech trunks below the surface of the ground. Without chlorophyll, almost invisible, they grow, they flower.
As Spring is doing, even as we share these trails.