Archive for the ‘NJ WILD’ Category
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.
Tasha O’Neill’s Great Blue Heron in Blizzard, Lake Carnegie
Friends are kind enough to care that I write two nature blogs — NJ WILD for the Packet, and NJWILDBEAUTY for WordPress. They send images for my readers.
As a life-long writer, I really resist admitting that a picture is worth ten thousand words. But it’s true.
For example, the above masterpiece, in the midst of one of our recent blizzards, from Tasha O’Neill.
While Tasha was out there stalking birds, she also captured the beautiful red mill, home of Robert and Sheila von Zumbusch, which punctuates the Carnegie Lake dam landscape:
Tasha O’Neill’s Red Mill Alongside Carnegie Lake Dam
Just this week (It’s March 14 today), Bill Dix, one of Tasha’s fellow photographers, who also has had his work exhibited at D&R Greenway Land Trust, where I work, found one of ‘our’ eagles, healthy and victorious. Bill also gives permission to me to use his own masterpiece:
Bill Dix Eagle and Gull
Word is that this is part of a fishing contest, and that gull is none too happy.
NJ WILD readers know my thesis in these blogs is that you can find and even exult in wild nature right in our own back yard. These images took place along the D&R Canal, near the D&R Towpath.
Think PRESERVATION, HABITAT, WATER QUALITY. Rejoice that these situations are being addressed by land trusts in our region.
D&R Greenway was founded twenty-five years ago to save land along the canal and towpath. Around 18,000 acres have been preserved in this, our most populous state. In this, the state likeliest to be completely built out, according to a Rutgers University Study, in a couple of decades or sooner.
Build-out is as dire as catastrophic climate change.
American Bald Eagle Profile by Brenda Jones
I want to be wrong. I want nothing of this blog to be true. I want man’s inhumanity to other species and to the planet itself, especially its waters, especially its habitat, especially the D&R Canal and Towpath, not to be the reason that we may have lost one of the Eagles of Princeton.
NJ WILD readers don’t know that I’ve been having ‘the dickens of a time’ with the Princeton Packet, getting NJ WILD listed anew as one of their blogs. “My back’s been up” for two full months, over non-responses. This is due to the fact that the Packet has been firing people right and left, leaving whoever is still there completely in the lurch. Communication is a lost art, and I haven’t been faithful in checking comments on NJ WILD, even though I’ve been preparing new posts. Which surely add lustre to the Packet’s reputation. However, lustre is irrelevant.
January’s Eagle, by Brenda Jones
I have been writing for the Packet since 1978. I have been keeping NJ WILD for them since Ilene Dube asked me to in 2008! And I cannot get answers, let alone solutions.
American Bald Eagle with Sculler by Brenda Jones
Therefore, I didn’t see this dire comment until an hour ago. I will now start making calls to officials. I will, of course, being faithful to my faithful NJ WILD followers, tell you anything useful that I learn.
American Bald Eagle of Princeton Over Lake Carnegie by Brenda Jones
In all my years of keeping this blog, this is the saddest comment that has ever come my way:
Princeton’s Mated Pair of American Bald Eagles in Winter by Brenda Jones
The writer is Janette Stubelt, and I seem to have no way of reaching her directly. I thank you, Janette, for your care and concern. With all my heart, I want you to be wrong.
This is the time of the egg-laying of eagles. No matter which one of ‘our’ pair it is, there will be no hatchlings, no fledglings in Princeton this year. I cannot think of a greater tragedy, for the birds, for birders, for Princeton. So long as they soared above us and successfully raised young each year, Princeton appeared a healthy environment. With one of our sacred pairs of eagles lying dead on the road near the Seminary, the truth about man’s inhumanity to other species, and man’s inhumanity to the Planet itself, is revealed.
Hi, I am writing because this morning I saw an eagle lying dead on the side of Seminary Road in Princeton. I am not sure if it was hit by a car but there were no feathers spread around it like I would imagine if it was hit. It was so sad to see such a great creature lying there. Not sure if there is someone to call about it.
Princeton’s Immature Eagles of Lake Carnegie by Brenda Jones
What the young are doing is called ‘branching’ — preparation for flight
Yes, the NJ Department of Fish and Wildlife, which I will call right now. Of course, I had to leave a message. Which I did. They gave me several Wildlife Management Areas to call, none of which is Mercer County, and some of which sites I’ve never heard, though I’ve lived in NJ since 1964.
Immature Eagle of Princeton Flying Off with Fish — Victoire! by Brenda Jones
Yes, the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ, which I will call next. David Wheeler is not available. For Assistance, Press Zero Now. Silence. Left message here.
Eagle Lift-Off, Carnegie Lake, Princeton, by Brenda Jones
Yes, the Cape May Bird Observatory, of which I am a member. Yet another message left.
Yes, the Cornell Ornithology Lab, of which I am a member. There, again, I must leave a message.
I have been pursuing this since four p.m. on Monday, March 3.
I will now call the Princeton Packet and see what happens! No one is available. Please leave a message.
Sally Stang called back, and is forwarding my information to the appropriate people.
What We Will Not See This Year — “Immature Eagles of Lake Carnegie, side-by-side, by Brenda Jones
I called Town Topics, and who should be there but Linda Arntzenius with whom I explored the Marsh on Saturday. She will call Mark Johnson, who is in charge of wild creatures in Princeton.
I will write Brenda Jones, my friend and our superb photographer of animals and birds, whose sister is in toxicology in our region. If that eagle was brought in for analysis, Brenda’s sister will know. She’s the one who knew, long before we did, that the so-called “aggressive coyote” near Drake’s Corner Road by no means was ill.
I’m sending this out now. I don’t know anything more than I did at 3 p.m., when I happened to come across the ‘comment’ about the eagle.
Turkey Vulture Close-Up In Flight, by Brenda Jones
I cherish vultures. I do not wish them ill. They keep our land so clean, so steadily. They soar so beautifully. I hate to admit that I hope this bird was a vulture, and not one of our long-mated (they mate for live) eagles of Princeton.
If this is true, March is the cruellest month!
American Bald Eagle, Gathering Nest Materials, by Brenda Jones
“Till, warming with the tales he told,
Forgotten was the outside cold…
The bitter wind unheeded blew”
how it was in snowstorms, in the olden days…
Snowbound, Canal Road, 21st Century
n simpler times, when snow began to swirl around the brick walls of our little Michigan house, my mother would get out the poetry books. We’d lie side-by-side on the living room sofa, a handmade wool afghan over our laps, to wait for Daddy to get home from the Detroit Times, downtown. Mother and I would lift our eyes from the page to watch flakes float and fall. She softly, fondly, spoke Whittier’s words, and those of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
I would have been three, as my sister was not yet born. I loved the length and graphic detail of Whittier’s saga. Reading it in the 21st Century, I wonder, does anyone create indoor snow rituals now? Whittier’s “we sped the time with stories old…” whirls back a past all safe and warm.
I must admit, blocking and copying it, this poem seems longer than those storms.
Whittier quotes Emerson, our other favorite poet of the snows. Ralph Waldo’s opening line is one of my lifetime favorites:
Announced by all the trumpets of the sky…” It sings out across decades and centuries.
I’ll bold lines that resonated most, on our sofa afternoons, as the world darkened, and we waited for my father, and my baby sister to arrive. And other lines that evoke our snow experiences right now. How I shivered at his description of hearing the ocean throb through their inland snow. I didn’t expect ever to see or hear the ocean.
Whittier and Emerson could be describing winter, 2014. Much have we experienced “a tumultuous privacy of storm.”
John Greenleaf Whittier
To the Memory of the Household It Describes
“As the Spirits of Darkness be stronger in the dark, so Good Spirits, which be Angels of Light, are augmented not only by the Divine light of the Sun, but also by our common Wood Fire: and as the Celestial Fire drives away dark spirits, so also this our Fire of Wood doth the same.” —Cor. Agrippa, Occult Philosophy, Book I.ch. v.
“Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
The sled and traveller stopped, the courier’s feet
The sun that brief December day
Rose cheerless over hills of gray,
And, darkly circled, gave at noon
A sadder light than waning moon.
Slow tracing down the thickening sky
Its mute and ominous prophecy,
A portent seeming less than threat,
It sank from sight before it set.
A chill no coat, however stout,
Of homespun stuff could quite shut out,
A hard, dull bitterness of cold,
That checked, mid-vein, the circling race
Of life-blood in the sharpened face,
The coming of the snow-storm told.
The wind blew east; we heard the roar
Of Ocean on his wintry shore,
And felt the strong pulse throbbing there
Beat with low rhythm our inland air.
Meanwhile we did our nightly chores,—
Brought in the wood from out of doors,
Littered the stalls, and from the mows
Raked down the herd’s-grass for the cows;
Heard the horse whinnying for his corn;
And, sharply clashing horn on horn,
Impatient down the stanchion rows
The cattle shake their walnut bows;
While, peering from his early perch
Upon the scaffold’s pole of birch,
The cock his crested helmet bent
And down his querulous challenge sent.
Unwarmed by any sunset light.
The gray day darkened into night,
A night made hoary with the swarm
And whirl-dance of the blinding storm,
As zigzag, wavering to and fro,
Crossed and recrossed the wingëd snow:
And ere the early bedtime came
The white drift piled the window-frame,
And through the glass the clothes-line posts
Looked in like tall and sheeted ghosts.
So all night long the storm roared on:
The morning broke without a sun;
In tiny spherule traced with lines
Of Nature’s geometric signs,
In starry flake, and pellicle,
All day the hoary meteor fell;
And, when the second morning shone,
We looked upon a world unknown,
On nothing we could call our own.
Around the glistening wonder bent
The blue walls of the firmament,
No cloud above, no earth below,—
A universe of sky and snow!
The old familiar sights of ours
Took marvellous shapes; strange domes and towers
Rose up where sty or corn-crib stood,
Or garden-wall, or belt of wood;
A smooth white mound the brush-pile showed,
A fenceless drift what once was road;
The bridle-post an old man sat
With loose-flung coat and high cocked hat;
The well-curb had a Chinese roof;
And even the long sweep, high aloof,
In its slant spendor, seemed to tell
Of Pisa’s leaning miracle.
A prompt, decisive man, no breath
Our father wasted: “Boys, a path!”
Well pleased, (for when did farmer boy
Count such a summons less than joy?)
Our buskins on our feet we drew;
With mittened hands, and caps drawn low,
To guard our necks and ears from snow,
We cut the solid whiteness through.
And, where the drift was deepest, made
A tunnel walled and overlaid
With dazzling crystal: we had read
Of rare Aladdin’s wondrous cave,
And to our own his name we gave,
With many a wish the luck were ours
To test his lamp’s supernal powers.
We reached the barn with merry din,
And roused the prisoned brutes within.
The old horse thrust his long head out,
And grave with wonder gazed about;
The cock his lusty greeting said,
And forth his speckled harem led;
The oxen lashed their tails, and looked,
And mild reproach of hunger looked;
The hornëd patriarch of the sheep,
Like Egypt’s Amun roused from sleep,
Shook his sage head with gesture mute,
And emphasized with stamp of foot.
All day the gusty north-wind bore
The loosening drift its breath before;
Low circling round its southern zone,
The sun through dazzling snow-mist shone.
No church-bell lent its Christian tone
To the savage air, no social smoke
Curled over woods of snow-hung oak.
A solitude made more intense
By dreary-voicëd elements,
The shrieking of the mindless wind,
The moaning tree-boughs swaying blind,
And on the glass the unmeaning beat
Of ghostly finger-tips of sleet.
Beyond the circle of our hearth
No welcome sound of toil or mirth
Unbound the spell, and testified
Of human life and thought outside.
We minded that the sharpest ear
The buried brooklet could not hear,
The music of whose liquid lip
Had been to us companionship,
And, in our lonely life, had grown
To have an almost human tone.
As night drew on, and, from the crest
Of wooded knolls that ridged the west,
The sun, a snow-blown traveller, sank
From sight beneath the smothering bank,
We piled, with care, our nightly stack
Of wood against the chimney-back,—
The oaken log, green, huge, and thick,
And on its top the stout back-stick;
The knotty forestick laid apart,
And filled between with curious art
The ragged brush; then, hovering near,
We watched the first red blaze appear,
Heard the sharp crackle, caught the gleam
On whitewashed wall and sagging beam,
Until the old, rude-furnished room
Burst, flower-like, into rosy bloom;
While radiant with a mimic flame,
Outside the sparkling drift became,
And through the bare-boughed lilac-tree
Our own warm hearth seemed blazing free.
The crane and pendent trammels showed,
The Turks’ heads on the andirons glowed;
While childish fancy, prompt to tell
The meaning of the miracle,
Whispered the old rhyme: “Under the tree,
When fire outdoors burns merrily,
There the witches are making tea.”
The moon above the eastern wood
Shone at its full; the hill-range stood
Transfigured in the silver flood,
Its blown snows flashing cold and keen,
Dead white, save where some sharp ravine
Took shadow, or the sombre green
Of hemlocks turned to pitchy black
Against the whiteness at their back.
For such a world and such a night
Most fitting that unwarming light,
Which only seemed where’er it fell
To make the coldness visible.
Shut in from all the world without,
We sat the clean-winged hearth about,
Content to let the north-wind roar
In baffled rage at pane and door,
While the red logs before us beat
The frost-line back with tropic heat;
And ever, when a louder blast
Shook beam and rafter as it passed,
The merrier up its roaring draught
The great throat of the chimney laughed;
The house-dog on his paws outspread
Laid to the fire his drowsy head,
The cat’s dark silhouette on the wall
A couchant tiger’s seemed to fall;
And, for the winter fireside meet,
Between the andirons’ straddling feet,
The mug of cider simmered slow,
The apples sputtered in a row,
And, close at hand, the basket stood
With nuts from brown October’s wood.
What matter how the night behaved?
What matter how the north-wind raved?
Blow high, blow low, not all its snow
Could quench our hearth-fire’s ruddy glow.
O Time and Change!—with hair as gray
As was my sire’s that winter day,
How strange it seems, with so much gone
Of life and love, to still live on!
Ah, brother! only I and thou
Are left of all that circle now,—
The dear home faces whereupon
That fitful firelight paled and shone.
Henceforward, listen as we will,
The voices of that hearth are still;
Look where we may, the wide earth o’er,
Those lighted faces smile no more.
We tread the paths their feet have worn,
We sit beneath their orchard trees,
We hear, like them, the hum of bees
And rustle of the bladed corn;
We turn the pages that they read,
Their written words we linger o’er,
But in the sun they cast no shade,
No voice is heard, no sign is made,
No step is on the conscious floor!
Yet Love will dream, and Faith will trust,
(Since He who knows our need is just,)
That somehow, somewhere, meet we must.
Alas for him who never sees
The stars shine through his cypress-trees!
Who, hopeless, lays his dead away,
Nor looks to see the breaking day
Across the mournful marbles play!
Who hath not learned, in hours of faith,
The truth to flesh and sense unknown,
That Life is ever lord of Death,
And Love can never lose its own!
We sped the time with stories old,
Wrought puzzles out, and riddles told,
Or stammered from our school-book lore
“The Chief of Gambia’s golden shore.”
How often since, when all the land
Was clay in Slavery’s shaping hand,
As if a far-blown trumpet stirred
The languorous sin-sick air, I heard:
“Does not the voice of reason cry,
Claim the first right which Nature gave,
From the red scourge of bondage to fly,
Nor deign to live a burdened slave!“
Our father rode again his ride
On Memphremagog’s wooded side;
Sat down again to moose and samp
In trapper’s hut and Indian camp;
Lived o’er the old idyllic ease
Beneath St. François’ hemlock-trees;
Again for him the moonlight shone
On Norman cap and bodiced zone;
Again he heard the violin play
Which led the village dance away.
And mingled in its merry whirl
The grandam and the laughing girl.
Or, nearer home, our steps he led
Where Salisbury’s level marshes spread
Mile-wide as flies the laden bee;
Where merry mowers, hale and strong,
Swept, scythe on scythe, their swaths along
The low green prairies of the sea.
We shared the fishing off Boar’s Head,
And round the rocky Isles of Shoals
The hake-broil on the drift-wood coals;
The chowder on the sand-beach made,
Dipped by the hungry, steaming hot,
With spoons of clam-shell from the pot.
We heard the tales of witchcraft old,
And dream and sign and marvel told
To sleepy listeners as they lay
Stretched idly on the salted hay,
Adrift along the winding shores,
When favoring breezes deigned to blow
The square sail of the gundelow
And idle lay the useless oars.
Our mother, while she turned her wheel
Or run the new-knit stocking-heel,
Told how the Indian hordes came down
At midnight on Concheco town,
And how her own great-uncle bore
His cruel scalp-mark to fourscore.
Recalling, in her fitting phrase,
So rich and picturesque and free
(The common unrhymed poetry
Of simple life and country ways,)
The story of her early days,—
She made us welcome to her home;
Old hearths grew wide to give us room;
We stole with her a frightened look
At the gray wizard’s conjuring-book,
The fame whereof went far and wide
Through all the simple country side;
We heard the hawks at twilight play,
The boat-horn on Piscataqua,
The loon’s weird laughter far away;
We fished her little trout-brook, knew
What flowers in wood and meadow grew,
What sunny hillsides autumn-brown
She climbed to shake the ripe nuts down,
Saw where in sheltered cove and bay,
The ducks’ black squadron anchored lay,
And heard the wild-geese calling loud
Beneath the gray November cloud.
Then, haply, with a look more grave,
And soberer tone, some tale she gave
From painful Sewel’s ancient tome,
Beloved in every Quaker home,
Of faith fire-winged by martyrdom,
Or Chalkley’s Journal, old and quaint,—
Gentlest of skippers, rare sea-saint!—
Who, when the dreary calms prevailed,
And water-butt and bread-cask failed,
And cruel, hungry eyes pursued
His portly presence mad for food,
With dark hints muttered under breath
Of casting lots for life or death,
Offered, if Heaven withheld supplies,
To be himself the sacrifice.
Then, suddenly, as if to save
The good man from his living grave,
A ripple on the water grew,
A school of porpoise flashed in view.
“Take, eat,” he said, “and be content;
These fishes in my stead are sent
By Him who gave the tangled ram
To spare the child of Abraham.”
Our uncle, innocent of books,
Was rich in lore of fields and brooks,
The ancient teachers never dumb
Of Nature’s unhoused lyceum.
In moons and tides and weather wise,
He read the clouds as prophecies,
And foul or fair could well divine,
By many an occult hint and sign,
Holding the cunning-warded keys
To all the woodcraft mysteries;
Himself to Nature’s heart so near
That all her voices in his ear
Of beast or bird had meanings clear,
Like Apollonius of old,
Who knew the tales the sparrows told,
Or Hermes, who interpreted
What the sage cranes of Nilus said;
A simple, guileless, childlike man,
Content to live where life began;
Strong only on his native grounds,
The little world of sights and sounds
Whose girdle was the parish bounds,
Whereof his fondly partial pride
The common features magnified,
As Surrey hills to mountains grew
In White of Selborne’s loving view,—
He told how teal and loon he shot,
And how the eagle’s eggs he got,
The feats on pond and river done,
The prodigies of rod and gun;
Till, warming with the tales he told,
Forgotten was the outside cold,
The bitter wind unheeded blew,
From ripening corn the pigeons flew,
The partridge drummed i’ the wood, the mink
Went fishing down the river-brink.
In fields with bean or clover gay,
The woodchuck, like a hermit gray,
Peered from the doorway of his cell;
The muskrat plied the mason’s trade,
And tier by tier his mud-walls laid;
And from the shagbark overhead
The grizzled squirrel dropped his shell.
Next, the dear aunt, whose smile of cheer
And voice in dreams I see and hear,—
The sweetest woman ever Fate
Perverse denied a household mate,
Who, lonely, homeless, not the less
Found peace in love’s unselfishness,
And welcome wheresoe’er she went,
A calm and gracious element,
Whose presence seemed the sweet income
And womanly atmosphere of home,—
Called up her girlhood memories,
The huskings and the apple-bees,
The sleigh-rides and the summer sails,
Weaving through all the poor details
And homespun warp of circumstance
A golden woof-thread of romance.
For well she kept her genial mood
And simple faith of maidenhood;
Before her still a cloud-land lay,
The mirage loomed across her way;
The morning dew, that dries so soon
With others, glistened at her noon;
Through years of toil and soil and care,
From glossy tress to thin gray hair,
All unprofaned she held apart
The virgin fancies of the heart.
Be shame to him of woman born
Who hath for such but thought of scorn.
There, too, our elder sister plied
Her evening task the stand beside;
A full, rich nature, free to trust,
Truthful and almost sternly just,
Impulsive, earnest, prompt to act,
And make her generous thought a fact,
Keeping with many a light disguise
The secret of self-sacrifice.
O heart sore-tried! thou hast the best
That Heaven itself could give thee,—rest,
Rest from all bitter thoughts and things!
How many a poor one’s blessing went
With thee beneath the low green tent
Whose curtain never outward swings!
As one who held herself a part
Of all she saw, and let her heart
Against the household bosom lean,
Upon the motley-braided mat
Our youngest and our dearest sat,
Lifting her large, sweet, asking eyes,
Now bathed in the unfading green
And holy peace of Paradise.
Oh, looking from some heavenly hill,
Or from the shade of saintly palms,
Or silver reach of river calms,
Do those large eyes behold me still?
With me one little year ago:—
The chill weight of the winter snow
For months upon her grave has lain;
And now, when summer south-winds blow
And brier and harebell bloom again,
I tread the pleasant paths we trod,
I see the violet-sprinkled sod
Whereon she leaned, too frail and weak
The hillside flowers she loved to seek,
Yet following me where’er I went
With dark eyes full of love’s content.
The birds are glad; the brier-rose fills
The air with sweetness; all the hills
Stretch green to June’s unclouded sky;
But still I wait with ear and eye
For something gone which should be nigh,
A loss in all familiar things,
In flower that blooms, and bird that sings.
And yet, dear heart! remembering thee,
Am I not richer than of old?
Safe in thy immortality,
What change can reach the wealth I hold?
What chance can mar the pearl and gold
Thy love hath left in trust with me?
And while in life’s late afternoon,
Where cool and long the shadows grow,
I walk to meet the night that soon
Shall shape and shadow overflow,
I cannot feel that thou art far,
Since near at need the angels are;
And when the sunset gates unbar,
Shall I not see thee waiting stand,
And, white against the evening star,
The welcome of thy beckoning hand?
Brisk wielder of the birch and rule,
The master of the district school
Held at the fire his favored place,
Its warm glow lit a laughing face
Fresh-hued and fair, where scarce appeared
The uncertain prophecy of beard.
He teased the mitten-blinded cat,
Played cross-pins on my uncle’s hat,
Sang songs, and told us what befalls
In classic Dartmouth’s college halls.
Born the wild Northern hills among,
From whence his yeoman father wrung
By patient toil subsistence scant,
Not competence and yet not want,
He early gained the power to pay
His cheerful, self-reliant way;
Could doff at ease his scholar’s gown
To peddle wares from town to town;
Or through the long vacation’s reach
In lonely lowland districts teach,
Where all the droll experience found
At stranger hearths in boarding round,
The moonlit skater’s keen delight,
The sleigh-drive through the frosty night,
The rustic party, with its rough
Accompaniment of blind-man’s-buff,
And whirling-plate, and forfeits paid,
His winter task a pastime made.
Happy the snow-locked homes wherein
He tuned his merry violin,
Or played the athlete in the barn,
Or held the good dame’s winding-yarn,
Or mirth-provoking versions told
Of classic legends rare and old,
Wherein the scenes of Greece and Rome
Had all the commonplace of home,
And little seemed at best the odds
’Twixt Yankee pedlers and old gods;
Where Pindus-born Arachthus took
The guise of any grist-mill brook,
And dread Olympus at his will
Became a huckleberry hill.
A careless boy that night he seemed;
But at his desk he had the look
And air of one who wisely schemed,
And hostage from the future took
In trainëd thought and lore of book.
Large-brained, clear-eyed, of such as he
Shall Freedom’s young apostles be,
Who, following in War’s bloody trail,
Shall every lingering wrong assail;
All chains from limb and spirit strike,
Uplift the black and white alike;
Scatter before their swift advance
The darkness and the ignorance,
The pride, the lust, the squalid sloth,
Which nurtured Treason’s monstrous growth,
Made murder pastime, and the hell
Of prison-torture possible;
The cruel lie of caste refute,
Old forms remould, and substitute
For Slavery’s lash the freeman’s will,
For blind routine, wise-handed skill;
A school-house plant on every hill,
Stretching in radiate nerve-lines thence
The quick wires of intelligence;
Till North and South together brought
Shall own the same electric thought,
In peace a common flag salute,
And, side by side in labor’s free
And unresentful rivalry,
Harvest the fields wherein they fought.
Another guest that winter night
Flashed back from lustrous eyes the light.
Unmarked by time, and yet not young,
The honeyed music of her tongue
And words of meekness scarcely told
A nature passionate and bold,
Strong, self-concentred, spurning guide,
Its milder features dwarfed beside
Her unbent will’s majestic pride.
She sat among us, at the best,
A not unfeared, half-welcome guest,
Rebuking with her cultured phrase
Our homeliness of words and ways.
A certain pard-like, treacherous grace
Swayed the lithe limbs and drooped the lash,
Lent the white teeth their dazzling flash;
And under low brows, black with night,
Rayed out at times a dangerous light;
The sharp heat-lightnings of her face
Presaging ill to him whom Fate
Condemned to share her love or hate.
A woman tropical, intense
In thought and act, in soul and sense,
She blended in a like degree
The vixen and the devotee,
Revealing with each freak or feint
The temper of Petruchio’s Kate,
The raptures of Siena’s saint.
Her tapering hand and rounded wrist
Had facile power to form a fist;
The warm, dark languish of her eyes
Was never safe from wrath’s surprise.
Brows saintly calm and lips devout
Knew every change of scowl and pout;
And the sweet voice had notes more high
And shrill for social battle-cry.
Since then what old cathedral town
Has missed her pilgrim staff and gown,
What convent-gate has held its lock
Against the challenge of her knock!
Through Smyrna’s plague-hushed thoroughfares,
Up sea-set Malta’s rocky stairs,
Gray olive slopes of hills that hem
Thy tombs and shrines, Jerusalem,
Or startling on her desert throne
The crazy Queen of Lebanon
With claims fantastic as her own,
Her tireless feet have held their way;
And still, unrestful, bowed, and gray,
She watches under Eastern skies,
With hope each day renewed and fresh,
The Lord’s quick coming in the flesh,
Whereof she dreams and prophesies!
Where’er her troubled path may be,
The Lord’s sweet pity with her go!
The outward wayward life we see,
The hidden springs we may not know.
Nor is it given us to discern
What threads the fatal sisters spun,
Through what ancestral years has run
The sorrow with the woman born,
What forged her cruel chain of moods,
What set her feet in solitudes,
And held the love within her mute,
What mingled madness in the blood,
A life-long discord and annoy,
Water of tears with oil of joy,
And hid within the folded bud
Perversities of flower and fruit.
It is not ours to separate
The tangled skein of will and fate,
To show what metes and bounds should stand
Upon the soul’s debatable land,
And between choice and Providence
Divide the circle of events;
But He who knows our frame is just,
Merciful and compassionate,
And full of sweet assurances
And hope for all the language is,
That He remembereth we are dust!
At last the great logs, crumbling low,
Sent out a dull and duller glow,
The bull’s-eye watch that hung in view,
Ticking its weary circuit through,
Pointed with mutely warning sign
Its black hand to the hour of nine.
That sign the pleasant circle broke:
My uncle ceased his pipe to smoke,
Knocked from its bowl the refuse gray,
And laid it tenderly away;
Then roused himself to safely cover
The dull red brands with ashes over.
And while, with care, our mother laid
The work aside, her steps she stayed
One moment, seeking to express
Her grateful sense of happiness
For food and shelter, warmth and health,
And love’s contentment more than wealth,
With simple wishes (not the weak,
Vain prayers which no fulfilment seek,
But such as warm the generous heart,
O’er-prompt to do with Heaven its part)
That none might lack, that bitter night,
For bread and clothing, warmth and light.
Within our beds awhile we heard
The wind that round the gables roared,
With now and then a ruder shock,
Which made our very bedsteads rock.
We heard the loosened clapboards tost,
The board-nails snapping in the frost;
And on us, through the unplastered wall,
Felt the light sifted snow-flakes fall.
But sleep stole on, as sleep will do
When hearts are light and life is new;
Faint and more faint the murmurs grew,
Till in the summer-land of dreams
They softened to the sound of streams,
Low stir of leaves, and dip of oars,
And lapsing waves on quiet shores.
Next morn we wakened with the shout
Of merry voices high and clear;
And saw the teamsters drawing near
To break the drifted highways out.
Down the long hillside treading slow
We saw the half-buried oxen go,
Shaking the snow from heads uptost,
Their straining nostrils white with frost.
Before our door the straggling train
Drew up, an added team to gain.
The elders threshed their hands a-cold,
Passed, with the cider-mug, their jokes
From lip to lip; the younger folks
Down the loose snow-banks, wrestling, rolled,
Then toiled again the cavalcade
O’er windy hill, through clogged ravine,
And woodland paths that wound between
Low drooping pine-boughs winter-weighed.
From every barn a team afoot,
At every house a new recruit,
Where, drawn by Nature’s subtlest law,
Haply the watchful young men saw
Sweet doorway pictures of the curls
And curious eyes of merry girls,
Lifting their hands in mock defence
Against the snow-ball’s compliments,
And reading in each missive tost
The charm with Eden never lost.
We heard once more the sleigh-bells’ sound;
And, following where the teamsters led,
The wise old Doctor went his round,
Just pausing at our door to say,
In the brief autocratic way
Of one who, prompt at Duty’s call,
Was free to urge her claim on all,
That some poor neighbor sick abed
At night our mother’s aid would need.
For, one in generous thought and deed,
What mattered in the sufferer’s sight
The Quaker matron’s inward light,
The Doctor’s mail of Calvin’s creed?
All hearts confess the saints elect
Who, twain in faith, in love agree,
And melt not in an acid sect
The Christian pearl of charity!
So days went on: a week had passed
Since the great world was heard from last.
The Almanac we studied o’er,
Read and reread our little store
Of books and pamphlets, scarce a score;
One harmless novel, mostly hid
From younger eyes, a book forbid,
And poetry, (or good or bad,
A single book was all we had,)
Where Ellwood’s meek, drab-skirted Muse,
A stranger to the heathen Nine,
Sang, with a somewhat nasal whine,
The wars of David and the Jews.
At last the floundering carrier bore
The village paper to our door.
Lo! broadening outward as we read,
To warmer zones the horizon spread
In panoramic length unrolled
We saw the marvels that it told.
Before us passed the painted Creeks,
And daft McGregor on his raids
In Costa Rica’s everglades.
And up Taygetos winding slow
Rode Ypsilanti’s Mainote Greeks,
A Turk’s head at each saddle-bow!
Welcome to us its week-old news,
Its corner for the rustic Muse,
Its monthly gauge of snow and rain,
Its record, mingling in a breath
The wedding bell and dirge of death:
Jest, anecdote, and love-lorn tale,
The latest culprit sent to jail;
Its hue and cry of stolen and lost,
Its vendue sales and goods at cost,
And traffic calling loud for gain.
We felt the stir of hall and street,
The pulse of life that round us beat;
The chill embargo of the snow
Was melted in the genial glow;
Wide swung again our ice-locked door,
And all the world was ours once more!
Clasp, Angel of the backword look
And folded wings of ashen gray
And voice of echoes far away,
The brazen covers of thy book;
The weird palimpsest old and vast,
Wherein thou hid’st the spectral past;
Where, closely mingling, pale and glow
The characters of joy and woe;
The monographs of outlived years,
Or smile-illumed or dim with tears,
Green hills of life that slope to death,
And haunts of home, whose vistaed trees
Shade off to mournful cypresses
With the white amaranths underneath.
Even while I look, I can but heed
The restless sands’ incessant fall,
Importunate hours that hours succeed,
Each clamorous with its own sharp need,
And duty keeping pace with all.
Shut down and clasp with heavy lids;
I hear again the voice that bids
The dreamer leave his dream midway
For larger hopes and graver fears:
Life greatens in these later years,
The century’s aloe flowers to-day!
Yet, haply, in some lull of life,
Some Truce of God which breaks its strife,
The worldling’s eyes shall gather dew,
Dreaming in throngful city ways
Of winter joys his boyhood knew;
And dear and early friends—the few
Who yet remain—shall pause to view
These Flemish pictures of old days;
Sit with me by the homestead hearth,
And stretch the hands of memory forth
To warm them at the wood-fire’s blaze!
And thanks untraced to lips unknown
Shall greet me like the odors blown
From unseen meadows newly mown,
Or lilies floating in some pond,
Wood-fringed, the wayside gaze beyond;
The traveller owns the grateful sense
Of sweetness near, he knows not whence,
And, pausing, takes with forehead bare
The benediction of the air.
“Don’t Fence Me In!”
Snow days aren’t what they’re cracked up to be. Nor even what they were when I was a child (time for coloring, paperdolls, gingerbread men and s’mores by the fire.)
As a grown-up, to be sure, snow days mean time off work. But time off work means “working from home.” As an adult, snow days mean I cannot get out of my steep driveway. And, if I should manage that corniche, that luge, I’ll end up on unplowed Canal Road, where one’s punishment could well be a splash in the canal.
My Driveway, February, 2014
As an adult, with a computer, I can spend these snow days working on photographs from sunny times of yore. Today’s focus was the charming fishing village of Leeds Point, Galloway Township, slightly north of Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Great Egret Flies In to Join its Fellows at the Roost en route to Leeds Point
Leeds Point goes way back to the 1700s, when Mr. Leeds (Jimmy?) wrote an almanac. Purportedly America’s first. His hometown’s being not far from Philadelphia, Ben Franklin came into possession of Mr. Leeds’ writing, terming it “the Colonies’ first literature.” We all know that Ben’s almanac came out, reaching untold thousands of citizens, in Revolutionary times and beyond. The story in the Pine Barrens is that Ben was inspired by the Leeds almanac.
Idyllic Fishing Village of Leeds Point, Before Sandy
Leeds Point is near Smithville, a major crossroads in the 1700s. The Smithville Inn and the nearby Bakery restaurant (open only til lunch) were famous in those days for hearty, generous meals of home-grown, home-made, home-smoked meats and so forth. Sleighing parties gathered in this nexus, and politics were rife, –although it all seems so very removed from modern strife now.
Fishermen’s Peace, Leeds Point
The charm of Leeds Point for me is that it is, or was until Sandy, a thriving fishing village. Here you can still find the legendary Tuckerton sneak boats, disguised in clusters of reeds to hide hunters from ducks, working fishing craft, even weir poles that replicate Indian methods for catching fish, utilizing tides, in the warmer months.
Weir Nets, Leeds Point
There’s an irresistible Inn at Leeds Point, where diners come by water and by land for the freshest, simplest seafoods. It’s not unusual to see the clammer’s boat or the crabber’s pick-up truck, temporarily stopped at the pier to unload the day’s catch. Seafood pie is my favorite local specialty at the Oyster Creek Inn. It’s savory in itself, because of impeccable freshness.
Everything you eat there (and many choose lobster and I go for oysters in season) is also flavored by this lopsided building’s rakish air. This place breathes smugglers and pirates, contraband, deals, fists banging on tables alongside tankards of old. It’s may even be too respectable now, but its slanting floors and no-nonsense furniture evoke those wilder days.
“High and Dry” — Working Fishing Craft, Leeds Point
In summer, on the huge screened porch overlooking marshes and waterways, one lunches or dines in a kind of perpetual picnic. For birders at nearby Brigantine Wildlife Refuge, careful timing gives one dinner with herons and egrets, coming in for landings on pier posts, with time for one last drive ’round the Brig, whose gates shut with sundown.
Walking the Plank, Leeds Point
There are fishing shacks as weathered as any on Cape Cod or the Vineyard,. At the Mullica River Crab establishment, ‘busters’ are brought into tanks filled with the right salinity in spring. In the cool darkness of that fog-hued building, soft-shelled crabs come into being, ready for the Oyster Creek Inn next-door, and legendary establishments all up and down our three coasts.
Sandy had its cruel way with Leeds Point. ISmages before and after Sandy will give you a sense of what we have lost.
Even so, every time I go there, winter and summer, post-Sandy, I see and sense and smell renewal of a way of life dependent upon the seasons and the tides. Is there a better?
Former Fishing Shack, Leeds Point
Sandy Survivor, Leeds Point
Nature and Man, Leeds Point
Junco Puffed Against Cold, by Brenda Jones
Watching juncos and chickadees, sparrows and Carolina wens poke at every downed seed in a marble-white world, I worry about their toes. Well, claws. I know, we’re not supposed to anthropomorphize. I can’t make a dent in that snow out front, even if I stomp my hardest in my clunkiest boots. And they have to stand on it, searching for nourishment.
Cardinal in Snow, by Brenda Jones
At lunch today, I took to my trusty Sibley Bird Life and Behavior to find out about birds and cold, birds and food. There’s actually a heading called “Cold Management.” It is exceedingly comforting to discover that birds have many cold-coping strategies. Humans know well that feathers are insulating to a high degree. David Sibley’s authors go so far as to state that “feathers provide better insulation than mammalian hair.”
Carolina Wren by Brenda Jones
There’s a marvelous painting by David Sibley pf a male cardinal at normal temperature and the same bird in cold. The latter is almost double in size, reminiscent of a very small Thanksgiving Day balloon. “By fluffing out its contour feathers, the bird creates air pockets between feathers and skin that help retain heat.”
You have probably observed birds tucking a head or a foot into feathers to achieve heat retention.
But what about those toes? “In cold weather, birds… constrict the flow of warm blood through the leg arteries into exposed feet and legs, where the blood would be cooled… Birds [thus] reduce heat loss in their extremities.” Sibley’s authors go on to reassure the reader that heat loss is diminished by 90 percent, “allow[ing] a gull to stand on ice in winter.”
Gull with Spider Crab by Brenda Jones
The whole point of feeding birds is to give them the energy to maintain body temperature.
Where I live, there are deep-set windows. I have been startled, especially the last few weeks, to discover that small birds can hover to glean cobwebs in these corners, evidently finding leftover insects.
Yellow Warbler [Small Bird] Hovering, by Brenda Jones
Robins, as we know, normally favor worms. Early or not. In winter, robins turn into fructivores, –able to nourish themselves sufficiently by eating fruit. The crabapple trees lining the entry to the first Grounds For Sculpture building were alive with bright sassy robins last week, eagerly downing the tiny fruit that sure doesn’t look anything like the crabapples of my Michigan childhood.
Robin in Earliest Spring by Brenda Jones
Lacking crabapple trees (which also attract cedar waxwings this time of year,) what is an empathic person to do for our feathered friends?
Goldfinch by Brenda Jones
On-line sources agree, black-oil sunflower seeds are the way to go. Their shells are thinner than other sunflowers, requiring less precious energy to open. Their inner nourishment is far higher than that even of its nearest relatives. Birds with large beaks can peck open the black-oil sunflower seeds, dropping fragments to the ground as they feed, providing for other species.
Something newly successful is peanut fragments — without shells, dry-roasted, unsalted. There are special peanut feeders, but peanuts mix successfully with black-oil sunflower seeds. All are useful calories. We don’t want to be giving birds, especially in winter, the equivalent of McDonald’s empty calories.
Cedar Waxwing, Brenda Jones
In my birding experience, mixed bags don’t work. There are too many fillers, such as the wan millet, which all birds disdainfully toss to the ground, never to devour. In fact, often, millet sprouts. Or mildews. Forget millet!
If you want to make a mixed bag of your own, fine. Get a brand new garbage can with a tight-fitting, even bracketed lid, so no four-legged creatures can get in. Mix your own.
If you think it’s a good idea to use raisins, –which birds and squirrels enjoy–, fine. However, I’ve read what I didn’t know — soak them before putting raisins out for the birds.
Virtually any fruit is good for birds, even oranges and bananas — and in spring, oranges call orioles. But not now.
Oriole of Spring by Brenda Jones
One of the advantages of using peanuts in your mix is that the scent calls the birds.
Nyjer seed is essential for goldfinches and other finches. It is expensive but worth it for gold-on-the wing. It requires special tubes or socks to which these tinier birds can cling while they select the tiny seeds with their tiny beaks. Remember the splendid book, “The Beak of the Finch”, about modern evolution. Beaks and seeds must match.
Purple Finch by Brenda Jones
I regret that I have not managed to provide water for birds, for it needs to be heated so that that you’re not putting out a basin of ice. Open water is the surest lure for winter birds.
Nearby cover, such as shrubs, and tall evergreens are very useful - so birds can get out of the wind and out of the view of predators.
Sharp-shinned Hawk - bird-feeder predator by Brenda Jones
Cats should NEVER be outside, for their sake or the sake of the birds.
If you can manage to provide foods high in protein and fat, such as the seeds above, and suet (either straight from the butcher, or in reasonable, often fruit-accented cakes at the hardware store and at Belle Mead Farmers Co-Op on 206 North), you’ll be literally saving avian lives. Be sure to buy suet cages appropriate to the form of suet you present.
Cedar Waxwing, Brenda Jones
And so much beauty will be yours, even on days with no sun and seemingly no light, so that all birds look black. But they are alive. They are on the wing. Let’s keep them that way.
December Mockingbird, Puffed with Cold by Brenda Jones
Food as antidote to the many effects of snow in our time — why not?
Vibrant Salad Greens Capture the Light at Farm Market
In our techno-era, I have the added outlet of going through my own pictures of food, on the computer, settling them into themed files for future use. I’ll gather some produce, electronically, as though sauntering through an outdoor market. After all, what is food but edible sunshine?
Trenton Farm Market’s Edible Sunshine
Think back to childhood snow-days, a grown-up apron tied under your chin, flour on your nose, butter on your fingers, as you make chocolate chip cookies and fudge to pass the indoor time. A little older, and snow days became reasons to simmer split-pea soup, spaghetti sauce, beef stew. Chicken soup during the Blizzard of ‘78 steamed our kitchen and family room windows. In olden days, in New England, taffy pulls passed snow-darkened hours.
Home-Made Minestrone from Farm Market Vegetables, Rare Cheese, Hearty Bread from Market
Thinking about food, reading about it, remembering feasts of other times and other lands bring sorely needed glows in this time of snow-incarceration.
Cumberland County Edible Sunshine
Remember Spring Onions? West Windsor Farm Market
Pumpkins in Autumn Sun Russo’s Farm Market Tabernacle
This Saturday, February 8, beginning at 10, there will be an indoor winter farm market at D&R Greenway Land Trust. This event takes place in my workplace, a 1900 restored barn, off Rosedale Road between Province Line and the Great Road.
Vendors of our region will fill the high-ceilinged spaces with color and life and savor. [www.drgreenway.org]
Art and Artisanal New Jersey Cheeses — Valley Shepherd at D&R Greenway
These pictures are from assorted regional farms, reminding us that we are, after all, the Garden State. \
“The sun’ll come out tomorrow”… Spring is inevitable.
Fresh Blueberries on a D&R Greenway Bench
D&R Greenway naturalist, Bill Rawlyk, was our seminal Land Acquisition Director. He avidly farmed Hunterdon acres. Here are blueberries “one hour old”, which Bill brought in with the dew still on them. I snatched his summer-daily gift for a quick photograph in Meredith’s Garden.
Trenton Farm Market Bounty
The Rawlyk farm is preserved. Cherry Grove and Valley Shepherd and Bobolink are preserved, bringing their splendid hand-tended, heart-tended products to Farm Markets. Health, vigor/vitality, color and beauty reside in our local produce, and will be available in varying forms at the Indoor Market, put on by Slow Food, on Saturday. Support your local farms and farm markets every chance you get!
Market Spaghetti At Table