Archive for the ‘Timelessness’ Category
Lake Oswego Peace — South of Chatsworth, Carolyn Foote Edelmann
Desperately seeking the wild, I’ve returned to my Edward Abbey collection, making my way through his work and others writing about this literary rebel, this self-proclaimed ‘desert rat’. It is essential right now that I live for awhile with ‘Cactus Ed’.
I need his crusty refusals of ‘growth and development’. I require his ecstasy in the face of cactus and rattlesnake. My healing leg ‘walks’ with Ed in these books — in his red rocks and among his cherished junipers, occasionally coming upon desert primrose, respecting the ever-present spider and viper.
But enough of this prickly Paradise. I have my own. And it’s in our state - in the spirit of Abbey, I defy myself to define Paradise, because mine is in New Jersey:
Lake Oswego Summer, South of Chatsworth, Pine Barrens (cfe)
shared with one attuned person or blessedly alone, sometimes with camera
there is sand, and/or marshland
Afloat, Lake Oswego — (cfe)
long silken grasses are kissed and rearranged by very varied tides
birds are ever present or possible: on the ground, in trees, ruffling the leaves, troubling the shrubs. Birds are overhead. They pierce tidal flats. Wings flat out, they harry and raptor. Some murmur, some croak. Everywhere I walk, there are whistlings, whisperings and rustlings. I am ever on the lookout for rails and bitterns, whether I ever find one or not. A bird is downing two snakes in the time it takes to type this (as did a great egret at ‘The Brigantine’ some years ago). A minuscule pied-billed grebe gulps a January frog, as happened a few weeks back.
Thistle Shimmer, Lake Batsto (cfe)
back roads get me to Paradise — hushed roads, where I am often the only car. Road edges are dusted with sugar sand. Forest understory (which must contain evergreen and the luminous black jack oak), switches from laurel to blueberry to fern to pine seedlings and oakthrusts, and back again.
New Jersey Paradise is especially defined by its people - who live by the seasons and the tides. The Abbey in me asserts, “not by the clock; and, by God, not by the Dow Jones Stock Index!”
the roads that lead to Carolyn’s Paradise must hold a beauty of their own, for at least 2/3 of the way. Pine Barrens and Salem and Cumberland County provide such aesthetic conduits, away from commerce, to wildest nature
Idyllic Batsto Lake, Pine Barrens (cfe)
roadways and destinations involve freshwater, saltwater, varying salinities, peatwater, whitewater, the stillness of the bays darkling streams wind alluringly back under the dark pines, tugging at the kayaker in me
the regions I am exploring involve bogs and fens, spongs, groves and copses
rare plants lurk right around the next bend — curly grass fern, swamp pink, carnivorous flowers who must lure insects for protein due to the strange ph of soils in Carolyn’s New Jersey Paradise — sundew, pitcher plant — those ravenous ones… when least expecting it, I am to be knocked over by wild fragrance, such as sweet pepperbush, along the peatwaters of Lake Oswego south of Chatsworth rare lilies bloom in ditches as I drive goldenclub erupts behind a dam I would otherwise despise with Abbey - but it did create this ideal habitat for a plant I’d only known in the splendid nature books of Howard Boyd
Among the Rare Lilies, Brigantine Wildlife Refuge (cfe)
often in my wanderings to and through Paradise, I must come on mosses and lichens and occasional fungi. Although I long to devour each mushroom, this foraging remains virtual, ignorance being quite the barrier where these savories are concerned
Leeds Point - Hard-Shell and Soft-Shell Crabs cfe
quaint names are essential — alongside the back roads and out in front of farms, beside the waters:
“Troublesome Acres” “Heaven’s Way Farm” “Farrier” Dividing Creek “Bears, Bucks and Ducks” Shellpile Bivalve Caviar Ong’s Hat — some of these names go back generations and centuries, and only the locals may know how to find them, by a crumbling foundation or some domestic plant run wild in another kind of wilderness Applejack Hill’s name has been changed, for the tourists, to Apple Pie Hill — Abbey, are you listening? Applejack, of course, — talk about terroir!– was/is New Jersey Lightnin’ — each Piney tending his own still with attention, experience and a shotgun.
Sneak Boat Ready to Sneak - Leeds Point (cfe)
History must have happened in my Paradise — especially Native American and Revolutionary
Here a battle must have been fought and lost, such as the fiery Revolutionary fate of Chestnut Neck.
Here locals must have defied and overcome proud dazzlingly uniformed British, taking their ships and their stores inland from the coast, along the storied Mullica River - without which waters and watermen we would not have a nation today!
Clouds in the Water, Chatsworth Bogs (cfe)
Here salt hay must have been harvested by man and horse in the steamiest of seasons, and great whales tugged ashore and ‘tried’ for their various riches.
Here traitors must’ve conspired, smugglers rowed by night, bootleggers brought contraband ashore to sell and to imbibe.
Leed’s Point - Smugglers’ Haven - Living Fishing Port cfe
Here clammers still tug their rich provender onto deck and into seafood restaurants tethered to waterways, creaking boards hinting of sagas of old, as at Oyster Creek Inn at Leeds Point.
It helps that Leeds Point is the home of the Jersey Devil, whom I am still requesting to meet.
“Ready to Roll” cfe
Intriguing restaurants must be nearby. Farmers’ Markets must be open, and people must be selling the spring’s first asparagus, sliced from that meagre soil, at roadstands with a little box for the money for this treasure beyond price. Russo’s Market in Tabernacle must have its spicy applesauce apples outside in thick plastic bags, next to the honesty box, at the beginning of winter.
Only people who treasure timelessness and tranquillity need apply for such journeys.
A day in the Pines will require about 200 miles of driving, longer if we detour to Tuckerton, formerly Clamtown. Why Tuckerton? Because great and little blue and tri-colored herons may stud the grassy reaches, depending on the tide, as we tool along Seven Bridges Road. Because there’s a place along there, –out on a somewhat suspect roadway–, where one can stop for the freshest clams, unless one has wriggled them out personally, using one’s own toes. Because at the end of this road, (and HOW I LOVE Land’s Ends!), there used to be an island village, now sea-claimed. Here, in season, one can find the vivid oystercatchers in full breeding plumage, turning over the few rocks on the sandy approach to the bay.
Life of the Seasons and the Tides Leeds Point cfe
Because closer to town, one can happen to be there when evergreens are studded with black-crowned night herons, squawk-murmuring to one another as sun drops into autumnal waters.
Carolyn’s New Jersey Paradise has to include kayaking possibilities, for her physical therapist is promising ‘back in the craft’ by April. If so, there is above all the Wading River to paddle and many ‘liveries’ to make these delicate journeys possible. There is always the exquisite Barnegat Bay in Island Beach’s back reaches - those paddles used to be free, with naturalists leading us among the Sedge Islands. There a feast of shore birds includes black skimmers not only skimming, but doing their odd sand squiggle on their bellies, when it’s just too hot.
Black Skimmers in Flight, Brenda Jones
I deeply understand Cactus Ed’s passion for the sere landscape of Arches and Canyonlands. I relish, with him, the silence. I don’t have rock formations in my Paradise, nor the song of the canyon wren and the slither of sidewinder. His Paradise is red and pink and magenta and ochre and burnt sienna and irreplaceable.
Mine is mostly forest green, toasty oak, sometimes ruddy blueberry leaves, interspersed with limitless stretches of flooded cranberry bogs, throwing back the sunset. In the distance, there is salt tang. Close up, there is the sibilance of peatwater.
If Ed had known the Pine Barrens, –especially her crusty inhabitants–, I think he’d've approved. Maybe only if he found it before Arches and Canyonlands. He might’ve kayaked the Sedge Islands, and even boarded the restored oyster schooner down at Bivalve, and helped tug the sails into the sky while singing sea chanteys.
Revolutionary Massacre Site - Alloway Creek, Salem County — (cfe)
He’d probably hang out overnight, black flies and greenheads or no, on the sands of Reed’s Beach when it’s studded with courting, mating horseshoe crabs and whatever red knots and ruddy turnstones remain on our planet.
Bucolic Salem County, where Rebels Countered Redcoats and Prevailed cfe
Paradise — for Ed and for me — seems to require a dearth of humans. It need not be awash in critters, but there needs to be that ever-possibility. Even the new health of New Jersey oysters, “Cape May Salts.” Even the restoration of sturgeon to the Delaware River and elsewhere along this state of three coasts — once so enormous and plentiful that there is a mystery town still known as Caviar along the Delaware Bay.
An essential quality of Paradise, however, is that it cannot be explained.
So, inexplicably, I assert, New Jersey, especially South Jersey (and also Sandy Hook) holds varying versions of Paradise, all of them yours for the seeing. And none of them seasonally-dependent. Go for it!
Salem Preserved cfe
AND, ABOVE ALL, SEE THAT ALL VERSIONS OF NEW JERSEY PARADISE ARE PRESERVED!
Lest, like Thoreau, we find out we had not lived…
Cape May Lighthouse, NJ
Titmouse in Snowstorm, Brenda Jones
NJ WILD readers know, my favorite time to be anywhere is off-season. In 2009 I had chosen to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at Cape May.
My key birding/hiking/art and travel buddy, Janet Black, and I had this urgent need to flee the commercial madness which had come to overwhelm this once sacred season. The fiercest concern, on all channels during this week’s blizzard, was not health or safety - but o, dear! — people can’t get to the malls! Christ was not born to turn balance sheets from red to black.
We went to seek the elemental, even the primal.
I, personally was starved for limitlessness.
We both needed birds, — handsome birds, large birds, unexpected birds, birds dealing boldly and successfully with elements, putting humans to shame. Birds making us catch our breath over their beauty, their fearlessness, their deft way with the wind. Somewhere out beyond the first lines of waves, long-tailed ducks were bobbing and feeding. Sometimes, if we were very lucky, elegant gannets arrowed right over our heads, or threaded their way above the crests.
Yes, we knew the trails, the hot spots, from Sunset Beach to Cape May Point to Higbee Beach. We’ve put in our time on and near the hawk watch platform, normally abuzz - it would be still for Christmas.
Cape May Bird Observatory post captures their Hawk Watch Platform post-blizzard
We knew where to hike (from the jetty to the light) in a benevolent season, when we were sometimes accompanied by ruddy turnstones, living mosaics hopping along beside us as we stride.
We knew where the peregrine stooped (’stooped’ is the birder’s word) upon tasty prey, from an anachronistic bunker to a freshwater pond, as sedate mute swans ignore the entire drama.
Killdeer and Snow
from Cape May Bird Observatory post, post-storm
We knew where monarchs clustered in autumn, on a shrub called “high tide plant.” We had favorite dune trails where we’d seen loons visibly change their plumage before our eyes.
But neither of us knew what Christmas meant at New Jersey’s Cape, let alone what it means to the birds.
We packed foul weather gear - we’ve used it before for Cape May Birding Weekends of 20 mile an hour winds and I swear 20 degrees, although it couldn’t have been - it was the end of May…
We packed our binoculars and our Sibleys - well, they’re always in the trunk. Being writers, books and notepads went first into those suitcases. Janet’s memoir vied with her poetry. My NJ WILD held pride of place - no competition for it, these days, not even from the poetry muse.
We both fled the Victorian, sought out the rustic, the local, and above all, the maritime and the avian.
Down at the southernmost tip of New Jersey, at the birds’ jumping-off place to cross the Delaware Bay, the prime activity would neither be shopping til you drop, nor counting down to Christmas.
Out on the windswept beaches, spirit would be near at hand. Shore birds would do their Holy Ghost thing.
Though we did not see the Christmas star, something was being born. I called it Hope.
NJ Wild readers know I used to write long and colorful nature articles for the Packet, for US 1 (Business) Newspaper and occasionally, West Windsor Plainsboro News. Jersey Sierran and New Jersey Countryside also published nature pieces of mine, back in the days when print journalism was thriving and free-lancing was an exhilirating profession.
Here’s a long story of those golden days, covering favorite near-Princeton walks, bearable on the blistering days. Be very aware, everyone, that without preservation organizations, such as D&R Greenway, Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, Friends of Princeton Open Space, Montgomery Friends of Open Space, we wouldn’t have these dappled places to restore ourselves. Shall I dare to mention the cc word? - and flee catastrophic climate change!
Preserved land absorbs CO2 - but you all know that. I don’t know why the government does not.
Miracle-worker Brenda Jones inserted images for us, to convey visual enticement to our readers. I’ve walked these woods in all seasons, and could not name a favorite. What is yours?
“The Woods are Lovely, Dark and Deep”:
Cool Walks for Blistering Days
You’re psyched for a hike, but the Weather Channel reports temperatures over 90º. What to do? You’re in luck! The Princeton region abounds in sites offering cool walks despite blistering days.
It helps to get out on trails at first light or last. Birders and photographers know to choose times of low sun for best results. As the “Dog Days” of August approach, early and late become your best friends. Named for Sirius, the Dog Star, –which rises in that month–, I would watch the Provençals, gesturing furiously, castigate the entire season that they call “La Canicule”, (from Latin word for dog). In the South of France, this is a time of increased madness, of wildfires in pine and oak woods. For the entire interval of “La Canicule” 1988, firefighters camped out on our L’Observatoire Hill above Cannes — good chance to practice my French. No shade anywhere, then! Least of all in the charred (even the roots!) Esterel Forest, where I had become seriously sunburnt that January. As Global Warming creeps on its far-from-petty pace, this searing time could tempt you to bark.
In Princeton’s Dog Days the rule of thumb becomes, “Be out there when sun’s below treeline.” This is easy along the D&R Canal Towpath, which my employers, D&R Greenway Land Trust, were created to save for our overpopulated state. The canal was a vital commercial artery, now a New Jersey State Park. However, at all hours, in our mercifully wooded region, there are nearby hiking havens. Here you can literally escape heat, enhance fitness, experience wild beauty without absolutely wilting.
My benchmark for temperature relief is New Jersey Audubon’s Plainsboro Preserve. If I were giving Cool Stars, its beechwood haven earns the full five. Four, I award to Community Park North, — especially John Witherspoon Woods, thanks the vigilance and preservation successes of Friends of Princeton Open Space and the Princeton Garden Club. Three stars go to Shipetaukin Woods, just over the line in Lawrence Township, with its shy and melodious Shipetaukin Brook. Two Cool Stars are earned by our Towpath, –with the exception of areas along Carnegie Lake. (Its dredging removed venerable tree cover, so lakeside walks this time of year can feel like forced marches on a griddle.) Of course, the all-time best way to be cool near the towpath is to kayak along the canal, especially south from Princeton Canoe and Kayak on Alexander Road.
Lovely, Dark and Shallow, thanks to Brenda Jones
Your first steps, alongside McCormack Lake (former gravel pit, now waterbird heaven) are along its sandy entrance road, admittedly exposed to sun. A trail beckons to the left almost immediately. Take it to enter the beechwood. In any season, there is a significant ‘change in the weather’. Its moderation is a welcome 12 to 15 degrees, –cooler in summer; warmer in winter. In this enchanted forest gleam frail white Indian pipes. These saprophytes are haunting in the dappled dimness, plants that thrive without chlorophyll. Their dark ruddy relative, beech drops, erupt here and there, nourished by submerged long-dead beech trunks.
In the Packet’s glossy magazine, you recently were treated to a superb color picture and story, by Anthony Stoeckert, about the spirit behind Plainsboro Preserve, Sean Grace. Intensely knowledgeable about wild plants and wild creatures, with an artist’s sense for the beautiful (he sometimes leads sketching walks), there is no better guide to the gentle wilds of Plainsboro Preserve than Sean.
Plainsboro Preserve in summer is a place for atmosphere and escape, more than adding to your life lists of birds and plants. Winter is the time for the rarest of their 150 species of birds to take center stage. Threatened and endangered plants are proudly listed at Plainsboro, although seldom encountered on ordinary excursions. Maps and announcements at entry reveal a broad spectrum of guided family activities, including owl prowls and backcountry wildflower quests.
Trail blazes on trees are plentiful and clear. The white trail segues into the red which curves into the yellow, looping back to the white. Take them all in the ‘Dog Days’, with shade as your companion. Blue takes you out onto the peninsula in 50-acre McCormack Lake, the former quarry. There, you’ll hike among fragrant bayberry shrubs, above reindeer lichen and other green growing things you’d have to drive all the way to Island Beach State Park to discover. However, the peninsula is sun-exposed. (No swimming, fishing, dogs nor bikes in this Preserve.)
Directions - Scudders Mill Road East, off Route 1; North/left on Dey Road; West/left at light at Scott’s Corner Road. South/left into park at small sign on right. Open sunup to sundown, locked otherwise.
Community Park North, John Witherspoon Woods:
Here’s the place for woods truly “lovely, dark and deep”. They face you as soon as you lock your car in the parking lot. Trails lead north and south. North (near what used to be our Shakespeare Theatre) is more exposed. Blazes are sparse, but trails well utilized, so that you can follow your feet. This preserve can be very wet after continuous rain. South trail lifts you onto a paved road, toward Mountain Lakes House. In no time, you not only do not hear Route 206 any longer – you forget there is any such thing as traffic. You might even forget sun. Some days in Princeton, as in Provence, sun can be enemy, woods your only defense.
For darkest woods, turn right at pathways into John Witherspoon Woods. After crossing a stream or two, you may be blessed by the great horned owl (early or late), or the privilege of wood thrush chorus. Henry David Thoreau’s favorite bird, the thrush is becoming increasingly scarce in our region, as deer browse destroys its essential understory.
Evocative rocks outline well maintained, but somewhat rough, trails. Occasional water crossings are abetted by convenient logs and rocks. Trekking poles are useful, but not required. Inescapable sun does erupt on the road and in the gas line clearing. The large body of (dammed) water lures (too many) geese. Obvious trails wheel in all directions, granting profound escape from ‘civilization’, as well as from rays.
Directions - 206 North (toward Township Police Station); right/north jughandle for Mountain Avenue; right/west at large sign, into generous parking area.
Three trails diverge in a greenwood. Take center or left, both clearly blazed. Even at entry, edge-habitat birds abound. They are near and unbothered enough by your presence in this secret enclave that you can study them without optics. Inside the forest, sun is blessedly swallowed. You’re knee-deep in ferns, among jack-in-the-pulpits to your hips. Tracking, you read fawn tenuousness, stag certainty; you step between raccoon prints. Look for turtles and waterstriders along the winking creek. This is a small walk, but dense. Tree blazes tend to be few and far between. It’s near enough to Terhune Orchards that you can mosey on over there afterwards for cool and natural refreshment. Shipetaukin reminds me of [Spencer] Tracy’s praise of Hepburn: “…Not much to her; but what there is, is cherce.”
Directions - 206 South; west/right onto Province Line Road alongside Squibb; left/south on Carson; right/west on Carter –[only one car-length!] IMMEDIATE left/south into Shipetaukin. From Princeton, small sign cannot be read. Entry road is rudimentary, narrow.
The working canal and towpath ran from New Brunswick to Bordentown. The shadiest towpath stroll is from Alexander Road South, in late afternoon and evening. One can park under trees at Turning Basin Park, across from Princeton Canoe and Kayak.
Parking at the Quaker Bridge Road/Province Line Road South (alongside Nassau Park/Wegman’s Shopping Center) provides a mercifully silent walk. Evening is best, although always less shady than the Alexander South stretch. As you come out from under Province Line Road Bridge, a scene right out of French Impressionists unfolds. Our Canal could have inspired Sisley, Pissarro, Monet and the gang, especially near Auvers-sur-Oise. Rare birds abound here, although US 1 is so near – rose-breasted grosbeak, green heron, yellow-shafted flicker, evening grosbeak, great-crested flycatcher, hawks often aloft.
Be warned: The most sun-exposed stretch of the D&R Canal and Towpath is the one we know best, Harrison Street and on north.
Brenda Jones Captures Cool
Other shady opportunities include the Institute Woods (park and enter near the adolescent Mercer Oak, on Mercer Street south of town; or on Alexander near the Canal). Celebrated in birding guides, this nature mecca shelters wood thrushes, occasional pileated woodpeckers. However, severe deer browse has had its way with this understory, seriously reducing bird and wildflower populations.
North of town, Herrontown Woods and Autumn Hill Reservation beckon shade-seekers. Herrontown Road leads direct to Autumn Hill; take Herrontown Road to Snowden Lane to reach Herrontown Woods. Both preserves can be exceedingly wet after lengthy rain. Each offers cool density, intriguing rocks, towering trees and bird richness.
In John Masefield’s words, you may be “tired of brick and stone, and rumbling wagon wheels.” If so, seek out Princeton area woods, “full of the laugh of the leaves and the song the wind sings.” Even on blistering days.
http://www.canoenj.com/prince1.htm Princeton Canoe and Kayak
http://www.nynjctbotany.org/njnbtofc/shipetaukinwdstr.html Shipetaukin Woods Trail
http://www.dandrcanal.com/gen_info.html D&R Canal State Park
http://www.fopos.org/achievements.html Friends of Princeton Open Space re various outdoor ops available because of their vigilance in preservation.
http://www.njaudubon.org/Centers/Plainsboro/ Plainsboro Preserve
http://www.princetontwp.org/herron.html Herrontown Woods
http://www.princetontwp.org/authill.html Autumn Hill Reservation
http://www.princetontwp.org/instwoods.html Institute Woods
NJ WILD readers may remember this from the ‘dog days’ of last August. As we endure triple-digit heat days in JUNE, no less (while politicians debate the reality of Catastrophic Climate Change, I find myself newly compelled to seek out dappled roadways.
We, in Princeton and near, are blessed with places where shadows caress windshields and shiny metal hoods of vehicles. Sometimes, we can even drive where trees hold hands over our cars. On Pinelands roads, we may enjoy shadowed beauty and solitude even on Fourth of July, Labor Day, Memorial Day and the like.
Come DAPPLE with me!
In this summer of drought, when enormous swathes of corn have turned the color of camels on either side of Route 518 West of Princeton, I have had to develop a new modus operandi for driving. To evade that broiler-sun, I have come deliberately to tool along, up hill and down dale, on the outskirts of towns, and through the middle of small ones, as far as possible from highways, let alone anything named ’super’. I have to go in search of dappled roads.
This searing summer, I have been taught that shade is far more important than elapsed driving time.
When I endured 1988’s Provencal August, I wrote a poem beginning, “the sun strikes its flat sword blade…” I never before knew sun as enemy. As a child, my parents would sing, “Rain, rain, go away. Little Carolyn wants to play.” And this was perennially true. Now I feel I should do penance for this wish — now I find myself singing, “Sun, sun, go away.”
Day after day, “severe thunderstorms forecast”. Night after night, I carry my too-heavy new watering can around the rudimentary garden outside my new apartment on a wooded hill. Sometimes my parched plants cry out for me to repeat this procedure in mornings before work. People near my Canal Road dwelling have been saying, “We to live in a valley, a valley where it always rains on either side of us.” The ground outside is hard as concrete. Water from the golden can skids off the soil like mercury, like a garden snake, hurrying elsewhere, not sinking into roots.
I’ve had to find ways to escape the searing sun. I drive the dappled roads.
Blue Hills Above the Delaware from Hunterdon County
One of my all-time favorite books is William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways. I turn to it over and over, like Thoreau and Beston, Leopold and Abbey. W.L.H.M. took off in a van on the day he lost both wife and job, traveling the blue highways of our land, the ones without ’super’. He sought out cafes, measuring them by the number of photo calendars they displayed near their cash register. He brought to life each bossy waitress, each curmudgeonly fellow traveler at a stool at his side at the counter. Moon was not on a gastronomic quest, as I often am. Rather in search of humans, real people, what we used to call Americans before a certain recent president made ME ashamed to BE one… That simple travelogue held its place on best-seller lists for months. That basic journey sustained me in many a challenging ordeal of life.
“Where ya goin’?,” a fellow feeder asked William L.H. Moon. “Dunno,” he truthfully answered. His interrogator grinned: “Can’t get lost then.”
When I travel the dappled roads, it doesn’t matter if I get lost. On the dappled highways, still green and feathery above, the smokey wash of shadow alters both my car’s blinding finish and my own dessicated mood.
Provence didn’t have shadows. I never realized shade was essential. The most important description of any Inn was “terrace ombragee”. Until I sat at on those shaded terraces, surrounded by white linen and heavy silver and Provencal specialties beneath leather-leaved plane trees, (our sycamores) I didn’t know how priceless is shade. In Provence, I tried and failed to remember a favorite poem, “Glory be to God for Dappled Things.”
This summer, I learn the value of shadows in our own country. Without linen, without silver, sans cuisine.
When you travel ombragee’d roadways, you’ll either be pretty much alone, as in the Pine Barrens. Or you’ll be surrounded by people in a pretty good mood, soothed as shade comes and goes, as the road rises and falls, as trees create sanctuaries of silence.
Dappled roads don’t just funnel one - dappled roads lead somewhere.
As to rivers - the Wading, the Delaware. As to forests — Wharton, Brendan Byrne. As to mountains, so they say, as in Sourlands. Past a funny old road house, beloved of locals. Alongside farmstands, “cucumbers, 50 cents each”. “Our own fresh eggs.”
As you drive along dappled roads in South Jersey, you can check on the blueberry crop, the busy-ness of rented bees among tiny white cranberry blossoms. If you ‘dapple’ West, you’ll study the state of the sorghum crop, and puzzle as to whether corn tassels out later, the closer you get to the Delaware River (my theory. In this year of the drought, the later-tasseling corn is faring better.)
I’d far rather know how the sorghum’s doing, than the latest catastrophe of some celebrity of entertainment or politics (it is becoming more and more difficult to tell the difference.) I can stop thinking, for a few hours, about the perilous migratory journeys of all our New Jersey birds headed toward and over the Gulf.
When you choose dappled roads, even in town, as in Princeton, you’ll pass homes and graveyards of any number of signers of the Declaration of Independence, as well as the imposing residence of the current governor. Signs exult, “Tree City”. Oxymoronic, to be sure, but I’m grateful for every monarch of old, waving leafily, dreamily above my sheltering car.
When you drive shadowed south Jersey roadways, you course along beside pristine sugar sand. Here and there will be spurts of blinding ferns despite apparent lack of water. This year, you’ll read Smokey Bear signs with exclamation points after the single word “WILDFIRE!”, where fire danger used to be listed as low, medium or high. When you drive shadowed roadways west, you see gleaming silos like cathedrals in the distance. White horses and black-and-white cattle stand so peacefully, lessons in tranquillity. Red barns and redder farmhouses rise like exclamation points in the surrounding text of crops. You’ll clunk over a white covered bridge (as in Sergeantsville).
If I’m lucky, I can take dappled roads BOTH into and out of Sergeantsville, coming and going from my shadow-quest.
Shade will bless you as you pass any number of Washington’s Headquarters, perhaps pondering the fate of America without those stony shrines and their plain but brilliant occupant during the 1770’s and 80’s…
The edges of dappled roads could have been embroidered. This morning, bright sturdy chicory lined my path all the way to Stockton, like blue French knots embroidered by impeccable seamstresses. Here and there, a brook would keep me company, its quiet gleam no match for the bonniness of chicory. Behind the blue ‘knots’, entire fields of white lace, –yes, Queen Anne’s, short and tough yet delicate–, nodded in the half breeze.
An entire field of sunflowers, right west of here on #518, caused homesickness for France, for Arles, for Vincent, sane or mad, but no better chronicler of roadside flowers in the history of art.
Blessed by leaf-flicker, I am far from matters troublous. Weaving through Washington-shrines, I either forget the nightly news, or set it firmly in perspective. Taking the shady roads, I also manage to avoid most who exhibit road rage, although there was one harsh driver at the gas station at dawn for whom the attendant apologized three times. “He is not nice, that one…”
Dappled roads are nice. Good for the soul. Gateways to the beauties of New Jersey of which so many are absolutely unaware, and even the best of us can tend to forget, in hurly burly or in drought.
On dappled roads, embroidered roadways, weekend errands don’t even feel like tasks.
Find the Photographer - Anne Zeman - at her task…
Artist Joe Kazimierczyk Treasures North Jersey - his “Mountain Road”
Fellow hikers, [though no NJ WILD reader], ask why I seem never to write of New Jersey North. The truth is, for me, the journey is the destination. You know my passion for empty Pine Barrens Roads, for being surrounded by dense woods, near resonant peat streams, going down every “No Outlet” in Salem and Cumberland Counties to the Delaware Bay.
The splendor of Joe’s images from New Jersey North could almost convince me otherwise, however.
NJ WILD readers know that I need route to and from nature sites to nourish, to serve as part of my haven experience.
Roads I must utilize to reach North Jersey are fraught, competitive, frankly too corporate, populated with people in a driven mood (pun intentional). Those highways sap my strength, come between beauty and me, peace and me, nature and me. Those conduits undo the good of most northern excursions, with the possible exception of Ken Lockwood Gorge up beyond Clinton.
A CANOE CALLED DISCOVERY, CLINTON… cfe
It was worth taking highways to reach beautiful Clinton and its Colorado-like Gorge. But I digress:
Roads North Do Not Daunt Artist Joe Kazimierczyk - They Inspire Him:
Route 202 North
Route 202 North Immortalized by Joe Kaz
There are hardy souls, [such as one of my all-time favorite New Jersey artists], Joe Kazimierczyk, who treasure northern sites and will pay any price, highway-wise, bear any burden to reach them. Joe, whom everyone calls Joe Kaz, is a joy as a person as well as through his art. As I once wrote in a poem to Vincent Van Gogh, I could say to Joe, “You write as well as you paint!” Joe Kaz — man of the eloquent brush.
You can see his work, beginning this Wednesday, at the Verde Gallery in Kingston, next to legendary local/sustainable/gourmet’s haven, Eno Terra Restaurant. http://www.joekaz.com/galleries/verde_artists_collective
Verde Artists’ Collective
4492 Rte 27, Kingston, NJ, 08528
Venue Type: Arts / Cultural Center
Hours: Wed - Sat 11-5, Sun 12-4 and by appt
Accessible to persons with disabilities.
Here is the key to the treasury of Joe’s superb art of the moment, catalyzed by nature, especially in the Sourland Mountains, which we of D&R Greenway Land Trust have done so much to preserve. Joe devotes his life to singing Sourland praises, as well as Hunterdon County and the D&R Canal and Towpath. Without preservation throughout our beleaguered state, Joe would be lacking the major sources of inspiration for his brilliant works.in oil and acrylic. http://www.joekaz.com/
My purpose is to honor Joe, as well as to be fair to the northern part of our fair state. When Joe speaks of North, he means in and near and on the way to and from the Delaware Water Gap. Up there, he can lose himself in trails and timelessness, return with shimmering canvases.
Round Valley, Northern New Jersey, Tryptych — Joe Kazimierczyk
I’ll collect some of Joe’s words about North Jersey, which inspires him, beyond his native Sourlands.
Joe and I were write/talking about bears in NJ, I remembering bears near Chatsworth in the Pines. He writes:
I’ve only seen bears twice in NJ and both times were up there - once along the road on the way to Walpak, and once while hiking the trails near Rattlesnake Mtn. When I saw the bears on the trail, it was a mother bear with cub, so we just froze and didn’t move until the bears were out of sight.
Another sight I’ll never forget seeing up there - a large hawk flying low with a big snake in its claws. Wish I could say what kind of bird but I’m not good at bird identification. Impressive sight though!
Our initial interchange called forth these descriptions:
I haven’t painted any scenes up there in a long long time. I’m attaching 3 that I did in 1989 - they’re done with acrylics, and quite a bit different from those I’m painting now.
blue_mountain_1.jpg - this is a view from the AT atop Kittatinny Ridge somewhere above Buttermilk Falls, looking out over the Poconos. If memory serves, it was probably from Rattlesnake Mountain and nearby are a group of lakes and ponds named Blue Mountain Lakes.
Joe Kazimierczyk’s “Blue Mountain”
mountain_road_walpack.jpg - Near the town of Walpak, Mountain Rd takes you to the base of Buttermilk Falls. From there, it’s a very steep climb up to the Appalachian Trail. I wish I had a picture of Buttermilk Falls - it’s 75′ tall, the tallest waterfall in NJ. There a nice pic on this guy’s blog. This Park Service doc also has a photo: http://www.nps.gov/dewa/historyculture/upload/cmsstgOMR3WC.pdf
Joe Kazimierczyk’s Mountain Road, Walpack
mountain_road_walpack.jpg - Near the town of Walpak, Mountain Rd takes you to the base of Buttermilk Falls. From there, it’s a very steep climb up to the Appalachian Trail. I wish I had a picture of Buttermilk Falls - it’s 75′ tall, the tallest waterfall in NJ. There a nice pic on this guy’s blog. This Park Service doc also has a photo: http://www.nps.gov/dewa/historyculture/upload/cmsstgOMR3WC.pdf
Coppermines Trail by Joe Kazimierczyk
coppermines_tail_2.jpg - this painting is really stylized - nothing like the realism that I paint now, but I think it still captures the feel of Coppermines Trail where and the hemlock filled ravine it follows. There are also some nice waterfalls at the top of this trail. Closer to the bottom of the trail you can see some coppermine tunnels that go back to the mid-1700’s.
BUTTERMILK FALLS DESCRIPTION FROM Internet: This spectacular waterfall cascades down the mountainside just a few feet from the road; it is breathtaking in most seasons, but less so during dry periods. The National Park Service has built interpretive displays along a wooden stairway to the top of the falls, but use caution as it is quite steep and is likely to be damp. Adventurous explorers can take the Buttermilk Falls Blue Trail that climbs 1000 feet above the falls, and ultimately reaches the Appalachian Trail after approximately 1.9 miles. For more information visit http://www.nynjtc.org/trails/ebh/buttermilk.html.
Although Mountain Road is unpaved and rough in some areas, it can be rewarding for wildlife-viewing. There are several parking areas, and, as with the other sites in this region, a host of birds can be found, including American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow, Blue-winged, Hooded, Magnolia and Northern Parula Warblers, Wood, Veery, Swainson’s and Hermit Thrushes, Eastern Wood Pewee, Great-crested Flycatcher and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.
Wikipedia on Joe’s northern region of inspiration:
At the south end of the park, the river cuts eastward through the Appalachian Mountains at the scenic Delaware Water Gap. A one-day auto tour of the park can include waterfalls, rural scenery, and historic Millbrook Village. Visitors can also canoe, hike, camp, swim, picnic, bicycle, crosscountry ski, and horseback ride. Fishing and hunting are permitted in season with state licenses. The park hosts significant Native American archaeological sites, and a number of structures remain from early Dutch settlement during the colonial period.
The birder in me is intrigued, as I hope NJ WILD readers are, also. Do your own North Jersey research, and send me your results as comments. Lead me on new trails. Thank you! cfe
And just in case you’ve forgotten the splendors of Ken Lockwood Gorge, north of historic Clinton:
Upper Raritan, Fly Fishermen’s Paradise - Ken Lockwood Gorge, Tasha O’Neill
GOOD NEWS - FIRST TIME IN MORE THAN A CENTURY: Upper Raritan to Run Free
Dear NJ WILD Readers,
To give you a sense of the magnitude of this preservation miracle, I share Tasha O’Neill’s glorious pictures of Ken Lockwood Gorge on the upper Raritan.
It’s grand in winter in the Gorge. Virtual trips can be made by Googling Ken Lockwood Gorge and feast your eyes on vodka-clear waters, dancing between moss-garlanded black rock walls. Pretend you’re as deft, graceful and successful as all those fly fishermen.
Imagine that our hands are tenderly releasing wild and wily trout into untroubled Raritan waters. This is a dream that can now come true.
I recently watched NJN Special, Along the Delaware, showing the grace of fly fishing in the upper Delaware River. Scenes of artful sportsmen are interspersed with those peaceful kayakers, to the overhead carols of red-tailed hawks… Now, The Delaware’s sister, Raritan, can give forth wild bounty.
For once, humans are making amends to our beleaguered earth.
In the meantime, support your local land trust, such as our D&R Greenway Land Trust, founded to preserve land near the Delaware & Raritan Canal and Towpath. Keep in the forefront of your consciousness the beauty and peril (development/poisoning of waterways) of our beautiful unsung state… Do everything in your power to expand preservation miracles such as this one.
And, go walk the Gorge in all seasons. You may be inspired to paint masterpieces, as have some of D&R Greenway’s key Artists of Preservation.
The NJ DEP has secured an agreement that will open up a large stretch of the
The removal of the dams, financed and carried out by El Paso, will open up a
The settlement marks an important first step in what the DEP hopes will become
The fish to benefit most from the removal of the dams are American shad,
Additionally, the dam removal will make it easier for kayakers,
For more details on the settlement and the stretches of river involved, visit
When ‘the world is too much with me,’ when especially the 21st Century is too much with me, NJ WILD readers know I have to head out.
Hunterdon County Barn and Clssic Truck cfe
So last Friday became my “Reading-the-Farms” Day. Throughout bucolic Hunterdon County, farm signs began to delight as roads began to rise, as I headed west toward the river:
“Windcrossing.” “Windtryst.” “Windfall.” “Sonbob.” “Stonehedge.” In and out of these signs are others that bring great joy: That gold and black icon that means Tractor Crossing. Thank the Lord and New Jersey preservationists that there are still tractors. “Saws Sharpened.” “Farrier.” “Saddlery.” “For Sale by Owner — Bit of Heaven.”
My favorite, right outside of Hopewell, is always “Featherbed Lane - No Outlet.” It was so named because colonials tied bits of quilts (featherbeds in those days) tightly to horses’ hooves to hush them as these heroes rode these roads to protests in the time of King George III. Here both Hart and Stockton were pursued, sometimes eluding pursuers, although Stockton’s capture led to dire torturing from which he never recovered. Hart is buried in the Hopewell churchyard I just passed.
Featherbed Lane has stories to tell, not only of the Revolution, but also of migrating Sourlands songbirds. Known by birders as passerines, these winged creatures are tended as nestlings and as travelers by the legendary Hannah Suthers. “No Outlet” is misleading - for the road Hannah often monitors on horseback leads to great beauty in the landscape, as well as during spring and fall songbird migrations.
Carolina Wren, by Brenda Jones
I head either due west or due south to re-fill the well, my well, in our New Jersey. My spirit level which can be taken down too far by oiled birds, the leadership gap, ever-forecast storms which never materialize, cracks in the yard outside my new apartment looking like Kansas cornfields in August, general indifference to the crisis in the Gulf, in our environment, developers, bulldozers - well, you know all this…
Friday, therefore, became Farm-Quest day. I headed out early, into Hopewell, up Greenwood avenue, past the Sourland Mountain Preserve, to the red barn with the black and white Holsteins, where I turn left to get to my beloved Delaware. NJ WILD readers know she has just been named the most endangered river in America because gas well drillers are hoodwinking unwary property owners all up and down the Delaware watershed, wherever Marcellus shale holds so-called natural gas. In order to get AT that gas, ‘frakting’ has to take place. ‘Frakting’ the chemicals of which process poison wells and sickens families who sold gas right on their land to those convincing drillers. Have you heard this song before? Do you know that the drillers are still insisting “Frakting is safe.” Remember that BP gave us a number of 5000 for oil leakage in the profoundly globally important Gulf. The ruiners are the measurers, over and over and over.
Brenda Jones’ dawn-peaceful, pristine Delaware, which measurers, drillers, would profane:
So, I needed to escape this century. I required silvered blue siloes rising into baby-blanket-blue skies. I needed wind-stirred grasses, still dew-damp, reflecting morning light. I needed stone house after stone house, all resembling and one BEING one of George Washington’s headquarters in the 1700s. I needed that dear New Jersey winery to be nestled by a stream along a curve with a quirky old bridge - not to stop there, just that it BE there. Grapes ripening. Nature prevailing.
I needed those increasingly rolling hills, as Delaware’s surround became ever more riverine. I had to have every single one of those pouf clouds, the kind children draw in kindergarten and first grade, alongside lollipop trees of impossible green. Except, yesterday, westering toward the Delaware, everything was indeed impossible green of first slender Crayola boxes and kindergarten simplicity and trust.
I required burgeoning crops. Though I was startled, since it is only June, to be absolutely dwarfed by corn on both sides of the road. One crop looked as though it had tasselled out already. Whatever happened to “knee high by the Fourth of July?”
I’m ever so slightly able to rejoice in patriotic songs again now, now that fascism seems to have receded in our land, that flags are Old Glory again, no longer banners of insularity and revenge. So “Amber waves of grain” came to me pleasingly, as my car purred between broad swathes of fully ripened wheat. Frankly, that grain was beyond amber - all the way to toast.
Summer Wildflowers, Essential to Cabbage White Butterflies, by Brenda Jones
I needed summer-new wildflowers. I didn’t really want them to be this early, because of global warming and all. Yet, my heart leapt up at every bonnie blue burst of chicory; each airy disc of Queen Anne’s lace; the sturdy, determinedly sunny spurts of first brown-eyed Susans.
Chicory by Anne Zeman
Delaware’s generous signature was everywhere, as the rounded shoulders of her neighboring hills welcomed, then compelled me to her shores. The skies, the very air itself hold sparkle and a scintillation when Delaware is near.
A hearty breakfast at Meils in Stockton fortified me for two brief shopping errands. The Stockton Farmers’ Market, with a handful of purveyors is tucked in at the back entrance on a Friday. It’s cool and dark as a cave in there. Crossing the threshold conveys an air of secrecy and blessing. There is the sense that only those truly determined to shop with (o.k., MAD for!) local farmers come tiptoeing between saucy flowers at entry. Inside, the cognoscenti know they will be rewarded by exuberant produce, freshest eggs, the savory gold tomme cheese aged three full months in a cave, in New Jersey!; fat hearty cookies; hefty cuts of home-raised meats; succulent quiches and handmade soaps and tiles.
Vibrant Indoor Produce, Stockton Farm Market Fridays cfe
Garden State Produce, Indoor Stockton Farm Market Friday cfe
Highland Cattle, raised by Highland Farm Market, Sold at Stockton Farm Market cfe
En route home, I stopped at Maresca’s, that old-world, personable butcher shop just around the bend from the Sergeantsville covered bridge. I stock up on their sweet/smoky tender yet sustaining bacon ( which I’d enjoyed at Meil’s). I asked if he could cut me some filets an odd way so that they can be thick enough to be rare inside, but not overwhelming for one person. Delight was Emil’s response, as he checked and measured until he had exactly the number, shape and size that I wanted, one for tonight, the rest to freeze. I added their sublime lemon pound cake and a few almond cookies like soft biscotti. All that food made there or cut there, sold by those who bring it to market, in the shadow of mysterious white conical flowers that look like heaven for bees — my total was $23. I thought they forgot to add in the sweets. Quite the contrary - he gave me all the rest of that delicate filet — I may do boeuf tartare as my reward for surviving inner and outer challenges of the week just past.
Lavender Farm in Bloom cfe
Somewhere near Hopewell, I remembered a sign for fresh lavender, $3 a bunch. Sure enough, there it was, in a broad flat delicate basket that would have been carried by one of Monet’s willowy models, in flowing white gossamer, stiff/floppy hat, blue ribbons at the waist. Wading through poppies. Instead, lavender bunches lay in waiting right by the side of the road, wrapped in crinkly paper. I put my $10 bill (nothing smaller) in their unlocked box and closed it. I drove on home with the sweet tang of true French lavender, for which I always long since my life in Provence, suffusing my modern American car.
Through the grainfields. Back through the black-green Sourlands woods. Over the back roads. Home.
Leaving one bunch of lavender in the car (forever!), bearing the other two into my bedroom, I realized, my entire journey had been “Outlet”.
Twenty-five miles each way. Timelessness. Time-travel. To a world where the far-sighted, such as D&R Greenway Land Trust, but not limited to us, are preserving the Garden State.
The Garden State - Farm Near Hopewell, by Anne Zeman
Richard Louv writes of the Last Child in the Woods. Yesterday, two friends and I became Grownups in the Woods… May we not be the last!
My Sister, Pathfinder, on Earlier Sourlands Walk cfe
Sunday’s weather forecast, as usual, had been dire. But two friends I had known well in the 1980’s, recently reconnected, and I boldly set out nonetheless for my favorite Sourlands hike. We decided to hike til the storms came down, –despite forbidding ‘heat indices’–, because we were hungry for forest time.
[Turn right off #518 in Hopewell, onto Greenwood Avenue by the Dana Building. Go steadily uphill, past Featherbed Lane, past metal guard-rail, past Mountain Church Road and turn right at sideways brown sign - Sourland Mountains Preserve. Space for about six cars. Head off up the road built to remove majestic boulders, to be ground to gravel for NJ roads... In case NJ WILD readers forgot why I'm 'in preservation.']
Sourlands’ Dappled Beauty cfe
Beauty was immediate, on every side. Trees towered. Light sprinkled into the far woods. A tiny stream whisper-trickled to our right. Suddenly, my first wood thrush song of the season poured out in flute trills that seemed to echo on all sides. Increasingly imperiled because deer devour our forest understory, and they are ground feeders, the song of the wood thrush stopped me in my hike-intensive tracks. I told my re-found companions, “This was Thoreau’s favorite bird sound.” We all understood why.
Carla, who had not been on this trail before, stopped, stunned. “It’s a green cathedral!,” she gasped in hushed tones. Karen, who also lives in Hopewell, hadn’t been there in a couple of years. She turned and turned like a child at the country fair.
In the woods, actually, nothing happened. That was the whole point. Carla, who both lives and works in and around sleepy Hopewell, nevertheless kept remarking on the silence, the immediate stillness. I did warn them, and NJ WILD readers — you, also, that, in hunting season, one only walks this trail on Sundays or bedecked in orange garments, because of hunters. I am grateful to the hunters. Their marksmanship in winter, thins the herds. Therefore, more than I ever remember in the Sourlands, I found the leaves of rare spring flowers. Meaning they hadn’t been munched into extinction. Because of the hunters, there are still thrushes. Not enough.
On either side of the trail spurted thin, bamboo-like tendrils of horsetail/silica. The wire-thin stems separate easily. I take this forest herb as a daily capsule to keep fingernails so crisp and tough that they can tighten screws. The horsetail plant is good for hair, also, in ways I forget. The Indians used a fistful of horsetail, one of the world’s oldest plants, to scour out their cooking vessels. The silica plant was their Brillo pad. One of the aspects of forest walks I most treasure is that there are whole sagas in a mere tuft of green…
Everywhere we found jack-in-the-pulpit’s leaf trinity. Its pulpit is ‘gone by’ — with the forest canopy fully leafed out. “Appropriate,” observed Carla, for a Sunday morning, –Fathers’ Day, as we would later recall. “Appropriate,” she repeated, “in this green cathedral.”
We found cushions of another ancient plant, ‘princess pine’, which is no pine at all but a moss from millennia ago. It seemed as though evergreen stars had fallen onto the forest floor. Tiny pink-beige seeds waved upon long thin pale stems, nearly obscuring the faery forest from which they sprang.
I turned us at the first trail to the right, because it circulates alongside a meandering stream. No signs reveal the name of that waterway. Even so, it is pure joy, especially on a day when the over-90’s are forecast. We were cool in dappled shade. Spills of sun lit the woods as golden mushrooms do after day-long gentle rains.
Ferns of many species leapt on one side, then the other. We were surrounded by the delicate (but to me misleadingly named) New York fern, Its fronds widen, then narrow, at both ends of the stem - unusual in fern reality. Next, we came upon a fatter, tougher fern whose name I do not know, which I rarely encounter, anywhere, not even in the Berkshires. Then hefty black-green Christmas ferns created an entire grove at our feet. Off trail, a generous glade of ferns rejoiced in sun so bright the ferns seemed yellow. One of the gifts of the old forest, though by no means virgin, of the Sourlands, is the profusion of plants of ancient times.
We could feel the solid, centering, strengthening energy of diabase boulders on all sides, some so tall that they dwarfed us. Some rocks presided, some loomed, some even smiled.
Rock that Smiles, Sourlands cfe
The fun part about taking the trail’s first fork is that one is, on a hot day, deep in wood-’coolth’. A bonus was that we were keeping company with a stream. Sometimes, one is actually in the stream, but for a spillway of convenient stones. Most are flat enough and stable enough for crossing. Elsewhere our ‘bridge’ was a low lattice of downed saplings, placed by the vigilant maintainers of these intriguing paths.
Brenda Jones’ Box Turtle from Plainsboro Preserve
We searched intently for turtles. Although I have found box turtles on Sourlands trails in the past, we had no amphibians this day. Box turtles are terrestrial, not requiring water as do most of their relatives. So if you find one, don’t take it to the water. The waterstrider ballet along the stream’s peaceful surface made up for turtle absence.
Blazes were new and bright and visible, unlike the time Karen Linder and I once headed over there for a winter hike, not realizing they’d had an ice storm in the Sourlands, so near. Unfortunately, blazes then were grey or silver at best. So is ice. Up at the top of the road of yesterday, Karen and I turned east, as had the sleet. We couldn’t find the blazes. Luckily, we can both navigate ‘by the seat of our pants’, ultimately finding our way back to the car without having to retrace our steps. Adventure is a key factor in nature excursions with friends.
Karin-of-yesterday remembered a long-ago picnic atop iconic boulders. I had to tell her that that trail had been closed for some years. Partly because of people’s not respecting the rocks — from climbing (forbidden at the info sign at entry: “NO BOULDERING” — new verb) to desecrating them with words. To our joy, when our stream trail curved back to the road that had permitted ‘graveling’, we found the path to the boulders open.
For a long while we sat upon them, they lay on them, allowing rock energy to infuse our entire beings, weary from disparate work weeks. Only at the end did I discover that we were surrounded by white spires of buds about to pop. Because of the splendid black and white photography of Sourlands resident Rachel Mackow, I figured those scepters had to be black cohosh. Only one had opened into flat petals, like tiny saucers of rich cream. Until yesterday, black cohosh blooms had been mystery, even myth to me. I thought they were given only to Rachel because she is such a sensitive photographer, so attuned to nature. But there we were, on the eve of the Solstice, three women reunited after far too long, set in a crown of cohosh.
On the way down, we passed the ladder about which I had written a poem in other years, “Hauptman’s Ladder.” The egregious Lindbergh kidnapping had taken place so near to where we hiked. That baby had been born the same time as the man to whom I had been married, then next-door to the Morrows in Englewood. That tragedy had been woven all into Werner’s life, as his father moved into the baby’s room until Hauptman was supposedly identified as the criminal. Pops slept with his newborn son’s hand curled around his own, a Doberman at their sides, until the trial. The trial took place in also nearby Flemington.
Of course, this rudimentary ladder of today’s Sourlands Preserve couldn’t be that one, but its echoes remain. Only now, the massive tree against which it had always stood, the top of which the ladder came nowhere near, has been felled by one of our many violent storms. The rickety handmade weathered ladder lies on top of the downed trunk. In memory and imagination, that ladder is elsewhere for me.
Ladder and Birdhouse cfe
All-in-all, we were in the dense Sourlands Woods for 2 1/2 hours. Most of that time, we were absolutely alone on the trails. There was no sound but our footfalls and a cascade of flicker calls, the purr of red-bellied woodpecker, one complex veery cascade, and those heavenly wood thrush solos. Tragic to me was hearing not one ovenbird. Named for their oven-like nests in undergrowth, these elusive birds are far more often heard than seen: “Teacher, teacher, teacher!”, the bird books insist they cry out. No teacher was called yesterday. Meaning, there are still too many deer.
Doe With Fawn by real photographer - Brenda Jones
We couldn’t have taken this walk, were it not for preservation and stewardship.
Go, be a grownup in the woods!
The Actual Outermost House, beforfe 1978
Early NJ WILD readers know my deep honor for and gratitude to various nature writers. One of the first I celebrated when this blog began was Henry Beston. He spent a year observing Nature at her gentlest and her wildest, from what came to be called The Outermost House, on Cape Cod’s Nauset Beach. Since Cape Cod juts 30 miles out from the mainland, this is almost like spending winter on the high seas in some slight craft hewn of wood. “Warmth left the sea and winter came down with storms of gushing winds, and icy, pelting rain.” In his terrestrial craft, however, Beston kept a light for his Coast Guard pals, “I often made the patrols with the men of the station, for I liked to watch the beach by night… Living in outer nature,” he exults, keeps the senses clean. And living alone stirs a certain watchfulness.
Watch Henry did, seeing the seasons round as I did on my hill in Provence. And we are all the richer for his “watchfulness.”
It’s appropriate to turn back to Beston, while I begin re-reading Rachel Carson, as greed pours hundreds of thousands of barrels of literally crude oil into our sacred oceans, a process no one can seem to arrest. I often wonder, what would Henry say? What would Rachel do?
They are not here — we are… writing to political leaders and editors seems our only tool in our 21st-Century 3-Mile Island, our own Vesuvius.
Beston’s masterpiece first astonished when I spent summers nearby, in a tiny Chatham cottage on Nantucket Sound. My waves lapped where his roared. Though I walked the beach in all tides and lights and weathers, up to Harding’s Light and back, I never walked by night.
I am stunned, however, to discover that naturalists I revere do not know Beston, have not ‘heard’ the Great Wave at his hands, have not walked the night beach with his lifesaving friends, never shared Beston’s “cloud of terns” or “dust of stars” (phosphorescence.)
I re-read The Outermost House just now, preparatory to loaning it to one of those passionate and highly educated naturalists, before he sets out for a house on the Maine coast.
As with childhood’s re-experiencing of Gone With the Wind, every time I read The Outermost House, totally different facets are highlighted. This time, “House” grips me early on in the language of my other land, French. I had not remembered Henry’s electrifying phrase, written in an early journal of his own life mission:, “La nature, voila mon pays!” “Nature, voila! - my country.”
Nature is OUR country, and we are destroying it. First photographs of our globe from space showed it to be a blue jewel, the land we inhabit insignificant within that cerulean grandeur. It’s horrible enough that we systematically foul our ocean setting with vilest wastes. Now, ceaseless literally crude poisons explode into La Mer. (It is no accident that this sounds like ‘The Mother’ in French…)
Evening perusals of so called news reveal precious little on this literal tragedy of darkness when we were given light. Is it a mercy or a tragedy that we do not have Henry and Rachel and John Muir to use their diamond-bright, diamond-sharp pens to wake up the world?
Beston during the 1920’s, from the Henry Beston Society’s Web-site
When I stayed at Chatham, my daughters and I would make pilgrimage to the actual cottage of Henry’s year, over on Nauset Beach. The building was named to the National Register of Historic Places in dire 1968.
Tragically or fittingly, in the Blizzard of ‘78, [about which I wrote my first-ever Packet article, "Blizzards Change the Way we Live," published on the first year anniversary of that tempest, filling three pages], Beston’s Outermost House became one with the turbulent sea.
For most of us, living alone for a year, as did Thoreau (more or less) away from so-called society is a matter of courage. But Henry’s courage, like Rachel Carson’s, ran oceanically deep, surging in countless directions. One night, for example, Henry he slept outdoors. This I not only have never done — it never occurred to me in the Chatham years! Savor his experience:
“So came August to its close, ending its last day with a night so luminous and still that a mood came over me to sleep out on the open beach under the stars.” He describes a nook in the dunes, south “of my house… to this nook I went, shouldering my blankets sailorwise. In the star-shine, the hollow was darker than the immense and solitary beach; its floor still pleasantly warm from the overflow of day… The vague walls around me breathed a pleasant smell of sand.”
Outside in his ‘nook,’ Henry re-lives his Outermost Year:
“Because I had known this outer and secret world, and been able to live as I had, reverence and gratitude greater and deeper than ever possessed me, sweeping every emotion else aside. Space and silence an instant closed together over life.”
Still musing, Henry admonishes, “Live in Nature, and you will soon see that, for all its non-human rhythm, it is no cafe of pain… The economy of nature, its checks and balances, its measurements of competing life — all this is its great marvel, and has an ethic of its own.”
He concludes with timeless wisdom we are all to perilously ignoring:
“DO NO DISHONOUR TO THE EARTH, LEST YOU DISHONOR THE SPIRIT OF MAN. HOLD YOUR HANDS OUT OVER THE EARTH, AS OVER A FLAME.”
The reward for this honor and tending:
“To all who love her… [Nature] gives of her strength, sustaining them with her own measureless tremor of dark life.
Touch the earth.
Love the earth.
Honor the earth…
Rest your spirit in her solitary places.”
Where, NJ WILD READERS, in Wild Nature, have you rested your spirit, lately?”
It’s ‘unseasonably’ hot this morning, and I don’t have to be at work until 2. D&R Greenway is hosting an archaeology talk at D&R Greenway tonight, on the Lenni Lenapes and the Bonapartes-of-Bordentown, who lived above the Hamilton-Trenton-Bordentown Marsh. (Call 609-924-4646 to register for free 6:30 program: The Cultural History of the Marsh.
When I’m the food stylist for evening events, mornings take place at home, –at my speed, my priorities. Of course, I head straight to the Towpath [near #518 off Canal Road where I now live.] D&R Greenway began as a non-profit to save land near the D&R Canal and Towpath. Friends for the Marsh exists ‘under our umbrella’, and we’re featuring their juried photography exhibition this summer, on our circa-1900 barn walls. I walk this trail and ponder the miracles of hard-won preservation.
What literally strikes me first, as I clamber from the car and move onto the more or less authentic canal bridge, is the force of the sun. It sears like August sun in Provence. One of my Provence poems complains, “August strikes its flat sword blade”. One fled the sun of August in Provence, as though it were a vindictive sword wielded by a heedless barbarian. I feel this way in this light on this trail, even though I am awash in fragrances headier than those distilled from Provencal petals in Grasse over the hill from my villa.
I want to capture what was given on this morning’s hot towpath, before all so rudely ended.
A bower of berry blossoms - hence, heady, even dizzying scents on all sides
Fern groves; hefty skunk cabbage clusters in the hollow.
First swathes of bright yellow ‘flags’, wild iris, –very very native.
Mockingbird trills, –over and over and over again.
PHOEBE! PHOEBE! - this tiny bird shouting its name, and answered to my right and to my left.
Bullfrog bellows. Sometimes they call to mind Casals or Yo Yo Ma - but this is too earthy and flat-out territorial for classical reference.
“Pretty pretty me!” “Pretty pretty me” - the sweet narcissism of the yellow warbler.
Two fragrances now - honeysuckle vying with berries, –too much sweetness, really, until I long for a whiff of fox, of skunk, of something rank decaying into the trail.
But I find myself flinching every time I move out of treeshadow into sunglare. Now, I remember hot Memorial Days, even in Michigan, definitely in Princeton. Even so, there is a suffocating inescapable quality to this sultriness, even so early, that thrusts me right into the subject of catastrophic climate change - something NJ WILD readers might suspect I came out on the trail to forget.
Spring is at its zenith. Summer, that predator, is literally at my throat.
Everything is that too-green that it will stay until the first coppery glints of woodbine and poison ivy remind, “Don’t worry. Fall is coming!”
At first, others on the Towpath are captivated by the miracle of running through this tunnel of blossoms. Their gaze meets mine, even the men whispering in passing. Then, as heat takes over, runners flash past without greeting. “Ha!,” I think, bitterly, “fitness is more important than fellowship.”
But my soundlessness and timelessness are short-lived.
I become aware of frenzied traffic, hurtling like missiles along the road that used to be Tranquillity Central. Then, the sound I hate above all others, back-up beeps of trucks. I don’t know where I am, because the green and blossoms are so thick here — so I don’t know how to avoid these trucks, which clatter, clang and growl frontwards and shriek backwards, while the hard-hatted men who tend them shout above their own cacophony. Overhead, first one helicopter. Then another.
I turn, pick up the pace, head back to the bridge. Damn! I probably can’t ever hike this part of the trail again.
It holds everything I flee - what NJ WILD readers have heard me decry over and over, DESTRUCTION in the name of CONSTRUCTION.
Others turn, also. We’re a human traffic jam fleeing human traffic.
The only blessing is a birdsong I almost know but haven’t heard yet in 2010 — and then I see it in silhouette, right over my head. As I focus my ‘glass’ upon the unknown soloist, orange and black that out-Princeton Princeton flash in the hot white light. First Baltimore Oriole.
Worthy of the journey…
Equal of the Eastern towhee who blessed my departure for work yesterday morning. I want to see Nature as the victor…
Can she be, with us in the equation?