Archive for the ‘wildness’ Category
Long ago, –when Ilene Dube urged me to begin this nature blog for the Packet Publications–, I, who had never seen a blog at that time, discovered in the naming that I had to define “wild.
One of the key definers, so long as I’ve known of him, starting with Desert Solitaire, is Edward Abbey.
Whenever I read nature books, I write favorite lines in empty pages in the front and the back. Lines which buttress me in my sometimes daunting challenge of preserving land in our New Jersey at D&R Greenway Land Trust five days a week. Lines which form my life paradigm, actually — recognized by Ilene, who was so right that I must communicate in this 21st Century format.
One of my favorite “Abbeyisms” I just added to e-mail signatures, as AOL somehow deleted the carefully crafted sign-off that had always been there.
Basically, Ed Abbey said it all. I don’t need to write about nature for you. All we have to do is to contemplate Ed’s clarion call: “LONG LIVE THE WEEDS AND THE WILDERNESS!” (The Journey Home.)
Ed challenges all authority in ringing tones, such as, “Are we going to ration the wilderness experience?”
D&R Greenway’s Art Curator, Diana Moore, answered Ed’s challenge in her speech at our art opening reception for “Crossing Cultures” - “The message of this exhibition is that D&R Greenway saves land for all.” (Come see this edgey array, so praised by Jan Purcell in the Times of Trenton on Friday: business hours of business days, through July 27.)
Ed saw the earth as a being before the astronauts sent back their image of our jeweled sphere of blue: “The earth is not a mechanism but an organism.”
Protesting roads in national parks, he trumpeted, “You’ve got to be willing to walk!”
(NJ WILD readers - you have read these concepts in these posts ever since we began. These positions wouldn’t be so powerful in me, without Edward Abbey.)
Ed dedicated The Journey Home to his staunch father, “who taught me to hate injustice, to defy the powerful and to speak for the voiceless.”
Ed educates me not only as a naturalist and courageous voyageur, but politically: “All government is bad, including good government.”
His rage at the despoilation of nature pours forth in what used to be called “deathless prose.” Only, in today’s techno-era, –which Ed would deplore–, prose isn’t deathless any more. Ed decries “the degradation of our national heritage”, as I rail against despoilations of New Jersey. Caustically, he blurts, “They even oppose wilderness in the National Parks.”
Ed sums it all up, although s writing of the Southwest. NJ WILD reader, just substitute our beleaguered New Jersey: “THE IDEA OF WILDERNESS NEEDS NO DEFENSE. IT ONLY NEEDS MORE DEFENDERS.”
BE ONE! Support your local land trusts, and walk preserved trails weekly, to remember why preservation and stewardship are the key issues of our day.
(Yes, I know - there’s catastrophic climate change. It is slowed by the presence of nature, trees, broad rivers and absorbent, fruitful wetlands…)
Take your stand against what Ed calls “…a fanatical greed, an arrogant stupidity, … robbing us of the past and tranforming the future into nightmares…”
“…unreconstructed and necessary wildness…” Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire
Enraged Osprey of Carnegie Lake, Brenda Jones
Michael Pollan in general, and his Botany of Desire, in particular, is one of those authors everyone means to read. I hear protestations of intention all the time, always tinged with a kind of wistfulness. Recently, Public Television gave people a visual taste of this man’s paradigm. For me, the visual alone never suffices.
I’ll go so far as to insist that Pollan is an author to re-read. His subject matter is so unexpected (apples and ‘cyder’, marijuana, tulips and potatoes) and his thinking so original. It’s worth taking Pollan in hand, even if you don’t give a fig about nature. Just for the privilege of journeying with him.
Fierce Flight (Great Blue Heron), Brenda Jones
And savoring his pithy phrases, such as “Plants are the true alchemists.” His lament that now, “It is as though nature is something that happens outside,… as if we are gazing at nature across a gulf.” As he sets out in a canoe in quest of Johnny Appleseed’s seminal (couldn’t resist) journeys, Pollan relishes trusting in the river to take him wherever he wants to go.
WILD DELAWARE RIVER, Brenda Jones
In my case, re-reading The Botany of Desire reveals a delicious (pun intended) emphasis upon the WILD.
Trenton’s Apple Bounty, cfe
People can and do tease me for prating of the WILD in New Jersey. In the first segment of The Botany of Desire, Pollan takes an even more unlikely tack — seeking the wild, as did Thoreau, through apples. One of his theses is that Appleseed’s success came because he was not peddling mere fruit, but ‘cyder’ to the pioneers.
West Windsor’s Apple Bounty — cfe
Michael sets the tone with phrases such as “A handful of wild apples came with me” (on his Johnny-Appleseed-Quest.) He insists that “sowers of wild seeds are to be prized.”
Cedar Ridge Preserve Meadow, cfe
Cedar Ridge Wild Mushrooms — cfe
Pollan laments that “we live in a world where the wild places where wild plants live are dwindling.” You’ve heard this line from me in ‘posts’ beyond counting, coupled with urgings to support your local land trusts, especially D&R Greenway, to preserve New Jersey’s wild remnants and to plant New Jersey Natives wherever we can.
Baldpate View, Ted Stiles Preserve, Brenda Jones
Let Michael define “the best of all possible worlds”: “WE’D BE PRESERVING THE WILD PLACES THEMSELVES.”
The next best possible world: “ONE THAT PRESERVES THE QUALITY OF WILDNESS ITSELF.”
Female Harrier Aloft, Pole Farm, Brenda Jones
Male Harrier, “The Grey Ghost”, in ice at Pole Farm — Brenda Jones
The generating thesis of NJ WILD is that the wild exists right in our own back yards:
Wild erupts with the whiff of fox along mown paths of The Griggstown Grasslands. This lovely lofty set of trails, with its compelling Sourlands and Watchung views, awaits but a mile or two north of me on Canal Road, before/beside Griggstown’s Causeway.
Fox Alert, Griggstown Grasslands, Brenda Jones
The wild surprised me last week In burgeonings of wildflowers, deep in the duff of the forest floor, on Bull’s Island in the Delaware. These petite fleurs lifted up the blinding waxy yellow of buttercups. 8 to 10 petals rayed out from yellow centers. These premature spring heralds were nevertheless inviting pollinators. On my hike, they seemed like pieces of eight flung onto the leaf-strewn forest floor.
Why call a delicate plant WILD? Because they arrived there on their own, blooming despite winter on the calendar, pushing through flood detritus that resembled the graphite dust of Thoreau’s pencils. A key quality of the wild is RESILIENCE — New Jersey specialty!
Sourland Mountain Rocks and Water, Brenda Jones
WILD in New Jersey, for me, requires Lenni Lenapes. The land was tended by these peaceful tribes, at least 10,000 years ago. Their vanished presence is palpable on many of my hikes, most especially among Sourlands boulders. Also on trails near Mountain Lakes House, and at Ringing Rocks just across Delaware at Upper Black Eddy. In each case, majestic boulders that render Stonehenge puny rest exactly where they were revealed by water wind and time, before time. The huge stones are frequently encountered in a massive ring. I FEEL Indian councils there, planning tribal actions for the season about to begin. Seasons which, for Lenni Lenapes, triggered travel either to or from hunting to gathering.
Mink at Play, Brenda Jones
In the Hamilton/Trenton/Bordentown Marsh, the Lenapes convened with selected other tribes, before leaving central Jersey hunting grounds for Shore gatherings. This journey and the seasonal constellation of other indigenous peoples was triggered by natural phenomena. Spring’s took place when pickerel weed pierced still waters like arrows.
New Jersey’s Apple Bounty, cfe
Michael Pollan plants a wild tree in his own home garden. His hope - “that such a tree will bear witness to unreconstructed and necessary wildness.”
What can you do about wildness right now, as elusive winter gives way to spring?
Go in search of it.
Buy only native NJ species for your gardens.
Read Michael Pollan
well, you know….
REMEMBER, WILD IS ALL ABOUT HABITAT!
Rare Box Turtle, Camouflaged in Natural Habitat - Cedar Ridge cfe
Generously support D&R Greenway and other Land Trusts, preserving New Jersey’s wild wherever it exist.
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…
Singing Prairie Warbler
The wild is everywhere around us. But, many resemble the boy encountered by Richard Louv on the plane, whose favorite place is his “bedroom, because that is where the electrical outlets are.” Stunned, Louv crafted his seminal book that spawned a nationwide children in nature movement: “Last Child in the Woods - Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.”
Increasingly techno-addicted, we could be convinced that there is no more wild in America, let alone New Jersey. We could be making those exit-jokesters right.
Or worse, we could assume that the wild is irrelevant. It has been too long since we first nodded in agreement with Henry David Thoreau who insists, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” But Thoreau’s warning is even more crucial in the 21st Century, most appallingly true in New Jersey. A Rutgers study predicts that we may be the first state to be completely built out - within 30 years or less.
NJ WILD readers know that my sympathies are with all animals of the wild, by no means limited to New Jersey. You are accustomed to my urging you to pay attention to and support your local land trusts/preservationists, such as D&R Greenway (where I work), Kingston Greenways, Friends of Princeton Nursery Lands (restoring legendary Princeton Nurseries habitat and buildings in Kingston), Friends of Princeton Open Space and Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed.
Defenders of Wildlife, on the national level, so often speaks what I would urge. Here they focus on the subject about which you’ve so often read in these virtual pages: my horror that the world continues to term that volcano of oil in our sacred ocean, ‘a spill’, and its effects upon the turtles.
Sea turtle deaths, see below, are more than three times the annual average!
Our government, basically, has sat on its hands, allowing BP “business as usual”, while turtles perish and fishermen and shrimpers lose their multi-generational livelihoods, and the sea withers.
Now this, from Defenders of Wildlife. What will you do about it?
“All that it takes for evil to happen is for good people to do nothing…”
“The Practice of the Wild” by Gary Snyder delights me right from the preface - fairly unique, in my experience. The poet writes (in prose) of “appreciating the ferocious orderliness of the wild.” He speaks of his own path as “connected to animist and shamanist roots.” Snyder praises the arts as “the wilderness areas of the imagination, surviving like national parks.” I had not seen that arts connection, although I spend my life at D&R Greenway Land Trust weaving the arts into preservation of New Jersey lands. Snyder sums up his preface musings: “the wild… is actually, relentlessly, beautifully formal and free.”
As I step out along the Gary Snyder trail, I learn that to him, the words “wild” and “free” are inseparable. How tragic that freedoms are becoming more and more imperiled in our once abundant land, along with our once abundant land. Gary, thank you for articulating what I know, but could not put into words. Thank you for showing this Sagittarian (whose motto is “Don’t fence me in!”) why the wild is essential in my life. Because wild is free and free is wild.
I thought I was hoping to go to Bowman’s in search of spring. I now see, I am seeking the wild and the free. What are you seeking?
Coursing Waters: DELAWARE RIVER, Brenda Jones
A recurrent bout of flu deleted all my weekend excursions, including, especially, my first (!) trip this year to Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, just across our Delaware River, just below New Hope, to see if anything normal, natural and native had sprouted.
WILD DELAWARE, Brenda Jones
I knew, of course, skunk cabbage would be up. But what about bloodroot, twinflower, those fragile early heralds? Who knows? When will I know?
SKUNK CABBAGE, FIRST GLIMPSE, (Last Spring - March cfe)
First Ferns, which might be up now, for all I know! (cfe last spring - March)
Confined to quarters as I am, and despite lifelong scorn for television, this weekend I came to rejoice that NJN is spending this month on WILDERNESS. I became a couch potato watching WILD.
ISLAND BEACH FISHERMAN DAY AFTER WILD NOR’EASTER (cfe)
NJ WILD readers may remember my meanderings (mental) about the meaning of WILD, especially in this century, particularly in this, our most populous state.
TRUE WILDNESS, Fox at Twilight, Brenda Jones - I think Griggstown Grasslands
I’ve spent intervening years defining and redefining WILDERNESS (Henry David would have us say, WILDNESS, which is in even shorter supply).
CARNEGIE LAKE WILD - Cormorant/Gull/Fish Battle: Brenda Jones
National photospectaculars define wilderness in word and image. With some of which I agree. Some I seriously disagree. For example, every scene so far has been in the WEST.
KEN LOCKWOOD GORGE, NJ, WILD - Weighty Trout, Tasha O’Neill
NJN itself is great about celebrating New Jersey. Night after night, I see images NJ WILD has brought to you - the Pine Barrens, Salem and Cumberland Counties, the Delaware Bayshore, wild geese on the Delaware, a practiced fly fisherman in our very own Ken Lockwood Gorge, which could be the Black Canyon of the Gunnison for unrelieved wildness and the fight in those trout! (WHILE WE’RE AT IT, LET’S SAVE NJN!)
What makes me cross, couch potatoing in quest of wilderness, is that national filmmakers don’t know WE have a corner, in New Jersey, on Wildness.
STORM SURGE, LAVALETTE, Day After Nor’easter cfe
In the Western Wilderness series, listening to boys and girls, mostly inner city, taken to WILDERNESS the first time, their first reaction is nearly universal:
“It’s so peaceful here.” Wild = Peace.
What could be more important, essential? Especially now that we are engaged in three wars nobody wants and nobody seems to be able to stop. I remember when wars had to be run past Congress, something termed “the consent of the governed”, a.k.a. “the advise and consent” of our elected representatives. I am terrified by the voicelessness of the people in our land now.
All that heals me is the WILD.
However, for boys and girls who’ve never spent a night outdoors, the WILD can be terrifying in concept. To their amazement, over and over again, peace was the gift of the WILD.
WILD PEACE — RESTING TREE — Deep in D&R Greenway’s Cedar Ridge Preserve, cfe
What do my wild havens have in common?
Someone’s PRESERVED them!
What are you doing to keep New Jersey Wild and Scenic, as my Bucks County Congressman Peter Kostmayer once insisted our river be designated for so much of its beleaguered length such blessed terms still apply?
NJ WILD readers know my contenders for havens of WILD PEACE:
The Pine Barrens
Ken Lockwood Gorge, up near Clinton
Island Beach, especially in and after storm
Sandy Hook, especially in winter
Our D&R Canal and Towpath
Anywhere in the Delaware River Basin
Anywhere in Winter:
WILD WINTER SKIES, Sandy Hook Light, cfe
WHAT ARE YOURS?
WRITE YOUR FAVORITES in the COMMENTS
TEACH ME YOUR Favorites!
NJ WILD readers know how very much I celebrate any aspect of wild in our beleaguered, overpopulated state. As you have read my recent post re polar bears, don’t think bears are uncommon in wild New Jersey. Thank Heaven!
My heart rejoiceth that, in recent years, bears have been seen in the Pine Barrens, near Chatsworth. I well know the three roads where the sightings happened, experiencing delightful frissons whenever I pass those road signs, realizing I am in 21st Century ‘bear country’. Those woods belong to them, and more power TO them!
What could be more bear-able than the Pine Barrens? And yet, for all my longing, I’ve not seen in a bear in our state.
You haven’t had a poem from me in quite awhile. The world situation makes me want to wail, Not only the world, but prose is too much with us!
Remember, always, do whatever you can to save habitat wherever you are. Not only wild creatures - poor indoored humans require wildness! Here, you know, your preservation center is D&R Greenway Land Trust.
This poem was given to me in a potent year. It was inspired by an ancient book on nature in the New World. I share it with you, to remind you just what WILD really means!
If I ever publish a book of the 2001 poems, its title shall be, “Most Fierce in Strawberry Time,” from this poem.
Bears, They Be Common…
“…for bears, they be common, being a great black kind of bear
which be most fierce in strawberry time…” William Wood, 1630
so early English readers
learn of wildlife in our land:
of squirrels so troublous to corn
that husbands (Wood means farmers)
carry their cats to the cornfields
hearns are herons, eel-devouring
eagles known as gripes
wolves bear no joint from head to tail
none but Indians may catch beaver
to hunt turkey, follow tracks in snow
but skip cormorants – rank and fishy –
owls taste better than partridge
Wood limns the Indian game:
riding the bear over
watery plain, until
he can bear him no longer
then engaging in a cuffing match
Wood gives short shrift to omens
save cranes in faminous winters
in my starveling time
a Nebraska sandhill crane’s been sighted
in nearby Lawrenceville
yet I cannot sight
my own rare Love
whose first eagle we discovered
gripping a glowering pine
after tracking the great hearns
with and without eels
we were untroubled
by jointless wolf, fishy cormorants
at dusk we would ride the black bear
over meadow and plain
kicking with eager heels
as he splashed into inky bogwater
we held no cuffing match
yet he is elusive as Wood’s beaver
cannot be tracked, even in freshest snow
now I shall be most fierce
in strawberry time
CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN
March 10, 2001
Peaceful Delaware, accessible by The River Line, Riverton cfe
It’s a flawless Saturday in June, the kind of just-washed morning that simply requires an excursion. Luckily, a friend and I have one all planned. Debbie and I meet at the Light Rail Line station in Bordentown, because it’s nearby, pretty, free and safe. I particularly treasure the miracle of waiting at the River Line Station, studying the nearby Delaware, sparkling, enticing — the reason for for this train.
Artisanal Tiles Tell the Story of Each River Town Riverside cfe
Once upon a time, commerce in New Jersey (and across-the-Delaware Pennsylvania) took place under sail along this glimmering and capacious body of water. Today, Debbie and I will hop aboard, with our validated two-hour tickets tucked in a handy pocket, in case some official might ask to peruse them. The beautiful weather puts us in such a dreamy mood that we don’t care which way we go - north or south. Whichever train comes first. There are printed schedules on the walls of each shelter/station, showing that trains arrive (like clockwork - well, they were built by Swiss), and you never have long to wait for the next one. When your ticket runs out, which it will, no big deal - our tickets were 70 cents — because of our venerability! — others are probably $1.50 or so, and each ticket grants two hours of light rail magic. The trains have hooks for bicycles, so people can bike to the train, train far and wide, lift up the bike and bike off again. Terribly civilized. Terribly European, it all seems to me. But it’s actually very New Jersey. A reason for great pride in our state.
Ready to Roll, on the River Line cfe
What arrives is the northbound train, to Trenton. We know not to stick the little purple tickets into the validation machines until we see the beaming headlight of the Little Engine That Really Can! Brightest Blue and Sunflower Yellow, these zingy Swiss two-ended, two-engined trains zing up and down from Trenton to Camden and back all day and a little bit into the night, carrying people to new jobs and restored towns all along the route. After a certain hour, the tracks revert to carrying freight. Until the next morning, and the next round of commuters.
I’ve watched a woman in medical attire intensively studying all the way from Camden to Trenton. This day, we would be across the aisle from a young exhausted mother, who managed sleep the whole way with babe in arms, –modern madonna, modern pieta. Her slumbrous child was wrapped as in some ancient land, but in a blanket decorated with tiny soccer balls. I’ve listened as greetings conveyed to new arrivals with the eagerness and delight of family reunions. The train serves as a kind of moving neighborhood. I’ve heard youngsters practicing their drumming from Camden to Trenton, where a competition awaited. I’ve taken the train myself twice, though unsuccessfully, to try to enter Whitman’s house in Camden, to see the room where our legendary poet who changed poetry forever wrote, entertained visitors, even died. But the house is not open when I’m there. Nevertheless, it was important to make the pilgrimage.
Inside the River Line cfe
Today, Debbie and I luxuriate in a timeless sojourn, beginning with north through the Marsh (The Hamilton-Trenton-Bordentown Marsh). Here I’ve hiked, relished birding walks with Ornithologist Charlie Leck and Lou Beck of Washington’s Crossing Audubon, as well as legendary bird author/artist David Allen Sibley. I’ve relished wildflower journeys with Mary Leck, emeritus professor of biology at Rider. Here we’ve scouted for beaver-breath at 20 degrees, curling white and frail above their scattered-looking lodges, Here I’ve found the great horned owl nest although so well hidden in its tangley vines, just before sunset. In the Marsh I’ve followed dawn’s fox tracks. We could tell when he was sauntering, hunting, just going back home in light fresh snowfall. I’ve kayaked the creek we now begin to cross, Crosswicks, then nipped off onto Watson’s Creek and strange encounters under highway abutments, where cave swallows have made the most of all that concrete. Ultimately, we’d emerge in wetlands (freshwater tidal) belonging to egrets, herons (green and blue), wood ducks that look like Picasso designed them, owls being mobbed by ferocious crows, and American bald eagles themselves, nesting again in the Marsh where he belongs, now that DDT is behind us and them.
All of this in the heart of New Jersey’s State Capitol. And nobody knows its there. But you can ‘to and fro’ through the magical Marsh on New Jersey’s enlightened River Line Train.
Turning south, I find an egret for Debbie off to our right, where the Marsh gives way to the Delaware herself, and pickerel weed at low tide is standing tall as toy soldiers, the water a long long way from those bright green pointy leaves. In the afternoon, full moon tides having come back in, big-time, those leaves are nearly submerged.
Swiss Designed River Line Car at Station cfe
The train is cool but not cold, its windows large and gleaming. I like to sit the same way the train is going - with an engine at either end, half the passengers are always riding backwards, not my favorite way to travel. A written led display and a formal woman’s voice announce each new station. Roebling arrives, coming back to life after its years as one of the first company towns, much of its amazing industrial might still in situ, and a new museum being spiffed up off to one side of the tracks.
River Line tracks arrow straight through the center of these Delaware-side towns, these former ports, these formerly abandoned villages. Evidence of New Jersey’s industrial past is on either side, sometimes still thriving, sometimes thriving anew, sometimes in ruins as evocative as Tintern Abbey.
We puzzle over the large abandoned building beside the Riverside tracks — a few years ago, it had been festooned with signs promising condominiums there by the train. There’s the Madison Pub beside the train stop there, just below the eagle statue with the River Line train painted on its back - mixed emotions here… Madison Pub, I was told, has been there since before Prohibition - medicinal purposes only, I guess. Now it has more than doubled in size, fed as it feeds passengers on the River Line.
But our goal is sleepy little Riverton, almost to Camden. Flower-bedecked, Victorian-restored, it’s a newer town than 18th Century Burlington, but their histories are equally palpable. We’ll lunch at Zena’s, right beside the track, noting that the train comes at 7 after and 37 after the hour. But first, a stroll.
Flower-Bedecked Riverton cfe
‘Down By the Riverside’, Riverton cfe
Shorebird Breakfast, Riverton Yard cfe
Riverton Yacht Club, on the Delaware cfe
Moored in the Delaware cfe
Riverton Yacht Club Through the Sycamores cfe
What Used to Be — Riverton, Restored cfe
Rooftop Garden, Riverton cfe
Zena’s - our Mecca cfe
I’ll save the story of our superb lunch, the ride back north, our sojourn in Burlington - which was the capitol of The Jerseys when we were two provinces separated by Province Line Road — and our antiquing in the building where many-masted ships were formerly repaired, for another day.
If you can’t wait - take the River Line right now. Any time. Any direction. For a day you will never forget.
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!
Rocks That Ring, Bucks County, PA, by David Hanauer
Most people claim, when I mention Ringing Rocks Park, –above Upper Black Eddy on the New Hope side of the Delaware–, that they’ve always been MEANING to go there.
However, most people I know visit for the first time at my side. And, frankly, they don’t quite believe me that we’ll strike boulders with hammers to call forth a concert. Frankly, I am usually the only one determined enough to carry a hammer.
Barren Rock Field, Dense Tree Line, Visitors Ring the Rocks - David Hanauer
Except for the time I was privileged to introduce a Princeton University geologist to the rocks — he portaged an entire collection of purely metal professional hammers, which resulted in the finest rock music of my nature-life.
At Ringing Rocks, minerals and placement are proposed as the reason that certain rocks ring. Humans need hammers to call forth the chorus. Some use other rocks, but that exquisite pinging sound does not result from rock on rock. Hammers without cushioned handles strike the purest notes. Rocks with white ’scars’ in profusion, tend to be the ones that ring best - others insist red rocks sing most truly. I don’t know and I don’t care — the experiment is the whole point!
This rock field has been measured at ten feet thick. Basically nothing grows among the boulders, unlike the rest of the forest in this Bucks County Preserve. I’m assuming this will change in a few millenia.
Oddest of all is that the rocks were not left by glaciers, which did not progress this far. And they are not at the base of a mountain, not a rock slide, not tumbled there by coursing waters. ‘My’ geologist insisted it’s all about weathering of rocks once molten… Hard to believe — but he should know.
In addition to music and new playfulness, there are other gifts in Ringing Rocks — above all, what calls me forth any day, WILD BEAUTY.
Near the Waterfall in Winter, Chuck Rudy
Other life essentials exist at Ringing Rocks in profusion. For example, the opportunity to listen to silence.
Birding by ear is a vital skill in this dense forest. We heard red-wings, robins, distant crows, the purring of the red-bellied woodpecker, the insistent identification of Phoebe! Phoebe! - who conveniently, but needlessly, revealed himself upon a waterfall-side bare branch. We were blessed by red-tail shadow and the tipping search of the turkey vulture. On the way over from Hopewell through Sergeantsville, we’d had bluebirds upon bluebirds, flashing iridescent beauty at the side of the road.
Bells of Solomon’s Seal Also Ring at Ringing Rocks, cfe
Photographer Anne Zeman Zeroes in on Waterfall’s Gifts
Birding-by-ear was also essential, since our eyes (and lenses) were fully occupied with a bounty of ephemerals - spring wildflowers that will vanish the moment the tree canopy fully leafs out.
Jack-in-the-pulpit, some with burgundy stripes; some with royal purple. May apple - well before May, its white smiley-face blossom peering out from green umbrellas at every trail meander. Sensitive fern, hay-scented fern, Christmas fern, and some even my garden-savvy friends could not name. Spring beauty - already bleached, barely revealing the red/pink landing-stripes that guide pollinators earlier in their blooming. Violets peeked from below heart-shaped leaves - mostly truly violet, some yellow, some even white, — elongated, slim ballerinas upon the stage of that woods, rock music pinging in the background. Best of all, at the brink of the falls, saxifrage lived up to its name, literally breaking the rocks of Ringing Rocks, nodding sturdy-delicate white tufts above the rush of falling water and its delicate spray.
Saxifrage-at-the-Brink, Carolyn Foote Edelmann
Deeper into the Ringing Rock woods were the semi-circle leaves of bloodroot, the lacy leaves of Dutchmen’s britches, their frail white flowers ‘gone by’ a week or so ago, as this tree canopy leafed out.
Today, what remains in my mind, however, is what rangers call ‘bear sign’. On standing trees and fallen trees, on stumps, everywhere on either sides of their drinking water, the falls, we found paw-sized scrapes and entire raked trees. Some sites old, browned-over, and had risen, with trees themselves, far above our heads. Some were raw and golden. Even without having ridden a tree-elevator, these scrapes were well above our heads. Some were raw and golden and about at the height of our waists — baby bears fresh from winter’s den?
Bear Browse Near Falls, Ringing Rocks cfe
Bear-sign, –where I learned it, out West–, meant places where these monarchs of the glen had torn at bark in quest of insects. Preferably old bark. Preferably trees already marked as failing and therefore housing insects, –marked by the presence of turkey tail fungus, nature’s restaurant sign to woodpeckers and bears.
But here, even newly fallen trunks had been raked from brunette to blonde, and not long before our visit. Bears usually flee humans, and mid-day is not their feeding time. I admit to deep regret on these scores…
Bear Sign Near Waterfall, cfe
Where the Bears Feast, cfe
THE GIVING TREE - TO WOODPECKERS AND BEARS cfe
Second to bear browse, I remember what I call either “The Hall of the Mountain Kings” or “Indian Council Rocks”. Towering above wild greenery and us, imposing rocks remind that the Transcendentalists insisted that God, the spirit, even life itself was in everything, not only trees — also rocks.
In the center of the waterfall trail is a cluster that resounds with echoes of Indians gathering here, perhaps to debate yet again who really had a right to all those grasshoppers, essential bait for shad in the nearby Delaware. Not far north of Upper Black Eddy is Indian Rock Inn and beyond that the Indian Rock itself, where the Grasshopper War played out to its tragic ending for one tribe, victory for another. I always feel that great decisions were made among these boulders.
Some resemble whales, coming up for air. Others, manatees. One, an elephant’s eye. Bowling balls downstream from the falls. Snails. THRONES.
To presume to sit upon one of these monarch rocks is to allow rock power to stream into our beings, buttressing and sustaining.
Rock energy seeps into every cell, the way iron would seep in from a sip in the stream. Calming and strengthening, all at once.
Animate Rock, Ringing Rocks cfe
High above, all that time, is another form of music. What my sister calls ’soughing’ and no one can convince me whether it rhymes with ‘canoeing’ or ’stuffing’ — do YOU know?! It is wind’s humming, especially poignant when caught in spring’s first leaves.
There is a visual flickering which translates into the audible. Each leaf is ignited in April light. Each leaf seems a newly arrived moth, a butterfly, before we’re seeing many or even any of these, at least any we can identify. Tethered moths, attached butterflies, all a-tremble in the light breeze. And, in the background, always the ping, ping, cling of so many hammers.
Also in the distance is the song of the falls. Far gentler than either Vivaldi or Handel with their water music, which is either too frenetic or too triumphal for the sound of Ringing Rocks Falls.
It is the whisper of shy waters, so elusive, indeed, camera-shy. They seem to carol, “We will do our work,” these trilling waters, “of refreshment, nourishment, of holding the sun itself, here at the corner of these flat rocks. We choose the shadows, near-invisibility. Nearly inaudible. Essential…”
If you need ‘my’ geologist’s ‘explanation’, this is the best I can manage. Basalt, long ago deposited as molten, has been pried by time itself, its cracks intensified by snowmelt, spring surges and cataclysmic floods from the nearby Delaware before it had a name.
Violet Profusion, cfe
Striations were deepened over milennia. Now, bitter green moss fills some cavities, darkening yet highlighting. The molten time gave over to the cracked time, turned into the time of the rocks. However ‘time’ is absolutely the wrong word here, since this all happened in the time before time.
Now each rock has its own voice, shrill or dull and everything in between. Called forth by toddlers playing and singing “Jesus Loves Me” and by their parents and strangers returning to toddler, just for this moment. The ‘anvil chorus’ blends with the soughing of overhead trees, in fresh spring garments, and the hushed trills of waterfall, far far away. These woods are truly “alive with the sound of music.” Real music. Wild music.
The Kingdom of the Rocks, cfe
Rock music of the winds — true WOODWINDS! The wild music of invisible birds, bent upon breeding in the shadows.
I rejoice also in the music of children, unplugged for this one afternoon, scrambling among the boulders, heading eagerly yet cautiously toward the falls. Rapt, as we are, by light in the dark wood, caught in wildflowers beyond counting, spilled at our feet.
Only one of my guests breaks sanctuary, by having brought her cell phone, turned ON, on our wild walk. News, bad news — any news is bad news in the wild — shatters until I say, “We are leaving that, now. We are here for the WILD.”
It’s not NJ WILD, I admit. But it’s only an hour away - cross the Delaware at Frenchtown and turn north or Milford and turn south. Either way, you’ll never regret hours at Ringing Rocks.
In July, we can find Indian pipes, white bell-like flowers without chlorphyll, which feed upon decaying wood in old forests. True miracles — they enchanted the geologist’s (Certified Master Gardener) wife even more than the rocks that rang. I can hardly wait…