Archive for the ‘D&R Canal & Towpath’ Category
Autumn Dawn Majestic Tree, Brenda Jones
D&R Canal Approaching Storm, Martha Weintraub
Sourlands Mossy Monarch, Brenda Jones
As I type the title of my Christmas musings on our lost trees, three hefty deer in their no-nonsense winter coats, process like wise men out of these woods. Well, what’s left of woods…
My NJ WILD readers know I am a literal tree-hugger. I talk to them, too. I work for them constantly, at D&R Greenway Land Trust, preserving scarce open land in almost-built-out New Jersey.
It is a particular grief to leave the house each day, no matter where I’m headed. My journey of bereavement begins with stumps and (inexcusably still tumbled) segments of five monarchical trees on this property. Going to Morven to decorate D&R Greenway’s Holiday tree, my car was dwarfed by towering roots of a toppled conifer, which blessedly fell away from the home of the signer of the Declaration. In my seven miles to work, I daily drive alongside vistas of wisted and shattered and snapped and flattened formerly healthy trees. Trees tossed in piles like pick-up sticks. Trees without tops. Roots higher than McMansions. Slaughtered trees.
People keep using the phrase “war zone” to describe the effects of Sandy and the Snowstorm. But the fallen soldiers are trees. In Massachusetts, from whence I could not return during Sandy, I read of “trees as weapons.”
What is oddest about the downed giants everywhere is that they seem venerable healthy specimens. They are not spindly saplings. It’s as though the heart has gone out of the old trees on all sides, that they have ‘given up the ghost.’
Up til now, trees were beauty to me. I go to to trees to be uplifted, inspired and consoled.
The Solace of Trees, Titusville Brenda Jones
Trees have spirits, some so palpable that I can tell male from female energy, and have named some. For example, the beech at D&R Greenway I’ve christened Sylvia. After all, Sylvia Beach (pun intended) went to Paris and Shakespeare and Company from Princeton.
I cannot do justice to the trees I so mourn. To the corpses I see all over everywhere, on hill and especially The Ridge and in dales and along streams, and even fifty-five treasures on the ground at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve. Trees have closed some trails there, perhaps forever. Trees have altered waterways there, so that Gentian may not open again.
Of course, we are spewing the CO2. We are altering climate, winds, glaciers, water temperatures, currents, seasons, migrations, coastlines. We are felling these trees.
Felled trees, by the way, no longer act as ‘carbon sinks’ - what ghastly engineer dreamed up that term?
Let others speak for me:
Robert Louis Stevenson, my first favorite poet: “It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanates from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.”
Carnegie Lake Winter Trees, Brenda Jones
Susan Fenimore Cooper: “Of the infinite variety of fruits which spring from the bosom of the earth, the trees of the wood are the greatest in dignity.”
Minnie Aumonier: “There is always Music among the trees, but our hearts must be very quiet to hear it.”
Marcel Proust (that city person!): “We have nothing to fear and a great deal to learn from trees — that vigorous and pacific tribe which, without stint, produces strengthening essences for us, soothing balms, and in whose gracious company we spend so many cool, silent and intimate hours.”
Marcel was right for a long time, until the increasing occurrence and severity of major storms due to catastrophic anthropogenic climate change.
Yes, we had nothing to fear from trees– yet in our very own town, one of its most special citizens, Bill Sword, Jr., lost his life in the storm to a tree. A man of generosity, integrity, honor and great spirituality is no longer among us.
Is fate’s timing of Bill’s death meant to warn us that something far beyond trees is imperiled?
Could the trees, themselves, be sacrificing themselves to send us this urgent message?
I often think this about whales and dolphins, stranding along our coasts.
Where Sandy swirled is the signature not only of the earth changes we are engendering pell-mell.
It is also the signature of Inevitable sea-level rise. Where Sandy clawed, the sea will claim.
There isn’t going to be normal any more.
Tree carcasses are not normal.
How interesting that this ghastly landscape has been created the cusp of the season in which we decorate and even sing to trees….. O Tannenbaum….
Eagle and Sculler, Lake Carnegie, by Brenda Jones
My NJ WILD readers know that my key reason for hip replacement was to get into (and OUT of) a kayak, as often as i like, to paddle as long as I like. Thanks to Dr. Thomas Gutowski, this impossible dream has been realized.
The first return took place at dusk on Lake Carnegie, thanks to the generosity of a new friend who carried the kayaks on his head high over the arched footbridge to the still lake. Now I have kayaked, alone and with others, five or six times on the D&R Canal south of Alexander. (www.canoe.nj.com)
A major blessing of all these sojourns, –beyond no longer being crippled–, is solitude. Each morning south of Alexander, whether alone or with friends, ours are the first prows on the water. For the Lake Carnegie idyll, although Saturday evening, there wasn’t another human in sight until we returned to the put-in. Our sole companion was a majestic great blue heron, mincing along in shadowed undergrowth to our right for the entire journey. Kayaks render one nearly invisible to wildlife. Even basking turtles don’t unbask as we pass.
Basking Turtles, D&R Canal, Brenda Jones
The D&R Canal and Towpath are right here in the middle of Princeton. For seven years, I worked with people at a College Road East firm, who would ask over and over, “Now where IS that canal, anyway?” Stunned, I’d reply, “Well you can’t really get into town without crossing it.” Sad to say, corporate types don’t have nature and history antennae out as they go about their daily rounds. They’d usually follow my answer with, “You go there ALONE?!”
Those who do possess and use antennae, know that this haven for walkers, paddlers and rowers exists, thanks to preservationists, –an eastern hem to the fabric of our town. Rich in natural beauty and significant human and industrial history, that canal was the reason for the founding and thriving of many New Jersey municipalities. It also provides drinking water for those not blessed with wells in our region.
Long ago, in a poem, I described the Canal and Towpath as “nurse, haven and muse.” She’s far more than that now, once I’ve learned to know her by water. It’s a treat to be dwarfed by her flowers, to skiddle along beside her turtles or pause so as not to disturb the swimming water snake. It’s birders’ heaven in spring, when warblers and other rarities territorialize along through the Institute Woods. And sometimes, near the Aqueduct, one sees ‘our’ American bald eagles, dashing osprey and gilded orioles doubled in still water.
Osprey Over Millstone Aqueduct, Brenda Jones
Last week’s kayaking began by renting a ‘loon’ at Princeton Canoe and Kayak at Alexander Road by the Turning Basin. After a work week assailed by interruptions, there was nothing more refreshing and essential than the absolute silence, which descended like incense, or an invisible cloak, as soon as I moved beyond the swallows of the Alexander Bridge. As their wings literally part my hair, I am alerted to the reality that I was in a new dimension.
Each time I emerge from bridge shadow, escaping tire whirr and creosote pungency, I bless the magic of my new (yes!) kayaker’s hip: “You may find you like it better than the original,” mused my miraculous surgeon.
Beauty and nature are my major lures on the canal. Timelessness is tied with these two factors/ I am entirely under my own power. No one cares when I return. I can sally or dally or bend at the waist and plunge forward or coast beneath tree dapple or sit still under an oriole.
Baltimore Oriole, Cloudless Sky, near D&R Canal, Brenda Jones
On first trips, I made sure to dip my right hand into that canal water and baptize that scar, as I had done at the Delaware River on Bull’s Island. I was letting that leg know, at hip’s entry, “You, who carried me to beauty, nature and history times beyond counting, are restored to full function and new adventures.”
My professional life can tip me over too much into the quantitative, the numeric and the scheduled. I suspect I am not alone in this.
Kayak time counters those tendencies, restores me to my primal most vital self.
Last week’s kayak experience, for example, at first disappointed by its constellation of absences. Yes, my hair was parted by swallows under the bridge. But, after that traditional beginning, there was no bird song, and no sightings until the ubiquitous territoriality of the common yellowthroat, claiming the middle of my route.
Not a spurt of cardinal flower, –crimson as the bird or the prelates for which it is named, awaited me in any of its usual shadowed nooks. I suspect the scouring removals of Irene and Lee.
Veery in Spring Greenery, Brenda Jones
No wood thrush at entry or turnaround. Even the red-winged blackbirds were silent. And those usual scolds, the jays.
It’s too soon for white and pink fluted blooms of marsh mallow, and all that remains of blue and yellow flags are pointy tall green spires of their sheltering leaves. Everything was green, green, green.
The emptiness was so all-permeating that I was forced to acknowledge that absence was the gift of that day’s canal drift.
Just then, a shrub to my right began moving in an uncharacteristic way. As though birds were fighting in it — but we’re beyond breeding season for most save goldfinches. Suddenly, I realized I was seeing graceful legs, rounded buttocks, and that diagnostic white flag tail of deer. Right down by the water, she was blissfully and purposefully breakfasting. I was near enough to see the shine on her planted hooves.
Doe, a deer… Brenda Jones
That day brought no herons, neither green nor blue. Nor the oven bird’s ‘teacher teacher teacher’ — most treasured gift of the Institute Woods, if I’m early or lalte enough.
Not even Constable clouds filled the canal — to be cleaved by the slender prow.
I turned around, (partly because of griddle heat), deciding to see how many strokes I could paddle without stopping. All these months, I realized, I’d been taking it easy out there, because of the so-called ’surgical leg’. I was way up into the 100s, when I had to speak to careless canoeists — in order to discover on which side of them I might safely progress. So I forget my tally, but it was impressive, and it didn’t hurt me, not then, not ever.
We are so blessed to live in a canaled town. Just cross the Delaware and look at that rooty, clunky, uneven towpath, alongside Pennsylvania’s empty canal, strewn with rocks and weeds.
I don’t know why New Jersey knew enough to preserve and sustain its canal, although D&R Greenway where I work, was a major part of that (before my time). I only know I’m deeply grateful.
Canal time fills memory’s treasure chest, for sustenance throughout the weeks ahead.
Wordsworth said it best, about daffodils:
“For oft, when on my couch I lie / in vague or pensive mood / and gaze upon that inward eye / which is the bliss of solitude / and then my heart with rapture fills / and dances…”
Your heart, too, can dance upon canal waters. Just show up at Princeton Canoe and Kayak and set OUT.
North from the turning basin goes under the Dinky tracks and all the way to and through the aqueduct at Mapleton and beyond. It’s the busy way, with walkers, bikers, other water craft, and sometimes ‘our’ eagles. South is the quiet way, most likely, but not guaranteed, to provide nature’s rarities.
Full or empty, creature-wise, canal-time fills the soul.
Canal Scene at Millstone Aqueduct, Brenda Jones
near first post-op kayaking on Lake Carnegie, near new eagle nest and feeding tree…
NJ Wild readers know that I have been on a healing journey. since total hip replacement on November 9. Most of the time, I write of its miracles. But I must admit, the voyage is long and sometimes gruelling. It involves a great deal of spiritual work, as well as lengthy nightly exercise, not only of ‘the surgical leg.’
It won’t surprise NJ WILD that, for me, key spiritual healing happen OUTDOORS, in nature, in New Jersey, especially on or near Princeton’s D&R Canal and Towpath. Of course, that region was particularly effective that day I was taken kayaking for the first time, post-op, this April, on Carnegie Lake.
This week, for example, I felt far less alone as I unexpectedly encountered ‘our’ American bald eagle in the top of a deciduous tree right across the Lake Carnegie dam. This bird, as Brenda’s below, was most staunch, ’stiffening my spine’ to continue the sometimes invisible progress.
Eagle Perched, by Brenda Jones
as in deciduous tree across Lake Carnegie Dam from Towpath
Last night, a red fox, right out of The Little Prince, was sitting next to my white begonias, shining in starlight. Picture this alert creature clouded by darkness, surrounded by white petals. He gazed and gazed deep into my eyes, and I had to leave before he did. “…and you will sit a little closer to me, every day…”
Fox Close-Up, Brenda Jones
A significant portion of my spiritual healing takes place meditatively. Right now, it is, when I am most blessed, in the company of wolves. The wolf phalanx headed by Jasmine, a timber wolf I met in real life at New Jersey’s stunning Lakota Wolf Preserve, up near the Water Gap. Jasmine has since passed to the spiritual realms, but shewas very real, welcoming Tasha O’Neill and me to that wild place, although Jasmine emerged from pale roses.
Jasmine, of Lakota Wolf Preserve
Here is a new poem about the wolves, the comfort, sustenance and protection they provide me. Being ‘torn from sanctuary’ refers particularly to having to perform healing contortions in public in a cacophonous place otherwise known as ‘physical therapy.’ I would rather be home with the wolves…
Here is one of the new poems, gift of the Muse who returned at the hospital on the day of my hip surgery:
Lakota Wolf by Tasha O’Neill, with whom I met Jasmine…
JASMINE AND THE PHALANX
finally, it is time
to lie down with the wolves
this phalanx sent daily
to expand my healing
– the silver, the noir –
only one is named
but all are ready
– hushed, puissant
I first met sweet calm
in wolf eyes
when exquisite Jasmine
emerged from her rose bower
in the place named Lakota
my wolves lope
wherever I must go
especially as I am torn and torn
pelts, stiff yet soft
over perfect bones
I do not share
then pour recovery
into this strafed body
horizontal and free
I sink into the hush
of wolf breathing
light in wolf fur
supple power radiating
like the moon’s corona
at full eclipse
CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN
Archetypal View from Kayak on D&R Canal, by Tasha O’Neill
Picture a perfect day. It’s April. The sun is out, yet kind. There isn’t a hint of wind.
Someone very kind, generous and vigilant arrives at my house with two kayaks, –one red, one green.
He is determined that I not kayak alone for the first time since ‘total hip replacement’ (November 9).
I am determined to be out on the water again. ‘Scroll backwards’ to my first meeting with my surgeon. Dr. Thomas Gutowski, who is asking, “What is your surgical goal?”
As though everybody had one. As though everyone knew she would be asked such a question. As though a doctor cared.
Without a hesitation, I answered him, “To get back in the kayak.”
“Carolyn in Kayak” (pre-op) by Tasha O’Neill
“Of course!,” he responded, as though everyone gives him this answer.
Later, I would learn that this man is training for Everest, has been to Base Camp II. That explains his understanding about a passion. But I didn’t talk to Dr. G. re mountains.
Upon his immediate post-op visit, in hospital, I observed, “Of course, you were kidding when you told my friends you had given me a kayaker’s hip.”
Of course, this consummate professional was NOT kidding. He had three ’species’ of kayaker’s hips at his disposal, and I have one of them. I forget which. “You’ll find it works better than the original,” he drily observed. (No, this remarkable encounter is not the fruit of the morphine pump.)
Anyway, back to the perfect day.
View North from Mapleton Footbridge at Aqueduct, by Brenda Jones
I had expected to ‘put in’ at Mapleton Aqueduct. But, I had not kayaked last year, because this inexplicable ‘total loss of cartilage’ meant I couldn’t get myself OUT of a kayak. So I didn’t know what Irene had done to the ‘put in’ at Mapleton. Which is CHEWED the bank and evidently digested the dock I remembered to have been there for kayakers and canoeists.
I, however, am a renting kayaker. No WAY could I lift one onto or off of a car, let alone carry it anywhere, even before cartilage deprivation.
But this knight without armor could indeed lift kayaks onto and off of his vehicle.
Not only that, he could carry, on his head, the red, then the green kayak over the burgundy bridge to a sandy place at Lake Carnegie. [Neither of us had experienced that lake in a kayak.]
Since everything had ‘gone swimmingly’ re surgery and now P.T., I could even carry the ‘personal flotation devices’ and paddles, triping lightly (not literally) over the burgundy footbridge.
Footbridge at Mapleton Aqueduct — cfe
The Vigilant One settled me into his red craft, making sure my lifejacket (as they used to be called) was securely fastened. He handed me a bottle of water, then the paddle. He took out his i-phone, grinning mischievously, nudging me gently out onto the lake.
A great number of images later (”for Dr. Gutowski,” he announced, beyond my wildest imaginings), he was beside me in his own craft.
There was not a soul on that lake.
Five Canada geese rose like a Balanchine ensemble, as I floated for the first time in well over a year. Forgive the mixed metaphor, but their sounds were a Hallelujah Chorus.
Picture 5 Canada Geese, Rising Right Over Me, on Lake Carnegie — Brenda Jones Photo
A single cormorant glided, then vanished, to our left.
We headed north.
All we could see were trees down to the water, and yes, distant mountains. I’m pretty sure they were the Watchungs, and I knew Dr. Gutowski wouldn’t consider them mountains.
The stillness of the lake, and the beauty of that rising land was such that we could have been in Maine or New Hampshire.
To our right, a single great blue heron minced along, severe in his fishing. And successful. We watched it eat two whatevers in quick succession. It maintained its determined procession. We kayaked with heads turned ’round like owls. It never lifted off.
Great Blue Heron Sentinel by Brenda Jones
My kayaking companion had a deadline, and probably considered I did, as well. His was chronological. Mine was probably physical. All too soon, we both knew, it was time to turn around.
Still, there was not another human on that water.
Only the heron, still madly fishing. Completely invisible to, indifferent to, all the walkers on the Towpath. Usually, just the vibration of footfalls causes these herons to squawk and lift. No.
He felt like the monarch of the glen, the king of the waters. Everything was sparkling, almost rainbowed — even the drops from that stately bird’s nearby beak.
The magic didn’t end with that float. A young father, with two boys about three and five, was there as my ‘knight’ helped me out, Lady-of-the-Lake-time being over.
“Could I carry the other kayak for you?” asked the father.
“That would be grand,” answered the Vigilant One.
And off we trekked over the burgundy footbridge - two men carrying kayaks, the two little boys and their mother.
At a certain point, I turned around to see the father had set the red craft down, so that the lads, who’d insisted, could help their daddy carry. What an endearing scene.
It’s over now, yet will never be over. That luminosity, that stillness, even the tough paddling back against wind and over waves, and especially my own easy rising from the kayak. I needed hands to steady me, but my legs worked. All of this is in me forever.
And, so far as I know, those printed pictures are on Dr. Gutowski’s desk at Princeton Orthopaedic Associates right now.
What ‘Our’ Great Blue Heron Never Did - Flying Off With Fish — Brenda Jones
Brenda Jones’ Immature Princeton Eagles, 2011, on Unlikely Nest
One of the miracles of living New Jersey in general, and near Princeton’s D&R Canal and Towpath, in particular. is that adventure is always at hand. After a dizzying work day, Thursday, and probably too close to sundown, I took myself to the Towpath at Mapleton, I cannot even count all the wonders that were mine, as a result.
En route, I stopped at ‘our eagle nest, glad to see ‘Mama’ perky on the rim of her most uncharacteristic, but very successful cone-shaped nest. Can’t tell if she has young, but her vertical posture suggests same.
Five minutes after I set foot(e) on the Towpath, a fisherman asked, “Do you want to see a fish?”
“Of course!,” I responded.
With that, he tugged on a line in canal water at the aqueduct. Something large and luminous waited in a golden net. The man was from another land, so at first I could not understand the species. Then, the word penetrated, “Carp,” he kindly repeated. “I take them out of here fifteen pounds sometimes. This one’s about ten.”
Speechless at the size of his catch, I asked, “How will you cook it?”
“Paprika,” he immediately answered. “Onions.” Then his brow furrowed. He may not know the English words he needed, so continued, “and all the others.” He smiled eagerly, adding, “and a lot of hot fat.”
“That sounds great!,” I replied, thanking him, walking on.
Another fisherman was literally taking time to smell the flowers.
“A different kind of honeysuckle,” he observed. I bent, inhaled, agreed. I rubbed a flower between my fingers, and it turned to dust. “Dry,” I said sadly.
The fisherman nodded. “March, too,” he observed. “We are ruining the weather.”
I thanked him for wisdom not shared by the Weather Channel, licking its chops over disaster, as usual.
I walked north from the aqueduct, as crew upon crew glided north on Lake Carnegie, gilded by late light.
On my left were cascades of white dogwood bloom, each larger than my hand.
On my right, in the canal, a nose was swimming. Sure enough, it was a slim gold snake. I’ve been writing poems anew, since my November hip replacement. Several of them include snakes. It felt a wonderful omen, not only to ‘meet’ one, but to see it swimming so healthily.
I became aware of a welcome fragrance, far beyond blossoms in rarity this year. It had rained a bit, the night before, though you’d never know it on that dry path. The lake had been renewed by fresh rainfall. The air smelled ‘like clean clothes dried on lines.’ At shore houses and in childhood, one of the rewards of tugging sheets from clotheslines had been that superoxygenated scent, like no other on earth. Until I moved to Princeton, and walked the towpath, that is. I wanted to inhale only, keep it all.
Red-Winged Blackbird, Brenda Jones
Sounds were important on the towpath that evening — red-winged blackbirds’ ‘okaleeeeee’; the uh-oh of fish crows; the imperious command to drink-your-tea!, drink-your-tea! of the white-throated sparrow. An unpleasant leitmotif was also involved commands — from coxswains ordering their rowing students to tighten their thighs.
All the while, both lake and canal shimmered. Leaves trembled, dappling the path and this contented restored walker.
I felt as though I could trek on forever. But, ever mindful of this new hip, decided to pause at the turtles, try to count them. resting on the only logs Irene seems to have left. These were the largest turtles I’ve ever seen resting in serried rows — some like platters!. There must have been at least twenty four. The dark shapes gleamed, and some were accented by coral striations along the relaxed legs.
Turtle Pecking Order Alongside D&R Canal and Towpath, Brenda Jones
Turning at Turtle Central, I made my way back to the footbridge. As I’d promised various health professionals, I took advantage of every bench, only for moments. At my feet in the lake, water lily leaves had opened and pickerel weed arrows had begun to emerge.
I thought of the Lenni Lenapes, who recognized pickerel weed emergence as the signal the tribal reunions from throughout the Delaware Valley and beyond, in the Hamilton-Trenton-Bordentown Marsh. This shiny pointed plant alerted them to end hunter-live for the time being. After exchanging critical news and performing rituals in the Marsh, our first residents took trails that we have now numbered, 195 being one of them, in order to reach the sea and their gathering season.
I realized, as the sun slipped below western trees, gathering is what I had been doing. From carp through dogwood, snake to turtles. Gathering beauty and memory.
That exists because wise people knew to preserve the D&R Canal and Towpath, among the wise ones having been D&R Greenway Land Trust, where I work. Support your local land trust. Preserve natural New Jersey.
D&R Canal Footbridge at Mapleton cfe
Mapleton Bridge to C&R Canal cfe
In these months of femur-rehabilitation, I have had trouble getting out onto my cherished D&R Canal and Towpath. Wild winds and rains have rendered it slippery, risky. Earthern roadways in other preserves have become my salvation, as NJ WILD readers know. Once the road to Mapleton was absolutely closed. The towpath at Quaker Bridge has been engineer-destroyed- and detoured. I had to walk the high trail toward, though not all the way to, the Brearley House. There aren’t any signs that say, “Your towpath will be restored before the Vernal Equinox” or anything…
Week after healing week, no towpath.
Then, finally, Sunday, Mapleton was open to the parking area by the fishing bridge. Trekking poles swinging merrily, I crossed ‘your Rubicon’, as a Savannah friend termed this passage.
How the Towpath and Canal toward Brearley House Should Look… cfe
I stared a long while at the beckoning canal, very aware that I am “cleared to kayak” in April.
Then I settled both feet onto the path. But it didn’t look right. It was hard and dusty as someplace in or near the Sahara. Actually, the sere scene wasn’t even that interesting, because there wouldn’t be any lions.
Even though this is the winter that never was, nothing green spurted anywhere, except possible first pickerel weed leaves in (fake) Lake Carnegie. When they are fully up, I always salute the Lenni Lenapes here, who knew by pickerel weed rise that it was time to leave their inland hunting lives for shore gathering.
The gathering on Sunday’s towpath had nothing of ritual, nor even of appeal. It was, frankly, crowds. Walkers and runners and fishers and bikers, one of whom was using the walking folks as a slalom course, nearly running me down. Had physical therapy not restored my balance and quickness, I never would have been able to leap out of the way of those wheels.
But it was the texture of the path that repelled. Finally, I realized, this could be Irene and Lee mischief. That’s about the time I went into the hospital, and I know our canal was breached in many places, although I did not witness it from hospital, ambulance, nor rehab. Now the towpath needs rehab.
It may not be a matter of color, texture or mood, however. Realizing the enormous number of cars in the Mapleton parking lot, and having seen the same in the one on #518, I suddenly understood the fury of so many of my western authors. Abbey. Bass. Out on the trails for solitude, finding them awash in humans. Discovering the trails physiologically altered even after the departure of the crowds.
Our towpath has, like their western trails, become a highway. Complete with speeding traffic. Its soil is as impervious as macadam. Its color resembles dog urine on snow.
Wasn’t my towpath verdant? Didn’t it hold a tunnel’s green allure? Didn’t it remind me of canals near Paris, beckoning, beckoning?
Instead of being renewed and refreshed, as I finally met my towpath goal, my mood became and remained forlorn.
It was like visiting a beloved friend of long standing, who’d been in some serious accident while I was away. Seeing her, pale against her pillow, I longed to rest a soothing hand upon this strafed brow.
I walked and walked, as though by my presence, I could restore ‘my friend’s’ spirit. Deeply, I knew, however she may be refurbished by various corps of engineers, nothing will ever be the same.
My sacred space, profaned….
Kayaker on D&R Canal near Brearley House cfe
Summer’s Great Egret at ‘The Brig’ - viewed in February 2012 cfe
Your NJ WILD ‘reporter’ proved her passion for the wild yesterday. A birding friend and I rode to the Brigantine Wildlife Refuge in the face of winds in the 40-50-mph range. We knew birds wouldn’t be ‘up’ in such gusts and gales. However, we could find snow geese, no matter what - and we’d both read the hotlines reporting ten tundra swans a-swimming…
There was only supposed to be 10% chance of precipitation. En route, we drove through snow enough to require wipers. Inky skies to the west could have presaged tornadoes or hurricane. If you know birders, you know that we continued.
There may be nothing more thrilling then Pine Roads in snowfall. The great privilege is being the only car on those stunning routes — #532 out of Tabernacle, #563 down through Chatsworth…
As though the pines themselves were holding up branches to say “Enough,” we were suddenly treated to dazzle-light through generosities of crisp green needles. Light made its way even through oak leaves the hue of caramel. Sacred sugar sand sifted and drifted along the sides of every roadway, (except that brief interruption of the GSP), so that our journey truly became destination.
Brig Vistas in Summer cfe
Until, that is, we crossed the first bridge into the Brig. Then the refuge and its creatures took center stage.
(This haven is the Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge - named for a Republican who saved major swathes of forest and water in the southern and eastern reaches of our beleaguered state.)
In waters at entry four ring-necked ducks floated, then flew — more vivid than we had realized. For the first time, we reconsidered our duck hierarchy of beauty. For a few hours, yesterday, wood ducks took second place.
Wood Duck Splendor, Brenda Jones
Barely three car-lengths onto the Gull Pond Road, we were stopped in our tracks. In a pine that holds summer’s black-crowned night herons, a pale form rearranged itself into a great blue heron. It did not look happy in those winds that caused even the Prius to shudder. My friend’s Swarovskis soon found another great blue form, tucked deep into a pine to our left. When my far lesser binoculars could find it, shadow rendered this heron even more blue. Something whizzed over our windshield - paper-clip legs out behind revealing a third great blue. I don’t remember now how the fourth one materialized, but we were in a near superfluity of herons.
Miserable Heron in Snow, Millstone River, Brenda Jones
I haven’t seen many around here in Princeton this winter– but Anne Zeman and I had been ‘given’ four herons here January 2. That day, the fab four had been chased from piney haven by a feisty young fox. No fox yesterday. However, of all things, a great egret stood proudly among all the blues, whiter than the snow that had surrounded us an hour earlier. February is not egret time!
Summer’s Great Egret, Brenda Jones
Buffeted Heron, Spring 2011, Brenda Jones
We pulled ourselves away from these wonders, down to the gull tower. There was no climbing in gusts, which my Chicago sister reports soared to 61 mph not far north of us. My friend and I could barely open the car doors against this form of wildness. But it was thrilling to be out in it. Earlier, at the Visitor Center, this new hip and I had to jog against wind so strong it felt as though I could lean on it like a mattress.
But Mary had to get her scope on those tundra swans. On another body of water, for comparison’s sake, we were given a pair of mute swans, orange beaks blinding in windswept light. These two are paired, as are the ones in our Marsh of Hamilton/Trenton/Bordentown. But the tundras floated as though on a bathtub, as one, all in a row. Their beaks were purest black and spade-like. Individually and collectively, the tunderas remained elegant and serene upon wind-pleated waters, although not so commanding as nearby mute swans. In the foreground, a flotilla of coots enhanced the elegance quotient, in velvety formal attire, white beaks gleaming.
Coot in Millstone, Brenda Jones
I popped back into the car to escape the winds, as Mary focused her scope on the twenty tundras.
Suddenly, a large flat-winged bird was coming straight at me. Its image filled the entire car window. It was so close and so large, I was only aware of shape, and its harrier-like motion over water (not a typical place for the harrier). Mary confirmed that this was no harrier. Rather the American bald eagle. Virtually eye-to-eye, he and I.
Eagle Diving For Thanksgiving Dinner, Lake Carnegie - Brenda Jones
Only he seemed unfazed by those winds. For long moments, he stayed virtually motionless, in the hover position we know so well in kingfisher and hummingbird. But this hovering, especially when he lowered his landing gear, seemed of far greater duration.
Our Nation’s Symbol, Brenda Jones
Then the eagle landed (sorry about that) in a short bright green shrub. Like a film star of my parents’ day, he studiously gave us his best profile. There is no carat measurement sufficient to measure, let alone honor, such gold. Over and over he posed as the Great Seal of the United States.
Then the eagle leapt into air, as if to say “WHAT wind?”. He returned to harrier-mode over grasses, and abruptly ’stooped’. Meaning, he’d found prey. Whatever it was (likely rabbit), must have been hugely satisfying, for we were never to see ‘our’ eagle rise from its pink-gold wildly rippling dining room.
As Mary reluctantly drove on, we each marveled: “This whole trip was worth it for the eagle scenes alone!”
Red-Tailed Hawk along D&R Canal, Brenda Jones
Our next gift was a red-tail in a tree, head turned attentively toward where there had been an eagle. I suddenly realized that a cluster of American crows had flown abruptly past, right before I’d come eye-to-eye with an eagle. Crows are known to mob this raptor. These crows were in pure flight mode in every sense of that phrase.
The stars of the day, however, glory-wise, were Northern pintails. That chic sharp angle at the neck is really thin. But in dazzle-light, we found their cravats nearly blinding. The pintails were even beautiful upside-down. They were everywhere along the impoundments. Counting was out of the question.
Isolate images stand out even now - the great black-backed gull, nicknamed, ‘The Minister’, feasting on a live crab, morsel by morsel. The crab writhing.
Sudden wind-driven incoming tide wrinkling the saltwater until it seemed furiously crumpled foil.
Brooding brackish impoundments to our left resembling lava, even to blue-black hues beneath the sunglinted waves.
In all that turbulent expanse, shovelers stood out as still points. Vibrant rust-to-orange, blinding white and darkest forest green, there is no more handsome fellow than drake shovelers, — handsome as opposed to elegant, like the pintails, who looked dressed for an embassy ball. Shovelers, with their almost comical spade beaks, usually are nervously working the bottoms of runnels at low tide, scooping up nourishment for all they are worth.
We noticed that Canada geese are still in flocks, not romantically paired (as were the mute swans).
Mute Swan in the Stony Brook, Brenda Jones
Miracles continued to appear. More buffleheads than we could count, in open water between the Brig and Tuckerton. Over and over, the little black and white bobbers were rendered nearly invisible by tumultuous waves.
Dapper Bufflehead, Princeton, Brenda Jones
There’s no such thing as enough buffleheads, so Mary and I continued, despite the gale, to the ineptly titled “Experimental Pond.” If ever you’re going to find irresistible diving ducks, it’s there. I went into jogging mode anew, after having struggled to open the car door against Nature herself. All that I found were four Canada geese, so I jogged back again - exultant that this new femur knows how to do that.
Mary was outside the car, in the face of all that wind, calling out, ‘Eagle, eagle!” Her wondrous optics had found our original monarch of a raptor high overhead, no more than a dot above. We stood there until our faces were well sun-and-wind-burned, watching him play the wind. Talk about mastery.
American Bald Eagle, Over Carnegie Lake, Brenda Jones
On the way home, we both wondered why everyone isn’t a birder. To think that anyone could experience such a treasure hunt, a mere 80-or-so miles south and east of Princeton, anytime he or she wants. All you have to do is take the Pineroads south, and live in a state that knows about preservation.
Support your local land trust, wherever you are. Mine, of course, is D&R Greenway. I and my new hip return there in the morning, for the first time since November 9 surgery, to take up my mission newly. It’s never BEEN more URGENT!
January’s Short-Eared Owl, Pole Farm, off Cold Soil Road - Brenda Jones
When one is firmly instructed, regarding a cane, “Don’t leave home without it,” how can one access the wild?
When I was still in post-op mode, ‘extending the surgical leg’ and ‘building core strength’ became the heart of the matter of my odd life.
It occurs to me that others, without even having met the knife, may hesitate to set out on New Jersey Trails. Even though I’ve been raving about them all these years, in NJ WILD and in print; even though you can go onto NJ TRAILS.org and discover super hiking spots in most counties in our state.
If you’re a beginner, or a somewhat reluctant returner to trails, where might you start? Where might there be gifts for you, without the daunting? If weight loss is mandated, and diet isn’t enough, where might you slim and strengthen, while being delighted by New Jersey Nature?
I’ve decided to list nearby trails that have turned me back into a walker, even though trails that climb are still verboten. I’m setting out with prescribed cane and friend’s arm. I have now been given official permission to set out alone, with my two trekking poles for balance and trip-protection. None of these is far from Princeton, as you well know.
Bluebird in Full Cry, Brenda Jones
All hold gifts. Give them a whirl. I’ll see you out there!
My first trail adventure was the Hamilton/Trenton/Bordentown Marsh. (www.marsh-friends.org). There’s a flat road that circles Spring Lake, formed by a spring even before the land became sacred to Lenni Lenapes. As those who read NJ WILD know, even though I could barely make 1/4 the lake road on that first forasy, we were greeted by a raft of the tiny white-billed coots on the lake; one stately swan; an unidentifiable flock of migrant birds against the lowering light; then a descent of silent geese into jungley waters to our right. We barely made it in and out before sundown that time. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world!
Today, that friend and I are heading back to the Marsh to do the entire lake road. Those who can cross over the bridge into wooded areas of the Marsh are in for treats beyond counting. Even with its watery name, the trails are dry and waterproof footwear is not essential. In the Marsh in all seasons, I have found owls in the daytime, fox dens, and owl pellets. Directions are on the Friends for the Marsh web-site.
Fox Listening for Vole, Pole Farm, Brenda Jones
My second trail excursion was the road alongside the quarry that is now a lake at Plainsboro Preserve. It’s a broad flat expanse, with a sacred beechwood on the left and a shimmer of water hiding the former industrial might of this site. In winter, rare ducks stud the lake surface. Inside the beechwood, the temperature is ten degrees warmer in winter, cooler in summer — because of the microclimate. I only ventured into the beechwood this time, because that trail is rough underfoot for ‘the surgical leg’. In season, probably June, the beechwood hides exquisite secret plants, the frail white Indian pipe, and the ruddy almost invisible beech drops. On our road, my friend and I were surrounded by bluebirds, like the house-cleaning scene in Snow White in my childhood. We both yearn to return for bluebird blessings.
Numbers never matter to me - so I don’t know which treks were the footbridge over the Delaware River, from Bull’s Island to the Black Bass Inn and back. That luminous, windswept stretch was the site of final hikes with the leg that very nearly refused to work. I have now accomplished it twice and merrily, in full sun and exuberant wind, above the river I fought so hard to save in the 1980’s from the dread and all-conquering PUMP. There is a fellowship of the footbridge that is a joy in any season. Taking others inside the Black Bass to encounter the real original zinc bar from Maxim’s is a thrill for all my francophile friends. The food is delightful and the riverside setting cannot be topped.
One could even push someone in a wheelchair along the footbridge. It’s necessary to enter on the Jersey side, usually — few parking places in PA. They don’t cherish their towpath and canal as we do… There’s plentiful parking at Bull’s Island, and many (rockier, rootier, not yet for me) trails which are a joy, especially in spring, when I have encountered trees on the Island with more warblers than leaves.
The Sourlands is full of trails, again to be found via NJ TRAILS.org. I have twice now been privileged to hike the one off Greenwood Avenue, (north from Route 518, Hopewell, at Dana Building.) Once, that earthen road was used to carry out the boulders now preserved, to turn them into gravel to build New Jersey Roads. Now the roadway leads ever inward, among boulders that bring Stonehenge to mind. The overstory reveals beeches and tulip trees, the occasional shagbark hickory. The understory is brightened and softened by mosses and ferns. The air is alive with the sound of visible and invisible watercourses.
On Saturday, children’s voices rang ahead and behind us on the trail. I wanted to find Richard Louv and tell him, In the Sourland Mountain Preserver, there are children in the woods, and they are laughing and even splashing, in January!
Sourlands Trail in January, Brenda Jones
This coming weekend, I’ll try Griggstown Grasslands, newish preserve off Canal Road, where I live, just south of the Griggstown Causeway. We’ll drive up the steep entry and take that long earthen road, weather permitting. There are lovely grasslands there, tended for the sake of birds who require especially in nesting season. At Griggstown Grasslands, as we did on Saturday at the Sourland Mountains Preserve, I can pick up the welcome whiff of morning’s fox, who had obviously been assiduously marking his territory.
Foxy Close-Up, Brenda Jones
I’m not currently essaying the D&R Canal and Towpath, because of too many storms and floods - fearing too much unevenness underfoot(e).
No, I haven’t made it to the Pole Farm, yet. This has been officially designated an Important Birding Area, and holds wild treasures in all seasons. There’s a road, there, longer than all I’ve described here. The short-eared owls should be soaring at dusk, foxes ever-possible.
The moral of this post is, even tethered to a cane, the Princeton region is full of the wild. It’s easily accessed and will enrich you beyond measure.
And keep an eye on the skies around Carnegie Lake - ‘our’ American bald eagles should be courting and nest-building as we ’speak’.
American Bald Eagle, Millstone Aqueduct, Brenda Jones
How fortunate we are to live in WILD New Jersey…
Upon reading “Her Idea of a Beautiful Day”, in My Story As Told By Water, my first thought was, ‘Well, what would be MY idea of a beautiful day?’ Its subjunctive question immediately appeared - ‘What is YOURs?‘ – readers of and cherished commentors upon NJ WILD–, what renders a day beautiful in your life, at this moment in time?
My Story as Told By Water is a riverine memoir by David James Duncan. This man is a modern bard, in prose and diatribe, of the endangered American West, –particularly its rivers, especially of its salmon. Over and over, Duncan teaches, “As salmon go, so go the rivers.” And the indigenous people whose lives since time immemorial have depended upon the rivers and their creatures. With salmon and salmon people go the state, the region, the nation and ultimately the globe. Especially here in the east, we do not GET it about the peril of and the implications of industrial murder of salmon.
Sunfish, Baldpate Mountain Pond, Brenda Jones
Edward Abbey taught us first the evil of dams. David James Duncan blows on Abbey coals. My Story As Told By Water is my favorite title of the genre, the way Dickens’ “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” is my favorite opening line of any novel. Young Duncan fell in love with water using a garden hose in his childhood driveway. His first love was abruptly relinquished for the real thing, when the boy fell INTO his first trout stream, discovering crawdads and fish. Duncan’s chapters tango between ever increasing passion for natural waterways, and fury at all who would destroy them. His rage and eloquence increase exponentially in our era of greed-enthronement.
The boy describes having been stunned by his grandmother’s rabid devotion to her job as a real estate agent: “Her idea of a beautiful day was one that increased the likelihood of her selling a house.” Nature, to Duncan’s grandmother, “had an unwashed, unsaved ring to it.”
Needless to say, “a beautiful day” to this author involves water, usually fresh, with the promise of fish. David James Duncan forces me to consider my own definition of a beautiful day. The instant answer is any day with friends, sharing nature with the perfect blend of passion, knowledge, and curiosity. Remarkable food is often involved, and frequently art. But if I had to choose but one factor for “my beautiful day”? NATURE.
I was frankly stunned to discover that “my beautiful day” need not be fair. “A beautiful day” to me is something that hardly ever happens any more — a time of long soft soaking rain. Gentle in quality and quantity, lowering a scrim over the harsh world. Rain that whispers, at most sizzles. This precipitation is neither so white and stiff as was my bridal veil, nor so dense and weighty as Jacqueline Kennedy’s widow’s veil — which cast a pall over my life, and was first worn in the impossible aftermath of this very day, November 22, in 1963. The most beautiful day to me now, in New Jersey, in the year 2008, is rain that tiptoes along the thirsty earth. It simply nourishes seeds, –without dislodging soil, let alone removing pebbles. A beautiful day’s rain never topples trees because of both quantity and intensity, without even factoring in damaging wind. What I require now is rain as it was before global warming.
Lately, as NJ WILD readers know, I’ve learned to be out in what the Brits call “a mizzle of rain.” There’s a blessing in it — tactile, even spiritual. I may prefer the days of rain and fog because they soften the impossible harshnesses of the 21st Century. You also know, nature is my church, and the Towpath and Canal in particular. David James Duncan says it better: “Church became a place where I waited for rain.”
“Pine Drops” hold the rain, by Lauren Curtis
Olga Sergyeyeva’s Fine Art Photography evokes my beloved D&R Canal and Towpath.
Olga Sergyeyeva’s Masterpieces evoke autumn along my “Dear Canal and Towpath”:
Here is a poem which Rich Rein, founder of US 1 Newspaper, published when they honored me with an entire calendar (2006) of my canal and towpath photographs. They were slides — remember slides? So I cannot add those images to this post. But I can give you the culminating poem - perhaps the first - to grace a US 1 Calendar.
I have lived beside you
into you, my tears have dropped
walked out to where it seemed I saw
CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN