Archive for the ‘Wildflowers’ Category
Spotters on the Cape May Bird Observatory Hawk Watch Platform cfe
Actually, it’s more like “Cape May For Two Days”! And yes, it was MORE than worth it.
Those two days centered upon the Cape May Bird Observatory [CMBO] Hawk Watch Platform.
After stopping at CMBO to renew my membership, and pick up a super-comfortable strap for my binoculars, I headed for the lighthouse and the Platform, even before checking into my motel room.
Helpful Cape May Bird Observatory Personnel on Hawk Watch Platform, cfe
CMBO maintains “counters”, “spotters” — professionals of highest caliber, who spot and count birds zooming past in autumn migration. The Platform fronts upon a pond. always graced by swans and frequently dive-bombed by peregrines.
Sunset Swan, Brenda Jones
I immediately recognized the silhouette and mellifluous voice of Pete Dunne, head of CMBO, author of wit, wisdom and experience, and yes, bon vivant. Also, natural teacher. So many facets of my birding knowledge have been inserted or polished by this man, over the years, at sunrise and sunset, and sometimes at 20 degrees with 20-mph-winds. I was overjoyed to reconnect, after my year plus of hurt-hip-induced absence. Pete, watching me walk, exulted, “We live in remarkable times.”
He went on to prove it by mentioning, “I was informed by phone about the nighthawks.”
Here and there, spotting scopes were trained on the skies.
But these pros of the Platform don’t need optics. A black spot miles away can be differentiated, as in Cooper’s or Sharp-Shinned Hawk, and they’ll even tell you how they can tell. Something to do with frequency of flapping. Pete: “It it were a Sharp-shinned, it would’ve flapped by now.”
Sharp-Shinned Hawk, Brenda Jones
But I say, these spotters, these CMBO mentors, are attached to birds by senses which have not even been defined, let alone located. Senses which go beyond eyes and even beyond Swarovskis.
Brilliance is a big part of being on the Platform. And fellowship. I hadn’t realized that (this concentration of) birders are family; that I had missed them to such a high degree.
There’s always humor, and even humility. At one point, Pete said, with a shrug in his voice, “Haven’t a clue….” There was a pregnant pause, followed by, “… bird.”
At the same time, in my two visits that day, early and latest, I was part of a bald-eagle count approaching 30. Even more importantly, –as I learned at early light the next day–, a 268- kestrel day.
There was a bare tree set among cedars, as studded with kestrels as a Christmas tree with ornaments. Every one vivid. Every one fluttering. These raptors swooped out, over and over, –not unlike flycatchers–, in quest of insects, one after another. And kestrels can hover — I never knew that. So vivid that they seemed iridescent, even spangled. What a privilege to be surrounded by them.
American kestrels have been ‘fewing and fewing’ in recent years. Their sacred edge habitat has been increasingly devoured by what others deem progress. I forgot to ask Pete, why there were/are so many right now. But this is one time when why doesn’t matter. Only beauty, power, rarity and presence.
Among the other numbers on Monday (departure day) morning were 109 osprey. Osprey were everywhere Sunday evening, often ‘packing a lunch’ - fish in talons, aerodynamically situated so as not to interfere with flight. 17 sharp-shins. 10 Coopers. 30 Merlin. 5 Peregrine Falcons. and so forth…
I even spotted a tern I didn’t recognize, which Erin-of-CMBO eagerly identified as a Forster’s. She trained the Swarovski scope on this single bird at the end of a wooden dock-like structure to our right. “Only Forster’s terns have that black eye patch now. They’re really fun to identify in autumn.” As David Allen Sibley puts it, “Black eye patch of non-breeding plumage distinctive.” This Platform is where Sibley ‘earned his wings’, with Pete and Clay Sutton, his co-authors of Hawks In Flight, about to be re-issued. All three will be at the Cape May Birding Weekend, to talk and sign this re-issue of Sibley’s first book, before his NYT best-sellers, The Sibley Guide to Birds, and The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior.
Usually, white shrubs and vines surrounding the Swarovski-sponsored Platform are filled with monarch butterflies this time of year. There were fewer than I’ve ever encountered of these orange-and-black long-distance fliers. Even so, I was welcomed to the Platform by one which nearly landed on the bridge of my nose.
Icy yellow, with a tinge of chartreuse, or key-lime pie, the cloudless sulphur butterflies seemed more in evidence here and among the bayberried dunes of Higbee Beach.
One of the butterfly magnet shrubs has the lovely name of High Tide Plant. Elder is another name for it. I’m sipping St. Germain liqueur, late this night, as I bring Cape May back to memory and to life. Pretending I’m a butterfly, nectaring on the elder plant from whose flowers this French specialty is crafted.
I hear Pete observe, “That eagle looks like he’s about to leave for Delaware.”
American Bald Eagle, Brenda Jones
Delaware is very near, here where our River meets the ocean, and the Cape May Lewes ferry carries cars, birders, bicyclists, hikers and just plain tourists from one state to another. The ferry is a grand place for seeking out seabirds who “come to land only when nesting.” (Sibley)
I reluctantly leave the Platform because it’s time to walk The Point. Newly crafted ‘boardwalks’ (they’re not real board) lift birders off the marsh-scape, into the realm of warblers and other treasures. Somehow, they’ve conquered phragmites to an enormous degree, those towering invasive rushes that drive out all the native plants the birds need, not only in migration. In the place of reeds is a meadow or a prairie of New Jersey wildflowers. The air is fragrant with (the invasive) autumn clematis, tiny white starflowers spun along tangles of vines. It’s more interesting than honeysuckle, with mimosa ‘notes’.
Colors on all sides of me include a pinkish bronze (wool grass, which is really a sedge); purple asters; white asters; seaside goldenrod, white ‘rose’ mallows, white boneset, pink marsh mallow, white dotted smartweed, mistflower, wild ageratum, purple gerardia, etc. etc. etc.
I don’t know all these plants - a fine naturalist, the plant equivalent of Pete Dunne, was sitting on a bench and eager to teach me every single species, in English and in Latin. Carl Anderson. He explained that the bayberry-like plants were wax myrtle and hybrids of wax myrtle and bayberry — the leaves on the latter are broader and darker, and bayberries were definitely in the minority. Bayberries are essential fat/fuel to migrant birds. I felt like Alice In Wonderland, having drunk whatever and shrunk to be smaller than most of these flowers.
Birds were few, because it was mid-day. Fish crows ringed the beige lighthouse like a crown of thorns. A single egret minced about the edge of a pond. A sound I never knew, or maybe ever heard, turned out to be a single kestrel in a naked tree just above my head. The closest I’ve ever been to a kestrel.
Kestrel at the Pole Farm, Brenda Jones
Morning dawned with a beach walk among black skimmers beyond counting, followed by another couple of hours on the Hawk Watch Platform.
Black Skimmers in Flight, Brenda Jones
Sky Full of Skimmers, the Jetty, Cape May cfe
From ten to twelve thirty, Monday, I floated on the boat, The Skimmer, among Cape May marshes. We were in quest of rare birds there, too. What I best remember is a series of large turtle heads in Turtle Creek, and a very rare Tri-colored Heron before we turned back to the dock.
Leaving for home was almost unbearable.
All the way north on the Parkway, I would hear those Platform phrases, “Over the cedars.” “Really soaring.” “Got ‘im!”
The line I’ll remember most is Pete Dunne’s description of yesterday, to a fellow ’spotter’ who also writes a blog: “Here’s the first line for your blog, Mike. If you weren’t here yesterday, slay yourself now.”
Pine Barrens Peat Water, Mullica River cfe
Between drought and development, it is hard for others, even for New Jersey natives, to credit our slogan, “The Garden State.”
NJ WILD readers know, I celebrate New Jersey’s wild beauty wherever and whenever I can find it, even right in my own (near Rocky Hill) rocky hilly foresty yard.
But sometimes, I must go far afield, gulp great ‘draughts’ of New Jersey Beauty.
As. recently, to and from my cherished ‘Brigantine’ - Wildlife Refuge, otherwise known as Edwin B. Forsythe.
The blessings of visiting ‘the Brig’ are beyond measure, starting with the long silent even winding drive through the Pine Barrens to Smithville and Oceanville. Due east of those tiny pre-Revolutionary towns stretches the 8-mile dike drive among bays and impoundments, rare birds at all times and in all seasons.
Come along with me on last week’s spur-of-the-moment, if not even desperate, flight to beauty.
Queen Anne’s Lace, Mullica River, Pine Barrens cfe
Beyond the dock, fortunate kayakers make their way up the Mullica, without whose Revolutionary waters and watermen, we wouldn’t have a nation:
Mullica Kayakers, cfe
Cloud-Studded Salinity-Managed Waters of Brigantine cfe
FIDDLER CRABS, OUT FOR LOW-TIDE LUNCH, Brig cfe
NEW JERSEY BEAUTY - CLOUD MAJESTY Brig cfe
There were great egrets everywhere, like archangels at the Nativity, as well as black-bellied and American golden plovers, ibis beyond counting, a few skimmers not skimming, and osprey families everywhere we looked — some feeding young, one ‘mantling ‘ - waving mature wings to cool the immature!
Successful Osprey Family, The Brig cfe
Duck and First Marsh Mallows of the Season cfe
Glossy Ibis and Marsh Mallow, Brig cfe
Wild Flowers (water lilies and Sagittaria) and Cranberry Bogs Near Chatsworth, #563,
The Empty, Beauty-Bracketed Route Home cfe
As you can see, beauty and wildness are with you every step of the way to and from ‘The Brig.’
(”The Pretty Way” will have no cars to speak of, even on major holidays. Route 1 South to 295 South to Columbus Exit to 206 South to Carranza Road/Tabernacle to 532 (stop at Russo’s for fresh-made cider doughnuts and very local produce). 532 east to 563 South to (I forget the number -[579?]) left to New Gretna below Chatsworth Route 9 South, moments on GSP, Exit 48 Smithville, back onto Route 9 South below Smithville to left turn to Forsythe Wildlife Refuge after fire station, Lily Lake Road. See Noyes Museum of Art while down there. Eat breakfast at The Bakery in Smithville; any time at Smithville Inn, and Oyster Creek Inn at Leeds Point, if it’s open when you’re there…)
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…
NJ WILD readers may remember this from the ‘dog days’ of last August. As we endure triple-digit heat days in JUNE, no less (while politicians debate the reality of Catastrophic Climate Change, I find myself newly compelled to seek out dappled roadways.
We, in Princeton and near, are blessed with places where shadows caress windshields and shiny metal hoods of vehicles. Sometimes, we can even drive where trees hold hands over our cars. On Pinelands roads, we may enjoy shadowed beauty and solitude even on Fourth of July, Labor Day, Memorial Day and the like.
Come DAPPLE with me!
In this summer of drought, when enormous swathes of corn have turned the color of camels on either side of Route 518 West of Princeton, I have had to develop a new modus operandi for driving. To evade that broiler-sun, I have come deliberately to tool along, up hill and down dale, on the outskirts of towns, and through the middle of small ones, as far as possible from highways, let alone anything named ’super’. I have to go in search of dappled roads.
This searing summer, I have been taught that shade is far more important than elapsed driving time.
When I endured 1988’s Provencal August, I wrote a poem beginning, “the sun strikes its flat sword blade…” I never before knew sun as enemy. As a child, my parents would sing, “Rain, rain, go away. Little Carolyn wants to play.” And this was perennially true. Now I feel I should do penance for this wish — now I find myself singing, “Sun, sun, go away.”
Day after day, “severe thunderstorms forecast”. Night after night, I carry my too-heavy new watering can around the rudimentary garden outside my new apartment on a wooded hill. Sometimes my parched plants cry out for me to repeat this procedure in mornings before work. People near my Canal Road dwelling have been saying, “We to live in a valley, a valley where it always rains on either side of us.” The ground outside is hard as concrete. Water from the golden can skids off the soil like mercury, like a garden snake, hurrying elsewhere, not sinking into roots.
I’ve had to find ways to escape the searing sun. I drive the dappled roads.
Blue Hills Above the Delaware from Hunterdon County
One of my all-time favorite books is William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways. I turn to it over and over, like Thoreau and Beston, Leopold and Abbey. W.L.H.M. took off in a van on the day he lost both wife and job, traveling the blue highways of our land, the ones without ’super’. He sought out cafes, measuring them by the number of photo calendars they displayed near their cash register. He brought to life each bossy waitress, each curmudgeonly fellow traveler at a stool at his side at the counter. Moon was not on a gastronomic quest, as I often am. Rather in search of humans, real people, what we used to call Americans before a certain recent president made ME ashamed to BE one… That simple travelogue held its place on best-seller lists for months. That basic journey sustained me in many a challenging ordeal of life.
“Where ya goin’?,” a fellow feeder asked William L.H. Moon. “Dunno,” he truthfully answered. His interrogator grinned: “Can’t get lost then.”
When I travel the dappled roads, it doesn’t matter if I get lost. On the dappled highways, still green and feathery above, the smokey wash of shadow alters both my car’s blinding finish and my own dessicated mood.
Provence didn’t have shadows. I never realized shade was essential. The most important description of any Inn was “terrace ombragee”. Until I sat at on those shaded terraces, surrounded by white linen and heavy silver and Provencal specialties beneath leather-leaved plane trees, (our sycamores) I didn’t know how priceless is shade. In Provence, I tried and failed to remember a favorite poem, “Glory be to God for Dappled Things.”
This summer, I learn the value of shadows in our own country. Without linen, without silver, sans cuisine.
When you travel ombragee’d roadways, you’ll either be pretty much alone, as in the Pine Barrens. Or you’ll be surrounded by people in a pretty good mood, soothed as shade comes and goes, as the road rises and falls, as trees create sanctuaries of silence.
Dappled roads don’t just funnel one - dappled roads lead somewhere.
As to rivers - the Wading, the Delaware. As to forests — Wharton, Brendan Byrne. As to mountains, so they say, as in Sourlands. Past a funny old road house, beloved of locals. Alongside farmstands, “cucumbers, 50 cents each”. “Our own fresh eggs.”
As you drive along dappled roads in South Jersey, you can check on the blueberry crop, the busy-ness of rented bees among tiny white cranberry blossoms. If you ‘dapple’ West, you’ll study the state of the sorghum crop, and puzzle as to whether corn tassels out later, the closer you get to the Delaware River (my theory. In this year of the drought, the later-tasseling corn is faring better.)
I’d far rather know how the sorghum’s doing, than the latest catastrophe of some celebrity of entertainment or politics (it is becoming more and more difficult to tell the difference.) I can stop thinking, for a few hours, about the perilous migratory journeys of all our New Jersey birds headed toward and over the Gulf.
When you choose dappled roads, even in town, as in Princeton, you’ll pass homes and graveyards of any number of signers of the Declaration of Independence, as well as the imposing residence of the current governor. Signs exult, “Tree City”. Oxymoronic, to be sure, but I’m grateful for every monarch of old, waving leafily, dreamily above my sheltering car.
When you drive shadowed south Jersey roadways, you course along beside pristine sugar sand. Here and there will be spurts of blinding ferns despite apparent lack of water. This year, you’ll read Smokey Bear signs with exclamation points after the single word “WILDFIRE!”, where fire danger used to be listed as low, medium or high. When you drive shadowed roadways west, you see gleaming silos like cathedrals in the distance. White horses and black-and-white cattle stand so peacefully, lessons in tranquillity. Red barns and redder farmhouses rise like exclamation points in the surrounding text of crops. You’ll clunk over a white covered bridge (as in Sergeantsville).
If I’m lucky, I can take dappled roads BOTH into and out of Sergeantsville, coming and going from my shadow-quest.
Shade will bless you as you pass any number of Washington’s Headquarters, perhaps pondering the fate of America without those stony shrines and their plain but brilliant occupant during the 1770’s and 80’s…
The edges of dappled roads could have been embroidered. This morning, bright sturdy chicory lined my path all the way to Stockton, like blue French knots embroidered by impeccable seamstresses. Here and there, a brook would keep me company, its quiet gleam no match for the bonniness of chicory. Behind the blue ‘knots’, entire fields of white lace, –yes, Queen Anne’s, short and tough yet delicate–, nodded in the half breeze.
An entire field of sunflowers, right west of here on #518, caused homesickness for France, for Arles, for Vincent, sane or mad, but no better chronicler of roadside flowers in the history of art.
Blessed by leaf-flicker, I am far from matters troublous. Weaving through Washington-shrines, I either forget the nightly news, or set it firmly in perspective. Taking the shady roads, I also manage to avoid most who exhibit road rage, although there was one harsh driver at the gas station at dawn for whom the attendant apologized three times. “He is not nice, that one…”
Dappled roads are nice. Good for the soul. Gateways to the beauties of New Jersey of which so many are absolutely unaware, and even the best of us can tend to forget, in hurly burly or in drought.
On dappled roads, embroidered roadways, weekend errands don’t even feel like tasks.
Find the Photographer - Anne Zeman - at her task…
WHEN FAR IS NEAR:
April Scenes An Hour or So from Princeton
GO WITH FRIENDS
SHARE THE GAS
APPRECIATE NEW JERSEY
AND ALL OF THESE PRESERVED!
Beach Where Piping Plovers Will Soon Nest
Cape May Easter 2011
Reading Richard Louv’s newest book, “The Nature Principle”, on the reunion of humans with nature, I come across a phrase that describes all these years of NJ WILD for the Princeton Packet: NEAR IS THE NEW FAR.
Constable Scene - Spizzle Creek Bird Blind, Island Beach
This is the week I’ve first seen gas at $4 per gallon for regular, the week a friend paid $54 to fill her tank at a reasonable station.
Bluebell Enchantment April 30, Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve
All along, I’ve been insisting, New Jersey is rich in nearby natural beauty. Maybe now, everyone will listen. Adventure, remember, is right around the corner.
Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve is just across our beloved Delaware River, in Bucks County, just below New Hope.
Trillium/Bluebell Apotheosis - Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve today
Island Beach is less than 100 miles from here, just below Bay Head, Mantoloking and Lavalette.
Surf Fisherman, Bay Head, NJ - yesterday
Sandy Hook is just over a new bridge from Atlantic Highlands.
Tasha O’Neill and I in Bahrs (Restaurant) Window Across Bay from Sandy Hook -
two weeks ago
Each offers something rare, something I require - land’s end. Above all, Cape May is land’s end, for humans and for birds in migration. Even the Cape May Bird Observatory is under 100 miles from my door. I do all as day trips, but stayed this time in Cape May at the dear Jetty Motel - from which we can walk the beach at low tide to Cape May Lighthouse and the Hawk Watch Platform.
When we climbed these steps, ospreys were everywhere, fishing madly.
Kettles of vultures swirled overhead.
Kettles of vultures swirled overhead
one mute swan settled onto her nest in the reeds
full breeding plumage of one great egret lofted on the wind
and one peregrine zoomed
The peregrine falcon is the symbol of my April - for peregrinations are wanderings. Short nearby nature journeys restore the soul, as I’ve written and written. Richard Louv repeats and repeats this mantra. Nature is no luxury. It is essential. The wild is neither remote nor extraneous. It, too, is essential. You can find wild nature in this state in a matter of minutes - even right along our Towpath. But a sense of adventure remains imperative.
Wouldn’t you think I’d been far, far from here? Instead:
Lenni Lenape Ancient Dugout Canoe
behind Bahrs Restaurant, on hem of Sandy Hook
wouldn’t you think I’d've been down South to find this sign last Friday?
FIRST ASPARAGUS OF THE SEASON
CAPE MAY COUNTY
We bought the asparagus from a woman who’d just picked it an hour ago on her farm.
Farmstand of Asparagus, Sweet Potatoes and Hydrangeas
Simple Seaside Supper at the Jetty Motel
New Friends Near Barnegat Bay, Island Beach - yesterday
New Fiddleheads Unfurl in Freshwater Pond near Ocean, Island Beach
Hopper Scene, Island Beach
Lobsterman’s Relic - Barnegat Bayshore, Island Beach
Island Beach is a true barrier beach, never built upon, pruned only by sea winds sometimes laden with salt, sand and/or snow. History is everywhere there - fishermen, brigands, frigates, smugglers, Indians gathering clams, early whalers - as in Cape May. Silence reigns at Island Beach. True Pine Barrens plants burgeon. Ferns unfurl magically in fresh peat water, only yards from the tumultuous ocean.
New Jersey WILD
On all of these nearby nature adventures, the spirit is renewed.
Majestic Trillium, Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, this morning
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!
It’s ‘unseasonably’ hot this morning, and I don’t have to be at work until 2. D&R Greenway is hosting an archaeology talk at D&R Greenway tonight, on the Lenni Lenapes and the Bonapartes-of-Bordentown, who lived above the Hamilton-Trenton-Bordentown Marsh. (Call 609-924-4646 to register for free 6:30 program: The Cultural History of the Marsh.
When I’m the food stylist for evening events, mornings take place at home, –at my speed, my priorities. Of course, I head straight to the Towpath [near #518 off Canal Road where I now live.] D&R Greenway began as a non-profit to save land near the D&R Canal and Towpath. Friends for the Marsh exists ‘under our umbrella’, and we’re featuring their juried photography exhibition this summer, on our circa-1900 barn walls. I walk this trail and ponder the miracles of hard-won preservation.
What literally strikes me first, as I clamber from the car and move onto the more or less authentic canal bridge, is the force of the sun. It sears like August sun in Provence. One of my Provence poems complains, “August strikes its flat sword blade”. One fled the sun of August in Provence, as though it were a vindictive sword wielded by a heedless barbarian. I feel this way in this light on this trail, even though I am awash in fragrances headier than those distilled from Provencal petals in Grasse over the hill from my villa.
I want to capture what was given on this morning’s hot towpath, before all so rudely ended.
A bower of berry blossoms - hence, heady, even dizzying scents on all sides
Fern groves; hefty skunk cabbage clusters in the hollow.
First swathes of bright yellow ‘flags’, wild iris, –very very native.
Mockingbird trills, –over and over and over again.
PHOEBE! PHOEBE! - this tiny bird shouting its name, and answered to my right and to my left.
Bullfrog bellows. Sometimes they call to mind Casals or Yo Yo Ma - but this is too earthy and flat-out territorial for classical reference.
“Pretty pretty me!” “Pretty pretty me” - the sweet narcissism of the yellow warbler.
Two fragrances now - honeysuckle vying with berries, –too much sweetness, really, until I long for a whiff of fox, of skunk, of something rank decaying into the trail.
But I find myself flinching every time I move out of treeshadow into sunglare. Now, I remember hot Memorial Days, even in Michigan, definitely in Princeton. Even so, there is a suffocating inescapable quality to this sultriness, even so early, that thrusts me right into the subject of catastrophic climate change - something NJ WILD readers might suspect I came out on the trail to forget.
Spring is at its zenith. Summer, that predator, is literally at my throat.
Everything is that too-green that it will stay until the first coppery glints of woodbine and poison ivy remind, “Don’t worry. Fall is coming!”
At first, others on the Towpath are captivated by the miracle of running through this tunnel of blossoms. Their gaze meets mine, even the men whispering in passing. Then, as heat takes over, runners flash past without greeting. “Ha!,” I think, bitterly, “fitness is more important than fellowship.”
But my soundlessness and timelessness are short-lived.
I become aware of frenzied traffic, hurtling like missiles along the road that used to be Tranquillity Central. Then, the sound I hate above all others, back-up beeps of trucks. I don’t know where I am, because the green and blossoms are so thick here — so I don’t know how to avoid these trucks, which clatter, clang and growl frontwards and shriek backwards, while the hard-hatted men who tend them shout above their own cacophony. Overhead, first one helicopter. Then another.
I turn, pick up the pace, head back to the bridge. Damn! I probably can’t ever hike this part of the trail again.
It holds everything I flee - what NJ WILD readers have heard me decry over and over, DESTRUCTION in the name of CONSTRUCTION.
Others turn, also. We’re a human traffic jam fleeing human traffic.
The only blessing is a birdsong I almost know but haven’t heard yet in 2010 — and then I see it in silhouette, right over my head. As I focus my ‘glass’ upon the unknown soloist, orange and black that out-Princeton Princeton flash in the hot white light. First Baltimore Oriole.
Worthy of the journey…
Equal of the Eastern towhee who blessed my departure for work yesterday morning. I want to see Nature as the victor…
Can she be, with us in the equation?