Archive for the ‘Adventure’ Category
One of the proofs of fine writing is that reading it triggers writing in others. My friend, food writer, Pat Tanner, is somewhat surprised at all the buzz generated by her recent article on last meals. Interviewing local chefs, the results were far-ranging, wise, funny, challenging, with intervals of blessed simplicity in this complex world. I couldn’t put Pat’s story down.
Then I literally picked up my pen (remember pens?) and began a list of jewel-like food memories. if I could command the best foods of my life now, time and money and distance being of no matter, here is what I’d call forth. But forget this last meal fad — don’t wait! — to experience any or all of these, if you can.
What neither of us expected was that I could bring the little list along to our Petite Christmas supper this week, read it to Pat and trigger memories of her own, with her family, in the presence of sublime food.
To begin, the Malossol caviar, served aboard the S.S. France, scooped with a ladle, in quantity equal to freshly home-made ice cream, from a massive silver, crystal-lined bowl. This was April, 1964 - my husband and I sailed on the anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking and my Michigan friends were sure we would do likewise. Caviar was our first food on the France, and this was my first time to speak French with a Frenchman.
The next course of gem-like food is a tie:
Either Truffe sous les cendres, with Diane and Catherine and Werner, at Fernand Point’s La Pyramide in Vienne — truffle perfume permeating the puff pastry that had somehow survived having been cooked, as the French say, ‘in the chimney’, under the cinders:
« Une mise en bouche ou entrée idéale à partager en amoureux si vous possédez une cheminée. Les truffes, non pelées, sont enveloppées dans une fine bardes de lard et du papier cuisson, et cuisent à l’étouffée sous la cendre. Quand vous ôtez la papillote c’est déjà un bonheur olfactif splendide et la suite est tout aussi superbe. »
This is by no means Fernand’s recipe. He had perished by the time we were there, but Madame Point ruled with an iron hand, and the emporium of superb cuisine had lost not a jot of its lustre from our 1964 experience. This was summer, 1970. Madame Point was not at all pleased to see a seven-year-old and an eight-year-old arrive. But their eagerness for and knowledge of her husband’s menu items, and the swift skill with which they dispatched their meal, artichokes in particular, won her heart. At the end, she and some of the chefs bowed the girls out, giving them little chocolates to take across the street to the Inn.
The other contender, which runs neck and neck with the truffe, is my first fresh foie, so lightly seared, with but a soupcon of sauce, based in golden late afternoon light at Auberge Des Templiers in the Loire Valley. Silk. That is the only word to describe the texture of that foie, and I have yearned for it ever since. This was our Fourth-of-July trip, taking the girls ultimately to the Normandy Beaches for the Bicentennial we wouldn’t have had without those sands, in July 1976.
With no place in this menu, Wellfleet oysters must be included. Anytime. Anywhere. Also Chincoteagues. Belons and Marennes, in Normandy or Brittany, with a local Muscadet, served with those thin circles of sour rye (sans seeds) and a white porcelain dish of creamiest Buerre de Charentes.
The main course is the same, but two sites contend.
Filet de boeuf, Sauce Marchand de Vin, at the Relais St. Germain, on the left bank, in Paris, April, 1964. It was Mothers’ Day, and the girls, at 6 months and 18 months, were home with my Mother. Werner chose this Relais to bolster me, missing those babies. We thought we’d never go to Europe again, that we had to do so right now, before he entered practice. We could walk to the Relais from our hotel, the Scandinavia, whose address I think was vingt-sept rue de Tournon. We had to memorize it for cab-drivers…
The identical entree may have been the gastronomic triumph — in Tournus, in the heart of Burgundy’s cote d’or, at lunchtime. Only this beef was the legendary Charolais. For the sauces, no contest.
Pommes Souffles, Antoine’s, New Orleans, on Spring Break 1958.
Dessert - no contest — the miniature fraises bois (wild strawberries not so large as my little fingernail, explosions of flavor) at Joseph’s, our first night in Paris, April, 1964.
I see I haven’t spoken much about wine. Chateau d’Yquem, with no food, tasting with Alexis Lichine and Tony Wood, his American representative, at the chateau in 1964. This same golden elixir with the fresh foie at Auberge des Templiers in 1976.
Muscadet with oysters, indeed.
Any Montrachet with the caviar, or champagne chosen by the sommelier.
The red wine that comes first to mind is Chateau Pichon-Longueville. There were some splendid Chateauneuf-du-Papes when we were in and near Avignon, but oddly I do not recall the food.
Internet View of Bouillabaisse Outside, as it was created by fishermen
NJ WILD readers may not know that I am blessed in friendships with two very special food-writers, Pat Tanner and Faith Bahadurian. NJ WILD was named in honor of Faith’s NJ SPICE blog for the Packet. You’ll see a generous comment from Pat Tanner on my recent post on the Brigantine.
We are all three great fans of Julia Child. I can say to them, without protest, “Without Julia, the world of American cooking would still be a desert.”
It’s Julia’s 100th birthday this week — I can never speak of her in the past tense. Therefore, people who relish savory foods, regional foods, traditions of other lands, France in particular, are reminiscing about the years of “The French Chef.” “THE” - what on earth must the French have thought of WGN’s designation of ‘our’ Julia? Faith and I will literally raise a glass to Julia at supper this week.
My children as toddlers, –although none of us cared much for television, inexplicably would insist that their doctor-father and I stop everything whenever ‘Junior Child’s” music came on. We would sit, riveted, in our apartment living room high above the Raritan in New Brunswick, throughout Julia’s culinary journeying.
Is it Julia who saw to it that the girls grew up as omnivores? They came to relish virtually everything, except those tiny fish (”Daddy, they have eyes!”) - petit friture, in Villefranche on the Mediterranean. My most amusing memory is that 1976 morning (you know how they woke you before dawn on flights to France, with that terrible fake American orange juice) when we had just checked in to Voile d’Or in Cap Ferrat, and we had to go straight to the lunch table before the sea-blessed dining room closed. We were with friends from Piscataway, and their two young children who had never been abroad. I remember, all four of them, actually, still rubbing sleep from their eyes. Placed before us as what the French logically call the ‘entree’ were little plates of salad garnished with something pink and mauve. Not only octopus, but baby octopus… Diane and Catherine tried them — wouldn’t choose them for breakfast, but did not reject.
Diane was born a superb cook - so it is fitting that Julia was given an honorary degree by Smith College at Diane’s 1980’s graduation. They eagerly engaged with bouillabaisse in La Napoule-Plage in Provence, at ages 7 and 8, and speaking some French because of Littlebrook School.
In case I owe everything, daughter-and-gastronomy-wise, to Julia, here is the Smithsonian’s site for her recipe. You may know well that Julia’s kitchen, from the show, in its entirety, resides at the Smithsonian Institute. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/bouillabaisse.html
Over this past weekend, educational television featured some iconic Julia episodes, speeding me right back to the black-and-white days of “Junior Childs” with my little girls. In Julia’s honor, and in gratitude to my food-writer friends for our New Jersey gastronomic pilgrimages, I’ll share bouillabaisse memories with NJ WILD.
Faith probably correctly insists that bouillabaisse rituals so clearly remembered would have been the case only at ‘upscale’ restaurants. That word, of course, did not exist when I met this Provencal fishermen’s fish stew in 1964. So, I took out ‘the retrospectroscope’.
Even beyond the rituals, I remember the vividness of bouillabaisse itself. To my dismay, Julia’s black and white film seemed more grey, frankly, than anything — even or especially her ‘tomahtoes’. Provencal bouillabaisse, from La Napoule forward, was a symphony of reds and golds. Even its potatoes were gold because cooked in aromatic Provencal olive oil, onion, garlic, some tomatoes and saffron broth. [Not Yukon gold which didn't exist then, whether or not they do now in France.] The ‘toasts’ — so carefully placed in the bottom of each flat soup bowl, and served before any of the fish-of-the-rocks, which were steamingly and artistically mounted on a huge platter on a side table–, were golden-brown from long slow baking, probably in a wood-fired oven.
Saffron Fronds, from Internet
Rouille was mandatory on those toasts - opulent mayonnaise of olive oil carefully pounded to life in a mortar with garlic and the finest of chili pepper and cayenne. The subtle pungency of saffron, essential and impossible to describe, colored both flavor and hue of this redolent broth.
A few tomatoes had been newly cut and added, just enough to add color and piquancy, but not to melt into the final soup. Lobster and shrimp were never part of any Provencal bouillabaisse we found, from 1964 through 1988, when I ultimately lived the seasons round above Cannes. Rascasse was the essential fish - I found it rather like red snapper.
All fish, originally, for this specialty, had been the discards, the ones Marseilles fishermen could not sell at “le criee” - (the crying of the fishwives after the boats returned) each afternoon in that hopping port town. It was a point of pride never to be out more than a few hours, so that the fish in my Cannes market were always literally leaping off their oil-cloth-covered tables - and I usually shopped before mid-day. The fishermen of that region would then put a cast iron pot over a beach fire, add some sea water, and create this miracle. I’m assuming they knew to bring a folded paper of saffron always in a pocket remote from water.
Bouillabaisse Over Open Fire, as ‘invented’
By the time it became popular with travellers, it was the norm to serve ritually. First the fish were removed and artfully pyramided. Then the toasts were settled into the bowls, with the rouille passed so one could mound as much as desired onto the ‘toasts’. Then the broth was ladled with, yes, reverence. Rising steam brought the essence of sea, garlic, saffron, tomatoes and subtlest hints of all the varied fish. How could I forget — grains of fennel seed and usually unseen, because evolved into this masterful creation, dried orange peel, probably from Menton.
Grains of Fennel, from Internet
One of the reasons I don’t even think of making bouillabaisse myself is that I no longer live in Provence. Not only would I be lacking rascasse and gurnard and spider crabs and pretty often sea urchins. But even the orange peel would be from California or Florida and probably dyed and never so tangy as any citrus from Provence.
At La Mere Something in La Napoule-Plage, with my husband in 1964 and our family in 1971, waitresses were dressed in Provencal costume as immortalized by Vincent van Gogh and the poet Mistral in Arles. Their arrangement of the fish was a kind of ballet.
The soup bowls were removed after one or two fillings, and then the paradise of freshest fish arrived.
Without the costumes, eating in plainer but memorable bouillabaisse sites, there was also ritual. Particularly famous, though no-nonsense, were Nounou and Tetou (separate establishments side-by-side-, I remember them as IN the sea,) at Juan-les-Pins. I feasted on bouillabaisse on a rainy day (rare!) with friends from Morristown, along with my daughters, on our Mother’s Day trip, May 1984. Nounou and Tetou were points of bouillabaisse pilgrimage with Valerie Meluskey of Princeton, and other guests from home during 1987-88. One of my guests had an aversion to fish, which he swallowed (pun intended) there. This man was immediately won over, even though the Mediterranean was grey and rain-dimpled throughout our water-surrounded experience.
Another bouillabaisse ritual I can never forget was carried out by the elegant proprietress herself, across from Voile d’Or in Cap Ferrat. I experienced this with my lifelong Michigan friend, Bernadette Thibodeau, when we ‘discovered’ Provence in February of 1976. I returned with my daughter, Diane and Valerie Meluskey and Hope Cobb from Princeton in January of 1981. January and February became my favorite Provencal months, because of the fragrant blossoming of mimosa trees and almond trees, at the same time! Their aroma filled closed cars, even as we drove away from the sea into the pre-Alps.
The one ritual I did not fully enjoy was at Restaurant Bacon, in 1988. With me was my new French friend, Jeanette, who managed the Observatoire Tower, next to which I lived above Cannes. She had helped me so much that entire year. Bacon was also on the Med but not in it — I think Antibes, near the Picasso castle. Bacon was the place to go then for bouillabaisse, but it did, indeed, turn out to be fancy. My friend, though she lived in Provence, [frequently the case when I took neighbors to favorite restaurants], had never tasted that regional specialty! Fame had gone to the head of that restaurant. My guest did not realize that we were not tasting the authentic specialty, nor that Bacon’s ritual outshone his soup. Rouille notwithstanding, the flavors did not sing. That soup and/or Bacon didn’t have Provencal soul!
Faith wanted to know if I’d managed hole-in-the-wall destinations for bouillabaisse. Frankly, no. The best were in Marseilles. I went there any number of times, returning to eat somewhere in the Esterel Forest or along that red-rock coast. Marseilles was a thorough city, beyond bustling. It was a tumult of traffic and shouting people. Its streets seemed all all one way the wrong way. Signs blazoned defense d’entrier! — do not enter. I, who’d traveled almost everywhere alone that year, never could find a place to park to walk the Canebiere.
What I’d do after these fruitless bouillabaisse quests was drive home and read Pagnol’s Fanny, Marius and then Cesar… These three volumes sent me to my Provencal neighbors for translation of patois, but were absolutely irresistible in terms of the characters. Central to the stories was Panisse, for whom Alice Waters named her iconic California restaurant, from which America learned the miracles of local food.
The French Oscar is named Cesar because of Pagnol’s Marseilles trilogy. Hardly anyone knows that this quiet man of Aubagne and thereabouts founded and funded the film industry. Pagnol wrote, cast, directed, produced and filmed legendary movies on Provence. You know Jean de Florette and Manon les Sources – the world doesn’t always realize that this renowned teacher who specialized in Shakespeare also is the author of those spectacular books. And La Gloire de Mon Pere and Le Chateau de Ma Mere, — memoirs we also saw as films in our country. In fact, all my friends at home saw the Pagnols before I did, in Provence.
In Cannes, I ‘virtualed’ Marseilles with Pagnol.
In Princeton, I do the same with Julia Child. But that grey soup she served up this past weekend bears no resemblance to the vivid ones that piqued journey after journey to the unique authentic South of France.
Even so, it’s clear to me that there will be no ‘next Julia Chlld.’ That no one can equal her, let alone surpass Julia, as a person and as influence on our cuisine.
Far beyond the kitchen, Julia Child brought America out of its crippling provincialism.
Thank you, forever, Julia — and Happy Birthday!
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.
When a Manhattan friend takes the bus to Kingston, what is the greatest contrast you can provide? One, for sure, is kayaking - which we did the next morning, along the D&R Canal.
Kayak Central, Princeton, Brenda Jones
Her welcome-to-NJ contrast, however, was to head straight west into Hopewell, up Greenwood Avenue, turn left at the red barn, head into and beyond Ringoes and Sergeantsville to Rosemont and over to the Delaware River. Such a brief ride, for such a major transition — and all in golden afternoon light.
Bull’s Island Fern Grove, Carolyn Foote Edelmann
Walking Bull’s Island is always a treat, moored like a verdant ship in the middle of my beloved Delaware. Its trails and woods are frequently inundated, needless to say. This can make for very soft trails, cushioned by charcoal-y basalt from the bottom of the river. Floods, of course, bring nourishment and new species — some blessed, some not so blessed.
Bull’s Island Footbridge, Carolyn Foote Edelmann
Friday evening, after a quick trek over the silvery footbridge to the Black Bass and back, –interstate hiking–, we entered the woods to a chorus of cedar waxwings. Masked and certain feathers gilded, there is no more handsome bird in my lexicon. Leaving sunshine for dapple, we were suddenly surrounded by the wood thrush’s liquid ascending, then descending notes. My friend is accustomed, from Catskill stays, to veeries near woodthrush, and soon we were awash in veery magic.
Cedar Waxwing, Brenda Jones
On either side, ferns rose, — not fragile and furtive as those I usually encounter. But feisty, even aggressive. Some were taller than we are! The Alice in Wonderland sensation was appealing. My friend then decided we were “in Jurassic Park without the critters.”
Veery, Brenda Jones
One creature we did find, a handsome toad who seemed the monarch of the glen. He was not atall ‘afeard’ of humans — sitting there, permitting our presence in his territory.
Lowering light gilded every leaf, especially super-sized jack-in-the-pulpit plants and fading Mayapple.
Mayapple Profusion, Bull’s Island, Carolyn Foote Edelmann
All the while, the river coursed alongside, deceptively quiet, a welcome change from her Manhattan life and even the bus ride out here.
A superb dinner at the Carversville Inn was not only gastronomically superior, but also time travel. In that case, the mid-1800’s surrounded us, as palpably as if we had stepped through ‘the veil.’
Home brought us through fields where some corn is already hip-high, well before the Fourth of July, and silos gleam and preside like church steeples. Sacred farm structures from other centuries were the norm most of the way back to Princeton.
Yesteryear’s Barn, Carolyn Foote Edelmann
All of this in our beautiful New Jersey. Help preserve it — especially her farmland and o, save that river, in every sense.
Your local land trusts do this for you, but we (as in D&R Greenway) require your support. It’s taken us 23 years to preserve 23 New Jersey landscape miles and many waterways. Help move preservation forward, every way you can.
Fog Along the Delaware, Brenda Jones
And get out there and enjoy the unique unpeopled beauty that is still ours, in the beleaguering 21st Century.
Black-Crowned Night Heron by Brenda Jones
NJ WILD readers know I have been to ‘the Brig’ (Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge at Smithville above Atlantic City) in virtually all conditions. Literally, fire and ice. Snow, of course. Fog.
The fire was a controlled burn to remove phragmites (tall blinding invasive grasses that alter food supplies for birds ‘the Brig’ was created to attract and protect.) The ice was Mother Nature at winter normal, making the dike roads too slippery for entry. Fog is heaven, though birds scarce — because you can’t see Atlantic City looming.
Yesterday, Tasha O’Neill, a fine-art photographer and dear friend and I deliberately traveled to ‘the Brig’ in rain. Both of us had been incarcerated at our desks for a ‘rosary’ of crisp sunny days. When freedom arrived, rain came with it. ‘The Brig’ holds miracles anyway. (It used to be called Brigantine Wildlife Refuge, and is in NO WAY connected, save visually across water, to cheek-by-jowl developed Brigantine Island).
Waterlilies welcomed us, half-open upon arrival because of the dearth of sun. But waterlilies are rewards in any weather.
Waterlily in Rain by Tasha O’Neill
Among the “miracles anyway” was a red knot — our most tragically scarce bird. They used to feed by the hundreds of thousands on 100s of 1000s of horseshoe crab eggs. But developers, along with exploiters of horseshoe crab for bait and fertilizer, have had their way with this lustrous bird of far-flung migratory habits, all centered on our Delaware Bay this time of year. To see any red knot is to see the NJ equivalent of the passenger pigeon, the ivory-billed woodpecker. Any year now may be their last.
Accompanying the knot, and then sprinkled throughout our day, was a profligacy of ruddy turnstones. I’ve been in love with their yes ruddy patchwork backs, their dapper jet ascots and cummberbunds, since I met turnstones at our Chatham, Mass., shore house. They, too, feed at nearby Reed’s Beach, Fortescue and others in Salem and Cumberland County, on whatever horseshoe crab eggs there may be.
My co-birder that day was fine art photographer, Tasha O’ Neill. Weather made seeing out of the windows chancy, let alone photographing, but she did her best. She found the black-crowned night heron off to our left - standing bolt upright as I have virtually never seen them. Hunkered in shrubs over water, breeding plume reaching the water below; settling into taller trees for the night; posing like a football on rocks by a channel — these are usual BCNH positions in my experience. Not sentinel-straight. Not marching like a soldier at the changing of the guard.
Rain-Drenched Black-Crowned Night Heron at Brigantine, by Tasha O’Neill
I never found a harrier, my signifying bird at Brig. But Tasha found two definite red-tails in a dead tree before we were even off 206, and I saw one quartering a field like a harrier somewhere near Tabernacle. It’s always good when your birding starts off before the sanctuary.
Willets were quieter than usual at the Brig — otherwise they generously call out, “I’m the Willet! I’m the Willet!”, as they prance, pounce, then lift off. These birds the color of light toast turn snappily black and white as they lift off over the impoundments.
We were there at low tide - best for shorebirds. A couple of black-bellied plover did not impress my co-birder, wanting them to match their full breeding plumage in my Sibley Guide. It’s not quite time yet for turnstones, or for black-bellies, to be completely in the full black splendor of what always looks like formal evening attire, lacking the patent dress shoes. Stars of low tide for both of us, however, were black skimmers - only two in total, and not performing their Balanchine skimming act in such low water. But handsome and dapper and inescapable with those formidable red-orange beaks.
Skimmer in the Air, by Brenda Jones
We had one golden plover, stately as Tutankhamun, amongst a host of busy ‘little grey jobs’, busy as pyramid builders stoking up before the carry. I have friends who have mastered sandpipers; ditto sparrows. I’m slowly learning sparrows at their hands (we had a nearby chipping sparrow, down on the ground where he belongs, rusty little head pouf very visible, early on); but I remain hopeless with sandpipers. Dunlins?
We found longbilled dowitchers and a lovely curved-bill whimbrel, looking classic against dark peat and green marsh grasses.
Great Egret Fishing in Rain, Brigantine, by Tasha O’Neill
Egrets were stately, immaculate, and the rain-wind generously blew their full breeding plumage, so that they resembled ladies in Dress Circle, sporting plumes for a new diva’s Traviata — back in the days when egrets were killed for these immensely long, pristine feathers. The snowy egrets’ breeding plumage turned them into bleached female mergansers — who always look to me as though they’ve their toes stuck in an electric socket for the effect on head feathers.
Fish crows mourned overhead. There was a scarcity of osprey, though some on nests. Most nests stood empty. One was adorned with all sorts of human detritus — from a float for a lobster trap to orange construction netting. One or two nests showed sitting females, the male on the nearby feeding platform. We did not hear that plaintive delicate osprey call we’ve come to cherish.
Osprey Returning to Nest, by Brenda Jones
Tasha was delighted with a levittown of horseshoe crabs, each defending his domicile with an ivory-hued larger claw, all the rest of the crab invisible in subeterranean safety.
No swans that day.
One SNOW GOOSE! — yes, indeed, white with black feathers and that characteristic rosy beak. Have you EVER seen a solitary snow goose?
Tree swallows, then barn swallows — virtually the only bird call we could hear.
One scowling snapping turtle, resembling an armored tank on a forested road.
Early stars and late, the angular glossy ibis. Even in the half light, their forest green and buffed copper highlights gleamed.
However, I have to admit, the highlight of this journey was coming home through the Pine Barrens, studded with just opening rosy-to-pale-pink mountain laurel, deep into the pinewoods.
Laurel in the Mist, Sooy Place, Pine Barrens, by Tasha O’Neill
And, as I’d hoped, jewels encrusting the north side only of Sooy Place off 563, goat’s rue. Tasha had never seen it. I’ve probably been lucky enough to be their for its brief rare bloom five times total. Its foliage is icy green and lacy, its little face like a snapdragon sticking out its saucy fuchsia tongue.
Goat’s Rue in the Mist, Sooy Place, Pine Barrens, by Tasha O’Neill
It’s not often that the birds of Brigantine are eclipsed (pun intended). But May 21, on the day after the solar eclipse (only seen in Albuquerque, I gather), birds took second place.
Every trip to the Brig is different. Get DOWN there.
Remember, we have that sanctuary because of people with high and deep commitment to preservation!
Baltimore Oriole with Fishing Line for Nest Brenda Jones
Most people don’t even know there IS a Marsh in the middle of Trenton (and Bordentown and Hamilton). Let alone the northernmost freshwater tidal wetland, which surges and empties in synch with the tides of the ocean, as amplified by the nearby Delaware River. Let alone that ‘The Marsh’ is Oriole Central this May!
Most people don’t know that the Marsh has mattered to the Lenni Lenapes for at least 10,00 years, that artifacts proving this have been found there over the centuries. That the Lenapes at first didn’t live there, but connected with each other and other tribes in spring, in autumn, en route to or from hunting lives to gathering times at the Shore. That Route #195, which noisily curves above and through the Marsh, began all those centuries ago as the Indians’ footpath to ocean gathering time.
Baltimore Oriole, Full Breeding Plumage - Brenda Jones
For sure, what most people don’t know is that, if you’re in love with orioles, as well as other rarities among our NJ birds, go to the Marsh right NOW! The earlier in the day the better, though late light is good, too. Go with anyone brought there to lead tours for the Friends for the Marsh (www.marsh-friends.org), such as Charles and Mary Leck, Lou Beck and John Marin, among others. Orioles will welcome you immediately, perhaps even before the mute swans glide over to enchant you. Not only Baltimore orioles, but also orchard orioles.
Baltimore Oriole in All His Glory Brenda Jones
If you’re with Charlie, Mary, Lou and John, you’ll be informed that the vaguely chartreuse oriole is a first-year orchard oriole. You may know, from other Marsh trips, –when Orchards and Baltimores conveniently perched on the same empty branch so that you could compare and contrast, as in English class–, that Orchard example will, next year, be the hue of a toasty chestnut.
Spring Lake was named by the Lenni Lenapes, because spring-fed. It may well have been formed by the beavers, who still generously inhabit watery stretches, in what Charlie calls, “Beaver Condominiums”
Beaver Close-Up, from D&R Canal in Princeton — Brenda Jones
There’s a trail map at entry of what is also called Roebling Park. You can hike over a small bridge (see beaver dam, which is different from lodge, to your right) into woods with well blazed trails. And/or turn left at the lake and circle it very slowly, binoculars on everything from posts to vines to tulip trees (Indians carefully burn-hollowed these trunks for canoes) to towering cottonwoods to shrubby arrow-wood viburnum (Indians used this wood for arrows) to dead trees, otherwise known as snags, perfect perching posts for avian visitors and nesters.
Great Blue Heron Brenda Jones
This morning, starting at 8 a.m., an enthusiastic group decided that birding is more important than Mothers’ Day. Birding-by-ear was the name of the game from the start. I’ll try to remember what was seen and heard, so you can pretend you were with us.
To get there yourself, take Route 1 South to South Broad Street Exit at Arena; when exit T’s, that’s South Broad/206 South, there by the River Line Train holding pen. Left is south onto Broad, past Lalor. Turn right at the light (Sewell) after the two green church steeples. Drive through tiny neighborhood until Sewell T’s at the Marsh. Turn left/down and park next to the lake. Miracles of peace, beauty and birding await.
Red-Winged Blackbird in Full Breeding Plumage — Brenda Jones
Mute swans; orchard oriole; red-winged blackbirds; yellow warblers; common yellowthroats; blue-grey gnatcatchers; solitary sandpiper (only there were 2 of these (really rare creatures); great blue heron; mallard pair; beaver lodge; beaver dam; Carolina chickadee with insect in mouth, waiting for us to pass so it could pop into its nest in post hidden by vines to feed young.
Osprey At (Much Heftier) Nest — Brenda Jones
Osprey on scrungy nest on top of hideous power tower, male arriving with outsized nest material, matrimony on his mind. Flock of cedar waxwings, conveniently in emptily dead tree. Warbling vireos everywhere, proving their name.
Cedar Waxwing — Brenda Jones
Red Admiral butterflies, the lepidopteral stars of Spring 2012, first ON parking lot, where everyone could get ‘a good look’ at it, resting mid-flight on the gravel. The next red admiral was on a tree that had been graffitied — on a large 0 after a peace sign. Those with cameras were ecstatic. Those without will never forget those juxtapositions. At the shore, such as Cape May and ‘The Brigantine’ about which I write so often, people recently saw 40,000 migrant red admirals. Warning — they’re not red - they’re orange — but that’s pretty much the norm in nature nomenclature. Remember how orange the redstart is, and to me the red knot is terra cotta…
American Redstart by Brenda Jones — If you ask ME, it’s orange!
We saw a toad upon whose species — the experts could not agree. It was right in the clover by the lake, and still as a stone. Henslow’s? American? I didn’t hear the outcome, because I was on the trail of overhead orioles, irresistibly posing in the full sun we weren’t supposed to have.
Now, answer me. Would you believe a saga like this took place in Trenton. Does all day every day, depending upon the season. Several times, those of us who are riveted by bouquet de fox were stopped in our tracks by fox pungency.
I didn’t take my camera - but Brenda Jones, of course, has pictures of some of our species. I’ll put them in for you.
Put yourSELVES into the Marsh.
And support it, through Friends for the Marsh and D&R Greenway Land Trust, where I work — who preserved and maintain those 1200 crucially moist acres, buffering temperature and drought/flood conditions, and serving as nursery and migrant corridor for species beyond counting.
Although botanist Mary Leck and ornithologist, Charlie Leck, have, indeed counted and you can find the species count for plants, animals, amphibians (fish?), and, of course, birds on www.marsh-friends.org.
Never forget that www.drgreenway.org keeps green New Jersey green
D&R Canal Above Mapleton Aqueduct by Brenda Jones
Where D&R Greenway Began its Preservation Miracles…
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
Finest Sailing Ship and Restaurant — the S. S. France
The first time I sailed to France was on the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Neither in planning, nor in departure, did this dire date cross our minds. However, high school friends, –as I passed through Michigan en route to my East Coast life–, were convinced that the S.S. France would crash into an iceberg, plunging my husband and me to the bottom of the gelid Atlantic.
In recent years, I’ve read ‘most everything about the sinking of the Titanic, literally with a sinking heart. Always, I grieved over the many losses, at every level, within that majestic ship, and of the ship itself. Often, it was the fate of colliers and those in steerage who riveted me. To say nothing of the mourning houses in in and near Southampton, where we were headed. From whence we would ultimately sail home on the Mary.
There was about certain high school friends the air that Werner and I might well deserve some sort of catastrophe for undertaking this frivolous journey. Hedonism was highly suspect in those towns, churches and schools. I couldn’t explain that the two of us, with those science degrees, were setting out to resolve egregious lacunae in our educations, –particularly in art and literature. The S.S. France would become our first teacher.
Embarking upon the S.S. France brought no frissons of alarm. Our stateroom was, indeed, awash in flowers, fruit baskets and handsome bottles of champagne — truly carrying coals to Newcastle. Food was the chef d’oeuvre of this ship. Getting there was secondary.
A tiny sign at the dressing table assured Madame that “The lights around this mirror are of a roseate hue, which has been maintained throughout the ship. You may be assured,” some eloquent and flattering French person had inscribed, “that wherever you go upon the S.S. France, you will look as lovely as you do here.” Minnesota was never like this.
In our stateroom, at embarkation, bon voyage friends were suddenly interrupted by the announcement, “Tous les visiteurs a terre, s’il vous plait. Tous les visiteurs a terre.” I abruptly realized that Werner and I were actually sailing, — I to Europe for the first time, he for the seventh, within this sleek and gleaming new palace of the seas. Our visitors hastily crossed the gangplank back to earth.
After the ritual tossings of serpentine and confetti, Werner took me to a sheltered place on the top deck, to observe rituals of embarkation. He ordered (of course French) champagne. At a certain point, the Statue of Liberty floated past our ‘coupes’, [not flutes in those days]. We were underway.
Even that first night, our superlative waiters made clear, we could order ANYthing. It wouldn’t be an insult to the chefs — it would honor their creativity! In Minnesota, once, we couldn’t have crepes suzette in the best restaurant in town because the crepes chef was parking cars…
We had on board leather-bound volumes of Gourmet’s Bouquet de France, Italian Bouquet and Bouquet of Britain, bibles of both food and sights for the three months. We put them to use immediately. We were not to be limited to whatever their legendary chefs had promised in those towering, opulent menus, — separate ones for breakfast, then lunch, then dinner. One could start each meal with generous scoops of the greyest, freshest, slight-salt-tang-retaining caviar, served from a silver bowl large enough to bathe a newborn. I refrained at breakfast.
By the third night out, –sipping champagne between limitless waltzes and exuberant Charlestons, I decided “What a way to go!” We could dance until the ballroom emptied, then follow the (smaller) orchestra up to L’Atlantique, a “boite de nuit” on an upper deck. Our cabin steward had alerted us to this privilege, alarmed when we’d returned to our cabin that first midnight. “O, la, la!,” he had cried in dismay, encountering us in the passageway to our stateroom. “You are not having a good time!”
Our assurances meant nothing. “Promise me. Tomorrow, do what you must, Take naps. Anything. Dance till the band stops, then follow the musicians to L’Atlantique. Whatever you do, stay until the onion soup arrives.”
In both settings, the Grand Ballroom and L’Atlantique, musicians would play anything we would request. After four starved years in Minnesota, my Swiss husband kept them busy with favorites, especially the waltzes of Strauss and his other specialty ‘the Lindy.’ In the Midwest, we’d called it ‘the jitterbug.’
In L’Atlantique, indeed, at 4:30 a.m., the “authentic onion soup of Les Halles” arrived. I never had eaten soup sitting at a bar It remains the best I’ve ever found, including that for which we would make pilgrimage to Les Halles (”the belly of Paris”) in the middle of the dark, a few days later. It was imperative to savor the food of the workers in that earthy neighborhood. I have since returned many times to Au Pied du Cochon , and this seems hearteningly the same. [Even though politicians have erased the grace and electricity of this major food market of Paris. Power and greed have literally melted the 10 graceful and alluring Baltard pavilions into scrap.] The last time I saw Paris, however, onion soup still reigned near lovely Ste. Eustache.
The France was legendary not only for her food (Craig Claiborne, food critic of the New York Times, sailed both ways without disembarking, just to relish its cuisine.) The ship was also known for her stabilizers, which purportedly assured smooth sailing. Even so, there were meals with ropes stretched both ways across our table, nights when our dancing was interrupted by sudden unexpected sea-caused glissades to one wall or another. Even now, as we near the 100th anniversary of the tragic loss of the Titanic, I admit that we found these lurches amusing, challenges to Werner’s dancing skill. The only ice we encountered was in our glasses.
Legendary people sailed with us, announced on special ‘newspapers’ delivered in our stateroom each morning, by our faithful steward. He, who’d introduced us to L’Atlantique dancing and soup. He, who’d consoled us that first night with what he called ‘a little tea.’ In no time, he was back before us with the largest silver tray I’d ever encountered. It contained not only all the British accoutrements of tea, but also exquisite pastries which practically floated off the tiny plates onto our burnished forks. I had thought it silly, at St.-Mary-of-the-Woods, to be taught to pour tea and especially how to walk down a marble staircase without looking at one’s feet, let alone holding on. I used both these arcane accomplishments on the S.S. France.
Hitchcock was at the table next to ours, alone, “toujours toute seul,” as the French pronounce with concern. The Director’s expression was exactly that of his cartoon image on television, –dour and unchanging. At every meal, on this floating pinnacle of cuisine, he would order a yellow box of the kind of mustard that Michigan parents used to mix and rub into bronchial chests. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, Alfred Hitchcock altered the creations of the chefs of the S. S. France. At no time, did those splendid waiters raise so much as an eyebrow at this eccentricity.
Will and Ariel Durant were aboard, remote as pharaohs. An entire team of professors of music from Columbia were sailing ultimately to the South of France to study ancient music.
In that restaurant, the first formal night out, I committed a major faux pas, ordering Boeuf Wellington. Our waiter took this inadvertent reminder of French defeat with grace. The Wellington was magnifique, bien sur! Whether because of the excellence of the duxelles (mushroom essence); the quintessentially tender but full of flavor boeuf of Charolais; or that ethereal pastry, I have never been able to decide.
Our waiters forgave us anything, for our enthusiasm for anything French. At the final breakfast, they presented me with all the breakfast menus, “to take back to Doctor Edelmann, who did not have the opportunity to sample any of these specialites.” (After 4 years at the Mayo Clinic, 40 hours on, 8 hours off, alternate weekends, that man was not getting getting up for breakfast.)
We had asked our cabin steward to bear with our French, to speak to us and give us instruction materials only in that language. The second day out, our steward asked if there had been anything we hadn’t understood in that first batch. (I know, it probably told us what to do if we hit an iceberg. But we weren’t interested in speed reading — only in absorbing French.) “There was one word,” my husband admitted. “Neither of us knows what it is.” The word was “le cendrier”. How surprised our steward was, as he translated: ‘Ashtray.’ With my virtual convent upbringing and his virtual monastery (Fordham Prep and Fordham College), nuns and priests hadn’t thought to convey this word into our vocabularies. There would be others…
My favorite time of each day, –well, except for the dancing–, was mornings after breakfast. When you sail, you can take all the books you like. Each day, I’d choose one to read with breakfast, then carry it out to our deck chairs, so carefully chosen on embarkation day. Although Werner never encountered his, come to think of it. Immediately upon my arrival, a deck steward would arrive with a lush plaid wool blanket, tucking me in for the duration, hoping I was enjoying my book, –which I always was. The April sea breeze was electrifying, sun warming but not dangerous in those days.
Around 10:30, the deck steward would return to my side. He would kneel, bearing a tiny tray with a dainty cup and saucer and a lidded pouring pan. He would excuse himself for bothering Madame, then pour the most divine bouillon, steaming, into that special cup. In the days of regular sailings, even the china of the S.S. France was renowned — as I recall, Haviland. It was not designed for coffee nor tea let alone espresso — simply for bouillon on a morning deck.
Our last day out, those who sailed all the time proved to be studiously blase. This ardent tourist took herself to someone else’s deck chair, above the elegant glossy prow of the S.S. France. I stared and stared toward a coastline that should soon appear out of the half mist. Suddenly, I realized, birds were about. Ah, this is what it must’ve been like for Columbus, first land birds announcing…
No one else was up there. A castle ‘hove into view’. My first castle. It was a faux pas, later, to exult over this, waiting to disembark among our fellow passengers.
But that which resonated most, in those private moments, as England moved toward us, was that this is the homeland of the Foote family, — my middle name. All Footes are related to Nathaniel-Foote-the-Settler who came from Colchester, England in the 1600s to found Colchester and Wethersfield, Connecticut. And I was the first of my branch of the family to set Foote upon that soil. I felt I was seeing it for all of them.
But this wouldn’t have happened, without the splendor of the France.
We sailed her in other years, always joyously. The Mary was no comparison, and the QEII a brash imposter.
Our bags were packed and our stateroom tags affixed for the S.S. France’s final voyage from Manhattan to Southampton and LeHavre. The crew struck, and she never sailed again.
Later, she was ‘rechristened!’ “The Norway.” I have no words for this travesty. It is as though the France had, indeed, struck an iceberg and plunged to the bottom, for all time.
And the country, France, allowed this to happen, as they allowed the Nazi takeover in 1940.
While we waited for our luggage and our car, I thought back to high school friends and their Titanic surety. Of course, Werner and I had practiced with life jackets and met the boats and all that. On this and other voyages, lifeboat drill was a necessary intrusion, mostly funny, especially when our girls couldn’t get out the stateroom door, later, on the QEII, fattened by their ‘personal flotation devices.’
Nobody ever really expects to be plunged into the sea.
To us, the sea existed to bear us to new lands and new knowledge, to enrich our lives forever.
Yesterday’s nature excursion felt inevitable and blessed. A friend had said, “Let’s go somehwere, ANYwhere, Sunday,” and I’d agreed. The next morning I called with the suggested site, and her response was an immediate “Let’s Do it.”
I’m not going to reveal the destination to NJ WILD Readers. And I won’t put pictures in today. If anyone guesses, pix will miraculously appear…
This was the first return to one of my favorite New Jersey nature preserves, since the right leg had begun to buckle, (too long before November 9’s miraculous surgery.)
We were in yet another place of blessed silence, with some interestingly characteristic sounds way off in the distance, whose sources we occasionally attained.
This haven may be New Jersey’s most pristine, though not exactly virgin. Nothing has been built there since creation. Exceptions include one plain but grand-ish early 1930’s house, and its support building; the entry road;two public buildings; two interpretive centers; a Coast Guard Center (recently restored), and trails, trails, trails.
This is normally a place of splendid birds. However, even in yesterday’s unlikely heat, this adventure was not about birds.
A joy of this setting is that one walks between dunes, adorned with original trees, shrubs and undergrowth, pruned only by the wind. Humans on those paths are well protected from wind, en route first to Bay then to Ocean, depending on mood and conditions.
These healed legs walked in dense forest. They trod on crunchy oak leaves and slivers of bayberry, all the most irresistible caramelized hue. Despite new hip, and sometimes using trekking poles, I made it through loose sand and packed sand, up hill and down dale. I was shaded by high bush blueberry, then holly, even exuberantly healthy bayberry, and some swamp maples fully abloom in spring red.
I could walk most swiftly on the damp sands of bayside. I bent to capture its brackish water, smoothing cool droplets along the ever-shrinking surgical site — its briny baptism. Its Delaware River christening took place two weeks ago.
Before the day was out, I’d climbed over driftwood, then tiptoed noiselessly among pine needles. We’d sped alongside a split-rail fence, where I pretended its shadow was a horizontal board, balancing with arms wide and flat like child quick-walking a wall.
I’d studied flotsam and jetsam, nature’s and man’s, the human detritus appealingly battered by its watery journey. One seemed a sand-strafed, salt-soaked prow of an ancient ship, entangled in rough hand-tied fishnet.
I’d sought boardwalks over sand, where we could walk at a faster clip. I’d eagerly climbed shifting trails between dunes. In rising and falling pathways through thickets, bayberry grew higher than our heads. We marveled at the profusion of cedar berries. Some of these native New Jersey evergreens seemed bluer than the clearing sky overhead. Hollies towered, also laden.
Everything everywhere was wild, convoluted. When man leaves nature alone to this degree, what remains is rich cover for wild creatures. To say nothing of magic for the occasional human.
We spoke aloud favorite words evoked by each trail - “grove”, “copse”, “thicket” and “cove” high on our list.
The osprey nest was still empty, but towering and sturdy despite winter’s storms.
In a scruffy garden, we came upon two enormous whale bones, weathered and bleached, curving to infinity. My exploring friend is teaching a course in Moby Dick for Princeton’s Evergreen Forum, so this discovery was apt. I ran my fingers along its significant length and heft, realizing that the new health of my own bones permitted this indelible ritual-by-the-sea.
Only rarely did I lift optics to study winged creatures. I regretted the absence of gannets and long-tailed ducks beyond the farther waves. I couldn’t look fast enough to ascertain whether the handful of sharp flying white birds with black wing tips could be an uncharacteristically small flock of snow geese flying to northern homes because all waters must be open.
Two peak experiences involved dunes. One was right out of Robinson Crusoe, a thread of bare footprints, deep and obviously content, even exultant, in pristine sand.
The other, a rosary of fox tracks, interspersed with shattered clamshells. Here the fox pranced. Here and here, he skidded, as did we on the sand traiil.
An unexpected sight was a child-sized sand-angel. The kind we used to make in snow. Remember snow? The child might have been three years old, arms incising effective wings. Above the smooth round head, with determined fingers, the angel-maker had inscribed a halo.
I inadvertently brought back, in the heels of my walking shoes, enough sugar sand to pour into a tiny plastic sack. The sound of sand in plastic is very nearly “a tintinnabulation of the bells”.
But I couldn’t bring home the sussurus of waves. Nor the serenity of that single silhouetted fisherman all in black. He wasn’t really after fish. Rather, deeply and gracefully absorbed in being the only human on the beach.
To evoke our day, my cache of sand would require a shard or two of clamshell, an array of pine needles, one or two super-ruddy oak leaves and ditto bayberry, a holly berry or two, a spurt of broken dune grass, a grey-green fanlet of lichen, and, of course, beach heather.
But this is a park, and a sacred one at that. As always, the mantra is, “Take nothing but photographs”
Where was I?
Mute Swan, Brenda Jones
NJ WILD readers know me pretty well by now, all 1600 page-views of you per week. You know I have NO patience with developers, under any name. That New Jersey is my haven, and I’ll pay any price, bear any burden to bring her glories to the fore, well beyond our (three - unique) shores! That preservation is the name of the game, not only in our state. That local sustainable real food from real nearby farmers is the way to health and life as a state and as individuals. And so forth.
What you may not realize is that winter has become my favorite season. Partly because winter finally reveals the intense abstract beauty of New Jersey’s trees. Partly for winter’s subtleties — it’s a real challenge to find life and color in this season, which only renders nature’s vibrancy-for-all-seasons all the more spectacular.
I particularly cherish winter in New Jersey preserves. Rabbit tracks leading me a merry chase in new-fallen snow in Plainsboro Preserve. Moss blinding as patches of green sequins alongside my favorite Sourland Mountain Trail, off Greenwood Avenue, even in January. Bluebirds swirling around my head and shoulders on the grassy northern reaches of Griggstown Grasslands last Monday. In fact, at Plainsboro and Griggstown Grasslands, my friend and I could hardly hear ourselves whisper “bluebird!” over their merry insistent chattering song.
Bluebird, Brenda Jones
Now, as new hip enters its 13th week of miraculous healing, I’ve returned to the Marsh, as in Hamilton/Trenton/Bordentown. This time, I could walk on my own, with the trekking poles - not lean on my long-suffering, never-complaining friend’s right arm. This time, I could walk not only one edge of Spring Lake (named by the Lenni Lenapes for the spring which formed it), but circumnavigate the lake. We were out so long and mesmerized by so many signs of winter life, that we returned actually sunburnt. In February.
(This warmth, while easing my recovery, never ceases to alarm me for the sake of glaciers, polar bears and corals, among other natural phenomena. If it’s twenty or so degrees warmer than usual now, how is it going to be around here in August?)
Even so, I can’t pretend I am not relishing benevolent days in the woods.
Spring Lake was literally awash in winter gifts. Regal mute swans seemed to pose in a perfection of light, as we began to hit our stride. A lone gull floated like a bathtub toy, accented by irresistible coots, whose tiny white beaks never seem large enough to capture, let alone gulp aquatic foods. An elusive raft of ducks had the elegance and elusive ways of ring-necks. Between their fast-swimming-away shyness and the bird books’ admitting “ring nearly impossible to see”, we could not confirm that guess. Home again, Sibleys in hand, it’s very likely we were granted ring-necked ducks, but we shall never know.
Wood Duck, Brenda Jones
Color accents impossible to believe among the almost funereal array of coots were the glowing wood ducks. Kindly men of the Marsh, Clyde Quin and Warren Liebensperger, rigorously tend to wood duck and bluebird nests each year, –raising the boxes, tallying hatchlings, cleaning them when breeding is over, and putting them back in place in time for boxes to make up for a serious deficit of sturdy hollow old tree trunks. I don’t know whether ‘our’ Picasso-esque wood ducks are Clyde’s and Warren’s summer residents, or simply passing through. It doesn’t really matter. The wonder is the privilege of “woodies”, right in the middle of Trenton, on a winter’s day.
Nuthatch with Seed, Brenda Jones
We were mightily enlivened, not only by the birds of Spring Lake. Our tangly walk was also studded with tinier avian creatures among the underbrush. Feisty nuthatches bopped down fattest lake-side trunks. A fugitive white-throated sparrow fed right alongside us as though it encountered humans every day of the year.
White-Throated Sparrow, Brenda Jones
The day’s auditory miracle was the whuff whuff whuff of air in swan wings, as pair after pair arrowed over us. My friend, originally from Britain, had never heard this rarity. We were blessed with it by more pairs than we could count, the entire time we circled that lake.
At the rim of other water, an almost blue jay, though uncharacteristically silent, puzzled for awhile. Until it took off down, not up, uttering that kingfisher rattle that never ceases to stop me in my tracks. Kayaking on the canal, when you hear that tattoo, look toward the sound, then down, not up. For kingfishers fly toward water, their main food source. The females of this species are the more colorful.
Belted Kingfisher in Flight, Brenda Jones
My energy was high, my new hip cooperative. We almost skipped over the little bridge and into the Marsh woods itself. Here and there, we’d go off-trail, scuffing through leaves. These feet, all to recently, all too accustomed to hospital corridors, managed roots and leaves and stones and mosses, until a certain measure of caution intruded, saying, probably enough for today.
Never enough for my spirit.
But it will have to do.
And meanwhile, our Marsh proved to me anew, how very much life there is in winter.
We could not have taken that walk, and those native species could not have safely swum and fed in that Marsh, had not D&R Greenway Land Trust and Friends for the Marsh done all in their power ‘then and now’ to preserve and provide stewardship for this critical freshwater tidal wetland.