Archive for the ‘Weather’ Category
NJ WILD readers know that it is my practice, –even my life–, to drive to natural havens, especially in New Jersey and nearby Pennsylvania. There I restore soul and muse at nature’s fonts.
You may have wondered at my long visual silence here. I haven’t known how to write about the depredations of Sandy, about this anthropocentric chaos we humans are increasingly calling forth, with such heedlessness.
Today, a series of Sandy Damage Images literally flooded me, as I tried to eat lunch, in a place where business was happening all around me. Sandy, –as was his/her recent way with us–, intruded, dominated.
This could be termed a prose poem. Whatever it is, I am haunted, yes INUNDATED, by Sandy Souvenirs. And I’m not even addressing what it did to birds and bird habitat. This is Sandy’s impact upon a birder, this birder.
WHAT is its impact upon YOU?
“ENDURING ABSENCES” - SANDY SOUVENIRS
nests of yellow disaster tape, tangled at crossroads
tree roots dwarfing buildings
macadam bike trails cracked, sea-braided
heavy-duty doors ripped from industrial-strength hinges, –wildly flung
sand swirls like blizzard aftermaths
boardwalks to nowhere
red fire hydrant top only emerging from tall swathes of deep sand
cars where boats belong
boats where cars belong
refuge pick-up trucks upside-down in new water
red Xs on former birding sites on Audubon hot line lists — enduring absences
trees throughout Pleasant Valley more horizontal than vertical, — snow-exaggerated
ghost of a clam shack at old Leed’s Point
sea-grass from the wrack line high in Scott’s Landing woods
Brigantine’s dike road severed
salinities in freshwater-, in Brigantine’s brackish, impoundments equaling bay
palisades of orange cones
‘NO VEHICLES BEYOND THIS POINT”
trail sign flat across a Bowman’s path, — posts upended, concrete dislodged
trail itself a rushing stream that may never yet be staunched
echoes of ironic names:
where are the havens?
Cormorants Swim Where Brenda Jones and I Birded By Car…
NJ WILD readers know, if they know anything about me, how precious is the birding refuge, ‘The Brig’, A.K.A. Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge to me, as a birder, and far more profoundly, as a spiritual being.
It’s where I restore myself when “the world is too much with me”, more and more frequently these days. Far more important than I, however, ‘The Brig’ is a key stopover on the Atlantic Flyway, rich in rarities at all times. Perhaps never more precious than in winter, when winged creatures elsewhere can be scarce.
Duck Flight Before Storm, Brenda Jones
Everyone also knows that un-hurricaned Sandy destroyed great swathes of our beloved New Jersey’s three coastlines, especially The Shore, especially at and in and near Atlantic City.
One of the eeriest factors of being at ‘The Brig’ is that you see all those gambling towers through the migrant flocks. My happiest times at ‘The Brig’ are when I can’t see Atlantic City, because of fog or whatever.
I have been down at the Brig in fire, fog and ice. I can never believe that anyone would rather be in those towering prisons of glass, those cacophonous, frenzied places, rather than in the seamless peace of the marshy reaches of The Brigantine.
Great Egret, Great Peace of Brigantine Wildlife Refuge, Brenda Jones
I can’t drive it’s dike road any more, because it has been severed by uncategorized-storm-Sandy.
Cormorants swim where I used to bird by car.
All those carefully managed impoundments with their specific salinities, to nourish certain aquatic plants and shelter and feed certain waterfowl, are fouled. The Bay, –Absecon Bay, whatever its salinity in the storm and ever since–, has surged in. The Brig, as we know it, is no more.
Grebe Swallowing Frog, Brigantine Wildlife Refuge December Drama — Anne Zeman
I’m going down there for Christmas, ‘come hell or high water’. Certain walking trails are open, and birds don’t watch the Weather Channel. I’ll check out Leed’s Point, where the Jersey Devil was purportedly born and which thrives as a tiny old-world fishing village, at least until Sandy. Herons frequently soar in and land on Leed’s Point pilings. I’ll drive the bumpy sand road to and from Scott’s Landing, always remembering encountering hunters with their ‘bag’ of bloodied snow geese there, late one autumn. Odd, I’ve never read a recipe for snow goose. How neatly they were lined up along the sand… below the targets, silhouettes that teach hunters the differences among birds on the wing at various distances.
Snow Geese In Flight, Brenda Jones
How Snow Geese Look when they hear shots…. cfe
In the meantime, this is some of ‘The Brig’s’ reality. God KNOWS what’s happened at my other major havens - Island Beach, south of ruined Bay Head, Mantoloking, Seaside and so forth, and Sandy Hook, up by the Highlands and too many rivers….
Serenity and Tumult, Bay Head, Carolyn Foote Edelmann
NJ WILD BEAUTY, ISLAND BEACH Carolyn Foote Edelmann
Pristine Barnegat Bay, which rose to meet the Atlantic… Carolyn Foote Edelmann
Winter Realities, Normal Sandy Hook, Carolyn Foote Edelmann
Sandy Hook, Bay Side, After a Hard Winter Carolyn Foote Edelmann
Brigantine Serenity from Leed’s Eco-Trail Carolyn Foote Edelmann
Cloudscape, Summer, Brigantine Carolyn Foote Edelmann
Glossy Ibis and Marsh Mallow’s First Bloom, Brigantine Carolyn Foote Edelmann
Update as of Friday, December 7 at 10 a.m.: The Wildlife Drive in Galloway remains closed due to damage from Hurricane Sandy. The Songbird Trail, including the portion that uses the Wildlife Drive, will be closed December 10 through 14 due to a refuge hunt. Other hiking trails in Galloway are open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily, including the Akers Woodland Trail, Leed’s Eco-trail, and foot access to Gull Pond Tower.
The Visitor Information Center is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.weekends. All fees have been temporarily waived.
Scott’s Landing Boat Launch is open. Barnegat Observation Platform is open. The deCamp Wildlife Trail in Brick Township is open for the first 2000 feet. Holgate remains closed.
The Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, where more than 47,000 acres of southern New Jersey coastal habitats are actively protected and managed for migratory birds. Forsythe is one of more than 500 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The National Wildlife Refuge System is a network of lands and waters managed specifically for the protection of wildlife and wildlife habitat and represents the most comprehensive wildlife resource management program in the world. Units of the system stretch across the United States from northern Alaska to the Florida Keys, and include small islands in the Caribbean and South Pacific. The character of the Refuges is as diverse as the nation itself.
Wish me well on my Christmas pilgrimage. Far More Important, wish the birds well no matter man’s depredations.
Do whatever you can, wherever you are, even in those 90 countries who, for some reason, read NJ WILD about our dear state, to preserve refuges in your region.
And pay attention to catastrophic climate change. It’s no myth. It’s not a subject for believe. We have seen, to borrow the Pogo line, catastrophic climate change, and it is us.
What Sandy did was dress rehearsal. Sandy scrawled the signature of inevitable sea level rise for all the world to see. Sandy was not a one-time event. Sea level rise will not undo itself, as do hurricanes in time. Although not in damage.
Our world is changed forever.
Sandy didn’t change it.
What are you doing about it?
Sandy Approaches Williamstown, Mass, bearing Rainbow cfe
All through my unexpected refugee time in Massachusetts mountains, –held there by hurricane, downed trees on the routes home, and no power at home–, I NEEDED to re-read Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”
A friend has since loaned me her teaching copy. My craving has proved powerfully apt.
As the storm approached even the Berkshires, Vermont’s Green Mountains, crept toward Melville’s Greylock, I found myself wondering, if Will were here, how would he cover it? The answers were swift in arriving:
SANDY IN WILLIAMSTOWN cfe
His headline would read, “The world has suffered a sea change, into something rich and strange.” As ever, the profundity of Will’s long-ago lines surges far beyond mere words into prophecy itself.
These sea changes on our shores (remember, New Jersey is unique in having three shores) are not merely of this storm, nor of this season.
Whether we find Sandy’s legacy ‘rich’ is a moot point. There is no question about change, and sea as agent. And man with his ceaseless carbon emissions the ultimate deus ex machina, far beyond Caliban, in this drama.
The earth, that “brave new world”, WAS “rich” before our depredations. Now, the emphasis, on all our coasts and well inland, even to towering waves off Michigan and Illinois/Chicago, must be on “strange”.
And, unlike Shakespeare’s, many of our changes are permanent, and all are harbingers.
As though Shakespeare were interviewing residents of the Jersey Shore, he has Sebastian observe, “Foul weather?” “Very foul,” Antonio replies. They speak of their boat and their sailing companions as having been “sea swallowed.”
WE are being sea-swallowed.
SANDY OVER GREEN MOUNTAINS cfe
Shakespeare’s tempest was called forth by the mage, Prospero, and carried out by his willing air sprite, Ariel. Our storms were well beyond Ariel, with more and more severe tempests waiting in the wings. There is no Prospero to halt ours.
What we had with Sandy was dress rehearsal for sea level rise. Where the waters went for a few hours is the land they’ll claim permanently, with every passing day of glacial melt and warming (therefore expanding) seas.
Ironically, since we had a snowstorm on the heels of the “Super Storm,” Will includes Trinculo’s noting, “Another storm brewing.” Trinculo further describes, “yond same black cloud — alas, the storm has come again.” As I concluded up in the mountains, this unwilling voyager concludes, “I will here shroud ’til all the dregs of the storm be passed.”
Calm Before Storm, Bennington, Vermont cfe
In another part of the island, Shakespeare/Prospero is deep in conversation with said Ariel, who refers to “the never-surfeited sea.” New Jersey waits between maw and paws of our never-surfeited sea.
Reporter Ariel paints the picture: “The powers delaying, not forgetting, have incensed the sea and shores.” The spirit exits to a stage direction, “He vanishes in thunder.”
In “The Tempest” , as in our recent lives, the storm of election was tangled with flying evergreens, sea spume, housing debris, sand-smothered vehicles. During Sandy as in our 21st-century lives, politics and literal seachange are inextricable. Trinculo frets, “If the other two be brained like us, the state totters.”
Reading Shakespeare’s tempestuous masterpiece, to the sound of buzz saws on all sides and the roar of tree-devouring-devices, I realize anew that this spectacular writer was far more than author. Like the hero of the Tempest, Will was a prophet.
In a chant which I picture as in Lear, delivered high on a hill with turbulent slatey clouds ripping about on all sides, Prospero describes the storm he called forth:
“I have bedimmed the noonday sun, called forth the mutinous winds. And twixt the green sea and the azur’d vault have I given fire and riven Jove’s stout oak with his own bolt. The strong-based promontory have I made shake, and by the spurs pluck’d up the pine and cedar. Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let them forth my my so potent art.”
Those harrowing lines describe our own town. I could declaim them before the forest outside my window on Canal Road, which lost six majestic tree between house and driveway. I could carry this volume and read it to uprooted monarchs among Battle Road mansions. I could pace up and down, choosing descriptions to share with century-old conifers flung about like ninepins and jackstraws all along the Ridge.
One cannot set out in any direction without evidence of the effects of the winds of sea change. One can often not drive down a local street, even now, without passing strangles of lowering wires, phalanxes of utility trucks, spilling workers to begin their feverish heroic tasks.
But none of this is cure. Most of it is palliataive. Some areas near to us, including sacred wildlife refuges, may never open again. Who knows how many sea birds perished? What will the ospreys do, when they return to breed, with all their platforms sea-swallowed?
Up in the mountains, I read that the destruction of this storm was not a catastrophe of wind and water, as that which Prospero and Ariel had called forth. Ours is a tragedy of trees turned weapon.
As a poet, I find poetic justice in this reversal of roles.
Our storm, also unlike Prospero’s, included the deaths of dear and valued neighbor Bill Sword, II.
Our storm birthed shipwrecks beyond counting — some of them literal; many of them, former houses, built upon sand, upon barrier island sand.
In “The Tempest”, everyone’s life changed once the waters stilled and the people gathered. In “The Tempest”, reason and magic prevailed. Wounds were healed, lovers united, voyagers set out anew upon that sea for home.
We are home. We are drowning our home.
It’s up to us whether we change our planet for the better. But now, we are all Caliban, stumbling about having drunk the spirits tossed ashore by wind and wave, complaining, altering nothing.
To mix metaphors, egregiously, we are all Nero, fiddling while our planet burns.
It’s not Ariel out there surging salt waves into baywater, rivers, creeks and streams.
It is we, who have turned from tending earth as did the Indians, to using it, exploiting it, sea-changing the planet for all time. We, who have turned from citizens to consumers, and will not be stopped.
We must all become Prospero, create sea change within ourselves, still the water, still the swallowing sea.
Window View After Sandy - Berkshires, Williamstown cfe
As a child, a favorite in my Childcraft book of children’s poetry, had to do with, guess what! - nature. The American robin was the not-very-imaginative state bird of my Michigan. So this ‘jingle’ really spoke to me back then, in little Lathrup Village, near Detroit:
The north wind doth blow
and we shall have snow
And what will the robin do then,
But sit in the barn
to keep himself warm
and hide his head under his wing
And what does the cardinal do ‘then’, do when north winds increasingly take over our world? A very brief answer from Brenda Jones is:
Brenda Jones Finds Cardinal Puffed Up for Winter
One of the most amusing/diverting/compelling aspects of my late-life hobby of birding is that one is always/always learning. Just when you get all the colors down, a first-year bird shows up and throws you back into uncertainty. Black-capped chickadee calls were easily mastered, and then the Carolina chickadee moved north with its more nervous vocalizations. Shapes were pretty much early in my learning process, for some reason. But, as you may have noticed, shape tends to change significantly on cold, let alone winter-windy days. Puffing their feathers adds air to down as ideal insulation.
Dike Road to Infinity, by Sharon Olds, Brigantine/Forsythe Wildlife Refuge
Multiple Views to South, Brigantine/Forsythe — Sharon Olds
See bottom of article re this week’s osprey chick rescue, thanks to Citizens United, re Fortescue on Delaware Bayshores. If any of you are at ‘the Brig’ this week, I wish you’d report to me in comments on its many osprey nests.
Vigilant Osprey, Brigantine in May, cfe
NJ WILD readers know I used to write nature articles for the Packet, US 1, West Windsor-Plainsboro News, Jersey Sierran and New Jersey Countryside magazine. For the magazine, an article,”Pinelands by Secret Roads”, was accompanied by a ‘box’ with the following information concerning birding gear.
If you’re nature-starved, as I am, as America fries this climate-changed July, one ideal jaunt is the Brigantine Wildlife Refuge, also called Forsythe Wildlife Refuge, at Smithville, north of Atlantic City. It’s ideal in this heat-wave because you can, in fact - for the birds’ sake, are encouraged to, STAY IN YOUR CAR. You’ll be treated to rarities, from my most recent first sandhill-crane spotting to migratory flocks, –yes, certain long-legged shorebirds already flocking, to these protected reaches crucial to the Atlantic Flyway.
‘The Brig’ provides a shimmering eight-mile excursion, taken at 10 to 15 mph, along dike roads between impoundments of varying salinities. The waters are managed so that aquatic plants can grow which provide nourishment and shelter for specific species of water birds. ‘The Brig’ is particularly significant in spring and fall migration (the latter of which starts now.)
Across Absecon Bay, Atlantic City rises like Atlantis, and sometimes mercifully disappears in fog or blizzard… remember blizzards? Next to it is the inexplicable ever-whirring wind farm, smack in the middle of birds’ essential flyways.
Great Egret taking off at Brigantine, by Brenda Jones
Let Atlantic City jolt you into remembering the urgency of land preservation in our state.
Besides being beautiful, ‘The Brig’ is healthy and safe for birds on their critical journeys. It will provide ideal habitat for you, too, in what Europeans call ‘The Dog Days.’ Turn them into ‘The Bird Days’ and watch rare shorebirds, ducks, waders and brilliant fliers such as the northern harrier, from the air-conditioned comfort of your car.
Even in the car, however, staying hydrated is key. The hiker’s maxim is, “A pint an hour under 90; a quart an hour, over.”
Snowy Egret feeding at Brigantine, by Brenda Jones
When you are birding outdoors - the norm - (although I can now find the Princeton eagles from my car), here is the list of gear requested by New Jersey Countryside Magazine:
(the idea is comfort, safety and information/knowledge)
Binoculars or monocular; scope, if your lucky. Light-gathering optics are ideal in early light and last…
Guidebooks: Roger Tory Peterson’s, Audubon Guides, all David Allen Sibley
Water: 1 pt./hour under 90 degrees; 1 quart/hr. over
Hat with beak (hides our eyes from the birds, remember – we appear to them as predators); hat also essential where ticks abide, as they can drop from trees. Hat crucial in searing heat.
Muted clothing that does not rustle or squeak
Wind jacket, wind pants useful to have on hand - but that’s more crucial in winter birding.
Comfortable supportive water-resistant shoes/boots
“Wicking” socks with special padding at heel and foot
Long sleeves, left down (re ticks/Lyme disease)
Long pants tucked in to high socks (ditto)
Excellent insect repellant
Good regional maps - the best is available at Marilyn Schmidt’s Buzby’s General Store, at crossroads of 532 and 563 in Chatsworth, the heart of the Pine Barrens. My dear friend, Marilyn designed and publishes this map of South Jersey/Pinelands, and it’s taught me everything I know about back roads. Her shop is full of guides to birds, plants, foods, lingo, history, churches and gravestones, the Jersey Devil, and so forth. It is also for sale, so here’s your chance to leave hurly-burly behind and live in an historic haven. (It’s on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places.)
BIRDING SITES in Pinelands
Brigantine, Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge
Route 47 around Goshen for eagles
Whitesbog bogs for herons, egrets, willets; winter’s tundra swans and snow geese
BEGINNER BIRDS to look for in the Pinelands
Great blue heron – tall, gangly, blue-grey, wades in water, swallows fish and other prey alive, head first
Egrets – rangy, tall, graceful, similar to herons, also wade, also swallow fish whole
Osprey – “fish hawk”– masked, look for untidy osprey nests on platforms; dives, grasps prey in talons, flies off with it, often carries to mate, to chicks, good luck to see “osprey packing a lunch”
Red-tailed hawk – raptor of edges – likes tall trees, broad fields, high flight and strong ‘stoops’ (swoops onto prey) look for sunlight in red tail
Brant – goose-like, elegant, black with white necklace, lovely murmuring sound
Ducks – every color, size, shape and variety at Brig and Smithville ponds, year-round
Osprey in flight, by Brenda Jones
FROM CITIZENS UNITED:
Sometimes your day doesn’t go quite as planned. For Brian Johnson, CU member and Preserve Manager at the Natural Land Trust’s Glades Wildlife Refuge, today was one of those days.
Last night’s high winds led to reports of downed osprey nests in Fortescue which led to a flurry of phone calls and emails, and Brian happened to be closest to the action. He found the fallen natural nest, slogged over 800 yards through the marsh on foot, and was able to retrieve two healthy medium sized chicks. Working with others, Brian identified two foster nests, where he skillfully relocated the birds to new families.
Brian has offered to keep an eye on the nest, as this pair of adults has a propensity to build too large. He can downsize it when they are wintering in South America. We aren’t sure who is responsible for this nest but are thrilled with Brian’s willingness to help.
Many thanks to those who helped on the ground and with ideas and information, especially Ben Wurst of Conserve Wildlife Foundation, who provided a great deal of guidance. As it happened, Jane Morton Galetto was at an Endangered and Nongame Species Advisory Committee meeting when she recieved word from CU Trustee Tony Klock who had read about the fallen nests on Facebook in a post by CU member Steve Byrne. Jane conferred about fostering the birds to other nests with Kathy Clark of the NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife and Veterinarian Erica Miller of Tri State Bird Rescue, also a CU member, who were at the same meeting. Tony remained in contact with Brian as he rescued the birds and helped identify foster nests.
Thank you for your heroic efforts, Brian, and thanks again to all involved.
Scenes I couldn’t get out of car in storm to capture yesterday…
[Images from Pre-Christmas Solo Trip Through Pine Barrens]
After the Cranberry Harvest, 2010 cfe
Who would’ve thunk it — that my long-planned rendezvous with a fellow poet and her husband in the Pine Barrens would be compromised by snow?!
I finally made the executive decision that this wasn’t about weather - it was about friendship. Off I went to breakfast by 9 at the Bakery in Smithville, with these friend who had driven all the way from Connecticut to learn the Barrens and the Brig (Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge), almost literally ‘come hell or high water.’
Autumn Cranberry Harvest Full Swing, Chatsworth cfe
Snow plunked itself all around me, beginning at the 206/70 Traffic Circle, a.k.a., Red Lion. Pinelands legends have it that the ‘red lion’ was the catamount/panther, before we extinguished that member of NJ “charismatic megafauna”. Word has it that these ‘mountain lions’ have been heard and seen in nearby Montgomery, “but that’s another story!”
Lee Cranberry Bogs above Chatsworth, November cfe
Driving to Sharon and Bill, even before that snow began, rain had fallen blinding and deafening as a blizzard. Fog along 295 had been was denser than all we’d experienced during “The King’s Speech.” I’d groused, blinking as though to banish all that obscurity, “In these conditions, we wouldn’t be able to see an albatross!” Of all things, the first of our many exchanges at table was a copy of The Hackensack Riverkeeper newsletter, which fell open to an albatross… [These sorts of events are becoming more and more the norm - I refuse to relegate them to the realm of coincidence. ]
The last time I’d set out to bird Brigantine/Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge, we went from snowdrops by the hundreds to snow geese in the tens of thousands - only a few weeks ago. That is very late for snow geese. What looked like drifts upon drifts upon sand had been snow geese. The snow drops had still been blooming, as I left Princeton, yesterday. Conclusion — snowdrops are not signs of spring, rather of the possibility of spring. Maybe they’d also presaged snow geese… (yes - 1000’s still on Brigantine grasslands, but I’m getting ahead of myself.)
En route, as rain gave way to snow and back again, the possibility kept rising of my having to turn around. I dreaded the storm’s development into my December 26th Pine Barrens journey north - first of our ceaseless blizzards. My new baseline - “Well, it could be worse. It could be the December 26 blizzard.”
Thinking of trying to justify this journey, I kept asking myself, “Why the Pine Barrens? What is their lure/allure? What do they do for you that a good book doesn’t do? That no other place in New Jersey quite does?”
Haines Bog Pump House Near Chatsworth cfe
Part of their miracle is that here, people still live (as in parts of my beloved Normandy, Brittany and Cornwall), by the seasons and the tides.
Part of the miracle is that the Pine Barrens look like Northern Michigan. Only we never dared drive to the upper part of the Lower Peninsula, let alone the Upper Peninsula in winter. What I love about Pinelands journeying is that, from the moment I turn onto Carranza Road toward Tabernacle from 206, sand sifts below row upon row of evergreens. To attain this wonder in Michigan would take an entire day! It’s 80 miles for me to the restoration of Pinelands sands…
The farther I progressed, the more I could not consider turning ’round, leaving the beauty that lines Pine Barrens roads. The miracle of being the sole car in sight for mile after mile after mile is also forever food for this poet’s soul.
At the Chatsworth Volunteer Fire Station, I pulled off and wrote lines upon lines of the colors and scenes. I used the only piece of paper at hand - gas station receipt from back at that snow-drenched traffic circle. ($3.35 - not bad!) But I wrote all over the figures - who CARES!
Cranberries Through Flooded Bog, near Chatsworth cfe
What I was asking myself was “Why the Pine Barrens?” Why do you have to return and return, and why do they so restore you, even in weather that had the Weather Channel doing 30-minute live updates? I don’t have the answer. But here are some of the clues.
wind-strafed sand, right beside the road — pale, then increasingly darkened by ’severe weather system’
obsidian trunks of pitch pines, gleaming in downpour
oaks holding tenaciously to tough toasty leaves
petite new pines, tawny against new char of welcome controlled burns
old country lanes with names with real meanings - Heaven’s Way Farm, Farrier, Moss Mill, Mink Path, Miller’s Lane where a real miller lived, the faded sign to the vanished New Gretna House, Allen’s Clam Bar…
bog not cultivated, therefore not flooded, vines the hue of very old, very good port
flooded bogs, waters well over ditches, up to lip of road
nobody else on road, not even a pick-up truck - my ‘Heaven’s Way’
yellow buildings of Lee cranberry growers, red of Haines, generations of excellence and expertise
winter’s palette on all sides - jet black, ochre, palomino, greige
bleached sandlanes angling off, luring into forest primeval - only locals drive on sugar sand
sandtrails eqaually enticing, as covered with rosy-brown pine needles, as my car had been with snow
grasslands below bridge over Mullica River completely drowned - everywhere, everywhere water, and it’s not even full-moon tides
grasses at exit — color of vintage camelhair coats on 50-yard-line at Princeton Games, Palmer Stadium
burgundy accents, then claret, next ruby, always charcoal — intensified by new downpour
peaty pinestreams winkling away to right, to left, color of fresh-hewn slate
“Fresh Eggs for Sale” — “2nd House” — $2.00
silver canoes cheek-by-jowl at Mick’s, waiting as I had been, for actual spring, but now I’m newly in love with winter with these tones
tidy stacks of chunky wood in stocky short pieces, the signs hand-lettered squiggly: “Firewood Campers”
fenced horses staunchly standing, shaking snow mixed with rain from darkening coats
great blue heron, airborne pencil box with pencils (legs) sliding out back, ponderous rowing flight carrying it over full and fishless bogs
no eagle on post where Anne and Mark and I had watched previous Pine Barrens sunset turn white head pink
What with snow, rain, sleet, hail, gales and floods, I am in serious Towpath deprivation. Only a few hours ago, I saw our little Griggstown Causeway and the Blackwell’s Mills Causeway highlighted in orange on the Weather Channel, as sites for the Millstone River flood stage to be reached and even passed.
Many nights this week, I drove warily home — eyeing remaining inches between expanding waters and that fragile Towpath barricade. If the waters enter the canal, they cover Canal Road, and I am left high, if not dry. For ages after floods, the path becomes too skiddy for my comfort. In ice, it’s out of the question.
How normal it used to be for me to walk the Towpath many times each week. I know cool sections for the blazing days; and where to catch the slightest breeze across still water. Over the years, the Towpath has revealed best walks to escape cold winds. She’s divulged the parts holding most light for post-work walks. Once my sister and I made Thanksgiving for two, put the turkey in, walked to the dam and back and the feast was ready.
Now, I can’t remember the last time I set foot(e) upon that cushiony “Trail Between Two Waters.” That’s the name of one of my Towpath poems. Good thing no editor’s waiting for poetic material from me this winter!
Homesick for the Towpath, that’s my reality.
Let’s peek at some April picture, see why I am pining:
WHAT I REALLY MISS - KAYAKING ON THE D&R CANAL!
Here’s an early April walk toward Lawrenceville, below Quaker Bridge Road, ultimately through the jungley bits to Brearley House. The closest I’ve been to that storied site lately is wearing my dark green cozy sweatshirt: I DIG HISTORY AT THE BREARLEY HOUSE. I’m big on memories, but memory is not enough!
EVEN A LATE SPRING BRINGS TOWPATH BEAUTY
At D&R Greenway, last week, Jim Amon, our Director of Stewardship, called me from ‘high in the Sourlands.’ He was out monitoring trails, every sense attuned to laggard spring. When I answered, Jim exclaimed, “Just the person I wanted to reach! Can you hear them?” Silence… “Hear whom, Jim?” “Wait, I’ll walk a little closer. But not too close. I don’t want them to stop…” And then I heard that miraculous clicking, what I’ve sometimes described as Tom Sawyer dragging a stick along the picket fence, very fast. “The wood frogs!”
WOOD FROG EGG MASS, SOURLANDS, SPRING 2011, JIM AMON
Appropriate, this privileged exchange just now. Without Jim Amon’s serving as head of the D&R Canal Commission for three pivotal decades, we wouldn’t have this treasure. Jim’s vigilance preserved its beauty, purity (our drinking water), generous sight lines. His determination and persistence resulted in that that glorious metal virtual canal bridge soaring over US 1 in Lawrenceville.
In those days, no one would have faced down developers so stringently as Jim, forbidding metastases of McMansions at the hem of the canal, our “Ribbon of Life.”
DO WHATEVER IT TAKES to preserve the D&R Canal Commission, in beleaguered New Jersey, everyone!
Nobody’s ever called up and given me wood frogs, although friend/ornithologist, Charlie Leck, did report first redwings in the Marsh the week before. I’d begged him in D&R Greenway’s lobby, “Charlie, what’ve you seen that’s spring?”
Jim Amon took a superb photograph of wood frog eggs, laid during a recent (tardy, if you ask me!) warm rain. I’ll try to download and upload for you. The first time I ever met wood frogs, who make that clickety sound for a mere two weeks usually, was on this Brearley House walk. A stranger kindly and eagerly told me what was creating our watery chorus.
The Way to Brearley House from D&R Canal and Towpath below Quaker Bridge Road
I DIG HISTORY AT THE BREARLEY HOUSE
LIVING HISTORY - BREARLEY HOUSE
I love walking my Illinois sister, Marilyn, to this site. Michigan, where we grew up, was founded in 1837. Neither she nor I ever lose(s) the thrill of finding dates that begin with 16- and 17-. And we don’t have to drive to Salem and Cumberland Counties to find those dates designed into the bricks of venerable houses.
WHAT EYES HAVE SEEN WHAT SIGHTS THROUGH THESE OLD PANES?
Easy answer - nearly barefoot Colonial soldiers in winter, making their way on mud-turned-to-ice, after the two victories at Trenton, to their next victory at Princeton, January 3, 1777. Without that handful of days and that ragtag-and-bobtail army, we wouldn’t have a nation. Their determined feet trod the grass I walk, seeking Brearley images.
OUR CANAL - AS BEAUTIFUL AS FRANCE - ON THE WAY TO LAWRENCEVILLE
Without Jim Amon, and others I’ve described as “ardent preservationists”, the entire towpath could be desecrated as it is near Quaker Bridge Road.
Stay vigilant, everyone. Preserve the D&R Canal Commission. And walk this magical trail, even in laggard spring.
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!
Starved for spring, I search NJ WILD Archives - Indeed, we had the green of spring nearly a month earlier last year. Here, if snows, sleets, rains and thunders relent, I will seek spring anew, this Sunday - March 27. Meanwhile, yes, there are wildflowers under all that brown and white!
Fern Still-Life at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, March 7, 2010 - first green of spring
Quick, before the endorphins fade, let me bring you spring!
This Sunday morning, I fled working on taxes. A third day seemed absolutely beyond me, since I have to list almost everything, despite being, basically, innumerate. I saw that 55-degree forecast and that rain for all next weekend, and off I went, headed for Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, just below New Hope. In no time I was crossing our glimmering Delaware into Pennsylvania.
Only on the way home did I realize the significance of this date: 29 years ago tomorrow morning, I moved from my Braeburn-off-Snowden home in the Princeton woods, to an apartment on a hill above New Hope. My soul seems to have required a re-enactment of a different sort of crossing of the Delaware…
I wanted to see if spring were anywhere at Bowman’s. My heart sank driving through the two mobbed towns of Lambertville and New Hope. I didn’t want spring to be that man in the ugly Bermuda shorts, that girl in shirtsleeves with her ears plugged with wires, not even all those red convertibles with their tops down. I wanted NATURAL SPRING.
Driving down toward Bowman’s, snow streaked the stony Pennsylvania hillsides. Trees seemed even more stark than those on my Canal Road hill. The palette inside the stately gates was brown, brown and more brown, with occasional swathes of white. My quest felt pretty hopeless, as I tromped through what we used to call “frozen granular” at Stowe, only there I was in ski boots.
The Perry Trail seems to have fine strong chiseled new slate steps, which made the descent not only interesting and safe, but also beautiful. I used my trekking poles, having learned long ago that they remove 15% of the stress on hips, knees, ankles and feet. I didn’t have problem joints when I bought the trekking poles - to me, they were wands so that I could stay out 15% longer. Today, on the heels of that Frenchtown fall with all its joint reverberations, I couldn’t have trekked all those hours without those poles.
What I was really after were our two earliest flowers — one being snow trillium, which emerges only as snow tiptoes away; and the other being skunk cabbage. The latter is exothermic - giving off heat that literally melts ice. Those ruddy monks’ cowls, my Bowman’s quest, emerge as though in silent prayer at streamside. In reality, the vivid tough red and green leaf points shelter a strange yellow flower, which gives off an odor we call skunklike, an aroma that lures spring’s first pollinators. If the skunk cabbage isn’t up, it isn’t spring.
I knew where to look for it - the Gentian Trail, over toward the pond that houses basking turtles and bellowing frogs a little later in the new season; and Marsh Marigold Trail. I headed for Gentian.
Sure enough, in feeble but welcome sun and much shadow, there were the first green wizard’s hats, poking through the grainy snow. You would think, after 72 years, that I would realize that, Carolyn, yes, spring does come every year. But I don’t. Winter goes on too long, too dark, and snows too deep, for all my cherishing of that season. Winter gets in the way of light. But skunk cabbage knows how to reach for the sun, carrying me with it.
Another inescapable spring sign is the paling of the beech leaves. Even though they’re not supposed to become this light in color, until just prior to dropping off when beeches need a burst of acid nourishment in mid-April, my heart leaps up at the way the lightening leaves hold last winter light. They also create super sharp shadows:
There is more to spring than sights, however. The sound of spring at Bowman’s on March 7, 2010, was of the loosening of the waters. Although much liquid remains white and firm and dominant on hillsides, much is coursing through Pidcock Creek. People in upper Michigan used to speak of the ’song of the waters’, — my greatest joy this Pennsylvania day.
Another sound of winter’s ending is a fragile one, of which I have never been so fully aware as at Bowman’s today: –the frisson of crisping beech leaves as they thin and pale. You may know that sound in aspen leaves out West, or birch leaves high on mountains in autumn. Beech leaves alter in texture as well as color, setting up this tremolo before they drop to feed the parent plant. It is one of the most magical of spring transitions to me. But never before had I fully realized that beech transformation is audible.
Spring is also a matter of texture. There’s a noble tree at the bridge over Pidcock Creek, a tree that’s always been there. But I’d never known its name, until the year I heard my first phoebes announcing their name among its generous branches. I scurried to the TwinLeaf Shop, managed by knowledgeable volunteers. Describing the birds in color, field marks and voice, we agreed that they had to be phoebes. Describing the tree, the volunteer announced, “Oh, you mean, the cucumber magnolia.” Today the cucumber magnolia was beginning to show the misty green buds whose shape gives the tree its name. They are fuzzy as pussy willows, though larger. I touched them hungrily, laid my cheek against a bud, soft as a newborn’s hair. Yes, yes, ‘cucumbers’ insist it’s spring.
Pidcock Creek Bridge, built by Civilian Conservation Corps in 1930’s -
where cucumber magnolia reigns
On the Azalea Trail, no evidence of azaleas, needless to say. But the first pendulousness of catkins is apparent, there and near the labeled spicebush on the way back to my car. The catkins are small, still, but soft - soft is what matters. Soft means spring. The spicebush has not one spurt of chartreuse, the first shrub flowers of spring. But, scraping a branch discreetly, that pungency that is the origin of its ‘benzoin’ name filled my nostrils and my heart. Even on the drive home, there was a whiff of spicebush on my thumb. There was a certain thrill to have been questing for spring even before the spicebush knew it was time.
Still and all, the star of this day, at Bowman’s, is skunk cabbage. Here is a portrait gallery, so you can see what I mean about their welcome drama in the winter landscape. Some are near the Gentian Trail pond; some are in the waters beside Marsh Marigold Trail. Either way, these humble plants shout of spring. Rejoice!
I call this one, “King of the Skunk Cabbage”
An odd realization came to me, on Bowman’s Trails today: Winter is the time of nouns - blizzard, forecast, snowfall, snowpile, snowman, snowflake, drifts…
Spring is verbs: snows melt, waters swirl, ferns unfurl, catkins soften, spicebush spurts, an ant crawled determinedly along the railing of the bridge on the Medicinal Trail… Spring is activity, reflected even in the language we use to define, discover and describe.
ORIGINAL MEDICINAL TRAIL SIGN
When you look only at the pictures, you may see an excess of brown. Surely not the common man’s version of spring. However, beneath this tone is the color we’ve all been longing to see again - verdant shoots of plants that herald spring.
And, as an extra gift, on my way home, at the stoplight for #518 in Hopewell, what was I given but a tree whose base is completely adorned with winter aconite! That name had been in my head all day, even though I have never seen that plant at Bowman’s. Oh, yes. It was the first color of spring at our long-ago house, the house I left 29 years ago tomorrow, on Braeburn-off-Snowden. Interessant…
There’s a message in the town that holds this scene: HOPE WELL - spring is inevitable!