D&R Canal by Kayak – Tranquillity Base

Even for a poet, there are times when words are not sufficient to convey the experience and the emotion.  This may be one of them.  I’ll start with the images from last Sunday morning’s kayaking on the canal below Alexander Road (Princeton) with a friend who’d trained out from Penn Station.  As I picked her up, we heard the dinky (tiny traditional commuter train from Princeton Junction to Princeton town) tootle its little horn as it left for town.  By the time it tootled for the return jaunt to the Junction, we were on the water.

Prow and D&R Canal Summer Solstice 2014 001

Prow and D&R Canal South of Alexander Road

We’d stepped into this magic, as usual, by going to Steve and his wonderful helpful crew of young kayak assistants at Alexander Road, near Metro North.  Princeton Canoe and Kayak opens at 10 on weekends.  In our experience, the earlier the better.  It is not costly, and timeless time on the water is sheer enchantment.

Janet Kayaking Summer Solstice 2014 006

Friend Janet Black, fresh from Penn Station, out on the water

Spatterdock blossom Kayaking Summer Solstice 2014 003

We were this close to wildflowers, such as the water lily called spatterdock

Greenery and Red kayak Summer Solstice 2014 002

Other wise souls were out there with us — most of us enchanted that turtles don’t jump off their logs when passed by kayakers!

Red Kayak and Alexander Rd. Bridge Kayaking Summer Solstice 2014 008

Alexander Road Bridge as kayaking excursion ends

Well, is it true?  Is a picture worth 10,000 words?

Comments welcome…

Realize that the D&R Canal and Towpath are a New Jersey State Park.  That they were preserved by a number of courageous, prescient organizations, including D&R Greenway Land Trust, where I work.  That New Jersey is FULL of WILD BEAUTY, and your support of your local land trusts will protect what’s saved and lead to new preserves.

Pole Farm Miracles, June 2014


Common Yellowthroat by Brenda Jones

In my new life, in my new town (Lawrenceville), I have a new habit — walking the Pole Farm from 7 to 9 p.m.  

It’s the Solstice tonight, longest day of the year.  NJWILDBEAUTY readers realize I can play this game without peril or penalty.

If you go out there by 7, you are given the song of the bobolinks.

If the land is warm and the air cool, as it has been this week, you may walk straight into a miracle — as with 7 deer (two of them spotted fawns), up to and beyond shoulders in wildflowers, like the Unicorn Tapestry, the Cluny Tapestries.  There are just these ruddy silhouettes, still as standing stones, only the flowers in motion.

And then, out of the deep, mysterious woods, pours swirlings of ground fog.  Tendrils and veils and scrims of light-filled fog, billowing like the curtain of the Old Met in my first New York years.  Fog turns the deer to icons, then to shadows.  They could be standing in incoming tide, only the tide isn’t saltwater, it’s mist.  The deer look so content, which completely suffuses me.

Later that night, a knowing friend tells me, “Carolyn, deer love fog.  They think they’re invisible.”



I am not the only one who finds it hard to leave.  A woman named Janet, sitting on a fence in golden dusk, said, almost tearfully, “I don’t want it to be over.”  The night before, three cyclists, exulting in having ‘done ten miles’, had expressed the identical sentiments.

As I entered the Pole Farm at 7:30 last night, I knew I had sacrificed the song of bobolinks by tardiness.  

On all sides, however, was the rare trilling, warbling, descending caroling of field sparrows.  Almost immediately, I stood beside a pair, right on the grey trail.  Delicate, petite, short, rotund, and fastidious — the pair let me watch and watch and watch as they filled their tiny tummies with something clearly delicious.  They were so wild, they didn’t know human danger.  I stood transfixed, until I could finally see their legedary, ‘diagnostic’ fat pink beaks.  A first for me.  I have learned to hear them.  I have learned to identiry their feeding habits.  But this is the first time the roseate beaks were visible.

I was thinking, as my feet took up the now familiar stride and trail, “To experience miracles, be where miracles happen.”

At that moment, I discovered with the American Indians call “a sun dog” — vertical rainbow, to the right of  the lowering sun-globe.  This phenomenon is caused by ice crystals in the sky.  The entire spectrum hung there, –like northern lights, but so much smaller and more subtle.  Red, purple, orange, yellow, green, blue — I forget the order — I stopped dead in my tracks to let that bounty in.  To the Indians, to see a sun dog is good luck.

To me, to have moved to Lawrenceville, 3/10 of a mile from the Pole Form, is extraordinary luck, even miraculous.

No one would believe the level of darkness I’d endured in my previous wooded dwelling.  That’s over.

Instead, in moments, I can be out on those broad hard smooth clear dry trails, with all those wonderful fellow hikers, bikers, birders — full of graciousness and greeting.  Catching sight of my binoculars, they’ll sing out, “What are you seeing?”  Or ask, “What’s black and white with orange?”  And I could tell that person, “Oh, you have seen the miracle of the bobolinks.  Pole Farm is being managed for grassland birds.”  

Within moments, I can be given a night like last night, of miraculous juxtapositions:

bluebirds and catbirds


field sparrows and yellowthroats


wild grape and woodbine


honeysuckle and fireflies


bullfrogs and wood thrush


horned stag in daisies


penstemon and fern groves 


rabbits still as statues


Mr. Elusive — a cinnamon-colored wood-thrush bopping down the trail, impervious to my footfalls


woodpecker drills


something raucous high in trees, laughing as I pass


clouds stretched into feathers


swallows taking turn, entering the old barn in last light


the startle of cars


Get OUT there on YOUR trails.  Miracles await.

Do all that you can to preserve land in your own region, for it is even more scarce than bobolinks.

And, with land, once gone, is rarely recovered.


Pole Farm is a Mercer County Park — on their web-site you can learn of and sign up for bird walks with Jenn Rogers, with whom I’ve merrily birded the Abbott Marshlands in search of winter birds.  Go anywhere with Jenn — you’ll come home enriched.Image



Longing for Salem, Cumberland Counties at the Delaware Bay

Horseshoe Crab Shells on SandBivalve MarshShellpile of Shellpile and Bivalve Delaware BayEAst Point LIght on Delaware BayDelaware Bay Fortescue before SandyGone Fishin  Cumberland County Folk ArtHeislerville Specialty


Most people do not realize that New Jersey is the only state with three coasts.

One of them is the seemingly limitless, but actually fragile, Delware Bay.

In a good year, without hurricane damage to its sacred beaches, horseshoe crabs come ashore to mate and lay eggs, which feed red knots, ruddy turnstones, various sandpipers, laughing gulls and other critters.

Some of which birds are almost at the end of their tether, because of of over’fishing’ of horseshoe crabs for bait and fertilizer, and overbleeding of them for medical purposes.

These are some random images, the typical scenes of Salem and Cumberland Counties.  There is actually a town called Shellpile, and that shellpile is from there.

Salem and Cumberland are basically marshy, when they are not sandy, fishy and crabby.

Mostly empty of people.

Full of light and quiet.

Eagle country, above all.  In winter, you’ll see more eagles than crows along in here.

Site of  exquisite East Point Light, brilliantly preserved, and a shape most of us do not recognize as that of a signal of safety to mariners.

There’s a part of me that deeply needs Salem and Cumberland in all seasons.

Moving from Princeton to Lawrecneville kept me from seeing how ‘our’ horseshoe crabs fared this year.

Friends who went on crabquests (not to eat, but to see, to honor!), found none.

It’s a year when ‘everything’s late.’

Late crabs are not good for the birds on their journey from South America to the Arctic.  They have to double their weight on those pearly green eggs on the major full moon of May.

Did they?

Could they?

Did the red knots make it to their breeding grounds?

New Jersey knows enough to institute moratoriums on the use of horseshoe crabs.  Do the other states have what it takes to preserve these priceless resources?

Salem and Cumberland are calling…

The Last Bobolink? — My own (NJ) Extinction Experience

Whatever happened to bobolinks?

Bobolink Autumn Olive Brenda Jones

Bobolink Autumn Olive Brenda Jones

Birders know.  Multiflora rose and other invasives invaded grasslands, soft silky sites required by these gold and white birds of consummate elegance.  Some places, such as the St. Michaels Farm Preserve (D&R Greenway-preserved) in Hopewell, and the Pole Farm near my new home in Lawrenceville, are managing for grassland birds, with success.  Bobolinks have been sited and photographed on the St. Michaels land this spring.  Bobolinks are expected at the Pole Farm.

Upper Burlington County holds what used to be Bobolink Central — Brightview Farm.  The owner has been legendary, even in such venerable birding tomes as Boyle on Birds, for haying late so bobolinks may safely nest.

One of my key birding buddies, Mary Wood, and I went to Brightview early today (Saturday, the last of May) to find the hordes of bobolinks, and clusters of grasshopper sparrows to which we had been treated in these sylvan agrarian lanes in other years.  We were counting on bluebirds zooming in and out of countless bluebird houses, and barn and tree swallows zipping around the farm’s various outbuildings.  We were hoping not only for the usual thoroughbred horses, but also foals.

Now, admittedly, I am madly reading The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert.  I had borrowed Linda Mead’s, D&R Greenway’s CEO, copy, read two chapters, and headed straight out to Barnes & Noble to buy two copies – one for myself and one for my great niece, a science graduate of fine writing ability herself — Catherine Weitzel, late of Kenyon College.  It was all I could do to put down that splendidly researched and written, urgent book and pick up my binoculars and leave with Mary.

So, extinction is ON MY MIND.  From the great auk to various planktons to vital, essential corals.

I thought I was going to Brightview to get away from extinction.

We were there more than two hours.  Yes, we found thoroughbred horses and two foals.  We drove up one lane and down another.  A tractor was behind us right off the bat, an impatient tractor, for whom we finally moved off the road so it could pass and what did it do but go into a field of tall soft silvery grey natural grasses.  And begin to mow.  And mow and mow and mow.

When we were leaving, striking out completely on grasshopper sparrows, finding a handful of swallows, not even a dozen bluebirds and the bluebird boxes were even coming apart somehow, and only having seen one male bobolink, and one (probable) female, he was still mowing.  The long green silk fell in endless rows.  On fields he’d attacked before our arrival, the long green silk had turned yellow/brown and stiff.

One bobolink.

Mary nearly broke my heart as she softly revealed, “I think I will not come here again.”

I answered, “It’s as though we left for a party and stumbled into a funeral.”

Mary replied, “I am glad the bobolinks aren’t going there any more, expecting to nest and raise young safely.”

But we’re NOT glad.

We’re heartbroken.

An enormous swath of what was once idyllic wild New Jersey is now no longer available to the wild creatures.