Christmas Fable: Star-Guided

When I lived in New Hope, for some reason, my Muse insisted that we write fables.  Here is one of the earliest, which has to do with the Christmas Season.  May it bring delight and blessings:

STAR-GUIDED

We are striding Bethlehem’s dark streets with curious urgency. We know where we are headed, although none has been to Bethlehem-of-Judea before this electric night. All is eerily still, the entire town asleep save for our small band of travelers.   The streets here are like mazes.   They are rough underfoot.

I walk gingerly, afraid of turning an ankle in our haste. My tall daughter, Catherine, strides beside me. Each of us is impeded by a long light traveling dress and thicker cloak, which stir up street dust as we go. Upon our feet are leathern slippers too fragile for such journeying. Her companion, the knight, Galen, is safe enough, encased as he is in bright armor. Merlin shuffles, as always. His robes, as are his habit, are askew. His hair is all-a-tumble. Every so often, his starred cap tumbles off, and he scurries back through the dark dust to retrieve it. Merlin, mercifully, carries a pole with a swinging lantern. Its fat yellowed candle casts pools of honeyed light before our feet. When he is not chasing his hat, the Merlin cheerfully leads our procession.

The dwellings, what I can see of them, seem sculpted of clay. They have a pink-grey cast by lamplight. The moon this night is somehow obscured. There are a few stars, which deepen our shadows, purple against the sand-hued roads.

We are responding to an unfamiliar star. Either because it is lower or simply brighter than the rest, it seems to be playing a game with us. If we start to take a turn that is not right, that star flutters and dims.   When we turn in the correct direction, the star grows steadier, more intense.

In this way, we find ourselves at a nondescript hostelry. Jarring sounds of revelry spill into its courtyard, startling after all the silence of the town. Out in back, where Merlin leads us almost stealthily, quiet reigns. In this dusky quarter, I am increasingly grateful for his lantern.

The Wizard lifts his light on high, revealing a small outbuilding. In its dim interior, I can just make out the form of a very young woman, seated next to a low wooden container lined with straw. From the center of that straw emanates a mysterious glow, soft as candlelight but much steadier.

I realize Whom and what we have been seeking. My knees are trembling. All of my being is drawn to that hushed glow.

I am startled by the young Mother’s youth. She is not much in years beyond my tall teen-aged Catherine. Petite, slender, the woman of Judea looks too frail and much too inexperienced to be anyone’s mother. Let alone…!

Behind her, nearly hidden in shadow, is the man who must be her husband. He looks more like a kindly uncle. “Joseph,” I think, “seems a bit confused. More like Merlin’s usual mode. Merlin, on the contrary, tonight is clear as bells.”

Joseph seems a good deal older than Mary. It may be just the differences, — in background, in training. He is fulfilling his role as guardian. Yet he is not of her milieu. Most of what has been happening to him in recent months must have been baffling. Nonetheless, as we all must do, the man trusts and serves. I feel deep empathy for all that lies before him.

And I am awash in compassion for Mary. Perhaps because of Merlin’s presence, I can read this girl’s emotions. I never before suspected her profound loneliness.   Her cross is not only that she has born this wondrous Child only to lose Him. Her cross is that she must carry out all to which she has agreed, isolated from all who understand. All those who had taught, those who could reassure, are far, far from this stableyard.

Although the Flight unto Egypt has always before seemed a terrible ordeal for parents and child, I now see it as blessing. Once there, she will discover for a few years, those who know the full story of this rare family and its many destinations. Yet on this night, and throughout so many of her recent years, with the exception of one small mentor in the Temple, Mary has been in exile.

The Child lies sleeping on golden hay, meant to nourish creatures of the Inn’s farmyard. The very grasses emit rays.

We are all drawn to our knees, as much by Mary’s courage and serene obedience, as by the Presence of the Babe. The gleam of Merlin’s lantern flitters across the Baby’s eyes, waking Him. He blinks and an almost-smile plays across the Infant features, as light rays play like rainbows across the tiny face. He waves tiny hands as though to catch the Wizard’s glimmers.

Joseph rouses himself, suddenly aware that they have visitors. Drowsily he waves a greeting, then retires to the darkest corner of the stable. It is as though, with us among them, that tired traveler can rest. He has endured so much, without understanding, without complaint.   Joseph’s role is merely to love and to protect. It is enough. The man’s legs now, literally, give out beneath him. He settles onto straw bales for his sleep.

My eyes, accustomed now to gloom, become aware of cattle. Nestled behind a barrier of wood, their breath steams in the night air.   These cows have huge bittersweet eyes, that seem to widen as the Baby moves His tiny hands. Their skin is the hue of milk chocolate. There are smaller creatures here with us – sheep, and delicate, silky goats. I don’t remember goats at that Stable, but here they are – dainty, with long hair and perky faces, hooves like the dancing princesses, like the ones who prance through meadows above Zermatt. The goat’s eyes are cinder-bright. Their cloaks gleam in the lanternlight and Infant-glow. I feel warmed by the gaze, the breath, the presence of the barnyard creatures. About our feet are hens, too, scratching at straws, searching diligently as close as they can be to the Child.

Outside, somehow, the skies grow brighter. It becomes increasingly easy to see.

Merlin rises and approaches the child/woman who guards the rough manger. He fumbles in that voluminous wiry beard. “I know it was here when I came!,” he growls, in his absent way. “Sorry, Madame, it won’t be but a moment.” Then the old man pulls out one of the tiniest living creatures I have ever seen.   A miniscule saw-whet owl, it is not so big as one of Mary’s hands, folded in her slender lap. The tall Wizard bends, cupping the owl in both gnarled palms. The creature snuggles daintily onto Mary’s right shoulder, nuzzling into her corn-silk hair. Mary looks obviously enchanted with Merlin’s gift.   As she claps her hands with delight, we are all aware of her own nearness to childhood.

Galen next moves. In his silvery armor, helmet in the crook of his left arm, the boy kneels, formal as he would have been in the Initiation ceremonies. The plume of his hat dances, catching the Baby’s dark eyes. It is then that light from Merlin’s lantern falls upon the gilt cross on Galen’s silvery breast. The Babe is riveted to that image, reaching out, then still. All time stops.

Galen breaks the spell with his mellifluous voice: “Crystals I bring,” says the lad. He lays bright offerings into Mary’s slender hands with a caressing gesture. I am reminded of a game we played as boys and girls – “Button-Button.” Then, prayer-shaped hands cradled a button secretly into someone’s matching hands.   Everyone then was to guess whose hands held the gift.

“These crystals are for you, Maria,” Galen explains, slipping into her Latin name, as though from long familiarity. “Hold them,” he instructs. “Bring the Light with them, to warm, to comfort, the Babe, yourself. You will be needing them upon your journey. For the duration of your time in this place, lay them in His cradle as He lies.”

Mary lifts up first one angled crystal, then another, turning them this way and that, in starlight, in lamplight. She runs attuned fingers over every facet, studies all the power dancing in their depths.   Mary reaches out her right hand, — crystals and all –, touching Galen, light as a kiss, on each cheek.

It is my daughter’s turn.   In her soft dress and flowing cloak, my daughter has a new queenliness I had not before acknowledged. She towers over the young Mother. Catherine’s towhead tresses seem to glow, against the darker gold of Mary’s hair. As Catherine leans over the Baby, taking one of His tiny hands into her own, her long hair brushes His little face. Something like a smile flitters over Him, as though it tickled, and there is a sound, very like new laughter.

Suddenly, in the icy stillness of that Bethlehem night, Catherine lifts her voice in song. We are startled, all of us, by the pure notes in the clear cold air. The songs sound ancient – Medieval, I would guess, or Welsh. Starlight skitters among us, and I think of music of the spheres.   I realize, my daughter is singing the first Christmas Carols.

The Infant turns, then, from Catherine to the rest of us. His eyes are not only dark, but also golden. The only name for that color is “toffee”, for that includes their uncanny softness. I watch the Child watch us. He knows who we are. He has expected us. Through His awareness, I realize that we fill the role of cosmic “Magi”, Merlin above all, first visitors to honor this rare King, until the other Kings arrive.   They will be accompanied by very earthy camels, guided by their own heavenly voices and specialized stars.

Through those gilded eyes, I see the Baby’s emotions, as I could his Mother’s. There is something familiar yet unknown in those bronze depths.   The only name I can give for this is shock. So must we all have looked, first opening to Earth Plane, realizing our choices, recognizing companions…

Peace floods the stable.   We bask in unconditional love.   Then the Child, once again, sights the cross on Galen’s armor. The newborn hands open. Where light rays had poured, when he’d reached up to play with Catherine’s bright hair, now there are shadows. I recognize those shadows – somewhere between bruise and blood.   Stigmata. I turn at once toward Mary. Her sweet eyes are riveted upon those hands.

I have not given a gift.   My own hands have been seriously emptied by life, by the times. I rise, then, move instinctively to Mary. I embrace her girlish shoulders, as I would any new mother. “How wonderful you are!,” I murmur. “How brave! Such a beautiful Son!” All the phrases women have said to each other at such moments from the dawn of language, we exchange. At the end, I add, “I wish you joy.”

She looks up with a plea I fully hear.

“You are weary, Mary.   It is time for your rest. You cannot keep vigil all night, every night, alone. He is safe here, safe with us. Go. Go over to your Joseph.   Sleep. We will watch the night with your precious Boy.”

She looks hesitantly from one of us to the other, as if to gain permission. All of us are nodding in permission, the stately Merlin above all.   He retrieves Strigi, the little saw-whet owl, and actually shoos Mary over toward the corner. She looks back at her Little One, still not sure. He stirs, restlessly.

I reach down, lift up the Child, cradling him easily upon one hip. It all comes back. The awkwardness I knew with my own firstborn, this surety now. How grateful I had been , in those long-ago days, for practiced arms, arms that were sure and even relaxed around my daughters. The Baby senses my ease, curling naturally against my side. Mary looks relieved and moves, indeed, toward Joseph. My second-born rises and removes her periwinkle-blue cloak.

“Mary,” Catherine urges, “here. Please cover yourself with this.   And sleep. Deeply and well. Dream of all the joys you will have, He and you together.” Mary smiles up at my daughter, accepting the soft warmth.   She lifts her right hand in a good-night gesture, revealing the sparks of Galen’s crystals.

I settle the Infant lightly into the crook of my left arm. He curls a tiny hand naturally, instinctively, around my forefinger. He is rest itself. A soft light radiates from the small body, merging with the light of Merlin’s lantern and the spill of stars. In hushed tones, Catherine and Galen begin to sing lullabyes.

Dawn light comes all too soon. Outside, in rustling trees that sound like palms, birds I do not know begin to call to one another. In the inn courtyard, there is the jangle and clatter of first departing travelers. We overhear inquiring voices, simple country accents. These will be the shepherds, asking as they have been led to ask.

Skies overhead fill with angels, glorias. Our vigil is rapidly ending.

Catherine and Galen move swiftly, tenderly to the sleeping Family. They urge the young parents to rise, help them smooth and brush their clothing. Merlin provides water in a generous metal dipper. Mary gracefully removes my daughter’s travel cloak, clasping it about Catherine’s lofty neck. “Thank you,” Mary whispers.   “I shall never forget your songs, your cloak. There will come a time when you may require the same of me. Call upon me. Remember…”

I settle the Babe into His Mother’s eager arms. Her look of joy wars with full realization, of all that has been foretold. Mary presses her cheek against my own, nodding in silent gratitude. She resumes her post. Joseph stands sturdily behind her, one hand on the staff which helped to bring them to this haven. The Baby nuzzles, urgently, begins to nurse.

There is the rustle of straw as shepherds kneel.

With Merlin in the lead, we all fade into, then out of the stable shadows. I give the silken goats a lingering caress as we depart.

New England — Where Thanksgiving Was Born

Golden Grove near Bennington Monument, VT.

Golden Grove near Bennington Monument, VT.

I know, I know, it was Plymouth, Mass., not anywhere near Williamstown, Mass.  And it certainly wasn’t Bennington, Vermont.

Monument to Battle of Bennington

Monument to Battle of Bennington

But it’s Thanksgiving in Princeton and there aren’t any Pilgrims, and everyone’s eating turkey when Priscilla and John and Miles and all, and of course Squanto, were tucking into lobster and deer and yes probably cranberries with maple syrup, which those clever, generous Indians brought to the feast.

Revolutionary War General, Bennington

Revolutionary War General, Bennington

It’s also beastly cold, raining and snowing at once, and nobody’s plowed anything anywhere near my new apartment, and what is going to happen to all that wet, as the mercury plunges tonight?

Venerable House, Bennington

Venerable House, Bennington

1781 — as a person of Michigan, founded in 1837 — I can barely believe house dates like this.  You see why I feel, these are the birthplaces of our nation.

Sacrifices were made here, without which we might not have a country for which to be Thankful

Sacrifices were made here, without which we might not have a country for which to be Thankful

I need non-ice upon which to drive to the Brig at dawn with Jeanette Hooban, because we need many birds, not just one, tomorrow.

And I need sun.

What a difference a month makes!

What a difference a month makes!

In Bennington a month ago, we were drenched in sun and color.  Come, stroll its streets with me.  There were hardy pioneers there, too.  And, of course, many tribes of powerful Indians.  And patriots who fought in the Battle of Bennington.  There were probably bears and certainly deer, and now there are moose — somehow I never think of moose in the time of the pilgrims.

A stroll in an entire town that is a shrine to true Liberty

A stroll in an entire town that is a shrine to true Liberty

We were in the heartland of our country, in my experience.  We stepped into different time machines in each New England town.  My heart is still there, strolling the tree-root-uplifted sidewalks of Bennington, under glowing ancient trees, examining homes of other centuries, some of which had marble walkways to their welcoming front doors.

Essence of Bennington

Essence of Bennington

Ready for Hallowe'en in New England heartland

Ready for Hallowe’en in New England heartland

Bennington Dooryard

Bennington Dooryard

Prosperity in Liberty's town

Prosperity in Liberty’s town

What History This Tree Has Witnessed!

What History This Tree Has Witnessed!

I am in love with the fences of New England

I am in love with the fences of New England

Everyone Was Welcome at the Pulled Pork Dinner, on the hem of the Monument's Park!

Everyone Was Welcome at the Pulled Pork Dinner, on the hem of the Monument’s Park!

The Gold Standard

The Gold Standard

Can't You Almost Hear The Crinkle of the Leaves?

Can’t You Almost Hear The Crinkle of the Leaves?

Far Beyond Hikes and New England Beauty — Mass Moca’s Amazing Art

Mass Moca Exhibits, late October 2014

Mass Moca Exhibits, late October 2014

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that Deb Hill and I spent a late October week in the Berkshire mountains, mostly hiking, much art, and, o, yes, food.  I’m torn today between giving you our astonishing Bennington VT stroll, our electrifying views from the Apple Barn on the way to Bennington, and the art of Mass Moca.

The last wins, for sheer outrageousness.  I’d get right back in that car and drive to Willilamstown tomorrow morning, if it weren’t for saving New Jersey Land at D&R Greenway – so we could return to Mass Moca’s thrilling and thought-provoking art installations.

Walk with us through the parking lot:

Approaching Mass Moca's Front Entrance

Approaching Mass Moca’s Front Entrance

Mass Moca Alleyway

Mass Moca Alleyway

Gramercy Restaurant, that doesn't do lunch in late October

Gramercy Restaurant, that doesn’t do lunch in late October

Techno-Beauty, Mass Moca

Techno-Beauty, Mass Moca

Campanile, Mass Moca

Campanile, Mass Moca

O, ‘Moca’ means Museum of Contemporary Art.

Those of you who’ve been up there know that this was a factory, enormous and (to me) stultifying to its human occupants.  That brilliant and courageous people conceived of transforming this enormous set of structures, determined to bring North Adams, Mass., back to life after its inescapable desertion by industry.  The courageous ones found backers, successfully creating one of the most stunning art settings of my entire life here and in Europe.

Now, North Adams is a happening town, what my mother would say, is “full of ginger.”  Probably quite literally, as the restaurant scene is lively and ever-expanding.  A delightful set of once run-down houses has been turned into a place to stay, called “The Porches.”  You can see these engaging dwellings from the museum.  Manhattanites delight in coming up to partake of their unique hospitality.

But Mass Moca’s not just about art.  Every installation teaches.  Scenes from past visits still fill my head, more irresistible than sugarplums, — teaching about the circularity of the environment, about poisons in our food, making us face the beauty of polluted landscapes, confront the inescapability of wars — all through astounding beauty.

Spectator with Teresita Fernandez Multi-Room Installation that seemed like massive bird migration, even how passenger pigeons may have been...

Spectator with Teresita Fernandez Multi-Room Installation that seemed like massive bird migration, even how passenger pigeons may have been…

Room With a View, Teresita Fernandez Installation Suffuses Another Room

Room With a View, Teresita Fernandez Installation Suffuses Another Room

Teresita Fernandez Molten Gold on Jet Black Background -- 3-D Printing!

Teresita Fernandez Molten Gold on Jet Black Background — 3-D Printing!

Teresita Fernandez Tube Installation

Teresita Fernandez Tube Installation

A Constellation of Tubes

A Constellation of Tubes

Wheeling Through the Tubes

Wheeling Through the Tubes

Tubes from the Balcony, Where Supervisors No Doubt Scrutinized Factory Workers

Tubes from the Balcony, Where Supervisors No Doubt Scrutinized Factory Workers

Original Factory Wall

Original Factory Wall

Are You Amazed Yet?

Throughout the museum, architects left walls, ceilings, floors, pillars, and even the restrooms, as they were when they were the habitat of workers.

Factory Washroom, Down the Basement

Factory Washroom, Down the Basement

Factory Bathroom, Left Mostly Intact

Factory Bathroom, Left Mostly Intact

I have the eeriest sense of understanding places like concentration camps, when I am faced with the realities of these long ago workers.

Back to Teresita's Black and Gold Art, which brings up industry, oil, gold, greed, through beauty...

Back to Teresita’s Black and Gold Art, which brings up industry, oil, gold, greed, through beauty…

Splendid and Irresistible Abstraction -- We could hardly tear ourselves away...

Splendid and Irresistible Abstraction — We could hardly tear ourselves away…

Plastics Array -- to Force Us to Contemplate the Role of Plastic in Our Lives...

Plastics Array — to Force Us to Contemplate the Role of Plastic in Our Lives…

This is the work of Lee Boroson, who is quintessentially suited to Mass Moca’s artistic and intellectual paradigm.

Each room is a journey, some easier than others.  All unforgettable.

Come back outside with us now.

Restaurant Wing, Mass Moca

Restaurant Wing, Mass Moca

Departing Mass Moca

Departing Mass Moca

We could not eat at Gramercy, despite its enchanting, old-world name.

Deb’s Garmin led us to a restored rail yard, with a famous pub.

The Freight Yard Pub

The Freight Yard Pub

We were welcomed with a real hardwood fire, and tables of formidable women and men in Harley garb.  I was told they are quite particular about their lunch stops.

I fell for their vaunted (purportedly nearby) Boston Clam Chowder and Crab Cake — a big mistake.  The craft beers were splendid and seasonal and welcome.  This is, i later learned, Burger Central.

The Freight Yard's Famous Coffee Place

The Freight Yard’s Famous Coffee Place

There’s a famous tunnel, dug through the mountains, near North Adams — a tunnel in which many died during construction.  It’s a key tourist attraction, which we neglected to visit.

Sense of Olde London in the Restored Freightyard Area

Sense of Olde London in the Restored Freightyard Area

Mass Moca is light years, but only minutes, from quaint Williamstown, of my previous post.  In fact, Mass Moca is light years from most museums I have ever visited in any country.

It is a country unto itself, with tremendous consciousness, determined to wake up its countless visitors to realities in their 21st Century world.

Truly, as Michelin says of restaurants, Mass Moca is “Vaut le Voyage” — Worthy of the Journey!

Homesick for New England Mountain Village — Williamstown

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that my friend, Deb Hill, and I spent a splendid almost-week, doing hikes and art among mountains, in the very old Berkshires of Massachusetts.

Now, wrapped in winter, it is difficult to credit the vividness of memory.  Here, come along on our very first stroll, under extremely changeable skies, along the streets of Williamstown, and out Route 2 toward but not in North Adams.

Beckoning Fence, near Water Street, Williamstown

Beckoning Fence, near Water Street, Williamstown

Sometimes, New England itself seems like a dream.  But then I return, and it’s more real than ever – poised against the sterilities of the 21st Century.

Maple Splendor in 'a mizzle of rain', Williamstown

Maple Splendor in ‘a mizzle of rain’, Williamstown

Red Bench, Williamstown Stroll

Red Bench, Williamstown Stroll

Porch Rockers, "Come and Set a Spell..."

Porch Rockers, “Come and Set a Spell…”

Autumn's Last Gasp

Autumn’s Last Gasp

Glow, Williamstown

Glow, Williamstown

Autumn in the Rain, Williamstown

Autumn in the Rain, Williamstown

Hobson's Choice Restaurant, Water Street

Hobson’s Choice Restaurant, Water Street

Beer Kegs outside Water Street Grill

Beer Kegs outside Water Street Grill

Water Street Grill Sign and October Skies

Water Street Grill Sign and October Skies

Water Street Grill Bacon Bleu Cheese Burger

Water Street Grill Bacon Bleu Cheese Burger

Water Street Grill Salad Caprese

Water Street Grill Salad Caprese

Water Street Grill Steak and Bleu Cheese Salad of another day...

Water Street Grill Steak and Bleu Cheese Salad of another day…

Water Street Grill Lemon Raspberry Genoise!

Water Street Grill Lemon Raspberry Genoise!

Williamstown Bank

Williamstown Bank

Wild Oats Healthy Local Sustainable Food Market!

Wild Oats Healthy Local Sustainable Food Market!

Wild Oats Radishes (yes!) and Cauliflower

Wild Oats Radishes (yes!) and Cauliflower

Wild Oats Brussels Sprouts

Wild Oats Brussels Sprouts

Wild Oats Abundance -- Cabbages for Kings

Wild Oats Abundance — Cabbages for Kings

New England Splendor, Williamstown

New England Splendor, Williamstown

Time for a Change, Coming Down from the summit of Mt. Greylock

Time for a Change, Coming Down from the summit of Mt. Greylock

Dear Mr. Snowy —

Snowy Owl, First NJ Sighting, LBI, November, 2014 by Ray Yeager, Fine Art Photographer

Snowy Owl, First NJ Sighting, LBI, November, 2014 by Ray Yeager, Fine Art Photographer

Oddly enough, this is a letter to an owl.

I avidly studied a recent Audubon article on the phenomenal irruption (visitation by many creatures not usually in our region) of snowy owls, particularly in New Jersey, during the winter of 2013.  Although I read everything I could find on snowies, after being gifted with their presence, at the Brigantine last year, I learned much that I never suspected from this splendid nature magazine put out by National Audubon.  Sometime in the night, after finishing the startling story, I wrote what you might call a fan letter:

Dear Mr. Snowy

here I thought you’d been driven down here

by an unaccustomed dearth of lemmings

that your sleepy golden eyes

encountered in wild reaches

of Brigantine Refuge

signified starvation

that being this far south

is half a hell for you

lacking your protective background

of snow on sand or tundra

but now I learn

that science

geolocators

and feather samples

reveal you to be absolutely bursting

with health and vigor

part of exceptionally large clutches

in your native Arctic

that you are capable of taking down

your very own relatives

–black ducks, mergansers, eiders–

not only coasting, pouncing

on Jersey mice and voles

but taking spectacularly in flight

and even sometimes on water

you can end the lives

of great blue herons

meanwhile, you sit here

blinking on snow-sifted sand

planning next kills

There is an intriguing sequel to writing this letter.  A few hours after I penned it, I was at work at D&R Greenway, where my job is to do what it takes to save New Jersey land, especially as habitat, especially for birds (my personal mission.)

In walked Ray Yeager, new friend and new artist to us.  Ray’s spectacular photographs, –not only of wild creatures, but also of wild preserves–, were the most purchased art works in our previous exhibition, “People of Preservation.”

Ray had just completed a seven-hour vigil along a very specific part of the Jersey Shore.  With the season’s first snowy owl!

Its portraits filled his camera.  We all crowded around, marveling.  With Ray’s permission to share his masterpieces, including for a November 26 article in US 1 (Business) Newspaper, “A Winter’s Tale,” I attach his most recent snowy.

Realize that irruptions rarely take place back-to-back.  Decades can separate them.

Know that November is early, even for a ‘normal’ irruption.

Get out on winter’s trails, in remote and treeless stretches near our coast.  You may be gifted with snowies, likely or not!

And do whatever you can to preserve what remains of our beleaguered state’s open spaces, so such wonders can unfold.

Butterscotch Days — Goat Hill Hike as Autumn Exits

Recent hikes have catalyzed an unexpected childhood memory – that of butterscotch candies with sun shining through.

Autumn’s woodlands are drenched now in butterscotch and honey, maple syrup, and occasional runnels of cranberry.  A recent hike up Goat Hill (on the NJ side of the Delaware River) surrounded Fay Lachmann and me with feasts for the eye that triggered taste memory.

Gilded Grove, Goat Hill Trail

Gilded Grove, Goat Hill Trail

Another hue on every side was that of cinnamon sticks.  When I’m in art-mode, of course, I say it’s pure Cezanne.

Basalt and Last Leaves, Goat Hill Trail

Basalt and Last Leaves, Goat Hill Trail

In the Delaware River Valley, we are blessed with outcroppings of basalt, direct connections to the beginnings of earth, of time.

Goat Hill's Weathered Gateway

Goat Hill’s Weathered Gateway

This time-worn gateway beckons.  Come, hike with us.

"A Long, Long Trail a-Winding..."

“A Long, Long Trail a-Winding…”

It’s a broad trail, a leaf-cushioned trek, a soundless journey.

The Spirit of the Rock

The Spirit of the Rock

Indians insist that rocks are alive, hold spirit, offer gifts to us.  I could really feel the deity in this one.

But let me tell you where Goat Hill is.  Over above the Delaware, on preserved land that will soon hold many additional fascinating trails.  Off 29, onto Valley Road (look up Howell Living History Farm for directions — you’ll pass it on the way to the trails..)  Left on Goat Hill Road, a winding drive that holds its own remarkable beauty. Left on George Washington Road.  Park and walk.  There are two picnic tables at the crest — bring bread to break with others, as you feast upon that view!

George Washington is said to have surveyed the river and enemy movements from this pinnacle, as did Lord Cornwallis.

The Delaware seems to stretch forever, a shimmering silk scarf dropped by a diva.

Our Delaware River from Goat Hill crest

Our Delaware River from Goat Hill crest

Delaware looking North, across New Hope Bridge

Delaware looking North, across New Hope Bridge

Devekioer;s Dream -- Conservationists' Nightmare -- ruination of Delaware banks

Developer’s Dream — Conservationists’ Nightmare — ruination of Delaware banks

Why D&R Greenway and all our other regional non-profits work night and day to save nature!

Solitude -- Goat Hill Crest

Solitude — Goat Hill Crest

This couple sat, rapt, upon this boulder, all the while we were exploring, the two of them high and silent above the river’s mellifluous rapids.

Other delicious sounds were that of crisp leaves underfoot, and whisper wind in leaves still on boughs overhead.  One of the greatest gifts of this journey, however, was absolute silence.

Twinings

Twinings

I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear these vines at their twining.

New Hope and Bucks County, looking west

New Hope and Bucks County, looking west

Sleeping Beauty - Goat Hill Crest

Sleeping Beauty – Goat Hill Crest

Trees Past Peak Reveal Vistas at New Outcroppings

Trees Past Peak Reveal Vistas at New Outcroppings

These are not ‘the trails less traveled by’.  Softly trodden trail tendrils lead in a number of directions from and at the crest.  Views reward every exploration.

Three Sentinels at the Gate

Three Sentinels at the Gate

Three sentinels bid farewell.

This remarkable November trek is a fruit of preservation.  Do everything you can to expand the reach of your own non-profits, so that wild nature can persist.

The Intrepids Bird Sandy Hook

Jeanette Hooban in quest of migrant warblers, Lifesaving Station of Sandy Hook in Background

Jeanette Hooban in quest of migrant warblers, Lifesaving Station of Sandy Hook in Background

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know I recently relished the glories of Island Beach in a Nor’easter, with three friends I have come to name “The Intrepids”.  Three-quarters of us hit Sandy Hook this week, on a day when gales were predicted, though not rain.  We lunched, as ever, at Bahrs, on splendid seafood, with the barrier island otherwise known as “The Hook” shimmering like Shangri La off to our right.

Quintessential Fresh Seafood Lunch at Bahrs

Quintessential Fresh Seafood Lunch at Bahrs

The Navesink and the Shrewsbury Rivers come together at Rumson.  (I always wonder if it was named in rum-running days.)  The combined flow passes below our table at Bahrs, brushing ‘The Hook’ on its way to the Atlantic.

Where the River Meets the Sea, Sandy Hook on Horizon

Where the River Meets the Sea, Sandy Hook on Horizon

Usually, birdwatching at table is pretty spectacular.  But, for some reason, the serious fishing aspect of that marina seems overwhelmed by fancier pursuits.  In France, they distinguish between “port du pesce” and “port du plaisance”.  Pesce/fish seems to have lost.  Morning’s catch was always being cleaned, just below our Bahrs windows, the remnants thrown into the air and the river, with ravenous birds making the most of it.

Working Fishing Harbor, Bahrs, Sandy Hook

Working Fishing Harbor, Bahrs, Sandy Hook

Even so, we had a fine time, then set out for the glories of Sandy Hook.

Onion Soup, Bahrs

Onion Soup, Bahrs

Fried Oysters BAHRS Late Summere 2014 009

But First, Fried Oysters and Yuengling!

Sandy Hook, too, had been scoured by the ironically named Sandy.  Like Island Beach, –that other sacred New Jersey barrier island–, Sandy Hook prevailed because it is natural,  It is another sterling example of the real Jersey Strong.

Sandy-shattered Officers' Houses, facing the River, Sandy Hook

Sandy-shattered Officers’ Houses, facing the River, Sandy Hook

Sandy's Signatures, Entire Row of Officers' Houses facing river

Sandy’s Signatures, Entire Row of Officers’ Houses facing river

What was hurt on ‘the Hook’ was the roadway, macadam, not natural.  The military establishment.  No comment.  The storied, even haunted houses, which line the river side and are in dire condition.  Some rehabilitation has taken place, for the first time in decades.  One wonders what will come of these structures.  They are evocative, mysterious, compelling.  They seem to be undergoing a slow renaissance.

One Restored Officer's House

One Restored Officer’s House

Birds have made the most of these structures.  Birds such as osprey, who used the abandoned chimneys as nest sites, decorating roofs and facades with “whitewash.”  (Use your imagination.)   All summer, we watched ospreys’ parenting, seemingly very successful.  The young were feisty and eager to test their wings, the last time I was there — test them, but not use them, not quite yet.

Osprey Corps of Engineers -- one of many

Osprey Corps of Engineers — one of many

Now all the nests are empty.  But the structures remain, bird-architecture seeming more formidable than human now at Sandy Hook.

Perhaps Sandy Funds Paid to Repaint Sandy Hook Lighthouse

Perhaps Sandy Funds Paid to Repaint Sandy Hook Lighthouse

It is a joy to see the Sandy Hook Light, the oldest continuously operating lighthouse in America, spiffy again.  Warblers were everywhere in shrubbery around this structure, and broad-winged hawks flew over on a precise schedule, as in one per minute, coasting on the wild sea winds.

Resting Raptor, Sandy Hook

Resting Raptor, Sandy Hook

Come with us.  See what “The Intrepids” discovered, on a November day as benevolent as summertime, the polar opposite of our Island Beach experience.

Birding on North Beach, Merry Mary Penney, Jubilant Jeanette Hooban

Birding on North Beach, Merry Mary Penney, Jubilant Jeanette Hooban

It was a day of black and white birds — beginning with a black and white warbler where we parked our car; rafts of dashing brant too far to see clearly when we first arrived, then spread all over a protected cove, murmuring and murmuring, on the river side.  Yes, one batch of Canada geese.  One osprey, looking very propietary, and not atall migratory.  THREE northern shrikes — life birds for Mary and Jeanette.  Those broadwings were just streaks of black, thicker than Van Gogh’s crow in that final Auvers cornfield.

Autumn, Consummate Artist, Manhattan in background: Battery, Wall Street, Verrazano Bridge all dwarfed by Nature

Autumn, Consummate Artist, Manhattan in background: Battery, Wall Street, Verrazano Bridge all dwarfed by Nature

We climbed the hawk watch platform, eager for raptors.  Ironically, it was the only birdless site of the entire day.  But look at that view!

View from Hawk Watch Platform, North Beach

View from Hawk Watch Platform, North Beach

Our key black-and-white bird of the day may very well have been the first snowy owl of this season.  If so, between the platform and the sea, here, is where the snowy (ies?) hung out last year.

Compass Grass and Bird Tracks, North Beach

Compass Grass and Bird Tracks, North Beach

Other creatures besides the winged were out on these reaches before us.

Rabbit Track, North Beach hike

Rabbit Track, North Beach hike

Fox Trail, North Beach

Fox Trail, North Beach

Beauty of this magnitude does not exist in our most populous state by accident.  It happens because land was preserved.  Rejoice, each of you, and congratulate yourselves, for having voted yes for the permanent funding of open space preservation in New Jersey.  Yes, full disclosure, I am the Community Relations Associate of D&R Greenway Land Trust, –responsible for media releases; the Willing Hands, who put on all our events; Curator of the Olivia Rainbow Student Art Gallery; the poetry and art liaison throughout the year, events or no.  Nothing matters more to me than the preservation of Nature.  Nothing should matter more to YOU, either.

Summer's Last Sunflowers in November

Summer’s Last Sunflowers in November

Just think, where the rabbit hopped, the fox stalked, the sunflowers erupt, could all have been a housing development or a shopping mall or an oil tanker station.  Don’t LET THEM add structures to this prime birding habitat, structures which will necessitate killing plants, trees, and therefore insects, amphibians, reptiles and mammals.  There are many ruined stretches, even here, even at Sandy Hook.  If someone has to have structures, use the ones that already exist.  Birds are paramount!

No Pets, No Kites -- Protecting the Piping Plovers of Sandy Hook

No Pets, No Kites — Protecting the Piping Plovers of Sandy Hook

“No Pets!  No Kites!”  No dogs, nor cats, nor vehicles, nor strolling humans — this is sacred Piping Plover Territory.

Bunkers of Yesteryear

Bunkers of Yesteryear

This is what happens to human structures on barrier beaches.  We need no MORE RUINATION.

Military Remnants

Military Remnants

What happens to the works of man, over time, on a barrier beach.

Nature and Man, Sandy Hook, Verrazano Narrows

Nature and Man, Sandy Hook, Verrazano Narrows

Even Manhattan is diminished by the works of Nature.

Determined Jeanette finds two female harriers doing last hunting over the grasses on the ocean side

Determined Jeanette finds two female harriers doing last hunting over the grasses on the ocean side

Last Light, Early November

Last Light, Early November

Gibbous Moon -- Time to Depart

Gibbous Moon — Time to Depart

Mary usually creates a bird list for us — and she is a pro at this, being head of Bucks County Audubon, just north of New Hope.  If she does, I’ll share it with you.

Meanwhile, bird your own neighborhoods, and any D&R Greenway preserve, especially St. Michaels Farm Preserve in Hopewell.  Take yourselves to the sea at Island Beach and Sandy Hook, and get to know Salem and Cumberland Counties on the Delaware Bayshores, where eagles are about to begin courting.

Above all, support all land trusts in your own regions — keep the green green, for the sake of the birds, for all the wild creatures.