“BEING THERE”

Tonight, as I often do, I will borrow my friend Brenda Jones’ magnificent images of the short-eared owls of Lawrenceville’s broad preserve, the Pole Farm, to give you some sense of my Tuesday evening experience.  Thank you, masterful Brenda!

Short-eared Owl white coloration

Too often, these days, I need to remind people, “All that it takes, for evil to happen, is for good people to do nothing.”

I’ll paraphrase that reality to urge NJWILDBEAUTY READERS: “All that it takes, for miracles to happen, is for good people to be OUT THERE.”  

So many hectic nights.  So much ghastly weather.  Yet, Tuesday I dashed in the door at 5:30.  I threw my work clothes onto the floor and left them there; jumped into outdoor gear and went straight over to the Pole Farm.

There was sun and no rain and I hadn’t seen the short-eared owls since the day before my February meniscus tear last year.

Would they still be there, with all this inappropriate heat?  Would they be in the field I might reach in those few moments before sundown?  Would I recognize them?  Was I too tired from work to dash along the wooded path?  Would anyone else be on the observation platform to point out owls and harriers with hushed excitement, as last year?

Short-eared Owl wing swoop-look

Still on the woods-and-understory-framed trail by the red barn, I watched one slow thin shadow, the color of antique pewter, coast knowingly, determinedly along the reaped beige field to my right.  One warbler hopped about in a shrub, but light was no use in identification.  The shrubs that sheltered the small bird kept me from really seeing the raptor.

I made it to “Elaine’s Bench”, out-of-breath from almost running, weighty binoculars having beat a tattoo along my back.

There wasn’t another birder anywhere in sight.

But, across the reaped field, at the far tree line, that frieze that looks as though Lucy McVicker had drawn it with archival ink, two grey shadows emerged in tandem.  Low to the ground, completely at peace, circling, circling.  A pas de deux with wings instead of feet.  Raptors, but not hunting.

Short-eared Owl wingdrop

There was still enough light that I could immerse myself in the delight of their grey/white lustre.  The short-eared owls’ heads were the size of small grapefruits or large oranges.  I felt, more than saw, their intensely focused eyes.

The leisured circling continued, as though they were from a faerie realm, able to dissolve every tension of my workday, my deep concern over the world situation.

Short-eared owl profile Pole Farm Brenda Jones

A third ghostly floater emerged, low and flat and sure, from the far forest.  The circling two danced their way across the field and out of sight.

I’ve been told that they are not actually hunting in these pre-sunset moments.  That short-eared owls’ heads function as ears.  As they coast and turn those white disks, they are hearing mice and voles that will become their feast when dark arrives.

sunset bluebird Pole Farm Brenda Jones

No, I didn’t see bluebirds.  But Brenda did, at the Pole Farm.  They’ll be along any time now, as there are bluebird boxes hither and yon, on either side of the trail.

My flashlight proved nearly worthless, the sun had dropped so fast.  I did not remember not to step on the horse manure, now on the right side for my return.  I worried that my car would be locked in by an intense and righteous ranger.

Dashing back through the wooded end of the trail, I was suddenly deafened all over again by spring’s first peepers.   The short-ears had made me forget all about that raucous miracle at entry.

Miracles.  Always out there in Nature for us.  But we do have to place ourselves where miracles can happen.

And I don’t have to remind NJWILDBEAUTY readers, that the Pole Farm is a preserve.  That courageous people fought long and hard to save most of that land, to give it over to the wild creatures whose whom it rightfully is.  To be EVER VIGILANT in terms of advocating and paying preservation, stewardship.  To prevent PIPELINES!

Nature is essential.  We are part of nature.  In this Anthropocene Era, we ARE “The Sixth Extinction.”  We turned that around re peregrines, osprey, eagles and condors.

All that it takes, for evil to happen, is for good people to do nothing!”  NEVER FORGET!

MISSING SUNLIGHT

When it’s this gloomy all day, –when there is no sense that there has ever been a sun, –ever will be a sun, I miss places where the sun was guaranteed:  Provence      Hawaii

Turns out that memories of the American West for me are also light-filled.  My own images from early trips there did not involve electronic cameras.  However, at the Princeton University Art Museum just now, there is a splendid array of The Moderns from the Phillips (Gallery, of Washington, D.C.)  My favorite museum in the capital, Mr. and Mrs. Phillips’ own home, — this haven proves a gateway to the paintings of Bonnard.  No one, –not even Matisse–, equaled this artist, who had lived one hill over from me in my life in Cannes.  Especially, no one seemingly has even attempted light in mimosa, such as he so magnificently evoked in canvas after canvas.

To my delight, amongst European moderns, such as Picasso and Braque, there is a high proportion of American art.  Even a Georgia O’Keeffe I do not know — with a torn red leaf asserting its power despite having been altered…  One of my all-time favorite of our artists is ‘our Turner’, Thomas Moran.  His views in Yellowstone National Park involve all the senses, so that we can nearly hear his waterfalls.

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The West was never easy for me — whether sightseeing or skiing.  Coming from the storied East, where most mountains and rivers involved our War of Independence, and even the tragedy mis-named Civil War – I often felt as dwarfed as the figures in this scene of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Moran dared another favorite site, Venice.  I remember light there, also, dazzling, more than doubled by all those wrinkling canals.  Especially the Easter morning when I stood alone in St. Mark’s Square, in absolute silence, even to the pigeons.  I hadn’t realized that all the bells of Venice had been silenced on Good Friday, when we’d arrived.  At the moment of dawn, all the bells began their clamor.  The birds rose as one, swirled like sandpipers, in grey clouds, imitating the DNA spiral.  Church bells and wings and the light of a Venice dawn…

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Master of Venice, indeed.  But Moran was most at home in the American West.

And I learned, anew, that one place where one can count on light is inside any art museum, no matter what is going on outdoors in any season.
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Thomas Moran Country

This man can find light even in the most formidable mountain passes.

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Moran’s Dawn at Sea — favorite experience, whether crossing on the France, the Mary, or the QEII.

 

February Sandy Hook: Fun in the Sun and the Sands

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Base of Sandy Hook Light

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that I treasure winter along our magnificent Jersey coasts.  You may overlook the fact that we have three:  The Atlantic, The Delaware River; and Delaware Bay.  This is heaven for this Midwesterner, who never even saw saltwater until the summer between seventh and eighth grade.  This is troublous for one who is all too aware of sea-level rise in the twenty-first century.

Sandy Hook River-side Views with Tasha Fall 2017

Tasha O’Neill Looking Back at the Mainland from the Barrier Island that is Sandy Hook in HOT September!

Two friends willingly planned a Sandy Hook jaunt for yesterday, not really realizing that it was Valentine’s Day.  My companions that day were my former Packet editor, Ilene Dube, who insisted that I blog for her paper ages ago…, and my fine-art-photographer friend Tasha O’Neill.  I owe my first blog, NJWILD for the Packet, and its successor, NJWILDBEAUTY to Ilene – who insisted I do this, when I did not know what a blog was!

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Manhattan from Sandy Hook on a Windy Spring Day – North End of Barrier Island

We’d planned to visit Monmouth University first for three art exhibitions, especially James Fiorentino’s of Conserve Wildlife NJ.  But the sun burst out as we headed due east, and Sandy Hook won post position.Spermaceti Cove Sandy Hook Jan 2017

Spermaceti Cove and Boardwalk, High Tide, January 2017

Ilene had not known such New Jersey treasures as Little Silver and Colt’s Neck, let alone the equestrian paradise of Monmouth County.  Our drive through Rumson’s array of true mansions brought up amazing comparisons — Newport, Bar Harbor…  And then we were crossing the glinting Navesink River, the Atlantic Ocean stretching into infinity before us.  This Michigander can never believe that scene!

Verrazano and Light House Sandy Hook Spring 2017

Verrazano and Tip of Manhattan from Sandy Hook’s Northernmost Trail

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Birding Essentials: Kathleen and Jim Amon: January 2017

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Red-throated Loon in Winter Plumage on Pond for Amons and Me: Jan. 2017

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Essential Tools for Birding Anywhere, especially Sandy Hook, especially Winter: 

David Allen Sibley

There are no fees for ‘The Hook’ in winter, and never for birders (because you’ll be hiking, not swimming, not parking at crowded beach sites of summer).  I see us tumbling like children in our eagerness to get close enough to the waves.  The ocean was a pale and delicate hue, baby-boy-blanket-blue.

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Working Harbor in Winter, Across Navesink from Sandy Hook Preserve

No matter where we turned, everything was pristine and exquisite.  The few sounds included mutterings of gulls and whispering waves.

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Where the Rabbit Loped, January 2017

Later, on the wast side, we would be treated to the nature sound I cherish – murmurings among a flock of brant.  These small goose-like birds, ==whose shape in the water echoes small air-craft carriers–, have only just arrived at ‘the Hook.’  They swam in determined flotillas, more tourists than residents, –zipping first here, then there, as if renewing old ties.

Brant Goose Drinking Barnegat

Brant Sipping at Low Tide, by Brenda Jones

In peaceful water, toy-like buffleheads, quintessential diving ducks, bobbed up anddown, arrived and departed, vanished and materialized with characteristic merriment.

Male Bufflehead by Ray Yeager

Ray Yeager – Key Fine Art Photographer of Winter Ducks:  Male Bufflehead

Ilene was fascinated to see all the osprey nests — some on human-built platforms; some on the chimneys of venerable yellow-brick military dwellings.  Some platforms, especially at the hawk watch platform (north), had been emptied by recent storms.

Sandy Hook Jim Kathleen Amon Spermaceti Cove Boardwalk Jan 2017

Birding Spermaceti Cove in Winter — Seals on Skull Island off to our Left

Even though it was February, a heat haze of the most exquisite soft-slate-blue obscured not only the Verrazano Bridge, but also Manhattan’s Wall Street megaliths.  Only nature was in view from the platform that day.

Sandy Hook Vista North Spring 2017

View from Hawk Watch Platform on Windy Spring Day

Grasses at Spermaceti Cove looked as though they’d been repeatedly beaten into submission by a glacier, not simply by recent high tides.  Glistening mud of the inlet’s banks was spattered with deep raccoon ‘hand’-prints, where these nocturnal mammals had washed recent foods before eating.

Fall and Winter Sandy Hook Salt Pond Region Jan 2017

Sandy Hook Marsh Grasses, January 2017

I am a realist. We are nowhere near the vernal equinox.  But, yes, days are lengthening, amazingly at both ends.

Christmas on Sandy Hook Bay Bahrs Jan. 2017

Christmas on the Navesink River from Bahrs

Yes, every once in awhile, a balminess arrives.  When three friends can celebrate together, even to feasting at Bahrs, the 100-year-old Highlands seafood restaurant high above the Navesink.  Where we could down Delaware Bay oysters and other rare treats, before taking in all three art exhibits in three different buildings at Monmouth University, without wearing coats.  Then drive home in golden light, through the Battlefield of Monmouth, without which we would not have a country.

Gastronomic Haven by the Sea Bahrs Jan. 2017

 

Birders at Bahrs Jan. 2017

When Birders Lunch at Bahrs

I cannot help wondering what our colonial heroes would think of the country they fought and many died to save, in so many New Jersey battles.  But our is a noble history.  Their pledging and/or giving their lives, their fortunes, but never their sacred honor, cannot be for naught.

Patriots' Flag Chestnut Neck Revolutionary War Monument Winter 2017

Patriots’ Flag at Site of Battle of Chestnut Neck, in Pine Barrens

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From start to finish, Mother Nature herself had given Ilene, Tasha and me treasured Valentines.  The red and white, however, decorated Sandy Hook’s Storied Light, rather than hearts.  Lighthouses and 13-Star Flags, however, always warm MY heart.  I hope they warm YOURS!

Try beaches in winter!

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Sandy Hook’s Heroic Lifesaving Station

And preserve every inch of open and historic space in magnificent New Jersey!

 

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Tasha and I on her COLD April Birthday — at Bahrs, Sandy Hook Behind Us…

 

 

“The Nation that Forgets History is Condemned to Repeat It”

Patriots' Flag Chestnut Neck Revolutionary War Monument Winter 2017

On Facebook, my friend, superb artist Joy Kreves, ‘shares’ this sign, significant in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.   These are described in that display as “early warning signs.”  I’ve decided to take this poster to the blog ‘airwaves.”

Sign now in Washington, former capital of the land of the free…

“Now we are engaged in…” a new Holocaust, with many races, and also poor, and most immigrants, as today’s victims.

Victimization has become our ruling force.

“Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses straining to be free” (adorning our Statue of Liberty –    o, remember true liberty?   –  has been amended to, “And I will render you more tired, more poor, and may well send you back to your country of origin.”

If I had an American flag today, it would have to be the one with thirteen stars!

Where is my country?  Where is “this land is your land, this land is my land?”

“Where have all the flowers gone?”

What’s missing from this list of so-called ‘early warnings’ — but there were no early warnings in our situation, is the prevalence of rants and vindictiveness.

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MISSING PROVENCE

at-cap-d-antibes by Claude Monet.In case anyone wonders why I am always homesick/depaysee for my life in Provence, this is Monet’s answer.

In 1987, I sailed free aboard the good ship QEII because I gave two lectures based on my decade of Transition Consulting: one on Success and one on Change, key topics in the Transition years.  I was also blessed to launch my poetry chapbook, Gatherings, , which had just been published prior to sailing.

The French line didn’t exist any more; and Cunard ships did not deign to dock in Le Havre.  So I tooled around Cornwall in search of King Arthur for a bit, after arriving in unwillingly in Southampton.  I then flew to that adorable casual palm-fringed gull-populated airport, right on the sea, named Nice.  Once, in early February of 1976, my MIchigan friend Bernadette Thibodeau went for the luggage there, and I for the car.  On the autoroute to St. Jean-Ca–Ferrat, we discovered that neither had somehow gone through customs.  Ever since 1964, Nice had been the gateway to paradise for me,.  It has not diminished in importance in all these years.

That view, which you might think Monet embellished, was a normal everyday scene for me, living on Observatoire Hill above Cannes in 1987 and ’88.  The simplest errands also took me past this idyllic spot in Cap d’Antibes.  After the market, I would take in either the Picasso Castle or the Napoleon Museum, if not both.  My neighbors scoffed at my Napoleon-mania:  “O,” they would sniff.  “That Corsican!”

Cap d'Antibes beach FRanceThis scene is but my screen-saver now.  I yearn day and night for the Mediterranean’s beauty and the hearty human interchanges bestowed upon me, year upon year, in that environment.

For example, in 1976, Bernadette Thibodeau and I dined nightly at table, next to Leslie Charteris (author of The Saint televisionseries on television, as well as of priceless gastronomic sagas in Gourmet).  Charteris was there for the winter.  We for around ten February days.  Both exquisite tables tucked into a glass corner of La Voile d’Or, one of the most perfec establishments I have ever encountered, even in France.

The sea wrinkled and twinkled at our feet as we supped.  As night fell, the three Corniche roads glittered, sinuous ruby and diamond necklaces bedecking dark velvet rocks.  The identity of the gems depending upon whether vehicules were hurtling toward nearby Italy or back into blessed France.

On our second night, I dared question our sommelier’s choice of red wine to accompany our legendary lamb of Sisteron.  If a person can twinkle, he did:  “I’ll just bring it, and if you don’t like it, I’ll drink it myself.”  We laughed so very hard.  Of course his choice was perfection with Sisteron lamb, so much more delicate than ours in the States.  My fear had been that his suggestion could not stand up to that entree.  Soon we were laughing,  rather ruefully, in the elevator returning to our rooms, discovering that that our mentor had just been named Le Meilleur (BEST) Sommelier de France. 

Do not forget that it was February in St. Jean-Cap=Ferrat.  Sweaters over our shoulders were enough, sauntering the exquisite shore path from our hotel over to Beaulieu-sur-Mer and back.  Blossoms framed every view out our windows.  Their scents suffused our senses, as we drove through stony garrigues to Provencal hilltowns:  Almonds.  Mimosa, Cirtons, such lusty fragrances penetrating through closed Renault windows.

back streets old antibes

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know I spend my life praising New Jersey.  I do my best.  I mean my enthusiasms.  But sometimes, I just cannot bear not being on the South of France.

Especially as I tuck into interminable layers of gear just to drive to work – from earmuffs to lined gloves to lined hiking pants to fleece-lined tights and thick boots with crampons on for New Jersey’s invisible ice. January and February returns to the South of France, as well as my wanderjahr residency, proved me that it’s not winter in Provence, not EVEN when it snows!

This street scene just above is in old Antibes.  But it could be almost anywhere — Roquebrune, Mentone (although more colorful, because closer to Italy), San Rafael, Biot.  Each a town of magic — Roquebrune for its castle’ Menton(e) for its citrus festival, San Rafael where the Invasion of Provence (Le Debarquement) took place August 16, 1944, Bior of the bubbly glassware and the Leger Musee.  Mougins with its multi-starred temple of gastronomy, Le Moulin de Mougins, found along La Route de la Transhumance — the way that shepherds, goatherds led their flocks to and from winter pastures.

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Sometimes, what I miss most are the olive trees. Renoir bought his property in Cagnes-sur-Mer because he wanted to save the (then) 100-year-old olive trees.  He would paint the late nudes under their leaves.  It is said that the artist did not ask if a new maid could make the beds and serve the meals, or a new cook could cook.  All that mattered was the way the light of the Provence sun bounced off the silvery olive trees and onto their flesh.  We think Renoir was being an Impressionist.  He considered himself a realist.  And this man painted, despite crippling arthritis, with his brushes and palette taped to his two arms, wheeled in a wheelbarrow to his olive trees.

I also am a realist.  I cannot live in Provence now.  I won’t be seeing flame-hot tomatoes at Thanksgiving or pale feisty daisies in January.  I cannot buy an ancient liqueur made of wild thyme by the monks of Isles de Lerin.  I cannot walk the open Cannes Marche, the mistral swirling my scarf hither and yon, as the olive oil man won’t take my francs because I am an American, and he’s pleased that I chose the fruity one.  I won’t be buying lace-delicate ravioli from a costumed young woman who rose at dawn to make and bring and sell it.  I won’t encounter dates so dark and succulent that them seem to melt off the table.  Or try to choose a fish, when all are so near to having been in the sea that some, especially sandre, flip themselves off the oilcloth-over-ice on the fishwife’s table.  I won’t walk past the Provencal woman selling her white chickens, tying their legs, balancing them in jer hand-held scale, sending them home flapping wings.  The apicultrice isn’t bragging to me about the succulence of her lavender honey.  There are no brioches still hot from the wood-fired oven hewn from  ancient rocks of old town/Cannes, otherwise known as Le Suquet.

When I’m this homesick, I have my most courageous friends over for a Provencal Sunday supper.  It’ll be some peasant specialty I encountered there, and cannot find authentically in this country.  (I was once served cassoulet made with KIDNEY beans, in Kingston!.)  At my Lawrenceville table, we’ve shared cassoulet de Toulouse; choucroute garnie such as filled South of France markets abruptly in November, though its newly ready sauerkraut and all those hefty sausages came from Alsace.  On a hot May afternoon, golden aioli took center stage, each friend bringing a different vegetable or hard-boiled egg, I supplying the prepared salt cod.

No, this is New Jersey and this is February, and soon it will be boeuf a la gardiane — otherwise known as le boeef sauvage — which thelegendary cowboys of the mouth of the Rhone concoct with the meat of the wild bulls of the Camargue.  Friends will bring a lighter Rhone wine for the Provencal cheeses and an artichoke melange; a heftier one for the boeuf; and a delicate Muscat de Beaumes de Venise to accompany the dessert tart. This dish I have not tasted, but it’s a question of flavorful real beef (Brick Farm Market of course, my being fresh out of cowboys and bulls ).  It’ll be crafted with fresh herbs, Rhone wine, a swirl of orange peel, a pig’s foot.  No, I haven’t made this before, but the Intrepids weren’t given that name for nothing.

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The gardianes’ stews were cooked long and slow over driftwood fires on Mediterranean shores.  Mine will, of course, depend upon the Crock Pot.

My Provencal specialties will have one ingredient more precious than all the rest, however.  When we savor our boeuf with wild thyme and Rhone wines, the multi-hued South of France vegetables from one friend,  a complex tarte from another — all will be seasoned with Fellowship.

In my year in Provence, I lived alone.  My neighbors in the villa became dear friends.  But somehow, they would not let me cook for them.  We could dine out, and I could lead them to places, like Auberge des Seigneurs in Vence after the Matisse Chapel, which I knew better than they.  But I was not to be in the kitchen for their sake.  Thank heaven, my New Jersey friends have courage, eagerness, and I will even say, Love.  They let me play in the kitchen for them.

My wildest wish, I must admit, is that we could all appreciate Provence together.  Meanwhile, boeuf a la gardiane will have to do!