NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that I have learned to flee the irretrievable past, especially on holidays.  Today, the day after Christmas, I had the privilege of guiding two friends, –Willing Hands with me at D&R Greenway,– on their first exploration of Plainsboro Preserve.  This day fulfilled my inexplicable passion for visiting summer places in winter.   Come with us — via Internet images, to a quarry that’s been turned into an unexpected haven.

Day is Done Plainsboro Preserve

My two favorite regions are its beechwood and the peninsula.

plainsboro-preserve snow scene from Internet

Deeper and deeper, –although so near Route 1–, we moved on glistening leaves into timelessness.  We had no snow today, rather ice crystals and iced puddles and ice-signatured ponds and ice stars caught in moss and ice swirled with milkiness as though in an art nouveau gallery!

Our long silent trek through that wilderness of chinchilla-grey trunks held mystery, allure palpable to all three of us.  A few nuthatches in the underbrush made no sound, save their soft rustling.  We were glad to be beech-surrounded, for it kept this weekend’s wild winds from cheeks and noses, everything else on each of us being fully protected from elements.

Normally, the beechwood, –being a microclimate–, is 10 – 12 degrees warmer than the rest of our region in winter; that much cooler in summer. For some reason – [but of course we are not to implicate global warming] this entire forest –with one or two welcome exceptions==, had dropped all leaves now.  As in maybe yesterday.  Not only dropped them, but turned them the pale thin cream color they usually attain right before mid-April drop.  April 15 is a long way off — when the trees need a burst of acid fertilizer to bring forth healthy crops of beech nuts.  What this early leaflessness means to squirrels and other forest dwellers, I do not know.  We did not really experience the temperature protection, possibly because this beechwood was bare.

Even so, off-season magic and beechwood magic persisted, enhanced as two white-tailed dear tiptoed just to our right, revealing no alarm at our very human presence.


One is most aware of McCormack Lake, former quarry, almost step of one’s explorations of this unique Preserve.  Too near, lurk shopping centers and major organizational sites and whirring highways and too many condos and homes, and not enough farms.  But the lake rests in this forested setting, like the Hope Diamond.  I’d rather SEE this lake than the Hope Diamond.

Bufflehead Dapper Princeton Brenda Jones

The quarry lake was the deep smoky blue today of Maine’s October ocean.  Winds were ever-present, wrinkling its surface until it resembled the cotton plisse fabric of childhood.  We’d chosen the Preserve for the lake, , hoping to find winter ducks in abundance.  Perhaps six small distant ones could have been buffleheads in size and coloring (varying proportions of black and white.)  But ‘Buffies’ are diving ducks, and in all the time we walked the peninsula, we never saw them do anything but float like rubber duckies in a large blue bathtub.  But they were charming and winsome, and their very distance-blurred field marks added to the magic.

land's end Plainsboro Preserve peninsula onto quarry lake

[Tip of the Peninsula, recently ‘refreshed’, with welcome stone slab bench.  But this scoured look is not the norm for this Preserve.  Above our heads was a (seemingly never utilized) osprey platform.  I always fret and had told them in the Audubon office that ospreys require a smaller, lower feeding platform.  They do not eat their catch in the nest, for the scent could lure predators to their young.  No feeding platform — no active nest, in my experience…  Even so, it’s a magical place to sit and let the lake and all those unbroken reaches of forest speak to you.  This is not osprey season, anyway!]

Beaver Brenda Jones

Brenda Jones’ Beaver in D&R Canal Near the Fishing Bridge

The most exciting part about the peninsula to me is that it preserves Pine Barrens flora on both sides of what is now “Maggie’s Trail.”  Crusty lichen, cushy bitter green moss, cinnamon-hued oak leaves, paling sands.  Think of roadsides in Island Beach, and you have that cushioned crustiness on both sides along Maggie’s Trail.  Today, we had to deal with oddly ever-present sweet gum balls.  Not only not Pinelands, but also way ahead of schedule.  Hard to walk on – more difficult than on acorns peppering Berkshire trails in autumn.   Sweet gum balls normally drop around Washington’s Birthday.

beaver close-up Brenda Jones

Brenda Jones Beaver Close-Up, Millstone Aqueduct

Everywhere we looked, along the main entry road and all the way to the tip of that peninsula, there was fresh beaver activity.  Cascades of golden curled chips seemed still to be quivering after beavers’ midnight snacking.  Everything from whip-thin birch saplings to hefty white oaks with burnt-sienna leaves lay strewn like jackstraws on either side of Maggie’s Trail.  Some trees had lost only a few smidgens of bark.  We wondered whether parents bring young to teach them to gnaw a few bark inches at a time.  Then the creatures with the largest incisors take over.  Of course, we didn’t see them, because beavers are nocturnal and we’re not!

Plainsboro Preserve Trail early spring

For most of our trek, there was no sight nor sound of anything human — quite literally, my idea of heaven.  Soughing, –the voice of wind in treetops–, was our companion throughout — somewhere between whispering and humming.  Occasionally, a distant train whistle reminded us that centuries exist — not exactly the 21st.

Ice was everywhere — in the leaves, under the leaves, within the moss, turning puddles on the main road into a gallery of art nouveau and art deco designs.  I had no camera this day, knowing I would need both hands for trekking poles with the ground itself that frozen.  Sometimes, the absolute silence was broken by tinkle-crackling of invisible ice beneath leaves.

Plainsboro Preserve Fulness of the Empty Season

These pictures I have culled from the Internet, therefore.  I hope they convey some sense of this haven lying so near to U.S.1 and Scudder’s Mill Road: (left on Dey, left on Scott’s Corner Road.)   Enjoy them and let them lure you over to Plainsboro’s gem.  There are wondrous child-centric programs through NJ Audubon at the handsome center.  And a worthwhile nature-item gift shop.  Bird feeders attract backyard birds near the building.  Bluebird houses and what seem to be owl houses stud the landscape hither and yon.

Plainsboro Preserve Leaflessness and Lake

MIddlesex County provides this history – I remember far more exciting realities about the former quarry, and something about space, and quarrels with locals who did not want to give up hunting and fishing rights.  I provide this for those who need logistical information.

Tranquillity Base, PlnsPrsrv credot Harrington

But for me, microclimate effect or no, Plainsboro Preserve is a journey of the spirit.  I could hardly believe the temperature on my front door as I returned this afternoon — less than twenty degrees.  For all those hours, we’d been warmed in ways that have nothing to do with mercury…

 Plainsboro Preserve in Early Summer via Middlesex County Site:
A scenic view of the lake located within the Plainsboro Preserve.

​The Plainsboro Preserve is a cooperative project between the County of Middlesex, Township of Plainsboro and New Jersey Audubon Society.   In 1999, 530 acres of land formerly owned by the Turkey Island Corporation and Walker Gordon Laboratory Company were acquired by the County and Township.  Middlesex County purchased and owns 401 acres and provided a grant to the Township of Plainsboro for the purchase of an additional 126 acres.  In 2003, the County purchased 126 acres of the former Perrine Tract to add to the Preserve.   The Township added additional land to grow the Preserve and currently maintains responsibility for management of the County-owned portions.

At over 1,000 acres, the Preserve supports a diverse array of habitats and the 50-acre McCormak Lake, with over five miles of hiking trails for hikers, birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts.  The New Jersey Audubon Society manages the Preserve and a 6500 square-foot environmental education center, providing year-round environmental education opportunities. 
For more information on hours and programs, please visit the New Jersey Audubon Society at their website.

The Plainsboro Preserve is adjacent to the Scotts Corner Conservation Area that provides hiking, bird-watching, photography and nature study opportunities.

Location: 80 Scotts Corner Road, Cranbury, NJ  08512
GPS Coordinates:  DMS 40° 20′ 57.28″ N; 74° 33′ 25.53″ W
Facilities: NJ Audubon Environmental Education Center; Parking Area; Bathrooms; Hiking Trails  
Plainsboro Preserve Sign courtesy of Novo Nordisk 

“Haut les coeurs!” — High the Hearts!, from the French… The Role of Beauty in These Times

When I lived in Cannes, my neighbors of the villa taught me a slogan they were utilizing to get them through their dire campaign involving Le Pen – for which they had to vote three times in the departement of their births, which meant leaving the haven of Provence.

“Haut les coeurs!”, [sounds like “o, liqueurs!”] conveys the sustaining command to hold high our hearts, no matter what.  The French are masters of this art, as their revolutionary scene of Marianne in the midst of the battle, hearteningly conveys.


NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that my own heart has been leaden, so that I have not been able summon the Muse to craft new blogs.  A certain level of joie de vivre is essential to these ‘pages’, a joie seriously lacking.  My heart does not even  feel red any longer — rather, the grey/yellow-green of this morning’s discouraging sky.



“Willow, Weep For Me”, Spring Lake, Abbott Marshlands, January 20, 2017


A British friend writes us, warning that we not “fall into the Slough of Despond.”  A kind of “Pilgrim’s Progress” is our plan this day, although it’s too late about the falling.  My friend’s warning is timely and urgent – that we not descend further; above all that we do not wallow.  Attention to the beautiful and the wild, she urges, has never been more important.  I’m considering this, considering…



Beckoning Tree, Spring Lake, Abbott Marshlands, January 20, 2017


France’s Marianne, with her brave, billowing Tricoleur [flag] sustains me in these times.  Although we choose somewhat different garb, her spirit is required now.  We of this young country would call it “The Spirit of ’76”.

All my life, I’ve carried the spirit of our true Patriots, our Founding Fathers and Mothers.

But now — this recent scene in Trenton’s Abbott Marshlands is the world I deplore and dread — sheer desecration of our wild and sacred spaces:  We can expect far more than this — the visible and the invisible — as with pipelines beyond counting.



Present, at the Marsh.   Future, as we move on from this day.  Note small sign honoring habitat and the creatures whom we stand to lose…

And, to forge my way out of the Slough of Despond, I begin balancing images from this Abbott Marshlands pilgrimage upon “Inauguration” Day.  You’ll see that even in an overcast time, even when muddy trails greet hikers, beauty prevails.

But birding is why we are here.  Susan Burns, –indispensable Willing Hands (volunteer) at D&R Greenway events–, does so to save habitat, for birds in particular.  Here, she’s memorizing subtle gadwalls; dapper northern pintails, merry black and white coots; interspersed with jazzy orange, forest green and new-snow-white shovelers, — the rare ducks of winter — on waterways of the Marsh. 



Susan Burns Intent Upon Rare Winter Ducks at Abbott Marshlands


Regarding the next image, Susan and (other birding friends and) I never know whose side we’re on.   “Nature raw in tooth and claw” is why we SAVE wildlands!  That balancing act, where everything cycles into use and blessing for everything else.  She and I conclude that this raptor must have been a great horned owl…  These clusters punctuate our waterside trail, followed by lacings of “whitewash” — excretions — typical of owls.  Of course, we’ll never know.  But without this preserved wild natural habitat, neither owls nor prey could survive.



The Way of the Wild, Abbott Marshlands



Beavers’ Breakfast, Abbott Marshlands



Beaver Point, on the Yellow Trail, Abbott Marshlands


In the Marsh, Nature’ processes, –almost invisible, way beyond time–, are at work on every side.  Here we marvel at the splendid tapestry of fungus performing its slow transformative service upon the majestic felled beech.  Susan and I insist, — yes, aloud, yes, to the tree — “You are beautiful, imposing, arresting, even in death!”



Beech Fungus, felled beech, Abbott Marshlands


Beech Fungus at Work near Beaver Point


Preservationists “pay any price, bear any burden” [JFK Inauguration] to save land and water to foster slow and sacred processes in force since before time itself.

Historians now grant Dr. Charles Conrad Abbott every honor for realizing and daring to state that artifacts he discovered in this Marsh give evidence of Lenape presence and use for 10,000 years and more! 

But Nature’s actions and interactions have been dynamically present here far far far far longer.  Who are WE to intrude, let alone arrest or destroy>



Weeds Evoke my Mood, Spring Lake, Abbott Marshlands



Weeds Surpass my Mood, Spring Lake, Abbott Marshlands



Nature’s Mourning


We are told that the Lenapes named this Spring Lake in their own far more beautiful language, because it was born of a spring.  We are also told that the beavers were the engineers…

In its center, though invisible to my camera, are coots, gadwalls, pintails, shovelers and a plethora of gulls.  Over our heads here and at another watery site deep into our journey, we were circled and circled by an enormous mute swan.  It may be mating season — he sure acts like it.  We decided that this swan, circling us at least six times, was a teen-ager in a white convertible, cruising as did my best friends and I along Detroit’s Woodward Avenue in our teens.  That swan was simply displaying how spectacular he is, how absolutely irresistible.

It is so still in the Marsh, that we were overwhelmed by the irreplaceable whisper/roar [a kind of ‘whuff whuff whuff’] of air in the mute swan’s wings.



“All will be well. All manner of things will be well.” Julian of Norwich — Spring Lake, Abbott Marshlands