“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!

“CACTUS ED” ABBEY ON MY MIND

“The earth is not a mechanism, but an organism.”                   Ed Abbey, The Journey Home

[Being in the Southwest] “is a treasure best enjoyed through the body and the spirit…, not through commercial plunder.”                                                       Ed Abbey, The Journey Home

“Are we going to ration the wilderness experience?”                 Ed Abbey, The Journey Home                              delicate-arch-arches-national-park-utah

Delicate Arch, Canyonlands, from Internet

The more I experience of man’s inhumanity to the Planet, –especially in overpopulated, pipe-line-threatened New Jersey–, the more I need Ed Abbey at my side. 

Right now, horrified at the success of the multi-billion-dollar-funded Climate Change Deniers (see This Changes Everything – Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein), I’m reading Adventures with Ed by Jack Loeffler.  The  author hiked and ate and drank and discussed and even fought with Ed during his lifetime. 

The two made a solemn pact that neither would let the other die in a hospital.  A pledge Loeffler was barely able to keep, but did.  The secret burial site required by Ed was facilitated, honored and often visited by Loeffler.  He would bring beer, –one poured for Ed; one drunk by himself, whenever he made that pilgrimage.

Everything about which we have been warned by Naomi Klein and 350.org and James Hansen and and Elizabeth Kolbert and Bill McKibben and probably even Rachel Carson and even the Nobel Prize Committee and Al Gore, is described in chapter and verse of anything by and about Abbey. 

A professed non-naturalist and determined “desert rat”, — who claimed to want to turn into a vulture upon dying–, Ed showed us the Southwest as the Poster Child for military/industrial/Big Coal/Big Gas/Big Copper ruinations.

McKibben issued his clarion call when The End of Nature was published in 1989.  He is still calling.  Abbey’s pivotal Desert Solitaire brought us to attention to commercial despoilations of our planet, especially in the Southwest, in 1968   Is anybody listening?

My first attention to the plight of our pPlanet came through Ed’s articles, as  well as through his seminal non-fiction work, Desert Solitaire. 

My first protests began and accelerated with the proposal to dam the Grand Canyon (!yes!) and another to build an enormous coal-fired generating station on the Kaiparowits Plateau, fouling the Four Corners region sacred to countless Indian tribes.

In those enlightened days, popular magazines published words and memorable images of the beauties we seemed fated to lose, as we now stand to lose New Jersey’s last green spaces to Pipelines conspiracies.  That’s when I joined the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, and ‘adopted whales’ through a Provincetown non-profit, as my daughters’ main Christmas presents.

Ed, whom I did not yet ‘know’ from that one volume (still most successfully in print) said it first.  Working as I do for D&R Greenway Land Trust, though I am speaking here as my very private, very opinionated self, I see perils to nature at every turn.  Some of which incursions we can prevent, and in some cases turn around.  Every year of the benighted 21st Century, it becomes more and more clear to me that Ed was a remarkable prophet, as well as a stirring author.  (Read his novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, if you don’t believe me.)

Ed is carefully quoted by Jack Loeffler, –from a speech Abbey was asked to give to St. John’s College in Santa Fe, in his beloved New Mexico:  “WILDERNESS IS WORTH SAVING FOR ITS OWN SAKE.”  This was 1975.  “Not for human benefit or pleasure.  Wild things and wild places have a right to exist and to continue existing…  Bees. birds, animals, snakes, buzzards, bugs, whatever, have a legal and moral right to continue. Even rocks have the moral right to continue being rocks.”

Those of you who read my US 1 (Business) Newspaper Cover Story on Four Shady Walks this week [princetoninfo.com], have absorbed my passion for the towering boulders of the Sourlands trail off Hopewell’s Greenwood Avenue.  This haven taught me that not only trees and flowers, animals and insects,  –but the very rocks themselves–, exude spirit.  One is changed, –of course for the better–, in their midst.  One is stilled, inspired and strengthened merely walking among them.  Even more-so, sitting upon the most majestic rocks at the end of the blue trail, their ancient reality, their connection to creation, seeps  into and surrounds one.

You who read this blog, who did read NJ WILD all those years with the Packet, have seen images of those rocks.  They impact me like Chartres and Mt. St. Michel.  But you must go there in timelessness.  You must allow them to realize that you are open to their beings, and sometimes, even their messages.  You might apologize aloud for humans who ferried them away and pulverized their eminences into gravel and Belgian blocks.  To say nothing of the angry and misguided who defaced them with (now effaced, but never forgotten) wild graffiti last fall.  You might also make amends to noble beech trees along the trail, scarred by (to me, inexplicable) human need to carve their initials upon their sacred skin.

Ed insists, and I have always agreed, the Bible has it wrong.  “Man was NOT put here to have dominion over all things…  The earth was here first, and all these living things before us.”  Ed, also, –whose great joy was scrambling over rocks and boulders, mountains and peaks, preferably in sere desert landscapes–, goes on to tell the St. John’s students:  “Is it not possible that rocks, hills, and mountains, may enjoy a sentience, a form of consciousness, which we humans cannot perceive, because of vastly different time scales?”  His most outrageous proposition, which I find irresistible, is “…consider that we are thoughts in the minds of mountains, or that all humanity is a long, long thought.”

His (temporary, for Ed never gave UP on these themes) conclusion is, “As mind is to body, so is humanity to earth.  We cannot dishonor one without dishonoring and destroying ourselves.”

The Intrepids and I turn together to Eleanor Roosevelt and Georgia O’Keeffe, to stiffen our spines for the battles demanded in the 21st Century, to carry on to victories small and large upon which the Planet’s very survival depends.  Privately, every single year, I turn to Ed.

Ed ruminates on reverberations of research: “Science leads to technology…, and industry.  It’s what [science] can lead to that could be bad… Things go wrong, and scientists (and the Army Corps of Engineers, adds Carolyn-of-New-Jersey) are called in to think up remedies.  More and more, the system comes to rely upon remedial tinkering.  It becomes ever more centralized until utter collapse is inevitable.”  Outrageous Ed dares to say “the sooner, the better”, which quip I do not applaud.  But his conclusion is essential, “Then, maybe, we can stamp out this blight, this cancer of industrialization.”

When our beautiful –state, with its marvelous green preserves of forest and farmland–, is reduced to a “What Exit?” joke…  When everyone’s view of this entity formerly known as The Garden is a plethora of tanks and chimneys and wires and overpasses.  When our sacred Shore is eyed by Big Power as one long limitless oilfield — it’s time to pay attention to Ed.  Read him.  Write letters to editors.  Protest every pipeline suggestion/appropriation.  Support your local land trusts, who are trying to turn the tide of ruination decried by Ed Abbey, the Hemingway of preservation.