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!

I'll take Manhattan from Sandy Hook Windy Spring 2017 004

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

January Birding Jim and Kathleen Amon Sandy Hook Salt Pond region Jan 20176

Birding Essentials: Kathleen and Jim Amon: January 2017

red throated tloon from Internet glamour_iandavies

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

(Internet Image)

Essential Tools Sandy Hook Jan 20167

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.

Where the Rabbit Trekked Sandy Hook Jan 201

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!

Lifesavers' Station darkened

Sandy Hook’s Heroic Lifesaving Station

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

 

Tasha Carolyn Bahrs Sandy Hook April

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

 

 

PRESERVED BY NATURE, Yet Again

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.

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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 

“STAR-GUIDED” – a Christmas Fable

Long ago, when I lived in New Hope, this story came to me as a dream.  I typed it (no computers yet), hoping someday to publish it, among a series of Transition Tales.  Life overtook me in one way and another, so that dream has not (yet) been realized.  On this Solstice Night, the night of the return of the light, the beginning of the season of miracles, I give you my “Star-Guided”, wrapped in starlight and stardust.  (In those days, my splendid Himalayan cat was “Stardance.”) May this story make your hearts dance.

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.

n 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…!

hind 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.

h 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.

 

Christmas Arrives in Unexpected Settings

 Waterville Valley Vistas

When one has a difficult mother,  it can become essential to distance one’s self and  family, particularly at the time of significant holidays.  If one has a courageous husband, he may announce, as the parental car pulled out of our Princeton driveway after a particularly grueling visit, “That’s it.  We are not letting her ruin another Christmas.  We are going skiing at Waterville.”

My husband, Werner Oscar Joseph Edelmann (for full effect say with German accent) was 100% Swiss.  Although he had not grown up skiing, we took it up as a family, the year we moved to Princeton – 1968.  Shore friends, sitting on their dune-cushioned deck, insisted that our families learn together.  It was August and steamy.  Winter?  WHAT Winter.  We said yes.

I secretly hoped some disaster, like a broken leg, or death, would intervene before that crucial February challenge.  None did.  So we all began to learn to ski.  The girls were in kindergarten and first grade.  At Killington, they looked like bunnies in their fuzzy snowsuits and fat mittens, among a gaggle of other little beginners, huddled at the base of ‘the bunny slope.’

They, being half Swiss, did not remain beginners very long.  In the year of our deliverance from my mother, they were teens who preferred ‘bombing the black lines’   – the expert slopes.  Especially “Oblivion” in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire.  The White Mountains were Werner’s choice for our runaway Christmas, because their ski school and an authentic Swiss lodge were run by Paul Pfosi.  All Paul’s instructors were Swiss.  Extremely demanding.  “Ski marks on the inside of your ski boots” to prove you had your legs close enough together.  Off-slope, they all delighted to converse in their native (unwritten) language with this tall, dark-haired, dark-eyed very determined American skier.  Stein Eriksen in those years was our hero, our model.

stein_eriksen

No one would mistake us for Stein, but his example formed Pfosi’s Instructor Corps.

Anita Kathriner and Raphael Wyss make Alpkase, Mutschli and butter by hand in the traditional manner in a giant copper kettle over a wood burning fire at their cheese-making hut above Wengen, Switzerland

Swiss Copper Cheese Kettle in situ

Pfosi’s Lodge held the huge copper kettles we’d first seen in Emmenthaler, in which magnificent Swiss cheeses were precisely concocted.  Only Pfosi’s kettles overflowed with silky evergreen boughs from nearby endless forests.  Swiss Christmas music, such as relatives had carefully sent to Diane and Catherine over the years, pealed from hidden speakers.  Conditions were ideal on the slopes, and for any number of days we almost forgot it was Christmas.  But not quite.

Our family, over the years, had no experience of that Holiday beyond our own formal tree and hand-made-ornament tree, one by the living room fireplace, one by the family room’s slate hearth.  Heaven to us was a fire in each room, the three of us in long plaid skirts and white lace blouses, playing our guitars and caroling for Werner in the family room.  There’d always been the Nutcracker at Lincoln Center, and caroling in the neighborhood near Princeton’s Snowden Lane.  Could Christmas find us in New Hampshire?

There was a tiny church in the village below the lodge.  It felt very odd to go to church in ski clothes and apres-ski boots.  Instead of a jungle of poinsettias in the Princeton church, but two tiny ones ‘decked’ this austere altar.  Instead of instruments sustaining voices back home, a motley choir with cracking voices sang in a small wooden balcony high overhead.  But it was Midnight Mass, and it did hold all the magic we needed.  And the quivering voices underscored a somehow more memaningful reality.

We drove back up the mountain, past the restaurant where we’d had Christmas Eve Supper.  We’d sat next to a live birch tree, somehow able to live and thrive indoors, reaching for the midnight sky.  Between dinner and church, we’d been astounded by stars beyond counting, which seemed nearly blinding.  But between church and the lodge, no stars.  Instead, white swirls, glistening to be sure, of new snowflakes — no more welcome blessing in ski country at Christmas.

Swiss Santa in Boat

Back in our rooms — it must have been near 2 a.m. by now — we found dark Swiss chocolates wrapped in bright gold foil upon our pillows,.  Pfosi’s had signed lacy old-fashioned Christmas cards with gilt arabesques, such as those which arrived every year from Tante Li, Onkel Joni, Cousin Vera and the rest of the family in and near St. Gallen.  I cannot spell their Christmas message, but we all knew how to say it in Swiss — it sounded like FRO-LIKKA-VIE-NOCKTEN.  One said this with certain notes in our voices which the girls had heard since babyhood..

Frohlichi Wiehnacht Swiss Christmas Card

Diane’s and Catherine’s room was right across the narrow hall from ours.  They burst in, laughing all over.  “Come Quick!  Come Quick!  Carolers!”

We “thrust open the windows, threw up the sash” onto a scene I will never forget.  Snow circled, enfolding us as though we had been transported into the Milky Way. itself, Horses snorted and their visible breath mingled with the flakes.  Yes, sleigh bells jingled.  Tucked into hay in an old fashioned sleigh were male and female carolers, dressed as we had been for Mass, in ski parkas and ski mitts and knit hats.  These voices sounded like tiny silver chimes, like bells, rising into the heavens in celebration.

And we’d thought Christmas was only in our family room…

It wasn’t every Christmas morning that opened on a trail named “Oblivion”!

The Mountain, Waterville Valley

May each of you find your special holiday exactly as you need it this year — and may its real message of Peace on Earth, Good Will, suffuse our entire planet.

Here is an ad from the 1970’s, when we were there:

ski watervi w va NEW HAMPSHIRE PFOSI S LODGE Willkommen! Paul Pfosi, Director of the Waterville Valley Ski School, invites you to enjoy the Swiss-American hospitality of Pfosi’s Lodge. Alodge unique in every way combining old world charm with the most modern American accommodations and conveniences; …

The future would bring Christmas in other realms:

Aspen skiing scene,jpg

In Aspen, we could ski through forests.

In Zermatt, the Materhorn always tantalized:

Zermatt Materhorn from Internet

 

But the slopes held the magic:

 

Swiss skier from Internet

BUT NOTHING EVER TOPPED CAROLERS IN THE HORSE-DRAWN SLEIGH OUTSIDE THE OPEN WINDOWS OF PFOSI’S LODGE OF WATERVILLE.

BORDENTOWN CHRISTMAS: Gifts Beyond Measure!

I am lucky to have friends who are willing to go on quests with me.  NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that most of our pilgrimages have to do with nature in general and birds in particular.  Others require history.  Many involve food.  This is a jaunt with superb poet Betty Lies, friend-of-long-standing and co-founder of Princeton’s Cool Women Poets.  We needed Christmas one year, and Bordentown unexpectedly provided it, ‘in spades’   Saunter with us…  through this town of great significance, always too little appreciated in our time!

Little Engine That Could Bordentown 09

The Caboose was always my favorite part of real trains.  There was frequently a trainman in that car who waved to me, as though he’d been waiting all day for that very moment…

Trains had a great deal to do with childhood Christmas in Michigan.  One year, Santa brought me an intricate Lionel train set, even though there were only daughters in our family.  Each year after that, it circled and tooted merrily under the tree.  I had forgotten that…  regret that we did not weave that in as I raised my own daughters.

All Aboard Bordentown 09

ALL ABOARD!

Joys of Bordentown 09

In Bordentown, it’s as though the village itself is wrapped for the Holiday.

Bon Appetit Farnsworth House Bordentown

Our Favorite Place to Eat — Old-World and Leisurely

 

Bordentown Facade 09

In Bordentown, Always Look Up — The Past is Waiting

 

Beauty of Emptiness Tree Shadows Bordentown 09

Beauty of Emptiness, Bordentown Streetcorner

 

Jester's Cafe Bordentown 09

Jester’s — Home of the Hearty Welcome

Bordentown Mural wide viewHistoric Mural of Strategic Bordentown – site of lost Revolutionary Battle, Thomas Paine’s only bought property, superbly venerable Quaker Meeting House, home of America’s first sculptress, Clara Barton’s schoolhouse, and both Joseph and Charles Lucien Bonaparte – sent to Point Breeze for its magnificent ‘aspect’ over the Delaware, by Napoleon himself.

 

Borden's Towne

PILLAGED AND BURNED BY THE BRITISH IN 1778

 

Bordentown Historical SocietyLIVING HISTORY

 

Baubles of YesteryearBAUBLES OF YESTERYEAR

 

Clara Barton's first schoolCLARA BARTON’S FIRST SCHOOL

 

Frances and Joseph Hopkinson HouseFRANCIS AND JOSEPH HOPKINSON HOUSE:

“Revolutionary Patriot, Signer, Member of Congress, Scientist, Artist, Scholar, Statesman, ‘Hail Columbia’,” etc.: LIVING HISTORY

IMG_1273SITE OF THE RIVER LINE TRAIN – FREE BEAUTIFUL RIVERSIDE PARKING FOR ALL-DAY JAUNTS – through Marsh to Trenton or down to Roebling, Burlington, Riverton, Riverside, Camden and even Walt Whitman House and Aquarium…

Bordentown Peach Mousse IrisAnd, Most Ethereal of All Bordentown’s Gifts: Mother’s Day Festival of the Most Exquisite Iris Ever Anywhere!

RIVER TOWNS TIME TRAVEL, NJ, JULY

Readying Riverton July 2017

READYING — RIVERTON NEW JERSEY, on the Delaware

Today is le quatorze juillet, –the independence birthday of my beloved France.  I was blessed to live in Cannes on this day, 1987.  In the Bay floated ships of that country and ours.  Each morning, between 4th of July and le quatorze (14) juillet, I wakened to American anthems, then French, floating across the Mediterranean.  Those so-familiar notes drifted in, over my herb-fragrant balcony, then through the (of course) French doors.

For Fourth of July, 2017, no anthems enhanced Fourth of July in this horrifically compromised time.  In fact, I find our situation worse than under George III himself.  Nor do I hear French martial music this morning.

But I think about independence, the enormous sacrifices of all that everyone held dear, required to achieve true freedom in both countries.  I am particularly preoccupied after a recent Morven visit, by the fate of Princeton’s own Richard Stockton.  That stately mansion occupied and partially burned by the British.  He who had been chased, captured, tortured, never to recover from his  personal sacrifices to free this land from tyranny.

The more we prate of ‘liberty’ now, –to the ridiculous extent of naming an airport after this blessing/necessity–, the less we possess.

But, in bucolic riverside Riverton, New Jersey, patriotism is alive and well in nearly every dooryard.

Glory of Riverton July 2017

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I do not possess ‘patriotism’, as it has been vengefully re-defined since 9/11.  But time travel can restore its essence.  I seek opportunities to re-love my country  in towns along the Delaware River.  I am particularly so blessed from Lumberton and on up to Frenchtown (!) down through Roebling, Del Ran, Burlington, Riverside and Riverton on our splendid River Line train.

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Riverton Time July 2017

Return with me, NJWILDBEAUTY readers, to idyllic Riverton in our New Jersey, as that precious town prepared for our independence birthday this year.

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River Line Train Tile of Delaware for Riverton

RIVER LINE TRAIN TILE IMAGE FOR RIVERTON, NJ    (River Life & Shad)

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4th of July Committee Riverton July 2017

 

Water for Dogs Riverton July 2017

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Bell for the children to ring Riverton 2017

BELL (LIBERTY?) FOR THE CHILDREN TO RING

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Glow of Yesterday Riverton July 2017

YESTERYEAR GLOWS

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Belle of Riverton July 2017

VICTORIAN BELLE

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Even Churches Interesting - Riverton 2017

EVEN THE CHURCHES ARE STILL BEAUTIFUL

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Majestic Dormers, Riverton July 2017

MAJESTIC DORMERS

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Your Carriage, Madame... Riverton 2017

“YOUR CARRIAGE, MADAME…”

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RIVERTON WELCOME

Riverton Welcome July 2017

Yesterday Beneath our Feet Riverton 2017

YESTERDAY BENEATH OUR VERY FEET

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Riverton Delaware River Scene at Yacht Club

RIVERTON YACHT CLUB, RIVERSIDE STROLL

 

OLD-FASHIONED ICE CREAM PARLOR, in Burlington NJ, near Delaware River

UMMM Ice Cream Burlington July 2017

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know I recently savored river towns, thanks to our brilliant light rail system from Bordentown (for me) to Camden.  This immaculate, zingy, Swiss-made train is reconnecting and resurrecting towns that died with the age of sail.

Coke of Yesteryear Ice Cream Parlor MMMM Burlington July 2017

Tickets are for a time period, not any particular destination – and mine (because of venerable age!) is 75 cents for two hours.  I guess non-venerables pay $1.50.  Heaven awaits.

CHOICES! Ice Cream Parlor MMMM Burlington

But also, the visceral experience of other eras.  I am convinced that Burlington’s brick sidewalks must have been made with bricks from the Abbott Marshlands, ages ago.  Signs of 1776 and 1656 abound.

Important Men Burlington July 2017

This ice cream parlor is in Burlington, (two blocks east and one south returned us to the train station, to buy and then validate a second set of tickets.)    It feels as though it were founded in the earliest part of the twentieth century, and has barely changed since.  Even I am not that venerable!

Eloquent Bricks Burlington

Back to the Ice Cream Parlor:

Get a Split Ice Cream Parlor Burlington July

 

FLAG Ice Cream Parlor MMMM Burlington July 2017

If Michelin had not invented “worthy of the journey”, I would have to do so for this idyllic sojourn.

On that hot summer’s day, all we needed to cool ourselves in the river towns, was to walk a block or two west to the river, or pop into this ice cream parlor.

O.K., the 21st-century waitress didn’t know how to make an ice cream soda.  But, beautiful and charming, she tore herself away from studying, to follow perfect instructions from my Princeton Photography Club (New York natives) companions.

Hit the rails — Think “River Line”!