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.

DCIM101GOPRO

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 
Advertisements

TRULY RURAL: SELLERSVILLE, PENNSYLVANIA

Modern Male Sellersville

MODERN MALE, SELLERSVILLE, PA, FOURTH OF JULY WEEKEND

(A recent Pearl S. Buck pilgrimage took a friend and me also to surrounding towns in very rural Pennsylvania.  Sellersville was a curious combination of past and present.  We had to turn to Wikipedia to learn some of its past.)

Guide Pearl Buck Estate July 2017

EMMA, OUR CHARMING GUIDE TO NEARBY PEARL BUCK ESTATE

Sellersville was founded in the early 18th century. It was centered on a major road known as Bethlehem Pike that connected Philadelphia to Bethlehem and the rest of what was then far Western Pennsylvania.

(Wikipedia is rather voluble about this tiny burg surrounded by farmland, hills and almost-mountains of the appropriate shade of violet.)

(We had begun our Pearl Buck-quest at a delightfully vibrant and lively farmers’ market in Perkasie.  First peaches joined healthy cabbage, vibrant tomatoes and a rainbow, so to speak, of fresh ‘greens’, sold by the farmers themselves.)

The ‘shank of the day’ was spent exploring the Pearl Buck Estate on nearby Dublin Road. 

Welcome Sellersville Rural PA July

WELCOME TO SELLERSVILLE

Our finale was a bountiful and gracious late lunch at Sellarsville’s remarkably sophisticated Washington Inn, in what most people otherwise might describe as ‘a backwater’.  The name of that Inn was just part of the constant Fourth-of-July references that peppered our adventure, –none planned and all greatly appreciated–, on our Country’s sacred Birthday weekend.)

Flag Sellersville PA

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DEAR AMERICA, FROM SELLERSVILLE

The town was very small and was called Sellers Tavern. Its most notable feature was a large inn. The present Washington House in Sellersville, however, was not Sellers Tavern.

Washington Inn Side View Sellersville PA

HOW WASHINGTON INN LOOKED FROM MAIN STREET IN ITS PAST

The town grew slowly over the years until the Industrial Revolution. In the 1860s the North Pennsylvania Railroad was built, running parallel to Bethlehem Pike: this stimulated the growth of light textile industries and brought a wave of population growth.

Proud Past Sellersville Rural PA July 2017

PROUD PAST – SELLSERSVILLE’S MAIN STREET

The East Branch of the Perkiomen Creek runs through the town, connecting it to an adjacent town of Perkasie. This creek was dammed in the early 20th century,  creating a small body of water known as Lake Lenape. (So, even in Pennsylvania, places are named after those who were destroyed — these first settlers — in order that ‘progress’ might take place…)

Along the length of the lake, a park was built on Perkasie and Sellersville lands. In the 1920s and 1930s this park housed a carousel, a roller coaster and several other amusements.

The railroad brought hundreds of people from Philadelphia in the summertime.  It became a well known vacation spot for blue-collar city workers.

Sellersville Theatre 1894 2017

SELLERSVILLE THEATER, 1894

The town was also home to the Radium Company of America, which was the largest uranium milling facility in the world at the time.  (There seems to be no notice of the human toll of uranium milling, or the “luminescence” to follow.  At Wheaton Glass Museum in South Jersey, the human toll of luminous glassware is frankly declared.)

Cloud Bank Sellersville PA

TURRETED TOWN OF SELLERSVILLE, PENNSYLVANIA

The United States Gauge Company originated in Sellersville in 1904.  It became a prominent manufacturer of gauges for military use, many of which were coated with radium-based paint[1] for nighttime luminesence. The company later became instrumental in the production of nuclear weapons,[2] leaving behind a legacy of industrial and radioactive contamination that has been well-hidden by local, county, state, and federal government agencies for decades.  (Ironically, my friend – who had planned this intricate excursion- and I were actively speaking with longing of the healthy air, the healthy lives these fortunate residents must have!)

Clematis Exuberance Sellersville PA

CLEMATIS EXUBERANCE, WASHINGTON INN

Today the town is still relatively small, sandwiched between a ridge line and the larger town of Perkasie. The center of town still runs along Bethlehem Pike, now called Old Route 309.

Storied Washington Inn Sellersville PA July 2017

THE WASHINGTON INN, 2017

The Washington House still stands and has recently been restored to become an upscale restaurant.

Washington House Sellersville PA

HOTEL AND RESTAURANT: WASHINGTON INN

Next door to the restaurant was a livery stable, which was converted into a theater (later a movie theater) in 1894. It has since been restored.  It was reopened in 2001 as Sellersville Theater 1894 as a live music venue.  (The Washington Inn and the Sellersville Theater cooperate in evenings of food and drama.  My friend and I signed up for chances on “A Big Night in Sellersville — involving gastronomy and theatre and ‘a night in the Tower.’)

Parisian Cafe Chairs Sellersville PA

PARISIAN CHAIRS, WASHINGTON INN, SELLERSVILLE, PA

The creek is still dammed but only the carousel in Perkasie remains of the amusements.

The textile industry has long moved out of the area.  Sellersville has become mainly a residential town for people working in the many urban centers that are only a short commute away.

The town is surrounded on three sides by open country and spread-out housing developments.

The Teller Cigar Factory was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

TURRET OF YESTERYEAR, SELLERSVILLE, PENNSYLVANIA

Sellersville Turret PA July 2017

 

“Paradise enow…”: Wells Mills Preserve / Pine Barrens

It’s always a treat when someone says, “Carolyn, I have a place I’d like to take YOU to hike!”  Fay Lachmann, –British-born–, has proven her friendship in a myriad of ways.  Many of them had to do with various rescues around the hip operation, and in other challenging times.  My first post-op Thanksgiving meal…  “Carolyn, it’s not about the sheets,” as she helped this unbendable one make the bed Friday after Friady.  Last week, Fay insisted on going right back to Wells Mills together, when she had only just taken her own hiking group there the day before.

Fay’s voice held uncharacteristic wispy notes, as she tried to explain why.  Finally, she simply stated, “Well, it’s about laurel.”

 

Laurel and Old Cedar Wells Mills

 

I could probably end this blog post right here.  The mountain laurel is at peak in the New Jersey Pine Barrens right now.  Even though there isn’t a mountain for miles.

***

Fay Lachmann Cedar Woods Wells Mills early June 2017

***

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep…”  Some of the other lines from Frost’s masterpiece were also true, as in “.,..miles to go before I sleep…”  Enchanted miles in a woods that comprised almost totally of Atlantic White Cedar.

This wood was everywhere in South Jersey when that land was discovered by whalers settling Cape May in the 1500s.  Other explorers were naming shore areas Egg Harbor, for example, because beaches were covered with shore bird eggs.  In the 1700s, white cedar was used for shingles — as house siding and for roofs; for fence posts; and most urgently for casks carrying the tannic Pine Barrens teak water on whaling voyages.  In cedar, teak water stayed fresh for three years.  White cedar casks also protected wild cranberries for sailors, who otherwise would have perished from scurvy.  Such usefulness doomed cedar back when we were East Jersey and West Jersey, except in Wells Mills.

***

Laurel and Cedar and Pine Wells Mills

***

Towering cedars raised their lacy greenery, inky against fresh clouds.  Frail laurel blossoms leapt for the sky.  Here and there, a rough-trunked pitch pine announced to the forest primeval just exactly whose forest this is, anyhow.  A pine cone or two on the sugar sand trails foretold the probable future.

***

Canoeists on Wells Mills Lake

***

Silent canoeists hugged the far shore, of a tranquil lake that resembled finely pleated silver lame.  Anything or anyone could’ve emerged out of it, — a mermaid or The Lady of the Lake of Arthurian days.

A single dazzling swan sailed just out of reach of the paddlers.  A family of geese included a huge pale barnyard goose in the middle of five young — a switch on the Ugly Duckling Story.

***

Rarities at Wells Mills early June

***

Exceedingly rare plants burgeoned at points where peatwater streamlets entered the glistening lake.  If I am understanding my Audubon Field Guide to North American Wildflowers correctly, this is (misleadingly named) Common pipewort.  “Bog or aquatic herbs with crowded head of tiny flowers and long, leafless stalk.”

***

Rarity Wells Mills

And this is purportedly Northern Pitcher Plant:  “a carnivorous plant with a large, purplish-red flower.”  Audubon does speak of “an umbrella-like structure.”

Laurel at Peak Wells Mills June 2017

But mountain laurel carried the day — laurel and friendship.