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 

WHY I RUN AWAY TO ‘THE PINES’

 

EXCURSION TO THE BARRENS

 

I like to watch old farms wake up

ground fog furling within the turned furrows

as dew-drenched tendrils of some new crop

lift toward dawn

 

three solid horses bumble

along the split-rail fence

one rusting tractor pulsing

at the field’s hem

 

just over the horizon

the invisible ocean

paints white wisps

all along the Pinelands’

blank blue canvas

as gulls intensely circle

this tractor driver’s

frayed straw hat

 

from rotund ex-school buses

workers spill

long green rows suddenly peppered

by their vivid headgear

as they bend and bend again

to sever Jersey’s bright asparagus

 

some of which I’ll buy

just up ahead

at the unattended farm stand

slipping folded dollars

into the ‘Honor Box’

 

before driving so reluctantly

away from this region called ‘Barren’

where people and harvests

still move to seasons and tides

 

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

May 30, 2005/July 19, 2006

Missing Autumn

Where Are the Autumns of Yesteryear?

Autumn's Midas Tree Fall 2014

We’re well along in the second of my two favorite months — September…..   October….   But something’s very wrong.  Green is everywhere.  Unwelcome green!  June and July are well past – but their temperatures and their very colors are with us still.

Essence of Autumn

autumn pine cones and oak leaves Brig

Someone brought and enormous bucket of purple iris to D&R Greenway this week — iris is a spring herald, not fall’s.

Autumn Russo's White Pumpkins

Once I wrote a poem about stubborn autumn leaves:  “They have had their chance.  Now I want them down… since they would not play tapers to our waltz….”

Autumn Crispness Canal and Delaware River near Prallsville Mills

Autumn Frames Canal and Delaware River, Near Prallsville Mills

I don’t want them down in 2017.  I want those colors to flare and flame so that one thinks that level of scarlet and crimson and gold and even purple would put out the night sky itself.

Autumn's Wild Sky Montgomery

Whatever happened to autumn?

Autumnal Richesse of Mums

We know the answer, But we are mandated to call its cause a myth.

Where are the autumns of yesteryear?

 

Mellow fruitfulness” at Russo’s in Tabernacle in the Jersey Pine Barrens:

Autumn Russo's Pumpkins

 

Keats says it for all of us.  He dares counter to spring, telling my favorite season, this autumn manque,thou hast thy music 

To Autumn

John Keats, 17951821

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, 
  Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless 
  With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees, 
  And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core; 
    To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells 
  With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees, 
Until they think warm days will never cease,
    For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store? 
  Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor, 
  Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep, 
  Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
    Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep 
  Steady thy laden head across a brook; 
  Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
    Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they? 
  Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,--
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day, 
  And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn 
  Among the river sallows, borne aloft
    Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies; 
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn; 
  Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
  The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft, 
    And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.


Red Cranberry Vines at Chatsworth, New Jersey

Chatsworth Bog Red Vines

 

 

 

 

FOURTH OF JULY FLAG COLLECTION

TAOS, NEW MEXICO, HOLLYHOCK AND FLAG

Taos Hollyhock and Flag 2016

Once upon a time, our flag had but thirteen stars.  Few as they were, those bright lights represented staunch courage and a fierce sense of Independence,  Until recently, we exuberantly celebrate every Fourth of July since that sacred Declaration was read on the balcony of Boston’s Faneuil Hall.  And some of us marvel over that singular Fourth of July when Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died within hours of one another…

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1 24-Star Flag

24-STAR FLAG

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At the time of the tragedy of September 11 and the World Trade Center, our flag was somehow shrunken to fit on the hoods of cars beyond counting.  It was also co-opted as a symbol of vengeance.

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Cape May Half-Mast Christmas 2015

CAPE MAY HALF-MAST AT CHRISTMASTIME

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Around this same time, people stopped using the phrase “Fourth of July”, mandated to substitute ridiculous meaningless phrases, such as “Freedom Fest” and even “Freedom Fries.”  So did we learn that the more politicians prate of freedom and liberty  (“Newark Liberty” – I ASK you!),   the less we have.

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Chatham Light Storm-blown Flag jpg

CHATHAM (MASSACHUSETTS) LIGHT AND STORM-WHIPPED FLAG

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Wherever I travel in our country every year, I “collect” images of the American flag I revere and fiercely love.

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13 Star Flag Chestnut Neck Revolutionary War Monument Winter 2017

13-STAR FLAG, BATTLEGROUND OF CHESTNUT NECK, PINE BARRENS,

NEW JERSEY

 

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My flag collection is saved into a Fourth of July file.  Each year, they are sifted through like rubies, diamonds, sapphires, — a priceless tumble of red, white and blue–, into a vintage jewelry box.

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Bayhead Flag in April April wind 2016

BAY HEAD, NEW JERSEY, FLAG — WIND-WHIPPED IN APRIL

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Wander with me through flags that mean what our Founding Fathers meant when they pledged (and some lost) their lives, their fortunes, though not their sacred honor to bring forth this miraculous country.

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GHOST RANCH, ABIQUIU, NEW MEXICO – FLAGS AND EVENING FOG

 

Ghost Ranch Flags and Clouds July 2016

 

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PATRIOTS’ FLAG, BATTLEGROUND OF CHESTNUT NECK

PINE BARRENS, NEW JERSEY

Patriots' Flag Chestnut Neck Revolutionary War Monument Winter 2017

A FEW GOOD SCENES – Recent Excursions

Memorial Boardwalk Brigantine April 2017

FINALLY! BACK TO ‘THE BRIG’ — Leed’s Eco-Trail

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NJWILDBEAUTY readers know how important weekend adventures are to me, –the essentiality of refilling the well, emptied daily in our work, saving the Planet.

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Leeds Point Classic Scene Fishing Village Brigantine early April 2017

And Beloved Leed’s Point, (near home of the Jersey Devil, whom I long to meet!)

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Some of you also know about February’s torn meniscus — healing enough that I’ve been back on the trails.  But p.t. takes hours daily, –some in private, some with kind, gentle, dedicated coaches.  There remains too little time for creativity with all this body-building.  The whole point of this work on “glutes, hamstrings and core” is to get back outside.  Come with me to recent restorative havens.

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Snowy Egret in Full Breeding Plumage, in WIND, The Brig

Snowy Egret Misty Brig Spring 2017

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Visitor Center, Purple Martin Houses, Perfect Clouds – The Brig

Visitor Cednter for Martins, for Humans Brig Spring 2017

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Spring Mimics Autumn – Swamp Maple, Waterlilies, The Brig

Spring Mimics Autumn at Brig 2017

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Essence of Spring – Geese and Goslings — The Brig

Goose Goslings Gander Brig Spring 2017

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Jeanette Hooban (Intrepid) Rights Horseshoe Crabs,

Fortescue, Delaware Bayshore

Jeanette Righting Fortescue Horseshoe Crabs Spring 2017

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High Tides Upset Horseshoe Crabs, Fortescue

Life and Death Fortescue Horseshoe Crabs and Eggs Mem. Day 2017

BEACH COBBLED WITH HORSESHOE CRABS — 2 weeks late for the Full Moon of May

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Primordial Drama Fortescue Horseshoe Crabs Spring 2017

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SACRED EGGS OF THE HORSESHOE CRABS 

But red knots and ruddy turnstones may have come and gone, ill-nourished, to Arctic

The Sacred Eggs Fortescue Horseshoe Crabs Mem. Day 2017

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Fortescue at Its Best — Late Light, Late Fishermen

Delaware Bay Day's End Fortescue Horseshoe Crabs 2017

“DAY IS DONE, GONE THE SUN” – Fortescue

For these scenes, these full days in the wild, all those intense hours of physical therapy, with John Walker of Princeton Orthopaedic Group; and of chiropractic with Brandon Osborne, D.C., are worth it.  Whatever it takes to give yourselves the wild, do it!

I dare to rephrase Thoreau:  “In wildness is the healing of the world.”

“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.

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Fay Lachmann Cedar Woods Wells Mills early June 2017

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“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.

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Laurel and Cedar and Pine Wells Mills

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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.

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Canoeists on Wells Mills Lake

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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.

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Rarities at Wells Mills early June

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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.”

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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.

Brigantine Return – Last of the Winter Birds

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that ‘The B rigantine’, or Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge, near Smithville, New Jersey, has been closed to humans other than construction workers, since September.  I’ve now made two trips to the re-roaded, re-opened refuge.  I am happy to note that rarities are in residence, or in tourist mode, to a high degree.  This late March Saturday, we were treated to the last of the winter birds, and one life species for me — WHITE IBIS — two in a tree with a Great Egret, on the way to the Gull Pond Tower.  Most of these images are by my dear friend and superb bird artist, Brenda Jones.  All of them are wild nature, roaming free, thanks to far-sighted altruistic politicians of yesteryear.

A thousand thanks always to consummate birder, Mary Wood, who not only drives us in her silent Prius, which does not alarm the wildlings.  But who gave me her spectacular (second pair) of Swarovski binoculars, which finally allow me to see eye rings…

In case you wonder why people bird….

 

White_ibises_feature

Imagine Two White Ibis in One Tree — (Internet Image)   We left before they did...

Great Egret Brigantine Forsythe Brenda Jones 2

Great Egret – We also saw this one wading about (a first for us!) in sparkling Absecon Bay

bufflehead Brenda Jones

Brenda’s Serene Male Bufflehead — We had three females, two males.

Female Bufflehead Bull's Island Stockton NJ Brenda Jones

Brenda’s Intricate Female Bufflehead

Mute swan Brenda Jones

At one point, we had the mute swan and the 5 buffleheads ‘in one glass’

(meaning we could see all without moving our optics)

Osprey on winter tree Brenda Jones

We were this close to the first returned male osprey, — serene, imperious on his nest.  His mate is due to return in about two weeks. 

Green-Winged Teal Brenda Jones

We had green-winged teal beyond counting, at the inlet from Absecon Bay

snow_goose_laura_frazier_blackwaternationalwildliferefuge_cambridge_md from internet

We were given snow geese in numbers of this magnitude – Laura Frazier at Blackwater Wildlife Refuge in Maryland, from Internet — our were at rest upon the waters, serenading us with that musical murmur before departing for cooler climes…

Female Harrier Comin' In on a Wing Brenda Jones

Brenda’s Spectacular Female Harrier – I also spied “The Grey Ghost,” the elusive silvery male northern harrier, coasting along the tree line in a field to the west of Route 206, before we’d even turned into the Pine Barrens.

Song Sparrow from blind Brenda Jones

We heard, but did not see, the song sparrow at the northeast corner of the Refuge.

black brant in water from Internet

Internet Image of Black Brant in Water — We were given flocks on both sides, –bay and impoundment — and overhead in elegant waves.

Chickadee with Berry Brenda Jones

We frequently heard and ‘almost saw’ chickadees.

Red-winged Blackbird Brenda Jones

We heard and saw newly returned red-winged blackbirds.

Our finale bird at the Brig was an American Bald Eagle hiding out, disguising its imperious white head and diagnostic white tail in a black and white paper birch overlooking the final pond.

Eagle perched Brenda Jones new camera