Crossing the Delaware in Quest of Antidotes to 21st-Century Reality

general-george-washington--delaware-river-on-the-eve- from Internet

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Your NJWILDBEAUTY blogger spent ‘the shank of the day’ in bucolic, historic Bucks County.  Yes, yet again.  Alongside our timeless river, The River of Independence.  This waterways shad, John McPhee insists, saved Washington’s army at Valley Forge.  We wandered alongside the model of Washington’s Durham Boats for the Crossing, then the strangely romantic group sculpture at Washington’s Crossing State Park.

As we cross her shimmering. expanse, I try to keep her serenity alive in my own being.

Strategic Retreat

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A friend and I breakfasted sumptuously, alongside that river, in a structure a couple of hundred years old: The Lumberville General Store.  It is allied with the Black Bass Inn, which predates the Revolution – 1745 as I recall.  Both in and ‘Store’ are lovingly restored by the legendary Laura Thompson of Thompson Toyota in Doylestown.  She had been my neighbor at Village II in New Hope, where I lived (and fought to save the Delaware River from the Pump) from 1981 into 1987.

After hiking the footbridge over to Bull’s Island, my yesterday-friend and I drove through ageless burgeoning croplands, first in Pennsylvania, then in our New Jersey.   We punctuated our ramblings with a stop at a tiny farmstand off Route 31, stocking up on peaches and tomatoes from our Garden State.

All the while, fleeing this vile century.  All the while, seeking America.  OUR America!

View from Bridge South and Bulls Island July 2017

FOOTBRIDGE OVER DELAWARE FROM LUMBERVILLE TO BULL’S ISLAND

Only to arrive back here with a thud.

First projects upon return, as always, are signing petitions, to counter the Purloiner of the White House.  Save the Arctic.  Stop All Fracking.  Prevent oil drilling off any coasts.  One “SIGN HERE/SUBMIT”  laments and tries to counter the loss of bees.

I don’t know about the rest of NJWILDBEAUTY readers.  I have to confess, my trusty antidotes to harsh realities are seeming too little, too late, and frankly frail!

My Illinois sister sends me this wise quote from Patrick Henry.  Prescient.  A patriot when that word meant heroism, courage and magnificent leadership.

My sister empathizes with my condition these days, having suffered in her own state from narcissistic tyranny in the name of a governor.  As for the national situation, Marilyn echoes my own despair.  The concept of our vaunted liberty, –let alone citizens’ rights–, seems rare and imperiled as the bees.

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Readying Riverton July 2017

Although I posted this the day after the so-called ‘election’ of 2016, I return to Yeats — ever the prophet…

“The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government, lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.”
Patrick Henry
1736-1799

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

 

THE SECOND COMING

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
  Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

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CAPE MAY BIRDING WEEKEND PRELIMINARIES – Intrepids at Hawk Watch Platform

Birding, –whether its interval involves weeks, weekends, or stolen moments before sundown–, guarantees the unexpected.

Below is a potpourri of impressions from the Intrepids’ Cape May week, in extraordinarily hot October.

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Sunrise, Cape May, October 2016

Above, Carolyn Yoder watches for the Cape May skimmer flock, at sun’s arrival, on our empty beach.

Below, note birdless sky at the Cape May Bird Observatory Hawk Watch Platrorm, in the face of implacable winds out of the southeast:

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Ready for Action, neglected scope and camera at Cape May Hawk Watch Platform in Hot October 2016

 

“…Home are the wanderers, home from the sea…” For a series of idyllic days, Jeanette Hooban, Carolyn Yoder and I woke and slept to the sound of waves.  Except for our superb dinner at the Ebbitts Room of the Virginia Hotel, we never left the (perfectly restored charm-ful Victorian) house without binoculars in hand.

 

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Timelessness Central, Cape May Dwelling

 

Extraordinary fellowship was the hallmark of our days and night.  Especially as Carolyn Yoder. read aloud of Whitman and of Yeats, on this beckoning porch, in pitch darkness seasoned with moonrise.

 

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Dunes and Sea from Timeless Porch of Restored Victorian Cape May Residence

 

As for birding itself…   Well, let’s just say that 21st-Century people tend not to realize the crucial factor of wind-direction, –for birders, to be sure; but even more-so, for the birds.  Fall migrants need tail winds straight and strong, out of the northwest, surging them southward.  Our four southeast-buffeted days brought glorious sunrises, sunsets, and even a delightful dip in the Delaware Bay.     Birding?  Let’s put it down to quality over quantity   –that lone whimbrel on the Skimmer’s Back-Bay Birding pontoon Cape May saltmarsh expedition, above all.

 

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Jeanette Prepares for her Dip in Delaware Bay, at Higbee Beach

 

When the keenest birder abandoned his scope and camera (see above) and the raptor workshop began to speak of optics rather than birds, we took ourselves elsewhere.  We headed for Higbee Beach, scoping it out for our final morning’s dawn.  We planned to discover which warblers (especially) had chosen to rest among dunes and shrubs, rather than take on Delaware Bay.  Basically, this Intrepid Expedition convinced us that planning and birding do not go hand-in-hand.

 

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Migrant Human Crossing Delaware Bay — well, not exactly crossing…

 

I joined Jeanette, somewhat unexpectedly, attired in my shorts and shirt, when waves suddenly removed sands from beneath my feet.  The water was divine — cool as perfectly chilled champagne, and as invigorating.  My favorite part was looking up at sky through the Bay, (neither of us had ever entered it before).  I pretend I can still taste remnant salt on my sunburnt cheeks.

We had a little competition for that body of water:

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Ferry (Cape May – Lewes, Delaware) Entering the Bay

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HIgbee Beach, Where We Would Have Spent our Last Morning, Had not FOG and Windlessness Rendered Even the Atlantic Ocean Invisible

 

We have new respect, –the three of us–, for wind direction.  Those inescapable currents act like giant policemen’s hands, holding up all in flight, causing everything from slowing to fall-outs in bird-centric Cape May.

(As I work on this blog, we are experiencing serious south-westerly wind, so fierce that it is gusting ‘my’ goldfinches right off their thistle socks.  This wind is of no use to migrants, either.  Nor to all the other obsessive birders down there for Cape May Birding Weekend, in its full swing at this moment…)

 

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Cape May Bird Observatory’s Hawk Watch Platform Sponsors

Our first day on the Platform, we had an American bald eagle implacably chasing a migrant osprey over the tree line, most likely the osprey’s breakfast.  The ‘spotters’ told us, “eagles usually win.”

Humans on the Hawk Watch Platform had time to memorize the wisdom of our brilliant ornithological mentor, Pete Dunne, meticulously and wittily differentiating sharp-shins from Cooper’s hawks.

My i.d. skills were especially honed on this journey because a dear friend, –who prefers to remain anonymous–, loaned me HER priceless Swarovski optics for the duration.  Miracles were witnessed through them, not all of them at ‘The Point.’

 

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Carolyn Yoder and Jeanette Hooban Walk Away from a Lake Full of Swans

 

A good deal of time was spent studying mute swans in coordinated pairs, on the lake below the platform, and on the lake reflecting Cape May Light.  This land is mercifully preserved, and assiduously maintained, despite dire storms, –so that birds, pollinators, native wildflowers, and humans may thrive there.

 

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Feisty Butterfly on Cape May Point Boardwalk

 

The leitmotif of our pre-Birding-Weekend days was the bell-like muffled chatter of yellow-rumped warblers in and out of high tide plant and vines.  In normal years, we wouldn’t have been able to see the ivory blossoms of high tide plant for nectaring monarchs.  Amazingly enough, we may have been granted a higher proportion of lepidopterae than birds, for most of our time on the platform.

 

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Jeanette Discovering the Gadwall, confirmed by official Hawk Watch Platform Spotter, from Cape May Bird Observatory

 

Fellowship is high among today’s birders.  The second day, Jeanette was convinced that head shape and neck design meant a bird other than black duck.  Here she is, her discovery being confirmed and identified.  Queries are welcomed and richly answered.

But even Pete Dunne noted, “When talk turns to Cape May restaurants, we know the wind is wrong on the Platform.”  I teased him that a talk on such topics would be his next article.  Pete shook his head…  “Done that!,” he noted, turning to watch a sharp-shinned hawk twisting in high erroneous gusts.

Birders tend to have many teachers, over our years of (unending) apprenticeship:  But there is no one from whom I more joyously and thoroughly learn birding essentials than Pete Dunne.  Every aspect of Cape May Point echoes his work there, since he essentially founded Cape May Bird Observatory, standing on a picnic table and counting raptors decades ago.  Pete dared declare that Cape May had the highest seasonal concentrations of migrating raptors along the East Coast/Atlantic Flyway.

 

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Raptor I.D. Flag at the Point

 

Many of us first learned of Pete in his New York Times columns on nature in general; birds, birders and birding in particular.  But I must not overlook his long list of books, among which two favorites are Featherquest and Tales of a Low-Rent Birder.

The subtly witty Pete is the Ur-speaker at birding events.  He remains the ideal guide on a day devoted to avian creatures – whether on a boat on the Maurice River or on a rather odd bus in Philadelphia, riding from the Heinz Refuge to the shaded, bird-rich grave sites of America’s earliest ornithologists, Alexander Wilson and George Ord.  It would seem that birder-feuds are less virulent now than in their day — Ord is known for fiery resentment of colleagues, John James Audubon and Thomas Say.

 

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From Far and Near

 

The miracle of Pete Dunne is that he does not hold his encyclopedic knowledge ‘close to the chest.’  Quite the contrary — there is no more dedicated, determined teacher.  As Guide, he not only wants everyone ‘on’ the bird.  Pete sees to it that you take home field marks, silhouette nuances, and nearly-nonsense jingles so that you can do all this without him.

 

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Habitat-Protectors of the Future

 

As I tell Pete most times when I’m privileged to be with him, “All of us take you with us, every time we pick up our binoculars.”

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Pete Dunne on the Hawk Watch Platform from Internet

 

 

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Carolyn Watches Birdwatchers at the Platform

SHADY WALKS: US 1 NEWSPAPER article & LAMBERTVILLE & BARLEY SHEAF FARM, PA.

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that sometimes, (if VERY fortunate), I can convince local editors to feature nature articles for their readers.  I’m very aware that people of the 21st Century, if they are not out IN Nature, can absolutely forget, if not negate her.

The perilous state of journalism in our time renders my media appearances more and more scarce.  Nonetheless, those who find US 1 Business Newspaper tomorrow/Wednesday, August 10, will see my article on four shady walks in this time of searing sunlight.  I’ve been blessed to have a new poem, “Earthwise”, in US 1’s Fiction Issue the past two weeks.

Lambertville Towpath Water and Shade

Canalside Shade, Lambertville Towpath

Meanwhile, on  Sunday, I relished a fine shady towpath hike with Jeanette Hooban, (original Intrepid), first heading north out of Lambertville (NJ), then south, so far as the weir, otherwise known as the rapids of the Delaware River near New Hope.  There are towpaths with canal on both sides of this river that I cherish above all others.  Our side has the right amount of water in it.  Pennsylvania is finally getting ’round to filling theirs to historic levels, but it’s taking an unconscionably long time.

Lambertville Towpath Doowary

Typical Lambertville Canalside House

I have to admit, since I am in terrific turbulence over the difficult diagnosis given my 20-year-old great nephew last week, my ‘eye’, –as manifested through my camera–, was seriously off during these refreshing hours.

Bear with me, nonetheless.  I will expand the quantity and quality of my meagre offering with fine photographs by Jeanette and by Brenda Jones, known to readers of this blog and its predecessor for the Packet, NJWILD.

Know that Jeanette and I relished every foot(e)fall.  That the journey WAS the destination.  And that our culminating brunch at Pennsylvania’s Barley Sheaf Inn, past Lahaska, may have been our most luminous yet.  Every sustaining visit to this haven (known for weddings) has us plotting our return, listing the friends with we MUST share this multi-faceted excellence.

Sunflower Crown Lambertville Towpath

“Sunshine On Your Shoulders…” — Towering Towpath Sunflower

Exquisite as the food was, as always; chaleureuse (warm) as the welcome always is; beckoning as the grounds always are, we could barely eat for watching continuous courtship dances of various species of butterflies.

BlackSwallowtail among Loosestrife Brenda Jones

Black Swallowtail Nectaring by Brenda Jones

Come with us to our post-hike haven — Barley Sheaf Inn:

A Barley Sheaf Dormers and Autust Sky

Barley Sheaf Inn Dormer and August Sky

A Barley Sheaf Balcony

Barley Sheaf Shadows

cabbage white gold flower Brenda Jones

Dance of the Cabbage Whites by Brenda Jones

A Barley Sheaf Pond  August

Barley Sheaf Inn Pond, Fed by Spring Once Essential to Indians

A Barley Sheaf Summer Garden

Barley Sheaf Inn Pool Garden

A Barley Sheaf Pool House

Barley Sheaf Inn Pool House

clouds by Jeanette Hooban

Barley Sheaf Inn Summer Skies by Jeanette Hooban

les deux Carolyns par Jeanette Hooban

Les Deux Carolines, Brunching in Moss Hart’s Exquisite Dining Room

Jeanette's Breakfast Barley Sheaf by Jeanette

Jeanette’s Eggs Benedict by Jeanette Hooban

A Barley Sheaf Petals for the Bride

Petals for the Bride

A Barley Sheaf Tracery

Barley Sheaf Tracery, Above the Rose Petal Path

lotus by Jeanette Hooban

Lotus Farewell, Barley Sheaf Farm by Jeanette Hooban

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Swallowtail and Bee — Two Pollinators to One Flower — by Brenda Jones