HIKING NJ THE HEAT-WEEKS: An Essay on Shade

Marilyn as Lookout Sourlands 08 08

My sister, Marilyn Weitzel, Janet Black and Betty Lies Bird the Sourland Mountain Preserve Trail off Greenwood Avenue in Hopewell

While every newspaper and television and Internet Weather Source has been warning absolutely everyone to stay inside, “Stay Safe”, [which smarmy phrase makes my flesh crawl], I’ve discovered something experientially that I’ve probably always known:  It’s a whole lot hotter in any parking lot, getting into or out of a vehicle, than it is in any of our nearby New Jersey forests!  I’ve decided, it’s dangerous to stay at home.  For, there, life can turn into a spectator sport.

Abide With Me   Pole Farm

Pole Farm: “Abide With Me”: Shade in the Height of Summer

A Sunday ago, I hiked the Pole Farm at 8 a.m., actually about an hour too late to start, during these so-called Heat Emergencies.  Much beauty, great tranquillity, shade 9/10 of the way.  For a couple of hours, I was given gifts beyond measure.  There’s nothing on a screen, or in a newspaper or magazine to equal the elusive scent of fox, still apparent from morning trail-marking.  The cascade of field sparrows, the mew of catbird.  The pleasure of picking two wildflowers for Elaine Katz’s stone and bench – the woman who almost single-handedly insisted that this Lawrenceville (now-) Preserve was not to be a golf course or a series of intrusively spotlighted playing fields.

Sourlands Rocks 08 08

Sourland Rocks Exhale Lenape Presence

A day or two later, and again a week later, starting at 5:15, I entered the Sourland Mountain Preserve off Greenwood Avenue in Hopewell.  Not a man-made sound, not even a plane, did I hear in those couple of deeply shaded hours.  Not a man-made anything did I see, except some essential drainage pipes and the entry road, then densely wooded trails I explored.  One distant frog’s thrumming was heartening.  Dragonflies popped about whatever flowers could bloom in sunlit groves.  For a long time, I sat on basalt boulders leftover from creation, surrounded by mixed forest and essence of Lenapes of long ago.  There’d been rain by the second excursion, so various streamlets were caroling as I crossed them.

Bowman's Spring 2014 014

Intensities of Shade at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve

The next night, when her work and mine were over for the day, Intrepid Jeanette Hooban picked me up in Lawrenceville, to glide over hill and down dale to the Delaware River, –silver in late light, purling below the Lambertville / New Hope Bridge.  Moments later, we were deep in Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve.  We decided to take four favorite trails:  Violet Trail off the access road; the old pond trail onto Fern Trail, alongside a flower-erupting former pond; and the ever-enticing Medicinal Trail, crossing the tough new bridges constructed or reconstructed after Hurricane Sandy.  Each of us has many demands made upon us in the so-called real world.  Each was a little jagged as we started out.  But, again, silence, flowers, dragonflies, hidden birds, and the murmur of Pidcock Creek gave us timeless gifts of memory.  Jeanette discovered a flaming spurt of cardinal flower, favorite of ruby-throated hummingbirds.  I could show her where to elusive snow trillium can emerge, yes, in snow, in March; where, in May, opulent yellow ladyslippers peek through heavy leaf cover to the left of the Fern Trail.  We examined the rocky edge of that Creek, for I’d found the Louisiana Waterthrush, first by song, then by habitat and behavior, a month ago with another friend.  There in the cucumber magnolia, I’d seen my first ever phoebe sing out his name over and over, while waters burbled busily below early one spring.  In heat-strafed July, shade was our gift at Bowman’s, enhanced by occasional water-cooled air.

Marsh First Willows 2013

Abbott Marshlands: Spring Lake: First Willow Buds

A few days later, key birding buddy, Anne Zeman, picked me up at 7:30 a.m., so we could go to the Abbott Marshlands (in Trenton!), in quest of images for her entries for an upcoming fine-art juried exhibition: Voices for the Marsh.  New to us was the fact that Hurricane Sandy had taken down a quantity of the Marsh’s most majestic trees.  Youngsters that survived have burgeoned in the meantime, creating dense shade everywhere — 90-some percent of our walk was tree-cool, and much alongside water.  New patterns of light and shade have amplified the richesse of its fern groves, until we ran out of species names.  Not only tiny blue dragonflies, –half the size of needles–, but equally minuscule lipstick-red ones, zinged about on all sides.  Pickerel weed’s remarkable purple (hyacinth-like, but slimmer) stems rose here and there in Spring Lake and other wet areas.

fox face close-up Brenda Jones

Fox Face, Close-Up, by Fine Art Photographer Brenda Jones

Again, we remembered where  Clyde Quin and Warren Liebensperger had shown us the five-entried fox den.  On both sides of the trail, majestic yews revealed a former dwelling in that wilderness.  Not far from there, Clyde and Warren knew to look for owls in daytime.  There’s not so much silence in the Marsh, because horrific highways are all too near, spinning out a ceaseless drone of ‘the real world’.  But after awhile, one absorbed that sound, until lapping water or locusts warming up or the sacred luffing of swans wings topped every other impression.

Marsh Sandy Damage 2013

Marsh: Hurricane Sandy Damage to Iconic Beech, Spring Scene

Each walk, alone and with others, proved that Heat Emergency consciousness can be overdone.  People can turn into couch potatoes out of fear.

beaver close-up Brenda Jones

Beaver Close-Up by Fine Art Photographer, Brenda Jones

Beauteous preserves, rich in wildlife, await on all sides of Princeton.  There’s the thickly treed Community Park North off 206.  There’s Herrontown Woods, off Snowden Lane, and the nearby Autumn Hill.  Plainsboro Preserve beckons on the other side of Route 1, with its monoculture forest of beeches — guaranteed 12 to 15 degrees cooler in summer, warmer in winter.

Beckoning Path Pl Prsrv

Beckoning Path, Plainsboro Preserve

Turn off the screens.  Grab a hat and water and natural insect repellant (a wonderful rosemary-based one is available at the Hopewell Pharmacy) and get out there.  Don’t be someone Richard Louv will have to describe as The Last (Child) in the Woods.

Beechwood Forest Stream Pl Prsrv

Microclimate Beechwood Forest, Plainsboro Preserve

 

 

 

 

 

QUICK! Where Am I?

NJWILDBEAUTY readers are accustomed to my voyaging far and wide, mostly in New Jersey, in search of Nature at her finest.  Many of these trips take this former Michigander to the ocean, which reminds her of the Great Lakes.

Deserted Beach Sandy Hook October 2015

Can you guess the location of my Columbus Day excursion?

Deserted (NJ) Beach 1

Deserted (NJ) Beach 1

Sacred Solitude

Deserted Beach 2 Sandy Hook October 2015

In this collage. see how many scenes you need to discover the answer.

Deserted Beach 3 Sandy Hook October 2015

Can You Guess?

Deserted Beach 4 Sandy Hook October 2015

Are You Thinking Caribbean?

Deserted Beach Sandy Hook October 2015

Manhattan Lurks Beyond Those Trees

Deserted Sandy Hook, Populous Highlands, October

Emptiness vs. Fulness

Horseshoe Crab Shell Near Salicornia

Horseshoe Crab Shell Near Salicornia

Leaflets Three - Let It Be -- Poison Ivy, Key Nourishment for Migratory Birds in Autumn

Leaflets Three – Let It Be — Poison Ivy, Key Nourishment for Migratory Birds in Autumn

Leopard Crab Shell in the Wrack Line

Leopard Crab Shell in the Wrack Line

Prey and Predator Tracks

Prey and Predator Tracks

Ancient Peat Moss Carried In by HIgh Tide

Ancient Peat Carried In by HIgh Tide

Anne Zeman and I think the black dots in this picture are actually winkles, a specialite of course, in France, to be eaten raw with the assistance of tiny pins, in Bretagne et Normandie, especially near Gaugin’s Pont Aven.  They’re a key feature of their ‘l’assiette du coquillage’ — plate of shellfish.  One time in Paris, near the Gare du Nord, ordering this feast for myself at lunch, I asked the Parisian couple to my right, “How do YOU eat these?”  (Then, I could say it in French – “comment on mange ceci?”  Their answers were in concert, their equivalent of, “Are you kidding?  We NEVER order that!”       (It was divine, all of it, of course…especially the winkles.)

Our Robinson Crusoe Moment -- Remember, this is October!

Our Robinson Crusoe Moment — Remember, this is October!

Bittersweet Abundance, October, 2015

Bittersweet Abundance, October, 2015

Newborn Sumac

Newborn Sumac

Red Seaweed and its 'Holdfast'

Fresh  Seaweed and its ‘Holdfast’

Raccoon Tracks at High Tide Near Spermaceti Cove

Raccoon Tracks at High Tide Near Spermaceti Cove

Autumn Palette by the Sea

Autumn Palette by the Sea

Seaside Goldenrod and its Sharp Shadow

Seaside Goldenrod and its Sharp Shadow

Protecting Shore Birds

Protecting Shore Birds

Immature Turtle (Terrapin?) Crosses Our Trail

Immature Turtle (Terrapin?) Crosses Our Trail

One of Three Mocking Birds That Day, Singing Its Heart Out

One of Three Mocking Birds That Day, Singing Its Heart Out

Still Life of October

Still Life of October

Give Up?

This series recreates one of two recent outings at Sandy Hook, New Jersey’s ultimate barrier beach, so near Wall Street, the former World Trade Center Towers, the unspellable Verrazanno Bridge, and so forth.  It’s luminous there, pristine in many places, and should be replete with migratory birds this time of year.

Ha!  I’d be surprised if we had a dozen species either trip.

Today (Sunday, October 18), –returning sunburnt. windblown and quite amazed at avian bounty by comparison, I would say Karen Linder and I had more birds in our first hour. sauntering Island Beach (another barrier beach, unspoilt since creation, in our southern reaches) walking Reed’s Road, to Barmegat Bay.

After my first Sandy Hook day of few birds, I dared title my autumnal assignment for the Packet, “Bad Day at Sandy Hook?”  Read it below and see if you agree.

The key to all three excursions, however, is that what really matters is never the birds!

It’s fellowship, friendship, what the wise French term, “l’amitie“!  Thank you, Anne, Karen and Mary, always!

PACKET PUBLICATIONS:

Bad day at Sandy Hook? Autumn Questing in Monmouth County’s Gateway Recreation Area

  • By Carolyn Foote Edelmann

Updated Sep 24, 2015

For birders, fall begins in late July, with the first southward shorebird migrations. Naturalists travel like detectives, seeking early clues to the new season. Heading for Sandy Hook, a seven-mile stretch of a barrier peninsula, in late August, we dared hope to find autumn via Hudsonian godwits clustering on its storied shores.

At ‘the Hook’ (meaning a spit of land) in autumn, there is always the osprey question — who’s departed, who remains? With any luck, there might be eagles. Green herons lurk in hidden pools. Fall’s raptors could be coursing overhead. Oh yes, there are renowned beaches with limitless sea vistas. One follows sharp-shinned hawks pouring overhead on one side, with the Verrazano Bridge arcing to the left. Beneath it rises a tiny water-surrounded lighthouse. Across from the Hawk Watch Platform looms the site of where the World Trade Center used to stand.

A fort from the 1800s and the oldest continuously operating lighthouse in America also preside on Sandy Hook proper. But this park holds nature miracles few suspect, as in 300-plus species of birds. Hudsonian godwits would be particularly appropriate, as ‘The Hook’ was discovered by Henry Hudson in the 1600’s.

Mary Wood and I set out on the last August Friday, binoculars at the ready. There’s free entry for birders to ‘The Hook”, otherwise known as the Gateway National Recreation Area, managed by the National Park Service. Entry is free for all between Labor Day and Memorial Day Weekend. It always stuns Mary of Minnesota, and Carolyn of Michigan to encounter the Atlantic Ocean after a mere hour-and-a-half drive north and east. We frankly gasped on that futuristic highway bridge over the Shrewsbury, facing the sea’s patchwork of cerulean, slate, teal and Prussian blue.

The guard merrily waved us in. We parked at once, crossing the four-lane road to enter dense shrubbery, where Roger Tory Peterson’s famous ‘confusing fall warblers’ should have been everywhere. Bayberry and poison ivy are laden this autumn, which may presage another intense wintertime. Their fruits provide all essential migration fuels, especially long-lasting fats. Hearty, bountiful seaside goldenrod is burgeoning on all sides, key food for monarch butterflies. In Augusts past, at ‘the Hook’ these butterflies turned all gold plants orange. But, for us, that Friday, not a wing. Not even a butterfly’s. Well, at least we weren’t confused.

Our disappointment disappeared, however, as we were brushed by broad wing shadow. One keen-eyed male osprey was checking us out. We were elated to raise optics to follow this soaring raptor out over the Shrewsbury estuary. Deciding to skip warblers for now, Mary headed us over to Fort Hancock for more osprey. That end of the park holds military buildings and official dwellings, most of which have seen better days. Last year, a week or two earlier, their generous chimneys had been Osprey Central. Some of these hurricane-strafed houses are now undergoing desultory restoration. Most seem tragic — hinting of long-ago intrigues and even ghosts. This year, nests are less welcome than ghosts. White pipes rise from most chimneys. Only a few reveal nests of determined birds, who had deftly woven in and around obstructive plastic tubes. Not one nest held a resident.

Visitors bent on a day of surf and sand may be startled to come upon missiles and fences, bunkers and closed gates, barricades and a battery named “Potter.” The United States Army utilized the fort as the Sandy Hook Proving Ground, from the Civil War through 1919. It is now part of Fort Hancock Memorial Park. The National Park Service “is soliciting proposals for renovation and use to the more than 35 buildings in the fort complex.”

No ospreys? Let’s get back to warblers. We turned this way and that, each knowing exactly where to find rich forests that should be sheltering and nourishing these feisty little travelers on their way south. We found more ROAD CLOSED signs than birds. “No problem,” I assured Mary. “We’ll just get go up to the lighthouse and turn left.” Wrong. We could reach the oldest continuously operating coastal light in the United States. But orange cones blocked the left turn to ‘my’ warbler forest.

What birders do when they can’t find birds is to reminisce about rarities of yesteryear. “That woods was full of vireos” “Golden-crowned kinglets gleaned insects from cobwebs all along these bricks.” “There’s the dead tree where the scissor-tailed flycatcher posed forever.”

”No problem,” I foolishly repeated. “We’ll just head for the hawk watch platform. Could be broad-wings.” Instead of the wide trail to the platform where we used to see the World Trade Center towers, as well as spring or fall raptors too many to count, we met a United States Government official. “Oh, did you want to take pictures?,” he asked with regret. Not only was the trail closed. The hawk watch platform had been demolished—safety issues, but it’s being rebuilt, the official promised.

When we were sure he wasn’t looking, we departed North Beach for the minuscule parking lot for overnight campers. One non-camper parking space remained, so we pulled in. Mary remembered, “This is where we found the wood thrushes with Anne Zeman.” “Yes!,” I exulted, “and the cedar waxwing flock flew out of that tree!” Across the road, on the west side, is a gentle, waveless freshwater beach, with rich saltwater marshland across from a trail plus mini-boardwalk. “Here Betty Lies stood transfixed as the great egret, examining the incoming tide, scooped fish like a skimmer.”

Mary found what we hoped was a kingfisher, posing on one arm of an empty (man-supported) osprey nest. We spent a long time watching this patient bird as it scanned as intently as had the Fort batteries when in use. Too far away for us to tell whether the bird sported the female’s rust belt, that bird kept us mesmerized. It finally zoomed in that downward loop. We were not treated to its remarkable rattley call.

”I’ll settle for a kingfisher, any day” Mary observed, as she turned us back toward the entry, but first, Spermaceti Cove. Its boardwalk had been pulverized to toothpicks by Sandy. We discovered a new walkway — half walking, half running along resounding ‘boards.’

Leaning over very solid railings, we examined high-tide-strafed mudflats, the ‘headlines’ of the night. Colonies of scurrying fiddler crabs lifted golden defensive claws, as they backed into dark round holes. Intriguing raccoon tracks threaded down to gently coursing waters. We were relieved that this very recent and sorely needed restoration had not driven away the wild creatures.

At the culmination of the boardwalk, solid benches awaited. We steadied binoculars on the broad railing, in the face of a rising wind. On sandbars across the flowing water, we found double-crested cormorants, lined up like a black picket fence. Strutting around between them was the rarity of our day, a black-bellied plover still in breeding plumage. In no time, his eponymous belly will be white for winter, and identification will be somewhat trickier, and, yes, “confusing”. Laughing gulls in eclipse plumage baffled us at first, for they no longer sported their vintage burgundy beaks. We’d watch that plover pose and posture, then sit to relish absolute silence, on this peninsula from which Battery Park and Wall Street are visible. Even the waves were whispers on the west side.

There’s no such thing as a “Bad Day at Sandy Hook,” although ours came close.

I was asked to describe our “pretty route”, which is too complex for a story. You could direct your GPS to take you to Rumson, cross the Shrewsbury River and turn left/north onto 36 into the Park.

Our trick is to head always for Bahrs Landing, legendary seafood house far above the Shrewsbury in the Highlands. Have any of their seafood specialties (simple ones, don’t try anything fancy), also knowing that the rare “belly clams” relished by my friend, food critic Faith Bahadurian, are available on the dinner menu.

Yes there is outdoor seating now. While you make up your mind, you can watch proprietary gulls pilfer new clam hauls from docked fishing boats, then crack the shells on weathered docks for their own lunch. Beer is sparklier indoors and outdoors at Bahrs, with the Shrewsbury winking behind it, Sandy Hook beckoning over the bridge. Between your GPS’s instructions to Bahrs and your own cheery waitress, they’ll point you back over that bridge to birding or hiking or biking, or, yes, swimming. Then, whether it’s a bad day or a good day is up to you.

Sandy Hook’s official address is 58 Magruder Road, Highlands. For more information, go towww.nps.gov/gate/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm.

Searching for Spring – Ephemerals take Center Stage – US 1 Article on Springquest

First Flower of Spring --  Skunk Cabbage at Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve

First Flower of Spring —
Skunk Cabbage at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve

It’s a very interesting process, proposing, waiting for acceptance, and finally writing articles for newspapers in our region.  Waiting for answers and results is similar to waiting for spring, sometimes in a cold and snowy time.

First Spurt of Spring, Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve

First Spurt of Spring, Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know I recently had a story on trying to justify or find gifts in extreme cold turn into an op ed in the Times of Trenton.  You can search for this a few posts ago on this blog. On line, they used Brenda Jones’ superb photo of a fox scampering across Carnegie Lake.  In the Times itself, they used my unmet friend, Michael Mancuso’s, outstanding scene of people by a completely ice-clotted Delaware River. I owe this op-ed breakthrough to Michael, who said my feeble attempt to justify prolonged cold (it kills microbes that cause mange in foxes) deserved a Letter to the Editor to the Times.  He was right, only the Letters Editor chose to move it to Op Ed with images.

[I’ll use a couple of Brenda’s photos in this blog, one of Anne Zeman’s beautiful hand, do not have access to Michael’s frozen Delaware, and the rest are mine during desperate springquests at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve below New Hope.]

Miracle of Skunk Cabbage at Bowman's

Miracle of First Skunk Cabbage. the Melter, at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve

What readers never see is all the proposals that are ignored, sometimes not even acknowledged.

Every once in awhile, an idea strikes home, as with Rich Rein and Recognizing Spring, published yesterday in US 1 Business Newspaper.  My response is parallel to finding first ferns at Bowman’s.

Desperate for Spring, Bowman's

Desperate for Spring, Bowman’s — 

Fern emergence at the fern trail, despite snow everywhere at Bowman’s, proves that spring is inevitable.

Winter Aconite, Hopewell

Winter Aconite, Hopewell — another very early spring miracle, The Midas Touch

Awhile ago, Rich Rein, Editor and FOUNDER of US 1 Business Newspaper, asked me, at his generous thank you party for their writers, for a piece on finding spring.  I agreed, of course.  Wrote it in the midst of consummate ice and snow, and secured my dear friend Anne Zeman’s images for Rich, in a potpourri of portraits of the tiniest, most elusive, most delicate spring blooms.

fern still life

You wait and you wait.  Then the answer is yes.  Then there’s uncertainty about timing, about images.  And then it comes out a week earlier than you’d expected, with only one of Anne’s pictures.

Beech Drops in a Beechwood at Bowman's, against Anne Zeman's lovely hand

Beech Drops in a Beechwood at Bowman’s, against Anne Zeman’s lovely hand

Instead of being a Field Guide to Early Spring, with all that delicate beauty Anne had captured so skillfully, the piece showed one barren scene of a tough skunk cabbage.

... of cabbages and kings, Bowman's

… of cabbages and kings, Bowman’s

Being a writer, especially a journalist, is like being a gambler,  And the money cannot matter.  You toss your ideas into the atmosphere, and they swirl about and create new patterns, often those you never expected.

Waterfall Swirls, Pidcodk Creek, Bowman's Hill Wildlife Preserve

Waterfall Swirls, Pidcodk Creek, Bowman’s Hill Wildlife Preserve

I’m thrilled that it came out yesterday, so I’ll block and copy for you, urging you to seek spring in your own neighborhood.  You can use the COMMENT feature on NJWILDBEAUTY to let me know how YOU know spring is indeed here.

Commencement of Marsh Marigold

Commencement of Marsh Marigold

One skunk cabbage does not a spring make!

Brave Skunk Cabbage in March, Bowman's

Brave Skunk Cabbage in March, Bowman’s

Reprinted from the March 18, 2015, issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper
Hail the Shy Harbingers of Spring
by Carolyn Foote Edelmann
Snow or no snow, chill or no chill, spring is inevitable. There’s no gainsaying the vernal equinox. Days lengthen. Ground thaws. Spring’s exquisite ephemerals (flowers that bloom only so long as the forest canopy is not leafed out) will soon be everywhere.
Bluebell Emergence, Bowman's

Bluebell Emergence, Bowman’s

One of the privileges of hanging out with naturalists is that they know where to find first signs of spring.

One of the disadvantages is that they know the names of everything, leaving you wondering if you’ll keep the difference between twinleaf and bloodroot this year.

Bloodroot and New Leaf Fall, Bowman's

Bloodroot and New Leaf Fall, Bowman’s

If you’re lucky enough to have naturalist/photographer friends, your lessons will be a merry marriage of art and science.

If not, you may use these images as a field guide to earliest ephemerals.

One of my favorite nature-questers is Anne Zeman of Kingston. Consummate birder and fine art photographer, she is one of the most alert to signs of changes of seasons. Recently, in a white world, we motored to Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve (just south of New Hope). We required a sighting of the truest, earliest spring herald — skunk cabbage. We know where this hideously named flower pierces ice, melting its way to light and first pollinators. The plants pungency attracts flies, thinking it’s carrion. Because it can achieve 60-degree “furnace” inside those waxen red/green leaves, skunk cabbage has been known to erupt in January.

Drift of Ancient Princess Pine

Drift of Ancient Princess Pine

On our day, we were hindered by snow and ice. Anne and I could make it as far as the Civilian Conservation Corps stone bridge,. Despite serious hiking gear, we could not pass on to Azalea Trail or Violet Trail, let alone achieve the old pond where the skunk cabbage waits. Pidcock Creek chortled at these two nature-deprived humans, desperate for spring. But you can maneuver Bowman’s Trails now and find spring heralds of many hues and moods.

Pidcock Creek Bridge Built by Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression

Pidcock Creek Bridge Built by Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression

On the road leading down into Bowman’s from the parking lot, spicebush awaits. In “just spring,” or maybe even before ee cummings’ version of this season, petite blossoms the hue of key limes spurt, acting as spring signals even deep in the forest. Bowman’s has an identifying sign below this shrub by the roadway. Scrape a ruddy spicebush twig with a thumbnail, then inhale deeply . A pungent healing fragrance pierces your nostrils, that of benzoin, part of spicebush’s formal name.

Apotheosis of Spice Bush

Apotheosis of Spice Bush, Bowman’s

There is no more incontrovertible sign of spring than courting eagles. In Salem and Cumberland counties, near Turkey Point and along Stow Creek, particularly, American bald eagles begin courting in January. We can watch our `own’ eagles, soaring with straight-winged majesty over Carnegie Lake. If you’re lucky, you might even hear them caroling their surprisingly light songs of love. Princetonians can see eagles carrying enormous branches to restore their 2014 nest. By now, they are very likely performing nest exchanges, keeping new eggs warm. It’s even more important to eagles that Carnegie Lake thaw, for fish are the mainstay of their diet. If you’re very lucky, usually near the dam or the fishing bridge, you can marvel at an eagle’s shining meal deftly clenched in bright talons.

Juvenile American Bald Eagle with Fish by Brenda Jones

Juvenile American Bald Eagle with Fish by Brenda Jones

In Princeton, start your spring quest along our towpath. Spring Beauty will soon blanket its banks, — tiny, white and frail. They actually shiver as we may in the search. But when sun rays reach these silken blooms, they are teased open to reveal thinnest stripes of strawberry/pink. It’s as though someone painted them with a brush of only one hair. These bright accents serve as illuminated runways for pollinators, which is what spring is all about.

Phoebe by Brenda Jones

Phoebe by Brenda Jones  One of Spring’s Audible Heralds

A shy harbinger of spring will be early saxifrage. The marvelous name means `rockbreaker’. Fragile as it looks, saxifrage can force its way through stony soil, as over at Bowman’s Hill, as inevitably as skunk cabbage pierces ice.

Early Saxifrage Breaks Through

Early Saxifrage Breaks Through

Cut-leafed Toothwort, Bowman's

Cut-leafed Toothwort, Bowman’s

My candidate for the ephemeral with the ugliest name is cutleaf toothwort. This dainty one blankets the sharp edges of Bowman’s steep trail from their Twinleaf Shop, where one pays nominal admission. This trail has been newly strengthened, post-Sandy, so that it is easily negotiated, down to the site that will be awash in bluebells a month from now. Meanwhile, Dutchmen’s breeches, squirrel corn, and cutleaf toothwort keep the hiker occupied in early spring.

Plants with `wort’ in their name hearken back to the Old English. `Wort’ implies medicinal usage. Maybe this delicate beauty was useful for toothache. Wikipedia asserts, “the first part of the word denoting the complaint against which it might be specially efficacious.” Toothwort is pale, seemingly white, but in certain lights there is a roseate quality, and sometimes even a hint of lavender.

The most famous medicinal plant of early spring could well be hepatica. Obviously, in ancient times, anything with `hepatic’ in its name was significant for liver ailments. I find this a somewhat heavy association for one of the most delicate plants.

Hepaticas thrive at Bowman’s. You can read wall maps and hand maps, and inquire of wise volunteers in their Twin Leaf Shop, The miracle of this hepatica is that these fragile blossoms emerge first. Finding a swathe of hepatica poking through last autumn’s leaves always seems a mirage.

Round-leafed hepatica and the other flowers that bloom until the forest canopy leafs out, work their spring magic, year upon year, wherever humans are wise enough to preserve the habitat they require.

Emergent Dutchman's Britches

Emergent Dutchman’s Britches

Take yourself to the towpath, to Bowman’s, to the Abbott Marshlands, the Pole Farm in Lawrenceville (off Cold Soil Road), the Institute Woods, the Griggstown Grasslands.

False Hellebore Extravaganza, Bowman's

False Hellebore Extravaganza, Bowman’s

Meanwhile, you will be assisted in your quest by Anne Zeman’s splendid photographs, in her upcoming book on the wildflowers of New Jersey.

Edelmann, a poet and naturalist, is also community relations associate with D&R Greenway Land Trust. She writes and photographs for the nature blog, njwildbeauty.wordpress.com

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RARITAN RIVER TALK AT DandR GREENWAY Feb. 26 with Judy Auer Shaw, Ph.D.

Thursday, February 26th, everyone who loves the Raritan River and its exquisite and storied canal may hear Judy Auer Shaw, Ph.D., at D&R Greenway Land Trust, on the river’s history, industrial importance, aesthetic value, importance to our water supply, and current perils.  Dr. Shaw is a legend in her time, on many fronts.  Her current passion is this river, and her life is devoted to preserving and improving. it.

AuerShawinKayakImageforRaritanRiverPresentationbySchultz

Dr. Judy Shaw, The Raritan’s River-keeper

The presentation is from 6:30 to 8 p.m., with a light reception.  To register for this free evening of information and delight, please use rsvp@drgreenway.org.  Dr. Shaw’s book will be for sale and she will sign copies that night.

Cover, Judy Auer's new Book, "The Raritan River, Our Landscape, Our Legacy"

Cover, Judy Auer’s new Book, “The Raritan River, Our Landscape, Our Legacy”

The Delaware and Raritan Canal was created in the 1830’s to carry coal from Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley safely to New York (by Raritan Bay) and Philadelphia (via Delaware Bay.)  The pre-canal route meant rounding Cape May and daring dangerous shoals, en route to and past Sandy Hook.  At one time our canal carried more tonnage than the legendary Erie!

D&R Canal north of Mapleton Fishing Bridge by Carolyn Edelmann

D&R Canal north of Mapleton Fishing Bridge by Carolyn Edelmann

The Raritan River begins at the confluence of the North and South Branches of the Raritan.  All along that waterway, wildlife should be able to thrive.  Dr. Shaw is doing everything in her power to see to it that the River’s natural benefits to are region are restored and enhanced.

Great Blue Heron near Carnegie Lake Dam by Tasha O'Neill

Great Blue Heron near Carnegie Lake Dam by Tasha O’Neill

Beaver Lodge along D&R Canal Above Mapleton Fishing Bridge by Carolyn Edelmann

Beaver Lodge along D&R Canal Above Mapleton Fishing Bridge by Carolyn Edelmann

Snake Swims D&R Canal near Princeton

Snake Swims D&R Canal near Princeton

The North Branch of the Raritan is one of the most exquisite features of the state of New Jersey.  Up near Califon and Clinton, it ripples, clear as gin, over time-smoothed rocks, hiding and nourishing trout.

Ken Lockwood Gorge is astounding for hikers as well as trout fishermen.  My friend Tasha O’Neill is famous for realistic and abstract images of the Gorge.  To walk there is to move well beyond the 21st Century, in fact back to the time of the Lenni Lenapes/Algonquins who fished these shores long before we did.

Quintessential Trout Fisherman, Ken Lockwood Gorge, by Tasha O'Neill

Quintessential Trout Fisherman, Ken Lockwood Gorge, by Tasha O’Neill

Trout Fisherman Succeeds in Ken Lockwood Gorge, by Tasha O'Neill

Trout Fisherman Succeeds in Ken Lockwood Gorge, by Tasha O’Neill

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The sheer beauty and vibrancy of trout in the Raritan at its source – by Tasha O’Neill

Autumn Palette Ken Lockwood Gorge, Tasha O'Neill

My Ordinary Scene of Ken Lockwood in Autumn

Even if you have known the Raritan, as I did, –having lived above it in New Brunswick, you may find these images  hard to believe.  But they may explain, partially, why I’ve been in love with the Raritan since I met that river in 1964.  At the time, I knew nothing of the Raritan’s history, had never heard of Lenni Lenapes, and didn’t even realize that was a canal down there!

Autumn Spill along the Aqueduct of the D&R Canal at the Mapleton Bridge Near Princeton, by Carolyn Edelmann

Autumn Spill along the Aqueduct of the D&R Canal at the Mapleton Bridge Near Princeton, by Carolyn Edelmann

North Branch of the Raritan, Ken Lockwood Gorge, by Anne Zeman

North Branch of the Raritan, Ken Lockwood Gorge, by Anne Zeman

I walk the Gorge with many friends — the above is Anne Zeman’s dreamy view of the Raritan in all its pristine beauty.

North Branch of the Raritan, Ken Lockwood Gorge, by Tasha O'Neill

North Branch of the Raritan, Ken Lockwood Gorge, by Tasha O’Neill

We moved into the tall apartment (Colony House, first Buccleuch Park Towers) at Landing Lane Bridge in New Brunswick.  Our apartment wrapped around the corner, so we woke to the Raritan, and supped in its sunset.  The river was frequently mist-covered.  Sunrise would tint dawn’s mist pink, and sunset tended to fill the rivermist with coralline hues.  My daughters, toddlers, would wake from naps, rushing to see “The boys in the boats on the reevah.”

People who’d always lived in New Brunswick would stride into our apartment and say, “Well, Carolyn, it’s beautiful, but it’s not New Brunswick.”  I didn’t know enough then to tell them that the Raritan is far more important than New Brunswick!

Never would I have believed anyone who would insist that I’d be living near that river and its canal for most of the rest of my life.  That the Towpath would inspire, nourish, even heal me through almost overwhelming tragedies.  That a friend would teach me to kayak on the canal above Griggstown. That the Raritan River and its Canal create a feast for all seasons.

peaceful prow D&R canal tasha o neill

Peaceful Prow on D&R Canal near Princeton, by Tasha O’Neill

"In Just Spring" along the D&R Canal Towpath north of Princeton

“In Just Spring” along the D&R Canal Towpath north of Princeton

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Autumn Harvest, D&R Canal Style, near Princeton

Red Mill, Carnegie Lake by Tasha O'Neill

Red Mill, Carnegie Lake by Tasha O’Neill

Restored Hunt House, Pole Farm — Constable scenes in Mercer County

Flag Windless Evening Pole Farm Hunt House and Trail June 2014 003

Peaceful Flag on Hunt House Grounds, Pole Farm

One of the fascinating aspects of this Pole Farm, that is so near to my new dwelling in bucolic Lawrenceville, is that there are many entries.  Each entry holds out its own bouquet of impressions and memories.

One leads to the overlook platform where we will watch short-eared owls in the depths of winter, ghosting out of surrounding stands of dense woods.

One very practical one leads over a series of hefty bridges, which will be very helpful after troubling rains.  They are not bridges over water, rather over land that can become waterlogged.  So one will be able to march without sloshing, when the mood strikes.

My latest discovery is the Hunt House entry, off Blackwell Road.  A generous parking lot awaits, which is where this flag dangles, in the absence of wind.  I’m starting with this because it’s the Fourth of July.  I spent the morning in the Abbott Marshlands, where there weren’t any flags, and barely any birds, but much beauty.

My friend, Anne Zeman, was there to take pictures for the Voices for the Marsh Photo Competition.  If one googles http://www.marsh-friends.org, one will learn what scenes and what processes are required for entry.

As we left each other, after hours of exploration, we reminded one another that this day is a celebration of freedom from tyranny.  Somehow, countless forms of tyranny are overtaking everyday Americans.

Somehow, those precious freedoms for which our Founding Fathers pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor (and some lost all of these factors to bring us liberty) are being eroded at every turn.

We must never lose sight of the sacrifices and the brilliance of our Founding Fathers.  Even more important, we must not betray the liberty they won for themselves, our country, and ourselves.

The Hunt House is venerable — all three segments of which having been built in the 1700s.  It’s a beauty to see from the outside.  I do not know if everyday people are permitted entry in business hours.  As I understand it, Hunt houses the park headquarters.  If all their employees are as gracious and enthusiastic as Ranger Kevin (met at the red barn entry of Pole Farm), I assume visitors are welcome at appropriate times.

Hunt House Restored at Pole Farm June 2014 001Restored Hunt House, in late light, Pole Farm

A handsome picnic area rests to the left of this scene, very appealing, although too close to the parking lot for my taste.

Picnic Shelter Pole Farm Hunt House and Trail June 2014 007Picnic Area near Hunt House, Pole Farm

The same broad, strong, comfortable, quiet trails that make other entries so appealing, lead away from the house and its barn and the picnic area.

Evening Shadows Barn at Pole Farm Hunt House and Trail June 2014 009Hunt House Barn Shadows, Pole Farm

These trails lead in and around essential American scenes.  And yet, soon, one is transported into the landscapes made famous by Constable of Britain.

Lily Pads and Cattails at Pole Farm Hunt House and Trail June 2014 014Constable Scene, Hunt House Trails, Pole Farm

As usual, guests are relishing this regional treasure, many on foot and some on bicycles.

Cyclists Pole Farm Hunt House Trail June 2014 010Cyclists, Hunt House Trails, Pole Farm

On all the trails, all the people I meet are so cheerful, open and welcoming, themselves.  It’s a very American experience, these parks where solitude is a norm and silence a blessing.  Where birds thrive and trees burgeon and deer safely raise young.

Let Evening Come    Pole Farm Hunt House and Trail June 2014 011English Countryside near Hunt House Trails, Pole Farm

Yet, there is this sense of stepping into a Constable, over and over again.

Come Dine With Me Picnic Table by Lake Pole Farm Hunt House and Trail June 2014 013Lakeside Picnic Grove, Hunt House Trails, Pole Farm

I’m hoping some savvy family is celebrating the Fourth in this grove today.

Sharp Shadows  Picnic Grove Pole Farm Hunt House and Trail June 2014 012Long Shadows, Picnic Grove, Hunt House Trails, Pole Farm

Whoever they are, I hope they speak of freedom.

Wherever you are, I hope you remember true freedom, the sacrifices made to secure it in perpetuity, the powerful and brilliant and courageous men and women (don’t forget Abigail Adams and Annis Stockton and Martha Washington, who joined her husband on battleground after battleground) who birthed this land.

This Mercer County Park is an example of the best of America.  Use it.

And continually do everything you can to preserve New Jersey’s wild unfettered places.

SPRING GIFTS FROM OTHERS

With moving to Lawrenceville  my top priority right now, I depend on the “kindness of strangers” and friends and colleagues to prove that spring has truly arrived.

PhoebeCharlesRogers4-12-09The Visually Shy, Acoustically Vehement Phoebe of Spring, by Brenda Jones

As reported elsewhere, first proofs were two different reports of having seen skunk cabbage.  These early flowers (though they seem like leaves) spurt in monk-like cowls of burgundy, which slowly turn to red — sometimes even through ice and snow, because exothermic.  I get my skunk-cabbage fix at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, below New Hope.  But there has been no time between packing and phonecalls to head over the Delaware.  This coming Sunday, a skunk-cabbage run is planned, with fellow poet Betty Lies.

The most exciting early evidence came from consummate birder, Sharyn McGee, at the scrumptious Bach performance by the Dryden Ensemble for Early Music.  Sharyn’s keen ear is delighted as much by instruments from or crafted in the manner of the 1600’s as by bird calls in fields and forests.  She reported having heard the first phoebe.  Phoebes are tiny birds with forceful ‘voices’, hard to see, but impossible to miss, acoustically.  In fact, should phoebes nest near you, they will announce their name so frequently and so vociferously that you might wish you could miss some of these announcements by spring’s end.

I’m still wallowing in non-spring bird memories — clouds of snow geese and the elusive snowy owl, white and wonderful, at the Brigantine Wildlife Refuge, so oddly near to Atlantic City.

Some robins are hopping desultorily about my stony hilly yard.  I think worms are few and far between, as these landlords do not know about improving soil, let alone tending bird habitat.

Anne Zeman, another consummate birder, walking the towpath near the D&R Canal last week, saw the first ospreys in our region.

O, yes, about a third of the yellow daffodils that spurt alongside an old stone wall on my way to work have opened.  Two-thirds remain tightly closed, seeming to shiver as I drive past.

Purple crocus among the roots of the queenly beech at D&R Greenway Land Trust have opened, and some paled and flattened already.  All the colors, from dark purple through lavender and lilac to near-white are glorious among the beech’s sturdy raised roots.

I can’t believe I’m not out on the trails, chronicling spring.  But this year, logistics-watching has supplanted bird-watching.

Though not bird-caring.

Peepers are somewhat feeble this year, next to my stony promontory.  Others mention their loudness, and Jim Amon, our Director of Stewardship at D&R Greenway, has also heard the click-ticking of the wood frogs.

Jim has brought me Spring’s best proof.  He came in, after a morning in the field on one of our preserves, cupping both hands, as though they held something sacred.  Jim was grinning from ear to ear.

“What are you carrying?,” I asked.

“Eggs,” said he.

“Whose?”

“Wood frogs, then salamanders…  they’d been laid in tire depressions over on the St. Michael’s land.  They’d dry out any day now, would not survive.  Emily and I carried first the wood frog eggs, then the salamanders, over to a vernal pool, where they can grow and thrive.”

Spring is here.