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

 

 

 

 

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LA DOLCE FAR NIENTE – “The Sweetness of Doing Nothing”

Provence used to be Italian.  Many foods, customs, and sayings remain from that time – which ended by plebiscite in the 1860’s.  One of the dearest, and most challenging to this Type A American, phrases is the Italian concept of “La dolce far niente”, — the sweetness of doing nothing.

I didn’t know how un-Provencal, how un-Italian, how un-far-niente I was until my first Thanksgiving in Cannes.  I decided to do something very un-American on that day, –since I couldn’t find any cranberries anywhere.    I went strolling all along La Croisette. 

 

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Aerial View, La Croisette Boulevard, Cannes, Provence, France

 

If you care about the Cannes Film Festival [developed to magnetize tourists during the rainy month of May], you’ll have read about all sorts of stars out upon La Croisette, — dressed and not-so-dressed, singly and together, by day and by night.   And some, –like Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward–, being robbed of their passports the year I was there .  I used to picture the border-crossing guards as one headed into real Italy at La Bordighera,  — laid-back uniformed men studying Paul’s and Joanne’s passports, passing those clever thieves right on through with languid waves of the hand.

 

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Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward Image from Internet

 

That Thanksgiving Day, moving right along, Mediterranean to my left, towering palm trees casting flickering shade, the Pailais (Palace) of the film festival dead ahead, I heard a most unpleasant sound.  I stopped and looked around.  The sound stopped.  I set out again.  So did the sound.  It was my rapid American feet on the broad wave-splashed sidewalk.

Nobody else walks fast.  They have a verb I was never taught at St. Mary of the Woods College — “se flaner”.  It means “to stroll.”    We didn’t stroll in Detroit, let alone when I moved to Manhattan.  But that’s another story.

 

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Not Strolling, but a good American clip — and definitely not on La Croisette

 

Today, in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, I am doing nothing.  None of the tasks of the season, not even the tasks of the bill-basket.  And certainly not the tasks of the marketplace.

 

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French Marketplace Scene — See, Even Here, They Emphasize Sitting, Relaxing, Doing NOTHING!

 

I am languishing with a superb history of FDR as Politician Par Excellence — H. W. Brands’  stirring Traitor to His Class.  Chapter-by-chapter, I am tugging us through World War II and learning more than ever before about strategies and justifications, –in Franklin, in Winston, in the brilliant George Marshall, in Harriman, and even in De Gaulle and Stalin.  This is not anything I need to know, but I cannot get enough of it.  Sheer luxury.

 

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Traitor to His Class, H. W. Brands

 

In between, –in my ever-present journal–, I am taking notes on the politics of yesteryear and the same field, if you can call it that, now.  In 1942, FDR insisted upon raising all taxes, –especially upon the wealthy, especially those who were being enriched by the war–, “so that the sacrifices demanded by the war would be shared equitably.”  Imagine..  But that’s another story.

 

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Frank Capra’s Iconic D-Day Image – June 6, 1944, Normandy, France — A Day That Will Life in … HONOR

 

On my Retreat Day, I am neither making nor taking phone calls.  I am not initiating e-mails — although a few prove irresistible.  I certainly am not going near Facebook.

I make two delightful meals, and eat them at a table rich in items Provencal, because I never get enough France, but you already know that.

At 3 p.m., I walk outside on my tiny patio with bare feet.  I sit on a white ice-cream chair, tug slacks up over my knees, shove turtleneck sleeves halfway up my arms, and face the sun.  I do all the sitting yoga and p.t. exercises that normally take up morning hours, there on that chair, in that hot sun.

 

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Ice Cream Chair, Tiny Patio, in another season                                                                       Cups in Plants Courtesy of Sociopathic Upstairs Neighbors…  But that’s another story…

The grass is silken and of an aggressive green suitable for Easter.

There isn’t a sound – not a car; not a voice; not a jet; not a team shouting on Lawrenceville playing fields so far away except auditorially; not the mew of a cat or a catbird; not the caw of imperious crows.

A small miracle is that I can sit here, gently exercising, while ‘my’ goldfinches nourish themselves daintily at the thistle seed.  Not even they are murmuring.  But these small, seasonally muted birds are usually so skittish.  If I move fast, inside my study, behind my monitor, they, outside on their thistle socks, all explode away into the sheltering ash tree. Not today. We are all outdoors here together.

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Goldfinches on Thistle Sock (Breeding Plumage)

What’s wrong with this picture?

It’s not Easter.

It’s Christmas Day.

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For Unto Us A Son Is Given

Ice caps and ice sheets are melting, and nobody in power gives a damn.

polar-ice-caps-melt

MELTING – 21st Century Reality

I spend many hours, when I’m not saving New Jersey at D&R Greenway Land Trust, signing urgent protests about the plight of the Planet.  Not today.

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21st-Century Reality – Does No One Care but Bill McKibben?

 

Today I am remembering La Croisette, before I’d ever even heard of Catastrophic Climate Change, and it was supposed to be warm on Thanksgiving, on Christmas.

 

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Along the Boulevard

 

Today, Christmas 2016, I learn that I possess resources for this level of solitude.  Worth knowing…  One of the major lessons of my own Year in Provence.

 

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Flaneurs Along La Croisette in Earlier Times

 

Tonight, in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, on December 25, 2016, I am sunburnt — proof that I have practiced “la dolce far niente” this day.

“WHITE ASH” Poem – ‘in memoriam’: Ash Trees in storm track of emerald-ash-borer-infestation

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Ashes, Green and Gold, from Internet

A phonecall just surprised me at work, conveying gratitude for one of my nature poems — in the most recent Sourland Conservancy newsletter.  Long ago, this courageous group had asked for seasonal poems they might use to further preservation in their pages.  I had frankly forgotten.

I urge your strong support of these generous people.   In word and deed, they honor and preserve one of New Jersey’s most crucial stretches of contiguous forest, and water source par excellence.]  NJWILDBEAUTY readers read often of my favorite Sourlands hike, off Hopewell’s Greenwood Avenue.  This post holds the link to newsletter, with that poem in place:  http://sourland.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Sourland-Journal-Autumn-2016.pdf

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Golden Ash from Internet

My current dwelling is surrounded by imposing ash trees.  This year, probably for drought reasons, — instead of their leaves turning boring seared brown– all these monarchs represent the new gold standard.  The light through their leaves is literally blinding, as though glancing off the rare metal itself.  I leave my living room to follow the sun in late afternoon, so I won’t miss a moment of dazzle.

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Golden Ash from Internet, closest in shape to, yet far younger than, ‘mine’

As for the white ash tree of the the poem, I never saw its leaves.  That ash by the towpath is termed ‘white’; the ones near me in Lawrenceville ‘black’.  Ashes represent stateliness surpassed only by oaks, such as the late lamented Mercer Oak, under which the dying Mercer continued to direct the Battle of Princeton.

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Gilded Ash Leaves, October -Blue Sky from Internet

Usually, for me, nature leads to poems.  This time, the poem led to nature.

Published in U.S.1 Newspaper, the man who’d numbered the rings called my editor, the paper’s founder Rich Rein.  He politely requested to be put in touch with me.  The outcome was a shared hike to his ash, mourning already that the elements were having their way with those precise pencil marks.  Ever after, I have called my guide, “Mr. Impeccable”…

It never occurred to me, nor I think, to him, that we could lose our bounty of regional ash trees.  Beware, everyone!  Even the fate of the sturdiest trees is imperiled by climate change:  New Jersey’s ever-warmer winters encourage insects to multiply.  As I urge  so often, please do everything possible through your life choices, –as in writing editors, signing on-line petitions, and especially voting–, to focus our country’s attention on altering climate change once and for all. 

Together, we can bring forth human change for the better, for a change

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Green Trees of Ash from Internet

The Sourland Consevancy chose this poem now, not only to praise ash trees. Their key purpose was to inform readers that we will no soon be bereft of ashes.

These majestic ones will no longer shade; nourish; delight; absorb carbon; shelter squirrels and birds from warblers to raptors; cradle nests; nor fling down a king’s ransom in gold.

The fate of the ashes, the climate, the Planet itself is in your hands.

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Ash Majesty Measured, From Internet

[I wrote this poem in the year 2000, when thinking in terms of eons was the norm…]

WHITE ASH

 

I take the high track

where the path splits

wondering if the felled trunk

remains to block my way

 

but it’s been sawn

and someone impeccable

has named the tree

numbered its annular rings:

“1872”   “1905”   “1950”

 

this enormous trunk

yet a mere two inches

mark years from my grade school

until this year’s tree-death

 

–faint the rings

and fainter still the penciled

letters naming this compacted

wood — preferred for baseball

bats because it does not crack

 

my own annular rings

do not bear numbering

 

 

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

February/March 2000

BIRDING ‘THE BRIG’ AS ‘MARCH WIND DOTH BLOW’

 

As a child, we recited this nursery rhyme — “The North wind doth blow, and we shall have snow, and what shall poor robin do then, poor thing? But sit in the barn, to keep himself warm, and hide his head under his wing, poor thing.” 

Which just goes to show you that there were barns all over the place in my own childhood, as well as in the childhood of whoever wrote that jingle.

However, robins are not frequenters of barns.  I’m glad I didn’t realize that as a little girl and spoil the rhyme.  You’ll see them hopping all over lawns again now that spring is nearly here.  And you needn’t worry about frozen worms – as there is a significant period in each robin’s life each year in which his/her entire system switches to fructivore.

But I’m after more than robins:  Tomorrow morning, I’ll pick up one birding buddy in Princeton and meet another in Smithville, at our beloved “Bakery”.  We’ll have real farm eggs and hand-made sausage patties, and one might have French toast, in a room rich in artifacts from sailing and farming days of yore, that were given to The Bakery by neighbors and friends.  My favorite sign says “Victuals” – it once graced a place that provisioned sailing ships about to leave South Jersey for points round the world.

Then we’ll head over into the Brigantine Wildlife Refuge, otherwise known as the Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge, alongside Lily Lake, slightly above Atlantic City.

I explored ‘The Brig’ a week ago, with a very determined fellow birder.  Wind or no wind, no birds save swans were “hiding their heads under their wings, poor things.”  They were all busily up and about, seriously feeding on every side.

The 8-mile dike road took us the better part of a day to circumnavigate, Of course, we were ‘after’ the snowy owls — to be gifted with two:  one almost to the second gull tower, and one 2/3 of the way along the final stretch of roadway. 

Snowies barely move – in fact that’s one of the ways you know you’re seeing one.  Even a plastic bag ripples around in these winds – but the snowy stays impassive.  Finally a very subtle turning of the head, a sleepy (for they ARE nocturnal) blink of a golden eye, and the white lump alone in a gold field reveals itself to be the object of your quest.  The pictures are hilarious — a chip like a broken fingernail on a gold field — a shape only a birder could love. 

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?  Snowies could have left for Arctic reaches, if their brilliant inner radar alerts them to open water and enough small prey along the way, and home.

My favorite birding last week came as I followed Northern harrier after Northern harrier.  They’re scarcer and scarcer in New Jersey because of sea level rise.  That’s the unrealized, unrecognized, unadmitted facet of catastrophic climage change.  It’s taking the harriers’ nest sites in marshlands — often cruelly waiting until the birds have mated and nested and laid eggs, before washing all away. 

We may have seen five females, and no one flies more elegantly, more irresistibly.  The females are larger than the ‘grey ghost’ males.  They are identified by large white rump spots, revealed as they circle low and, yes, harry their prey.  I told my companion, watching Harrier Number One, “it was worth the entire drive just for this.”

I am not only not a lister, but could be called vigilantly anti-list.  However, the Brig’s welcome shop had new colorful multi-paged printed lists, by species category, with boxes to check.  So we checked away, all day.

Under Swans, Geese, Ducks, we exulted in snow geese, brant, Canada geese, mute swans with their diagnostic Princeton-orange beaks helpfully visible, American wigeon, American black ducks, mallards, a mallard/black duck (male) hybrid, the bright orange and green Northern shovelers, saucy/dapper Northern pintails, elegant green-winged Teal, the merry bobbing buffleheads, arresting hooded Mergansers, so-called common mergansers, and a rare (to us) red-breasted merganser, whose white ovals along the dark back identified this beauty.  We were blessed with sun, so all these colors and shapes stood out vividly, even when the dabbling ducks were upside-down in wintry water.

A very special gift was the tiny horned grebe, all alone on Absecon Bay.  How incongruous this little one, so elegant, so rare, looked against Atlantic City’s blinding towers.

Assorted other winners were stately great blue herons, Turkey Vultures insouciantly riding thermals higher and higher, a merry flotilla of tiny, toy-like American Coot.  And that master speedster, the peregrine falcon.

Tomorrow morning, this new group will pick up new colorful list pamphlets in the welcome center, eager to tally whatever surprises ever-generous Nature has in store for eager birders.

You can bird right here in Princeton, I must admit.  Great blue herons have been seen by the Dam on Carnegie Lake, even in our recent blizzards.  And our beloved American bald eagles are assiduously and healthily tending eggs in their curiously shaped (like an oriole or a hummingbird, long and deep, not wide and flat like eagles) nest.   They have been officially observed as “performing incubation exchanges.”

All you really need to bird here is the desire, two feet, and our D&R towpath.  Herons and eagles don’t even require optics.

Good birding!

 

“PAX” — WHEN STORM IS NORM

Snowbound

Snow Incarceration

“PAX”– WHEN STORM IS NORM

A single vulture wildly wheels past my study window.  We are in the midst of worsening onslaughts of our latest named storm, ironically titled “Pax”.  If vultures rise and ride the winds, this may mean we are in a mid-day hiatus, for which I am profoundly grateful.

I deal with ordeals by journaling, by day and by night.  This post is a constellation of journal entries, as snow wraps us yet again in worry and wonder.

What Storm Pax has accomplished in my yard is the near disappearance of a table and two chairs.  Because of snow mounded high on chair seats, I can no longer see the metal table top.  The storm before this amazed me as snow hats on table and chairs grew to the hight of my father’s Knox hat boxes on the front-hall-closet shelf.  Pax-snow on top of Knox snow is simply astonishing.

Maybe the climate is trying to teach those of us who have ruined it — be astonished.  And act to end catastrophic climate change.

“My back is up” because of a Weather Channel pundit.  After after showing us, in Atlanta, a ruined historic building [– ice had vanquished its roof, which fell, taking several walls with it –], she blithely blamed this destruction upon Mother Nature.  I turned it off in a huff, convinced that they are ordered to do so.

It’s not Mother Nature, folks, it is we who are ruining climate and planet.

As a poet, I am among the first to see beauty in snow.  As someone who works (four days a week at D&R Greenway Land Trust to save the New Jersey part of the planet), I am almost brutally aware of snow’s perils.  Even as one who avidly skiied, who survived and even thrived throughout Michigan and Minnesota winters, I recoil before these severities.

Everyone should.  Everyone should wake up.

What is oddest about Snowstorm Pax (mispronounced by experts who seem not to get irony of Pax’s meaning — peace) is that these ceaseless flakes fall upon and stick to to snows from yesterdays.  Meaning that snow no longer melts between storms.

Deciduous trees in this forest are striped more relentlessly than skunks.  Upper branches are Pax-clotted.  Even though these trees are now swaying with mid-day winds, they do not divest themselves of vertical stripes.  Only one pine tree, –the largest–, shivered and shuddered and shrugged off its snow burdens.  All our other evergreens are white, never green.

Beneath the snowed table is a hollow, this storm’s lair.  On various shoveling-excursions, I hear the storm changing its tune.  Mutters lead on to snarls, then growls.

I experience “Pax” as a wild beast, shaking all of us in its maw, feverish glints in narrowed eyes.  The beast begins to spit – as snow itself becomes audible, almost crackling, it sticks like white chewing gum to vertical walls of this house.

In the night, I could watch snow change form by porchlight.  It went from cascades of table salt to Wondra flour.  Then, suddenly, flakes and clumps.  It became impossible to see into the forest. What began to fall seemed like powdered sugar sifted by a mad cook, unsing a sifters with squeezable handle.  Over and over.  Faster and faster.

Visibility became myth, something vaguely remembered.

Snow increasingly stuck to the house walls, like hundreds like hundreds of cottonballs glued there by some mad craftsperson.

Snow became Lux flakes, torn doilies.

It landed on my head with uncomfortable clumps, clots in my hair, dripping down onto my shoulders and neck, making me shiver like the large pine.

I am reading “Saving Italy” by Robert Edsle, author of “Monuments Men.”  I’m slogging through northern Italy, near the end of the war, hunting for Nazi caches of the most legendary art of civilisation.  Throughout this book and these storms, I feel under siege — blitzkrieg without air raid sirens.  We become victims and refugees.  Some die. Historic buildings collapse.

Now my front door is a mosaic of water droplets.  I decide they are the tears of the Planet.

Petrochemical excess is the reason for our ceaseless storms, and those of Asia, and of Europe and the overflowing rivers of Britain.  Face it, everyone. 

The Weather Channel’s ascribing these terrors to Mother Nature is like the tobacco industry using doctors to promote smoking, –turning everyone’s heads away from cancer of the lungs and cancer of the bladder – their enormous secret.

We are causing cancer of the climate.  Wake up!  Turn this around.  Now

We are not meant to live in a world where Storm is the Norm.

1 A blizzard deer feeding 2014

Deer Tries to Feed in Storm