“IN JUST SPRING…” etc.

Waterfall Swirls, Pidcock CreekJPG

Pidcock Creek Swirls, Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, in just-spring

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am still searching for ‘just spring’!

More apt this puzzling year  than e.e. cummings’ is either Eliot’s “April is the cruellest month” or Whitman’s dirge for our lost Lincoln, “When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom…”  “Wasteland”!, indeed…  grief beyond explanation or justification, beyond forgetting…

I do have a couple of meagre, wind-whipped hyacinths struggling to unfurl.  Of course, just as I discover them, two frisky deer gallop merrily through my back yard.  So far, they have not noticed the withered hyacinths nor the gelid daffodils.

Let’s give e.e. a chance, just the same:

[in Just-]

in Just- 
spring          when the world is mud- 
luscious the little 
lame balloonman 
whistles          far          and wee 
and eddieandbill come 
running from marbles and 
piracies and it’s 
spring 
when the world is puddle-wonderful 
etc,
I  don’t know.  The old cummings magic doesn’t seem to be working this time for me.
How about you?
Where do YOU turn
for spring?
brave skunk cabbage March
EXOTHERMIC SKUNK CABBAGE, BOWMAN’S, which can melt ice in order to emerge…
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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 

LET’S HEAR IT FOR SNOW!

A Graceful Bow

A Graceful Bow

A select group of friends and I have begun to admit the truth this winter — we love snow!  (You know who you are…)

Incredible Lightness of Being

Incredible Lightness of Being

We are going to miss the snow when she finally gathers her mantle and swooshes off-stage.

Bread Bits on Snow

Bread Bits on Snow

The more the Weather Channel tries to turn Mother Nature into the villain (so we don’t realize that it’s we ourselves who are turning the climate against us), the more we privately exult in her beauty and power.

Crested Twig - Snow wraps the vertical!

Crested Twig – Snow wraps the vertical!

I wrote to one of my Secret Snow Pals this week, as our Saturday snow seemed to fizzle out around 9 a.m., instead of intensifying, “I suddenly realize that a minute without show is a minute without life.”  His wordless comment was a priceless video of his son in his first hour upon skis, upon snow…

Snow Visitor

Snow Visitor

Another Snow Pal, all on her own today, began exulting about the forms of the trees, still revealed now.  She actually is photographing and sketching intensively before the return of their leaves, which she calls “blowsy”!  I love it.

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that I had an article, in the fullness of autumn, in US 1 (Business) Newspaper, about my impatience for winter to take its bow.  One of my main reasons is so that the sculptural qualities of each tree will be fully apparent.

Snow as Sculptor

Snow as Sculptor

O.K., I know snow can be dangerous.  So can fire.  They are elements in the most sacred sense — full of energy and bearing transformation.

When Ice Rules

When Ice Rules

As I have written elsewhere, including the Times of Trenton, on the importance of prolonged cold, the miracles it calls forth, if it weren’t for snow, I wouldn’t know about fox visits.

Fox Prints in Snow Below my Study Window

Fox Prints in Snow Below my Study Window

One of the best-received of intense poems given me in the year 2000 has to do with a fox, “that long-legged adolescent, who came to my song, in a time of beach plums and first frost…   but now, it is snowing, and the ruddy one curls, half cat, half pup, about my calves, to lure me to the cave..”  (Cool Women, Volume I)

Fox Signature at 23 Juniper

Fox Signature at 23 Juniper

I don’t see the foxes of Juniper, but they leave their signature on snow.

Fox in Snow by Ray Yeager, Fine Art Photographer   (Ray Yeager Photography Blog)

Fox in Snow by Ray Yeager, Fine Art Photographer (Ray Yeager Photography Blog)

Ray Yeager, fine art photographer whose work stars and sells so frequently at D&R Greenway Land Trust art exhibitions, has a splendid photography blog.  Which see, and which follow.  Ray does see the foxes in snow and in the night, at Island Beach State Park.

Wounded Majesty at Height of Storm

Wounded Majesty at Height of Storm

Somehow, trees at Society Hill have been harmed by the use of erroneous chemicals.  This is one of my favorites — its top all contorted by the poison.  A suit is ongoing and useless.  I want them to have the convoluted parts of the trees in my back yard trimmed, so that the majestic ones may pour all of their energy into nourishing the healthy parts.  Snow really brings out the elegance and heartiness of the wounded trees.

Softness of Snow

Softness of Snow at 23 Juniper

Can you see why I don’t want this magical phenomenon to stop, let alone melt?!

Even the Rescuers are Beautiful in Snow

Even the Rescuers are Beautiful in Snow

Even the snow removal trucks take on beauty and majesty.

Study View in Snow

Study View in Snow

Who wouldn’t write, in a setting like this?

Snow-Crested Illegal Bird-feeder Holder

Snow-Crested Illegal Bird-feeder Holder

We’re not allowed to feed birds at Society Hill, the only drawback besides the chemically altered or killed trees.  This shepherd’s crook was left by the previous tenant.  The astounding lightness of this snow — caused by exceptionally low temperatures in air and on the ground — is practically tactile in this picture.

Shadow Play on Snow

Shadow Play on Snow

Snow is both artist and canvas.

The Goddess Statue in the Snow

The Goddess Statue in the Snow

My dear friend and fellow poet, Penelope Schott, gave me this deity from her garden on Canal Road, when she moved to Portland.  The Goddess seems to be calling forth first sun.

Avian Visitors

Avian Visitors, Night Visitors, on the Welcome Mat

I am so deprived of birds here that I had to take a picture of the tracks of one, in the soft snow on the back door, French door, welcome mat.

Neighbor Lad's Snowman After the Snow

Neighbor Lad’s Snowman After the Snow

I am privileged to watch my neighbors’ five-year-old being pulled on a little red sled, gathering downed limbs, to turn into arms on his snowman.

***

A new member of the Snow Fan Club has been added, due to these words — exactly, what the other members and I have said, we have to be clandestine about this passion for snow:

I have to confess I love snow too, though it’s more complicated now than it used to be. I drove into & out of Princeton both Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, and it was magical.
[ANYONE ELSE?  Snow Fans Anonymous….  cfe]
A Dear Friend and Fellow Poet sends this, after reading this blog, and says, Yes, why NOT add it to your blog:
So we add Robert Frost’s inescapable wry wisdom:
Fire and Ice
Some say the world will end in fire,
some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
to say that for destruction ice
is also great
and would suffice.
I think this poem says it all about humanity. Alas.

New England — Where Thanksgiving Was Born

Golden Grove near Bennington Monument, VT.

Golden Grove near Bennington Monument, VT.

I know, I know, it was Plymouth, Mass., not anywhere near Williamstown, Mass.  And it certainly wasn’t Bennington, Vermont.

Monument to Battle of Bennington

Monument to Battle of Bennington

But it’s Thanksgiving in Princeton and there aren’t any Pilgrims, and everyone’s eating turkey when Priscilla and John and Miles and all, and of course Squanto, were tucking into lobster and deer and yes probably cranberries with maple syrup, which those clever, generous Indians brought to the feast.

Revolutionary War General, Bennington

Revolutionary War General, Bennington

It’s also beastly cold, raining and snowing at once, and nobody’s plowed anything anywhere near my new apartment, and what is going to happen to all that wet, as the mercury plunges tonight?

Venerable House, Bennington

Venerable House, Bennington

1781 — as a person of Michigan, founded in 1837 — I can barely believe house dates like this.  You see why I feel, these are the birthplaces of our nation.

Sacrifices were made here, without which we might not have a country for which to be Thankful

Sacrifices were made here, without which we might not have a country for which to be Thankful

I need non-ice upon which to drive to the Brig at dawn with Jeanette Hooban, because we need many birds, not just one, tomorrow.

And I need sun.

What a difference a month makes!

What a difference a month makes!

In Bennington a month ago, we were drenched in sun and color.  Come, stroll its streets with me.  There were hardy pioneers there, too.  And, of course, many tribes of powerful Indians.  And patriots who fought in the Battle of Bennington.  There were probably bears and certainly deer, and now there are moose — somehow I never think of moose in the time of the pilgrims.

A stroll in an entire town that is a shrine to true Liberty

A stroll in an entire town that is a shrine to true Liberty

We were in the heartland of our country, in my experience.  We stepped into different time machines in each New England town.  My heart is still there, strolling the tree-root-uplifted sidewalks of Bennington, under glowing ancient trees, examining homes of other centuries, some of which had marble walkways to their welcoming front doors.

Essence of Bennington

Essence of Bennington

Ready for Hallowe'en in New England heartland

Ready for Hallowe’en in New England heartland

Bennington Dooryard

Bennington Dooryard

Prosperity in Liberty's town

Prosperity in Liberty’s town

What History This Tree Has Witnessed!

What History This Tree Has Witnessed!

I am in love with the fences of New England

I am in love with the fences of New England

Everyone Was Welcome at the Pulled Pork Dinner, on the hem of the Monument's Park!

Everyone Was Welcome at the Pulled Pork Dinner, on the hem of the Monument’s Park!

The Gold Standard

The Gold Standard

Can't You Almost Hear The Crinkle of the Leaves?

Can’t You Almost Hear The Crinkle of the Leaves?

KAYAKING AUTUMN’S FINALE

October now.

latest ever kayaked November 23 — Will we get out on the water in the month about to be born?

Meanwhile, for NJWILDBEAUTY readers, here are sketch notes of Saturday’s kayaking, thanks to splendid Steve of Princeton Canoe and Kayak at Alexander Road.

Ilene Dube, who launched me as a blogger with NJWILD at the Packet, had suggested we try for it, weather permitting.  It did and we did.

Kayaking – Autumn Finale

Muted tones

Superb fellowship

Magnificent contrast of dark and light, gliding under the towpath and out into canal.

towpath ‘tunnel’ accentuated almost blinding effect of thousands of gold maple leaves, crisped and curled, newly afloat on bruise-dark water.  In all those perfectly designed points of all those leaves, bubbles of water seemed captured, set like jewels.  Crisp, gold, points     Soft round bubbles   Each bubble held its own rainbow     all accentuated under Alexander Road Bridge

Canal water serene, yet almost scowlingly dark

Brooding sky

1 fishermen, no fish    “What did you catch?”  “Nothing today.”

Not one turtle

Not a fish ring nor leap

No flowers anywhere

The frail mauve of sedum everywhere last time has been diluted by time and the season — somewhere between lavender fields past their prime and ashes of old fire on New England hearth

Bittersweet’s red/gold ornaments dangle from canalside trees, so that we can kayak through their tendrils

Tiny wind-driven wavelets hither and yon, what New Englanders call “williwaws”

Suddenly, the ‘bright-eyed’ Ilene spots a deer, lying down, peacefully, in canalside grasses, big dark eyes like chestnuts for the roasting.  It makes a strange sound as she paddles nearer.  “Do deer sneeze?”

Odd ominous taxicab-yellow curved pipes on either side of the deer, right alongside the canal — on their sides are letters spelling PETROLEUM

GOOD silent (!) canoeists glide by, skilled as Indians

so many people out on towpath, on foot, on bikes    many wave and smile with such connection as we paddle by

pure silence

peace

occluded sky paints surface of the slate-colored water

now well south of Alexander — nothing human but our craft and paddles

so beautiful out here, my companion murmurs, I just want to stay forever, curl up, sleep on the water, wake to this

my kayak bumps over something hard and soft at once     I laugh and say, “I’m glad we don’t have alligators here…”    (which were everywhere during my Savannah year, and everyone warned me, “Don’t go near the water!”

maple leaves look cut by very sharp scissors from very substantial gold foils

beside my prow, a rosary of bubbles — fish?  turtle?

no birds

Ilene, former Princeton Packet Editor, is a specialist in art in her current writing.  This entire afternoon, we’ve been gliding through Impressionism

hope not final kayak of 2014…

Pole Farm Miracles, June 2014

Image

Common Yellowthroat by Brenda Jones

In my new life, in my new town (Lawrenceville), I have a new habit — walking the Pole Farm from 7 to 9 p.m.  

It’s the Solstice tonight, longest day of the year.  NJWILDBEAUTY readers realize I can play this game without peril or penalty.

If you go out there by 7, you are given the song of the bobolinks.

If the land is warm and the air cool, as it has been this week, you may walk straight into a miracle — as with 7 deer (two of them spotted fawns), up to and beyond shoulders in wildflowers, like the Unicorn Tapestry, the Cluny Tapestries.  There are just these ruddy silhouettes, still as standing stones, only the flowers in motion.

And then, out of the deep, mysterious woods, pours swirlings of ground fog.  Tendrils and veils and scrims of light-filled fog, billowing like the curtain of the Old Met in my first New York years.  Fog turns the deer to icons, then to shadows.  They could be standing in incoming tide, only the tide isn’t saltwater, it’s mist.  The deer look so content, which completely suffuses me.

Later that night, a knowing friend tells me, “Carolyn, deer love fog.  They think they’re invisible.”

Image

DOE OF EVENING BY BRENDA JONES

I am not the only one who finds it hard to leave.  A woman named Janet, sitting on a fence in golden dusk, said, almost tearfully, “I don’t want it to be over.”  The night before, three cyclists, exulting in having ‘done ten miles’, had expressed the identical sentiments.

As I entered the Pole Farm at 7:30 last night, I knew I had sacrificed the song of bobolinks by tardiness.  

On all sides, however, was the rare trilling, warbling, descending caroling of field sparrows.  Almost immediately, I stood beside a pair, right on the grey trail.  Delicate, petite, short, rotund, and fastidious — the pair let me watch and watch and watch as they filled their tiny tummies with something clearly delicious.  They were so wild, they didn’t know human danger.  I stood transfixed, until I could finally see their legedary, ‘diagnostic’ fat pink beaks.  A first for me.  I have learned to hear them.  I have learned to identiry their feeding habits.  But this is the first time the roseate beaks were visible.

I was thinking, as my feet took up the now familiar stride and trail, “To experience miracles, be where miracles happen.”

At that moment, I discovered with the American Indians call “a sun dog” — vertical rainbow, to the right of  the lowering sun-globe.  This phenomenon is caused by ice crystals in the sky.  The entire spectrum hung there, –like northern lights, but so much smaller and more subtle.  Red, purple, orange, yellow, green, blue — I forget the order — I stopped dead in my tracks to let that bounty in.  To the Indians, to see a sun dog is good luck.

To me, to have moved to Lawrenceville, 3/10 of a mile from the Pole Form, is extraordinary luck, even miraculous.

No one would believe the level of darkness I’d endured in my previous wooded dwelling.  That’s over.

Instead, in moments, I can be out on those broad hard smooth clear dry trails, with all those wonderful fellow hikers, bikers, birders — full of graciousness and greeting.  Catching sight of my binoculars, they’ll sing out, “What are you seeing?”  Or ask, “What’s black and white with orange?”  And I could tell that person, “Oh, you have seen the miracle of the bobolinks.  Pole Farm is being managed for grassland birds.”  

Within moments, I can be given a night like last night, of miraculous juxtapositions:

bluebirds and catbirds

 

field sparrows and yellowthroats

 

wild grape and woodbine

 

honeysuckle and fireflies

 

bullfrogs and wood thrush

 

horned stag in daisies

 

penstemon and fern groves 

 

rabbits still as statues

 

Mr. Elusive — a cinnamon-colored wood-thrush bopping down the trail, impervious to my footfalls

 

woodpecker drills

 

something raucous high in trees, laughing as I pass

 

clouds stretched into feathers

 

swallows taking turn, entering the old barn in last light

 

the startle of cars

 

Get OUT there on YOUR trails.  Miracles await.

Do all that you can to preserve land in your own region, for it is even more scarce than bobolinks.

And, with land, once gone, is rarely recovered.

 

Pole Farm is a Mercer County Park — on their web-site you can learn of and sign up for bird walks with Jenn Rogers, with whom I’ve merrily birded the Abbott Marshlands in search of winter birds.  Go anywhere with Jenn — you’ll come home enriched.Image

BLUBIRD BY bRENDA jONES

 

WOODCOCKING – SEEKING THE ELUSIVE AT MAPLETON PRESERVE

Sometimes, a bizarre pursuit can result in exorbitant pleasure.

Birders know that late March, –as dusk plunges into darkness, in empty fields, even in cold wind and after drizzling rain–, one of the keenest joys of birding can unfold.  Woodcocks, –even right here in Princeton and Kingston and Rocky Hill and Plainsboro Preserve –perform their mating dance at sundown.  Birders strain to hear that characteristic “Peent”, and the odd ascending/descending whirling buzz that alerts those in the know to look up for that short-lived dance, something unique in all the world.

Last weekend, my intrepid friend, Karen Linder, and I trekked from her Kingston house over to Mapleton Preserve.  We were on a woodcock quest.  She had heard them once this season; I not at all.

When you ‘woodcock’, yes, you have your best light-gathering binoculars at the ready.  But a stellar sense of hearing is even more important.

Also warm clothes, layers and layers, because woodcocking involves a great deal of standing around, every nerve aquiver, as silently as possible.

There’s always the sense that this is absolutely impossible.

And absolutely crazy — it’s almost dark out here.  (It never occurred to us to bring flashlights.  I don’t know if they would alarm the birds.)

Whatever you do, you don’t want to interfere with these essential rituals, without which there would be no more woodcocks.

We tromped Mapleton’s expansive fields, like detectives looking for essential clues.

We came upon a noble skeleton of a deer, ribs like antique scrimshaw, hooves still glossy.  One leg and haunch had been carried elsewhere, and by what?  I hoped coyote.

In an adjacent field, we found the elegant skeleton of a fox.  I don’t know what was more arresting — that glowing, still bushy tail, or that stripped head and o! those fangs…

A great blue heron sailed silently above, an exclamation point against the lowering sky.

Here and there, a bustly robin went about final foraging of the day.

We reminisced about the year when Rush Holt began and successfully completed his first run for office, using the lodge-like building that had been essential to Flemer Nurseries on what is now the Mapleton Preserve.  Rush Holt, that rare politician, who gets it that all nature is connected.  Who does whatever he can to preserve habitat in our region.  Who is in his final term now, to our great regret – although we are happy for Rush. 

Maybe politics and woodcocks seem far-fetched to some NJWILDBEAUTY readers.  But no — without crusading and courageous champions, those fields we were traversing would be concrete and buildings and parking lots and lights that shine all night.  It’s a miracle that this handful of acres stretches golden in last light, shorn and welcoming to woodcocks in their dance.

Suddenly, Karen stiffened, pointed toward a shadowy row of trees.  “Hear that?!”, she exulted.

I missed her sound, but heard my own in trees across another field, –in fact, near the famous allee of Flemer gingko trees.  It wasn’t so much a “Peent”, as the sound of my children’s hushed “neat”, in their teen years — the way modern teenagers almost whisper “cool”.  the more whispery, the more important.

Then a small zippy slate-colored something zoomed over our heads going west.  Something else did the same going the other way.

“Neat”

“Peent”

“Neat”

“Peent”

zip

zoom

All color had left the sky, except a hint of tinfoil.  So we could see no field marks, only woodcock silhouettes.  And very determined they were.

A single charcoal-blue cloud stretched across a backdrop of tarnished silver — a cloud exactly like a mackerel, crossed with a whale.

We tiptoed.

We craned our necks.

We cocked our ears.

A few more zips and peents.

And then it was time to make our almost blind way home.

Something about the sheer outrageousness of our quest conferred profound drama and dignity to our hour in the field.

Something like this would have occasioned my mother’s one profanity, “No other damfool.”…

That’s just the point.

We were out there in the bitter cold, and winds so strong the woodcocks could not create their DNA-spiral dance, because we honor those birds, their wildness and their traditions.

And because we were among those brave committed souls who said, “The Princeton Nursery Lands must be saved.  Attention must be paid.”  Those ghastly hours at those loaded hearings, the grave discouragements, our seemingly futile arguments with frankly pompous experts determined to develop, were not in vain.

Because of preservation, on that cold March night, in Mapleton’s preserved fields, we were in the presence of woodcocks.