“Emerging Signs of Spring” — recent Times of Trenton Article

Brave Skunk Cabbage in March, Bowman's

Brave Skunk Cabbage in March, Bowman’s

My NJWILDBEAUTY readers know I am always avid for signs of the coming season, no matter what it may be — including winter.

Rich Rein of US 1 (Business) Newspaper, published my account of being impatient for the spare beauties, –especially the true sculptural form of trees–, of that approaching season.

At the same time, The Times of Trenton kindly accepted my article on the importance of prolonged cold for the full health of wild creatures.

Last week, The Times presented the story I’d titled “Where is Spring?”  They honored me with the title of Guest Columnist, and again blessed my story with a handsome photograph by fine artist Michael Mancuso, who is masquerading as a journalist.

Salamander in hand, early April 2015, by Michael Mancuso of the Times of Trenton

Salamander in hand, early April 2015, by Michael Mancuso of the Times of Trenton

“Emerging Signs of Spring”, Guest Columnist, Carolyn Foote Edelmann

 

This year, not even naturalists can find spring.

We have been taught that the season arrives with the vernal equinox, when day and night are virtually equal; and that equinox leads to lengthening sunlight. Longer days, we have. But where is spring?

Each naturalist has his or her own proof of spring.

For one, it is the blooming of witch hazel. Good, because last night I saw a witch hazel tree in Lawrence in full, brassy bloom. They can blossom in December and January. Does blooming witch hazel make a spring? .

For many home gardeners, spring means snowdrops, which can pop through January drifts. Last week’s snowdrops at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton were up, but they looked frail and drained, as though their journey through snow and ice had sapped them of all energy.

For many, spring means the bird-like chirping of tiny frogs called peepers. A colleague at work heard both peepers and wood frogs in Hopewell a week ago Friday. Although I know well where to look and listen, I have not heard a single trill. Peepers do not begin their incessant chorus until it’s been above freezing for at least three nights. Which it hasn’t.

March 27, Jenn Rogers, our merry Mercer County naturalist, led a troupe of brave souls out into dusk and darkness at Hopewell’s St. Michaels Farm Preserve. Rogers and confreres had set out on an “Owl Prowl.” Not an owl was heard nor seen. But the group was treated to the full dance and aural phenomena of woodcocks, over and over, until full dark. When woodcocks rise, it’s spring.

These fortunate explorers, under Rogers’ tutelage, were then able to see and hold female and male salamanders, moving from winter quarters to their spring egg-laying waters. The group also encountered a number of frogs, still, yet ready for action, visible beneath skim ice on the vernal ponds. If salamanders have made their historic night-time journeys, it’s spring.

Near Greenwich, where New Jersey’s legendary tea burning taught the British we would no longer submit to the crown’s dictates, we could not leave a female American kestrel flitting in and out of a long line of bare trees. Nearby, a spurt or two of crocus, some dark purple mini-iris and one effusion of daffodils seemed to certify spring.

A flutter of vivid bluebirds under the leafless shrubs of Stow Creek, eagle central, seemed more important, dare I say it, than that site’s legendary eagles.

Last Sunday, I spent significant time in Salem and Cumberland counties, where America’s avian symbol is everywhere right now. We studied eagles on nests, incubating eggs, performing nest exchanges and feeding hatchlings down near the Delaware Bay. Eagle spring comes earlier than that of other species. However, regional naturalists are concerned that many Delaware Valley eagles are not yet on the nest. Timing is everything with the eagle family. Much more delay and it will become too hot for the young with all those insulating feathers. Hard to believe in “hot” right now.

Our incontrovertible spring proof may have been the osprey on its unlikely nest alongside Route 55 near Millville. Ospreys winter separately, returning to the same nest on the same day. When ospreys are reunited, spring is here.

If you need to certify spring, go straight over to Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, below New Hope, Pa. Return every weekend, until the forest canopy leafs out. Spring’s ephemerals, irrefutable proof of the new season, will be blanketing the ground. In the woods, spicebush shrubs sport tiny chartreuse flowers, almost the color of fireflies. Their twigs, scraped with a fingernail, give off the healing aroma of benzoin, part of this spring herald’s Latin name.

Signage, flower maps and informed volunteers in their Twinleaf shop will lead you to hepatica, twinleaf, bloodroot, spring beauty, trout lily and early saxifrage (rock-breaker). Bowman’s grounds will soon resemble a studio floor, continuously spattered by some errant artist.

In wettest places, an unmistakable spring herald rises — skunk cabbage. This waxy plant emerges like a monk in a cowl, colors swirling from burgundy to bright green. Skunk cabbage can melt ice, as its flower generates 60 degrees of heat. Its rotting meat scent is purportedly irresistible to pollinators. Which, frankly, are what spring is all about.

Above all, remember: Spring is inevitable. Even when trees remain black and brown. Even under skies that Henry David Thoreau described as “stern” back in his laggard spring in the 1800s. For him, as for us, this season must emerge.

Use all your senses. Watch for pollinators, even houseflies. Listen for wood frogs and peepers. Try to scent spicebush and the loamy perfume of awakening earth. Touch the soft green tips of emergent daffodil or narcissus leaves. Even when everything seems brown and grey and black and taupe, know that spring is being born.

Carolyn Foote Edelmann, a poet, naturalist and community relations associate for the Delaware and Raritan Greenway Land Trust, writes and photographs for NJWildBeauty nature blog (njwildbeauty.wordpress.com).

 

Pole Farm Miracles, June 2014

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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.”

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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