RECUPERANT’S POEM — P.T. yet again…

Foot(e)bridge to Bull’s Island from Lumberville, Pennsylvania, in another season:

Table View Black Bass Autumn 2010

NJWILDBEAUTY readers must be wondering at my long silence in this blog.  Normally one of my most gratifying creative outlets, ==and a major part of my mission to urge people to pay attention to Nature, enjoy her, and save her–, doing a blog has been the farthest thing from my mind since February 18.

That day, a meniscus (right knee; we have four – what is the plural – menisci?) tore for no obvious reason.  Pain sharp as the venomous bite of a striking snake zoomed up and down my right leg, which then refused to work.  My chiropractor and my co-writer friend, Pat Tanner, had to meet me at my car at his office and my home, near Pat’s, to pry me out.  Or I’d be there still!

A meniscus has very little blood flow — therefore, it is prone to tearing, and not prone to healing.

***

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Barnegat Bay – Birding by Kayak – Heaven on Earth

In 2011, I set foot(e) into physical therapy with Princeton Orthopaedics, to return to the world and especially to kayaking, after my brilliant hip replacement with Doctor Thomas Gutowski.  My physical therapist – which process I have since insisted is as important as the surgery — was the perfectly named John Walker.  He’s the miracle worker, who took me kayaking upon Lake Carnegie four months after the surgery.

John knew that Dr. Gutowski had asked my surgical goal – (did you know there was such a thing?–) at our first meeting.  Dr. G did not laugh when I immediately announced, “To return to the kayak.”  In fact, he discussed my paddling preferences, later inserting a kayaker’s hip.

John Walker then strengthened all those long-underutilized muscles around the new joint — through three lengthy weekly sessions for a very long time.   One spring day, I confessed, most shamefacedly, that I’d planned to kayak that weekend, but had been afraid to do it alone.

[I, who do everything alone, like move to Manhattan straight from my convent school; like managing a Test Kitchen at 21 years old at the corner of forty-second and third; liuke move to Provence so I could spend my fiftieth birthday on my balcony overlooking the Mediterranean.]  But I couldn’t face LEAVING the kayak alone, no matter how blissful my paddle may have been.

Confession led to John’s saying, “That’s because we’re to do it together.”  And we did.

There wasn’t a soul on that lake, that still April evening.  We paddled through a Tiffany landscape complete with mountains (Watchungs?) I had never seen from the towpath.

As sunset approached, a great blue heron marched toward us at the forest edge.  That normally vigilant bird was not the least disturbed by our presence, since kayakers are part of the water.

Brenda Jones — Disturbed Great Blue Heron — Trenton Marsh

***

Never, however, did I consider entering those physical therapy doors again.

Guess what — we have to heal this meniscus tear and prevent any in the other three.  I have been returned to John to work on hamstrings and glutes.  I protested this week, “Those strange names are not part of my upbringing.  I don’t want glutes!”

“Carolyn,” John explained, in his traditional avuncular manner, “You HAVE to have glutes.  Especially for hiking…”

OK.  So now I don’t even have time for yoga.  Just glutes, hamstrings and core.

I’m sharing my newly relevant protest poem from five years ago.

Yes, it’s a blessing to be back in John’s capable hands.  He and my wondrous Hopewell chiropractor, Brandon Osborne, chronicle and celebrate improvements I am too dense to perceive.  Progress is being made.  But those rooms and those contortions used to seem like being kidnapped to go on the road with a circus!

With their vigilant approval, I was back on the alluring foot(e)bridge over the Delaware to Bull’s Island twice last weekend. Pileateds and phoebes announced spring.

Next foot(e)prints – The Sourlands Trail off Greenwood Avenue.

But I do not take back my discomfiture over all those months, following those strange directions:

***

JUXTAPOSITIONS

 

in this

room full of premature blossoms

I perform exercises

on the heels of ‘total hip replacement’

 

March sun suffuses whiteness

that one day should be pears

as I am handed stretching bands,

assorted weights, one bolster

and a ball

 

here, serious playthings promise

flexibility, stamina, gait

— and possibly– kayaking

 

relentlessness conspires

with absolute lack of privacy

throughout my fitness attempts

 

outside, blossoms yearn

for pollinators’ essential arrivals

 

inside, –completing yet another

“two sets of thirty”–

I perceive flowery profusion

through a tall bright curve

of ivory spinal column

 

vertebrae and blossoms

my new reality

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

 

***

Dappled Sourlands Trail, off Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell

Dappled Sourlands

 

 

PINELANDS ~ PIPELAND: Road to Ruin – Poems of This Imperiled Region

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Pump House, Clouds and Lilies in Waters of Haines Cranberry Bogs, Chatsworth

A trio of poems, arrow’s in this activist’s quiver:

Probably all NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that, last Friday, the Pinelands Commission DARED approve the first pipeline in New Jersey’s Crown Jewel: The Pine Barrens.  This one is “The South Jersey Gas Pipeline Project.”  A pipeline by any name would smell as foul.  The Pinelands Commission was founded to preserve, protect, even enhance this 1.1 million-acre wooded region, sited atop the legendary 17-trillion-gallion Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer of highest quality water.

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Traditional Cranberry Harvest Tool

 

Former NJ Governors Brendan Byrne, Jim Florio and Christine Todd Whitman joined forces to file a Friend of Court Brief to overturn approval of the Pipeline.  But the forces of greed have won anew, and New Jersey will never be the same.  Our beautiful state is being turned into a Sacrifice Zone, and who is to arrest this destruction?

 

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Essence of the Bogs, Chatsworth

 

Once, I lamented to a caller, “I’m a poet.  What am I doing at the barricades?”  The activist on the other end of the line retorted, “Carolyn, that’s where poets belong.”

I’m not good with barricades.  Although I support and thrill to effective protest marches, they are beyond my physical/spiritual/mental/emotional strength.

 

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Pinelands’ Pristine Tannic Waters, Batsto

The only arrows in my quiver are Pinelands poems.  Here are a few, to remind NJWILDBEAUTY readers of what we are about to forfeit:

This was one of the original “Hot Poems by Cool Women”, a favorite of what we came to see as our poetic groupies, as our various new volumes reached the public through readings:

 

IT ALL STARTED

 

when we came upon

carpets of stars

cranberries in flower

trembling white below

the ice blue sky

 

along the hard-packed dikes

slumbrous bees

formed golden pyramids

on gleaming amber boxes

 

dawn’s pollinators

here to burst all bonds

course among broad acres

of waving stamens

 

at day’s end we stood on tiptoe

plucking first blued berries

from among the mauve and pink

at the tips of overarching bushes

 

tucked among hollies and sheep laurel

through thickets and tunnels

we made our way to the sea

mouths awash in warm berries

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

Cool Women, Volume I

 

RESURGENT

 

I long to slip into
peat water

watch my long legs turn
orange, then burnt sienna
bathed in tannins of old leaves
and newly desiccated needles
having steeped over the centuries
between primordial banks

I belong to the Pines and its peat
whether striding or swimming
requiring levels and mystery
–silent liquidities
–eloquent duskiness
even on bright days

over there, on a low branch
a slim snake twines
somnolent and sure

overhead, in the pine tops
winds echo ocean
near yet far

time keeps these waters warm
enough to welcome legs
too long denied the Pinelands

see how my limbs flicker and flash
–burnished in peatwater
–flames in the depths

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN
US 1 Fiction Issue,

D&R Greenway Poets of Preservation

Written in Princeton Hospital
Immediately post-op  – 11 11 11

CRANAPPLE PIE

 

I’ve gathered apples of our Barrens

to blend with bright cranberries

sparked with honey of dawn’s bees

we two once awakened

on Chatsworth’s sandy dikes

 

I craft a random European tart

— ragged edges, coverless

in honor of your world that I so crave

in memory of ragged days, uncovered nights

 

the luminous glaze

oddly recollects

your ignited gaze

thrown back at me

in this new solitude

 

every inch of rooms you cherished

becomes apple-fragrant

our joyous kitchen above all

 

my fruits become a brigand’s cache

–rubies tossed with fine abandon

as I once flung caution to wild winds

when you stretched out fine hands

luring me, pirate-like, to irresistible back bays

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

                                                Cool Women, Volume Two

 

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Jersey’s Jewels, Sugar Sand, Chatsworth

 

Once, I carried books of others’ poems into hearings at Prallsville Mills, in my futile, idealistic attempt to convince decision-makers not to allow “The Villas of Tuscany”, –currently “Barclay Square” –, towering condos.  to profane our cherished, historic D&R Canal and Towpath.

I read words of Paul Muldoon and Gerry Stern and friends who later became the Cool Women, insisting that art is born in New Jersey beauty.  Trampling her open spaces, defiling sightlines of the canal — for these travesties are visible even deep down upon her waters in a kayak — destroys not only habitat for essential wild creatures.  It also spells the end of inspiration, the cessation of art catalyzed in these storied reaches.

Pipelines are nonessential, destructive, temporary in terms of jobs provided, and threaten ignition of the Pines and fouling of the pristine waters of the Pine Barrens.

Don’t let this happen.  Use whatever arrows are in your quiver to preserve, protect, and even enhance our entire state!

 

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Cranberries on the Vine, Chatsworth

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Pine Barrens Just-Picked Dry-harvested Cranberries as Sauce Extraordinaire, Back Home

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Cranberry Dry Harvest, Early November, 2015

This rich harvest tour took place through Pinelands Adventures: http://www.pinelandsadventures.org;

Which organization has come into being under the auspices of ever-militant, thoroughly vigilant Pinelands Preservation Alliance:  JOIN THEM — they turn around damage to the Pines, week after week after week:  http://www.pinelandsalliance.org

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Batsto Barn – Pine Barrens’ Mercantile History, Legendary Iron Forge Village

Without  “The Iron in the Pines”, from forges such as Batsto and Allaire and Martha’s Furnace, and beyond, George Washington would not have had cannon balls nor wagon wheels for Revolutionary Battles.  Pinelands shipbuilders and ship’s captains effectively fought the British and the Hessians, boldly advertising auctions of stores of captured ships in Philadelphia papers.  Mullica Rivermen rowed with muffled oars to change the course of history.  It is said, we would not have a country without the Mullica, without the Pine Barrens!

 

SUN-SEEKING, Literal and Metaphorical

Is it November, –or is it THIS November–, that renders sun a memory?

What images, what journeys hold light so crucial to me, ever more essential, every day?

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Autumn Along the Stony Brook, 2016, November

 

Key birding buddy, Mary Wood, and I ‘hiked the day down,’ –mostly wordlessly, often birdlessly–, after the election.  November surprised us with remnant vividness.

Walk with us.  Climb with us.

 

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Birding Platform Over the Wetlands

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Map – Charles Rogers Refuge – off Alexander, near Princeton Canoe and Kayak Rentals

 

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Likely Birds – Red-wing Heaven in Springtime

 

We owe this lovely restoration to Winnie (Hughes) and Fred Spar, and Tom Poole.  I know Winnie through U.S. 1 Poets, and Fred and Tom through D&R Greenway Land Trust, where I work.

Finding these images on this gloomy day reminds that all that matters in my life is preservation, — of nature, of beauty, of wild spaces.

Oh, yes, and freedom.  For the wildlings and for us.

Winnie and Fred, in their fine new signs, give honor to legendary birder, quintessential birdwalk leader, Lou Beck, of Washington Crossing Audubon.

We all give credit to everyone who reaches out, through whatever non-profits, to save the wild while we can.  Thoreau was right, you know:  “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”

 

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Restored Wetlands — Note Return of the Cattails, and Purple Martin House and Gourds

 

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“September, we’ll remember…”

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Upside-Down is Better than Right-Side Up

 

 

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Finale, Rogers Refuge and the Stony Brook

 

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“From Both Sides Now”

 

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November Tapestry in the Stony Brook

Memories of this refuge especially include green herons.  Not this day, not this season — but often.  Sometimes, kayaking nearby, one spots green herons mincing along the banks of the (D&R, of course) canal, then lofting up into Refuge trees.

 

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Green Heron by Brenda Jones

 

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Spring Species, Rogers Refuge

 

Spring brings not only winged miracles. This refuge is yellow-flag and blue-flag Central in May.  Wild iris of the most vivid hues, The Rogers is worthy of a journey for ‘flags’ alone.

 

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Blue Flags from Versicolor on Interniet

 

Invasive species had driven out cattails essential to territorializing red-winged blackbirds.

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Male Redwinged Blackbird, Territorializing, by Brenda Jones

Seemingly inescapable phragmites, — bush-tailed grasses beloved of decorators–, are too frail to support the weight of males, ruffling scarlet epaulets, vocalizing welcome to females and banishment to rivals, in these woods and wetlands.

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Phragmites Height from Internet

Restoration, a key facet of preservation, is visible in the final scene of Mary’s and my November walk.

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Late Light in the Cattails

Home Is the Wanderer, Home from the Hills

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View From Florence Griswold House

NJWILDBEAUTY Readers know that Betty Lies arranged an artquest for us to the Connecticut town of Old Lyme.  Here, as you learned some posts ago, significant American artists of the Tonalist School boarded with Florence Griswold, turning out misty, moody, dreamy scenes of the bucolic surroundings of that stately home and town.  Others came along, electrified by the French Barbizon School’s approach to landscape, which had been (scornfully, by an art critic) christened “Impressionism”, with a nasty nod to Monet’s “Impression: Sunrise.” 

Neither school was a School.  Each evolved naturally, inspired by nature, in the days before ‘development’, which to me has always been a euphemism for ‘destruction.’

Our plan had been to drive up on Friday; stay in a nearby B&B; on Saturday, find the Museum that the Griswold home has now become;to  spend ‘the shank of the day’ with the artwork in frames and on walls, doors and panels of Miss Florence’s guests.  An adjacent gallery holds artwork of other countries and eras, all of it either leading to or influenced by Tonalism.

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Betty Studies the “Ticket Booth” for Outdoor Events on Florence Griswold’s Lawn

Fate had other ideas.

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Sign, Lawn and Gardens of Florence Griswold House, Old Lyme, CT

Betty’s early-morning fall on the Friday of departure led to nearly five Saturday hours in the Emergency rooms of (ironically) Middlesex Hospital (name of one of the hospitals in which my late husband long served, in New Brunswick, NJ, in the years of our marriage.)  This Middlesex is in Middleton, CT, and we now know more about Middlesex than we ever intended.  Her arm had broken.  Yes, the driving arm.  It was FINALLY splinted and slinged.  It is now cast, courtesy of Princeton physicians.  And we barely made it to Griswoldiana.

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Barn, Griswold House Grounds

Betty’s heroic and staunch.  I am neither, especially after spending this summer caught up in the dire plight of my nephew’s son James.  This musically gifted 20-year-old was snared by cancer inside his spinal column, abruptly and seemingly irrevocably discovered August 1.  James has now undergone two surgeries and God KNOWS how much chemo.  His walking remains a major challenge.

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Healthy Dahlia, Griswold Gardens

Betty drove anyway, insisting it did not hurt, as her insurance covers only the owner/driver.  I realized, that Saturday’s challenge was my first-ever experience of an Emergency Room.  That name, too, is ironic.  For no one seemed to comprehend the urgency in emergency.

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Palette, Griswold Garden

The art was lovely, dark but not deep.  Miss Florence remains overwhelmingly impressive, –such an independent woman making her indelible mark on the work of art, despite the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in HER life.  Another mentor for us, like Eleanor (Roosevelt) and Georgia (O’Keeffe).

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Miss Florence’s Lamp, Griswold House

I only managed a handful of pictures for my readers.  Put Old Lyme into the search function to see the internet scenes of the mystical art which catalyzed and still evoke our experience.

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Miss Florence’s Roof

And I wonder if I’ll ever be able to figure out this trip.

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Miss Florence’s House, Home and Catalyst of Tonalism in American Art

 

TWILIGHT KAYAK IDYLL – MID-AUGUST

Entry from the Turning Basin into the D&R Canal

Entry from the Turning Basin into the D&R Canal

My new favorite kayaking hour has become 5:30 p.m.  Although a life-long morning person, the twilight hours have lately come to enchant me on these sacred preserved waters.

Stillness surrounded us, as yet another ‘virgin kayaker’ and I glided out of the Turning Basin at Alexander, heading south on the shimmering D&R Canal.

On both sides, and reflected in curiously profound waters, the banks were still garbed in high summer’s uninterrupted green.  Lush and bountiful ‘wine-dark’ greens negated hard trunks, melded single leaves.  It was as though some mad decorator had strewn enormous sofa cushions all along our route.

At outset, there were few clouds — but that billowy forest did a superb and startling role as stand-ins.  Here and there, the long red throats of trumpet flowers (hummingbirds’ favorites) punctuated the text of the forest.  As clouds arrived, their reflections and those of canalside trees, reminded us first of Monet, then Constable.

The old maritime word, ‘williwaws’, came to mind, as gentlest breezes wrinkled first one side of the water, then the other.

Its color fascinated — various rich tones of grey, beyond pewter to black pearl.  One or two curled gold leaves had somehow materialized, bobbing along like miniature watercraft, turning this way and that against the darkness.

Silence was everywhere.   Time stopped.

Ever since Sandy scoured these historic banks, we have been deprived of many wildflowers and most turtles.  Reparations brought in new stoniness, so far inhospitable to most blooms.  Furious torrents swept all the slanted turtle logs downstream, (up-canal).  Downed trunks have yet to reappear, making it hard for turtles to emerge from the depths, bask in the light.

Marsh mallow was our first floral gift.  Because it was twilight, pink blooms, then later white ones, were “folding their tents like the Arabs.”  Twined, from a distance, these towering hibiscus-like plants seemed more lily than mallow.  I told my (enormously skillful already) kayaking companion, “The Lenni Lenape made a sweet out of their roots, which was white and sticky.  We named marshmallows after those roots.”

Goldenthread vines wove in and out and over and under on the banks to our right.  It seems to smother the plants that it covers.  But late light on gold webs was stunning.  Long ago, a woman from Jamaica told me, “We use this plant to treat prostate problems in my country.”

A few double kayaks of new paddlers gave us pause along this usually empty route.  Their skills led them repeatedly toward the tangled banks, rather than up-canal or down-canal.

I was deeply aware, listening to their laughter, of the sounds we were not hearing — no wood thrushes, though evening.  No kingfisher, rattling in his fishing dives.  Not a goose yet — proving again that we are still in summer’s hands.  Not even a mourning dove, although neither of us unfortunately ever needs to be reminded of mourning.

Only a few round tight golden spatterdock blooms remained among the lily pads.  About the size of ping pong balls, these waterlily blooms will never enlarge.  They seemed to be playing hide and seek in the shadows.

I had alerted my traveling companion to be on the lookout for shy cardinal flower.  Fondest of deep shade, often solitary, these slender stalks hold tiny trumpet-y flowers the color of the bird for whom they are named.  In sunlight, they can be visited by ravening hummingbirds.

She found the first stalk, and most thereafter, until my eyes adjusted to such minuscule splashes of crimson hidden in underbrush.  It reminded me of snorkeling – when you don’t even realize there are tiny fish at first; and then, they are everywhere.  We lost count of cardinal flower last night.

For all the high heat days we have had lately, the canal water was surprisingly cool.  I always dip eager hands into that secret-keeping surface, ritually baptize my legs with her waters.  A certain communion with the canal is essential.

This night was the most contemplative of all my shared ‘rides’.  There is such a thing as ‘walking meditation.’  I think we were given ‘paddling meditation’.  Occasional companionable talk, –of art and of camping, of books — drifted from her chartreuse craft to my cardinal-flower-hued one.

Two deer, mirrored in the canal, strolled down to sip.  Being in their calm presence was either mirage or tapestry.

I had told her, “If we’re lucky, we might see the green heron at this hour.”  Riding tall and proud as a skilled Lenni Lenape, her bright eyes missed nothing.  My friend discovered this wild herald, high overhead, exactly matching leaves in late light.  Silently, it coasted more than flew, from its observatory branch, angling down along the bank to our left.  The lowering sun was taking on subtle flame hues itself, highlighting its coppery feathers.

We had been wondering what would be our turning point.  The green heron was the deity we had awaited.

Heading South from Alexander, 5 to 6:30 on a golden Sunday evening

Heading South from Alexander, 5 to 6:30 on a golden Sunday evening

US 1 Newspaper on US 1 (Poets) Worksheets — poem “How To” from Newest Issue and Marshwalk

Genesis is a new section of US 1 (Business) Newspaper.  Rich Rein, founding editor, generously asked if he could use my “How To” poem from US 1 Poets’ newest beautiful volume, their strongest ever.  I am greatly honored.  I share this with NJWILDBEAUTY readers, realizing that poetry is nothing if not “wild beauty”!  Thank you, Rich!  Fofllowing this, here in the post, but first in the paper, is my story on hiking the Abbott Marshlands as spring ended and summer trickled in, with Clyde Quin and Warren Liebensperger, my dear friends and ‘Godfathers of the Marsh.’   Enjoy both, Readers, and walk that Marsh – it’s magical.

Reprinted from the Summer 2015 issue of Genesis
Poetry: U.S. 1 Worksheets

How To

people in other lands

know how to be lovers

a man visits Anna Akhmatova

in daytime

demanding

Tell me how you kiss

nothing like this

happens to me

but recently

a man carried two kayaks

one red, one green

one after the other

upon his head

over the arched footbridge

so that we two could explore

evening’s lake

                                                               — Carolyn Foote Edelmann

Heading South from Alexander, 5 to 6:30 on a golden Sunday evening

Recent Kayaking on D&R Canal south of Alexander Road, Princeton

As the first member of the Princeton Community to be accepted through Continuing Ed into Princeton University’s Creative Writing Program in the 1970s, Edelmann studied with Ted Weiss, Galway Kinnell, and Stanley Plumly. She has spent her poetic life honoring their legacy. Her services at D&R Greenway Land Trust are in the broad realm of Community Relations.  Carolyn is an avid kayaker.

Prose and poetry in one issue – a first for me, and a great honor:
Spring Lake, Abbott Marshlands, First Willows

Spring Lake, Abbott Marshlands, First Willows

Reprinted from the June 17, 2015, issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper
In Trenton’s Shadow, A Summer Escape to the Abbott Marshlands
by Carolyn Foote Edelmann

Come with me. Stroll beside tranquil willows, alongside the lilypad lake. Heed red-winged blackbirds’ territorial “okaleeeeee!” on all sides. Be properly impressed by the mute swan male, wings arced in territorial mode, protecting his mate and nestlings hidden on-shore.

Try to remember, we are on the southern edge of the city of Trenton with Hamilton Township to the east and the heavy traffic of the I-295/I-195 interchange just mile or so to the south. We are in the Abbott Marshlands, a 1,200-acre freshwater tidal preserve.

Here tides, pushed by the Delaware River, surge twice each day, bringing new nutrients and fresher water, removing what I tend to think of as “tired water,” carrying it ultimately to the Delaware Bay. We are surrounded by the hush and rich density of one of New Jersey’s most enticing preserves.

On the brink of the opening of summer. we will be seeking spring’s departure, signs of the new season, and anything Clyde Quin and Warren Liebensperger can tell us of the Marsh above which they have lived, and which they have served, all their lives. Clyde and Warren are both retired now (from PSE&G and the GM plant in Ewing respectively) and both are now energetic volunteers with the Friends for the Abbott Marshlands, visiting almost daily to lead field trips, maintain trails, and reporting illegal activity, including turtle poaching and dumping.

We enter the marsh at the Sewell and McClellen Avenue entrance, a 10-minute drive from Route 1 (specific directions can be found easily at the Friends’ website, www.marsh-friends.org). It’s overcast, which turns out to be a blessing, as summer announces its imminent arrival through both heat and impressive humidity this morning. The clouds look especially appealing in Spring Lake, a non-tidal body of water, alongside which we are walking until we’ll cross a tiny footbridge onto “The Island.” The Island is really the deep woods, and holds treasures in all seasons. Have your binoculars ready. The Abbott Marshlands are Rare Bird Central.

Even without optics, Clyde finds the first important bird: Elegant, lustrous, the evening grosbeak poses on a bare branch right over our heads. It turns to right and left, a gilded celebrity, giving us its best side.

Our friendship goes back to the founding of Friends for the Marsh, at nearby Bow Hill Mansion (home of the exquisite mistress of the former king, Joseph Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon). While Clyde and Warren are self-educated amateurs — in the best sense of the word, they are part of a corps of knowledgeable tour leaders who operate year-round: Mary Leck, botanist emeritus of Rider, who’s spent most of her scientific career calling attention to the Marsh and discovering God knows how many new species in its preserved watery acres; her husband Charles, legendary ornithologist of Rutgers; Jenn Rogers, Mercer County naturalist; and Kelly Rypkema, new head of the recently opened Tulpehaking (place of the turtles) Nature Center above the Abbott Marsh. 

Most hikes are free, and all are memorable. There isn’t a plant in that place that Mary doesn’t know. Clyde and Warren are rarely stumped, but a unique delicate pale fern astounds the three of us, lifting golden fronds like wands. “Mary will know,” we say in unison

The lake is to our left, studded with greenery — hefty pointy leaves of spatterdock, that golden pond lily the size and shape of a ping-pong ball. It’ll never get any bigger, never open farther. Two fishermen are out in lake-central, poles catching early light. Trees, thick to our right, are full of urgent birdsong. We are treated to further red-winged blackbird commands to honor each territory. We hear the mellifluous “hello everybody I’m back” of orioles, both Baltimore and orchard, providing glimpses, silhouettes.

Baltimore Oriole in Abbott Marshlands by Brenda Jones

Baltimore Oriole in Abbott Marshlands by Brenda Jones

In the midst of all those fluttery leaves, Warren spots and identifies the tiny, sophisticated blue-grey gnatcatcher. In silhouette, we know this bird by its slender angular tail, long for such a minuscule bird. We have been in the Marsh about 10 minutes.

Clyde informs me that most of trees here, of which orioles and gnatcatchers are particularly fond, are aspens. “Be very quiet,” he suggests. “Even though they are barely moving, you can hear the aspen leaves.” This grove of whispering aspens Clyde and Warren have named Mary’s Cove. Mary being Mary Leck. Trails underfoot, despite the name of this preserve, are dry most of the time. Too dry today, despite two recent downpours.

Clyde and Warren tend nest boxes here, of bluebirds (who fly about their heads like birds in Snow White’s homecoming scene, as the men put up fresh boxes each spring), and Picasso-esque wood ducks. These birds need tree cavities in order to build nests and raise young. In case you haven’t noticed, there aren’t a lot of tree cavities any more. Clyde and Warren put them up, and monitor the young, who leave the nest by jumping down many feet from the boxes, often into water, on their first or second day of life. These men — the Godfathers of the Marsh — put out fires; clean up graffiti; try to repair knife marks in the beautiful new information panels there to educate everyone to the riches of this place.

They immediately recognize new fox denning attempts, the broad “apron” distinguishing fox-work from muskrat-work in the woods. They know where every owl nests, each eagle. They pick up newly chewed beaver twigs, point out just-felled beaver saplings, “the chips still wet.” Clyde’s and Warren’s hands hold the brushes that paint roots white for moonlight beaver walks. They remember when monarchical trees, downed by recent tempest and vandals’ fires, reached the sky.

They have a sixth sense for birds, as well as knowing who prefers what corners and crossroads, what canopy, what part of the understory. We hear varied sounds of hairy, downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, drilling to establish territory. We are treated to shadowy glimpses of certain woodpeckers. One parent feeds his offspring a ravenous youngster a mouthful of insects. American crows mutter and complain, and fish crows cry fervent “Uh, ohs!”

Last night was epochal for the turtle clan. Everywhere we find evidence of very recent digging and egg-laying. Sadly for amphibians, all too many new sanctuaries have been discovered. Even at the sooty place of a former fire, ivory shards — museum quality — of former eggs lie scattered like bones after the raptor’s feast. We know it’s the work of a predator because (1.) it’s far from time for eggs to hatch and (2.) natural hatching is immaculate, no shell remnants to be seen.

As we make our way in deep shade as the day grows hotter, Clyde and Warren marvel at how swiftly recently trimmed trails have been re-invaded by healthy new plants. They’re excited to find the flower “Double Cynthia,” bright orange, and quite rare — new to me. On both sides of the trail, it may be a new colony.

“Here’s spiderwort!,” Warren exclaims. This ineptly named gorgeous purple bloom rises on iris-like tendrils. It’s on both sides, spilling all the way down to the water. The men decide this new array of that shy yet vivid plant could have been caused by flooding.

They recount the sad saga of ineradicable Japanese knotweed, despite heroic efforts by Trenton High School students. We puzzle over inexplicably vanished wetlands, formerly famous for frogs.

The best part about being with Warren and Clyde is that they speak the past. It springs to life, their eyes alight. They are boys again, “using cane poles, pulling in fish, sometimes snagging turtles we have to release.”

Of course, long before Warren and Clyde there were Indians here, especially Lenni Lenapes, convening between hunting and gathering seasons, spring and fall migrations. Beginning in their boyhood days these two men have found artifacts, donating them to a local museum. I guess they sensed Indian presence as did Thoreau.

Clyde and Warren lament sounds no longer heard: whippoorwill, bob-white, wild pheasant, clapper rail, black rail, American Bittern. They enriched my knowledge with locals’ names for every twist in these trails, maintained by the two of them weekly if not daily, year-’round.

A handful of days before summer, ferns are at peak. No more fiddleheads, just enormous clumps, catching the light, back into the deep woods. Some of these ferns are taller than we are, but the men tell me ferns used to be 15-feet tall.

We chronicle the departure of spring in spent false Solomon’s seal; the seed pods of vanished trout lily blooms. Clyde hands me a Mayapple, oval and Granny Apple Green. “Box turtles eat ‘em,” he lets me know. “I’ve eaten them. Have a kind of mothy taste.” To me, they smell like green beans.

They take turns reciting the old names: Devil’s Bend; Second Sandy; Cobra, Rooster Tail, The Catwalk, The Springs, Snapper Pond, and Mary’s Cove. The last line of Death of a Salesman comes to me here, “Attention must be paid!” Who will chant these titles, a decade or two from now?

Who else can tell of the dredging of the lake, how “they took out all the muck, dragged it, used mules. Then they put in clean sand… waited for springs and rains to do their work.” “At first, this was just a strolling park. Then people came along and added the amusement park and the chute-the-chutes with the wooden boats.”

We sit on a lakeside bench, so Clyde and Warren may continue to reminisce. I tell them, “There is no one with whom I would rather walk the Marsh.”

They give me exquisite responses, laced with almost breathless gratitude that the wild and the beautiful have been and are being continually preserved, in the heart of New Jersey’s capital region.

Carolyn Edelmann works in community relations for the D&R Greenway Land Trust and takes advantage of every opportunity to hike and kayak through New Jersey’s natural resources.

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FIRST KAYAK IMAGES D AND R CANAL SOUTH OF ALEXANDER

I’ll soon be writing an article on this for the Packet, for Anthony Stoeckert, a delight of an editor, on the first kayaking of Spring.

But I must let NJWILDBEAUTY readers know, I made it out there on our canal last evening, (Sunday, May 3) from five to 6:30.  There may be no lovelier way to end a day!

‘There’ is the Alexander Road station of Princeton Canoe and Kayak, canoenu.com, (also up at Griggstown, where I learned.)  I’ll give you more info later.

Meanwhile, welcome to Tranquility Base!

Kayak Still Life, Princeton Canoe and Kayak at Alexander Road, Princeton

Kayak Still Life, Princeton Canoe and Kayak at Alexander Road, Princeton

Entry from the Turning Basin into the D&R Canal

Entry from the Turning Basin into the D&R Canal

Heading South from Alexander, 5 to 6:30 on a golden Sunday evening

Heading South from Alexander, 5 to 6:30 on a golden Sunday evening

First Great Blue Heron, who did not make his squawk nor fly away - I left before he did

First Great Blue Heron, who did not make his squawk nor fly away – I left before he did

Homeward Bound, heading back toward the Alexander Road Bridge

Homeward Bound, heading back toward the Alexander Road Bridge

It’s kayak time — what are you waiting for?  (609-452-2403)  Ask for Steve and tell him Carolyn sent you!