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.


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 

Cornwall’s Wild Beauty

Wheal Coates

Cornwall’s Wild Coastline, Wheal Coates Tin Mine


NJWILDBEAUTY readers know I tend to be enraptured about wilderness in New Jersey.  You may not realize that many other wild places call to me.  I am re-reading Daphne du Maurier’s Vanishing Cornwall, with its eloquent retelling of Cornish tales and magic, dooms and disasters, legends and lore — above all Arthurian.

In 1995, Darlene Prestbo and I set off on an Arthurian quest to Cornwall, which ‘just happened’ to be scheduled so that we were there for the Autumnal Equinox.  We’d found a National Trust House, Mouls Point, on the Bay of Tintagel – the perfect locus for setting out to places that had mattered to The Once and Future King.

Our National Trust Dwelling was perched, as is this one (from Internet), high above black rocks and not far from tiny Port Isaac and Port Quin.

 typical Cornish hiking scene61

steeo ricjs if

Typical Brooding Rocks of Cornish Coast — We watched oystercatchers (birds) feeding among them

port-isaac tidal reach-32

Minuscule Port Isaac at Low Tide

It is a treat to re-read books that nourished past journeys.  Du Maurier is a gifted storyteller, as anyone knows who has devoured her riveting novel, Jamaica Inn.  Among our non-Arthurian expeditions was one across Bodmin Moor to Jamaica Inn, where we sat in an inglenook by a roaring fire, after being out in a mizzle of rain and quite thoroughly drenched.  We were brought shepherd’s pie to restore us, and some local ale.  As a gift, the barkeep (not the villain of the book, though overlooked and scolded by a raucous parrot) gave us our first tastes of mead.  Mead on the moor.  What could be better?

Daphne’s son Christian Browning journeyed with her from cove to moor to standing stones to tin mines.  His photographs in the book are arresting, mostly black and white,  as evocative her prose and that storied land itself.

These, from the Internet, will just have to do until you follow in Darlene’s and my footsteps, anywhere within a day’s journey of the Bay of Tintagel.

standing stones of Cornwall120So Many Standing Stones, So Little Time

remnants of tin mines of Cornwall41Sentinels of Vanished Tin Mines

Wheal Coates tin mine St. Agnes indexWheal Coates, our favorite abandoned tin mine

I take notes in books to savor later.  In this twenty-first century, I read my own comments from 1995 such as, “The magic of Cornwall matters to her, but the sinister, more-so.”

Notes of Daphne’s descriptions only fired our determination and eagerness to BE THERE, such as “to learn the call of the night-jar.”  “to hear wind in rigging, scent tar and salt.”  “to stand in a mizzle of rain.”  “to discover the nursery of the oyster.”  “to look on sea from every aperture.” “to hike among the moors and tors.” “to stride amidst bracken.”  “to build a fire of turf and furze.” “to hear drowned steeple bells and the calling of curlews on the wind.”  Above all, we yearned for the last two, which we did not achieve, nor were we, though we longed to be, “pixie-led.”

Arthur was our magnet.  Even when we didn’t know we were searching for him, we came across references.  He was nearly worshiped as the horned stag in his time — a bridge between the ancient ways and new Christianity.  Going to a pub so we could order “bubble and squeak”, an antlered deer glowered over our table.  In a remote squat church, far from Arthur’s former fortress, we came upon a stained glass window of a saint who had (Perhaps in an excess of mercy) restored to life a villain Arthur had executed, a man who had harmed her.  We heard the sea toss the rounded stones in the multi-entranced cave where Merlin gave the boy king to the wise fisherman who took him to another enchanted land, Brittany, to be raised until his time would come.  We walked on the Tintagel headlands, where fierce storms had recently uncovered foundations and ruins old enough for our king.  We two poets found ourselves riveted in the stone-outlined space known and signed as “the place where the bards declaimed.”

We hiked the entire Pentire, a 12-mile jaunt, on a day so windy we had to hold onto seaside thrift not to crash onto the black rocks and rollicking tides below.  One of our discoveries that day was the site of the battle between Uther Pendragon and Gorlois, without which contest and its outcome, there would not have been an Arthur.

He’s everywhere, in the magical land of Cornwall.  DuMaurier asserts, “There is no fever like the quest for the past.”  True, indeed, especially when that past is studded with sites dear to Arthur, Guenivere, Lance, Tristan, Gawain, Gareth…  well, you know…

Even our hike through St. Nectan’s Glen, fueled by an ancient mystery of two eccentric women who had lived and died there alone, turned out to be Arthurian.  Darlene discovered that St. Nectan was a hermit, to whom Arthur sent knights on the eve of their being elevated to knighthood.

In that glen, we came across mysterious arrays of white feathers on mossy streamside ground.  Something as silent and huge as an owl, whooshed past us, though it was noontime.  The only person we met on that trek was wearing a black and white horizontally striped jersey and had a gold ring in his ear.  Of course, the Pirates of Penzeance were never far from our consciousness.

Daphne insists, “Arthur is to Cornwall as Theseus is to Greece.”  We followed him to Dozmary Pool, where Sir Bedivere had to be commanded three times to jettison the sacred Excalibur.  The water was darker than Cornish coastal rocks, and guarded by horned long-haired red cattle that could have been wooly mammoths.

We moved through golden sands at the Camel Estuary, where the wounded Arthur was taken from barge to barque to travel, in the company of holy women, to Glastonbury Tor — where Darlene and I had begun our Cornish journey.

I see now, as I write, that we had been, not pixie-led, but Arthur-led.

And there were sites and sights we were denied, by the famous mists of Avalon.  A key quest was Land’s End.  We never found it.  Fog hid the boot (hood) of the car from my eyes, and turned cattle to stone.

Instead of Land’s End that day, we returned to our local baker for scones and clotted cream, to savor at next morning’s breakfast, in our sea-girt kitchen, looking out over a tin mine’s chimney, which faced Mouls Point.  Little did we know that the name of our dwelling was the site of the battle between Pendragon and Gorlois…

Everything was meant.  I spend my life searching for magic to equal that of any  Cornish day.

We learned a new word, Darlene and I, on that journey — “Errantry.”  “Wandering around in search of adventure.”  As in knights errant.

That’s what I do in New Jersey.  That’s what I do for NJWILDBEAUTY.

Meanwhile, you can see why my soul always yearns for Cornwall.

typical Cornish harbor and town93Typical Cornish Port Town and Harbor

135-pentire-point-newquay rugged seacoast of Cornwall

Though Not Moul’s Point, our waking view was similar – onto the backs of coasting gulls and crashing surf