“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).

 

Searching for Spring – Ephemerals take Center Stage – US 1 Article on Springquest

First Flower of Spring --  Skunk Cabbage at Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve

First Flower of Spring —
Skunk Cabbage at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve

It’s a very interesting process, proposing, waiting for acceptance, and finally writing articles for newspapers in our region.  Waiting for answers and results is similar to waiting for spring, sometimes in a cold and snowy time.

First Spurt of Spring, Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve

First Spurt of Spring, Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know I recently had a story on trying to justify or find gifts in extreme cold turn into an op ed in the Times of Trenton.  You can search for this a few posts ago on this blog. On line, they used Brenda Jones’ superb photo of a fox scampering across Carnegie Lake.  In the Times itself, they used my unmet friend, Michael Mancuso’s, outstanding scene of people by a completely ice-clotted Delaware River. I owe this op-ed breakthrough to Michael, who said my feeble attempt to justify prolonged cold (it kills microbes that cause mange in foxes) deserved a Letter to the Editor to the Times.  He was right, only the Letters Editor chose to move it to Op Ed with images.

[I’ll use a couple of Brenda’s photos in this blog, one of Anne Zeman’s beautiful hand, do not have access to Michael’s frozen Delaware, and the rest are mine during desperate springquests at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve below New Hope.]

Miracle of Skunk Cabbage at Bowman's

Miracle of First Skunk Cabbage. the Melter, at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve

What readers never see is all the proposals that are ignored, sometimes not even acknowledged.

Every once in awhile, an idea strikes home, as with Rich Rein and Recognizing Spring, published yesterday in US 1 Business Newspaper.  My response is parallel to finding first ferns at Bowman’s.

Desperate for Spring, Bowman's

Desperate for Spring, Bowman’s — 

Fern emergence at the fern trail, despite snow everywhere at Bowman’s, proves that spring is inevitable.

Winter Aconite, Hopewell

Winter Aconite, Hopewell — another very early spring miracle, The Midas Touch

Awhile ago, Rich Rein, Editor and FOUNDER of US 1 Business Newspaper, asked me, at his generous thank you party for their writers, for a piece on finding spring.  I agreed, of course.  Wrote it in the midst of consummate ice and snow, and secured my dear friend Anne Zeman’s images for Rich, in a potpourri of portraits of the tiniest, most elusive, most delicate spring blooms.

fern still life

You wait and you wait.  Then the answer is yes.  Then there’s uncertainty about timing, about images.  And then it comes out a week earlier than you’d expected, with only one of Anne’s pictures.

Beech Drops in a Beechwood at Bowman's, against Anne Zeman's lovely hand

Beech Drops in a Beechwood at Bowman’s, against Anne Zeman’s lovely hand

Instead of being a Field Guide to Early Spring, with all that delicate beauty Anne had captured so skillfully, the piece showed one barren scene of a tough skunk cabbage.

... of cabbages and kings, Bowman's

… of cabbages and kings, Bowman’s

Being a writer, especially a journalist, is like being a gambler,  And the money cannot matter.  You toss your ideas into the atmosphere, and they swirl about and create new patterns, often those you never expected.

Waterfall Swirls, Pidcodk Creek, Bowman's Hill Wildlife Preserve

Waterfall Swirls, Pidcodk Creek, Bowman’s Hill Wildlife Preserve

I’m thrilled that it came out yesterday, so I’ll block and copy for you, urging you to seek spring in your own neighborhood.  You can use the COMMENT feature on NJWILDBEAUTY to let me know how YOU know spring is indeed here.

Commencement of Marsh Marigold

Commencement of Marsh Marigold

One skunk cabbage does not a spring make!

Brave Skunk Cabbage in March, Bowman's

Brave Skunk Cabbage in March, Bowman’s

Reprinted from the March 18, 2015, issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper
Hail the Shy Harbingers of Spring
by Carolyn Foote Edelmann
Snow or no snow, chill or no chill, spring is inevitable. There’s no gainsaying the vernal equinox. Days lengthen. Ground thaws. Spring’s exquisite ephemerals (flowers that bloom only so long as the forest canopy is not leafed out) will soon be everywhere.
Bluebell Emergence, Bowman's

Bluebell Emergence, Bowman’s

One of the privileges of hanging out with naturalists is that they know where to find first signs of spring.

One of the disadvantages is that they know the names of everything, leaving you wondering if you’ll keep the difference between twinleaf and bloodroot this year.

Bloodroot and New Leaf Fall, Bowman's

Bloodroot and New Leaf Fall, Bowman’s

If you’re lucky enough to have naturalist/photographer friends, your lessons will be a merry marriage of art and science.

If not, you may use these images as a field guide to earliest ephemerals.

One of my favorite nature-questers is Anne Zeman of Kingston. Consummate birder and fine art photographer, she is one of the most alert to signs of changes of seasons. Recently, in a white world, we motored to Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve (just south of New Hope). We required a sighting of the truest, earliest spring herald — skunk cabbage. We know where this hideously named flower pierces ice, melting its way to light and first pollinators. The plants pungency attracts flies, thinking it’s carrion. Because it can achieve 60-degree “furnace” inside those waxen red/green leaves, skunk cabbage has been known to erupt in January.

Drift of Ancient Princess Pine

Drift of Ancient Princess Pine

On our day, we were hindered by snow and ice. Anne and I could make it as far as the Civilian Conservation Corps stone bridge,. Despite serious hiking gear, we could not pass on to Azalea Trail or Violet Trail, let alone achieve the old pond where the skunk cabbage waits. Pidcock Creek chortled at these two nature-deprived humans, desperate for spring. But you can maneuver Bowman’s Trails now and find spring heralds of many hues and moods.

Pidcock Creek Bridge Built by Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression

Pidcock Creek Bridge Built by Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression

On the road leading down into Bowman’s from the parking lot, spicebush awaits. In “just spring,” or maybe even before ee cummings’ version of this season, petite blossoms the hue of key limes spurt, acting as spring signals even deep in the forest. Bowman’s has an identifying sign below this shrub by the roadway. Scrape a ruddy spicebush twig with a thumbnail, then inhale deeply . A pungent healing fragrance pierces your nostrils, that of benzoin, part of spicebush’s formal name.

Apotheosis of Spice Bush

Apotheosis of Spice Bush, Bowman’s

There is no more incontrovertible sign of spring than courting eagles. In Salem and Cumberland counties, near Turkey Point and along Stow Creek, particularly, American bald eagles begin courting in January. We can watch our `own’ eagles, soaring with straight-winged majesty over Carnegie Lake. If you’re lucky, you might even hear them caroling their surprisingly light songs of love. Princetonians can see eagles carrying enormous branches to restore their 2014 nest. By now, they are very likely performing nest exchanges, keeping new eggs warm. It’s even more important to eagles that Carnegie Lake thaw, for fish are the mainstay of their diet. If you’re very lucky, usually near the dam or the fishing bridge, you can marvel at an eagle’s shining meal deftly clenched in bright talons.

Juvenile American Bald Eagle with Fish by Brenda Jones

Juvenile American Bald Eagle with Fish by Brenda Jones

In Princeton, start your spring quest along our towpath. Spring Beauty will soon blanket its banks, — tiny, white and frail. They actually shiver as we may in the search. But when sun rays reach these silken blooms, they are teased open to reveal thinnest stripes of strawberry/pink. It’s as though someone painted them with a brush of only one hair. These bright accents serve as illuminated runways for pollinators, which is what spring is all about.

Phoebe by Brenda Jones

Phoebe by Brenda Jones  One of Spring’s Audible Heralds

A shy harbinger of spring will be early saxifrage. The marvelous name means `rockbreaker’. Fragile as it looks, saxifrage can force its way through stony soil, as over at Bowman’s Hill, as inevitably as skunk cabbage pierces ice.

Early Saxifrage Breaks Through

Early Saxifrage Breaks Through

Cut-leafed Toothwort, Bowman's

Cut-leafed Toothwort, Bowman’s

My candidate for the ephemeral with the ugliest name is cutleaf toothwort. This dainty one blankets the sharp edges of Bowman’s steep trail from their Twinleaf Shop, where one pays nominal admission. This trail has been newly strengthened, post-Sandy, so that it is easily negotiated, down to the site that will be awash in bluebells a month from now. Meanwhile, Dutchmen’s breeches, squirrel corn, and cutleaf toothwort keep the hiker occupied in early spring.

Plants with `wort’ in their name hearken back to the Old English. `Wort’ implies medicinal usage. Maybe this delicate beauty was useful for toothache. Wikipedia asserts, “the first part of the word denoting the complaint against which it might be specially efficacious.” Toothwort is pale, seemingly white, but in certain lights there is a roseate quality, and sometimes even a hint of lavender.

The most famous medicinal plant of early spring could well be hepatica. Obviously, in ancient times, anything with `hepatic’ in its name was significant for liver ailments. I find this a somewhat heavy association for one of the most delicate plants.

Hepaticas thrive at Bowman’s. You can read wall maps and hand maps, and inquire of wise volunteers in their Twin Leaf Shop, The miracle of this hepatica is that these fragile blossoms emerge first. Finding a swathe of hepatica poking through last autumn’s leaves always seems a mirage.

Round-leafed hepatica and the other flowers that bloom until the forest canopy leafs out, work their spring magic, year upon year, wherever humans are wise enough to preserve the habitat they require.

Emergent Dutchman's Britches

Emergent Dutchman’s Britches

Take yourself to the towpath, to Bowman’s, to the Abbott Marshlands, the Pole Farm in Lawrenceville (off Cold Soil Road), the Institute Woods, the Griggstown Grasslands.

False Hellebore Extravaganza, Bowman's

False Hellebore Extravaganza, Bowman’s

Meanwhile, you will be assisted in your quest by Anne Zeman’s splendid photographs, in her upcoming book on the wildflowers of New Jersey.

Edelmann, a poet and naturalist, is also community relations associate with D&R Greenway Land Trust. She writes and photographs for the nature blog, njwildbeauty.wordpress.com

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