“STAR-GUIDED” – a Christmas Fable

Long ago, when I lived in New Hope, this story came to me as a dream.  I typed it (no computers yet), hoping someday to publish it, among a series of Transition Tales.  Life overtook me in one way and another, so that dream has not (yet) been realized.  On this Solstice Night, the night of the return of the light, the beginning of the season of miracles, I give you my “Star-Guided”, wrapped in starlight and stardust.  (In those days, my splendid Himalayan cat was “Stardance.”) May this story make your hearts dance.

STAR-GUIDED

We are striding Bethlehem’s dark streets with curious urgency.  We know where we are headed, although none has been to Bethlehem-of-Judea before this electric night.  All is eerily still, the entire town asleep save for our small band of travelers.  The streets here are like mazes.  They are rough underfoot.

I walk gingerly, afraid of turning an ankle in our haste.  My tall daughter, Catherine, strides beside me.  Each of us is impeded by a long light traveling dress and thicker cloak, which stir up street dust as we go.  Upon our feet are leathern slippers too fragile for such journeying.  Her companion, the knight, Galen, is safe enough, encased as he is in bright armor.  Merlin shuffles, as always.  His robes, as are his habit, are askew.  His hair is all-a-tumble.  Every so often, his starred cap tumbles off, and he scurries back through the dark dust to retrieve it.  Merlin, mercifully, carries a pole with a swinging lantern.  Its fat yellowed candle casts pools of honeyed light before our feet.  When he is not chasing his hat, the Merlin cheerfully leads our procession.

The dwellings, what I can see of them, seem sculpted of clay.  They have a pink-grey cast by lamplight.  The moon this night is somehow obscured.  There are a few stars, which deepen our shadows, purple against the sand-hued roads.

We are responding to an unfamiliar star.  Either because it is lower or simply brighter than the rest, it seems to be playing a game with us.  If we start to take a turn that is not right, that star flutters and dims.  When we turn in the correct direction, the star grows steadier, more intense.

n this way, we find ourselves at a nondescript hostelry.  Jarring sounds of revelry spill into its courtyard, startling after all the silence of the town.  Out in back, where Merlin leads us almost stealthily, quiet reigns.  In this dusky quarter, I am increasingly grateful for his lantern.

The Wizard lifts his light on high, revealing a small outbuilding.  In its dim interior, I can just make out the form of a very young woman, seated next to a low wooden container lined with straw.  From the center of that straw emanates a mysterious glow, soft as candlelight but much steadier.

I realize Whom and what we have been seeking.  My knees are trembling.  All of my being is drawn to that hushed glow.

I am startled by the young Mother’s youth.  She is not much in years beyond my tall teen-aged Catherine.  Petite, slender, the woman of Judea looks too frail and much too inexperienced to be anyone’s mother.  Let alone…!

hind her, nearly hidden in shadow, is the man who must be her husband.  He looks more like a kindly uncle.  “Joseph,” I think, “seems a bit confused.  More like Merlin’s usual mode.  Merlin, on the contrary, tonight is clear as bells.”

Joseph seems a good deal older than Mary.  It may be just the differences, — in background, in training.  He is fulfilling his role as guardian.  Yet he is not of her milieu.  Most of what has been happening to him in recent months must have been baffling.  Nonetheless, as we all must do, the man trusts and serves.  I feel deep empathy for all that lies before him.

And I am awash in compassion for Mary.  Perhaps because of Merlin’s presence, I can read this girl’s emotions.  I never before suspected her profound loneliness.  Her cross is not only that she has born this wondrous Child only to lose Him.  Her cross is that she must carry out all to which she has agreed, isolated from all who understand.  All those who had taught, those who could reassure, are far, far from this stableyard.

Although the Flight unto Egypt has always before seemed a terrible ordeal for parents and child, I now see it as blessing.  Once there, she will discover for a few years, those who know the full story of this rare family and its many destinations.  Yet on this night, and throughout so many of her recent years, with the exception of one small mentor in the Temple, Mary has been in exile.

The Child lies sleeping on golden hay, meant to nourish creatures of the Inn’s farmyard.  The very grasses emit rays.

We are all drawn to our knees, as much by Mary’s courage and serene obedience, as by the Presence of the Babe.  The gleam of Merlin’s lantern flitters across the Baby’s eyes, waking Him.  He blinks and an almost-smile plays across the Infant features, as light rays play like rainbows across the tiny face.  He waves tiny hands as though to catch the Wizard’s glimmers.

Joseph rouses himself, suddenly aware that they have visitors.  Drowsily he waves a greeting, then retires to the darkest corner of the stable.  It is as though, with us among them, that tired traveler can rest.  He has endured so much, without understanding, without complaint.  Joseph’s role is merely to love and to protect.  It is enough.  The man’s legs now, literally, give out beneath him.  He settles onto straw bales for his sleep.

My eyes, accustomed now to gloom, become aware of cattle.  Nestled behind a barrier of wood, their breath steams in the night air.  These cows have huge bittersweet eyes, that seem to widen as the Baby moves His tiny hands.  Their skin is the hue of milk chocolate.  There are smaller creatures here with us – sheep, and delicate, silky goats.  I don’t remember goats at that Stable, but here they are – dainty, with long hair and perky faces, hooves like the dancing princesses, like the ones who prance through meadows above Zermatt.  The goat’s eyes are cinder-bright.  Their cloaks gleam in the lanternlight and Infant-glow.  I feel warmed by the gaze, the breath, the presence of the barnyard creatures.  About our feet are hens, too, scratching at straws, searching diligently as close as they can be to the Child.

Outside, somehow, the skies grow brighter.  It becomes increasingly easy to see.

Merlin rises and approaches the child/woman who guards the rough manger.  He fumbles in that voluminous wiry beard.  “I know it was here when I came!,” he growls, in his absent way.  “Sorry, Madame, it won’t be but a moment.”  Then the old man pulls out one of the tiniest living creatures I have ever seen.  A miniscule saw-whet owl, it is not so big as one of Mary’s hands, folded in her slender lap.  The tall Wizard bends, cupping the owl in both gnarled palms.  The creature snuggles daintily onto Mary’s right shoulder, nuzzling into her corn-silk hair.  Mary looks obviously enchanted with Merlin’s gift.  As she claps her hands with delight, we are all aware of her own nearness to childhood.

Galen next moves.  In his silvery armor, helmet in the crook of his left arm, the boy kneels, formal as he would have been in the Initiation ceremonies.  The plume of his hat dances, catching the Baby’s dark eyes.  It is then that light from Merlin’s lantern falls upon the gilt cross on Galen’s silvery breast.  The Babe is riveted to that image, reaching out, then still.  All time stops.

Galen breaks the spell with his mellifluous voice:  “Crystals I bring,” says the lad.  He lays bright offerings into Mary’s slender hands with a caressing gesture.  I am reminded of a game we played as boys and girls – “Button-Button.”  Then, prayer-shaped hands cradled a button secretly into someone’s matching hands.  Everyone then was to guess whose hands held the gift.

“These crystals are for you, Maria,” Galen explains, slipping into her Latin name, as though from long familiarity.  “Hold them,” he instructs.  “Bring the Light with them, to warm, to comfort, the Babe, yourself.  You will be needing them upon your journey.  For the duration of your time in this place, lay them in His cradle as He lies.”

Mary lifts up first one angled crystal, then another, turning them this way and that, in starlight, in lamplight.  She runs attuned fingers over every facet, studies all the power dancing in their depths.  Mary reaches out her right hand, — crystals and all –, touching Galen, light as a kiss, on each cheek.

It is my daughter’s turn.  In her soft dress and flowing cloak, my daughter has a new queenliness I had not before acknowledged.  She towers over the young Mother.  Catherine’s towhead tresses seem to glow, against the darker gold of Mary’s hair.  As Catherine leans over the Baby, taking one of His tiny hands into her own, her long hair brushes His little face.  Something like a smile flitters over Him, as though it tickled, and there is a sound, very like new laughter.

Suddenly, in the icy stillness of that Bethlehem night, Catherine lifts her voice in song.  We are startled, all of us, by the pure notes in the clear cold air.  The songs sound ancient – Medieval, I would guess, or Welsh.  Starlight skitters among us, and I think of music of the spheres.  I realize, my daughter is singing the first Christmas Carols.

The Infant turns, then, from Catherine to the rest of us.  His eyes are not only dark, but also golden.  The only name for that color is “toffee”, for that includes their uncanny softness.  I watch the Child watch us.  He knows who we are.  He has expected us.  Through His awareness, I realize that we fill the role of cosmic “Magi”, Merlin above all, first visitors to honor this rare King, until the other Kings arrive.  They will be accompanied by very earthy camels, guided by their own heavenly voices and specialized stars.

Through those gilded eyes, I see the Baby’s emotions, as I could his Mother’s.  There is something familiar yet unknown in those bronze depths.  The only name I can give for this is shock.  So must we all have looked, first opening to Earth Plane, realizing our choices, recognizing companions…

Peace floods the stable.  We bask in unconditional love.  Then the Child, once again, sights the cross on Galen’s armor.  The newborn hands open.  Where light rays had poured, when he’d reached up to play with Catherine’s bright hair, now there are shadows.  I recognize those shadows – somewhere between bruise and blood.  Stigmata.  I turn at once toward Mary.  Her sweet eyes are riveted upon those hands.

I have not given a gift.  My own hands have been seriously emptied by life, by the times.  I rise, then, move instinctively to Mary.  I embrace her girlish shoulders, as I would any new mother.  “How wonderful you are!,” I murmur.  “How brave!  Such a beautiful Son!”  All the phrases women have said to each other at such moments from the dawn of language, we exchange.  At the end, I add, “I wish you joy.”

She looks up with a plea I fully hear.

“You are weary, Mary.  It is time for your rest.  You cannot keep vigil all night, every night, alone.  He is safe here, safe with us.  Go.  Go over to your Joseph.  Sleep.  We will watch the night with your precious Boy.”

She looks hesitantly from one of us to the other, as if to gain permission.  All of us are nodding in permission, the stately Merlin above all.  He retrieves Strigi, the little saw-whet owl, and actually shoos Mary over toward the corner.  She looks back at her Little One, still not sure.  He stirs, restlessly.

I reach down, lift up the Child, cradling him easily upon one hip.  It all comes back.  The awkwardness I knew with my own firstborn, this surety now.  How grateful I had been , in those long-ago days, for practiced arms, arms that were sure and even relaxed around my daughters.  The Baby senses my ease, curling naturally against my side.  Mary looks relieved and moves, indeed, toward Joseph.  My second-born rises and removes her periwinkle-blue cloak.

“Mary,” Catherine urges, “here.  Please cover yourself with this.  And sleep.  Deeply and well.  Dream of all the joys you will have, He and you together.”  Mary smiles up at my daughter, accepting the soft warmth.  She lifts her right hand in a good-night gesture, revealing the sparks of Galen’s crystals.

I settle the Infant lightly into the crook of my left arm.  He curls a tiny hand naturally, instinctively, around my forefinger.  He is rest itself.  A soft light radiates from the small body, merging with the light of Merlin’s lantern and the spill of stars.  In hushed tones, Catherine and Galen begin to sing lullabyes.

Dawn light comes all too soon.  Outside, in rustling trees that sound like palms, birds I do not know begin to call to one another.  In the inn courtyard, there is the jangle and clatter of first departing travelers.  We overhear inquiring voices, simple country accents.  These will be the shepherds, asking as they have been led to ask.

Skies overhead fill with angels, glorias.  Our vigil is rapidly ending.

Catherine and Galen move swiftly, tenderly to the sleeping Family.  They urge the young parents to rise, help them smooth and brush their clothing.  Merlin provides water in a generous metal dipper.  Mary gracefully removes my daughter’s travel cloak, clasping it about Catherine’s lofty neck.  “Thank you,” Mary whispers.  “I shall never forget your songs, your cloak.  There will come a time when you may require the same of me.  Call upon me.  Remember…”

I settle the Babe into His Mother’s eager arms.  Her look of joy wars with full realization, of all that has been foretold.  Mary presses her cheek against my own, nodding in silent gratitude.  She resumes her post.  Joseph stands sturdily behind her, one hand on the staff which helped to bring them to this haven.  The Baby nuzzles, urgently, begins to nurse.

There is the rustle of straw as shepherds kneel.

h Merlin in the lead, we all fade into, then out of the stable shadows.  I give the silken goats a lingering caress as we depart.

 

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HIKING NJ THE HEAT-WEEKS: An Essay on Shade

Marilyn as Lookout Sourlands 08 08

My sister, Marilyn Weitzel, Janet Black and Betty Lies Bird the Sourland Mountain Preserve Trail off Greenwood Avenue in Hopewell

While every newspaper and television and Internet Weather Source has been warning absolutely everyone to stay inside, “Stay Safe”, [which smarmy phrase makes my flesh crawl], I’ve discovered something experientially that I’ve probably always known:  It’s a whole lot hotter in any parking lot, getting into or out of a vehicle, than it is in any of our nearby New Jersey forests!  I’ve decided, it’s dangerous to stay at home.  For, there, life can turn into a spectator sport.

Abide With Me   Pole Farm

Pole Farm: “Abide With Me”: Shade in the Height of Summer

A Sunday ago, I hiked the Pole Farm at 8 a.m., actually about an hour too late to start, during these so-called Heat Emergencies.  Much beauty, great tranquillity, shade 9/10 of the way.  For a couple of hours, I was given gifts beyond measure.  There’s nothing on a screen, or in a newspaper or magazine to equal the elusive scent of fox, still apparent from morning trail-marking.  The cascade of field sparrows, the mew of catbird.  The pleasure of picking two wildflowers for Elaine Katz’s stone and bench – the woman who almost single-handedly insisted that this Lawrenceville (now-) Preserve was not to be a golf course or a series of intrusively spotlighted playing fields.

Sourlands Rocks 08 08

Sourland Rocks Exhale Lenape Presence

A day or two later, and again a week later, starting at 5:15, I entered the Sourland Mountain Preserve off Greenwood Avenue in Hopewell.  Not a man-made sound, not even a plane, did I hear in those couple of deeply shaded hours.  Not a man-made anything did I see, except some essential drainage pipes and the entry road, then densely wooded trails I explored.  One distant frog’s thrumming was heartening.  Dragonflies popped about whatever flowers could bloom in sunlit groves.  For a long time, I sat on basalt boulders leftover from creation, surrounded by mixed forest and essence of Lenapes of long ago.  There’d been rain by the second excursion, so various streamlets were caroling as I crossed them.

Bowman's Spring 2014 014

Intensities of Shade at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve

The next night, when her work and mine were over for the day, Intrepid Jeanette Hooban picked me up in Lawrenceville, to glide over hill and down dale to the Delaware River, –silver in late light, purling below the Lambertville / New Hope Bridge.  Moments later, we were deep in Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve.  We decided to take four favorite trails:  Violet Trail off the access road; the old pond trail onto Fern Trail, alongside a flower-erupting former pond; and the ever-enticing Medicinal Trail, crossing the tough new bridges constructed or reconstructed after Hurricane Sandy.  Each of us has many demands made upon us in the so-called real world.  Each was a little jagged as we started out.  But, again, silence, flowers, dragonflies, hidden birds, and the murmur of Pidcock Creek gave us timeless gifts of memory.  Jeanette discovered a flaming spurt of cardinal flower, favorite of ruby-throated hummingbirds.  I could show her where to elusive snow trillium can emerge, yes, in snow, in March; where, in May, opulent yellow ladyslippers peek through heavy leaf cover to the left of the Fern Trail.  We examined the rocky edge of that Creek, for I’d found the Louisiana Waterthrush, first by song, then by habitat and behavior, a month ago with another friend.  There in the cucumber magnolia, I’d seen my first ever phoebe sing out his name over and over, while waters burbled busily below early one spring.  In heat-strafed July, shade was our gift at Bowman’s, enhanced by occasional water-cooled air.

Marsh First Willows 2013

Abbott Marshlands: Spring Lake: First Willow Buds

A few days later, key birding buddy, Anne Zeman, picked me up at 7:30 a.m., so we could go to the Abbott Marshlands (in Trenton!), in quest of images for her entries for an upcoming fine-art juried exhibition: Voices for the Marsh.  New to us was the fact that Hurricane Sandy had taken down a quantity of the Marsh’s most majestic trees.  Youngsters that survived have burgeoned in the meantime, creating dense shade everywhere — 90-some percent of our walk was tree-cool, and much alongside water.  New patterns of light and shade have amplified the richesse of its fern groves, until we ran out of species names.  Not only tiny blue dragonflies, –half the size of needles–, but equally minuscule lipstick-red ones, zinged about on all sides.  Pickerel weed’s remarkable purple (hyacinth-like, but slimmer) stems rose here and there in Spring Lake and other wet areas.

fox face close-up Brenda Jones

Fox Face, Close-Up, by Fine Art Photographer Brenda Jones

Again, we remembered where  Clyde Quin and Warren Liebensperger had shown us the five-entried fox den.  On both sides of the trail, majestic yews revealed a former dwelling in that wilderness.  Not far from there, Clyde and Warren knew to look for owls in daytime.  There’s not so much silence in the Marsh, because horrific highways are all too near, spinning out a ceaseless drone of ‘the real world’.  But after awhile, one absorbed that sound, until lapping water or locusts warming up or the sacred luffing of swans wings topped every other impression.

Marsh Sandy Damage 2013

Marsh: Hurricane Sandy Damage to Iconic Beech, Spring Scene

Each walk, alone and with others, proved that Heat Emergency consciousness can be overdone.  People can turn into couch potatoes out of fear.

beaver close-up Brenda Jones

Beaver Close-Up by Fine Art Photographer, Brenda Jones

Beauteous preserves, rich in wildlife, await on all sides of Princeton.  There’s the thickly treed Community Park North off 206.  There’s Herrontown Woods, off Snowden Lane, and the nearby Autumn Hill.  Plainsboro Preserve beckons on the other side of Route 1, with its monoculture forest of beeches — guaranteed 12 to 15 degrees cooler in summer, warmer in winter.

Beckoning Path Pl Prsrv

Beckoning Path, Plainsboro Preserve

Turn off the screens.  Grab a hat and water and natural insect repellant (a wonderful rosemary-based one is available at the Hopewell Pharmacy) and get out there.  Don’t be someone Richard Louv will have to describe as The Last (Child) in the Woods.

Beechwood Forest Stream Pl Prsrv

Microclimate Beechwood Forest, Plainsboro Preserve

 

 

 

 

 

WHEN SPRING TIPTOES – Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve in Mid-April

“Spring Green” — right?    Wrong.

In the year 2015, spring has been mostly brown.  Here is a photo essay of last Friday’s trip to my beloved Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve below New Hope, Pennsylvania.  I’ve written elsewhere, as in the Time of Trenton, that Bowman’s is Spring Central.  And it is.  Except the palette this year is that of an unexpected artist — Paul Cezanne!  Stroll with me.

Autumn and Spring, Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve

Autumn and Spring, Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve

Spring Herald

Spring Herald

Newcomers on the Civilian Conservation Corps Bridge

Newcomers on the Civilian Conservation Corps Bridge

Spring Shadows

Spring Shadows

Between Fall and Spring, Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve

Between Fall and Spring, Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve

Spring Beauty, Autumn Background

Spring Beauty, Autumn Background

First Canada Mayflower Leaf

First Canada Mayflower Leaf

You really have to be determined to find spring.

Overhead vistas were stunning.

Evergreen Canopy

Evergreen Canopy

Deciduous Canopy

Deciduous Canopy

Straight ahead was stunning – a favorite scene for me always is the shadow of beech leaves on beech bark.

Beech Shadow

Beech Shadows

Azalea Sign, No Azalea Blossoms

Azalea Sign, No Azalea Blossoms

Fungus Flower

Fungus Flower

Skunk Cabbage Apotheosis by the Old Pond

Skunk Cabbage Apotheosis by the Old Pond

Downed Tree Returning to Earth

Downed Tree Returning to Earth

Tiptoe Through the Bluebells, Parry Trail

Tiptoe Through the Bluebells, Parry Trail

Spring's First Flower, Up by the Twinleaf Shop at Bowman's

Spring’s First Flower, Up by the Twinleaf Shop at Bowman’s

And Bowman’s greatest gift, a flower I have not seen in at least five years there, and one that should by no means be around in April – the Snow Trillium.  A bad picture, because of high winds, but worth studying, nonetheless.

Snow Trillium off the Fern Trail

Snow Trillium off the Fern Trail

To get to Bowman’s, take the old green bridge from Lambertville over my beloved Delaware River.  Turn left at the first light in New Hope, and drive along through woods and past spring wildflowers on the banks and steeps on either side.  Bowman’s is on the right, before an old stone bridge.  There is a small admission fee — a pittance compared to the treasures that await you there.

Afterwards, eat at Bowman’s Tavern.  Superb food, quite avant-garde for a post-hike treat, and gracious welcome.

Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve members earn a 10% discount at the Tavern, but you must remind hostess and waitress.

Butterscotch Days — Goat Hill Hike as Autumn Exits

Recent hikes have catalyzed an unexpected childhood memory – that of butterscotch candies with sun shining through.

Autumn’s woodlands are drenched now in butterscotch and honey, maple syrup, and occasional runnels of cranberry.  A recent hike up Goat Hill (on the NJ side of the Delaware River) surrounded Fay Lachmann and me with feasts for the eye that triggered taste memory.

Gilded Grove, Goat Hill Trail

Gilded Grove, Goat Hill Trail

Another hue on every side was that of cinnamon sticks.  When I’m in art-mode, of course, I say it’s pure Cezanne.

Basalt and Last Leaves, Goat Hill Trail

Basalt and Last Leaves, Goat Hill Trail

In the Delaware River Valley, we are blessed with outcroppings of basalt, direct connections to the beginnings of earth, of time.

Goat Hill's Weathered Gateway

Goat Hill’s Weathered Gateway

This time-worn gateway beckons.  Come, hike with us.

"A Long, Long Trail a-Winding..."

“A Long, Long Trail a-Winding…”

It’s a broad trail, a leaf-cushioned trek, a soundless journey.

The Spirit of the Rock

The Spirit of the Rock

Indians insist that rocks are alive, hold spirit, offer gifts to us.  I could really feel the deity in this one.

But let me tell you where Goat Hill is.  Over above the Delaware, on preserved land that will soon hold many additional fascinating trails.  Off 29, onto Valley Road (look up Howell Living History Farm for directions — you’ll pass it on the way to the trails..)  Left on Goat Hill Road, a winding drive that holds its own remarkable beauty. Left on George Washington Road.  Park and walk.  There are two picnic tables at the crest — bring bread to break with others, as you feast upon that view!

George Washington is said to have surveyed the river and enemy movements from this pinnacle, as did Lord Cornwallis.

The Delaware seems to stretch forever, a shimmering silk scarf dropped by a diva.

Our Delaware River from Goat Hill crest

Our Delaware River from Goat Hill crest

Delaware looking North, across New Hope Bridge

Delaware looking North, across New Hope Bridge

Devekioer;s Dream -- Conservationists' Nightmare -- ruination of Delaware banks

Developer’s Dream — Conservationists’ Nightmare — ruination of Delaware banks

Why D&R Greenway and all our other regional non-profits work night and day to save nature!

Solitude -- Goat Hill Crest

Solitude — Goat Hill Crest

This couple sat, rapt, upon this boulder, all the while we were exploring, the two of them high and silent above the river’s mellifluous rapids.

Other delicious sounds were that of crisp leaves underfoot, and whisper wind in leaves still on boughs overhead.  One of the greatest gifts of this journey, however, was absolute silence.

Twinings

Twinings

I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear these vines at their twining.

New Hope and Bucks County, looking west

New Hope and Bucks County, looking west

Sleeping Beauty - Goat Hill Crest

Sleeping Beauty – Goat Hill Crest

Trees Past Peak Reveal Vistas at New Outcroppings

Trees Past Peak Reveal Vistas at New Outcroppings

These are not ‘the trails less traveled by’.  Softly trodden trail tendrils lead in a number of directions from and at the crest.  Views reward every exploration.

Three Sentinels at the Gate

Three Sentinels at the Gate

Three sentinels bid farewell.

This remarkable November trek is a fruit of preservation.  Do everything you can to expand the reach of your own non-profits, so that wild nature can persist.

SPRING GIFTS FROM OTHERS

With moving to Lawrenceville  my top priority right now, I depend on the “kindness of strangers” and friends and colleagues to prove that spring has truly arrived.

PhoebeCharlesRogers4-12-09The Visually Shy, Acoustically Vehement Phoebe of Spring, by Brenda Jones

As reported elsewhere, first proofs were two different reports of having seen skunk cabbage.  These early flowers (though they seem like leaves) spurt in monk-like cowls of burgundy, which slowly turn to red — sometimes even through ice and snow, because exothermic.  I get my skunk-cabbage fix at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, below New Hope.  But there has been no time between packing and phonecalls to head over the Delaware.  This coming Sunday, a skunk-cabbage run is planned, with fellow poet Betty Lies.

The most exciting early evidence came from consummate birder, Sharyn McGee, at the scrumptious Bach performance by the Dryden Ensemble for Early Music.  Sharyn’s keen ear is delighted as much by instruments from or crafted in the manner of the 1600’s as by bird calls in fields and forests.  She reported having heard the first phoebe.  Phoebes are tiny birds with forceful ‘voices’, hard to see, but impossible to miss, acoustically.  In fact, should phoebes nest near you, they will announce their name so frequently and so vociferously that you might wish you could miss some of these announcements by spring’s end.

I’m still wallowing in non-spring bird memories — clouds of snow geese and the elusive snowy owl, white and wonderful, at the Brigantine Wildlife Refuge, so oddly near to Atlantic City.

Some robins are hopping desultorily about my stony hilly yard.  I think worms are few and far between, as these landlords do not know about improving soil, let alone tending bird habitat.

Anne Zeman, another consummate birder, walking the towpath near the D&R Canal last week, saw the first ospreys in our region.

O, yes, about a third of the yellow daffodils that spurt alongside an old stone wall on my way to work have opened.  Two-thirds remain tightly closed, seeming to shiver as I drive past.

Purple crocus among the roots of the queenly beech at D&R Greenway Land Trust have opened, and some paled and flattened already.  All the colors, from dark purple through lavender and lilac to near-white are glorious among the beech’s sturdy raised roots.

I can’t believe I’m not out on the trails, chronicling spring.  But this year, logistics-watching has supplanted bird-watching.

Though not bird-caring.

Peepers are somewhat feeble this year, next to my stony promontory.  Others mention their loudness, and Jim Amon, our Director of Stewardship at D&R Greenway, has also heard the click-ticking of the wood frogs.

Jim has brought me Spring’s best proof.  He came in, after a morning in the field on one of our preserves, cupping both hands, as though they held something sacred.  Jim was grinning from ear to ear.

“What are you carrying?,” I asked.

“Eggs,” said he.

“Whose?”

“Wood frogs, then salamanders…  they’d been laid in tire depressions over on the St. Michael’s land.  They’d dry out any day now, would not survive.  Emily and I carried first the wood frog eggs, then the salamanders, over to a vernal pool, where they can grow and thrive.”

Spring is here.