“BEING THERE”

Tonight, as I often do, I will borrow my friend Brenda Jones’ magnificent images of the short-eared owls of Lawrenceville’s broad preserve, the Pole Farm, to give you some sense of my Tuesday evening experience.  Thank you, masterful Brenda!

Short-eared Owl white coloration

Too often, these days, I need to remind people, “All that it takes, for evil to happen, is for good people to do nothing.”

I’ll paraphrase that reality to urge NJWILDBEAUTY READERS: “All that it takes, for miracles to happen, is for good people to be OUT THERE.”  

So many hectic nights.  So much ghastly weather.  Yet, Tuesday I dashed in the door at 5:30.  I threw my work clothes onto the floor and left them there; jumped into outdoor gear and went straight over to the Pole Farm.

There was sun and no rain and I hadn’t seen the short-eared owls since the day before my February meniscus tear last year.

Would they still be there, with all this inappropriate heat?  Would they be in the field I might reach in those few moments before sundown?  Would I recognize them?  Was I too tired from work to dash along the wooded path?  Would anyone else be on the observation platform to point out owls and harriers with hushed excitement, as last year?

Short-eared Owl wing swoop-look

Still on the woods-and-understory-framed trail by the red barn, I watched one slow thin shadow, the color of antique pewter, coast knowingly, determinedly along the reaped beige field to my right.  One warbler hopped about in a shrub, but light was no use in identification.  The shrubs that sheltered the small bird kept me from really seeing the raptor.

I made it to “Elaine’s Bench”, out-of-breath from almost running, weighty binoculars having beat a tattoo along my back.

There wasn’t another birder anywhere in sight.

But, across the reaped field, at the far tree line, that frieze that looks as though Lucy McVicker had drawn it with archival ink, two grey shadows emerged in tandem.  Low to the ground, completely at peace, circling, circling.  A pas de deux with wings instead of feet.  Raptors, but not hunting.

Short-eared Owl wingdrop

There was still enough light that I could immerse myself in the delight of their grey/white lustre.  The short-eared owls’ heads were the size of small grapefruits or large oranges.  I felt, more than saw, their intensely focused eyes.

The leisured circling continued, as though they were from a faerie realm, able to dissolve every tension of my workday, my deep concern over the world situation.

Short-eared owl profile Pole Farm Brenda Jones

A third ghostly floater emerged, low and flat and sure, from the far forest.  The circling two danced their way across the field and out of sight.

I’ve been told that they are not actually hunting in these pre-sunset moments.  That short-eared owls’ heads function as ears.  As they coast and turn those white disks, they are hearing mice and voles that will become their feast when dark arrives.

sunset bluebird Pole Farm Brenda Jones

No, I didn’t see bluebirds.  But Brenda did, at the Pole Farm.  They’ll be along any time now, as there are bluebird boxes hither and yon, on either side of the trail.

My flashlight proved nearly worthless, the sun had dropped so fast.  I did not remember not to step on the horse manure, now on the right side for my return.  I worried that my car would be locked in by an intense and righteous ranger.

Dashing back through the wooded end of the trail, I was suddenly deafened all over again by spring’s first peepers.   The short-ears had made me forget all about that raucous miracle at entry.

Miracles.  Always out there in Nature for us.  But we do have to place ourselves where miracles can happen.

And I don’t have to remind NJWILDBEAUTY readers, that the Pole Farm is a preserve.  That courageous people fought long and hard to save most of that land, to give it over to the wild creatures whose whom it rightfully is.  To be EVER VIGILANT in terms of advocating and paying preservation, stewardship.  To prevent PIPELINES!

Nature is essential.  We are part of nature.  In this Anthropocene Era, we ARE “The Sixth Extinction.”  We turned that around re peregrines, osprey, eagles and condors.

All that it takes, for evil to happen, is for good people to do nothing!”  NEVER FORGET!

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“THE GIRL WITH THE CHARTREUSE ANKLE” ~ Island Beach New Year’s Day

Winter Still-Life, Island Beach, New Year’s Day

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New Year’s Morning Wrack Line, Island Beach

 

So it’s come to this:  In order to walk Island Beach and Sandy Hook, –especially twice in one winter week, as currently planned –, I turn to my splendid chiropractor, — Brandon Osborne, D.C., of Hopewell, New Jersey.  On the heels of that nearly significant recent birthday, new ministrations are suddenly required to sustain my sometimes rebellious body.

 

peroneus

Peroneus Longus – who can bark, “Don’t Mess With Me!”

 

The peroneus longus, –which one possesses, whether one wants one or not–, on the outside of each leg, leads down to the ankle bone.  My left Peroneus, (rhymes with Polonius), gravely dislikes soft sand, — especially dune trails leading up and down in order to get to the sea.

 

After P’s last rebellion, Brandon insisted, laughing, “The best medicine for Peroneus is more soft sand.”  Multi-faceted workouts engendered thereby actually stress Peroneus, rendering him stronger each time.  Brandon has me weave new leg-buttressing routines, among my yoga postures.  And he’s come up with a fine plan — move my appointments to the nights before beach-days, and he will protect my recalcitrant foot(e).  He will tape the offending tendon.

 

Behind me, Brandon asked what color I prefer, –of a pretty short list.  I blithely answer “green”.  (never far from work at D&R Greenway; never far from being a very “green” person.                  I expected the color of winter pine trees.          Wrong:

 

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Yoga-Ready, New Year’s Morning, 2017

 

This development had me literally laughing out loud, since my motto for this significant year, is “OUTRAGEOUS!”   (Exclamation point included.)    I do yoga for an hour to an hour and a half each day, holidays included But there’s a little more to it than soft sweet grace:

 

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Final Yoga Moments, New Year’s Day, 2017

 

I tend to do whatever Brandon suggests-to-insists so I can be outdoors as much as possible. New upright exercises involve standing high on toes for longish periods, legs together, then legs farther apart.  In the beginning, doing 30 of each seemed impossible.  Now it’s only the last six or so that weary me/us (Peroneus and me).  But they do not hurt.

 

Seeing that wild ankle decor Thursday, I marveled, “But, I feel like an athlete, taped for the fray.”  Brandon abruptly asserted, “You ARE an athlete!”  This is the person who had been felled by rheumatic fever at seven.  From then on, tennis, biking around the block, all jumproping – [and I had been the star], and roller skating were forbidden for life.  After which swimming to the end of the dock at camp became impossible.  (Until my 2011 hip replacement p.t., I had not set foot(e) in a gym, and was absolutely terrified to begin.)  Well, better late than never.

Brandon’s other prescription involves that very soft sand.  The picture below proves this morning’s obedience to his mandate:   You are coming with us along Reed’s Road to Barnegat Bay — first stop on my every I.B. pilgrimage.

 

Realize that this is the original sugar sand for which New Jersey’s Pine Barrens are famous.  Be very aware that this delicate, even exquisite pale grey substance is light years beyond the dingy practically ochre grunge dredged up and brought in (especially in Sandy-battered Mantoloking) by the infamous, Nature-negating Army Corps of Engineers.

 

Island Beach sand feels like superfine sugar.  Its chinchilla hue plays off the tawnyness of beach grass, to say nothing of cinnamon-stick brown jettisoned bayberry leaves.  Walking winter sand trails, it is as though Cezanne himself had been orchestrating the palette of each trail.

 

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Soft Sand, As Prescribed, Bayside, Island Beach

 

Island Beach is a ten-mile stretch of pristine beauty, about which you’ve read and read in these electronic pages.  The landscape/dunescape could be Wellfleet and Truto leading into wildest stretches of Cape Cod’s Provincetown.

 

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Spring-Green Dune Trail, Island Beach Ocean Side, by Angela Previte

 

Why it’s worthwhile for me to do whatever Brandon Osborne, D.C., directs —  long-tailed rarities of the winter sea:

 

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Long-tailed duck, Female, December Sea, Island Beach, by Angela Previte

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Long-tailed Drake, Winter Sea, Island Beach, by Angela Previte

 

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Rare Snow Buntings of Late December, by Angela Previte

 

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Snowy Owl 2016 by Angela Previte

 

Rarities arrive, of course, at Island Beach, because it has been preserved.  Support your local, state and national land trusts, so that wild nature can thrive in our time.

 

Island Beach’s ten miles were to have been developed, as you’ve learned from me before.  The Great Depression put a stop to almost all building.  Magnificence remains at every turn.

 

Mostly (until recent brutal trail maintenance on Reed’s and other roads and trails  — this will be a blog unto itself later), the State Park’s trees, shrubs and grasses have not been pruned, –save by wind, sand and storm.

 

Rare birds coast overhead; court and build nests; dive through waves of ocean and bay; madly fish — especially Northern gannets, who create geysers as they plunge.  Most amazingly, merlins and swallows play exuberantly during Nor’easters — going as northeast as they can into the very teeth of the gale.

Wind has other effects.  See its creative partnership with remarkable compass grass:

 

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Compass Grass Does its Thing in Strong Northwest Wind

Even the weeds turn into artists in the hands of the wind:

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“Artist-in-Residence” – Compass Grass on the Oceanside, Island Beach, New Year’s Morning

The sea itself has been busy sculpting — all we need is a sphinx:

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Sea As Sculptor, New Year’s Eve Morning, Island Beach

 

This day I shared this beach with dear friends, Angela and Bob Previte.  You know her fine art, stunning portraits of New Jersey’s winged miracles, from her own blog, “Simple Life at the Shore.”  (Which see!  Which FOLLOW!)  Delightful hours have been spent with her, with them, in recent months, in the park that serves their back yard.

 

We hiked merrily for hours, though they were concerned about Peroneus.  Angela had witnessed its giving out after a particular steep trek in summertime, [see green dunescape above.]  Even so, at Trail 7A, we skimmed along the boardwalk; trudged dutifully through the softest sand, –arriving in a particular ecstasy upon firmness created by winter’s high tide .

 

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First Day of the New Year in Stunning, Impeccable New Jersey

 

We were not the only ones on the sands, this day.  Everyone we meet was simply blissed out by the perfection that we shared. We’d congratulate one another on knowing what to do with a New Year’s Day.

EXCEPTION!

All except the woman  walking boldly and illegally atop a dune.  This person asserted to Angela that she was not doing exactly what she was even then doing.  I’ve experienced many forms of denial in my life, but this was egregious.  We tried to beckon the transgressor away from making those deeply destructive footprints, to no avail.

 

I’m in don’t-mess-with-me mode, in my OUTRAGEOUS! year.  So I called over to her — “You are breaking the fine roots essential to the grasses that hold these dunes in place!”  She moved defiantly onward…

 

But, everyone else, I would describe as almost reverent this day.

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Fellowship and Solitude, Walking South along Island Beach Sands

Our own fellowship today was profound.  It will be repeated, –“take often as needed.”  Maybe I should thank Peroneus for Brandon’s prescription…

 

In the Year 2000, a great love was granted me along these unspoilt sands.  The picture below seems to represent the mighty ocean in whisper mode, hinting of secrets…

 

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Atlantic Whispers, Island Beach, January 1, 2017

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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