“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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“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).

 

WHEN A NATURALIST PACKS AND MOVES

PhoebeCharlesRogers4-12-09facingleftcopy

Phoebe I Have Yet to Hear — By Brenda Jones – at Carl Rogers Refuge off Alexander Street

First of all, a naturalist who is packing and moving  looks wistfully at spring out car windows, en route to and from her new abode.

Daffodils spurt from the dead earth, warmed by reflections from an old stone wall.

Crocus spill across too few beds, little cups of spring.  Tiny Grails.  I long to stop the car, kneel, sip their grace and light.

NorthernHarrierHawkLHT3-19-12DSC_5594Northern Harrier above Lawrenceville’s Pole Farm, by Brenda Jones

But I’ve become a beast of burden in recent days, having found my new dwelling in lovely Society Hill of Lawrenceville.  No, this is not a snob’s name — it goes back to ancient times in our state, perhaps even to when we were West Jersey and East Jersey.  The ‘Friends’ in question were Quakers.  Reading Revolutionary tales, we might well not have a country, were it not for this company of Friends.

Where I am now, high on a stony hill above the D&R Canal and Towpath, is stingy with spring.  Nothing new erupts, let alone blooms, in this odd woods — all too ruined by constructions of McMansions, turning all this lovely forest into edge habitat.

The cardinals seem to be singing more lustily.  Robins are here, but not caroling yet.  I have yet to hear a phoebe.  Red-bellied woodpeckers are a little more frequent in their odd purring.

However, one gift of this site is a plethora of peepers.  Of course, it’s too darned cold for these hardy, eager singers, –if my door thermometer is below 32, which it remains many a day and most nights.  I shall miss the peepers.

NorthernHarrierstandinginLHTfield3-19-12DSC_5711Northern Harrier in Late Light at Pole Farm, by Brenda Jones

I shall not miss the poisons spewed into our air, and waters — the Delaware and Raritan Canal and Towpath and the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed — drinking water for the region — by ever-expanding Trap Rock. 

No one realizes that Trap Rock somehow secured, long ago, a permit to burn and transport asphalt 24/7.  That means, everyone, by day and by night.  With not only the stench but the particles being carried to the four corners of the compass in heavy open noisy trucks.  Open, meaning the poisons are not sealed from anyone they pass — “because the trucks might catch fire.”

Never mind that Trap Rock asphalt in my air, in my car, on my outside table and chairs, seeping through my windows, staining my carpets, gave me a collapsed lung and enlarged heart.  Officials who came here said they could not enter that as a complaint.  Even if I went to a courtroom with all my physicians, Princeton Radiology, and so forth.  They can only enter a complaint if the asphalt fumes are preventing me from working outside in the garden!  If they entered a complaint, –and after hours of talk and filing out forms, I never heard whether or not those Somerset County Board of Health and Public Safety officials did so–, if there were a fine imposed, it would be around $100.

Never mind that I lost my voice from asphalt, that wracking coughs were asphalt’s gifts to me, that one has little energy when one’s lungs are not fully functioning.  Never mind that I need my voice at D&R Greenway, –where I work, ironically, to save the planet.  Never mind health of humans, let alone amphibians, reptiles, fish, birds, the lovely coterie of vultures who need Trap Rock rocks for nests in breeding season.

I have fought as long and hard as I could.  I am “folding my tent like an Arab, and as silently steal[ing] away.”

On Easter Monday.  I will depart from a tomb, roll back a stone, seek resurrection.  And new levels of energy and creativity.

Short-eared Owl wing swoop-lookShort-Eared Owl Above Pole Farm, by Brenda Jones

Where I’m moving is very near the expansive Pole Farm.  Site of Northern Harrier flights and short-eared owl winter arrivals and bobolink spring returns.

Bobolink Autumn Olive Brenda JonesBobolink at Pole Farm, by Brenda Jones

Place where I have found coyote tracks on the trail.  Though, sadly, never seen a coyote in New Jersey.  I never give up hope.

Pole Farm where I came across salamander and wood frog eggs one chilly March walk after rain, with a poet friend, who lives in Lawrenceville.  These unmistakeable signs of spring glistened, full of life and promise, oddly enough in some sort of vehicle depressions on our trail.

Where I’m moving, pretty soon, an exquisite array of pink magnolias will open all along an island where my guests and I will park our cars.

Where I’m moving, light suffuses all the rooms.  I have been unpacking with sliding doors open to a greensward, broad and treed and welcoming.

Where I’m moving, I’ll be free of asphalt.

So, if I have to give spring excursions this year, in quest of light and health and beauty, it will be worth it.

My Muse has been in hiding here.  She is longing to emerge.

New NJWILDEAUTY posts will be the result.

Short-eared owl profile Pole Farm Brenda JonesShort-Eared Owl Flying Toward My New Home, From Pole Farm, by Brenda Jones