A year ago July, I discovered that my new home, Society Hill (named for Quakers of Old) has s saltwater pool.
A year later, I return, carrying Genet, a Biography of Janet Flanner, by Brenda Wineapple. I had evidently carried it on my first pool experience, finding notes about that day on the back page:
I’m not so sure about swimming – cannot remember last time I did so, nor where. I think Island Beach and Sandy Hook, and even Whitesbog, over and over, in the romantic summer of the year 2000.
It’s a perfect day, sun and high clouds in a periwinkle sky. Pretty windy – hard to keep my place in the book. Tall, lush evergreens seem to be singing above me. Singing and dancing, even waltzing.
Two vultures play the wind.
Beside this very American pool, which looks Hollywood from the shallow end, I am reading the best source on Paris in the 20’s, –what and who might be chic; what and who definitely is is not. Josephine Baker is a Flanner favorite, the infamous banana dance, and a rare person of color rising to fame in that challenging city.
But this shockingly blue sky, these high winds, these mountain-trees carry me right out to Montana, yes, to Big Sky Country. Where I stood, equally storm-tossed, at an outdoor telephone, as my husband in Princeton read me the acceptance letter from Princeton University. The Creative Writing Department had examined my poems, which no one had ever seen nor heard. Accepting, they put me into Advanced Poetry (as a 35 year-old), with all those brilliant children. My teacher would be the Founder and Editor of the Quarterly Review of Literature, Ted Weiss. My knees buckled, hearing this impossibility, on the windswept Montana mountaintop.
Here I lie back on a lush towel on a solid chaise, wondering whether the tiny, supersonic raptor overhead could be a peregrine. Word has it that they fly 200 mph. Not in this wind, but he’s making a valiant try.
I think about getting into that water. Hmmm… there are plantings in tubs around the pools, neglected marigolds, faltering, going to seed. I go around and deadhead every tub – once a gardener always a gardener. My fingers, turning Genet pages, smell of old marigolds.
I shall wash them. Walk straight into that water and set off, my lazy butterfly stroke that will never win me any medals, but does convey me to the other side. Water on my tongue proves our Society Hill rumor, that we have a salt-water pool. I’m grateful – not exactly the Salt Lake, but it does render a certain buoyancy.
Even though this is the pool of a development, I am absolutely alone, in what seems an endless reservoir of aquamarine, my favorite color. Back and forth, back and forth.
Back on the chaise to dry, a dragonfly comes to sip from my upraised knee.
Janet Flanner is being her usual anecdotal, acerbic self.
I glance up to discover a great blue heron arrowing directly over me, east to west.
I feel cleansed within and without by my time in the saltwater, enriched within and without by Genet’s rapier wit and refusal to be easily satisfied.
I decide to weave Flanner qualities increasingly into my too-compliant being.
I gather my towel and my book, and stroll back to 23 Juniper, more alive than I have been in years.
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.
people in other lands
know how to be lovers
a man visits Anna Akhmatova
Tell me how you kiss
nothing like this
happens to me
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
— Carolyn Foote Edelmann
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.
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.
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.
When friends and I were furiously fighting with Princeton University to preserve the hallowed Princeton Nursery Lands in Kingston, I lamented to one of them that night, “But I’m a poet! What am I doing at the barricades?”
The friend brilliantly retorted, “But Carolyn, poets BELONG at the barricades.”
I returned, chastened, to the battle. Ultimately, we saved a handful of acres, and the Friends of Princeton Nursery Lands was formed and thrives, leading informative trail walks, planting Flemer Nursery trees, sponsoring annual clean-ups, such as the very successful recent one on Martin Luther King Day. FPNL aims to restore the classic nursery buildings, stalled now by insufficient fundings. NJWILBEAUTY readers can assist by going onto the FPNL website and donating, and coming to their enriching events.
In the intervening years, in amongst nature poems, which I share with NJWILDBEAUTY readers, I have increasingly written political poems.
My fury over the indifference of politicians to the plight of the planet, results in my deciding to share some of the more radical political poems of recent years with my readers.
“Sarah Palin Says It’s All My Fault” won on-line publication at the time of the Gulf Oil Spill. Now politicians, including the the President we thought knew better and would prevent profanation of the planet, want to drill for oil off-shore, in already imperiled New Jersey, and also puncture her north, south, east, west and especially the Pine Barrens for the spoils of Fracking!
Do what you can, readers, with your legislators, wherever you live, to arrest despoilation of the Planet.
Here’s my Sarah Poem.
Creating venues for poetry in support of healthy ocean communities
DEAR SARAH PALIN, by Carolyn Foote Edelmann
DEAR SARAH PALIN,
I understand it’s all my fault
–this Gulf oil disaster, I mean–
not only all that fire
bodies catapulted into air
soon likely shark bait
but also this volcano of oil
into our blue mantle
Sarah, you say
I did this
all of this and more
now some six weeks ago
with no end in sight
and no businessman
politician not even a general
let alone you, Sarah Palin,
knows how to stop
this tornado of oil
it’s also my fault, the oiled birds
–pristine as Josephine
in her Empire gown
frail white silk
adorned with gold
though not quite bees
dark eyes snapping
as she becomes increasingly encased
in ‘my’ oil
more abruptly than all those mastodons
in La Brea’s tar pits
now slender cormorants
who, everyone is sure, are drowning
as they swim along
neck barely afloat
no one realizing
the genius of cormorants
who can fly/swim 30 miles an hour
when they are not oiled
about the mpg of my car
my old car
for the ownership of which
I am quite guilty
for the replacement of which
I have no means
must wave both wings
after every dive
to dry them
so that they may
dive and dive again
–no wave strong enough
to shake off ceaseless poison weight
it’s my fault, the reddish egrets
you know his own epitaph
written by photographer Ted Cross
for his own recent death
describing his multi-faceted self
on the Other Side
“still searching for the perfect photograph
of the reddish egret”
Ted did not have in mind
this soiled oiled specimen
to lift newly leaden
legs wings and feet
out of Gulf mud muck and oil
it’s all my fault
and not because I use the wrong lightbulbs
in a couple of fixtures
nor because I do turn on the heat.
inside, in winter, sometimes
although I’ve been doing without air
conditioning so far this troubled year
it’s my fault
because I am an “extreme environmentalist”
because I think there should never be any more
drilling for oil in our country
because I deplore petrotyrrany
the privatization of profits
socialization of poverty
because I think we should start with the auto companies
well, what do you expect, Sarah?
I grew up in Detroit
I’ve never seen a wolf in the wild
as you do and deplore
–these beings you condemn to bloody deaths
I would embrace
nor have I encountered
a single polar bear
let alone a starving female trying to find food
for her new brood
attempting to swim with them
toward vanishing ice floes
but that’s o.k. with you
it makes the hunting
it’s my fault, Sarah
for I am quite literally
a tree hugger
I believe that greed should end
America return to her original nobility
where people pledged lives
remember sacred honor?
— ah, well, probably not, Sarah
I believe we are our Planet’s
Sarah – who are you?
what everyone must remember, wherever anyone lives (not only those of us in New Jersey’s key migratory corridor, the only state with three coastlines) is that these are our birds, our waters. Because of the Gulf Stream, this catastrophe is global. We may have passed the tipping point. We are all the oiled pelican.
OK, that’s not the only political poem these days:
SHIP OF STATE
Roosevelt died again
— I can’t help it!
I keep reading histories/
biographies of WWII
and he’s there
at the helm
eyes all asparkle
in that elegant holder
easy at the wheel
no circling shadows yet
dim those piercing eyes – nothing
forces the wide and reassuring grin
from that dashing face
— emblem of my childhood
he can sail forever
this imperiled globe
that was so much less imperiled
in his hands
CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN
Here may be my most radical ever. I see Edward Snowden right up there with our Founding Fathers and Thomas Paine, yes, at the barricades, willing to give lives, fortunes and sacred honor so that our noble country can live, thrive, and persist.
REVOLUTIONARY HEROISM, 21ST CENTURY
I understand you, Edward Snowden
you find a country
notorious for terrorism
than your own
you love your own
to fight for its return
to sacred honor
–privacy above all
you love your own
enough to give her up
that your sacrifice
will turn around
despoilation / ruination
I understand you
praise your courage
wonder what it is that I can do
to turn the tide
CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN