THE HUSHED TIME

St. Mark's with birds

 

THE HUSHED TIME

 

it is not quite dawn

in the petite hotel

tucked into a corner

of Venice

 

in their room

my girls sleep as though enchanted

pink peignoirs neatly folded

onto two ornate chairs

slippers tucked beneath

 

everything so quiet

but, too wide awake,

I slip into warm slacks

a gondolier’s shirt

sensible shoes

for striding cobbles and bridges

 

venice-gondolier-neil-buchan-grant

 

tiptoe out of our room

into the paneled corridor

thread my hushed way through

that flowery forecourt

 

silence thick as clouds

or fog, renders all the bridges

different in dim light

 

I turn my lens

toward St. Mark’s crests

realizing I am the only

person in the piazza

gondolas bobbing, tethered, at my feet

 

2gondolas tethered

 

abruptly!  every bell in Venice

starts its hollow clamor

echoes chasing clangings

across wrinkled waters

 

the gilded clock awakens

bell-ringers moving so stiffly

 

Bell Ringers Clock St. Mark's Square

 

it’s Easter

every bird in Venice on the wing

 

Venice-pigeons-on wing

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

March 3, 2018

 

 

 

 

LA DOLCE FAR NIENTE – “The Sweetness of Doing Nothing”

Provence used to be Italian.  Many foods, customs, and sayings remain from that time – which ended by plebiscite in the 1860’s.  One of the dearest, and most challenging to this Type A American, phrases is the Italian concept of “La dolce far niente”, — the sweetness of doing nothing.

I didn’t know how un-Provencal, how un-Italian, how un-far-niente I was until my first Thanksgiving in Cannes.  I decided to do something very un-American on that day, –since I couldn’t find any cranberries anywhere.    I went strolling all along La Croisette. 

 

aerial-view-boulevard-croisette-cannes-french-riviera

Aerial View, La Croisette Boulevard, Cannes, Provence, France

 

If you care about the Cannes Film Festival [developed to magnetize tourists during the rainy month of May], you’ll have read about all sorts of stars out upon La Croisette, — dressed and not-so-dressed, singly and together, by day and by night.   And some, –like Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward–, being robbed of their passports the year I was there .  I used to picture the border-crossing guards as one headed into real Italy at La Bordighera,  — laid-back uniformed men studying Paul’s and Joanne’s passports, passing those clever thieves right on through with languid waves of the hand.

 

paul-newman-joanne-woodward-image

Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward Image from Internet

 

That Thanksgiving Day, moving right along, Mediterranean to my left, towering palm trees casting flickering shade, the Pailais (Palace) of the film festival dead ahead, I heard a most unpleasant sound.  I stopped and looked around.  The sound stopped.  I set out again.  So did the sound.  It was my rapid American feet on the broad wave-splashed sidewalk.

Nobody else walks fast.  They have a verb I was never taught at St. Mary of the Woods College — “se flaner”.  It means “to stroll.”    We didn’t stroll in Detroit, let alone when I moved to Manhattan.  But that’s another story.

 

not-strolling-image

Not Strolling, but a good American clip — and definitely not on La Croisette

 

Today, in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, I am doing nothing.  None of the tasks of the season, not even the tasks of the bill-basket.  And certainly not the tasks of the marketplace.

 

french-marketplace

French Marketplace Scene — See, Even Here, They Emphasize Sitting, Relaxing, Doing NOTHING!

 

I am languishing with a superb history of FDR as Politician Par Excellence — H. W. Brands’  stirring Traitor to His Class.  Chapter-by-chapter, I am tugging us through World War II and learning more than ever before about strategies and justifications, –in Franklin, in Winston, in the brilliant George Marshall, in Harriman, and even in De Gaulle and Stalin.  This is not anything I need to know, but I cannot get enough of it.  Sheer luxury.

 

traitor-to-his-class-fdr-book-cover-image

Traitor to His Class, H. W. Brands

 

In between, –in my ever-present journal–, I am taking notes on the politics of yesteryear and the same field, if you can call it that, now.  In 1942, FDR insisted upon raising all taxes, –especially upon the wealthy, especially those who were being enriched by the war–, “so that the sacrifices demanded by the war would be shared equitably.”  Imagine..  But that’s another story.

 

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Frank Capra’s Iconic D-Day Image – June 6, 1944, Normandy, France — A Day That Will Life in … HONOR

 

On my Retreat Day, I am neither making nor taking phone calls.  I am not initiating e-mails — although a few prove irresistible.  I certainly am not going near Facebook.

I make two delightful meals, and eat them at a table rich in items Provencal, because I never get enough France, but you already know that.

At 3 p.m., I walk outside on my tiny patio with bare feet.  I sit on a white ice-cream chair, tug slacks up over my knees, shove turtleneck sleeves halfway up my arms, and face the sun.  I do all the sitting yoga and p.t. exercises that normally take up morning hours, there on that chair, in that hot sun.

 

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Ice Cream Chair, Tiny Patio, in another season                                                                       Cups in Plants Courtesy of Sociopathic Upstairs Neighbors…  But that’s another story…

The grass is silken and of an aggressive green suitable for Easter.

There isn’t a sound – not a car; not a voice; not a jet; not a team shouting on Lawrenceville playing fields so far away except auditorially; not the mew of a cat or a catbird; not the caw of imperious crows.

A small miracle is that I can sit here, gently exercising, while ‘my’ goldfinches nourish themselves daintily at the thistle seed.  Not even they are murmuring.  But these small, seasonally muted birds are usually so skittish.  If I move fast, inside my study, behind my monitor, they, outside on their thistle socks, all explode away into the sheltering ash tree. Not today. We are all outdoors here together.

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Goldfinches on Thistle Sock (Breeding Plumage)

What’s wrong with this picture?

It’s not Easter.

It’s Christmas Day.

for-unto-us-a-son-is-given

For Unto Us A Son Is Given

Ice caps and ice sheets are melting, and nobody in power gives a damn.

polar-ice-caps-melt

MELTING – 21st Century Reality

I spend many hours, when I’m not saving New Jersey at D&R Greenway Land Trust, signing urgent protests about the plight of the Planet.  Not today.

burning-planet

21st-Century Reality – Does No One Care but Bill McKibben?

 

Today I am remembering La Croisette, before I’d ever even heard of Catastrophic Climate Change, and it was supposed to be warm on Thanksgiving, on Christmas.

 

boulevard-de-la-croisette-sign

Along the Boulevard

 

Today, Christmas 2016, I learn that I possess resources for this level of solitude.  Worth knowing…  One of the major lessons of my own Year in Provence.

 

la-croisette-old-fashioned-picture

Flaneurs Along La Croisette in Earlier Times

 

Tonight, in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, on December 25, 2016, I am sunburnt — proof that I have practiced “la dolce far niente” this day.

SUMMER POEMS: ‘SWEET CORN’ and ‘GOOD HARBOR MORNING’

Simple summer tasks trigger memories and poems.  Come with me to Michigan — near Detroit, where I grew up in Lathrup Village; Good Harbor on Lake Michigan in the Leelanau Peninsula.  (Otherwise known as the “little finger” of Michigan.)  Good Harbor was my sister’s and my favorite place in the world.  When I fell in love with Chatham on Cape Cod, as a grown up, it was because it reminded me of Good Harbor.  Experience with me the simple foods and traditions of lower Michigan, in our own backyard.

sweet corn close-up from Internet

Sweet Corn from Internet

SWEET CORN

 yellow corn for lunch

sweeps me back to childhood

–my two hands too tiny

to tug off tough green husks

 

not assiduous enough

to strip every silken strand

–in that time when all corn

was yellow

 

era of sunsuits, sundresses

handmade by our mother

so crisply ironed

donned to welcome relatives

from Tiffin. Ohio

 

I feel prickly “creeping bent”

–that odd named grass—

between unaccustomed shoeless feet

 

our Tiffin cousins brought rare foods:

–curled and spicy hot dogs

all in a knotted string

–darker, far, than any

our father could ever find

in dull Detroit

 

their children carried huge and crinkly bags

of Ballreich Potato Chips

–wrinkled, strong and ready

for mother’s softened cream cheese

sparked with bright chive snippets

from our paltry garden

 

the greatest of great aunts

arrived bearing her catsup

–almost the ‘burnt sienna’ hue

of my favorite crayon

 

Aunt Amanda’s garden tomatoes

were piqued with cloves and spices

unknown to any ketchup in our town

preserved in ‘soft drink’ bottles

–highlight of the meal

home made catsup from Internet

Home-made Catsup, from Internet

 

Daddy’s real charcoal

sputtered and smoked

 

the children’s corn husk ‘haystacks’

burgeoned and tipped

 

butter and salt

joined extra large

thick paper plates

upon colorful oilcloth

on the wooden picnic table

out on our screened-in porch

 

when hotdogs were nearly ready

the women cooked our sweet corn

so briefly,

knowing it was ready

by the scent

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

July 23, 2016

 

twin-lights-from-good-harbor-beach-sunrise-c2a9kim-smith-2015.jpg

Good Harbor Sunrise, by Kim Smith, from Internet

GOOD HARBOR MORNING

 

once, up north, we could not find a bed

 

so my father pulled the bulbous Pontiac

into forest-rimmed sand

at Good Harbor, Michigan

in the ancient region of Leelanau

SH20 Scavenger Hunt 101 "A beach"

Good Harbor Beach, Leelanau County Michigan

 

both parents, my little sister

my littler cousin, and I

–still in our ‘street clothes’

curled like millipedes

upon pale plush seats

expecting somehow to sleep

surrounded by evergreen sentinels

 

waking into Sunday

my father was not there

 

silently, I opened our car door

took off toward the lake

 

peeking through soft dunes

to the far horizon

I saw my father

wearing trousers

but no shirt

 

before a scavenged Maxwell House coffee can

filled with lakewater

he was carefully shaving by campfire

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

July 23, 2016

beachfire Good Harbor Beach Michigan jpg

Good Harbor Beach Fire from Internet

SOURLANDS HIKE – Non-Technology Walk

The Smiling Rock, Sourlands Trail off Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell

The Smiling Rock, Sourlands Trail off Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell

Every once in awhile, I give myself the mandate to walk a trail without technology.

This is an interesting challenge, even though I NEVER use a cell phone on a trail!

Today’s Sourlands Technology-less mandate extends to my other addictions — the camera and my binoculars.  I found it really hard to leave them behind.  As in ‘at home’, so I was not tempted to weaken at the last minute.

The images here were taken, I think in the 20th Century, I include these two scenes to give you the flavor of the Sourlands Preserve experience.  This post relies on words, not photographs.

Intriguing question — am I addicted to my camera and my optics?  I did feel, initially, quite naked without them.  Almost instantly, however, I became aware of heightened senses, as though my entire being were a sounding board, an enormous lens, a fragrance-detector.  Without peering through anything, focusing anything, I had become a force field of antennae.  Everything was grist to my mill.

Anyone who hikes in the Sourland Mountains knows that there are boulders everywhere.  I was 1000 x more aware of these ‘diagnostic’ basalt beings, than through lenses!  Some do have almost human, and some powerful reptilian fissures.  But my reaction today went far beyond resemblances.

The aura of Sourlands rocks speaks, in oracular tones, when one is opened by the absence of technology to the gestalt of the walk.

Dappled light.  Threatening skies.  Instant solitude, silence, refuge indeed!

The beechwood forest has just leafed out.  There is no light to equal that flickering through new beech leaves, as NJWILDBEAUTY readers know from the first Berkshire images from last week.  The forest floor is as awash as it will be in autumn, only with pink-brown-to-pale beech leaves, just relinquished.  This process, which brings acid nourishment to the beeches to ensure the nut harvest, usually occurs in mid-April.  It’s almost the end of May.

Ovenbirds overhead fill the forest with eee-errr, eee-errr, eee-err!  My theory is that they’re high in the trees to draw predator attention far from their forest-floor, oven-shaped nests.

The long long trail is lined at the outset with airy pale magenta wild phlox, flat blossoms on frail stems.  Each burst is harshly tugged by surprisingly strong windbursts for May.

The path is far gentler than I remember.  Softer, and more rarely interlaced with roots or studded with rocks.  This response on my part could just be the difference between walking the Sourland Mountains and hiking last week’s Berkshire and Green mountain trails.

Perhaps the deer management of the Sourlands is beginning to work — a result devoutly desired by all who cherish birds and flowers.  Our deer infestation has removed the forest understory throughout this wild region.  These powerful basalt boulders protected this region from most farming and most developing, but cannot fend off deer.

Only deer management, yes, HUNTING, can do this.  It is essential.  Deer herds devour native plants that evolved with our birds and pollinators.  This gives carte blanche to the invasives, which have no insect holes in them, because they feed no insects.  Therefore, breeding birds and seeking pollinators cannot find the essentials with which they have evolved over centuries.  “NO INSECTS — NO BIRDS” — It’s as simple as that, as Sharyn McGee, President of Washington Crossing Audubon, taught us in Jared Fleshers prize-winning, straight-talking, beautiful and even powerful Sourlands Film.

True Solomon’s seal emerges alongside the trail, ‘ringing’ its tiny pale bells.  Later on, in a different configuration of forest, I’ll find false Solomon’s seal, its finial creamy bloom like a puff of smoke.

Big healthy clumps of violet leaves, –like nosegays prepared by My Fair Lady, only lacking the purple blossoms–, hearten me as I climb.

Small ordinary yellow blossoms appear.  Later, in deeper woods, near a stream, I will find rarer ones.  Both are the hue and glossiness of buttercups.  The ordinary one has five round petals and fat leaves like geraniums.  The extraordinary one has six leaves, pointed like daisies.  It’s very tiny, its tall pointy leaves like grass someone forgot to mow.

I pass several stretches of wetlands on the main trail, normally echoing with frog chorus.  If I hear a single frog today, it’s more of a cough than a croak.  The so-called wetlands resemble messy deserts.

High on the left, a phoebe calls out its name with a certain pitifulness, though it IS territorializing, and will be in the same place exactly on my way back.

There should be wood thrushes in forest this deep.  Deer destroying understory removes safe sites for their lives, as well as for ovenbirds.  Ovenbird nests may be a bit safer, because often tucked into strong tree roots.

Dark Christmas ferns are tall and strong in shady stretches; hay-scented fern delicate, airy and much less vivid green, in splashes of sunlight.

Here and there on the path are tulip tree ‘tulip’ flowers, all bright orange (brighter than Princeton) and wild chartreuse.  Indians used these very straight sun-seeking trees to make dug-out canoes, there being a decided dearth of birches hereabouts.  If you need birches, as Frost did, as I do, try Berkshires or Northern Michigan.

Probable rose-breasted grosbeak overhead in this stretch — identified by mellifluousness.

Silent robins on the trail.

Duelling pileated woodpeckers call attention to their ownership of territory on either side of the path.

The mutter or purr of red-bellied woodpecker, suffuses another part of the forest.

This is a place so dense that I am glad of every bit of teaching to bird by ear, by naturalists and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and long-ago tapes..

Sourlands Rocks in Preserve off Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell

Sourlands Rocks in Preserve off Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell

The presence of basalt megaliths increases on both sides.  I’m keeping an eye out on the left for blue blazes, leading to what I call ‘Council Rocks’.  Yellow blazes off to the right lead to a stream-side trail I will take after I reach my goal, ‘Table Rock’.

Now, on the blue trail, silence increases to empty-cathedral level.  The hush is overpowering.  Reverence is mandated.

I am in the domain of ferns as understory and trees on every side:  upright, slanted, crooked, split, and felled.  Sandy-shattered trees are tattooed all over with turkey-tail fungus, paled by severe winter conditions.

The blue trail, however, belongs to the rocks.  If I stood on the shoulders of the tallest man I know (who would NEVER permit such familiarity), we would still not be able to reach the top of these leftovers of volcanic activity.  Spewed eons ago, they are being weathered incessantly into rounded and fissured shapes.

Among these entities, presence, even majesty reigns.  Awe is essential; even worship.

These rock-entities, though so imposing, are generous.  They accept my praise and welcome my ingress.

In my tightly tied sturdiest shoes, with trekking poles used like pendulums for balance, I make my way between deities with broad shoulders. The one I call “Table Rock’ welcomes me.  I sit a long time, studying the Council Rocks where no Indians are visible, but so many are palpable.

Now, I can walk back to the car, the technology that brought me to my non-technology walk site.  For these hours, all my senses have been engaged.  I have been and felt hundreds of miles from civilization, even though Princeton and Philadelphia and New York are all too near.

All along the route, every two or three hundred paces, I have received the gift of a whiff of fox scent.  ‘Eau de renard’... Nothing wilder.  Nothing more precious!

This walk exists because of preservation.  Keep it going, at all costs.  Nothing more vital to our state and its citizens.

My sister, Marilyn Weitzel of Illinois, and my friends Janet Black, then of Kingston and Betty Lies of Montgomery Township, New Jersey, try to find Sourlands birds in dense canopy:

<y sister as Lookout for Birds of the Sourlands

Pole Farm Miracles, June 2014

Image

Common Yellowthroat by Brenda Jones

In my new life, in my new town (Lawrenceville), I have a new habit — walking the Pole Farm from 7 to 9 p.m.  

It’s the Solstice tonight, longest day of the year.  NJWILDBEAUTY readers realize I can play this game without peril or penalty.

If you go out there by 7, you are given the song of the bobolinks.

If the land is warm and the air cool, as it has been this week, you may walk straight into a miracle — as with 7 deer (two of them spotted fawns), up to and beyond shoulders in wildflowers, like the Unicorn Tapestry, the Cluny Tapestries.  There are just these ruddy silhouettes, still as standing stones, only the flowers in motion.

And then, out of the deep, mysterious woods, pours swirlings of ground fog.  Tendrils and veils and scrims of light-filled fog, billowing like the curtain of the Old Met in my first New York years.  Fog turns the deer to icons, then to shadows.  They could be standing in incoming tide, only the tide isn’t saltwater, it’s mist.  The deer look so content, which completely suffuses me.

Later that night, a knowing friend tells me, “Carolyn, deer love fog.  They think they’re invisible.”

Image

DOE OF EVENING BY BRENDA JONES

I am not the only one who finds it hard to leave.  A woman named Janet, sitting on a fence in golden dusk, said, almost tearfully, “I don’t want it to be over.”  The night before, three cyclists, exulting in having ‘done ten miles’, had expressed the identical sentiments.

As I entered the Pole Farm at 7:30 last night, I knew I had sacrificed the song of bobolinks by tardiness.  

On all sides, however, was the rare trilling, warbling, descending caroling of field sparrows.  Almost immediately, I stood beside a pair, right on the grey trail.  Delicate, petite, short, rotund, and fastidious — the pair let me watch and watch and watch as they filled their tiny tummies with something clearly delicious.  They were so wild, they didn’t know human danger.  I stood transfixed, until I could finally see their legedary, ‘diagnostic’ fat pink beaks.  A first for me.  I have learned to hear them.  I have learned to identiry their feeding habits.  But this is the first time the roseate beaks were visible.

I was thinking, as my feet took up the now familiar stride and trail, “To experience miracles, be where miracles happen.”

At that moment, I discovered with the American Indians call “a sun dog” — vertical rainbow, to the right of  the lowering sun-globe.  This phenomenon is caused by ice crystals in the sky.  The entire spectrum hung there, –like northern lights, but so much smaller and more subtle.  Red, purple, orange, yellow, green, blue — I forget the order — I stopped dead in my tracks to let that bounty in.  To the Indians, to see a sun dog is good luck.

To me, to have moved to Lawrenceville, 3/10 of a mile from the Pole Form, is extraordinary luck, even miraculous.

No one would believe the level of darkness I’d endured in my previous wooded dwelling.  That’s over.

Instead, in moments, I can be out on those broad hard smooth clear dry trails, with all those wonderful fellow hikers, bikers, birders — full of graciousness and greeting.  Catching sight of my binoculars, they’ll sing out, “What are you seeing?”  Or ask, “What’s black and white with orange?”  And I could tell that person, “Oh, you have seen the miracle of the bobolinks.  Pole Farm is being managed for grassland birds.”  

Within moments, I can be given a night like last night, of miraculous juxtapositions:

bluebirds and catbirds

 

field sparrows and yellowthroats

 

wild grape and woodbine

 

honeysuckle and fireflies

 

bullfrogs and wood thrush

 

horned stag in daisies

 

penstemon and fern groves 

 

rabbits still as statues

 

Mr. Elusive — a cinnamon-colored wood-thrush bopping down the trail, impervious to my footfalls

 

woodpecker drills

 

something raucous high in trees, laughing as I pass

 

clouds stretched into feathers

 

swallows taking turn, entering the old barn in last light

 

the startle of cars

 

Get OUT there on YOUR trails.  Miracles await.

Do all that you can to preserve land in your own region, for it is even more scarce than bobolinks.

And, with land, once gone, is rarely recovered.

 

Pole Farm is a Mercer County Park — on their web-site you can learn of and sign up for bird walks with Jenn Rogers, with whom I’ve merrily birded the Abbott Marshlands in search of winter birds.  Go anywhere with Jenn — you’ll come home enriched.Image

BLUBIRD BY bRENDA jONES

 

DAYS OF SWANS and THRUSHES — Naturalists ‘Bird’ Despite Storms

Solitary Swan by Brenda Jones

Solitary Swan by Brenda Jones

People who are constantly battered by storms find themselves stir-crazy.  This dire condition is particularly offensive to naturalists.  When we make plans to bird anyway, observers are known to diagnose us as plain crazy.  Be that as it may, two magnificent days unfolded among birds between this week’s most recent snows.

Two friends defied public opinion to set out for Sandy Hook with me on Friday.  We carried, and later stuffed ourselves  into, gear the equal of anything I ever wore skiing in Aspen and Zermatt.

All that garb wasn’t necessary for our first spectacular birds of that day.  Removing coats at the table of Bahrs (seafood restaurant par excellence, Atlantic Highlands, feeding the public since 1917 or before), we picked up our optics before we opened our menus.

“Grebe?,” one questioned.  “Diving duck.” Another answered.  Waterbirds awash in vivid color whirled and fed, right in the tidally thin Shrewsbury River, practically at our feet.  True birders carry their binoculars anywhere a feather might show up.  They also take their Sibleys (best bird guide) into restaurants by water.  David (Allen Sibley) and sharp eyes noting a variegated beak proved that the first star of Friday’s bird show was a common goldeneye.  I had only seen a goldeneye in books.  You’re supposed to do a ritual dance when you come upon a life bird such as I did.  I left that ritual unperformed.  And yes, we did finally order, starting with fresh oysters, three different species from Maine (the tiniest the most savory), two from Connecticut, one from the Chesapeake

We tore our eyes from the goldeneye as a stunning female merganser hove into view.  She’s the one who seems to have stuck a wing into a light socket — her red ‘hair’ frizzed into the most radical of “Mohawks”.  Her mate’s hair-do (feather-do?) was equally electrifying — only a rich forest green.  Right below us, we feasted our eyes on dazzling white splotches among his back feathers, like portholes on the S.S. France.  The two mergansers fed ceaselessly in the waning tide.  Anne Zeman insisted that the female was actually tired of eating.

Beyond pilings where fishing boats usually moor, a family of merry buffleheads bopped up and down.  Black and white, round (hunters called them butterballs) as rubber duckies, they carried on in complex minuets.  ‘Buffies’ disappear so suddenly and so completely, you think you imagined them.  Then there they are again!  Either three cormorants, or one comorant three times, arrowed past, his burnished beak so vivid in that rare sun.

The palette of our lunchtime birds was gold, red, red-orange and red-gold.  Beaks and legs vied with immaculate feathers.  It was as though someone had tugged all those colors out of the Crayola box, scribbling as hard as he or she could on beaks and feathers and legs; then shone the brightest lantern onto each and every species.

Over into Sandy Hook itself, we would see more birds than cars.  That’s a first.

Right by Spermaceti Cove at the entry, where we were supposed to find oystercatchers, we flushed a great blue heron.  The three of us, [bundled to the teeth, hardly anything showing, not even our eyes, for they were deep in binoculars], were trekking along the highway verge above the cove.  Sandy had chewed up and spit out the boardwalk that always led us to far reaches to find rare birds.  We literally heard the concussion of air in wings, as a majestic great blue heron erupted at our approach.

At the hawk watch platform, at North Beach, not a creature was stirring.  Forget snowies, — snowy owls which have been sighted at ‘the Hook’ all winter, were nowhere in evidence.  Lack of snow there (warmer by the ocean, windier?) may have removed the snowies’ beneficial white camouflage.  They would have really stood out, sitting there against pale sands.  We strolled a long time toward the water, toward bridges and lighthouses and unwelcome views of Manhattan.  We were absolutely alone, among stark dune and wind-buffeted dune grass.  Flattened prickly pear looks dessicated beyond hope.  It will, indeed, rise again.  The most vivid colors waved among bayberries, those cinnamon-stick leftover leaves.

Circling back into the park, we passed all those strange gold former military dwellings, all of them Sandy-battered.  Every house had slanted props and vanished porch supports.  Haunting, if not haunted, they stared with empty eyes toward the river that had risen to ruin them.  Workmen were tending to the second house, and may have completed some sort of buttressing and renewal on the first.  It would be a pity to let that strip of history collapse into sand-strewn rubble.

One last chance to park in a small lot to the left, not far beyond the Sandy Hook Light.  Hopping out of the car, in yes, welcome sunshine, although lowering sun, we came immediately upon a thrush.  All puffed to ward off cold and blustery winds, this bird was so wild, it was as though he had never heard of humans.  He hopped and searched among leaves so near we could hear the impact of those tiny claws amidst crispness he matched so perfectly.  He stayed a long time, coming nearer and nearer, then flew and returned, to the base of a tree full of cedar waxwings.  The dropping sun intensified every carat of gold amidst those feathers.  Deciduous trees looked full of Christmas ornaments.  Then all the ornaments took off and flew west over the river.

Thrush in Underbrush by Brenda Jones

Thrush in Underbrush by Brenda Jones

In the car, driving home, we were hard-pressed to name the most significant birds.  I didn’t see it then, but writing, it becomes apparent, they were all significant.

In retrospect, the miracle of the birds of Friday was all that gold and red and red-orange — among the ducks, among the yellow-rumps, among those waxwings.  Colors we see in fires, –on a hearth or on a beach.  Warming hues our snow-strafed hearts require in this winter of discontent.  Above all, we walked that day in sun.

The next morning, I met journalist and fellow-poet, Linda Arntzenius, for a hearty diner breakfast, preparatory to an exploration of the Marsh.  Formerly called Hamilton/Trenton/Bordentown, it has been rechristened “The Abbott Marshlands”.  Right in the heart of Trenton, off South Broad and Sewell Avenue, one drives down a steep driveway and parks by a lake called Spring.  Legend has it the Lenni Lenape, who gathered in the Marsh, named that lake because it is spring-fed.  Legend also insists that beavers were the first to dam it onto a lake.  This Marsh is a freshwater tidal wetland, essential for wildlife in all seasons.

Linda and I have walked its trails before, always marveling at the solitude and extreme beauty, both watery and terrestrial, that awaits in the hearts of all those towns.  Beaver lodges just beyond the lake make its storied origin seem real.  Twigs perhaps rejected by the beavers in their nightly forays filled water on both sides of the tiny bridge.  Wild yam seeds dangled like farthings from their vines, lit again by lowering light, intensifying their coin resemblance.

There was much more snow at the Marsh than at Sandy Hook.  And that snow is marble-hard, Michaelangelo material.  A trekking pole kept me upright, in whiteness that did not give under our boots.  A single turkey vulture float-coasted over us at entry, and mute swans presided in waters to the right of our trail.  They were cold, too — preferring to tuck their orange beaks into back wings.

Overhead, fish crows cried “Uh-oh, Uh-oh” as we two-legged intruders made our way in their domain.  A robin or two hopped in the midst of the forest – such an unlikely setting that we didn’t recognize the birds at first.  Of course, Linda is accustomed to British robins, rounder and brighter and somehow perkier than ours, which added to the momentary mystery.

Again, we were given sun, sun, sun.  Again, we were practically the only people there, all afternoon.  On the final turn toward Beaver Point, where more lodges awaited, two more mute swans swam about with aplomb.  They resembled the swan boats of Boston, wings raised high over their backs.

Swans are very important to Linda, not only because in Great Britain, they belong to the Queen.  They have resonance because of her beloved sister, lost to us now.  We are both the kind of person who can take comfort in a bird as a messenger from elsewhere.

Who would expect a wetlands in Trenton to provide spiritual renewal?

Well that’s how it is about birds.

Go ahead.  Defy anyone who calls it or you crazy.

More urgently, perhaps, than any other winter.  Get OUT there.  Let nature nurture you.  Let her fill you with golden light and feathers in leaves and wild calls overhead and strange fungi decorating severed trees.

Fill you, so you can get through however many storms wait in the wings.  (Pun intended.)

Wintry Ocean

Surf Fisherman in Winter Ocean