WHEN A DEAR FRIEND DIES — for Alan

Christmas Fog Brig Tasha Alan 2015

Alan MacIlroy and Tasha O’Neill birding foggy Brigantine on Christmas 2015

The news we always knew, but never believed, slashes out of morning, startling and impossible as thunder snow.

Although creativity is the heart of the matter in the home Alan MacIlroy has left for our true home, — neither words nor images come to my summons, as mourning descends upon me.

My dearest Tasha is widowed anew.  Alan’s ruddy car sits in their driveway with its subtle license reminding us of his priority:  TH JRNY.   Now he has embarked on the universal journey.

Over more years than I can tally, Tasha and Alan and I have shared priceless rituals, from fireside lobster in Maine to Christmas picnics at Brigantine Wildlife Refuge.

The day of our foggy Christmas feast, a peregrine falcon had stationed itself upon a speed limit sign — “15 mph” — just beyond the Brig’s northeast corner turn.  My camera does not do justice to this monarch holding court for a rosary of reverent automobiles immobilized upon the dike road.  Alan, Tasha and I quietly slid out of his Christmasy car to stand in silence, worshiping.

After a significant interval, Alan announced, “Let’s not go over to Scott’s Landing for our Christmas dinner.  How could we leave the peregrine?”

Only as I type this, do I realize, the word peregrine means wanderer.

Alan is the consummate mentor.  “Mr. Fix-It.”  Every problem solved, especially in advance, especially for his cherished Kingston church, and local businessmen and women.  Each wooded trail at their Maine home maintained.  Every lobster boat observed upon stormy or tranquil bay.  Each wood fire, kindled on a cooling summer’s night.  His dazzling, impeccable TR 4, shining on the driveway, ready for a jaunt.  He is each woodworking project magnificently accomplished, including caning two chairs for me, burnishing the Provencal olive wood cutting board that had dimmed since I lived there.  Grace, gentleness, generosity.   Smiles and that quiet voice we will no longer hear.  Alan was the essence of tranquility.  Alan is love.

His quietly merry  spirit will be with us on every future excursion. Yet the glow of that luminous man has become memory.

Mary Elizabeth’s crystalline phrases echo as I find myself bereft of words.  May her inspiration be with NJWILDBEAUTY readers  — in this dire era, –in which too many days begin with yet another cancer call:

Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.

 

I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;

 

I am not there. I did not die.

***

 

Brigantine Christmas PIcnic 2015

Tasha Prepares our 2015 Christmas Feast

***

“How can we leave the peregrine?”     Now, our wanderer has left us…

Territorial Peregrine Brigantine Christmas 2015

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“NOW IS THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT”… and Antidotes

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Purported Wildlife Refuge — Waterfowl-Killing Guide and Flood Remnants, Scott’s Landing, near Smithville, NJ

 

Does it seem to anyone else as though the sun never shines?

Literally and metaphorically, I mean…

Seems as though every excursion planned with any of the Intrepids is either diminished or actually cancelled, by weather.

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How to Kill and Make a Killing, Scott’s Landing and Atlantic City, NJ

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that what I must do, [whether to flee personal tragedies beyond bearing, let alone the current political situation in this former “land of the free”], is to take intensive, day-long, nature pilgrimages.

On February 1, a dear friend and I took off for the Brigantine Wildlife Refute, above Atlantic City, on Absecon Bay.  To our intense shock, ‘reparations’ of the refuge are still proceeding — to the effect that we could not enter, nor drive even to Gull Tower #I nor Gull Tower #2.

A biologist, who required our identification of snow geese, regretfully but firmly did not allow us to proceed.  Enormous red trucks zoomed and roared everywhere.  The official revealed that the truckers complain to her, “Those PEOPLE [meaning birders] are CRAZY!” Yes, indeed.  Guilty as charged.  All who travel to the Brig are there to experience wildlife where the wild creatures had always been plentiful and safe!

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Crows and a VERY FEW Snow Geese, on a normal Brigantine Winter’s Jaunt

Leeds Eco-Trail, a ‘board’walk, was all that remained available in this shrine frequented by New Jersey’s most committed birders.  In winter, we make pilgrimage there for snow geese beyond counting, for tundra swans and sometimes even the rare trumpeter swans, and all the winter ducks.

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Bufflehead Male by Brenda Jones

We took our disgruntled selves down to Church Road in Absecon, where any number of  avocets had pranced and preened a year ago right now.  But, due to high water, the array of sandbars that had served those rare shorebirds had vanished absolutely.  All we could find on the unexpected lake were resident mallards, habituated to cars!  Squawking and demanding, the handsome green-headed ducks and their muted females surrounded us.

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Mr. and Mrs. Mallard in Full Breeding Plumage by Brenda Jones

 

Obviously, humans have not learned never to feed wild animals, since our food is junk food to them: As with the foxes of Island Beach, human food fills the stomachs of wildlings. But our offerings do not nourish appropriately; seriously subverting their immune systems.  In Absecon, very odd, almost comical hybrid ducks swam and begged with the traditional mallards.  I was too chagrined to take pictures.  Only Brenda can render mallards attention-getting!

My friend, Fay Lachmann, and I took ourselves next to Scott’s Landing, where NJWILDBEAUTY readers well know that Tasha and Alan and I spend many a merry Christmas.  Those magical days are rich in fellowship first; birding second; and Tasha’s elegant picnics, in sun (whatever THAT is) and new snow, among rare winged creatures, often beyond counting.

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Bleakness of February, 2017, Scott’s Landing, looking south.

 

February 2017 finds Scott’s Landing a wasteland; a travesty of the concept of refuge.  It’s always a shock, in hunting season, to see all those flat wooden images of various winged fowl, with numbers as to the size and shape of ducks and geese at so many yards. “The better to shoot you, my dear…”

It’s harder yet to come upon successful hunters at Scott’s Landing, triumphantly laying out bloodied prey upon these sandy, wood-rimmed stretches that pass for the driving area of the Landing.

When Tasha and Alan and I are there at Christmas, our ‘guests’  include elegant great egrets, all white and gold and sheer nobility; as well as stately, ashen ‘blue’ herons.  At dusk in warmer times, Scott’s Landing is ideal for rails; even bitterns.  In this season, we should have seen hordes of snow geese and heard their mellifluous ‘chattering’.

At Scott’s Landing, Fay and I saw no living creature.

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Blue Crab Remnants, Scott’s Landing

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Flood Remnants, Scott’s Landing

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Flood Detritus, Scott’s Landing

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Flood-scoured Scott’s Landing — Water does NOT Belong Inside These Barricades!

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Flood-Chewed Scott’s Landing — this is the LAND side of the barricade...

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Sea-level Rise Alters Scott’s Landing

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How Scott’s Landing Looked the Christmas after Hurricane Sandy

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Tasha O’Neill with our Christmas Picnic, the year of Sandy – note sunlight...

The Brig, (Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge) after Sandy was a far, far better refuge/antidote than was our recent experience.  In the picture below, note that post-Sandy sign announcing: TRAILS ARE OPEN. 

For Fay and me, not only were no trails open on February 1, 2017.  Even along the too-brief Leeds Eco-Trail, we could see but a smattering of snow geese settling onto nearby grasses.  And not the wing of a single other bird, in this renowned bird refuge.  I lay those empty skies and grasslands to all the disruption, since I received the notice: “Wildlife Drive Closures Begin Monday, September 12th.”  “WORK IS EXPECTED TO TAKE SEVERAL MONTHS TO COMPLETE.”

Purported road repairs (never evident so far) and major building are the norm at Forsythe “Refuge” now. And the truckdrivers wonder why ‘those people’ are ‘crazy’…

Post-Sandy — Far Better Than Now

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FOOT ACCESS ONLY — FOOT TRAILS ARE OPEN – THE BRIG after Sandy

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Snow Geese and Blue Skies and White Clouds!!! in normal times

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Snow Geese Undisturbed, The Brig in Normal Times

RARITAN RIVER TALK AT DandR GREENWAY Feb. 26 with Judy Auer Shaw, Ph.D.

Thursday, February 26th, everyone who loves the Raritan River and its exquisite and storied canal may hear Judy Auer Shaw, Ph.D., at D&R Greenway Land Trust, on the river’s history, industrial importance, aesthetic value, importance to our water supply, and current perils.  Dr. Shaw is a legend in her time, on many fronts.  Her current passion is this river, and her life is devoted to preserving and improving. it.

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Dr. Judy Shaw, The Raritan’s River-keeper

The presentation is from 6:30 to 8 p.m., with a light reception.  To register for this free evening of information and delight, please use rsvp@drgreenway.org.  Dr. Shaw’s book will be for sale and she will sign copies that night.

Cover, Judy Auer's new Book, "The Raritan River, Our Landscape, Our Legacy"

Cover, Judy Auer’s new Book, “The Raritan River, Our Landscape, Our Legacy”

The Delaware and Raritan Canal was created in the 1830’s to carry coal from Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley safely to New York (by Raritan Bay) and Philadelphia (via Delaware Bay.)  The pre-canal route meant rounding Cape May and daring dangerous shoals, en route to and past Sandy Hook.  At one time our canal carried more tonnage than the legendary Erie!

D&R Canal north of Mapleton Fishing Bridge by Carolyn Edelmann

D&R Canal north of Mapleton Fishing Bridge by Carolyn Edelmann

The Raritan River begins at the confluence of the North and South Branches of the Raritan.  All along that waterway, wildlife should be able to thrive.  Dr. Shaw is doing everything in her power to see to it that the River’s natural benefits to are region are restored and enhanced.

Great Blue Heron near Carnegie Lake Dam by Tasha O'Neill

Great Blue Heron near Carnegie Lake Dam by Tasha O’Neill

Beaver Lodge along D&R Canal Above Mapleton Fishing Bridge by Carolyn Edelmann

Beaver Lodge along D&R Canal Above Mapleton Fishing Bridge by Carolyn Edelmann

Snake Swims D&R Canal near Princeton

Snake Swims D&R Canal near Princeton

The North Branch of the Raritan is one of the most exquisite features of the state of New Jersey.  Up near Califon and Clinton, it ripples, clear as gin, over time-smoothed rocks, hiding and nourishing trout.

Ken Lockwood Gorge is astounding for hikers as well as trout fishermen.  My friend Tasha O’Neill is famous for realistic and abstract images of the Gorge.  To walk there is to move well beyond the 21st Century, in fact back to the time of the Lenni Lenapes/Algonquins who fished these shores long before we did.

Quintessential Trout Fisherman, Ken Lockwood Gorge, by Tasha O'Neill

Quintessential Trout Fisherman, Ken Lockwood Gorge, by Tasha O’Neill

Trout Fisherman Succeeds in Ken Lockwood Gorge, by Tasha O'Neill

Trout Fisherman Succeeds in Ken Lockwood Gorge, by Tasha O’Neill

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The sheer beauty and vibrancy of trout in the Raritan at its source – by Tasha O’Neill

Autumn Palette Ken Lockwood Gorge, Tasha O'Neill

My Ordinary Scene of Ken Lockwood in Autumn

Even if you have known the Raritan, as I did, –having lived above it in New Brunswick, you may find these images  hard to believe.  But they may explain, partially, why I’ve been in love with the Raritan since I met that river in 1964.  At the time, I knew nothing of the Raritan’s history, had never heard of Lenni Lenapes, and didn’t even realize that was a canal down there!

Autumn Spill along the Aqueduct of the D&R Canal at the Mapleton Bridge Near Princeton, by Carolyn Edelmann

Autumn Spill along the Aqueduct of the D&R Canal at the Mapleton Bridge Near Princeton, by Carolyn Edelmann

North Branch of the Raritan, Ken Lockwood Gorge, by Anne Zeman

North Branch of the Raritan, Ken Lockwood Gorge, by Anne Zeman

I walk the Gorge with many friends — the above is Anne Zeman’s dreamy view of the Raritan in all its pristine beauty.

North Branch of the Raritan, Ken Lockwood Gorge, by Tasha O'Neill

North Branch of the Raritan, Ken Lockwood Gorge, by Tasha O’Neill

We moved into the tall apartment (Colony House, first Buccleuch Park Towers) at Landing Lane Bridge in New Brunswick.  Our apartment wrapped around the corner, so we woke to the Raritan, and supped in its sunset.  The river was frequently mist-covered.  Sunrise would tint dawn’s mist pink, and sunset tended to fill the rivermist with coralline hues.  My daughters, toddlers, would wake from naps, rushing to see “The boys in the boats on the reevah.”

People who’d always lived in New Brunswick would stride into our apartment and say, “Well, Carolyn, it’s beautiful, but it’s not New Brunswick.”  I didn’t know enough then to tell them that the Raritan is far more important than New Brunswick!

Never would I have believed anyone who would insist that I’d be living near that river and its canal for most of the rest of my life.  That the Towpath would inspire, nourish, even heal me through almost overwhelming tragedies.  That a friend would teach me to kayak on the canal above Griggstown. That the Raritan River and its Canal create a feast for all seasons.

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Peaceful Prow on D&R Canal near Princeton, by Tasha O’Neill

"In Just Spring" along the D&R Canal Towpath north of Princeton

“In Just Spring” along the D&R Canal Towpath north of Princeton

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Autumn Harvest, D&R Canal Style, near Princeton

Red Mill, Carnegie Lake by Tasha O'Neill

Red Mill, Carnegie Lake by Tasha O’Neill

Sandy Hook Spring At Last!

Bahr's  DoorBahrs Seafood Mecca, Front Door, near Sandy Hook

One of the highlights of this convoluted spring was a quick Friday journey over to Sandy Hook and back, in early May.  It’s a tradition to take my dear friend, Tasha O’Neill, to Bahrs Landing (family-run seafood mecca since 1917 or so) for her late April birthday.  Weather made us tardy this year, but Bahrs was as glorious as ever.  Bayside table, sun-on-water, fishermen returning with their catch, gulls and cormorants following the orange-clad fishermen in their bright boats.

IMG_1038Scallops and Yuengling at Bahrs, and a Lobster Roll Across the Table

We spent the entire gilded afternoon on Sandy Hook’s margins, bird-vigilant.  We were richly rewarded.

Bahr's Sign late Aprio 2010Bahrs Sign — Gateway to Delights

My camera does not do justice to birds, so the osprey nest exchanges and the courting great blue herons, serried rows of cormorants on dark pilings, and the remarkable green heron in a secluded pool will go unimaged in this post.

Osprey Flight, Sandy Hook, NJ 4-26-11 DSC_1175[2]Osprey in Flight Over Sandy Hook, by Brenda Jones

However, there are other signs of spring at Sandy Hook, in addition to rare birds.

HeronJuveniles6x6BrendaJonesGreat Blue Herons, Brenda Jones

The beach became a canvas, splashed with the unexpected soft burgeoning of beach plum and the sturdy renascence of prickly pear.

Tasha Carolyn Bahrs Sandy Hook AprilTasha O’Neill and Carolyn, Bundled for Spring Birding at Sandy Hook

In the distance, at North Beach, the Verrazano Bridge shimmered like a spider’s blue-black web against a washed out Narrows.  Wall Street rose like the wall for which it was names (between properties of the Delafields and the Harveys, I was told, in the Hudson River Valley.  Delafields and Harveys live in Princeton to this day, without requiring walls.)

Beach Plum Tardy blossoming Sandy Hook May 2014Beach Plum Burgeoning, Sandy Hook, Early May 2014

Prickly Pear Rainbow Sandy Hook May 2014Prickly Pear Renascence, Sandy Hook, Early May 2014

Aretmesia Sandy Hook May 2014Artemesia, Sandy Hook, Early May, 2014

I’ll add some images from a winter’s birding day — when the seafood was equally spectacular, and the birding frankly not gratifying.  Our best birds of winter were seen from our table at Bahrs — including a goldeneye.  Our most surprising was in a thicket surrounding a parking lot – a hermit thrush.  Above our car, in a cedar, to be sure, was a flock of cedar waxwings, who flew off as one, making lovely music.

High Clouds and Herons Sandy Hook May 2014High Clouds and Courting Herons, Early May, 2014

No thrushes nor waxwings in May, but the sharp cries of duelling oystercatchers had welcomed us to ‘the Hook’.  And the lilting love songs of osprey serenaded us throughout our sojourn.

Oyster Catcher at BarnegatOystercatcher, LBI, by Brenda Jones

Moral of the story, go in winter, even though bleak, for miracles await.

Return in spring for different winged blessings.

Get yourself out into Nature every chance you get, before climate change strips its glories.

And do whatever you can to preserve Nature everywhere you can, through your splendid local land trusts.  You know who they are!

dugout canoe Lenni Lenape at BahrsIndian Dugout Canoe, Formerly at Bahrs, Lost to Sandy