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

INESCAPABLE AUTUMN…

Box Turtle of Autumn at Cedar Ridge

Box Turtle of Autumn at Cedar Ridge

I’ve always loved autumn, for its hues and fragrances.  And the light — the only time New Jersey light approaches that which bathed me in my year (and other visits) in Provence, is when September unfurls.

However, this year, I’m not ready for it.

What with nights in the 60’s most of the summer, and a very challenging job at D&R Greenway Land Trust, with few vacation days, I am one of those inclined to blurt, “WHAT summer?”

So I wasn’t thrilled to waken to 40-some degrees on my front-door (Lawrenceville, NJ) thermometer this Sunday.

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know I’m always on nature quests, early and late, any season – you NAME it –, even in the middle of the week – scheduling every scarce day off for a jaunt to NJ’s WILD BEAUTY.

Even today, I’ve marinated ruby-rich tomatoes from Salem and Cumberland (assorted) farmstands.  I’ve cooked my very first fresh sage-green limas from the pod, from Lillian’s fruits and vegetables next to the Mauricetown Diner on Buckshutem Road south of Millville.  I’ve cut hand-sized peppers of red, green and variegated, into bite sizes for friends who are coming shortly for the last swim of the season.  First we eat, then we swim, not like childhood.  O, yes, and there’s merry berry pie from the hillside farm market in Lamberville (across the road from Rago and all that art…)

But out there, on the trails, after our swim this eveing, autumn awaits us.  It’s not only a number on a plexiglas thermometer.

It’s assorted swirls of scarlet and crimson, twining up tree trunks near the red barn of the Pole Farm — announcing that autumn’s bounty is ready for the birds, in the form of woodbine and, yes, poison ivy berries.  Poison ivy in particular really nourishes migrants on their interminable (often night-time) flights to other continents.

It’s buzzing and whirring and tingling of insects, getting their last songs in before frost.

It’s spiciness and fruitiness all along that entry trail.  Spiciness as though it were Thanksgiving or Christmas, in the kitchen, nutmeg, and clove and other more exotic almost puncturing fragrances.  Fruitiness among the varied vines so intense that it can knock me off my stride, and even feel intoxicating.

It’s meadows awash in brassy tones of tick-seed sunflower, leftover brown-eyed Susans, and first goldenrod, heavy on its stems.

Autumn, the poets insist, is that season “of mists and mellow fruitfulness”  The latter is present along Pole Farm’s sunny trails.  The mists I’ve, so far, only encountered once.  I wonder what the function of mist is, to Mother Nature.  For me, it’s enclosure, it’s wrapping, it’s transformation, and it hides any traces of hideous technology, such as some brutes are now attaching to poles along Cold Soil Road.  Through the mists, I can see and sometimes hear the dark sheep.  I do not see or hear the cattle lowing, but know they are near, off to the right, as I drive through morning fog, ground fog, to save New Jersey Land at D&R Greenway.

Cedar Ridge off Van Dyke Road in Hopewell Welcomes Visitors in Autumn

Cedar Ridge off Van Dyke Road in Hopewell Welcomes Visitors in Autumn

Autumn is the end of the plants in my tiny new garden.  I’m down to three nasturtiums and four white petunias and one geranium  — blooms, not plants.  The basil has come and nearly gone, although its final leaves adorn those Salem and Cumberland Tomatoes from the stand where you put your money in a locked tin container and drive away without having spoken to anyone.

Autumn used to be school, which I loved, oddly enough.

Frankly, I don’t know what autumn is any more.

I think the trails, in Island Beach on Tuesday, and at Pole Farm any day, hold my answers.

 

I’ll keep you posted.

 

Smiles, and SAVE THIS PLANET! in all seasons

 

Mushrooms of Autumn near Iconic Oak, Cedar Ridge Preserve

Mushrooms of Autumn near Iconic Oak, Cedar Ridge Preserve

 

Carolyn