HIKING NJ THE HEAT-WEEKS: An Essay on Shade

Marilyn as Lookout Sourlands 08 08

My sister, Marilyn Weitzel, Janet Black and Betty Lies Bird the Sourland Mountain Preserve Trail off Greenwood Avenue in Hopewell

While every newspaper and television and Internet Weather Source has been warning absolutely everyone to stay inside, “Stay Safe”, [which smarmy phrase makes my flesh crawl], I’ve discovered something experientially that I’ve probably always known:  It’s a whole lot hotter in any parking lot, getting into or out of a vehicle, than it is in any of our nearby New Jersey forests!  I’ve decided, it’s dangerous to stay at home.  For, there, life can turn into a spectator sport.

Abide With Me   Pole Farm

Pole Farm: “Abide With Me”: Shade in the Height of Summer

A Sunday ago, I hiked the Pole Farm at 8 a.m., actually about an hour too late to start, during these so-called Heat Emergencies.  Much beauty, great tranquillity, shade 9/10 of the way.  For a couple of hours, I was given gifts beyond measure.  There’s nothing on a screen, or in a newspaper or magazine to equal the elusive scent of fox, still apparent from morning trail-marking.  The cascade of field sparrows, the mew of catbird.  The pleasure of picking two wildflowers for Elaine Katz’s stone and bench – the woman who almost single-handedly insisted that this Lawrenceville (now-) Preserve was not to be a golf course or a series of intrusively spotlighted playing fields.

Sourlands Rocks 08 08

Sourland Rocks Exhale Lenape Presence

A day or two later, and again a week later, starting at 5:15, I entered the Sourland Mountain Preserve off Greenwood Avenue in Hopewell.  Not a man-made sound, not even a plane, did I hear in those couple of deeply shaded hours.  Not a man-made anything did I see, except some essential drainage pipes and the entry road, then densely wooded trails I explored.  One distant frog’s thrumming was heartening.  Dragonflies popped about whatever flowers could bloom in sunlit groves.  For a long time, I sat on basalt boulders leftover from creation, surrounded by mixed forest and essence of Lenapes of long ago.  There’d been rain by the second excursion, so various streamlets were caroling as I crossed them.

Bowman's Spring 2014 014

Intensities of Shade at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve

The next night, when her work and mine were over for the day, Intrepid Jeanette Hooban picked me up in Lawrenceville, to glide over hill and down dale to the Delaware River, –silver in late light, purling below the Lambertville / New Hope Bridge.  Moments later, we were deep in Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve.  We decided to take four favorite trails:  Violet Trail off the access road; the old pond trail onto Fern Trail, alongside a flower-erupting former pond; and the ever-enticing Medicinal Trail, crossing the tough new bridges constructed or reconstructed after Hurricane Sandy.  Each of us has many demands made upon us in the so-called real world.  Each was a little jagged as we started out.  But, again, silence, flowers, dragonflies, hidden birds, and the murmur of Pidcock Creek gave us timeless gifts of memory.  Jeanette discovered a flaming spurt of cardinal flower, favorite of ruby-throated hummingbirds.  I could show her where to elusive snow trillium can emerge, yes, in snow, in March; where, in May, opulent yellow ladyslippers peek through heavy leaf cover to the left of the Fern Trail.  We examined the rocky edge of that Creek, for I’d found the Louisiana Waterthrush, first by song, then by habitat and behavior, a month ago with another friend.  There in the cucumber magnolia, I’d seen my first ever phoebe sing out his name over and over, while waters burbled busily below early one spring.  In heat-strafed July, shade was our gift at Bowman’s, enhanced by occasional water-cooled air.

Marsh First Willows 2013

Abbott Marshlands: Spring Lake: First Willow Buds

A few days later, key birding buddy, Anne Zeman, picked me up at 7:30 a.m., so we could go to the Abbott Marshlands (in Trenton!), in quest of images for her entries for an upcoming fine-art juried exhibition: Voices for the Marsh.  New to us was the fact that Hurricane Sandy had taken down a quantity of the Marsh’s most majestic trees.  Youngsters that survived have burgeoned in the meantime, creating dense shade everywhere — 90-some percent of our walk was tree-cool, and much alongside water.  New patterns of light and shade have amplified the richesse of its fern groves, until we ran out of species names.  Not only tiny blue dragonflies, –half the size of needles–, but equally minuscule lipstick-red ones, zinged about on all sides.  Pickerel weed’s remarkable purple (hyacinth-like, but slimmer) stems rose here and there in Spring Lake and other wet areas.

fox face close-up Brenda Jones

Fox Face, Close-Up, by Fine Art Photographer Brenda Jones

Again, we remembered where  Clyde Quin and Warren Liebensperger had shown us the five-entried fox den.  On both sides of the trail, majestic yews revealed a former dwelling in that wilderness.  Not far from there, Clyde and Warren knew to look for owls in daytime.  There’s not so much silence in the Marsh, because horrific highways are all too near, spinning out a ceaseless drone of ‘the real world’.  But after awhile, one absorbed that sound, until lapping water or locusts warming up or the sacred luffing of swans wings topped every other impression.

Marsh Sandy Damage 2013

Marsh: Hurricane Sandy Damage to Iconic Beech, Spring Scene

Each walk, alone and with others, proved that Heat Emergency consciousness can be overdone.  People can turn into couch potatoes out of fear.

beaver close-up Brenda Jones

Beaver Close-Up by Fine Art Photographer, Brenda Jones

Beauteous preserves, rich in wildlife, await on all sides of Princeton.  There’s the thickly treed Community Park North off 206.  There’s Herrontown Woods, off Snowden Lane, and the nearby Autumn Hill.  Plainsboro Preserve beckons on the other side of Route 1, with its monoculture forest of beeches — guaranteed 12 to 15 degrees cooler in summer, warmer in winter.

Beckoning Path Pl Prsrv

Beckoning Path, Plainsboro Preserve

Turn off the screens.  Grab a hat and water and natural insect repellant (a wonderful rosemary-based one is available at the Hopewell Pharmacy) and get out there.  Don’t be someone Richard Louv will have to describe as The Last (Child) in the Woods.

Beechwood Forest Stream Pl Prsrv

Microclimate Beechwood Forest, Plainsboro Preserve

 

 

 

 

 

SNOWBOUND — REMEMBERING THE MARSH, — A Winter Walk

Not all winters tie one to the house!.  Some draw you outside, inexorably, delightedly.

Here are some rare but typical scenes of what used to be the Hamilton/Trenton/Bordentown Marsh, now the Abbott Marshlands.

Come wander with me, no matter the weather.  Come relish New Jersey’s wild beauty.

Marsh Weeds in Spring Lake

Marsh Weeds in Spring Lake

The Lake was purportedly named by Indians because formed by an ever-renewing spring.

Marsh Frozen Spring Lake Winter 2014

Spring Lake Mostly Frozen — But Life Exists Herein

Marsh First Willows 2013

The Wonder of Willows, Marsh

Marsh, Where Muskrats Ramble

Where Muskrats Ramble, Near Spring Lake

NJWILDBEAUTY Readers know I have an enormous need to see either New Jersey’s wild creatures, or evidence of their presence, or both.

Beaver Lodge, Marsh -- in winter, beaver keep waters open for rare ducks

Beaver Lodge, Marsh — in winter, beaver keep waters open for rare ducks

Beaver Fppd

Beaver Food

Goose Trails, Spring Lake

Goose Trails, Spring Lake

Marsh Sandy Damage 2013

Eponymous Beech Tree, Damaged by Hurricane Sandy

Fallen Trunk Decorated with Fungus, Marsh

Fallen Trunk Decorated with Fungus, Marsh

Turkey Tail Fungus on Felled Trunk, Marsh

Turkey Tail Fungus on Felled Trunk, Marsh

This winter walk was taken with Town Topics writer par excellence, Linda Arntzenius.  Sometimes the iced trail was so narrow that only one boot at a time could make its way.  Hardly ever could we walk side-by-side, but what beauty was ours!

And such silence!  Sacred soundlessness — how very rare in the modern world.

Beavers' Midnight Snack

Beavers’ Midnight Snack

Where Turtles Lurk and Thrive

Where Turtles Lurk and Thrive

In season, one learns to seek tiny dark triangles in spring lake, triangles that move right along, for they are the heads of the lake’s majestic turtles.  Sometimes, also, in the lake, snakes swim.

In winter, walkers can follow the straight trails of foxes, out for a stroll or a hunt, and discover the wing marks of rising birds in fresh snow on downed trunks.

To get to the Marsh, take Route 1 South into Trenton to the South Broad Street exit.  Drive as directed round the arena, and turn left/south onto Broad Street.  After Lalor, which angles only on your right, look for a church with two steeples, followed by a red light at Sewell Avenue.  Turn right onto Sewell and go about five blocks until the road Ts at the Marsh itself.  Drive through the gate and park near the lake. Usually, you will be welcomed by stately swans in all seasons.

To learn the Marsh, check out http://www.marsh-friends.org.  Get onto their e-mail mailing list for hikes with Ornithologist Charlie Leck, Botanist Mary Leck, and Mercer County Naturalist, Jenn Rogers.  In all seasons, these merry experts will introduce you to the creatures who thrive in New Jersey because individuals and groups such as D&R Greenway preserved this freshwater tidal wetlands.

Restored Hunt House, Pole Farm — Constable scenes in Mercer County

Flag Windless Evening Pole Farm Hunt House and Trail June 2014 003

Peaceful Flag on Hunt House Grounds, Pole Farm

One of the fascinating aspects of this Pole Farm, that is so near to my new dwelling in bucolic Lawrenceville, is that there are many entries.  Each entry holds out its own bouquet of impressions and memories.

One leads to the overlook platform where we will watch short-eared owls in the depths of winter, ghosting out of surrounding stands of dense woods.

One very practical one leads over a series of hefty bridges, which will be very helpful after troubling rains.  They are not bridges over water, rather over land that can become waterlogged.  So one will be able to march without sloshing, when the mood strikes.

My latest discovery is the Hunt House entry, off Blackwell Road.  A generous parking lot awaits, which is where this flag dangles, in the absence of wind.  I’m starting with this because it’s the Fourth of July.  I spent the morning in the Abbott Marshlands, where there weren’t any flags, and barely any birds, but much beauty.

My friend, Anne Zeman, was there to take pictures for the Voices for the Marsh Photo Competition.  If one googles http://www.marsh-friends.org, one will learn what scenes and what processes are required for entry.

As we left each other, after hours of exploration, we reminded one another that this day is a celebration of freedom from tyranny.  Somehow, countless forms of tyranny are overtaking everyday Americans.

Somehow, those precious freedoms for which our Founding Fathers pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor (and some lost all of these factors to bring us liberty) are being eroded at every turn.

We must never lose sight of the sacrifices and the brilliance of our Founding Fathers.  Even more important, we must not betray the liberty they won for themselves, our country, and ourselves.

The Hunt House is venerable — all three segments of which having been built in the 1700s.  It’s a beauty to see from the outside.  I do not know if everyday people are permitted entry in business hours.  As I understand it, Hunt houses the park headquarters.  If all their employees are as gracious and enthusiastic as Ranger Kevin (met at the red barn entry of Pole Farm), I assume visitors are welcome at appropriate times.

Hunt House Restored at Pole Farm June 2014 001Restored Hunt House, in late light, Pole Farm

A handsome picnic area rests to the left of this scene, very appealing, although too close to the parking lot for my taste.

Picnic Shelter Pole Farm Hunt House and Trail June 2014 007Picnic Area near Hunt House, Pole Farm

The same broad, strong, comfortable, quiet trails that make other entries so appealing, lead away from the house and its barn and the picnic area.

Evening Shadows Barn at Pole Farm Hunt House and Trail June 2014 009Hunt House Barn Shadows, Pole Farm

These trails lead in and around essential American scenes.  And yet, soon, one is transported into the landscapes made famous by Constable of Britain.

Lily Pads and Cattails at Pole Farm Hunt House and Trail June 2014 014Constable Scene, Hunt House Trails, Pole Farm

As usual, guests are relishing this regional treasure, many on foot and some on bicycles.

Cyclists Pole Farm Hunt House Trail June 2014 010Cyclists, Hunt House Trails, Pole Farm

On all the trails, all the people I meet are so cheerful, open and welcoming, themselves.  It’s a very American experience, these parks where solitude is a norm and silence a blessing.  Where birds thrive and trees burgeon and deer safely raise young.

Let Evening Come    Pole Farm Hunt House and Trail June 2014 011English Countryside near Hunt House Trails, Pole Farm

Yet, there is this sense of stepping into a Constable, over and over again.

Come Dine With Me Picnic Table by Lake Pole Farm Hunt House and Trail June 2014 013Lakeside Picnic Grove, Hunt House Trails, Pole Farm

I’m hoping some savvy family is celebrating the Fourth in this grove today.

Sharp Shadows  Picnic Grove Pole Farm Hunt House and Trail June 2014 012Long Shadows, Picnic Grove, Hunt House Trails, Pole Farm

Whoever they are, I hope they speak of freedom.

Wherever you are, I hope you remember true freedom, the sacrifices made to secure it in perpetuity, the powerful and brilliant and courageous men and women (don’t forget Abigail Adams and Annis Stockton and Martha Washington, who joined her husband on battleground after battleground) who birthed this land.

This Mercer County Park is an example of the best of America.  Use it.

And continually do everything you can to preserve New Jersey’s wild unfettered places.

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