Mary Oliver, Poet, “The Soft Animal of Your Body…”

Sometimes I think I should just give UP writing about nature and turn this entire world, not just NJWILDBEAUTY, over to my Ur-Poet — Mary Oliver, formerly of Provincetown, Mass, bard of the sea and the dunes and the wild creatures.  She describes her life purpose as “trying to write about nature so that anyone can understand it.”  Needless to say, she has been my mentor for decades.

Port in All Storms Provincetown

Provincetown, Mass — Port in All Storms

My computer didn’t compute all weekend, so I luxuriated in every Mary Oliver book, –prose and poetry–, that I own.


Mary Oliver on Provincetown Beach

Mary Oliver on Provincetown Beach, from Internet

The greatest tribute I can give to this Pulitzer-prize-winning poet is that hers were the only books I took to the hospital and rehab when my failed hip was replaced with a kayaker’s hip, on 11/11/11.  As Dr. Thomas Gutowski teased me, “You may like it better than the original.”

cfe kayaking I B b and wh IMG

Carolyn Kayaking on Barnegat Bay, the Sedge Islands, in August, 2000

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that I make the most of this new hip, on trails and in the kayak.  I moved everything aside to kayak twice in two days a weekend ago, out on the canal, and writing of it for Rich Rein and his array of lively local papers.  My ideal, of course, will be a ‘trifecta’ – Friday, Saturday and Sunday on the water — but the weather gods will have to cooperate.

Provincetown Mac Millan Wharf Rowing Home

Provincetown, Returning Home

When Jeanette Hooban and Carolyn Yoder and I were in Provincetown last Hallowe’en, my favorite part (beyond the food! o yes, and the whale and seals) was the library, where everyone knew Mary, where her garden had been, how marvelous she was at readings and what a quiet force she was in that unique town..

Classic Provincetown from Mac Millan Wharf

Provincetown Central

Here is my all-time favorite Mary Oliver masterpiece — make of it what you will!  What does it stir in YOU?  Tell me in comments!

smiles, Carolyn

This came from a blog called Home Thoughts Worth Thinking, when I Googled, “soft animal of your body.”

They do not attribute the painting — my guess is one of my all-time American favorites, Winslow Homer.  What do you think?


“I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of the Imagination.” — John Keats

by Mary Oliver

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.


Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.


Whoever you are, no matter how lonely

the world offers itself to your imagination

calls to you like the wild geese — harsh and exciting —

over and over, announcing your place

in the family of things


geese pass moon by Brenda Jones

Wild Geese Pass the Moon, by Brenda Jones, Fine Art Photographer


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  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.

The Intrepids Bird Sandy Hook

Jeanette Hooban in quest of migrant warblers, Lifesaving Station of Sandy Hook in Background

Jeanette Hooban in quest of migrant warblers, Lifesaving Station of Sandy Hook in Background

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know I recently relished the glories of Island Beach in a Nor’easter, with three friends I have come to name “The Intrepids”.  Three-quarters of us hit Sandy Hook this week, on a day when gales were predicted, though not rain.  We lunched, as ever, at Bahrs, on splendid seafood, with the barrier island otherwise known as “The Hook” shimmering like Shangri La off to our right.

Quintessential Fresh Seafood Lunch at Bahrs

Quintessential Fresh Seafood Lunch at Bahrs

The Navesink and the Shrewsbury Rivers come together at Rumson.  (I always wonder if it was named in rum-running days.)  The combined flow passes below our table at Bahrs, brushing ‘The Hook’ on its way to the Atlantic.

Where the River Meets the Sea, Sandy Hook on Horizon

Where the River Meets the Sea, Sandy Hook on Horizon

Usually, birdwatching at table is pretty spectacular.  But, for some reason, the serious fishing aspect of that marina seems overwhelmed by fancier pursuits.  In France, they distinguish between “port du pesce” and “port du plaisance”.  Pesce/fish seems to have lost.  Morning’s catch was always being cleaned, just below our Bahrs windows, the remnants thrown into the air and the river, with ravenous birds making the most of it.

Working Fishing Harbor, Bahrs, Sandy Hook

Working Fishing Harbor, Bahrs, Sandy Hook

Even so, we had a fine time, then set out for the glories of Sandy Hook.

Onion Soup, Bahrs

Onion Soup, Bahrs

Fried Oysters BAHRS Late Summere 2014 009

But First, Fried Oysters and Yuengling!

Sandy Hook, too, had been scoured by the ironically named Sandy.  Like Island Beach, –that other sacred New Jersey barrier island–, Sandy Hook prevailed because it is natural,  It is another sterling example of the real Jersey Strong.

Sandy-shattered Officers' Houses, facing the River, Sandy Hook

Sandy-shattered Officers’ Houses, facing the River, Sandy Hook

Sandy's Signatures, Entire Row of Officers' Houses facing river

Sandy’s Signatures, Entire Row of Officers’ Houses facing river

What was hurt on ‘the Hook’ was the roadway, macadam, not natural.  The military establishment.  No comment.  The storied, even haunted houses, which line the river side and are in dire condition.  Some rehabilitation has taken place, for the first time in decades.  One wonders what will come of these structures.  They are evocative, mysterious, compelling.  They seem to be undergoing a slow renaissance.

One Restored Officer's House

One Restored Officer’s House

Birds have made the most of these structures.  Birds such as osprey, who used the abandoned chimneys as nest sites, decorating roofs and facades with “whitewash.”  (Use your imagination.)   All summer, we watched ospreys’ parenting, seemingly very successful.  The young were feisty and eager to test their wings, the last time I was there — test them, but not use them, not quite yet.

Osprey Corps of Engineers -- one of many

Osprey Corps of Engineers — one of many

Now all the nests are empty.  But the structures remain, bird-architecture seeming more formidable than human now at Sandy Hook.

Perhaps Sandy Funds Paid to Repaint Sandy Hook Lighthouse

Perhaps Sandy Funds Paid to Repaint Sandy Hook Lighthouse

It is a joy to see the Sandy Hook Light, the oldest continuously operating lighthouse in America, spiffy again.  Warblers were everywhere in shrubbery around this structure, and broad-winged hawks flew over on a precise schedule, as in one per minute, coasting on the wild sea winds.

Resting Raptor, Sandy Hook

Resting Raptor, Sandy Hook

Come with us.  See what “The Intrepids” discovered, on a November day as benevolent as summertime, the polar opposite of our Island Beach experience.

Birding on North Beach, Merry Mary Penney, Jubilant Jeanette Hooban

Birding on North Beach, Merry Mary Penney, Jubilant Jeanette Hooban

It was a day of black and white birds — beginning with a black and white warbler where we parked our car; rafts of dashing brant too far to see clearly when we first arrived, then spread all over a protected cove, murmuring and murmuring, on the river side.  Yes, one batch of Canada geese.  One osprey, looking very propietary, and not atall migratory.  THREE northern shrikes — life birds for Mary and Jeanette.  Those broadwings were just streaks of black, thicker than Van Gogh’s crow in that final Auvers cornfield.

Autumn, Consummate Artist, Manhattan in background: Battery, Wall Street, Verrazano Bridge all dwarfed by Nature

Autumn, Consummate Artist, Manhattan in background: Battery, Wall Street, Verrazano Bridge all dwarfed by Nature

We climbed the hawk watch platform, eager for raptors.  Ironically, it was the only birdless site of the entire day.  But look at that view!

View from Hawk Watch Platform, North Beach

View from Hawk Watch Platform, North Beach

Our key black-and-white bird of the day may very well have been the first snowy owl of this season.  If so, between the platform and the sea, here, is where the snowy (ies?) hung out last year.

Compass Grass and Bird Tracks, North Beach

Compass Grass and Bird Tracks, North Beach

Other creatures besides the winged were out on these reaches before us.

Rabbit Track, North Beach hike

Rabbit Track, North Beach hike

Fox Trail, North Beach

Fox Trail, North Beach

Beauty of this magnitude does not exist in our most populous state by accident.  It happens because land was preserved.  Rejoice, each of you, and congratulate yourselves, for having voted yes for the permanent funding of open space preservation in New Jersey.  Yes, full disclosure, I am the Community Relations Associate of D&R Greenway Land Trust, –responsible for media releases; the Willing Hands, who put on all our events; Curator of the Olivia Rainbow Student Art Gallery; the poetry and art liaison throughout the year, events or no.  Nothing matters more to me than the preservation of Nature.  Nothing should matter more to YOU, either.

Summer's Last Sunflowers in November

Summer’s Last Sunflowers in November

Just think, where the rabbit hopped, the fox stalked, the sunflowers erupt, could all have been a housing development or a shopping mall or an oil tanker station.  Don’t LET THEM add structures to this prime birding habitat, structures which will necessitate killing plants, trees, and therefore insects, amphibians, reptiles and mammals.  There are many ruined stretches, even here, even at Sandy Hook.  If someone has to have structures, use the ones that already exist.  Birds are paramount!

No Pets, No Kites -- Protecting the Piping Plovers of Sandy Hook

No Pets, No Kites — Protecting the Piping Plovers of Sandy Hook

“No Pets!  No Kites!”  No dogs, nor cats, nor vehicles, nor strolling humans — this is sacred Piping Plover Territory.

Bunkers of Yesteryear

Bunkers of Yesteryear

This is what happens to human structures on barrier beaches.  We need no MORE RUINATION.

Military Remnants

Military Remnants

What happens to the works of man, over time, on a barrier beach.

Nature and Man, Sandy Hook, Verrazano Narrows

Nature and Man, Sandy Hook, Verrazano Narrows

Even Manhattan is diminished by the works of Nature.

Determined Jeanette finds two female harriers doing last hunting over the grasses on the ocean side

Determined Jeanette finds two female harriers doing last hunting over the grasses on the ocean side

Last Light, Early November

Last Light, Early November

Gibbous Moon -- Time to Depart

Gibbous Moon — Time to Depart

Mary usually creates a bird list for us — and she is a pro at this, being head of Bucks County Audubon, just north of New Hope.  If she does, I’ll share it with you.

Meanwhile, bird your own neighborhoods, and any D&R Greenway preserve, especially St. Michaels Farm Preserve in Hopewell.  Take yourselves to the sea at Island Beach and Sandy Hook, and get to know Salem and Cumberland Counties on the Delaware Bayshores, where eagles are about to begin courting.

Above all, support all land trusts in your own regions — keep the green green, for the sake of the birds, for all the wild creatures.


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