“Friendship… blendship…” Hunterdon County Farm Supper at Summer’s End

Rawlyk Farm and Pond View at Evening by Jeanette Hobban

Rawlyk Farm and Pond View at Evening

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that one of the key joys of my life now is the intensity of friendship, especially among people with whom I have (1) helped save the planet, particularly wild New Jersey; and (2) birded!  Especially birded under trying conditions and won through.

Towering Joe Pye Weed, Rawlyk Farm, by Jeanette Hooban

Towering Joe Pye Weed, Rawlyk Farm

You’ve read about “The Intrepids” in these ‘pages’, especially in the teeth of that Nor’easter a year ago in Island Beach – (you can search for Island Beach in Archives and re-read that adventure.) This is a night when no one needed to be intrepid — a time of exquisite fellowship, merriment — a treasured reunion, in a place significantly restored for Nature’s purposes.

Restored Outbuilding, Rawlyk Farm, by Jeanette Hooban

Restored Outbuilding, Rawlyk Farm

Recently, Bill Rawlyk created a nearly impromptu farm supper on his (he is third generation) Hunterdon County farm.

Tiger Swallowtail in Heaven, Restored Rawlyk Farm, Hunterdon County

Tiger Swallowtail in Heaven, Restored Rawlyk Farm, Hunterdon County

Scott Sheldon, who had invented the role of Director of Development at D&R Greenway some years back, was in town for a rare visit.  Jeanette Hooban, my cherished ex-office mate at the same establishment, drove me out there immediately after work on a weeknight.  Unbeknownst to us, dear Mary Penney, now head of Bucks County Audubon at Honey Hollow, and her delightful, hail-fellow, well-met husband Geoff, came over after their workdays to surprise us.  Edith Rawlyk, (Bill’s very sweet mom (who used to create home-made pies, especially from blueberries of the farm, and send them in with Bill, Edith, who worked often at my side on complex logistical matters) was sitting in a wooden rocker on the porch as we arrived, smiling that smile we all cherish.  Bill’s at Open Space Institute now, merely saving the Delaware River Valley.  Jeanette brilliantly manages events for Princeton’s Senior Resource Center.

Why Preserve Grasslands, by Jeanette Hooban

Why Preserve Grasslands

As I’ve written before, we’ve all been in the trenches together.  Any moments we can snatch in these complex 21st-Century lives are beyond price.  That night with Bill and his Mom on the farm was simply magical.

Friendship Among the Grasses, by Jeanette Hooban

Friendship Among the Grasses

Summer was at peak.  Bill manages for grassland birds, not only towering flowers, but also ponds, vernal and otherwise.  Once a chicken farm, now it’s a sanctuary, for humans in our experience, as well as for the four-legged, the winged and o, what do the Indians call the snakes and the turtles?

Queen Anne's Lace Reigns at Rawlyk Farm, by Jeanette Hooban

Queen Anne’s Lace Reigns at Rawlyk Farm, Punctuated by Buttonbush at the Pond

You all know my own enthusiasm for food (stretching back to having been Director of the Test Kitchen at Tested Recipe Institute, at 500 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, in my twenties).  And that my friends, including The Intrepids, share this enthusiasm.  It will give you some idea of the magnitude of these friendships, that the food, though perfection, was secondary.

Sitting on the rhododendron-surrounded bluestone terrace, catching up, while Bill grilled everything from salmon to hot dogs, sipping Scott’s wine or Geoff’s and Mary’s beer, as sun lowered and the breeze rose, was perfection.

The privilege of eating in a farm kitchen in this day age can neither be described nor measured.  Shrimp appeared and disappeared.  As did various exotic cheeses which had come from far from Hunterdon County.  Tomatoes were sliced and festooed with lively basil.  Bill has the farmer’s perfection touch with corn.  Once out there, he took something to the cornfield, which boiled the water as we picked and husked the corn.  This wasn’t quite that rural, but the foods were divine.

There was laughter.  There was rue.  There were hopes for the future, and plans for birding jaunts — it’s time to celebrate Jeanette’s autumn birthday again.

Our impromptu farm supper couldn’t have been better, and we are the richer for it, forever.

Tiger Swallowtail Where and When it Belongs, Restored Fawlyk Farm, by Jeanette Hooban

Tiger Swallowtail Where and When it Belongs, Restored Fawlyk Farm, by Jeanette Hooban

Truly Wild, Rawlyk Restored Flowerland

Truly Wild, Rawlyk Restored Flowerland

Wild Beauty, Pre-Supper Walk, Rawlyk Farm

Wild Beauty, Pre-Supper Walk, Rawlyk Farm



Spring is alive and well and living at the Pole Farm:  Yellow Warbler with Insect by Brenda Jones

yellow warbler with insect Brenda Jones

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know I’ve moved to Lawrenceville, near the Pole Farm.  Every time I hike there, miracles happen. At one moment today, we were watching a scarlet tanager, a rose-breasted grosbeak and a yellow warbler.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak Wash Cross Brenda Jones

Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Brenda Jones

Today, Tracy Turner, a friend who also lives in Society Hill, taught me a new way to get into the Farm.  Over to the park here, cross a bridge over a stream, walk through a forest, pass a plethora of skunk cabbage, drift through May Apple Central, cross at a lighted pedestrian crossing onto Pole Farm land, and find yourself in enchantment.  We walked with Phyllis Horner, who has eyes for the tiniest birds.  Never, in our multi-years at American Re-insurance, did we think that our partnership ‘in the trenches’ there would lead to a forest walk of irreplaceable memory.

First ferns unfurl on both sides, –so-called ‘sensitive’ ones, which means they shrivel first at first frost.  Last frost isn’t so very far behind us, and too many rains and floods are very apparent on those beautiful fine hard dark grey Pole Farm trails.  So solid, so smooth, on first excursions.  Now rutted, gouged, unsmoothed, contorted by storms of Wednesday and Thursday.  But still beautiful.  And still leading to scenes right out of The Secret Garden, Girl of the Limberlost, Green Mansions.

Trees overhead held a rose-breasted grosbeak, caroling away.  Birders tell me this grosbeak sounds like a robin whose studied opera.  And he sings more lustily and lengthily han the most determined diva.

Good trail markers tell us how many miles to whatever landmarks and viewing ops and historic sites.  We just sail into those woods, wind in our hair, spring in our steps.

On the right are carpets of spring beauties — those tiny spring ephemerals with the pale pink stripe down the center of each minuscule petal.  And some of them get carried away with pinkness, until they turn nearly magenta.  But they are so very delicate.  You don’t see how they get through the cold of this spring, let alone the storms.  Yet here they are, smiling up at us on all sides.

May apple parasols are up and their white blossoms descend, like little liberty bells, waiting to be rung.  In awhile, those bells, pollinated, will turn into fruit, –white fruit, –appealing, yet hidden.

First dark purple violets spurt among spring beauties.  So tiny.  So vivid.  I think about beloved France, that over there they eat violets, even candy them.  Somehow, in this country, I couldn’t eat one.  It would be like eating a small friend.

We hear the ping-pong-ball sound of the elusive and rare field sparrow, over and over again.   Go onto Cornell Ornithology Lab (and join, while you’re at it)  Click on the audio button for this bird who require specific soft grasses in great swathes.  Know that its presence at the Pole Farm signifies that managing for grassland birds is working, is working.

Follow the cabbage white butterfly in its zig zag flight, not very high above the flowers, and right along with you on your trek.

Watch some dark skippers dancing right, then left, –joined and not joined, but determined.

NorthernHarrierHawkLHT3-19-12DSC_5594Raptor on High, Brenda Jones

Stop dead in your tracks at the sight of a bird brighter than any male cardinal in full breeding plumage.  See those dark wings and know, –although you haven’t seen one since spring of 1980–, this is a male scarlet tanager.  He’s high in a tree of the most blinding chartreuse of the newest leaves of the season.  He seems to enjoy our wonder, our spoken praise and even love.  He comes closer and closer and we basically give up our walking, because who can walk away from a tanager?

Marvel at flood damage on the trail, and later — going toward the last pole of the Pole Farm, worry over all the newly downed trees in the most recent storm.

Know that this is irrefutable evidence of climate change, and never mind all those corporate types who want you to use the word ‘believe’ with this catastrophe.  Know that climate change is our doing, and do everything you can to counter it, starting with walking instead of driving, through turning off every un-needed light and supporting your local land trust, such as D&R Greenway.  Open land absorbs carbon.  So do trees.  Marvel at the stretches of unspoiled land that once was corporate, and now causes rare creatures to thrive.

Throw back your head in wonder as the turkey vulture rides thermals for the entire length of your walk without once flapping his/her wings.  Meaning, not using any calories.  Meaning, he/she elevators up and up on warmth from the open fields, and then coasts down.  “The wind master”, as Ur-birder Pete Dunne calls vultures.

Be dazzled by the straight out (as opposed to V-shaped) thermal coasting of the red-tailed hawk, out over the field where the last pole presides.

Come upon a vernal pond and discover a myriad of dark spurting newly emerged minuscule black tadpoles, –perfectly at home in the shadowy water.  Determine to come back every day to watch legs appear and bodies change into amphibians who will fill the nights with song.

Everywhere you look, realize there is nothing human except for the flood-scoured trail, –nothing ruined, everything beautiful and natural and alive and the way it is meant to be.

 Cabbage  White Butterfly Brenda Jones

Cabbage White Butterfly in Spring by Brenda Jones

Ponder preservation, and determine newly to do everything in your power to see to it that more and more of beleaguered New Jersey is saved.

So the tadpoles and the skippers, tanagers and red-tails, cabbage whites field sparrows, sensitive ferns and spring beauties and all their wild relatives can thrive and absorb carbon and actually save the planet.  Be glad that the powers that be saved the Pole Farm and created the Lawrenceville-Hopewell Trail.