Sandy Hook June Scenes with Jeanette-the-Intrepid

We go to the Shore to cool off, right?  Not last Saturday!  Sandy Hook was as steamy and stifling as Manhattan, despite intense winds that had the flags in whipping/ripping full-out mode.  Nonetheless, Jeanette Hooban (the original Intrepid) and I made the most of our day there on Saturday.

You should know that The Powers That Be want to desecrate / destroy forested areas of Sandy Hook, in order to construct buildings to house vehicles.  Any chance you get to protest this travesty, take it.  Sandy Hook is a key segment of the Atlantic Flyway, essential to birds in migration in spring and autumn.  Nests of rare, threatened, endangered species are everywhere.  Write editors and congresspeople, insisting they honor habitat, for once facilitating the lives and hatchings of these spectacular birds!

 

Black_Skimmer_by_Dan_Pancamo

Black Skimmer Skimming, from Internet

Star of the day was either the black skimmer skimming on the ocean side (they usually prefer bays and impoundments), or the strutting oystercatcher, also on the ocean side, so near hordes of New Yorkers screaming in the surf.

American_Oystercatcher_Strutting from Internet

Oystercatcher Strutting, from Internet

great-egret from internet

Great Egret Landing, from Internet

The winds were so high that all water surfaces were pleated like the cotton plisse of childhood summer pajamas.  Neither the ospreys nor the egrets could see into the water to fish.  Seven egrets surrounded an oxbow pond, beside the Shrewsbury River.  It seemed that they were stabbing blindly in quest of lunch.

osprey-with-bass from Internet

“Osprey Packing a Lunch” from Internet

That entire day, –and we confirmed this with other birders–, we only saw one osprey ‘packing a lunch,’ the waters were so turbulent.  This one was flying practically from the entry toll booths (it’s free to bird there!) to a nest on a chimney of the officers’ (ruined) houses, where his mate searched plaintively.  We told her, “He’s on his way.  He’s having a bad day at the office.”

osprey-nest-abandoned-house-sandy-hook-osprey nests on chimneys

Osprey Nest on Officer’s House Chimney, Sandy Hook

sandy-signatures-officers-houses-sandy-hook ruined officers' buildings

Ruined Officers’ Houses 2 Years Ago – they look exponentially worse now!

Prickly Pear in Bloom Sandy Hook

Prickly Pear Cactus in Bloom, June 2016, Sandy Hook

Salt Spray Rose Sandy Hook June 2016

Salt Spray Rose in Bloom, June 2016, Sandy Hook

Mysterious House Sandy Hook

Mysterious Officer’s Mansion, Sandy Hook

ravages-of-time-bunker-sandy-hook-extremely hazardous area

Extremely Hazardous Area – Old Battery near North Beach, Sandy Hook

sandy-destruction-close-up-sandy-hook Decaying Porches

Sandy-Rearranged Bricks, Officers’ Houses

Jeanette Meets the Atlantic Sandy Hook June 2016

Jeanette Merrily Wades in the June Atlantic, Sandy Hook

Impressionist View New Yorkers in Atlantic at Sandy Hook

Impressionist Scene, New Yorkers Streaming to, Screaming in, the Surf

HOW GREEN WAS OUR VALLEY, — The Delaware Valley

When I reflect on the spring nearly past, all I see is grey  — in skies and clouds, in ceaseless chill rains, in blinding fogs, and in my own imprisoned mood.  However, there were excursions, stolen between the raindrops, which reveal the incredible bounty of the Delaware Valley.

Thanks to courageous women, this preserve was saved for all time, to showcase the rarest wildflowers which belong in all the woods and all along the banks of our beloved Delaware River.

BOWMAN’S HILL WILDFLOWER PRESERVE

below New Hope, PA

Toad Trillim

Toad Trillium Among the Bluebells, Bowman’s, April 2016

Celandine and Bluebells by the Creek

Celandine and Bluebells line trail along PIdcock Creek

Stroll with me on the well-tended trails, beautifully restored after Hurricane Sandy’s depredations — so very far from the sea of its birth.  Open all your senses, as the work week, this techno-century rarely permit.  Inhale the very fecundity of the good earth, celebrated so brilliantly by Pennsylvania’s Pearl S. Buck.  Let your ears learn your first phoebe!, phoebe!; the purrrrrr of red-bellied woodpeckers in healthily aged trees; the scree! of a single red-tailed hawk high above the almost leafed-out canopy.  Absorb quintessential tranquillity, where the creek’s murmurs and whispers call you ever more deeply into the sacred woods.Bluebell Sea

Bluebell Sea, Where I Usually Begin my Bowman’s Explorations

It’s worth doing Bowman’s for the Medicinal Trail alone.  There I first heard and almost saw the pileated woodpecker dive from tree to tree.  There a young boy, –thrilled as I to watch spring’s first garter snakes unwind from winter’s tangle–, splashed into the creek to save a snake who’d tumbled in.  Along the creek, forest monarchs rest, Sandy-felled, roots taller than two or three humans standing on one another’s shoulders.  I always thank their majesties for their time here.

On the Medicinal Trail’s Bridge, a man and woman told me they’d just seen the (can it be?!) Louisiana Waterthrush.  All three of us watched a slender dark furry being curl and curve above the rocks, along the bank.  It was so at home, so sure in its hunting.  And we remained unsure whether it was mink or marten.  Above all, Medicinal Trail holds trillium of many hues and funny names.  No one can ever explain the name of the tight red one above (which never opens farther), somehow christened “Toad”.

First White Trilliujm

Virginal White Trillium

I’m always so pleased with the wondrous work of Staff and energetic, consummately generous Bowman’s volunteers.  Most invasives have been mastered.  Trails are well marked, well tended, pretty and inviting.  Boardwalks lead over (increasingly) wet spots.  Their gift shop is tasteful, gift-wise, and irresistible book-wise.  Whoever’s at the desk, usually a volunteer, is always happy to see each visitor and eager to serve.

White Trillium Close-Up

Shy Trillium

My only quarrel is that there is no sign on the Medicinal Trail, instructing the un-knowing, such as I, in what each rarity was used to treat — most likely discovered by local Lenapes, long before the concept of fenced preservation came into being.

Take yourself to Bowman’s in all seasons.  Ideal habitat for birds, for plants from anemone and twinleaf and bloodroot to prickly pear; and for voyagers, seeking an idyllic world – such as all of America was before we arrived, carrying with us the Anthropocene and all its losses and perils.

Become a Bowman’s member.  Join their invasive-pulling volunteers.  Attend their black tie and muck boots spring gala.  And murmur thanks to those wise early women who knew that saving beauty of this magnitude is essential to the human spirit.

NEW PHOTOS SENT FOR BLOG FROM BRENDA JONES, Fine Art Photographer

My dear friend and superb photographer, Brenda Jones, sends these images of a mink and a waterthrush, found nearby (to Princeton), and therefore likely at Bowman’s.  Enjoy her unique artistry!

Waterthrush with larvae by Brenda Jones

Waterthrush with Larvae by Brenda Jones

 

MinkMillstoneAqueduct by Brenda Jones

Mink, Millstone Aqueduct, by Brenda Jones

Maine Coast September Explorations

NJWILDBEAUTY readers, come with us again, on our Maine excursions.  A week of such perfection leaves us all writing and calling each other, in Illinois, in Ohio, in Maine, and writing, “I miss you all!”  Words superfluous — Just Enjoy!

Marilyn Weitzel, Sally Lee, Margy Cowgill - my Sister and our cherished cousins on Maine Coast

Marilyn Weitzel, Sally Lee, Margy Cowgill – my Sister and our cherished cousins on Maine Coast

Giant's Stairs Signs for Coastal Walk

Giant Stairs Signs for Coastal Walk

Autumn Blooms Giant's Stairs Coastal Walk

Autumn Blooms Giant Stairs Coastal Walk

Artful Foam, Giant's Stair Coastal Walk, Maine

Artful Foam, Giant’ Stair Coastal Walk, Maine

Gigantic Dandelions, Giant's Stair Coastal Walk

Gigantic Dandelions, Giant Stair Coastal Walk

Giant's Stair Sign, Coastal Walk

The Giant’s Stair Sign, Coastal Walk

Maine Coast's Long Fingers of land and sturdy typical boat

Maine Coast’s Long Fingers of land and sturdy typical boat

New England Asters in New England

New England Asters in New England

Margy and Marilyn Reading Informational Signs

Margy and Marilyn Reading Informational Signs

Typical Maine Coast Weathered Stately Home

Typical Maine Coast Weathered Stately Home

Maine Coast Perfection

Maine Coast Perfection

Wool Plant and Ocean

Wool Plant and Ocean

Rose Hips of Salt Spray Roses

Rose Hips of Salt Spray Roses

Maine Coast Scene like Michigan's Pictured Rocks of Munising, in Upper Peninsula, which we all knew so well...

Maine Coast Scene like Michigan’s Pictured Rocks of Munising, in Upper Peninsula, which we all knew so well…

Sundown and White Fence

Sundown and White Fence

Still Life, Sundown

Still Life, Sundown

Weathered Beauty

Weathered Beauty

Undertow

Undertow

Weathered Wood

Weathered Wood

The Summer People

The Summer People

This Says It All

This Says It All

SALEM AND CUMBERLAND COUNTY BIRDING – ECSTASY CENTRAL

Land's End, Delaware Bay NJLand’s End, Delaware Bay, New Jersey:

I could name this post, “Air-conditioned Birding.”

When it’s too hot to hike (as this morning proved, though I completed it, barely…), there are two ideal NJ places to bird in the air-conditioned car:  Brigantine/Forsythe Wildlife Refuge, near Atlantic City; and Salem and Cumberland Counties.

Sunset Bridge, Salem County Winter

Sunset Bridge, Salem County Winter

Pat and Clay Sutton’s super-complete guide to Birding Cumberland taught me these sites, and will guide you expertly.

Mary Wood and I spent a 12-hour day of coolness, last weekend, in watery reaches near the Delaware Bay, my favorite landscape on earth.

Come with us, to the wide waters, limitless “meadows of grass,” to glint of sun on ever-changing rivers and creeks and spits and bays.

Glide with us along dike roads between impoundments, through woodlands, alongside Dividing Creek to boardwalks at Bivalve’s Strawberry Lane to Pete Dunne’s Turkey Point, site of hidden herons.

Osprey Flight at Nest, by Brenda Jones

Osprey Flight at Nest, by Brenda Jones

Salem and Cumberland are unknown havens, where it seems every black dot in the sky is either an eagle or an osprey!

Majestic Eagle by Brenda Jones

Majestic Eagle by Brenda Jones

Tides are ever present, altering everything.  When it seems every molecule of water has been withdrawn, and all that is left of the marshes is shimmer, an egret will be doubled in that sheen

Great Egret Fishing, by Brenda Jones

Great Egret Fishing, by Brenda Jones

In between lands’ ends, –where the shorebirds hunt–, one moves between fields dotted with the bright faces of the best of summer’s wildflowers.  Marsh mallows quivering near water (not food, but hibiscus-like flowers); sunflowers grinning; Joe Pye Weed reaching for the sky and filling with butterflies.

Cabbage White Butterflies Nectaring, by Brenda Jones

Cabbage White Butterflies Nectaring, by Brenda Jones

Quirky names enliven the day’s intensive drives — Husted’s Landing, Nibbock’s Pork Store, Bunker and Blood Worms, Clams & Tackle, shedders and oysters.  We’re not in Kansas any more…

Preserved Farm, Salem County

Preserved Farm, Salem County

All the farms are prosperous, most of them multi-generational.  There is a strong preservation ethic in the Delaware Bayshores.  Our people at D&R Greenway have been involved literally at the grass roots level.  One of the Intrepids, Bill Rawlyk, can name everyone in most families, and identify their proud crops.  Soybeans are knee-high.  Corn is not to the elephant’s level, but every bit fully tasseled out.  In a distant field, a combine raises archangels of dust as it makes its ponderous way among the rows.  Out behind a venerable red barn, bright laundry snaps in the morning air.

Small town houses are quirky as the signs, narrow and shingled, weathered, survivors with skinny chimneys.  Farmhouses tend toward the palatial, solidity itself.  The American Dream — it’s real, in Salem and Cumberland.

Mannington Farmhouse

Mannington Farmhouse

Out toward the landings, marinas, and beaches, we are forever treated to the sinuous flight of dark cormorants, the billowing wingbeats of egrets.  At mean low tide, at Strawberry Lane, every tussock resembles and upside-down cast-iron cooking pot.  And each one holds a gleaming, almost blinding, turtle in the sun.  Our feet make hollow sounds on the boardwalk, interspersed with whisper/chatter of darting swallows, the lazy hum of bees.

Cormorant with Lunch, By Brenda Jones

Cormorant with Lunch, By Brenda Jones

A statue of a Holstein crowns the roof of the Frozen Custard stand.  Nurseries are EVERYwhere, bursting with vibrant stock.  Silver Queen corn is for sale on a broad earthen driveway, honor box for your cash.

Flags are important down here.  They are bought and raised by individual homeowners, who are proud of this land — not to flap ceaselessly in the wind over Japanese car dealers.  There aren’t any car dealers — but many repairers.  WELDING is a normal sign, and PUMPS for sale, and DRILLING.

Welcome to Fortescue

Welcome to Fortescue

Out of the tiny towns and back at the lands’ ends, we are treated to the rattley chatter of marsh wrens, hovering over marsh shrubs that support their amazing vertical foot-ball shaped nests.  En route to Heislerville and at Strawberry Lane, eagle and osprey nests are everywhere.  Once in awhile, we’re given the Tinkerbell-light voice of a vigilant osprey.  One eagle nest is so enormous, we name it ‘a McNest.’  All are occupied.  At one point we had two eagle nests in one glass, and a slight change in perspective brought the osprey nest into the lens.

Immature American Bald Eagles by Brenda Jones

Immature American Bald Eagles by Brenda Jones

We’re always glad to get back into the cool car, but we never want to leave those eagles!

Pristine Dunes of Fortescue -- where horseshoe crabs congregate in May

Pristine Dunes of Fortescue — where horseshoe crabs congregate in May

Walking through (new, since Sandy) dunes, opening to the Delaware Bay itself, which seems limitless, marvelous tough blinding green holdfasts keep that sand in place.  We don’t know the plant names, but some even bear minuscule white flowers.  [The picture above was taken in spring, before bright green protective spurts emerged.]

Overhead, we hear moan of fish crow and squawk of heron.

Great Blue Heron Take-off, by Brenda Jones

Great Blue Heron Take-off, by Brenda Jones

We delight at a tree full of (rare to us) cliff swallows in the Glades, a gossiping crew whose collected voices feel like fresh water droplets cascading over us.  We tear ourselves from swallows, to revere a tri-colored heron, calmly preening as though there were not two intense humans holding something odd to their eyes, fastened on every ruffle of feather.

“Salem and Cumberland”, I find written in my journal:  “Luminosity everywhere!”

But let Mary tell it, with her careful notes:

(this is what avid birders do when they’re NOT driving…

gardens are obviously also important to Mary!)

red-tailed hawk

crows and vultures

unidentified raptor zooming into a yard

crape myrtle

mimosa

“TERMITES!” (sign)

skunk smell

kettle of vultures (‘takes two to kettle’ – swirl of vultures riding thermal air currents)

OYSTERS of Fortescue

houses on stilts

cinder-block house with cinder blocks out front to sit on

immature herring gull

six or seven eagles (we had become this casual)

laughing gulls

3 great egrets

blooming roses

black-eyed Susans

tree swallows

Barn Swallow, Sunset, By Brenda Jones

Barn Swallow, Sunset, By Brenda Jones

first swallows ‘lining up’ – preparing for migration, on power line

2 mocking birds

great blue herons, great egrets, snowy egrets, osprey adult and young, tri-colored heron, cliff swallows filling tree, marsh wrens, laughing gulls learning to hover, people crabbing on Turkey Point bridge, squawk of black-crowned night herons hidden in underbrush, and (learned from her birding app, a sound that turned out to be) THE GRUNTING OUTBURST OF A CLAPPER RAIL!

Black-crowned night heron, from web

Black-crowned night heron, from web

bald eagle in tree the entire time we were at Strawberry Lane boardwalk; ditto osprey, in a different tree

immature American bald eagle practicing soaring, quite expert, overhead, heading toward ‘McNest’

cacophony of marsh wrens

turtles on tussocks

unidentified shorebirds [on wing, white/black, white/black, extremely determined,beginning migration (!)]

flock of least terns over dike road leading from Heislerville

Heislerville Rookery from internet

[ruined] rookery at Heislerville: many double-crested cormorants [in trees, air and water], black-crowned night herons

(mature, immature), and three in water at island edge

immature BCNH by Geoff Coe Ft. Myers FL001

Immature Black-Crowned Night Herons by Geoff Coe of Fort Myers, Florida

East Point Lighthouse

East Point Light with Storm Coming

East Point Light with Storm Coming

(no sign from approach road — “Bike Trail”)

Forster’s Tern Least Tern  — side-by-side on old dock pilings

single white-rumped sandpiper — [feeding right at our feet!]

single great cormorant, flying low and ponderously

4 red knots, no longer in breeding plumage

flocks of uniform shorebirds [zeroing around the point, intent migrants]

osprey nest with one young and two parents

great black-backed gull at dumpster at Mauricetown Diner !  [these are saltwater birds!]

osprey nest [alongside highway   47?  or 55?  not far beyond diner]

first robin of the day

***

We started this post in dire heat, and I am typing it in same, on the last day of July.  Here’s a picture of intent birder Mary Wood (who even works weekly to rehabilitate birds and hurt animals in the Animal Shelter south of Lambertville.)  It could’ve been 20 that day, on the boardwalk at Strawberry Lane.  Sun was obviously leaving.  But there was always one last bird….!

Great Ducks of Sundown Cumberland County March 2015

Childhood Summers — Michigan

The lovely weather of recent weeks allows me to keep windows and doors open, so that not only light, but also air, nature sounds, and fragrances waft into my ‘new’ Lawrenceville apartment.

This morning, the departure of a small plane, –purring like the aircraft of my Michigan childhood –, thrust me right back into the silken grass of our smoothly rounded ditch in front of our little red brick house.  It was newly built by my parents, in the tiny town of Lathrup, well outside Detroit.  Hardly anyone drove down ‘California Drive’ except neighbors, guests, and the bakery truck.

There was nothing in Lathrup, not even a post office — we were officially ‘Birmingham.’  If we needed food, my father would have to drive us to ‘the store’, in the NEXT town.  ‘Store’ meant grocer.  He stood behind a weathered counter, near a worn butcher’s block.  A huge wheel of real cheddar, which we called ‘store cheese’, rested under glass to the right of the cash register.  Which was shiny black and now we’d say, ‘had all the bells and whistles,’ especially bells.  I’d give him my Mother’s list, and he’d have to go all over the tiny store and up and down a rickety ladder, to bring provisions to us.  When my father moved us here, his German mother wept:  “You are moving to the wilderness.”

By no means was Lathrup wilderness.  But we did have woods nearby, a side yard (which turned into a skating rink in winter, thanks to my father), and a ‘vacant lot’ which became a Victory Garden during the war.  (WWII)  As I wrote in an early poem, “one year the fathers, gardens overrun, waged cucumber war.”

There wasn’t much privacy in our childhood.  One of the few places where I wasn’t pursued by the grown-ups, — not even the kindly ones–, was that silky ditch.  In summer, I’d lie back into its welcoming contours, and watch blue skies hatch clouds.  I pretended that God had a cloud pipe, puffed them into existence.  Then I would seriously study, trying to find out what creatures were billowing into existence overhead.

Planes were so rare then, although we were not far, as the crow flies, from Willow Run (where Lindbergh was running wartime plane production – so we’d’ve been prime Hitler targets, had he been able to turn out sufficient transatlantic planes).  Any time one of these little miracles (I remember especially biplanes) would come into view, I could not take my eyes nor my ears away from that phenomenon.

There were bees then.  One of the key memories of lying in the ditch was hearing bees, yes, busy, in all that short white clover.  It was ceaseless, seemed deafening.

My sister liked to be out in, even to run away into, the deep woods.  I preferred the vacant lot with its myriad of wildflowers.  The colors of summer in Michigan were white Queen Anne’s lace, spiky blue chicory, and the glare and blare of gold/orange brown-eyed Susans.  The dark centers of the ‘lace’ looked far more like insects to me than the only true flower of that weed.  It never did any good to bring the ‘lace’ inside for bouquets to set in Mother’s antique pewter — the little white parts shriveled, as though shocked, into something a little thicker than dust, tumbling all over the maple tables.

The chicory always seemed to be struggling.  Towering above me in the ditch, it seemed faded, as though just giving up in summer’s heat, always closing early.  Later I would learn that Indians could tell time by the opening and closing of chicory’s washed-out blue stiff blooms, even on cloudy days.

Our mother didn’t like to cook, really, and especially turned her back on gardening.  A few spring iris grew spikily behind the house, but turned hideous as soon as each bloom twirled shut.  A few raucous marigolds, and sometimes multicolored portulaca, made up the flowers of the yard.  Everything in the side yard, especially the minuscule ‘Chinese lanterns’,  was far more fascinating to me.

As August appeared, the wild weeds put forth a parched yet spicy fragrance.  That, along with almost deafening crickets of the Fourth of July, and locusts not long thereafter, meant summer was already rolling to a close.

We knew nothing of wilderness in those days.  My sister and I had never heard of preserves, where she in Illinois and I in New Jersey, spend key nature hours in all seasons.  Nobody gave us a bird book, let alone binoculars.  When we try to remember, we ‘see’ jays, robins everywhere (the Michigan state bird), hefty crows in and around our yards.  Mallards swam in cemetery ponds.  Gulls called loud and clear as we would reach first the ferry, then the BRIDGE, to the Upper Peninsula, our absolute favorite place to be.  Never was there a gull anywhere but Northern Michigan.  And, once, above the Tahquamenon River, an eagle coursed above us on the root-beer-hued waters.

There must have been butterflies.  If so, they ‘were all monarchs’.  No fireflies in Michigan.  Each summer, we’d poke holes in Mason jar lids, fill the jars with grass, catch fireflies in Ohio and bring them back home in the back seat of one of the Pontiacs, whose hood ornaments my father resembled.  As an adult, here in Princeton, someone revealed, re lightning bugs, “Carolyn, only one sex lights.”

We’d keep summer Crayolas in the refrigerator, so they would not melt when we used them on the screened-in back porch.  Totally lacking needlework skill, I nevertheless had crocheted long strands which my father attached on the outside of the screens.  I planted blue morning glory (his nickname for me) seeds, and they exuberantly twined all the way to the top of the screens.  We colored all summer in a blue haze.  As I would write in a much later poem, there were, of course, houseflies, “bumping, disgruntled, against the tall porch screens.”

Re-experiencing “ditch days” now, in the 21st Century, my clearest memory –beyond the small planes, the huge clouds– is the sound of all those bees, singing as they worked the clover.

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

Berkshires Hike – Clark Art Institute Forest, Williamstown

How can a journey among three friends to a region new to two of them turn out to be perfect?

Especially when these three, who do bird together on long excursions, have, nevertheless never gone anywhere overnight together before?

Our fellowship, already splendid, deepened with every new trail or museum, bird and wildflower.

Perfection is always the reality in Williamstown.

The best thing about Williamstown is that it is entirely ringed by mountains.  Out every window of the Clark Art Institute, beauty stuns, in serious competition with Ghirlandaios, Winslow Homers and Renoirs on the walls.

To run an errand is to be surrounded by mountains.

To eat an unexpected and vivid Mexican supper (see earlier post) is to sit across a babbling river from a steep mountainside entirely forested.

To wake to mountains, that shadowy mountains are your last glimpse at bedtime, –there is no greater privilege.

I am still wordless regarding this spectacular journey.  It’s never easy for a poet to admit that a picture is worth 10,000 words, but it’s truer and truer in my experience.

Here is the scrapbook of perfection: some of the trails on the grounds of the Clark.

Teepee of 21st Century, Clark Art Institute Trail

Teepee of 21st Century, Clark Art Institute Trail

One of Few Signs, Clark Art Institute Trail

One of Few Signs, Clark Art Institute Trail

First Sensitive Fern, Clark Art Institute Trail

First Sensitive Fern, Clark Art Institute Trail

First Trillium, Clark Art Institute Trail

First Trillium, Clark Art Institute Trail

Beechwood Glow, Clark Art Institute Trail

Beechwood Glow, Clark Art Institute Trail

Cairn at the Crossroads, Clark Art Institute Trail

Cairn at the Crossroads, Clark Art Institute Trail

Tadao Ando's First Clark Art Institute Building

Tadao Ando’s First Clark Art Institute Building

Normandy Clouds, Boudin and Jongkind Clouds, Clark Art Institute Building by Tadao Ando

Normandy Clouds, Boudin and Jongkind Clouds, Clark Art Institute Building by Tadao Ando

Eternal Sentinels, Clark Art Institute Woods

Eternal Sentinels, Clark Art Institute Woods