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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Microclimate Beechwood Forest, Plainsboro Preserve

 

 

 

 

 

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WHEN A NATURALIST PACKS AND MOVES

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Phoebe I Have Yet to Hear — By Brenda Jones – at Carl Rogers Refuge off Alexander Street

First of all, a naturalist who is packing and moving  looks wistfully at spring out car windows, en route to and from her new abode.

Daffodils spurt from the dead earth, warmed by reflections from an old stone wall.

Crocus spill across too few beds, little cups of spring.  Tiny Grails.  I long to stop the car, kneel, sip their grace and light.

NorthernHarrierHawkLHT3-19-12DSC_5594Northern Harrier above Lawrenceville’s Pole Farm, by Brenda Jones

But I’ve become a beast of burden in recent days, having found my new dwelling in lovely Society Hill of Lawrenceville.  No, this is not a snob’s name — it goes back to ancient times in our state, perhaps even to when we were West Jersey and East Jersey.  The ‘Friends’ in question were Quakers.  Reading Revolutionary tales, we might well not have a country, were it not for this company of Friends.

Where I am now, high on a stony hill above the D&R Canal and Towpath, is stingy with spring.  Nothing new erupts, let alone blooms, in this odd woods — all too ruined by constructions of McMansions, turning all this lovely forest into edge habitat.

The cardinals seem to be singing more lustily.  Robins are here, but not caroling yet.  I have yet to hear a phoebe.  Red-bellied woodpeckers are a little more frequent in their odd purring.

However, one gift of this site is a plethora of peepers.  Of course, it’s too darned cold for these hardy, eager singers, –if my door thermometer is below 32, which it remains many a day and most nights.  I shall miss the peepers.

NorthernHarrierstandinginLHTfield3-19-12DSC_5711Northern Harrier in Late Light at Pole Farm, by Brenda Jones

I shall not miss the poisons spewed into our air, and waters — the Delaware and Raritan Canal and Towpath and the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed — drinking water for the region — by ever-expanding Trap Rock. 

No one realizes that Trap Rock somehow secured, long ago, a permit to burn and transport asphalt 24/7.  That means, everyone, by day and by night.  With not only the stench but the particles being carried to the four corners of the compass in heavy open noisy trucks.  Open, meaning the poisons are not sealed from anyone they pass — “because the trucks might catch fire.”

Never mind that Trap Rock asphalt in my air, in my car, on my outside table and chairs, seeping through my windows, staining my carpets, gave me a collapsed lung and enlarged heart.  Officials who came here said they could not enter that as a complaint.  Even if I went to a courtroom with all my physicians, Princeton Radiology, and so forth.  They can only enter a complaint if the asphalt fumes are preventing me from working outside in the garden!  If they entered a complaint, –and after hours of talk and filing out forms, I never heard whether or not those Somerset County Board of Health and Public Safety officials did so–, if there were a fine imposed, it would be around $100.

Never mind that I lost my voice from asphalt, that wracking coughs were asphalt’s gifts to me, that one has little energy when one’s lungs are not fully functioning.  Never mind that I need my voice at D&R Greenway, –where I work, ironically, to save the planet.  Never mind health of humans, let alone amphibians, reptiles, fish, birds, the lovely coterie of vultures who need Trap Rock rocks for nests in breeding season.

I have fought as long and hard as I could.  I am “folding my tent like an Arab, and as silently steal[ing] away.”

On Easter Monday.  I will depart from a tomb, roll back a stone, seek resurrection.  And new levels of energy and creativity.

Short-eared Owl wing swoop-lookShort-Eared Owl Above Pole Farm, by Brenda Jones

Where I’m moving is very near the expansive Pole Farm.  Site of Northern Harrier flights and short-eared owl winter arrivals and bobolink spring returns.

Bobolink Autumn Olive Brenda JonesBobolink at Pole Farm, by Brenda Jones

Place where I have found coyote tracks on the trail.  Though, sadly, never seen a coyote in New Jersey.  I never give up hope.

Pole Farm where I came across salamander and wood frog eggs one chilly March walk after rain, with a poet friend, who lives in Lawrenceville.  These unmistakeable signs of spring glistened, full of life and promise, oddly enough in some sort of vehicle depressions on our trail.

Where I’m moving, pretty soon, an exquisite array of pink magnolias will open all along an island where my guests and I will park our cars.

Where I’m moving, light suffuses all the rooms.  I have been unpacking with sliding doors open to a greensward, broad and treed and welcoming.

Where I’m moving, I’ll be free of asphalt.

So, if I have to give spring excursions this year, in quest of light and health and beauty, it will be worth it.

My Muse has been in hiding here.  She is longing to emerge.

New NJWILDEAUTY posts will be the result.

Short-eared owl profile Pole Farm Brenda JonesShort-Eared Owl Flying Toward My New Home, From Pole Farm, by Brenda Jones