Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Coyote Moon Violet Water

Coyote moon infusion of violet leaves to drink for breakfast in the morning.

The violet has been welcomed by the garden and nestles amongst hepatica and Sedum ternatum.

Things of the day brought me home late along flat farm roads at the time the orange moon was rising. Distorted by the windshield, it seemed not a full moon, but one day shy. Jared thought the left side not full, I the right. The moon's bronze glow narrowed my irises, blotting out the sprawling development and the empty plain destined for ballfields below.

At home, we bring trays of sturdy tomato seedlings and just germinating peppers inside. My calendar says tonight is a full moon indeed - the night to make a full moon violet infusion.

I stoop to collect kindling - the house is cold. A yipping, a whining, voices entwining. "Jared! Jared! Jared!" He's on the porch shortly, listening, too.


We've never heard coyotes here before, but had followed the tracks of one on Sunday, February 21. Never before had we seen coyote tracks. A remarkable day.

Coyotes, together in the forest.

We gather violet leaves in the cool evening air, thinking of the coyotes, thinking of the violets, thinking of events unfolding, all under the the full moon of April 28.

Gathering under the tawny moon and the light of the kitchen.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Spring uncoils

Mourning Cloak Butterfly off Aunt Molly Road

"So, how're you doing?"

"What's new?"

Not wanting to answer "not much" to questions like these, but completely at a loss to suddenly produce a succinct summary of my past few days-to-years, I'll usually answer "Oh, it's a busy spring/summer/fall/winter". This is pretty much true, and, followed by some commentary on the season's weather, usually deflects the conversation to other topics (or stifles it altogether, oops).

What I'd like to say, but have a hard time thinking of when put on the spot, are many of the things that follow... my "spring-in-review" for 2010, as it were.

Crazy spring! Hot weather! Plants doing their thing way-early!

An early heat wave in late March caused some very early blooming. This spring beauty, first of the year for me, was open along the roadbank of Aunt Molly Road on March 18th. Last year, the first open flower I saw was a full week later, on March 25th.

On March 24th, a volunteer at the nursery asked me where she and her husband could go to see round-lobed hepatica that weekend. I wrote back that they were too early, and to recommend the Musconetcong Gorge Reservation, where the hepaticas range from white to deep azure limned in ivory.

Later that day, I checked the hepaticas on the wooded slope near home, and--my mistake--they were in full bloom, little furry flowerheads nodding every which way over last year's lobed leaves

April 4th, Rachel and I visited the Musconetcong Gorge with her parents, and the preceding photo of hepatica, as well as the following, of bloodroot, is from that visit.

Another early bloomer was trout lily. Heatwaves continued into mid April, and the hot April sun blanched trout lily's normally spotted leaves quickly this year, and flowering seemed to last a very short period. The first photo, below, is from April 7th of this year; the following, April 21st of last year...

Rachel studied a Linden tree this spring. I accompanied her to the tree on April 7th and took this photo of the emerged leaves. Leaf-out happened extremely early this year, maybe two to three weeks earlier than usual.

Possibly in keeping with the dry conditions of this spring, we kept finding early saxifrage and pussytoes when going on hikes. I'm sure it had a lot to do with the dry slopes, ridges, and barrens we were frequenting, but still... before this year, I knew early saxifrage as a very occasional plant of streamside rock crevices.

The new xeric sites we discovered in the area (a steep shaley hemlock ravine in hillsborough; the St. Michael's shale barrens/oak savannah; and a cliff-like community overlooking the Stony Brook in Princeton) were full of early saxifrage, and I came to know it as a big, tough cliffhanger that can get around. I look forward to collecting seeds this year and trying to grow this plant... I have little idea what the seeds will be like. It would be great in a mixed native groundcover with pennsylvania sedge and some other low-growing plants.

Pussytoes flowers

I was happy to take this flattering picture of the young leaves of a hawthorn tree growing in the open woods behind our house. I know that, in some areas, hawthorns are a plentiful component of early-successional and hedgerow communities. They are frequent in the Catskills, and in the pre-deer-overpopulation "thickets" of older field guides (aka shangri-la, where they are accompanied by such rarities as hearts-a-bursting, and probably gentians too). But in this part of New Jersey, I see them as rare components of open woods, or along floodplains (frequently several species in the riparian areas, one of which may be an introduced species).

A shaggy old tree with its arms full of tropical blooms is one of the most-anticipated events of spring for me-- hickory budbreak. Who would think that the tough, slow, eccentric and armored hickory would release its leaves to the sunlit world in such a blaze of diaphanous red-orange-gold?

This is what the hickory's "bloom" looks like when our overabundant deer get there first. This sapling probably just lost a half-season's worth of growth.

Sorry for the morbid note above. In good news... it seemed like a phenomenal year for beech seedling germination. They're everywhere, albeit hard to recognize as such with their earlobe cotyledons under a little tuft of true leaves.

I remember that once, Jim asked why there were so many even aged beech saplings in some woods or other. I forget who he asked, but Emile at NJCF batted right back that after (or during) the wet year of 1980-something-or-other, there was phenomenal recruitment of beech in the woods, and that many of the saplings we see in the NJ woods date from then. And that an older cohort dates from the cool, moist summer when Krakatoa erupted.

Wow, I was impressed.

At any rate, I wonder if the great snow cover we had this winter led to the seemingly large crop of beech seedlings this year, and whether they'll survive this wacky spring to become another "cohort" in the woods.

Last year or the year before, a big black birch behind our house blew over. I was upset-- I love black birches, and two others in view of our house had recently come down, big prone trunks with little jagged broken roots suddenly exposed.

I particularly loved the way that the seafoam green lichens would illuminate against the silverpurple bark of the black birch during and after rains.

See the photo above? That's a little tree cavity, not a big one where a branch tore off and an owl might roost, but a little tunnel in the exposed root system of that black birch. One evening, Rachel and I watched a bumblebee fly right into that tunnel to spend the night.

That bumblebee finding a home in the prone old birch made me feel much better about the whole thing.

Rootball of the fallen birch

I'm watching elms this year. Sometimes I lead hikes and point out elm trees. "I thought they were gone", many people say to me, because they have heard about dutch elm disease. I explain what I read in Bernd Heinrich's book, that the elms are reproducing younger and younger, and the disease tends to strike at a certain time in their maturity.

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me to identify a tree as we walked. He nearly had me stumped, until I realized that it was a full-grown, canopy-dominating elm. Its bark looked sort of like the teenage-phase tupelo bark, before tupelo gets its snakeskin.

At any rate, I seem to always miss the moment in spring when elms release their round, winged samaras (see green ones, above). This year, I'll be watching-- especially near that big old survivor that nearly had me stumped.

In the same floodplain as the old elm, I was drawn to a downed branch with the flowers of a tree usually too tall to see the blooms of-- Sycamore. Look at that red button with golden fuzzy leaves emerging beneath it. I had no idea!

Squirrel corn, an endangered plant in NJ. Come on people, stop fucking up!

One of my favorite spring spots is the OSMUNDA SWAMP upstream from the pond near our house. It's a little wet hollow in a hill with cinnamon, royal, and interrupted fern (Osmunda full house!), plus christmas, maidenhair, and new york fern (and probably some others I'm forgetting). In the photo above, the great hairy coiled fists of cinnamon fern are punching up from the ground. Soon, the fronds will unfurl, surrounding a golden-cinnamon spike of spore-powder.

The osmunda swamp is a little dinosaur-era relic just down the street. The ancient relatives of these ancient ferns are what compressed down to create our fossil fuels. When we finish mining them, and release all of their aeons-old stored carbon back into the atmosphere, New Jersey may once again become a hot, humid swampworld with a climate much like that which supported brontosaurus and treeferns alike. And then, the Osmundas will rise again!

On a side-note, I thought up the above scenario while idly speculating whether the spirit-that-moves-in-all-things moves in plastic. I was driving (of course), and just then the plastic steering wheel expressed this to me... that the fossil fuels I was burning were its ancient brethren, and, that when I burned enough, they intended to inherit the earth from us two-leggers.

I suppose I could have expressed the above in a way that made me seem like less of a kook, but so be it.

Mystery insect on native rose leaves

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Terrible Stomach Virus

I felt tired, so we took a nap in the sunshine on an old sleeping bag surrounded by the violets, dandelions, and spring beauties that grow in the lawn. We heard the footfall of the surveyor approaching - he had been working on the property. Jared apologized to him in that way when a private moment has been interrupted and either person could apologize. Jared then delivered me a slice of quiche for lunch.

An hour or so later, he's drying heaving in the bathroom as he cleans up my partially digested quiche on the bathroom floor so I can return to bed. I mostly missed the rug.

Jared plays bedside songs on the ukelele about ships on rough (digestive) seas. He drives me to work very early Saturday morning so I can set up a registration table and thankfully leave it to four very kind volunteers. He delivers peach juice and RC Cola to my bedside and dumps another blanket on me.

I missed his work's annual fundraiser and the opportunity to dance to a friend's rock 'n roll band and eat grassfed beef barbeque (doesn't sound so great right now, but the quarter slice of toast and cream cheese for breakfast was quite hearty).

I did learn that mint is a diaphoretic - having a sip of weak tea made me hot and sweaty... and then throw up. I also lost my stomach after a strong mint tea earlier that morning. Coincidence?

Then there's the quiche... I don't think it has any relationship to the egg foo young I threw up in Rahway as a child. My mother remembers it with a laugh allowed only by distance, "You remember that?" she asks me. "That was disgusting."

Monday, April 12, 2010

A first visit to the Catskills

A new place may need more than one visit before you can see anything but yourself.

We drove down the bumpy, grassy lane and over the drooping chain that has meant to keep the unwelcome out. We had borrowed a small, rusty, reliable, 5-speed Toyota Tercel to make the trip from New York City. My memories are in black and white because I took only one black and white photograph - of the house perched on the grassy hill above the pond. We sat on the swings and looked at the mournful house, unoccupied for so long. I can't recall if we went inside. Perhaps we did, I imagine all we saw was mouse droppings and a splintered floor. We left after only a few minutes and returned as sad as we had been to our tiny Queens apartment.

The spider weaves her web about the glistening tiny knives of the wood nettle. Do not disturb unless your business is good!

Around that time many things had become unpleasant - a plague of flies hatching in the apartment, neighbors with bedbugs, our own bed and belongings sprayed with toxic chemicals, unpayable bills, and a windstorm that blew bits of broken glass and dirt into our windows and across our bed and furniture (as I ran to close one creaky window against the swirl of grey gravel, a bit of glass flew into my pupil and stuck like a tiny stiletto. No flushing with water would remove the dagger - only Jared with a cotton swab could finally loosen it). What else can I say - I am not a city kid.

The red winged blackbird calls from his perch above each Catskills farm pond framed in cat tails. Two years ago, our Sourlands meadow had not been mowed. The two dozen standing cat tails satisfied him - and then his late arriving mate. He now calls from above meadow, again unmowed. We all await his mate's return.

We had decided to try living in the Catskills - just to get away from New York. Of course, that did not work. Perhaps if we had entered the forest around the grey house, we would have seen the place in color. We may not have been discouraged by the lack of running water, the grey meadow that had not yet borne blackberries, dewberries and huckleberries.

The ladies tresses glisten, too, with silvery hairs.

We didn't know the gnarled grey trunks of Amelanchier and hawthorn would light up with white flowers that fade briefly and return as fiery red fruits. The lady tresses orchids had not yet unwound our tired spirits from a world too attuned to the man-touched. All we could see was the tired, grey house, sinking on its stilts.

He leaves the forest of asters and hornbeams, curious to see the sedge meadow.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Fast Food

The hunter's daughter's version with venison kielbasa and rosemary

Hotdogs, potatoes, and onion fried in oil. Mom's busy meal. The fridge is empty meal. No one feels like cooking meal.

I had this meal every once and awhile as a kid. It wasn't bad. I made it once when Jared and I lived in New Brunswick. Jared remembered this meal from childhood, too. We laughed about it. Jared's mom grew up in Hungary and mine in New Jersey - it's at least a meal with European roots.

I've made it at least 3 times this week. One lunch, one dinner, and one breakfast. All separate days.