Sunday, July 31, 2011

Here's to being rich

The way the wealthy store their extra bubbly...those well-to-do neighbors of yours who might have recently had their right toe run over by a deer mouse and now perch upon a chair before their 8 year old computer.

"Here's to being rich," my husband exclaimed with zest as we passed the now defunct and then ritzy Lahiere's restaurant on Witherspoon Street in Princeton. We glanced in the window and watched a man in a grey suit toast his companion. His teeth glinted as he smiled. We roared with laughter as we walked beneath the streetlights and retold the joke again and again, each time raising our $1.75 ice cream cones like wine glasses.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

In the hot, droughty summer of 2010 this boneset bloomed for a couple months. I collected some flowers from it to make a tincture in vodka. It did not come back this summer.

Yesterday I used the boneset tincture, feeling feverish then chilled, and achy. Boneset is notoriously foul tasting, only valerian has a reputation equal. I took 6 drops.

"Not so bad," said to Jared. I waited a couple seconds. "MMmmm. MMMmm. AWWrrr. THAT'S AWFUL. OH, YUCK. YUCK."

"What does it taste like?" Jared was intrigued, possibly smiling. I'm not sure. I was preoccupied with the taste in my mouth.

"Acrid. Terrible. Acrid."


"I need crackers, anything."

The boneset began its work quickly. I felt a little better. After answering Jared's question, I stumbled to the kitchen and returned with a bag of Pepperidge Farms pretzel fish. I collapsed back into bed and ate fistfuls until I finished them all.

"Still have the taste?" Jared asked.

"No, it's better."

My son clambered over me, fascinated by the bag which had a blank spot for children to draw on - to draw a thing that made them happy. The side of the bag depicted 'Gilbert' the pretzel fish whose achievements included the '"Stay away form the vacuum" club.' Though my delirium has passed, still none of this makes any sense. I expect that my son will have a lot to explain to me in the years to come, "Oh, Mom."

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Another Sleepy Miscellany

Deerberry in fruit

I probably have 3 and a quarter minutes to write before my son wakes, rolls over, scratches his sheets repeatedly (interesting noise or texture? - the sound was our alarm clock this morning), clambers up onto his bottom, and then up, again, pulls himself to standing so he can welcome noontime. "Arhrr, arhhr, yahha, arrya," he will say.

And what do I say now... hard to think of much besides babies, my son especially. So all consuming he is. I wandered around the house, pulled Japanese stiltgrass from the gardens, finished my book (Imagine that. Thank you, Fixed Bedtime Schedule.), drank a cup of tea, checked on my son about 3 times, folded some laundry, sat of the porch, thought about work, sent an email...


Mad Dog Skullcap...

...blooming in our wetlands garden, already. I transplanted about 6 plants we grew out from seeds collected last year. I don't know this plant yet, but it is a powerful nervine. I'm intrigued.

Tough, wiry, sprawling. We'll see.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Meadows of the Pipeline

Where are all the meadow plants, the lush growths of wildflowers represented in numerous field guides but almost never encountered in the field? I'm beginning to think that finding healthy "open" habitats is much harder even than finding good diverse mature forests.

I was lucky enough to receive in the mail a treatise on "Keystone Grasslands"--Pennsylvania's open habitats--by Roger Latham and James Thorne. They introduce their subject by writing:

Grasslands, meadows, and savannahs... are crucial for biodiversity conservation out of proportion to their small total area, and they declined severely during the twentieth century.
We tend to toss around the term "early successional" as somewhat synonymous with these open habitats. This is true only in degree: many of our open habitats are only temporarily so, recovering to forest from some human disturbance, as in an abandoned farmfield or dump site or roadside.

But what of the conservative meadow flora? The patches of prairie once tucked into our forested landscape? Where do the flowers of the once "mesic-diabase meadows in the Piedmont Triassic lowlands"--Latham's formulation-- now dwell? When might these plants colonize our current landscapes, or do they lurk in the seedbanks under people's driveways or in overgrown forests?

Many of these meadow rarities are also said to reside in "open woods". These are not, as I take it, the thickety woods of early successional growth but rather the deeply interlinked slow habitats of many years' gestation. Open woods-- through barrenness or wetness of soil? Through fire? Boulder-strewn steep slopes?

Generally, the flora of ancient meadow and open wood seem reliant on the endemic disturbances of our continent: drought, damp, fire, geology. These habitats arise seldom if at all from the disturbances of present-day: plow, bulldozer, herbicide, dumping. Where, then, reside the fringed gentian, Indian paintbrush, blazing star, New Jersey tea, rose pink, butterfly milkweed, showy goldenrod?

We took a walk today on the gas pipeline, the largest meadow-like habitat on our diabase Sourlands ridge, albeit the product of saw and dozer and buried petroleum. We wanted to find a stand of Blazing Star I had discovered last year while seed collecting and trying to shake the ghosts of our prairie trip from my mind. Luckily, we found the Liatris spicata in great plenty, looking taller and more slender than probable for a plant so rigidly upright. Drought seems to be delaying flowering somewhat, but we'll return in a week or two to see the purple spikes in dense blazing glory.

Practically at the feet of the Liatris were a number of patches of the diminutive herb Blood Milkwort ("fields, meadows, open woods" says the field guide). These were thriving in an occasionally mowed linear access path, blooming (or just past) at hardly over six inches tall. They were surrounded by short-statured path rush, but also by recently shorn Chinese bush clover and Bidens aristosa.

 Polygala sanguinea, the blood milkwort

These latter two plants, both newcomers to our state, have become, together with the ubiquitous and ugly mugwort, scourges of the pipeline meadows. My friend Heidi, an old-timer who lives along the pipeline, claims that the Chinese bush clover arrived just in the last half-decade or so. Now huge swards stretch the girth of the pipeline for hundreds of feet virtually uninterrupted by other plants save the occasional goldenrod or switchgrass.

On Heidi's advice, we head next to North Hill in search of a population of butterfly milkweed which she remembers having seen there some years ago. On arriving, we surmised that it had been swallowed whole by the bush clover.

We did find a patch of pale-leaved sunflower, another denizen of open woods and fields seldom seen. It looked like a circular moon landing of native flora in the thick of the bush clover. How soon before this, too, becomes swallowed and forgotten?

 Helianthus strumosus, native sunflower patched speared through with Chinese bush clover

The pipeline is an enigma, some patches weedy and gone too hell, others with a hint of deep meadow ancestry, like our patches of blazing star and perennial sunflower. Ed Laport commented in notes even in the 1970s that that pipeline contained large swaths of dullness punctuated by occasional great finds.

In some places the underlying geology may be a contributing factor to the patches of interesting flora, though between mugwort, Bidens, bush clover, autumn olive, multiflora rose, and Phragmites, there seems to be a too-hardy non-native scourge for all habitat types. Other places are probably better or worse because of their land use history. Was this an over-fertilized cornfield decades ago, or a rocky acidic oak forest? It is in the latter that the Liatris and milkwort now reside.

The pipeline, despite its destructive genesis, and continued potential for mismanagement, is the kind of occasional refuge for our longer-lived, more conservative meadow flora. It is hard to think that it is improving with time-- "If you had seen this then..." Heidi kept repeating when we botanized the pipeline a week ago. Yet, for a time, it is about the closest I've found to those "mesic-diabase meadows" Latham and Thorne mention.

Walking Among Strangers

Texas Eastern Pipeline - clogged with lespedeza and phrag, some nice stuff remains.

I meet a surprising number of people while walking off trail in Sourlands. My son often serves as a way to introduce ourselves or relieves a bit of suspicion. Most people, unless they are on their way to or from a robbery and happen to have their child, don't have their child along for criminal acts.

I add the caveat because we hear of these kinds of events. News outlets really enjoy stories such as: Outlaw Couple Leaves Two-Year Old in Convenience Store, Kid Couldn't Run Fast Enough, or Kid Talks, Parents Won't Walk.

When pregnant, I had a hall pass to pee anywhere. Perhaps not on the sidewalk in Hopewell Borough, but certainly just steps off a hiking trail, behind a roadside pole-sized red maple, or beneath a deer ravaged spicebush. Face it, ladies, and gentlemen, too, there's no private place left in New Jersey. There's always a hiker, ATV-er, Medivac or military or corporate exec helicopter, group of two dozen road cyclists on the way to Frenchtown, teenage smoker, runner with jogging stroller, stunt airplane on the way to Princeton Airport, dog-walker, or pesky botanist/photographer with a baby just around the corner. Deer having chewed everything to bits and road or trail everywhere, there's no where to hide. Of course, we ladies have a tougher time being discrete.

I digress, teething is affecting our sleep. Last night, I dreamed that I entered our garden and saw nothing but inch high stems where our vegetables had been. A groundhog rushed towards me, teeth bared. I glanced down at a brick by my right foot, calculating our speeds, realizing I would be bitten, imagining how it would feel to be bitten and then kill a groundhog. I awoke. Teeth, teeth, teeth...

We met two fellas out on the pipeline today.

On the first leg of the trip, I was stooping over a little Polygala when we were greeted by a guy with a British accent. He asked us if we had been to any of the meetings about paving the local dirt road.

Polygala sanguinea

"No, we've been busy with the little guy," my husband answered, pointing to the baby.

"Oh yeah, very heated. I was all for the paving, my car getting dirty every time I drove anywhere."

"Mmm," I deadpanned, but I'm certain my eyebrows were raised. The dirt road was one of the reasons we moved here, and the extra dust makes finding my silver minivan in a sea of silver minivans at the grocery store much, much easier.

Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata)

"Then all these people had such good points about the environment. I said, 'Ahh, keep it.'" He swept the air in front of him with a big hand.

He invited us to walk through his fence and visit his pond. My husband said, "I usually turn around at your fence."

Sweeping the air again and waving us on, "Just go through, everyone else does."

On the second leg:
A hunter on a quad, slowly, slowly approached (baby remained asleep). We waved and all calculated.

Hunter said, "Better watch out for ticks out here. Lots of ticks."

We said, "Yup."

[Just found one despite checking and changing upon coming home].

Hunter thought, "This is my spot who are you how do I tell these people with the baby that this is my spot and don't come back during the season and mess up my shot?" OK, so he let us know about the ticks. We stared at each other. No problem, I'm territorial, too--we're animals after all, and no, I won't mess up his shot.

My husband said, "Have a good season."

Allegheny Monkeyflower (Mimulus ringens)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Meadow's progress

The meadow is still very green. Thatch. no mowing for 3 seasons, and the steady expansion of calamus is shifting it to more shrubs, and well, calamus.

These photos were taken on July 3, and there has been little change since then. A bit of NY ironweed is blooming, and Joe Pye will follow by this weekend.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What can be done with a tragic story, passed, shared to lighten one's weighted wings. Sunlight is dappled, nearby, but unreachable.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Miscellany of the week

Black cohosh this week.

While picking wineberries, my son and I found this cohosh individual with unique foliage.

Nearby the cohosh, ramps were blooming. Their foliage has completely vanished.

Garden harvest: calendula blossoms for an oil infusion, lemon balm for drying, Echinacea purpurea, Queen Anne's lace, & wild bergamot for cut flowers.

Our 'Christmas tree' - a potted red cedar that I'm always threatening with eviction from its pot and into the wild. Wonder who will be hatching from these eggs.

Great spangled fritillary on swamp milkweed.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Pine Barrens vacation

Cross-leaved milkwort (Polygala cruciata)
Along the roadside, luckily not mowed

A trip to the Pine Barrens has the feel of a vacation destination - hot, biting insects, fierce sun, lots of driving, a teething baby who hasn't slept well (parents neither), rear driver's side door unopenable, and it's absolutely different than the land around our Sourlands home.

My son deserves a tip of the sun bonnet for being a patient child - unfortunately, the noisy-havin' a good time campers at the White's Bog pond woke him up after too short a nap. Our guide also deserves a bow for showing us so many lovely sites.

Here's some of what I saw (when I wasn't Keeping Baby in the Shade, Nursing, or Tired of Passing Baby Over the Seats and Climbing Over the Seats):

Climbing fern (Lygodium palmatum), infertile and fertile leaves

Some roadside sightings:
Cowwheat (Melapyrum lineare)
I've seen this only once before - at the Tannersville Bog in Pennsylvania

Sparkle (Minuartia caroliniana)
Also called Pine Barren sandwort, which describes it's habitat somewhat redundantly. We'll stick with the local color, and call it Sparkle, which describes its character.

Toothed white-topped aster (Seriocarpus asteriodes)
About those common names...

Ipecac spurge (Euphorbia ipeacuanhae)
Wonder if this one makes you throw up...

Trailing milk-pea (Galactia regularis)

Along cranberry bog banks:
Meadow beauty (Rhexia virginica)

Lanced-leaved centuary (Sabatia difformis)
Adjacent to this plant, our guide pointed out the area crushed down by the previous photographer.

Orange milkwort (Polygala lutea)

St. Andrew's cross (Hypericum hypericoides = Ascyrum hypericoides)
Too tired out by my little teether to sort through the scientific names

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Narrows

Known as the Milford Bluffs or the Narrows, a single lane road traces a portion of the Delaware River and is sandwiched between abandoned railroad tracks and a shale bluff. Interesting natives like prickly pear cactus, columbine, hairy beardtongue, and lyre-leaved rock cress...

Common mullein

mystery mullein-like species, ailanthus, and prickly pear.

bottlebrush grass

lyre-leaved rock cress

hairy beardtongue

Oxygen masks on the adults first

Goose Lake Prairie pollinator

Airline attendants tell you - oxygen masks go on adults first, then the child next to you. That can be difficult to do. I never understood why parents seemed to do nonsense things until I became a parent.

First reason - lack of sleep.
Second - instinct.
Third - lack of sense.

Months ago I took my son to the Dutch market. His pacifier popped out of his mouth just before we reached the sidewalk. I continued pushing the stroller until I reached the sidewalk. I then stopped, looked about to see if I was blocking anyone's way, and fussed over my child.

No, not at all. What I actually did was: I stopped in the middle of the thoroughfare, looked at my son, and began to fuss over him. Problem solved, baby and mother were happy. Mother realized she had stopped in the middle of the lane and was repentant.


Today, I was stung by a bee twice. Got into my sandals, wanted out rather than a crushing blow from a sweaty, gritty Croc strap. My son in my arms, I began to search the house for the homeopathic remedy, Apis. The change dish on the junk table - Ledum and Nux, no. My field backpack - Arnica, no. Medicine cabinet - more Ledum, no. My purse - nothing.

By this time, I was riled up. Several thoughts rushed through my head: my doctor's recommendation to get the adrenalin going by running, where's the Apis?, oxygen masks on the adult first, my husband has my car - I'm stranded, where's the Apis?, this baby is tired, oxygen masks on the adult first, this baby is hungry, oxygen masks on the adult first, I really have to pee.

Oxygen masks on the adults first. Baby goes into the playpen. Mother heeds nature's call and begins calm search for Apis. Baby cries. Remember how an old co-worker told how she was stung - she made into the house, wanted to call 911 but also wanted to sleep and began drifting, drifting, drifting, and then thought of her children, made it to the phone, called, and passed out. Mother searches faster. Apis located. Remember to RUN. Do I feel ok? Dizzy? Puffy? Tingly? Remember to RUN. Baby cries. Remember to RUN.

Mother picks up hungry tired baby and runs. Baby latches on. Mother runs. Baby bounces up and down. Mother looks at baby. Baby begins to laugh and laugh. Mother firmly holds the baby and runs. Baby laughs. Baby's eyes blink sleepily. Mother realizes her jaw is clamped. Baby laughs. Mother laughs. Baby and mother laugh and laugh, run and bounce. Mother takes another Apis. Baby and mother laugh and laugh. Mother pauses and baby nuzzles and drifts to sleep. Mother runs, sweat soaking her clothes on a hot, humid, Jersey summer day.

Oxygen masks on the adults first. Kind of.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


I sat in the car, and watched my husband amble across the driveway. Our son balanced on his hip. We watched each other, my son glancing back at me. Me under the glaring windshield, reflecting the white oak's canopy and the cedar waxwing nest it holds.

My husband stepped onto the law, where the soil is gravel and hard clay. Under his feet, he crushes path rush's wiry blades and plantain's soft but leather-strong leaves. My son bounces with my husband's footfall.

My eyesight is changing, tiring a little. Things are blurrier, books need to be closer, I've noticed. My son's eyes are the clearest feature as he gets further away. He turns forward, I've disappeared under the glass and his attention is drawn to his father's voice and what is before him.