Monday, February 27, 2012

The Root of Love Grows in Time

The red cedar fell into the limbs of the black birch. 
Ringing Rocks State Park, February 19, 2012

Yesterday my son took a long, deep nap. I had been in the garden the entire morning. Except for a brief trip into the house for a diaper change and to fix a snack of yogurt, last year's canned peaches, and homemade honey cake, my husband and son were in the garden also. Weeding, digging, spreading compost, tossing rocks, laying cardboard to mulch over the grass.

I pulled the last of the kale that survived the mild winter. My son was fond of it. He helped me harvest the greens daily until December. Even when nothing but a few drooping leaves clung to a wiry stem, my son harvested the leaves. "Mmm, mmm," he would say, handing me a bit of kale. If I simply replied, "Yes, kale," he would repeat, "Mmmm, MMM," until I took the leaf hanging from loose thread on his too big mitten. When he observes ornamental kale in landscaping, he plucks its leaves and turns to me with an outstretched hand, "Mmmm. MMM."

Lately, he has been observed squatting before the garden kale plants and taking a large bite. Perhaps this is why his iron count was good at his 12 month appointment. What I observed first, however, was my son with a large glob of green in his mouth.

"What's in your mouth? What's in your mouth? Open. OPEN," I said. Since having a child, I've developed a habit of repeating everything I say twice.

My husband stopped digging and watched us. My son with a runny nose and teeth clamped together, and me alternating between hesitantly swatting his back and probing his mouth with my index finger. When the sloppy green glob fell out of his mouth, my husband said, "Kale. I saw him leaning over the kale."

With the kale now weeded, he busies himself by walking over rocks and the garden beds, pulling off the blueberries' flowering buds (I hope I don't see that again), stomping on the cardboard, trying to haul the garden cart, and excitedly assisting his parents in the moving and placement of very heavy garden structures.

At lunchtime, our cheeks were ruddy from sun and breeze. We shared venison tacos, until my son tired of sitting in the high chair. He turned to my husband with arms outstretched, "Pick me up. I want to be on your lap, and Momma lets me sit on her lap at the table at least 50% less than Papa does." It's always been true, even when Beren was an infant.

His eyes were sleepy, and I put him down for a nap. He slept long while his parents each went to their tasks of sowing seeds, digging, and earth shaping.

Deep into the afternoon, it was time for my son to wake, but he slept on. Parents toiled on. Finally, the sounds of my moving about the house woke him. He looked at me with concerned, dark blue eyes and waved his hands, "I'm awake but not sure I'd like to be. Pick me up."

They grew together.

His body was heavy and laid against my chest. I leaned on the crib. His head rest on my shoulder. I wondered if he fell asleep again. As an infant, he hardly cuddled. He always needed to see, and when he did stop to rest his head on my shoulder or his father's, we, even the parent not holding Beren, would pause and hold still, not wanting the break the spell.

So, my son rested his head. He moved and rested his chin on my shoulder. Possibly a cuddle with the benefits of being able to see... his chin dug into my shoulder and I felt the root of love grow from my shoulder down into my self. We stayed still.

My husband came in the front door. Beren smiled with an open mouth, tossed his head back, and then laid his head down again. We all stilled, until my husband and son again began trading smiles and laughter. My son bent at his waist, making his body perpendicular to the ground, "Put me down," he throws all his weight into his downward plunge. He staggers, his legs not yet awake, falls to the ground, rises, and flings open the toybox lid.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Getting Out of the House With a Toddler - Witherspoon Woods, Princeton, NJ

Climbing big, flat diabase boulders made us both smile.

Witherspoon Woods, a trail on the Princeton Ridge for the rugged, experienced toddler who likes rocks, boulders, sticks, and patches of challenging trail. It is also a trail for the botanically discerning Momma who does not like to see all the native plants browsed by deer. Despite the terrain, my son walked at a quite a clip, leaving little time for me to photograph.

Witherspoon Woods, ash seedling regeneration at the trailhead speaks of a deer management program that is working well. I'll be back to observe the spring wildflowers.

Further along the trail, more ash regeneration beneath a white oak. Now, the deer population must be lowered further to allow slower growing and deer-preferred species like white oak to regenerate. Reduced deer-vehicle collisions, Lyme disease cases, and browse of horticultural plantings and less-preferred native species are the first good signs. Now, we need to keep the pressure on deer management to observe the next good signs: return of the understory shrubs like maple leaf viburnum and pinxter azalea and forest herbs like showy orchid and bellwort.

My son has learned the following requests since our last outing:

Follow Momma.
Back on the trail.
This way.
[That stick is] too big.
Multiflora rose.

Momma follows baby. She attempts to monitor baby, make photographs, and considerately carry the tall walking stick her son bequeathed to her.

I'm able to maintain a chirping, sing-song voice learned in my year as a Waldorf School of Princeton classroom assistant, now that I have to repeat the above requests once or twice. My son gets "multiflora rose" with no help from me.

The start of the trail appears to be post-agricultural. The young trees, flat land, minimal canopy diversity and stone row tell that story.

A former quarry(?) site along the trail. Splitting pins(?) remain the in the diabase. 

We weaved our way over and between boulders and dragged sticks from the trailside. When we reached a particularly confusing trail junction we paused for our second snack. 

I fed my son broccoli. My son fed me almonds, and then himself one without my noticing until the next broccoli floret was delivered. He was ready for a nap and did not appreciate an index finger probing his mouth. After the almond was ejected, we worked on nap time and my son fell asleep in my arms.

Already bulky with a backpack and wool jacket on, I didn't dare stuff him into the Ergo Baby carrier dangling from my waist. He became heavy very quickly, so I trotted down the trail until reaching another trail junction - all trails in all directions were marked with yellow blazes.

I hewed left and recognized a fallen and resprouting flowering dogwood, a triumph in the deer ravaged Princeton area.

If for no other reason, having botanical interests can help in trail orientation. I recall an acquaintance telling of two hikers lost calling in for help via cell phone. "What do you see around you?" they were asked. "Trees," they replied. Luckily, they were found.

About halfway back, a hiker with two dogs approached. The dogs began to bark hysterically and strain at their leashes.

"Do you have a dog?" she hollered.

"No, I have a baby. A baby that was asleep."

"Oh, ok."

Not ok, I thought, as I rushed past her barking hounds. My son stared with bleary eyes. The parking lot was visible. As we neared, my son became proportionally heavier. Back at our car, my son was happy to explore the parking lot and the car.

I thought we had walked further than we actually did. The return trip was much quicker with my son asleep in my arms. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Getting out of the House Without a Toddler - Ringing Rocks County Park, Upper Black Eddy, Pennsylvania

Because my husband and I were seeking quiet time, we moved quickly away from the boulder field that draws visitors to this popular park. 

 I hadn't realized how banged up the rocks looked on previous visits.

 Every tenth doofus carrying a hammer swung at the mature trees along the trail. Idle hands...

 Cave painting with Krylon.

 Diabase meets the Brunswick formation. 

 Wild hydrangea seedhead

 Early saxifrage and sugar maple samara

 Wild ginger rhizomes

Canada yew

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


It's time for the black birch trees to drop their seeds.

Timing is everything.

Having your timing belt go on the 1990 Ford Escort in rush hour at the intersection of George Street and Livingston Avenue in New Brunswick, that's bad timing.

Bringing the Ford Ranger pickup in the the shop for another several hundred dollar repair (the one previous having just been a few weeks prior), that's bad timing.

Trying to remember if you replaced the timing belt on the 1995 Ford Ranger pickup sometime in the past 60,000 miles, that's bad record keeping.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Getting Out of the House with a Toddler - Stuck at Home for Two Weeks

 My son, Director of the Puddle Commission.

With alternating sore tonsils, a hacking cough upon laying down, double (double, since all four of mother and child's eyes were red and gooey) pink eye, and then back to alternating sore tonsils, mother and child have been stuck at home since our trip to St. Michael's Farm Preserve.


Our great outings were to the compost pile, the backyard and puddles on the driveway. 

Otherwise, we were cooped up. 

 My son amused himself by picking up bits of debris on the carpet and escaping the Momma-monster by running between my legs. 

We have better things planned for this week.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Fox and Meadow Vole

 I followed fox tracks into the meadow and noticed an excavated burrow.

 And blood.

 In the center of the burrow was a debarked multiflora rose branch. A last meal.

 The fox had her meal and headed south.

She found another burrow but no prey.

She kept moving.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Big Sky

 Clouds through the forest canopy, Sourland Mountain, February 17, 2011
Light catches white oak bark just before noon. 

 That Rock Formation on the New Jersey Turnpike, April 20, 2011
If you've been to NYC from points south, you've passed this.

 Hiking along talus slope, Catskills, June 18, 2011

 Gas station on the way to the tall grass prairie, June 13, 2010

View of Lake Michigan from Mount Baldy, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, June 13, 2010

 Echinacea in bloom, Dorothy Carnes Park, Jefferson County, Wisconsin, June 16, 2010

 Snag, Dorothy Carnes Park, Jefferson County, Wisconsin, June 16, 2010, Kankakee Sands, Indiana, June 18, 2010

Traffic, Kankakee Sands, Indiana, June 18, 2010

Corn and Storm, Route 80, the Midwest, June 18, 2010

Monday, February 6, 2012

Pink eye

Doll's eyes (Actaea pachypoda) in fruit. My eyes look more like the pink pedicel than the white fruit with the black blossom end of this native woodland plant. 

I developed pink eye sometime over Thursday evening. I rested Friday, as much as a mother can rest with a baby. Two loads of laundry, dishes, kept the fire going, and so on. My husband took my son food shopping so I could rest.

"I'm so busy taking care of everyone, who will take care of me? I've been cooped up for a week." I said. Be honest, Momma. I didn't say anything. I wailed with tears streaking my cheeks.

I'm the running the circus poorly this week. My lately (ten days running) needy, clingy, nursy, pants-tugging, cranky, constipated baby by day turns into a frequently waking baby by night. With me, a trying to get too much done Momma by day and a lay my head down to rest but instead feeling a tickling which becomes a wracking cough with diaphragm-bursting sneezes and a painfully sore throat by night who wakes with eyelashes glued together.

During my son's nap times I've been pulling weeds from the cold frame (cilantro, collards, and chard, all thinning out but still supplying a small serving every other day. Recently discovered aphids may change all that.) and splitting knotty, 18" diameter hunks of sugar maple and black cherry with wedges and a 4 pound hammer. Crazy, yes, but they've been cluttering up the yard for a few years and burn so hot in the wood stove.

When my son awakes, I think, "Momma doesn't know how to rest."

"Take it easy," my Mom says over the phone, "You know you need to go to the doctor for that."

"I know, I've had pink eye as an adult, Mom!" I'm my own mother's cranky baby by day.


In college, I met a girl who ran away from depression. "I was depressed, so depressed. I started running. I just ran until I was no longer depressed," she told me.

I split away with the 4 pound hammer until I'm no longer depressed. I walk around the stump, giving a whack at every quarter turn so the wedge remains straight. Clink, clink, metal hammer against metal wedge. Clank, the wedge is in, the wood is splitting. I listen to the slow crack of fire-orange black cherry wood. It's like listening to a boat rend apart upon the waves.

I wonder if my husband can hear the sound from his post in the garden. His wife is splitting sugar maple, also called rock maple, also called hard maple. His wife is splitting impossible to split wood, and she has pink eye. She says she'd like to live off the land, and she's working at it. She's not buying candlemaking kits at Whole Foods, she's splitting rock maple.

The wedge is stuck, so I roll the stump on its side and hammer another wedge into the widening split. I hammer away until the tension in my body is replaced by a numb vibration caused by metal against metal. It's a strange feeling but better than crying in the messy kitchen.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Chinese Lunar New Year 2012, New York City

Dragon Dance and member of the press

The websites said the parade would start at 11:30AM. "We can stay until Beren's nap time," I told my husband. 

When we arrived at 11:35AM, crowds had gathered on the sidewalks. I looked with relief at the Chinese grannies with strollers lined up behind the crowd-control gates. We weren't the only ones with a stroller. Even the locals had strollers.

At about 11:45, I asked the woman to my right, "When does the parade start?" 

"Eleven-thirty. Should be any minute," she replied.

Ten minutes later she shouted to a cop walking the parade route, "Hey, when's the parade starting?"


My husband took our son for a tour of the local puddles. "Disgusting," Jared called them. We passed Beren back and forth, pointing at children tossing BangSnaps and shooting cardboard tubes that ejected confetti and occasionally twin parachuters. 

At about 1PM, my husband leaned over the gates and said, "I see the lion dancers coming. They're on Canal Street."

Simultaneously, Beren began to loudly express the need to nap. He stiffened in my arms, arched his back and wailed. I lifted him up so his outstretched legs wouldn't knock off someone's spectacles.

"Uh oh," Jared and I agreed.

Dance troupe of young women

I sat on the curb, and Jared wrapped a hunter green fleece blanket from Gander Mountain around us. I nursed Beren and watched his eyes drift open and closed. 

View from the curb

Wise woman say, it is important that you have a peaceful environment to nurse in. It will contribute to your success. If you cannot have that environment around you, create that environment between you and your baby. This I repeated as I sang our nighttime lullabies. 

The New York Chinese Freemason's Athletic Club Lion Dance 

"He'll never sleep through this," Jared said and I agreed. The parade was led by police officers who were followed by a lion dance group with thunderous musicians. The cymbals crashed and the drum hurt my chest. It was fantastic, exactly the reason I convinced my city-born husband to pay over $15 in tolls and return to his motherland. Beren slept for forty-five minutes with my hand pressed over his exposed ear.

 Corporate floats boomed with dance music, Happy New Year, Verizon!