Saturday, April 28, 2012

Everything looks the same

"Momma made a mistake. Momma made a mistake," I repeated.

My son clung to me. I yelled my husband's name. Each time I yelled, my son screamed like a siren.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry. It's ok, it's ok."

This was one of my low points during an afternoon spent lost in the woods.


Earlier in the day, my son pointed to a disused backpack carrier in the back room. "Mmm, mmm."

"You want to try this?"

I put four beets in the toaster oven, put my son in the carrier and we walked down the lane. Just a short walk. We'll be back soon, have to, the beets are cooking. The thought of adding wild leeks to our meal tempted me off the lane and into the forest. Just a couple leeks. Have to be back soon. The leeks were beginning to show signs of going dormant. Just a few more leaves and I can fill the dehydrator. Have to be back soon.

I turned back up the ridge and headed towards home. My son reached for beech branches above his head. He laughed. I laughed. We walked on and stopped to grab and thrash more low branches. Both our heads were covered in leaves and twigs. We laughed.

I walked on. I found myself lost.

I walked and walked. I though of staying put. I looked at the clouds, the sun getting lower. We had left at 4:30. My son had no hat, no shoes, just socks and a denim jacket. I was wearing Crocs and a sweat shirt. Was rain in the forecast? Just a short walk. Have to be back soon. I walked. I walked faster. My son sensed my panic and began to whimper and then cry.

We walked through swamps. My socks got wet. I knew that was a bad idea, but I could not stop the forward momentum of my body. Just a short walk. I kept walking. I walked faster. A branch slapped my son's cheek. He cried out. "It's ok, it's ok." One foot sunk into the swamp waters. One wet sock. Slow down. The next foot followed easily. Two wet socks. Stay dry, stay dry. My back was sweaty.

"Hello?" I called.

I found posted property lines. I followed the signs. Though the owner's names were familiar, the landscape was foreign. I hoped to follow the boundary, even if I had to walk the boundary entirely. The property corners were confusing, signs tapered off, so I turned back. Walked the line again. My son was in my arms, nursing for comfort.

Stay put.

I yelled. "Jared? Jared? Hello? We're lost." My son cried out.

I walked to a canopy gap, hoping it was a restoration site I knew well. I wasn't. I had never seen this place. I walked back along the property line several times. Jared? Jared? We're lost. My son cried. The sun sank a bit lower. I heard a train. I thought I heard cars. I heard robins, waterthrushes, woodpeckers. I came to the brook repeatedly, crossing was too difficult. Don't get wet, don't get wet whatever you do. Don't get the baby wet. Maybe here. Maybe I'll cross here. My feet slid from beneath me, and I went down hard. We were still dry. I walked.

I calmed myself. I made silly faces. My son giggled with my breast still in his mouth. I walked. Stay calm, stay calm for the baby. I concentrated for just a moment, "Jared, find us. We're out here." I hoped his receiver was on, but my power of telepathy was scrambled. I quickly forgot about the psychic tactic.

The fourth time I walked the property line, I acknowledged I was like a spinning top. Each time I doubled back along the boundary line, I walked a shorter distance. I had lost track of the extent of the signs. I crossed through the swamp multiple times.

I came to the brook. I had walked the this brook so many times, but not here. I couldn't remember which way the water flowed. Had I ever even noticed? I chastised myself. I walked along the brook. Witch hazels. Witch hazels? I never seen this many witch hazels along the brook.

I walked away from the property line towards skunk cabbage. I found a familiar spot along the brook, where two tributaries meet but was so confused I did not know which direction to go. Skunk cabbage obscured the matrix of tributaries. Stay put. 

I continued to yell as I had much of the afternoon, but in a sing-song way, with clapping. My son laughed.

I built a debris hut. I carried my son as I worked. He did not want to be put down. Work was slow with one hand. "Momma has to put you down. Momma has to get this done." I slapped sticks together, made faces and garbled noises, and swung my arms. My son laughed and relaxed. My son watched me work while balanced on a fallen beech branch. I marveled at his abilities. Usually a wanderer, he stood in one place. I silently praised his instinct to let me work. When he slipped, his back arced and he pitched forward. Please don't be hurt. He was shaken but fine.

The debris hut was too low. I worried it might suffocate my son in the night. I moved the branches and leaves. I climbed in and could see daylight. Not enough leaves. The sun was sinking. I yelled. I stuffed the shelter with more leaves. The leaves were wet, and I hoped to not test their warmth. I removed my wet socks and stuffed my Crocs with leaves. I wondered if I should keep going. Would my son's fingers freeze? Would it rain? Could I stay calm? My husband must be worried. He would not sleep. I imagined him in bed alone, wondering where we were sleeping. Hello?

I was sweaty, my voice hoarse. I climbed into the debris hut again, peered at my son, and made silly faces. He laughed. I slid out and picked him up. I tried to wriggle back in with my son in my arms. He began to scream. I worried about how we might stay warm through the night. What have I done?  Adrenalin had subsumed my needs, but I knew my son was hungry and thirsty. What would we do?

I thought I heard a voice. My husband's voice. "Momma's going to yell, it might scare you, but Momma's gonna yell. HELLO! JARED!"





My husband's voice.


Voices came closer. Flashlights.

"I see you. I see you!" my voice quivered.

My husband. Police.

"Rachel, are you alright? Are you hurt?" an officer asked.

We walked home in the twilight. My husband carried our son. I trailed behind them, shocked and embarrassed.


What my husband saw when he arrived home - our shoes on the porch, beets in the toaster, a partially rinsed diaper in the toilet. A quiet house. We weren't in garden.

His instinct took him to the ridge, to the leeks. We had wandered so far, he could not hear my calls, nor I his. He called the police, thinking we had been taken. Where could we have gone without shoes? My son always walks. A long hike with no shoes?

"Have you had a fight with your wife? Would she wander away?" Officers asked my husband. "Where's her cell phone?" They checked my recent calls and inquired about numbers showing men's names.

"Do you have a child carrier?" he was asked. "Yes, but we don't use it," he replied and never looked for it. Why would he? We haven't used it since last summer.

"Would she run away?" they asked my parents.

"No, she's not like that," my mother answered.

My neighbor walked a loop trail near our house, calling my name. Her husband drove nearby roads.



Once we made it to the lane, a dog from the back of the K9 unit vehicle whined and gurgled balefully. The disembodied hand waved from the driver's seat.

My mom rushed up, tears in her eyes. She was wearing my father's fleece vest. She looked like she was wearing a bulletproof vest. Multiple police cars, an ambulance. During the walk home, my son was stoic in my husband's arms. He stared at the scene in front of our home.

"Look at all the police cars!" my husband exclaimed. My son smiled widely and pointed.


Everyone left. Inside, I saw my day's laundry folded. My mother needed to stay busy. A phone message from my mother, "Jared, have you tried calling any of her friends...?" Leaves from the debris hut loosened from our hair and clothes and were scattered across the floor.

I noted the beets were not overcooked. I had set the toaster to 300, so we could go for a short walk and get some leeks.

In my pocket, I found a wild leek bulb that I had accidentally pulled and its tattered leaf.

Monday, April 23, 2012

This sums it up

I had to drive to Cape May to find the visual shorthand for 2012. This year feels like red rays are emanating from a foreign object and ouch, they hurt sometimes.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Hacklebarney State Park - Getting Out of the House With a Toddler

The trail along the Black River is beautiful and for the sure-footed. Right around nap time, Momma started feeling overwhelmed. Baby, tired and charging along the trail, vigorously protested my parental grip on his shirt sleeve.

Canada lily, on a rocky bluff out of the reach of herbivores

Papa put baby to sleep by carrying him up and down the trail. I marveled at how long baby's legs had grown. I preened my ruffled feathers and poked around for interesting plants and found a few.

Hostas, in surprising profusion  along the Black River. I never liked that plant. 

Canada mayflower, soon to bloom

Violet species

A personal favorite - Miterwort

Lunch on a Solomon's plume

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Shoes off outside was suspended today in the interest of getting some serious chores done.

Today was a good old fashioned work day - we washed dishes, watered peas, collard, and kale, cleaned out the greenhouse, mowed, candied calamus roots, violets, and limes. We pulled the kestrel box off the telephone pole and no one was hurt - not the starling who wanted to nest in the box, not me who tried using a crowbar to remove the box, not my husband who used a power drill, compost fork, and a lasso, not our 16 month old son who was fascinated, is way too good at climbing ladders, and was very excited about the cordless Makita drill. We made phone calls. We seasoned the cast iron waffle maker. We grilled for dinner. We planted echinacea. We took a shower and readied for bedtime.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

You've changed

You hold Papa's hand when crossing the street. You reorganize the pantry and refrigerator gently instead of tossing everything on the floor. You don't take a bottle. You feed yourself rice kernels from my plate at the Mexican restaurant. You push up your sleeves when I say, "Wash hands." You have an imaginary world. You become excited when you hear the names of familiar and fun people. You are a better birdwatcher than I am. You know what a dandelion is.

You've tasted partridgeberry. I watched you pinch the tiny red fruit between you pointer finger and your thumb, pluck it, and then eat it. I watched you. I knew you can eat it, you knew you could eat it. I wondered what I should do, how do I teach confidence and caution at the same time? Your increasingly precise hand reached for another fruit. I asked you to wait. You held the fruit in your hand. This one was slightly blemished. An insect had tasted it. You turned away and I sampled one of the fruits. I agree, they are sweet. Do I show you that I too eat the red fruit? What about other red fruit that you shouldn't eat? We walked home and once there, I noticed you still had the tiny red fruit in your palm. I placed it on the counter so I could remember your intuitive knowledge of the forest. A couple days later the fruit disappeared.

Today's Sourlands Wander

Monday, April 9, 2012

Exploring the tributaries to the Delaware


 Unidentified cress species - haven't put ID time into this one...

Cut-leaved toothwort. On other sites, the other species of toothwort - Cardamine angustata - is just beginning to bloom 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


I am a land steward. I am an herbalist. I am a photographer. I am a mother, a wife.

Chickweed will be important this year. Chickweed means something different to each one of my selves.

Chickweed is a sign of eroded, possibly over-grazed, loose, shaley soils. It can be found in open woodlands and gardens. It is non-native and non-invasive.

Chickweed is a mover of the contents of stuck lumps and bumps: splinters, pimples, pincers, fresh welts left by insect bites, and old nodes left by past bites. It can draw the stuck out.

Chickweed is an little starry weed of my garden and yard. It shows up early. We eat it in omelets and are thankful because or garden seeds languished in the odd heat and droughty weather of March. Those that survived desiccation succumbed to frost. Not chickweed.

Chickweed salve in a Bonne Maman jelly jar sits on a corner of our bathroom sink. It is the place of honor, where an herb of frequent use resides until it is replaced by another.

Chickweed will be important this year.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Getting Out of the House With a Toddler: Burnt Mills Floodplain, Bedminster

My son points out the carpet of the invasive species lesser celandine, a floodplain scourge of early spring. I'm generally not a defeatist, but there's not a whole lot stewards can do about this one. I'm hoping for a native bug to decide it really, really likes to eat lesser celandine. Otherwise, spot treatment of small patches is recommended.
Headwaters Association's Burnt Mills Floodplain preserve, Bedminster, NJ

My father-in-law and grandmother(-in-law) were running late for dinner at Kiku Hibachi & Sushi in Bedminster. Our plan was to meet halfway between Yonkers and the Sourlands. Kiku was what Jared and my father-in-law chose.

Jared, who is always poking around NY-NJ-CT Botany for interesting places to hike found Raritan Headwaters Association's Burnt Mills Floodplain preserve.

RHA was formerly Upper Raritan Watershed Association and South Branch Watershed Association -- the groups merged and chose a much slicker and shorter by one word name. One day I'll seek out the conservation group with the longest name.

At this point, my own organization's name is in the winner's circle -- Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space. Six words, FoHVOS for short. Four of those letters are regularly misheard on the phone (F, H, V, & S), leaving only one letter that a good listener might catch when I spell the ending of my email address. "OK, I'll spell that for you: 'F' as in Frank, O, 'H' as in Harry, 'V' as in Victor, O, 'S' as in Sam."

Conservation groups have not caught onto the trend of using very short names in lower case. For profit entities roll with the market. For example, driving along Route 202 in Raritan, one sees a sign that reads "char." While, the restaurant is  formally called Char Steakhouse, the sign drops the capital letter 'C' and 'Steakhouse' to achieve "New York-style atmosphere." Tribe of Two Sheiks brand hummus tossed the sheiks and are now 'Tribe.' I'm sure I could name others, but in the interest of time, I'll make a couple business names up: pot (purveyor of fine toilets), house (another Pottery Barn-like box store), and pharm (flowers, cotton swabs, and prescriptions - drive-up).

 Bluebells about to bloom.

Burnt Mills Floodplain, like most natural areas in NJ, is a mixed bag of weeds, native trees, scraggly shrubs (one or two), and some herbs. The trail was brief and easy, with the sand being the most interesting feature to my son.

My husband and I bit our nails and stared at the celandine. I sighed and grabbed a single stem of spicebush, typically a common, clumping shrub. My husband briefly and politely noted my mumblings about deer browse. He pointed out barbed wire and wondered if bluebells survive a history of overpopulated herbivores -- deer and domestic grazers.

The trail disappeared. Our jackets were back in the car. Dinnertime was approaching. We turned back.

 Bluebells and lesser celandine. How are the bluebells competing? A study over time would be interesting. Bluebells are quite a tough soul, and a mover, too. We planted on individual in horrible clay fill in front of our house. Several years later, the original plant is increasing and has two more individuals along it's rhizome. Each are spaced about 8" apart.

Virginia waterleaf, a reclining species, takes refuge from the lesser celandine in the crotch of a tree. Otherwise, I didn't notice this regular native inhabitant of riparian areas and moist, fertile soils.

Father and son contemplate opposite sides of the trail. 

 "Ah, yes, sand. I love sand. I pick it up above my head and watch it stream from between my fingers." 

My son heads out.