Monthly Archives: November 2018

Otto Farm Preserve – A crisp morning walk after the first hard frost.

Otto Farm Preserve is located on Wertsville Road in Hillsborough.

Link to map and hiking information.


Truth be told, I have been putting off coming to  Otto Farm Preserve for quite a while now. I was told that it was “boring…” so I kept delaying my visit. When I finally checked my Sourland Conservancy Hiking Atlas, I realized that I have explored 21 out of the 25 Sourland preserves (There are 24 preserves in the atlas but Zion Crossing was added since the atlas was published). Since I was really itching to see a new preserve and my time was limited, I decided that it was now an opportune moment to check out Otto Farm. When I pulled into the parking lot, I was immediately charmed by the layout of the preserve. As much as I love hiking through the woods, there is something wonderful about open meadows. This time I was hiking solo and the wide mowed paths and open sky at Otto Farm offered me the opportunity to daydream, which is a luxury that as a Mom of Little Dudes, I usually don’t have time to enjoy anymore. Otto Farm is different than the Sourland Preserves I have previously explored. It has its own unique charm and beauty. There were many flowers in seed and I took over 200 photos as I wandered  because at every next step there always seemed to be an even better photo opportunity to be taken. If you are able to get out there please do! It would be a mistake if you missed out on these beautiful fall seeds and daydreams in all their glory.


Milkweed, Ascelpias syriaca, in seed. I love these seeds and I can’t even count how many times I have seen them disperse through a beam of light cast by the beautiful late afternoon sun. I often contemplate photographing the seeds as they begin their flight.  Unfortunately, in the late afternoon I am often rushing to pick up my Dudes from school or hurrying home to make dinner. Not today! Although I was hiking in the mid-morning, there were still plenty of milkweed plants to be photographed! Watching milkweed seeds float across the sky is a daydream in itself. I have the sense of drifting alongside them in the soft Autumn sunlight and, as we travel, time stands still.


This is a new-to-me plant, Carolina Horse-nettle, Solanum carolinense. When I first saw it, I knew that it had to be in the Solanaceae family (the nightshades) but the thorns on the stems and on the dried up leaves made it a bit more difficult to identify. This native plant is toxic to horses and from what I have read, it is toxic to humans, too


Goldenrod, Solidago canadensis, in seed. Although this plant is in seed, in my mind’s eye, all I can see are beautiful golden flowers.


An empty snail shell nestled under the leaves.


I get giddy when I see stream crossings! I can’t help getting older, but I don’t have to grow old! I could barely contain myself as I leapt from stone to stone. I don’t know what I will do with myself if I ever get tired of stream crossings!


Can you spot the Red-tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis?


The slow death of a giant. This beautiful oak tree is dying. You can see the branches snapping off and the bark pealing off the branches that are still attached.


Another sign of death are all these mushrooms on the branches. Often times a tree covered in mushrooms is dying (or is already dead). Mushrooms (fungi) are the great decayers of this planet and when you see them growing up and down a tree you can be certain that a tree’s end is near.


Oriental bittersweet, Celasturs orbiculatus, berries. This invasive vine has spectacular fall berries which makes it hard to hate them.


I will definitely come back to this spot in the summer for a picnic under the shade of this oak tree.


A goldenrod gall. The larva living inside a goldenrod gall can survive inside even when the air temperatures outside are below freezing.


Crack! I heard the cracking of the ice before I saw the frozen ground. I love the sounds of Fall and Winter hikes. The crunch of leaves, the snap of ice and the “shhhh” of snow.


The fade out of Fall. If you had examined this spot in September, you would have seen the deep yellow of the Goldenrod, Solidago canadensis, the pale yellow of Mullein, Verbascum thapsus, and of course the beautiful pink of Milkweed, Ascelpias syriaca. I am certain that there are some flowers blending into this area of the meadow, that are camouflaged in the Autumn tapestry.


This damage is called a “Buck Rub”. It is created by a male deer as he rubs his antlers and forehead in order to remove his shedding velvet from his antlers and also to deposit pheromones. There are three rubs in close proximity, so we can be sure that this area is frequented by deer.


OK, just one more picture of Milkweed…. Sigh… Look at those beautiful seeds that will hopefully find their place in this world.

Poems from the Sourlands – Down by the River by Gretna Wilkinson

Recently the Sourland Conservancy hosted a Train Station Seminar titled “Cool Women Poetry Reading”.  The Cool Women Poets read poems that they wrote about the Sourlands and their words deeply moved me.  I asked them if they would share their poetry with me so I could share it with you.  The first poem I would like to share is titled “Down by the River” by Gretna Wilkinson.

I was at Otto Farm Preserve on Monday (blog post coming soon!) and I hadn’t looked at the map before I started my walk.  I didn’t realize that there was a stream there, but as I wandered along the path I heard water flowing over rocks and this poem jumped in my head.  I started searching for a place to move through the brush to see the water.  There is something so soothing and refreshing about the sound of flowing water that whenever I hear it, I must find it.


Down By The River
Gretna Wilkinson

Week after week I come

to my best friendly rock

at the edge of this water,

scrub dirt out of clothes

frustrations out of me


This rock holds up

under the weight of my worries

without judgement, without echo


There’s no sound more beautiful

than the river rushing by

minding its own business.


Gretna Wilkinson was born and raised in Guyana, South America, and began her teaching career as a missionary teacher in the jungles there. Her full-length collection is entitled Opening the Drawer (Cool Women Press). She has also published five chapbooks. Dodge Poet, she was recently named Monmouth County Arts Educator of the Year and is Red Banks Teacher of the Year.



Goat Hill Overlook – Leaving work a little early to get outside on a beautiful week day.

Goat Hill Overlook is located on Coon Path in Lambertville.

Link to Hike information and map.


The past few days have been absolutely beautiful, albeit unseasonably warm.  After some sneakily ingested halloween treats, the boys were boisterous and we all needed to escape to the outdoors.  We all put on our high-visibility clothes (it is deer hunting season!) and headed out to Goat Hill Overlook. During deer hunting season it is a good idea to always call ahead to see if the trails are open to the public.  You can go to the Sourland Conservancy’s website to see who owns the property and then call ahead of time to make sure the preserve is open.

Tom Ogren wrote a wonderful booklet titled, The Story of Goat Hill.  This preserve is the embodiment of the history of this area from the Revolutionary War to the hiding of moonshine inside blocks of  cheese during Prohibition and an epic battle to preserve this beautiful land. I don’t want to give anymore spoilers, you will have to read about it for yourself!  We always have copies of “The Story of Goat Hill” at our events, but you will also be able to purchase it on the Sourland Conservancy’s online store.


A garter snake, Thamnophis spp., sunning itself on the trail.  This little one had a big ole’ bulge in its belly, which meant that it was probably digesting its last meal.  Garter snakes eat a variety of foods varying from slugs all the way to rodents. I hope that you are all proud of me for standing this close to take a photo.


Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida, has perhaps the most deep red fall foliage in our area of the country.  Flowering Dogwood is a native tree which erupts into showy Spring blossoms encouraging pollinators and later into beautiful Fall foliage and berries providing sustenance for birds!


These boys couldn’t contain their excitement for sprinting down the forest path.


My big dude was jealous that my littlest got a piggy back, so he climbed on board for a ride too.


White Snakeroot, Ageratina altissima, seeds getting ready to fly.


This multiflora rose, Rosa multiflora, caught some fur (or maybe jacket insulation?) in its thorns.


In general I am not a fan of graffiti, particularly in parks but I’ll have to admit that I always smile when I see this heart.


I love reaching the summit of a hike.  When the ground levels out and the sky opens up, it is like the world is saying “Welcome!”.


I really love this preserve because the trail is wide and the hike is fairly easy and you are treated to this wonderful panorama.  It usually takes between 10-15 minutes to hike from the parking lot to the overlook, which makes this a great trail for almost anyone.  I am not sure if you would be allowed to drive up the trail although it is wide enough to accommodate a car to bring someone who is handicapped to the overlook, but I would call NJ DEP and inquire about the regulations concerning handicap access.


Looking for boats.


I think it can be easy to brush past conversations with small children because “they won’t remember”, but these are significant learning opportunities for all of us.  Slowing down and taking the time to just talk with children is important to them but it also benefits the adult. I don’t think I have ever thought quite as deeply about something as when my child keeps responding with “why” to every answer I give.  While at times, the reflexive “why” can be maddening, it also helps me refine my own understanding of the information I acquired and my personal beliefs.


I enjoy my solo hikes in the Sourlands, but I really love watching my children play and explore the Sourlands.


My big dude spotted this fort and immediately needed to investigate!


Both of my dudes loved to play in here.  In our home, our sunroom is in a constant state of wooden train layouts and couch forts.  I’ve given into their need-to-build-things and just let them play, but I hope that perhaps after experiencing this “outside fort” that they will turn some of their energy into designing and building forts outdoors so that I can have my couches back.


Beautiful dark blue lichen!


Crab apples, Malus spp.  Apples are an introduced species from Asia, but many species have become naturalized.  Apples belong to the rose family, Rosaceae.  Many commercial fruit species belong to this family, pears, apricots, plums, nectarines, raspberries, blackberries, and almonds.


The sun is setting earlier these days so we had to head back down the hill sooner than we would have liked.


This T-Rex found a walking stick but wouldn’t hold still for a photo.  I suppose I should know better than to expect such a ferocious and fast animal to stay still for such a silly thing as a photo.