Self Quarantine in the Sourlands
Last weekend, I celebrated successfully passing through another complete set of seasons, and I marked the day with my family in a new way – quarantine!
Though thankfully none of us are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, we’re squirreling ourselves away to slow the spread. I’ve set some goals in an attempt to stay mentally and physically healthy while working and living in an old farmhouse with five other people: eat well, stick to a schedule, exercise, play games, learn a new skill, and get outside as much as possible.
I have set forth a personal quest to hike every one of the twenty-eight Sourland region preserves. So far, I’ve logged seven, accompanied by one or more of my new colleagues (formerly known as my family): Cedar Ridge, Rock Hopper, Woosamonsa Ridge, Omick, Hunterdon County Sourland Mountain Preserve, Rocky Brook and Pryde’s Point.
I say hike, but I really mean walking with a backpack just big enough for snacks and a water bottle. There’s a first aid kit and a bandana in there, too, because I am a Girl Scout.
Everyone in our group experiences the trail in a different way: a physical challenge, a meditative journey, an orienteering opportunity, an imaginary adventure, a biology lesson, a photographic expedition, and we all enjoy a picnic. Many days I set out with a specific plan – looking for a certain flower in bloom, checking vernal pool activity, working out some frustration… or working off a little birthday cake. Often I am diverted, but always leave the forest feeling relaxed and accomplished.
I find that sunny mornings and late afternoons are usually best for taking pictures, but rainy days offer a special appeal for fair-skinned photographers who seek more dramatic lighting. On this day, the passing showers suited my mood.
When approaching a faerie house, a polite guest must overlook signs of evening revelry such as discarded dishes and confetti. Does one of the wee folk share my birthday?
This sweet rue anemone popped up at the edge of the trail. It was so small I almost missed it!
This delicate cutleaf toothwort was the first I’d found in blossom this year.
The mystery of beech. I’ve heard a few theories about why young beech trees are marcenscent. I’m not sure why last year’s papery leaves hang on through the winter, but I do enjoy wondering.
I was surprised and delighted to find playful water skippers creating ripples in the reflection.
Who needs forsythia when spicebush offers four-season interest, cheery yellow blossoms, swallowtail butterflies, fall color, berries for birds – and delicious spices for me?
My passing admiration of moss has developed into a passion since my favorite librarian suggested “Gathering Moss.” I’m not sure what type of moss is growing on this tree stump (or why it hasn’t grown on the little knob) but I do know you can’t unsee the lizard/frog/turtle in the picture once you’ve seen it.
This luxurious moss shares a home with a leathery lichen. I don’t think either one has a common name, so I will create my own – and share an old story about lichen, “Alice Algae and Freddy Fungus took a “lichen” to each other, but now their marriage is on the rocks.” We now know that bacteria play a role in this relationship, but that’s a story for another day.
Speaking of fungus, here’s the stuff of nightmares (or fairy tales). Don’t linger too long in the forest, children, or the mycelium’s spindly white fingers may claim you, too.
I wonder who might be lurking under this dark umbrella, but I choose not to look.
Speaking of umbrellas, this tiny mayapple could make an attractive addition to a sprightly spring wardrobe – if you don’t mind accepting a gift from a passing box turtle…
At last, the object of today’s quest: Bloodroot. These showy flowers can be difficult to find as they close on cloudy days and lose their petals within a day or two of pollination. Although I found several intact, I found this weathered one more beautiful.
The author finds that a sturdy walking stick and waterproof boots are essential for squelching through mud or crossing streams on these rainy spring days – especially as her right foot took a refreshing dip shortly after this photo was taken. She would like to thank her son, Will, for choosing not to take the action shot.
I have heard people say that they’ve found the preserves crowded, but that has not been my experience. I have passed by a few busy parking lots on weekend days to find quieter preserves. I have met a few families on the trail, but we all respected each other’s personal space.
I would like to remind all hikers to stay on the trail and keep dogs on the leash. It’s important to help ensure the safety of hikers, their dogs – and the wild birds and animals who can be unintentionally injured or burn essential calories as a result of an encounter. Sourland preserves provide a source of respite and renewal for hikers – and critical habitat for many rare and endangered plants and animals who play an important role in our ecosystem and are not always visible to humans.
And finally, leave no trace, take only memories and leave only footprints.