The Woosamonsa Ridge Trail is located on Woosamonsa rd in Pennington, NJ.
The sentiment of “good riddance” I think many of us feel towards the year 2020. It was a year of immense sadness, loss, struggle, loneliness and change. As we move into this new year, let’s not forget 2020, but instead take with us what we learned from the hardship of the year and celebrate the moments of joy, love and reflection that 2020 gave us.
The forest is quiet except for the winter-time residents of cardinals, tufted titmice, chickadees and woodpeckers going about their business. Taking deep breaths of the cold air reminds me to be grateful for where I am and the stillness of the winter forest draws me into a restful calm. Looking around at the forest in winter, I absorb the quiet into my mind and let go of all the thoughts of later.
This January morning is below freezing, so we bundled our Wild Boys in snow pants much to their initial protest. “Why snow pants if there isn’t snow?” Experience has taught me that if I top off their bellies with snacks on the ride over to the preserve and bundle them up excessively, we are able to enjoy ourselves for an hour or two in the frigid January forest.
Common Privet, Ligustrum vulgare, is a non-native invasive species. It can be confused with Blackhaw Viburnum, Viburnum prunifolium, a native shrub. The shrubs can be similar size, both have opposite branching patterns and black fruit. One way to tell them apart is that the fruit of Privet are rounded at their ends and the fruit of Blackhaw have a more elongated shape with a somewhat pointed end. If you were to squish these seeds between your fingers you would find seeds that are rounded and pointed versus the seeds of Blackhaw are flat. Another way to tell these two shrubs apart is by looking at the buds. In this picture it is a little difficult to see, but the bud scales of Privet are imbricate, which means that there are multiple scales overlapping one another. The buds of Blackhaw are bivalve and pointed, hinging together to form two pieces closed almost as if in prayer.
Lichens and moss always catch my eye, especially in the browns and grays of winter.
Christmas ferns, Polystichum acrostichoides, laying low during the winter. Christmas fern is my oldest’s favorite fern and so we purchased one to have in our front garden during one of our many visits to Bowman’s Hill Wildflower preserve this year. He often goes outside the front door to check on it. I dream of one day a sea of Christmas ferns across our front yard. Slowly, we are chipping away and replacing our grass with native plants and watching as our yard fills up with bees, wasps, dragonflies, butterflies, moths and birds. This year we had dragonflies and screech owls for the first time. The excitement in my children’s eyes reflected my own. The forest had been calling to us so we answered back by filling our grass with natives plants so we too could be wild.
The seta of moss reaching skyward.
Wild Boys walking on water!
Right now in the forest, the only red berries we saw belonged to the invasive species Multiflora rose, Rosa multiflora, Japanese Barberry, Berberis thunbergii, and Oriental Bittersweet, Celastrus orbiculatus. Someone had been eating these fruits and unfortunately spreading these plants around.
American Beach, Fagus grandifolia, is one of the easier trees to identify in winter. The buds are long, imbricate and look like a rolled cigar. Many times on young Beech trees you will see the phenomenon of marcesent leaves.
The bark of American Beech, Fagus grandifolia, is tight, light gray and unfortunately it is often a favored tree for those who wish to leave their love notes and statements of existence.
A dying Ash, Fraxinus spp.. To be honest, I am not great at telling Green Ash, Fraxinus pennsylvanica and White Ash, Fraxinus americana apart unless I can see their buds. My guess is that this is a White Ash, but I can’t say with certainty unless I can get a glimpse of the bud. Whenever I see these giants with their crowns dead and their bark scrapped off, my heart sinks. I learned about the Emerald Ash Borer, Agrilus planipennis, in my urban forestry class in 2006. At that time it was making its way south and east from Michigan, but it seemed like a problem that was so far away from me. I couldn’t comprehend the catastrophic damage this shiny green beetle would cause. Staring at these dying trees throughout the Sourlands I fear for the future of the forest. With the over-abundance of white tailed deer eating all the native seedling trees and herbaceous plants and invasive species that create thick impenetrable thickets, unpalatable to the deer, what will happen to my forest? What will happen to my herbaceous plants that depend on the dappled shade of the forest to grow and thrive? What will happen to my streams, with their banks held tight with thick, strong roots and branches that shade the water keeping it cool? What will happen to many of the birds that depend on the forest for a place to rest, feed, and rear their young? What will happen to the insects, mammals, reptiles and amphibians? It can become paralyzing to stare at the impending loss of over 1 million Ash trees in the Sourlands. It will be a monumental effort from the state, municipalities, organizations, residents and every person that loves this mountain ridge. But I am heartened about the work of the Sourland Conservancy (and many other organizations and individuals) that are working hard to develop plans, apply for grants, create partnerships and engage the public to replenish the forest before all of our Ash trees are gone.
I love this blanket of moss. It looks like it could be the soft bed of a forest fairy.
I am always delighted to come upon an American Holly, Ilex opaca, in the woods. It always feels like such a treat to see this ever green beauty standing with its lustrous green leaves in sharp contrast to the brown canvas of winter.
Sometimes little legs need a rest.