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Guest Post – Proust in Hopewell Borough Park by Lois Marie Harrod

Proust in Hopewell Borough Park by Lois Marie Harrod

 

GreatFieldI sometimes think of Marcel Proust’s warning, “Habit is the enemy of perception,” when my husband Lee and I walk in Hopewell Borough Park.  Since we walk it almost daily, the park is certainly a “habit,” and often we are so addicted to talking or to thinking our own thoughts that we don’t notice the daily changes in our park, a part of our daily 4-mile trek through Hopewell Borough.

Fifteen or more years ago, we used to come upon a rather famous local writer doing her slow jog on the trails with her husband lagging behind.  Neither looked up when we or anyone else passed. They were in their own worlds, not the natural world they were walking through.  We understand that kind of concentration or perhaps I should call it oblivion; we are academic types.

TigerSwallowTailonBergamot

But habit or not, Lee and I keep walking the park.  Walking is more environmentally friendly than driving off to a stinky gym where there is little chance we will surprise a fox or send a catbird mewing, and most of July, once we crossed the southern bridge over Bedens Brook and entered the Great Field, we paid close attention to the wild black raspberries slowly ripening. Since their June blooming, we watched our tiny berries grow a little larger, turn white, a bit pinker, definitely pink, red and finally—after weeks—black. Of course, they are not “ours”—but most people don’t want to pick them—even for jam. The usual nasty suspects:  thorns, ticks, poison ivy, time.

QueenAnnesLace

I took on the nasties last year, July 2019, while my husband conveniently had volunteer work to do.  Armored in blue jeans and denim shirt I spent a prickly morning picking black raspberries for his jam.

This year the same thorns, but Covid-19 cancelled my husband’s volunteer work, so he picked too.  If he wanted jam, he was going to have to suffer.

And this year’s picking provided one of those Proustian perceptions my husband likes to talk about, especially now that he is revving up to teach A la Recherche du Temps Perdu again—those petite madelaines that trigger memories, that rouse us from habit, that allow us to see.

Croppedscarletbergamot (1)

Picking those raspberries this year (and there were still a few ripening in early August) triggered the memory of picking those four quarts a year before when the temperature was in the comfortable 80’s instead of the noxious 90’s.  It triggered the memory of listening to parts of Salman Rushdie’s Quichotte on my iPhone as I picked.  In Rushdie’s novel, his Don Quixote is a traveling salesman of pharmaceutical products, and the novel satirizes, among many other things, Purdue Pharma that caused the opioid-overdose epidemic—which seems to have been both overshadowed and worsened by the present Covid-19 pandemic.

BlackRaspberries3

So while we were amassing our berries for this year’s jam, I was wondering how Rushdie would treat the Covid-19 Epidemic, which has been very much with us since March.  I was thinking how the epidemic has changed everything including our habitual walk, which used to take a little over an hour, but now takes longer. Depending on when we set out, we see the 7-am or 8-am habituals, the motley crew that uses the park:  the runners, fast or slow, slim and stocky; the dog walkers with Scout, Chester, Rusty, Pearl, Ruby, Romeo or George; the solitary walkers stretching their legs before Zooming.

And we often stop and socialize at a distance.  We tell each other what or whom we have just seen in the park—the fawn, the rabbits, the bluebirds, the tree swallows, the tiger swallowtail on the scarlet bergamot, the rock sculptures children must have built yesterday in Bedens Stream.   We talk about isolation and loneliness, our distant children and grandchildren, the books we are reading, the TV series we are watching, the birds we are missing. Where are the gangs of goldfinch we saw last summer? The thistle is just about to bloom for them. We are sad and worried for most of us walkers care deeply about the environment, and the pandemic seems to have obliterated public consciousness of, I suspect, a worse problem, climate change.

Children'sRockSculpture

And, of course, by the time my essay gets in print, the black raspberries I photographed will be completely dried up, forgotten.  The Queen Anne’s just opening will be drying into its little bird cages. The first golden rod opening today will be holding sway.  We are 77.  As we eat our raspberry jam, we are trying harder to pay attention to everything in spite of habit.

 

 

Guest Post – CLUES ON THE TRAIL: JOURNEYS INTO SOURLAND MOUNTAIN’S HISTORIC LANDSCAPES by Ian Burrow

CLUES ON THE TRAIL: JOURNEYS INTO SOURLAND MOUNTAIN’S HISTORIC LANDSCAPES

Part 2: Stone Walls

By Ian Burrow (burrowintohistory@gmail.com)

 

My first blog was mostly concerned with trees, and how they can help tell the story of people on Sourland Mountain.  Now I want to introduce you to an artifact (= a thing made, modified or used by humans): the Sourland stone wall.

You will encounter stone walls on many of Sourland Mountain’s preserved areas.  Sometimes they can be quite impressive, like this massive and well-built wall beside the Rock Hopper Trail near Lambertville (Figure 1).

Fig 1 Walls Blog

Figure 1. Rock Hopper Trail. Well-built revetment wall on north side of Rock Road: Panoramic View looking north from the roadbed of Rock Road.  Photograph: Ian Burrow, 2019.

Some examples are just a line of low, tumbled stones winding through the woods (Figure 2).

Fig 2 Walls Blog

Figure 2.  A poorly constructed “wall” on the Mount Rose Ridge in Hopewell Township.  Photograph: Ian Burrow 2019.

Others look more like banks or ramparts (Figure 3).

Fig 3 Walls Blog

Figure 3.  Wall along western side of the 1850’s Rock Road to Lambertville-Rocktown Road connector, showing the hollow-way character of the road on the left.  View facing south towards intersection with Rock Road.  Near the Rock Hopper Trail. Photograph: Ian Burrow, 2019.

Some are very well made (Figure 4), others much less so (Figure 5).

Fig 4 Walls Blog

Figure 4.  Cross-Section of an argillite stone wall on the Cedar Ridge Preserve.  The wall has been constructed from wedge-shaped slabs, and the wall narrows with height.  The flat “capstone” indicates that this is the full intended construction height of the wall, about two and half feet.  Photograph: Ian Burrow, January 2018.

Fig 5 Walls Blog

Figure 5.  A massive but roughly constructed diabase wall on the east side of the Rock Road north of Swan Creek on the Rock Hopper Trail. Photograph: Ian Burrow, 2019.

What are they all about? Are they special to the Sourlands? When were they built and by whom?

The easy answer to the first question is that most of them are field walls, sometimes called stone fences, built to create a boundary around a field or a group of fields.  That seems straightforward enough, but when we delve a little deeper we find it leaves a lot of other questions unanswered.  Why, for example, do most agricultural fields in central New Jersey lack stone walls? Many fields have no boundary around them at all, others may have boundaries in the form of hedges, treelines, or wooden fences.

It turns out that Sourland Mountain is one of the few areas in New Jersey where stone field walls are present. Stone walls are actually a rare cultural resource in the state.  How do we know this? In 1871 the U.S. Department of Agriculture helpfully published statistics of field fencing types in the United States. In New Jersey only 5% of the recorded fences were stone walls, most of them in the northern counties. 62% were post-and-rail, 29% were wooden zig-zag or “worm” fences, and 4% were made of boards.  Compare this to Connecticut, where one third of all the fencing in the state, or 20,505 miles, was of stone.  In Massachusetts 50% of all fences were of stone. In Rhode Island most of the 14,030 miles of fencing in the state were stone walls. New York State had an astonishing 95,364 miles of stone walls!

As you might guess, the geographical distribution of stone walls has something to do with geology and topography. In sandy southern New Jersey stone useful for walls is very hard to find.  The New England states, by contrast, are very rocky.  So it seems to make sense that if you find yourself in a stony part of the world you will build stone walls around your fields.

In many parts of New England, stone walls were created as a result of clearing the fields of rocks for cultivation or for pasture.  The collected rocks were dumped around the edges of the fields, sometimes as well-constructed walls, but often as rough linear piles of stone.  The mechanics of this meant that the most efficient field was a square roughly 300 feet on a side, and covering about 2 acres.  Is this an explanation for the stone walls we see on Sourland Mountain? The answer is sometimes, but not always.

 

Walls of Argillite Stone

My study of the Cedar Ridge Preserve in Hopewell Township showed differences from this New England model.  Cedar Ridge is composed of argillite stone.  This rock type breaks quite easily into slabs useful for building.  It is sometimes exposed in outcrops (Figure 6), and can also be recovered from the beds of the streams and brooks along the southern slopes of Sourland Mountain.

Fig 6 Walls Blog

Figure 6.  Argillite outcrop, Cedar Ridge Preserve.  A substantial field wall lies about 30 feet to the south. Photograph: Ian Burrow, March 2018.

However, unlike the glacial rocks and boulders of New England, argillite is not found lying on the surface.  In fact, you have to dig about four feet down into what soil scientists call the Chalfont Silt Loam in order to reach argillite bedrock.  This means that if you want to build a wall of argillite on Cedar Ridge you have to either dig down for the stone, or bring it from somewhere else.

On the Cedar Ridge Preserve I have noted about 4500 feet of argillite stone walls.  There were probably more at one time.  Studying these walls I noticed that almost 75% of them run along long-standing property boundaries which are often modern lot lines.  In addition, in most places these lot/property boundary walls are associated with a substantial ditch on one side.  The best way to see feature this is to start at the parking lot on Van Dyke Road and head west along the trail which runs just south of the stone wall.  This wall runs almost continuously for about 2000 feet, and for much of that distance there is a ditch on its southern side.

I have concluded that these ditches were used as the source for the stone for the walls.  They probably also served a drainage function on the poorly drained soils of the locality.  My guess is that the walls were built by the person on the ditch side of the wall.

There are two substantial lengths of stone walling which do not have associated ditches.  These lie close to the argillite outcrop shown on Figure 6, so perhaps the stone for these walls came from there.

One of these is not on a modern lot line, but does form the boundary between two of the largest fields in the area.  Like the others, however, it is very well built (Figure 4)

So what does all this tell us?  I predict that in argillite bedrock areas on Sourland Mountain, stone walls will only be found marking important, long-lasting boundaries.  This is because the effort of both quarrying/hauling and building the walls was very considerable.  In 1858 it was estimated that one man could erect three rods (about 50 feet) of stone walling in a day. This figure assumed that the stone had already been gathered and brought to the construction site, tasks that probably entailed an equal amount of labor to the construction itself.  If we halve the amount that could be built in a day to 25 feet (to allow for the quarrying), that means that it would have taken one man about six months to build all the stone walls observed at Cedar Ridge.

But, as one might expect, these walls were not all built at the same time.  With the help of a friend, I cleared away the fallen stones from the area around the T-shaped junction of two walls (Figure 7).

Fig 7 Walls Blog

Figure 7.  Investigation of the junction of two argillite walls on Cedar Ridge.  View looking north.  The west and east sections of Wall 8A survive to close to original height, while the area of the intersection with Wall 8B in the center is much lower.  Large slabs mark the east face of 8B, which was built later than 8A. Photograph: Ian Burrow, April 2018.

Here we could clearly see that the north-south wall forming the stem of the “T” was later than the east-west wall which it joined.  The north-south wall had been roughly keyed-in to the existing wall, and had actually caused the latter to bulge outwards on its northern side.

Walls of Diabase Rock

The main spine of Sourland Mountain is composed of diabase rock.  This is the geological formation which produces the interesting and sometimes spectacular rock outcroppings and boulder fields to be seen at the higher elevations.  It is a dark, dense, hard, fine grained volcanic rock.  The Rock Hopper Trail and the surrounding preserved area around the Swan Creek Reservoir just southeast of Lambertville lie almost completely on diabase.  Much of the preserve is very stony, but areas north of the reservoir are less so.  Some parts here are still farmed, and the present woodland north of the reservoir lies on former farm fields for the most part.

Much of the Rock Hopper Trail follows the route of the Rock Road, abandoned in the mid-20th century. It is chiefly along or close to this road that we find walls made of diabase. As you walk the trail from east to west you encounter a narrow stone bridge (Figure 8).

Fig 8 Walls Blog

Figure 8.  Stone-arched bridge carrying Rock Road across Swan Creek on the Rock Hopper Trail.  Photograph: Ian Burrow, 2019.

A couple of hundred yards beyond that and you meet this dramatic wall on your right (Figure 1).

This wall extends for about 500 feet along the top of a slope on the north side of Rock Road The base of the wall is about five feet higher than the bed of Rock Road, and the wall itself is typically about five feet high.  Rather than being a free-standing wall, this is actually the retaining wall for a terrace, so the top of the wall is almost level with the ground surface at the rear (northern) side (Figure 9).

Fig 9 walls blog

Figure 9. Rock Hopper Trail. The eastern end of the Revetment Wall, looking west. Note that the ground surface on the right (north) side is about two-thirds of the way up the wall at this point. The roadbed of Rock road lies about 20 feet to the left (south) and five feet below the base of the wall. Photograph: Ian Burrow, 2019.

The wall was finished off with vertical “coping” stones. Where these survive, it can be seen that the overall height of the wall was intended to be about six and a half feet.  The wall itself is well built of massive stones, many of them far too large for one person to handle (Figure 10).

Fig 10 walls blog

Figure 10. Close-up view of a section of the Revetment Wall with vertical coping stones still in place. Note the large scale of many of the diabase stones used for the body of the wall. At this location the wall is close to six feet high. The ground surface behind the wall is at the level of top of the scale pole. Photograph: Ian Burrow, 2019.

As with all the Sourland stone walls, we ask the following questions of this one:

When was it built?

Who built it?

What was it for?

It turns out that we can partly answer the “when” question: This wall was probably constructed no earlier than 1851.  We reach this conclusion in the classic cultural landscape history way: by looking at the landscape itself, and by consulting historical documents.

The western end of the wall curves around a corner at the intersection of Rock Road with an unnamed and long-abandoned road which connects Rock Road with the Rocktown-Lambertville Road (Figure 11).

Fig 11 walls blog

Figure 11. Rock Hopper Trail. The western end of the revetment wall, view facing southeast from the road-bed of the 1850’s Rock Road-to-Lambertville-Rocktown Road connector. Note how the wall is continued around the corner from Rock Road to the east side of the connector, indicating that the revetment is of the 1850’s or later. Photograph: Ian Burrow, 2019.

This road is very similar in character to the Rock Road, especially in its southern portion, where it is a moderately deep hollow-way.

Now, it is clear that the wall could not have been built before the connecting road was in place.  Fortunately, historic map evidence strongly suggests that the road was built after 1851 and before 1860, because it is shown on a map of 1860, but not on a map of 1851. So all we can strictly say is that the wall is later than 1851, but that in itself is worth knowing.  Supporting this dating is the fact that one of the stones at the end of the wall has a drill hole in it of a type probably not in use in this area until after about 1830.

So, what about the who and the why?  Detailed historical research on the owners of the property that includes the wall might give us a clue to the who. As for the “why”, it seems clear that this is no ordinary field wall.  It would be quite useless for keeping animals in fields and off the road.  The wall is so low on its northern (terrace) side that nimble sheep would easily get over it and scramble down to the road.  Cattle or horses might simply fall over the edge and injure or kill themselves.  So the land behind the wall was used for something else.

Seen from the road, however, there can be no doubt about the message sent by this wall.  The message is “Keep Out”.  Anyone wanting to climb the wall from the road had first to scramble up a steep grassy slope and then find footholds and handholds in the face of the wall.  Then that individual would have to negotiate the upright capping stones in order to get across the wall.  It would be clear to that person, and to anyone else, that they had crossed a line that was not meant to be crossed.  This, and the resources that were put into to building this wall, indicate very strongly that this was the boundary of a person of means who intended to maintain an exclusive privacy, particularly from people travelling along the road.

These examples will, I hope, give you some idea of the interesting stories built into the stone walls of Sourland Mountain.

 

Next Time: Puzzles and Mysteries

 

 

 

Guest Post – CLUES ON THE TRAIL: JOURNEYS INTO SOURLAND MOUNTAIN’S HISTORIC LANDSCAPES by Ian Burrow

Part 1.

By Ian Burrow (burrowintohistory@gmail.com) 

eroding Dam

Fig 1.  Eroding Mill Dam 

If you have taken a hike on any one of the preserved areas on Sourland Mountain, chances are that you have noticed a tumbled stone wall, an earthen bank by a stream, A huge tree standing out among its smaller neighbors, a rusting piece of farm machinery, rocks with holes drilled into them, the rotting trunks of cedar trees, the bed of an abandoned road, or perhaps even the foundations of a long-forgotten building. For me, each of these features tells a piece of the story of the Mountain, and how people have interacted with it over hundreds and even thousands of years.  

Figure 2

Figure 2. Old road trace and wall

I would like to share with you what I am learning about this history, and to help and encourage you to discover it for yourself.

People go the Sourland woods for many excellent reasons.  Some watch and record wild birds, others search for the native plants, lichens and fungi unique to this place.  On cold rainy nights in early spring, hardy souls help amphibians cross the roads to vernal pools.  Some folks are on a mission to seek out and destroy invasive plants.  Many others are there for the peace and beauty of the trails, to enjoy the open air, to be strengthened and replenished by nature, and perhaps to seek out the mysterious rocky outcrops and giant boulders that litter the landscape.

I’m an archaeologist.  That means I’m interested in studying and understanding the physical evidence that people from the past have left behind.  This evidence can take many forms.  Most people immediately think of Indian arrowheads and other old and unusual artifacts when archaeology is mentioned (some people also think of dinosaurs, but those beasties are for the paleontologists).  Artifacts are an important part of the archaeological record, of course, but for Sourland Mountain we are talking mostly about a rather different kind of archaeology.

It goes by various names. In the UK, where I come from, it’s called “Landscape Archaeology”.  That term has a slightly different meaning here in the United States, where it has come to be chiefly associated with the study of the formal landscapes and gardens of the powerful.  So I tend to call what I do “Cultural Landscape History”.  Let me explain what I mean.

It is easy to imagine that when we are out in the woods, or in wild or wilderness areas, that we are in unspoiled nature.  We can readily think that we are seeing places where human hands (and feet) have not changed the environment.  There are still places like this in the World, but not as many as you might think. Very few of them are in Eastern North America, hardly any are in New Jersey, and none at all are on Sourland Mountain.  Almost everything that you see in the Sourland Landscape is in some way the result of what people have been doing here in the past.  So this is what is meant by a “cultural landscape”: land that has been altered from its original, pristine appearance by the activities of human beings.  Some of the alterations can be very obvious, others more subtle.  Cultural landscape historians try to peel back the layers of this history to see how things have changed through time.

So, let’s look at some of the features in the Sourland Landscape that will give up some of their secrets if we ask them the right questions. We’ll start with

Trees

They are hard to miss on the Mountain! One thing that you will notice is that in many places the trees are all much the same height and size, with the tree trunks rising straight up for many feet before the branches open out.  The tree trunks are often slender: 18 inches in diameter or less. 

Figure 3

 Fig 3. Young deciduous forest 

If we could talk to these trees they would say something like this: “We all started growing at the same time a few decades ago.  The trees that were here before us were all cut down and cleared away at one go, leaving open ground for us to colonize together.”

How Old?

That’s all very interesting, we may say, but exactly when did you all start growing? In order to learn this from the trees themselves we need to do two things.  

The first is to learn how to identify tree species from their bark, leaves, and overall appearance.  There are many Sourland-lovers who are much more knowledgeable about this than me, so it’s a good idea to have them on hand as teachers.  There are also lots of good reference books you can take out with you.  One of my favorites is Bark: A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast by Michael Wojtech. I like this because I tend to be out in the woods in fall, winter and early spring, when the leaves are unhelpfully lying on the ground instead of being attached to their trees.

Once you have identified your tree species, you then do a little measuring, using the measuring tape that you have remembered to bring with you.  Otherwise you will have to go back to the car to get it. 

This is what you do:

  1. Measure the circumference (distance around) of the tree at a height of 4’ 6” above the ground.
  2. Using your geometry and math skills, work out the diameter of the tree.  Remember pi? Pi is your friend.  Divide the circumference of the tree (in inches) by the magical value of Pi, which is 3.14.  Make a note of the result.
  3. Now you consult a Tree Growth Factor Chart like this one:

FIgure 4

 

Fig 4. Tree-Growth Factor chart

Find your tree species on the chart and make a note of the “growth factor” number

  1. Multiply the diameter of the tree by its growth factor.  The result is the approximate age of the tree in years.  Magic!  Impress your friends and family!

You may rightly ask where these “growth factors” come from.  The International Society of Arboriculture is where.  They know what they are doing as far as trees are concerned, so we may rely on them.

Wolf Trees

Every so often you will see a tree quite different from the slender ones we have just been talking about:

Figure 5

 Fig 5. Wolf Tree

This tree is not only big, with a thick trunk, it also has many branches spreading out widely in all directions, starting quite close to the ground.  It may not be much taller than the trees that surround it, but it is much more massive.  Landscape historians call this a Wolf Tree.  

Let’s ask it a couple of questions: “Hello, wolf tree, why are you so different from most of the other trees around here, and why do they call you ‘wolf’?”

“These other trees are much younger than me.  Measure my trunk and you’ll see.  For a long time I was the only tree around here.  I was surrounded by pastures and meadows where cows were grazing.  The cows sheltered from the summer heat under my spreading branches, and could also browse the leaves from the lowest branches.  Farmers cleared the other trees to make the pastures and meadows, but left me as a “lone wolf” to give shade to their livestock.  After a while the cows went away, and these other trees grew up around me on the abandoned fields.”

So these lovely trees take us back to the time, a hundred years ago and more, when much of Sourland Mountain was open grassy fields.

Eastern Red Cedars

Juniperus virginiana,  to give it its scientific name, is a coniferous (evergreen) tree that eventually grows to a height of 30 to 40 feet, often in groups or stands.  On Sourland Mountain you will see them in four main settings:

  1. As fairly small trees scattered across grassy pasture fields.  We see them here because they are often the very first tree species to colonize pastureland, once cows have ceased to graze it, or it is no longer mowed for hay.  Eastern red cedars love these old pastures.

Figure 6

Fig 6. Easter Red Cedars

  1. As a dense, dark, almost gloomy, woodland.  This is what happens after 20-30 years of the growth of these trees.  They have successfully colonized the old pasture and are, for now, the dominant species.
  2. As sickly-looking trees surrounded and overshadowed by bigger deciduous trees.  The reign of the cedars is coming to an end as other trees overtop them and cut off their sunlight.  Eventually the cedars die.
  3. As rich red-brown crumbly tree-trunks lying on the woodland floor.  After they die the cedars gradually fall and decay as the other trees continue to grow.

 

Next time: stone walls!

Guest Post by Laurie Cleveland – Self Quarantine in the Sourlands

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. 

Faerie partyWhen 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?

Anemone

This sweet rue anemone popped up at the edge of the trail. It was so small I almost missed it!

Cutleaf toothwort

This delicate cutleaf toothwort was the first I’d found in blossom this year. 

Beech Leaf

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. 

Water Skippers

I was surprised and delighted to find playful water skippers creating ripples in the reflection.

Spicebush

Who needs forsythia when spicebush offers four-season interest, cheery yellow blossoms, swallowtail butterflies, fall color, berries for birds – and delicious spices for me?

LizardFrogTurtle

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.

Furry looking moss

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.

Nightmare Mycelium

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.

Fungus

I wonder who might be lurking under this dark umbrella, but I choose not to look.

Mayapple young

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…

Battered Blood Root

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.

Laurie

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.

 

Additional Notes:

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.

 

Sourland Ecosystem Preserve – The blooms are coming!

Sourland Ecosystem Preserve is located on Mountain Road in Hopewell.

Link to hiking map.

IMG_2126

Though this winter was not very cold, it just seemed to drag on and on. I have been impatient while waiting for the seasons to change. The breaking of buds signaling that winter has yielded to spring is a comforting sign of normalcy. My family has been quarantined together and we have been getting cabin fever so we headed out for a hike at the Sourland Ecosystem Preserve. We all needed to run, shout in excitement, kneel on the ground to get a better look and get our hands very dirty. The forest offers so much hope and reassurance and we wanted to soak it all in. The buzzing forest brought me the relief that I was hoping for. Buds were opening, spring ephemerals were unfurling, and frogspawn was developing in the vernal pools.

IMG_5104

Blackhaw Viburnum, Viburnum prunifolium, fruits leftover from last fall. These fruits can sometimes be confused with European Privet, Ligustrum vulgare, but one of the best ways to tell the difference between these two shrubs is that the seed inside Blackhaw is flat and the seed inside Privet looks like an olive pit.

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The forest is celebrating and the Red maple, Acer rubrum, is dropping its flowers like confetti across the forest floor.

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A new life has started with this Red Oak, Quercus rubra, acorn that survived the winter and germinated!

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Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, flower buds just about ready to open. I absolutely love the chartreuse flowers of Spicebush.

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Searching for bugs! He reminds me of a chimp taking his stick and fishing in the log for insects.

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This appears to be a European Beech, Fagus sylvatica, rather than our native American Beech, Fagus grandifolia. American Beech usually has a single trunk and grows straight up while European Beech has a shorter trunk with many branches reaching out to create an open canopy.

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Important conversations are best had in the canopy.

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Littlest and I enjoyed ourselves while we pretended to toast marshmallows over the fire.

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Spring Beauty, Claytonia virginica, as beautiful and graceful as it can be.

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Blackhaw Viburnum, Viburnum prunifolium, buds bursting open!

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American Hazlenut, Corylus americana! In late winter, this shrub really stands out. The large catkins are the male flowering parts of the hazelnut. The female flowers are magenta and so small that you can barely see it. If you look at the three closet catkins, look up slightly and to the left and follow the branch to the end of the twig and you will see the female flowers.

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I spy with my little eye a bird’s nest!

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Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides, is my oldest’s favorite fern. Whenever we go hiking he is on a mission to find it.

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A flowering dogwood, Cornus florida, flower bud about to open. Dogwoods are such underrated shrubs. I love seeing the beautiful pink shine through the dormant forest. Soon, the forest will awaken and I will no longer be able to see the dogwoods behind the shields of Maple, Sweetgum and Oak leaves.

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Skunk cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, beautiful and vibrant in the muddy stream bank.

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As we ended our hike, our family felt refreshed and renewed. I love that the forest can give us both the adventure and the reassurance that we need.

Baldpate Mountain – A family hike in February

Baldpate Mountain is located in Hopewell NJ.

Link to the trail map

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There are 10 miles of hiking trails on Baldpate and while I have walked many of the trails, I have never completed the entire Blue Trail. Usually, when we bring the kids, we choose the Red Loop Trail. If I am out with my friends, we will hike the Ridge Trail.

My Littlest just turned 3 years old this week and his desire to show off his speed, climbing, and balance is in over-drive.  We decided to hike a trail with a lot of rocks to hop and climb on so that he could burn off some of his Wild Boy energy.

My oldest was confused asked me, “Why are we parking at this parking lot?” He had been all over Baldpate Mountain with me in the baby carrier as an infant, later as a toddler and now as a “really old” 5-year old.  He was quite distressed and insisted that we were “NOT at Baldpate Mountain”. He loves the vista from the meadow near Strawberry Mansion, which is also one of my favorite places in the Sourlands. After I explained that we would still see the view but we had to climb big rocks to get there, both Wild Boys were ready to go!

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Even at my age, I love stepping stones as much as my kids.

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I appreciate the whole body effort of my Littlest. He will hop across all those stones just like his big brother.

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Horizontal logs are an absolute must when perfecting those balancing skills.

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Littlest and I had hiked part of the Blue Trail when he was a few months old and we had stopped at this very same log to look at all of the nutshells. I love how you will see some of the same familiar sights even if you haven’t been on that trail for 1.5 years.

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We all get in on the rock hopping fun!

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Peak-a-boo!

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A Sourland boulder must always be appreciated and climbed.

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Shagbark Hickory, Carya ovata, is a popular roosting place for many bat species in the Eastern United States. The Indiana Bat, Myotis sodalis, in particular, likes to hide within the loose bark of this tree.

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One of the reasons I love winter hikes is that you can discover the hidden views. During the summer when all of the leaves are out, this view will be completely different.

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I believe that this is some sort of non-native Buttercup, possibly Winter Aconite, Eranthis hyemalis.

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Common Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, making an appearance.

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I love all of the big trees on this side of the mountain.

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Taking a little break.

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Multiflora Rose, Rosa Multiflora, is already sending out new leaves – in February! It has been alarming how mild this winter has been and I am so afraid of how this affects our ecosystem as a whole. There is such a thin balance between bloom times, insect emergence, migrations, and breeding season that when one thing starts too early, the whole balance is thrown off.

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A hardscrabble up these rocks!

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Garlic Mustard, Alliaria petiolata, leafing out early. Unfortunately, this invasive is almost always one of the first plants I see to leaf out in the spring.  But let’s be honest, it is still winter! Garlic Mustard is edible and can be substituted for garlic in pesto. Yum!

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Running to the world’s edge – also known as the “septic mound”… We usually travel to the higher meadow but when the Wild Boys saw this wide-open view, they took off.

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Rolling down the mountain.

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Snacks after a hike well done!

Berry Picking in the Sourlands and Wineberry Preserves!

It is Wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius) time! In this house, we love berries of all sorts and if there is a chance to pick them, we love them even more! Wineberries are the non-native invasive that just about everyone turns a blind eye to. Their ruby, semi-tart fruits are prolific and even the most fervent of invasive species eradicators will just idle on by these canes, pretending not to notice. I will not tell a lie. I, too, willfully disregarded these non-natives in my backyard. Whenever I see a new cane pop up, I just let it be and I rip out some Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) and Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), instead. It is easy to commit purposeful oversights when we will be rewarded with delicious berries.

When wineberries reach their full ripeness, they turn a deep ruby, almost purple color. I am not known for patience and I usually start eating them when they become “STOP Sign” red. I have eaten them at full ripeness, and they are a bit sweeter. However, that would require 2 more weeks more of ripening time and I just can’t wait that long! My husband and I decided it would be fun to take the boys berry-picking after work, so we picked them up from school, stopped for a slice of pizza and then headed out into the Sourlands!

IMG_4576My Big Dude picked the first berry of the hike.IMG_4578
Kerplink!IMG_4579My husband showed Littlest which berries were ripe for picking.IMG_4583I love the pincer grasp that young children use when picking berries. Their careful and slow reach and those little fingers pinching is adorable. IMG_4586“Hurry up! There are more berries up here!” my Big Dude shouted. He was our scout and he pointed out all of the big and best patches.IMG_4595Berry baskets for the win! Two handed picking at its best.IMG_4598Berry picking was traded in for some rock climbing.IMG_4622We took a well-deserved break at the top of the mountain and enjoyed watching the sun as it began to set over the Delaware river.IMG_4631This was about two-thirds of our harvest. We picked a bunch more on our way down to our car. IMG_4664I combined our family-picked berries with about 4 more cups of berries which I had picked from the bushes outside of my office. I cooked them all down with 1.5 cups of water.IMG_4667 3I bought a jelly strainer and strained out all of the juices that I could.IMG_4673Cooking the preserves, adding sugar and pectin and sterilizing all of my equipment! I have never canned anything before (or made preserves for that matter!) so I boiled everything a lot longer than I needed to because I wanted to make sure I killed all the bacteria and fungi.

My boys worked hard making labels for our preserves. IMG_4675My Big Dude knew the most important part of “Wineberry Preserves”.

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My preserves came out a little runny, but they tasted great! We are going to make picking wineberries and turning them into preserves a family tradition. It was so nice to go out as a family and even though the canning part was a little tedious, I love the fact that we did it together.

Rock Mill Preserve – a Friday morning with the Wild Boys!

Rock Mill Preserve is located on Grandview Rd in Montgomery Township.

Link to hiking map.

My Oldest likes to tell people that his mom’s job is to save trees. He is so proud of that and truth be told, it makes me tear up a little when he talks about it. While the majority of my work is administrative, budgeting and e-mails (so many e-mails!) I take a lot of pride in the work that I do for Sourland Conservancy because our mission is to protect Sourland Mountain. I really enjoy the educational portion of my job, sharing my knowledge of plants and ecology and listening to stories from volunteers about their experiences here and why they love this place. It is exciting to see their faces light up when they talk about their favorite berry patch, the first time they saw an indigo bunting or how they find peace in the forest. This mountain is so precious and I love that my children get to come out and explore it with me.

IMG_3209Our shirts and pants are tucked in and we are ready for an adventure!IMG_3213 It looks like one tree fell over and then another tree fell on top of the first. Trees knocked over by wind are often referred to as “wind thrown” and these thrown trees can have many different effects on the ecosystem.  Fallen trees change the ecological community because the organisms that depend on an upright tree generally cannot survive on a horizontal one. Also, when a tree falls it causes a physical disturbances on the ground where it fell and in the hole that the roots used to occupy. Uprooted trees destabilize the soil making it easier for the next tree to fall. When a tree falls it also creates a gap in the canopy, allowing a lot more light to reach the forest floor. Often when you see large canopy gaps you will also see a flush of invasive species like Japanese Stiltgrass, Microstegium vimineum. IMG_3218“These are ferns!” My little botanist in training 🙂IMG_3224Littlest working on his fire starting skills.IMG_3230A Jill-in-the-pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum.IMG_3231Jack-in-the-pulpit/Jill-in-the-pulpit seeds. They will turn a bright red when they are ripe.IMG_3232I love the curves of this Sweet Cherry, Prunus serotina. At the top of the photo you can see the Sweet Cherry growing into the bark of what appears to be a Black Gum, Nyssa sylvatica. The Sweet Cherry probably had damage on that branch and as the branch healed, the new wood started to grow around the bark of the Black Gum. This is an example of a natural graft. Grafting is a horticultural technique often used to combine two different species of plant. For example, many of the grape vines grown in Europe use a rock stock from the American Concord grape which is resistant to Phylloxera, which is an insect pest that was introduced to Europe and killed a large percentage grape vines across the continent. A piece of the vine from the desired grape variety (lets go with Chardonnay) will be sliced on an angle producing a “scion”. This will be aligned with an identical but mirrored cut on a Phylloxera-resistant root stock (Concord) and then the two pieces will be wrapped to hold them in place. The vines will heal around each other making the two plants into one. This method is used in many different plant species, but particularly for fruiting trees.IMG_3234The Wild Boys playing nature’s version of hop scotch.IMG_3237Kings of the mud mound!IMG_3243Jump!IMG_3246We used roots and rocks to navigate through the mud.IMG_3251My Big dude found a slug and wanted to make sure I took a picture.IMG_3262“Rock Island”.IMG_3266Surveying the stream and looking for the best place to throw rocks.IMG_3270He asked if he could cross the stream. I said, “No”, and as soon as I turned my back to help Littlest, he crossed the stream anyway.  It was one of those situations where you must pick and choose your battles.  I chose to let it (and him) go.IMG_3277Enjoying his independence and the view from the other side!IMG_3282The Japanese Stiltgrass, Microstegium vimineum, was like a carpet in the forest.IMG_3293These Wild Boys loved all of the stream crossings at the preserve. There were so many opportunities to hop, skip and jump!IMG_3297My big dude walked off again while I was helping Littlest cross the stream. I found him upstream quietly sitting on a rock.IMG_3300I asked him what he was doing and he told me, “I am just enjoying a quiet moment”.  My oldest continues to amaze and silence me every day. He asks me the questions that I have never even considered and has much more patience than I have ever had. I love watching him think and puzzle over things.  He picks things apart and then slowly and carefully puts them back together in a way that makes sense to him. He is tenacious in his quest for knowledge and will never accept the easy response of, “because that is the way it is”.  He constantly requires me to reflect on what I think I “know” and to not just accept things as truth without understanding them from top to bottom. IMG_3304I am trying to give both of my children space and time to explore on their own. While guided instruction is important, I believe children need to play and self direct their playtime. I sat back on my rock and enjoyed some quiet time myself while watching my Wild Boys play and explore on their own time and terms.IMG_3326Nature’s balance beam.IMG_3333Searching for waterfalls.IMG_3334The only time they are allowed to throw rocks!IMG_3313

“Hello? Anyone in there?”

My oldest asked if a woodpecker made that hole in the tree and so I asked him how would a woodpecker make a hole in the tree….

IMG_3340This tree had what looked like a wire wrapped around it and over time, the tree grew over the wire. I have seen trees “swallow” fences before, but I have never seen a tree grow around a wire in this fashion.IMG_3347

White Beardtongue, Penstemon digitalis, looking beautiful and inviting!IMG_3353Post-hike car picnic! The women that work at our favorite sandwich shop know these Wild Boys well and when they see them in their Sourland Conservancy shirts, they always asks them “Are you going to help Mommy save the trees today?” And the Wild Boys shout, “YES!”.

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Stream Monitor Training 2019 and STREAM School!

When I was an undergraduate student, I took a class called “Limnology” because a big group of friends were taking it. I didn’t even know what the class was going to be about, but I figured “why not?”. It turned out to be one of my all-time favorite classes of both undergraduate and graduate school and I had more fun in that class than any class that I have taken since. Limnology is the study of freshwater systems – lakes, rivers, streams. I loved the hydrology, the physics, chemistry and biology. It was fascinating, and I looked forward to the 5-hour labs on Friday. What I learned in that class stuck with me for well over 10 years because it was fun and fascinating.

Water quality is near and dear to my heart. Having clean, safe water is a right that everyone should have and the only way that we can ensure that our water is clean and safe is if we monitor it and take steps to protect it. The Sourland Conservancy received a grant from The Watershed Institute to develop a stream monitoring program and stream school to train volunteers to collect quality data about stream health in the Sourlands. Volunteers will be trained to assess riparian habitat, stream width/depth and water speed, and collect and identify aquatic macroinvertebrates. Riparian habitat is the area of land on either side of the water, which is important because a good riparian zone will protect the banks from erosion and will also shade the water to keep the temperatures cooler in the summer. Stream width and depth and speed are important because the width and depth can indicate how sediment is distributed within the stream bed and this information along with speed can also tell us how much energy/water is moving through the stream. Aquatic macroinvertebrates (Macros) are important indicator species because some particular species are associated with higher water quality than others.

The Sourland Conservancy in partnership with The Watershed Institute and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection are hosting a Stream School in September. If you are interested in learning more water quality issues, stream health, or just as excited about limnology as I am, please sign up for our Stream School and help us to Save the Sourlands and keep our water clean and safe for generations to come!

Now, on to the fun part! The Sourland Conservancy hosted three stream monitor training sessions lead by New Jersey Americorp Watershed Ambassadors!

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Watershed Ambassador, Daniel Correa, going over all the different types of measurements they would be taking today.

IMG_1257We measured water depth across different portions of the stream.

IMG_1263Stream monitors are supposed to work in pairs, so one person collects the measurement while the other person writes it down.

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To calculate the speed of the stream, Daniel had volunteers measure a distance of 10 meters. Then they timed how long it took a rubber ducky to travel the 10 meters.

IMG_1274Ready, set, go!

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IMG_1264Big helpers taking a turn with the measuring tape.

IMG_1221Littlest finding the perfect rock to throw.

IMG_1250My big dude could not wait to get into the stream and look for Macros.

IMG_1226My big dude found a Mayfly! Mayflies are in the order Ephemeroptera. The root of the word means “for a day” in Greek, which hints at the short life span of Mayflies.

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Photo by Daniel Correa

Here a volunteer is scrubbing stones to dislodge macroinvertebrates that cling on to hard surfaces, such as Caddisflies.

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Photo by Daniel Correa

Volunteers working together to sort macros!

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Photo by Daniel Correa

A volunteer taking a subsample from the bucket to identify and sort.

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Photo by Daniel Correa

Our lovely volunteers did a wonderful job during our training session. It was a cold and damp April afternoon, but they were focused, enthusiastic and dedicated to learning about stream health.

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Photo by Joel Coyne 

Our dedicated volunteers came out for the second training on a drizzly and chilly early May morning.

 

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Photo by Joel Coyne

Volunteers working together to empty their D-nets into the sample bucket.

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Photo by Joel Coyne

Watershed Ambassador, Kristen Obermeier, teaching stream side identification of macro invetebrates.

IMG_1944Watershed Ambassador, Fairfax Hutter, showing volunteers how to sample along streams with overhanging vegetation.

IMG_2054I love how unique each of these Sourland streams are!

IMG_1970Volunteers were eager to check out their D-nets and see what macros they found!

IMG_1978 2Whenever someone found something new everyone would crowd around to get a good look.

IMG_1959 2Inspecting his find!

IMG_1957Volunteers sampled along the riffles, from the top of this section all the way to the bottom.

IMG_1977Reaching into the D-nets to look around felt like reaching into a goody bag (at least for us nerdy folks!).

IMG_2002Volunteers chatted and sampled and had a lot of fun working (playing!) in the stream.

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A little Salamander, but I have no clue what type it was. I had thought it was a newt because we caught it in our D-nets, and then found out that newts are a type of salamander. If anyone knows what this little one is, please let me know!

IMG_1980It looks like this Crayfish is holding back a sneeze!

IMG_1967A Hellgrammite, in the order Megaloptera!!! This has been on my life of macro invertebrates to see since I took Limnology when I was an undergraduate. I am talking 11 years in the making! I saw it in my D-net, but was cautiously optimistic because I didn’t want to be too excited and then upon closer inspection find out that I was mistaken. However, I let out a huge WAHOO when I got it on my hand. Isn’t she magnificent?!?! Hellgrammites turn into Dobsonflies, which I have not seen either. Now that I have the larval stage checked off, I know need to see an adult!

IMG_1952 2A dragonfly, in the order Odonata. I feel like this is one of the easier species to identify in their larval stage because it looks pretty similar to the adult stage, except it doesn’t have wings.

IMG_2019We all worked together to identify, sort and count our macro invertebrates together.IMG_2006 2We found three crayfish! I always get excited to find one (in the water, not on the trail like last time!).

IMG_2014A Mayfly!

IMG_2016A Water Penny, in the order Coleoptera (beetle). Finding Water Pennies is a good indicator that your water is clean!

img_2017.jpegA Damselfly, in the order Odonata. Their paddle-like tails are actually gills!

img_2026.jpegA stonefly, in the order Plecoptera! Stoneflies have gills right where their appendages meet their body, so it looks sort of like they have hairy armpits… or hairy legpits?

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A tiny Stonefly! I don’t know why it is white, maybe it had recently hatched, but I think it is just the cutest little baby bug I have ever seen!

Cedar Ridge – Two days of flowers and fun (and probably the loudest public shriek I have made!).

I love going on hikes with nature enthusiasts. It is fun to walk, talk, and point out all the plants and animals while learning more about our environment. On June 1st, the Sourland Conservancy  hosted a hike with naturalist Betty Horn, a highly respected botanist.  I was very excited to listen to her insights and stories about the plants around us.

Betty was a wonderful hike leader who didn’t just teach us about plants, but also talked about the evolutionary mechanisms which explain some of the traits plants have.  She spoke of the medicinal or historical uses of some of the plants we encountered.

My family came out for this hike. But since my Wild Boys know that the outdoors is for playing, running, shouting and asking loud questions, it was difficult to manage their enthusiasm and still participate in the group. After awhile, my husband and I surrendered and let our Wild Boys just be wild and we went on our own way. I decided to return to Cedar Ridge very soon in order to hike with one of my friends.

A friend and I came to Cedar Ridge a week later and walked the same trail. She taught me bird identification and I taught her about plants. We went early, so the air was wet and just a tad cool but warmed up to become the most lovely spring morning.

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A group of nature enthusiasts ready to botanize!

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Betty asked everyone to pick some of the White Clover, Trifolium repens. She explained that the white flower head was comprised of many florets and that there is a pollination strategy that the plant exhibits by only opening one row of florets at a time. This strategy encourages pollinators to visit the flower more often and increases the likelihood that the flower will be pollinated.

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Littlest making sure he doesn’t miss out on the botany excitement!

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Betty explained to the group that it’s best to the hold the magnifying glass up to your eye and then move the flower to the proper distance to examine. My big dude is figuring out which distance is clearest for him.

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My Wild Boys are used to waiting around while I investigate plants and attempt to identify and photograph them. I love how my boys always find something to do and play on while they wait.

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Betty teaches the rhyme, “Sedges have edges. Rushes are round. Grasses have knees that bend to the ground.”

Sedges and grasses are the absolute bane of my botany existence. I still have flashbacks of graduate school, in my advisor’s lab with a dissecting microscope and a copy of Gleason and Cronquist’s Manual of vascular plants of the Northeastern United States. I spent hours trying to identify the 20 different species of Carex that I collected for my graduate thesis. **Shudders** If I never have to identify another Carex species for the rest of my life, I will be a happy woman.

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On the hunt for more flowers!

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Betty holding up a species of Brassica in fruit as she speaks about the seed dispersal mechanism of the plant. Brassicas are part of the mustard family.

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Often in movies, the edge of the forest looks scary. A place that is dangerous and has ROUSes that can gobble you up.

When I see my son at the edge of the forest, I don’t see danger. I see a kingdom with palace walls that stretch to the sky. Cathedral ceilings let in the most perfect amount of sunlight which spotlights the understory plants below. It is a place of wonder, beauty, secrets and adventure. It is magnificent and I love watching my children run into the woods, always ready for new discoveries and adventure.

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Betty pointed out a Jewelweed/Touch-me-not, Impatiens capensis.

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Leaflets of three, let me be! Poison Ivy, Toxicodendrons radicans.

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Betty teaches the hike participants about Pink Smartweed, Persicaria pensylvanica (Persicaria pensylvanica). She explained that it’s called “smartweed” because it is spicy and “smarts” if you eat it. I had always thought it was called Smartweed because it outsmarts me at every turn and each time I think I that I have rid my garden and yard of it, I find new ones.

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I love to see how everyone is so relaxed and happy to be out in nature learning about plants!

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Littlest was looking for birds and simultaneously using my husband’s sideburns as reins.

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It is amazing to watch my oldest grow and mature. He was so patient and such a good listener during the hike. He was digesting the information from Betty and then asking me follow up questions. I love watching him process information, turning it over, examining it from different angles and questioning it.

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When we came upon an old wall in the forest, Ian Burrow, a Sourland Conservancy volunteer and archaeologist, told the group about the history of Cedar Ridge and the significance of the wall. He wrote a wonderful report on the hidden cultural landscape of Cedar Ridge. It is so jam-packed with information and you can read it here!

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Ian described how the type of rock and the shape of the wall is typical of the Sourland Mountain region. The rocks are wedge- shaped and they angle inward with flat rocks stacked on top.

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Jack of the pulpit…or is it Jill of the pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum. This plant exhibits sexual dimorphism, which means that the plant can change genders each season depending on nutrient availability. It takes more energy to be female and produce offspring, so if there is not enough nutrient availability, the plant will grow as a male with only one leaf and will not produce fruit. If the previous year was good, the plant will become female and produce two leaves and fruit. Nature really is amazing!

At this point, the Wild Boys needed to be wild, so we turned around and headed back. I came back a week later with my friend and bandmate to go on an early morning hike. We are both working moms and find it hard to fit in time for ourselves. So this before-work hike was just what we both needed. She has been really interested in birding, so as we walked she would take out her binoculars and identify different birds and then pass her binoculars on to me and tell me key characteristics of the birds. It is such a special connection that nature can bring to people. We can share knowledge, create new experiences and find a little bit of peace.

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Hawkweed, Hieracium spp.. I found some of the common names of this plant quite amusing such as “Mouse-Ears”, “King Devil” and “Yellow Devil”. Usually common names run along the same vein, but not this plant!

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Red Clover, Trifolium pratense. In this picture, you can see the first two rows of florets are open but the rest are still tightly shut near the center of the flower head.

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Pink Smartweed, Persicaria pensylvanica (Persicaria pensylvanica). I love the magenta color of the flowers, especially against the surrounding greenery.

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Bellflower, Lobelia spp.. I have been kicking myself repeatedly for not bringing my ID book or at least taking a sample of this Bellflower.  I recognized that this was a different species than what I had encountered before, but I assumed I had gotten a good enough look at it that I would be able to figure out the species. Well, I was wrong in my assumptions. There are quite a few species of Lobelia in New Jersey and many of them have very subtle differences. There is also a lot of phenotypic variation (a phenotype is the physical expression of the plants genes and it is affected by the plant’s environment) which upon brief examination might mislead you. So, in the future, I will remind myself to carry my flower guide, slow down, take more pictures (or maybe a small sample if I can’t get a good picture) and not make so many assumptions. Slowing down and not making so many assumptions is probably just a good life goal for me, anyways.

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Meadow Broccoli! Just kidding! I’m not really sure what this is, I think some sort of Sedge (Carex) but I didn’t take a sample back with me to key out with my plant guide book.  It will just have to remain a “Mystery meadow Broccoli” until someone lets me know its actual name.

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Evening Primrose/Sundrops, Oenothera fruticosa. When I saw this flower, I knew immediately that it was an Oenothera species.  However, I had never seen this species before. I am more familiar with the Common Evening Primrose, Oenothera biennis, but the stems of the common species is “sturdier” and the leaves are broader and I also do not recall the flower petals having such dark yellow lines.

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Forget-me-nots, Myosotis spp.. I am not sure what species this is, but I know there are a few native species and a few non-native species in New Jersey.

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White Beard Tongue, Penstemon digitalis. I really love these white flowers. They are so beautiful and showy and on my list of native flowers to plant at my house.

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Here it is, the reason for two grown woman to shriek at the top of their lungs and jump back three feet… The huge, the terrifying, the fierce… Crawfish, Orconectes spp.!!!

We were moseying along on the path, chatting about life and suddenly my friend stops in her tracks and says “WHAT IN THE WORLD IS THAT?!” I looked down and said “Oh, that’s a Crawfish. Maybe a bird dropped it”.

At the time the poor thing was laying flat and we both assumed it was dead.  But of course, when you find a dead thing on a path you must pick up a stick to poke it with. Well, when I picked up a stick and was about to poke, the crazy crustacean lifted up its mighty pincers ready for battle. I dropped my stick, my friend and I both screamed and jumped back while holding each other. Frankly, I am surprised about how startled I was and how loud I screamed. Truly, you would have thought Big Foot had come out from behind a tree from the way we acted.

I can’t help but laugh at myself when I look at this picture. I also couldn’t stop giggling while writing this section. What an absolutely wonderful time I had during both of my hikes! And to have it end with being scared silly by a crawfish!