I spent yesterday walking up and down the forested hills and slopes of Pleasant Valley. When covered with several inches of snow and a crust of ice, this section of Hopewell township, is not that pleasant. Beautiful, yes. Deer browsed, yes, absolutely to pieces. And this is why I was walking up and down slopes for about 7 hours.
My coworkers and I were doing the first component of a forest health study that assesses deer browse. The study goes like this: Each December, we carry bare root native tree seedlings bundled in plastic garbage bags into the forest. We also carry two dibble bars, which are crude shovel-like tools that foresters use to plant tree seedlings.
The type of dibble bar we use, in case you wanted to know, is a Jim Gem KBC Bar. It weighs just over ten pounds and is 39" long. The T shaped bar has a heavy wedge instead of a shovel blade. It is bright orange so you don't "accidentally" lose the ten pound instrument.
If you are strong, like my one of coworkers, you slam it into the ground a couple times and stomp the crossbar with your foot, and you then have a sliver of a hole for a tree to go into. If you are a lightweight like me, you hop onto the crossbar and wobble. You stomp and rock and sway while standing on the cross bar. You bang your knees into the center bar. Eventually, you make a hole.
We also carry a map and GPS to guide us to our randomly selected plots where we plant ten trees per plot. Each site has a minimum of ten plots. We bring ten extra trees in case the multiflora rose thorns that shred my legs also shred the trees. The trees must have their end buds intact because in six months (mosquito season), we go back to see if the trees have been browsed by deer. You can read about what I will be doing six months from now regarding this study here.
It may seem like I am complaining, and I am, but I still really like the job. Even this part of it.
Unrelated but affecting my stamina for this activity, I got very poor sleep the previous night. I woke up just fifteen minutes before I needed to descend the icy Sourland ridge into the (pleasant) valley below. I packed in as much fatty food as Jared could cook for me in ten minutes, and drove away in the very slow to warm up Ford Ranger.
Once at the site, I took 50 trees. My coworker took 60. I look like Santa Claus with a black garbage bag full of trees, of course. My other coworker took the map, GPS, and two dibble bars. He slings the bars across his shoulder. We march out into the forest. As the trees go into the ground, our bundles diminish until one of us can take a dibble bar. I find that it nooks nicely into a muscle knot in my shoulder. The crossbar occasionally grazes the back of my skull.
With each step, one foot punches through the ice crust. The other lifts out of it. We often walk single file, taking advantage of each other's footprints. My stride is shorter and my straddle narrower than my coworker who is in the lead, and I can't quite match his step. Sometimes my other coworker and I walk side by side and chat about our sons. Both of us are too polite to jump into our other coworker's tracks, so we each blaze our own trail. The shards of ice that our boots kick up slide down the slopes. Mini-avalanches.
We plant two sites (200 trees) in one day. By the time I return home, I'm exhausted. Truly spacey exhausted. I shower and request that we eat dinner in the living room, so I can stuff my belly from a semi-reclining position.
Jared also looks exhausted. He did not sleep well the night before, nor did our three year old. Though their day had been pleasant until lunchtime, a lack of sleep made the afternoon edgy.
Our friends had planned to eat a new and expensive restaurant in Princeton that evening. We had no childcare option. It was Jared's turn. He needed a break. He almost stayed home, but I told him, "If it was my 'turn' and I wasn't to tired, I'd go."
Shortly, he was in his jacket. As I said goodbye to him from the doorway, I could see his face relax. "Fresh air," he sighed. "See, it's good for you. I'm glad you're going," I said. In the background, an overtired three year old careened around the house.
I skipped bath time, thinking Beren might get a second wind. We snacked, read stories, nursed. Read more stories. I turned off all lights except a tiny flashlight to illuminate our book. My eyes glazed and I drifted. Beren complained repeatedly that I was not holding the flashlight up high enough. I told him that I was tired and was shutting off the flashlight.
He protested but settled down. He then began to wiggle. He put his feet on my knees and propelled himself up and down as if hopping while laying down. "Not good," I thought. Ten minutes or more later, he hopped up and exclaimed, "Let's eat something!"
I groaned, but roused myself. The previous night's poor sleep was partly due to a child who needed a wee hours snack. "Anything to avoid that happening again," I thought. Anything, except perhaps, acting like a loving and generous spirited mother. I was grumpy. Oh yes, I was very, very grumpy.
In spite of the distant whisper of reason, I turned on all the lights. I banged cabinet doors. I stormed around the house. As I spread butter on crackers for Beren, I was surprised that the knife didn't melt in my hand and the crackers burst into flames. I was mad mad mad. And honestly, Beren was behaving just fine. It was me. I preferred that we both be in a deep sleep.
When Jared returned from his pleasant outing, he opened the door. What he heard was Beren angrily and tearfully protesting me cleaning up his blocks and me angrily and tearfully protesting his taking out more toys. "You are supposed to be asleep!" "Take out my toys! Don't put toys away!"
"Looks like I chose the wrong night to go out," Jared said. "Or the right night!" I growled. The addition of an audience calmed me a bit. "How was dinner?" I asked. When he replied, "Really nice," tears stung my eyes. I flopped on the couch.
Beren climbed into my lap. He nursed as Jared quietly told us about his dinner and the restaurant. Beren's eyelids drifted cosed for a moment, and Jared continued until our child was asleep. "I should have just enjoyed our night together," I said. "You are tired," Jared said.
Overtired, I slept poorly with long wakings in the night. Only once Beren whimpered, and in the moonlight I could see he had rolled free of his blankets. His legs were cold and covered in goosebumps. I gently replaced the blanket. He settled and fell back to sleep easily. I was surprised as this was unusual for him. I went back to bed and laid awake. The night was so bright - snow and moon. I suppose I've come to rely on night nursing to get back to sleep myself.
Affected by a second night of bad sleep and a late bedtime, our day was up and down, once again. A tired child and tired parents. I wondered if Beren would fall asleep early. If he doesn't, I promised myself, this will be my redo. The three of us built with blocks and played with trucks until bath time. We had a fun time in the tub. "I'm done," Beren announced stepping out of the bath and into his green towel. He blotted his body like an expert. "Dry my legs," [Dwhy my wegs] he said. From there, he ran into the kitchen, announcing, "I'm going to get my jammies on!"
After stories, he and I settled. We talked. I rubbed his back. When he sat up and said, "Let's eat something," I jolted.
Redo. I get my redo.
"Ok," I said. "Let's do that. Would you like crackers with butter and a carrot?" "Mmmhmm!"
After a trip to the kitchen, I sat on the couch and opened my correspondence course text. Beren climbed up, and I showed him the books. "What's this?" he asked as we looked at the black and white pictures. I pointed out images of flowers, herbs, tincture bottles, the author of the writing.
"Here's a picture of the author's garden and her watering can. Here's her apothecary where she keeps herbs. Herbs help you feel better when you are sick." I thought about the reading I've been doing lately. I thought about how Beren always adds herbs to his imaginary soups. I though about a quote I picked up from a herbal for children. The bit of wisdom was that parents should be clear that the body heals itself and herbs simply help it to heal.
"Well, the herbs help you. They help your vital force. Did you know you had a vital force inside of you?" Beren shyly tucked his head into my elbow, and I wondered if I frightened or confused him, possibly both. He crawled into my lap and it was time to get to sleep.