Winter landscapes

 Red oak & American beech with buttressing roots.

Red oak tip up with soil profile visible.

The Sourlands don't appear to have the twelve foot deep soils of the prairie. 

Roots run across the top of the diabase boulder filled soil. Trees are tossed easily here, especially after the extreme weather of the past two summers -  two years ago extremely dry, killing many feeder roots and causing early dormancy for herbs and aborted fruit for many trees and shrubs; and this year past, very wet, soaking the soils so deeply that tree foliage yellowed and fruits rotted. Tree toppled in inundated soils, having who-knows how much less root mass than pre-drought. 

And, with that, my son is awake and happily chatting away in his crib. 

Birds of Winter

Blackbirds, primarily grackles, take flight, December 4

Each year I look forward to the grackle wave. Tens of thousands of birds use the opening around our home to forage. When the flock is at a distance, the birds sounds like a waterfall. So black and featureless, they appear like paper cut outs in the sky. From the porch, my husband and I watched the birds fly over. 

Jared wondered if our son was awake, so he too could see the birds. No, asleep. And there we let him sleep, one year and two days old, teething and croupy.

Along the trail at Cook Natural Area in Kingston, December 5 

My husband gasped and said, "Look!" I thought, "Snake."

To my husband's frustration, when he exclaims, "Look!", "Look out!", "Duck!", or "Slow down!", I usually say, "Huh?" I think a touch of fight or flight comes on.  Instead of seeing more clearly, my eyes blur and I get ready to... stand still. Of course, 'fight or flight' doesn't take animals like woodcocks and grouses into consideration--animals that do best by moving slowly or not at all.

Life in a Diabase Boulder Field

Crack in diabase boulder near the headwaters of Rock Brook. The crack follows a harder band of rock--less eroded than the rock surrounding--running through the boulder.  

"Make no mistake," my kung fu teacher says, waving his hand, "soft is powerful. Hard is not always more powerful. Soft is more powerful than hard." Sifu demonstrates the first form of Ngo Cho Kun, sam chien, with incredible power and tension. "The young ones do like this."

Again he demonstrates sam chien, this time alternating powerful strikes and relaxed parries and counters. "When you become older, more experienced, you do like this."

He demonstrates sam chien one final time with no force. He begins to add other strikes and blocks. "Like the white crane. When you become senior tis is how you maintain your power. This is very powerful."

Woodpecker holes follow the edge of the tree's scar tissue. I wonder if the scar itself is too hard, too dense for ants to drill into. Did they find the place where soft meets hard?

"Look for the weak point. Do not punch your opponent in the chest. If he is very strong, he will not feel anything."

"Use this," he makes a phoenix fist, "to the temple. Very painful. He will get dizzy and fall down. Or, to here," he points to where his jaw meets his face. "You cannot body-build this."

Trees can be difficult to identify by bark alone. Individuals may appear very different based upon age, habitat, and even the side of the tree one is facing. 

Tupelo tree, opposites sides of the same tree. Bark tends to slough off the southern or sky-facing (if leaning) side. Exposed to the sun and thus more drastic fluctuations in daytime and nighttime winter temperatures, ice thaws and refreezes, causing the bark to fall off. 

"Do not let him know what you are doing. You must be quick. He will want to hug [grab] you," he puts his hands around a student's neck. "Like this. What do you do?" The student blocks out with both hands, presses down, and pushes. "That's correct!" he exclaims. 

Black birch tree tip up. Black birch seeds germinate on bare ground. This tree's roots were flattened on the bottom from the diabase boulder it grew upon. I began to think boulder fields are similar to plants grown in pots -- sometimes there is not a lot of room for roots.

"if you are not rooted, he will knock you down. It is very easy."

 Turkey vulture cruises overhead, far above the widow-makers that we walk beneath.

A diabase boulder cracked by the pressure of tree roots--that boulder-field/potted plant situation again. This must have taken awhile. Native Americans used diabase--hard but could be fashioned to a sharp edge. 

A classmate and I practice attack, defense, and counter moves. We're polite to each other. I'm the only woman in the class. "Move! You have to move when you attack. No, like this." Sifu, a slight man, takes monstrous steps across the floor. He gently but firmly places his outer blades of his hands on my shoulder joints. He suddenly snaps his hands forward and strides. I step back quickly, following his movement, lest I trip over my feet.

"Add power at the last moment. Very powerful." He says, "You push. Then you throw away. Like a rubber band."

Cranefly orchis. A nice surprise.

Days of walking and not much sleep

Woodland sunshine along a rill, Senecio sp.

Diabase boulder field with fun plants like doll's eyes, bladdernut, American chestnut, and paw paw

Mystery Geum species along a wooded rill.

Transect with invasives removed, but no woody recruitment...lots of seeds in this degraded (pastured??, then logged and then clogged with multiflora rose) but diverse section of forest. Too many deer...

Blackhaw in bloom

My son needs break along the trail and we find last year's nests.

Warm sunshine, a good place, and company helps me keep going...

My son, 5 1/2 months, seems to be in the midst of a growth spurt...restless nighttime sleep with many of wake ups, short daytime naps, increased desire to be close and held, and bursts of newborn baby crying jags that make my husband and I nostalgic.

"Ohhhh, the newborn cry," we sigh as though caressing a Valentine from long ago--a soft, velveteen heart glued to a doily, signed in ink by someone whose sharp-edges have been softened by an aged pencil eraser.

Time and distance, time and distance makes all things better.

We rambled, despite poor sleep, far this weekend. "Just a short walk up the High Road to the transect, then right back," we agreed. Jared carried a short but awkward fence to place around Canada lilies that are overbrowsed (never flowering) by deer. I carried our son and an overstuffed backpack.

I've seen one Canada lily flower in the Sourlands since moving here about 6 years ago. We returned the the site many times and never found it again. We've since honed our plant identification skills in general and specifically for deer ravaged nubs, twigs, and dwarfed herbs. I can say that, yes, there are many Canada lilies in rich, moist woodlands near my home. Most have just one or two leaves, so stressed by deer browse.

Those of us who bite our fingernails can relate to the lilies--they try to grow, but then nip, nip...grow, nip, nip...grow, nip, gr, nip, nip...g, nip. Not much left to nip, but a misshapen shadow.

Driven by the misshapen shadows and memory of a single orange bloom in a tangle of multiflora rose, we walked on, photographing, observing. Of course, we rambled the long way home.

Showy orchis


Yesterday was much the same, though for the first half of the day we had more company. Here are images from our walk at Cushetunk:
Pennywort, another plant on the New Jersey Natural Heritage list

This moth(?) chased away a swallowtail 3x its size.

Wild geranium, beautiful and so named "wild" rather than "false" geranium, I wonder

Sarsparilla - a tremendous component of the herb layer in portions of the forest. A friend that I know well from the Catskills and rarely from the Sourlands. A treat to see it in bloom.

Perfoliate bellwort is often browsed at home, but we saw more robust colonies in bloom...browsed there, too, unfortunately

Along the powerline right of way we found:

Pinxter bloom azalea in flower. In the shaded edge with pale petals.

In the sun with darker pink petals.

The delicate branching pattern of our azalea.

Jared read that in the 1950s pinxter was the 3rd most common shrub at Cushetunk. Though looking hard, We saw no pinxters blooming in the forest. Under the canopy, the pinxter drops down to ground cover size. In the image above it is dwarfed by lowbush the forest, where forest nesting birds shrubs to raise young...

Too many deer.

The azalea can grow faster than the deer can browse it when receives extra shot of sun. Pinxter can grow 10' tall, maybe more, and in the sun at Cushetunk it was no more the 6.5' tall. More typically it was hip high.

Notice a theme? Good, now eat some wild hunted, Jersey grown white tailed deer.

The Raccoon Tree

In the snow at the base of the black oak, we found piles of dried grasses, scattered. Like an animal nest had been ripped from a tree cavity and cast about on the ground. As though someone rummaged through your closet and threw all of your belongings out of the third-floor window. Grass heaps. Cave cricket.

We've been seeing a lot of these "evictions" in the snow the past couple of weeks. Is it flying squirrels doing house cleaning? Woodpecker territorial wars? Carnivorous tree raids?

  fallen nesting material

Dead cricket

We found and followed a set of raccoon tracks from the oak, leading north from the ridgetop breezeway. It was unclear whether the raccoon had been responsible for the nest raid, but it certainly could have climbed up the oak trunk and reached into the small cavity we could see, about 40 feet up.

The tracks led from the base of this black oak (showing basal scars from an old logging operation?)

We followed the tracks through the deep snow, north towards the pipeline.

I hoped we might be able to follow the tracks to the raccoon itself. When I saw this gouged tuliptree in the distance, I had a feeling we might be in luck.

The raccoon was napping in the bottom of the tree cavity. I watched it as it stirred, scratched, and curled back up to sleep more in the midday sun. A few times, it peered groggily from its cozy nook, but was too bleary-eyed to notice me standing 15 feet below.