Kayak Days Are Here Again

It’s kayak season! There is no happier place for me than on the water. This wet, chilly spring, it seemed those treasured kayak days would never get here, but arrive they did. I’m fortunate to have three paddle buddies this year. Without further ado… Continue reading

Bogged Down

Perhaps you’ve noticed that postings here at the Wild Edge have oozed to a trickle. Once a week? HA! More like once a month.

It’s not that I don’t have any photos to feature, oh no. On my hard drive, photos are like invasive phragmites in a marsh. Cut one photo folder down to size, three more pop up in its place, and they’re all BIGGER.

Lately I’ve been deep in the quagmire of Not-Enough-Time. Swamped by Too-Much-To-Do. Bogged Down.

Perhaps it was appropriate that I spent a recent weekend in a bog. Continue reading

March Madness

The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month. – Henry Van Dyke

Sometimes the first spring day comes well before the first day of spring. One shouldn’t be too surprised when winter has more to say…

We were blessed with a number of really warm days during February. Sunny days in the 60s, and even the 70s. Daffodils bloomed; trees began to bud. An early taste of spring.

Eager to shake a bad case of cabin fever, I found myself supplementing my customary woodsy walks at a local park with frequent jaunts to Tyler Arboretum. One very warm day, I discovered that the frogs had come out to play. Spring peepers were secretive as always, impossible to see and impossible not to hear. And the wood frogs! Dozens of wood frogs. I’d never seen so many.

They were out of hibernation, looking for love, and finding it. Shortly thereafter, the pond was full of frogspawn.

My cell camera doesn’t zoom in very well; this is the best image I took of the army of wood frogs. (Yes, a group of frogs is called an “army!”)

And why do I only have cell phone images of the wood frogs?

I blame a lack of vision. Not the creative kind of vision. Literal vision – my eye sight.

I’ve been battling rapidly worsening cataracts in both eyes for some time. Cataracts are easily corrected by surgery, but the process has taken far longer than I expected. In the meantime, my impaired vision has dampened my enthusiasm for photography and limited my driving to a handful of nearby locales.

Most of the time, lacking all confidence, I haven’t even bothered to take my camera. Inevitably, I’ve found something neat that begged for a photograph, and I’ve had to resort to my cell phone. That’s been great for my Facebook page, not so much for the Wild Edge.

So the next very warm day, I went to Tyler, with a real camera, specifically looking for frogs. Of course, there were no frogs, but I found other subjects to shoot. The bridge across Dismal Run offered a unique view of a water strider skimming along the surface.

This is one of my favorite spots, a bench under eastern red cedar trees at the top of Pink Hill. After climbing the trail up from Dismal Run, a nice shady place to rest and cool off is welcome.

One warm Saturday, Robb, Don and I found ourselves in a bit of a hot spot. The day was sunny and blessedly free of other commitments. So we went to the Pine Barrens, in search of green trees.

We weren’t expecting to find our chosen trail flanked by the site of a recent controlled burn.

A very recent controlled burn. So recent, in fact, that there were quite a few plumes of smoke where the fire still smoldered.

Controlled burns are conducted in the Pinelands to clear the forest floor of deep layers of pine needles and other brush. If left in place, this duff could fuel disastrous wildfires.

Burns like this help the pine trees, too. Pitch pine cones are serotinous. They require fire with temperatures above 108° to open and release their seeds. This strange cone got the job half done.

One of my favorite views in the Pine Barrens. White sand, tea-colored water, green trees, blue sky. Serenity on the Oswego River.

The calendar turned from fevered February to March madness, and suddenly winter returned. Don’t let the deep blue sky fool you. It was COLD this day at Fort Mifflin. And very windy. We took a walk along the outer seawall, and Don was almost blown into the Delaware River.

After a winter in which we’d had only two light snowfalls, a true winter storm was a rude awakening. Snow and sleet, frozen hard overnight, left an impenetrable layer 6” deep, even deeper to the north.

When the roads cleared, I went in search of interesting snow photographs. With a real camera. Lake Nockamixon and Haycock Mountain, in Bucks County.

Mostly I was looking for red barns. Found one!

Winter grass and snow.

Found another barn!

This one came with a lovely farm pond, flanked by Canada Geese, and, as I learned later, a Great Blue Heron.

Back at the lake I found some of the plants encased in ice.

The snow and ice got me thinking about those wood frogs. Wood frogs can survive freezing. But on the warm days they laid thousands of eggs. The frogspawn was still there on my last visit, masses of strings of dark-centered gelatinous spheres. Will they survive? Will there be tadpoles? Or will the madness of winter following spring be the downfall of this new generation of frogs?

This topsy-turvy winter may not have been beneficial to the frogs. It certainly hasn’t been beneficial to my photography. I feel as if am simply killing time, enduring an endless maddening wait for something just over the horizon, like frogs waiting for a warm spring day.

Waiting can have its own benefits. The lessons I’ve learned from this period of my life? Never take good eyesight for granted. Don’t sit in the house and mope; time in nature heals the restless soul. Don’t overlook the wonders that abound at even the most familiar places.

And don’t leave the camera at home!

My Happy Place

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3199acsEveryone needs a place of retreat, a place to restore one’s soul. Through the long winter I pictured it only in my dreams. Serene. Meditative. Calming. My happy place.

Y’all close your eyes now. Let’s go there in our minds…

Ah, that’s better. Wave goodbye to the dark, dreary, landlocked days of winter. Shed the layers of thermals and fleece. Wade through the shallows, and settle into the kayak. Turn your face to the warming rays of the sun.

Now, dip the paddle blade into the water, and smoothly, gently, pull. Feel the boat glide effortlessly forward.

Ahhh. That’s better.

After six long months on land, I am once again a creature of the water. Blessed with a warm sunny day in the middle of April, I pack up my kayak and head for the Pine Barrens. Lake Oswego awaits, glittering indigo under a clear blue sky. No longer a dream, my happy place is now reality.

The water of the lake flows dripping off my paddle, and runs chuckling down the length of the kayak’s hull.

Ssssshlooooop -drip-drip-drip – drip – d r i p – d r i p – gurglegurgle

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3190acsThe first strokes are awkward, and I find myself paddling not across open water, but through a mass of lily pads and dark green pondweeds. Oops! Better watch where I am going.

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3429acsHmmm. That looks interesting on the other side of the bridge. I wonder if I can fit under there?

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3415acsEasily spooked, turtles dive at the mere hint of my presence. I stow my paddle and drift, and soon a turtle forgets me and begins to nibble at a nice wet salad.

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3193acsMy happy place. Around the upper curve of the lake and down the far shore, past the dam and the portage beach. Blue sky, green trees, dark blue water. Ahhh.

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3373acsAt the southeastern end of the lake, I find this fantastical sculpture, the twisted remains of a long-deceased tree.

Lakes don’t occur naturally in the Pine Barrens. Something had to die for the pond to be born.

Gone, but not forgotten.

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3295acsMy happy place is… a cemetery. The ghosts of drowned cedar trees haunt the shallow places, a reminder of the forest that once was.

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3357acsYet life abounds among the tree spirits. A fallen phantom attracts a turtle, very much alive. Several of his shelled buddies are also soaking up the sun nearby.

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3285acsBleached cedar tree trunks are the totem poles of the Pine Barrens lake, the resting places of arboreal souls. I drift among them like the clouds wisp across the sky, soaking up the twitter of tree swallows.

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3264acsA spectral white trunk leans on another for support. Like the wrinkles of an old woman’s face, its weathered skin whispers of all that it has seen. Wait – what is perched on the right end of the log? Photobombed by a dragonfly!

There’s that sound again. QUONK! Like a metallic thunk. I heard a few of them near the launch, but at this end of the lake the sounds are much more numerous. No bird I know makes that sound. It has to be a frog. But what one? No matter how close I get to each QUONK, it’s not close enough. I see no frogs.

One of my missions is to find where the Oswego River comes into Oswego Lake. I follow a pair of honking geese into a cove. At the far end is a narrow passage into another cove. Beyond that a thin little stream squeezes between trees and disappears.

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3322acsCould this be the Oswego River?

But there’s another cove, with another stream beyond it disappearing into the trees. This one looks wider, more like a real stream. Hmmm. Mission postponed. Best to leave some mystery for another day.

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3393acsLeft also for another day is this inviting little pathway.

Journey’s end.

Ahhh, that’s better. My spirit has been soothed. Winter is past; its cold and confinement have faded. A season of warm days and blue water unfolds before me like a map. A map that leads to…

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3448acsMy happy place.

Snow Scenes

160127_PA Glendale Park Snow_7972acaWinter can be such a drab season. Everything is bare and brown. There’s no green anywhere, save for the invasive vines that are so obvious at this time of year. Trips to the Jersey Shore and the Pine Barrens (evergreens!) break up the monotony. But it takes a good snowstorm to really shake things up. Suddenly all those bare brown branches are sugar-coated and the ground is clean crisp white.

After our January blizzard, I went walking every day to enjoy the snow. There’s a local park with a trail that parallels Darby Creek. Of course I took my camera along.

160127_PA Glendale Park Snow_8101acsWhile I was watching the wildlife, the wildlife was watching me. I’m pretty sure this is a Red-tailed Hawk. I’m out of practice identifying birds. Been spending a lot of my time with plants and pebbles.

160127_PA Glendale Park Snow_8044acsSnow-covered rocks in the stream – Mother Nature’s cupcakes.

160127_PA Glendale Park Snow_8227acsMemories of summer days.

160127_PA Glendale Park Snow_8320acsCarolina Wrens are tiny birds with BIG voices. I usually hear them long before I see them.

160129_PA Lancaster Farms Snow_8582acsSame storm, different location. Lancaster County barn.

A couple of weeks later Don and I went to the Pine Barrens on a Thursday to look for, what else, pebbles. On the following Saturday, Don, Robb and I were concerned that our chosen destination for the day would be too icy. So we debated an alternative. Don suggested a return to the Pines. I said “But, Don, you know the Pines got 4 inches of snow Thursday night, right?”

“Nonsense,” he replied “my family drove the Atlantic City Expressway right through the Pine Barrens yesterday and they said there was no snow.” So that’s where we went.

160206_NJ Pines Penn Forest Snow_9672acsUm, Don, no snow? What’s all this white stuff on the roads?

160206_NJ Pines Penn Forest Snow_9650acsWe tried to drive to Apple Pie Hill. I’m pretty intrepid on the sand roads, but not when they’re covered with snow and crisscrossed with icy truck tire tracks.

Eventually we turned back, and opted for a short walk in Penn State Forest. The white snowy roads were the perfect complement to the evergreens against crisp blue sky.

Pine cone icicle.

160206_NJ Pines Penn Forest Snow_9603acsThe perfect shelf for a miniature moss garden. Look very closely for the red moss sporophytes just at the left edge of the snow.

160206_NJ Pines Penn Forest Snow_9772acsAhh, the essence of the Pine Barrens in any season. Pitch Pine cones, snow frosted.

160206_NJ Pines Penn Forest Snow_9705acsPerfectly lovely photo of snowy pine boughs, photo-bombed by Robb.

160206_NJ Pines Penn Forest Snow_9780acsWe are trying to learn about geology, and the identification of rocks. It’s a tough thing to learn on our own without experts to guide us. We’ve had an ongoing argument about whether the pebbles we see in many places are naturally occurring rocks, or from fill placed by man. Don had a point to make in that debate.

160206_NJ Pines Penn Forest Snow_9668acsOur boot prints. From left to right: Kim, Robb, Don. The sizes are deceiving; my foot is smaller than the guys’. Really it is.

160206_NJ Pines Penn Forest Snow_9696acsOur “short” little walk didn’t go at all as expected. Mistaken shortcuts took us far beyond the bounds of Penn State Forest into unexplored territory. The Pines are a mysterious place filled with unmarked sand roads, and even Pines veterans can find themselves bewitched and bewildered. We ended up having to retrace our path; though we were certain of the route back, we were grateful for the confirmation of our boot prints. We left at noon, and hours later found ourselves back at the car, hungry and thirsty.

160206_NJ Pines Penn Forest Snow_9824acsJust in time to see the sun set on a lovely day in the snowy Pine Barrens.

In Lady Autumn’s Mirror

151014_NJ Atsion Lake Kayak_9367acsThe Harvest Ball approaches, and Her Ladyship has dressed in her finest. Bedecked and bejeweled, she admires herself in the mirror.

What does she see there?

151025_PA Holtwood Fall Pinnacle_0493acsAdventure?

151104_PA HNWR Fall Evening_1852acsFellowship?

151014_NJ Atsion Lake Kayak_9461acsWhat does Lady Autumn see when she looks in her mirror?

151026_PA Beltzville Fall_0699acsElegance?

151025_PA Holtwood Fall_0229acsRadiance?

151014_NJ Atsion Lake Kayak mc_2996 acsWhat does Lady Autumn see when she looks in her mirror?

151104_PA HNWR Fall Evening _6922acsHarmony?

151026_PA Beltzville Fall_0807aExuberance?

151025_PA Holtwood Fall Pinnacle_0608acsMajesty?

What does Lady Autumn see when she looks in her mirror?

151025_PA Holtwood Fall_0221acsSerenity.

Unexpected Color

151014_NJ Atsion Lake Kayak_9318acsIt was too early for fall foliage yet, not in this neck of the woods, and these were the wrong woods, for that matter. The Pine Barrens are made up of pines, for gosh sakes.

Pines are evergreens, they don’t come in any color but green.

151010_NJ Pine Barrens_8953a2csYet there we were in the Pine Barrens, admiring Lady Autumn’s jewelry, the subtle red and gold gems sprinkled amongst the green. Atsion Lake (top) and Whitesbog (above).

151014_NJ Atsion Lake Kayak_9302acsSapphire skies over Atsion Lake.

151014_NJ Atsion Lake Kayak mc_2964acsAutumn reflections where the Mullica River meets Atsion Lake. While pitch pine and Atlantic white cedar trees are the predominant conifers in the Pinelands, deciduous oaks like black jack, post and scarlet oak are common, as are shrubs like blueberry and huckleberry in the low heath layer.

151014_NJ Atsion Lake Kayak_9360acsThe Mullica River, looking upstream.

151014_NJ Atsion Lake Kayak_9345acsI am quite sure that some of Lady Autumn’s aquatic attendants reside in this wooden cave.

151014_NJ Atsion Lake Kayak_9472acsI am quite sure that I could quite contentedly reside in this wooden abode.

151010_NJ Pine Barrens_9019ac copyNot much color in this particular photo, at least not the kind we were hoping for. This is a cranberry bog at Whitesbog. New Jersey is one the top producers of cranberries in the country, and they are grown in the rich wet environment of the Pine Barrens. When the time is right, the fields are flooded; the cranberries float to the top to be harvested.

Acres of cranberries like a vast sea of crimson; that’s what we were looking for. We were too early.

151010_NJ Pine Barrens_8998acs copyThe cranberries were still on the bushes!

151021_Bladderwort at Harrisville Pond _6888A touch of summer remained on Harrisville Pond. Scattered here and there were some lingering bladderworts. These carnivorous plants float on little pontoons. Below the surface dangle tangled masses of thin leaves, and numerous tiny bladders. The bladder is a vacuum trap. Prey such as aquatic insects and other small organisms brush against it, and the bladder sucks in both water and prey.

On Harrisville Pond, bladderworts are abundant in late summer. We were lucky to find some still in bloom in October.

151014_NJ Atsion Lake Kayak_9484acsSunset on Oswego Lake.

151021_NJ Harrisville Pond Kayak_6871acsHarrisville Lake bedazzles with ruby, garnet and topaz gems amongst the emeralds. Lady Autumn’s finest jewels provide some lovely and unexpected color in the Pine Barrens.