Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Weird Stuff (x3)

 
Now that I've got your attention with a provocative title and an image of the crocuses (finally!) blooming outside my back door, I must confess that this post has nothing to do with the natural world.  Read on if you dare.

Weird Thing #1.  A week ago, our neighborhood was stunned to learn about a murder-suicide committed by a local earthmoving contractor.  On Tuesday afternoon, news helicopters and police cars appeared at the home of the contractor, Chris, who had worked with our organization frequently over the past two decades.  Chris was a pleasant, cooperative, and agreeable 48-year-old who had gone out of his way on many occasions to help our land trust.  A few weeks before the killings, I had spoken with him over coffee as we waited for a plumber to finish a job so that Chris could backfill a trench.  I was teasing Chris about letting his membership to our organization lapse, and he replied, "Scott, you have no idea what I'm going through at home!" whereupon he told me the whole sordid story of his messy, rancorous divorce.  The weird thing about an otherwise all-too-common but no-less-tragic occurrence:  Chris strangled his ex-wife, stabbed her repeatedly in the neck, and then mutilated her body with a chain saw - after which he used the chain saw to cut off his right leg so that he bled to death.

Weird Thing #2.  Yesterday (April 6) was the first day we had temperatures above 70 degrees F here this year, and the skies were crystal blue.  Kali was off work for Easter Monday, so she did some volunteer land stewardship work around the preserve to get out and enjoy the perfect spring day.  After I finished working for the day and suggested we go for a walk, she informed me that she had been out all afternoon and was tired; she suggested I walk by myself.  Rather than just go for a walk alone, I decided to do a "power walk" to get my heart rate up to aerobic levels. (I can't run any more because of my "bum" right knee, but strenuous walking seems to be okay.)  So, I got out my iPod, my noise cancelling headphones, and I queued-up some of my favorite Scissor Sisters dance music for aural motivation.  Normally, I'm a pretty mild-mannered, self-effacing guy, but when I get into my power walk backed up by the Scissor Sisters (or the Pet Shop Boys), I feel like I could take on the world.  The weird thing is that the loud, rhythmic music coupled with a gait that I adjust to match the beat of the music transforms me into another person - someone I hardly recognize.  I'm energized, ready to tackle any challenge.  A bicyclist using a wrong trail or a dog walkers allowing her/his dog to roam untethered had best steer clear of me when I'm pumped up because I'll bite their head off.   It's tribal, hypnotic, empowering - and more than a little bit scary. 

Weird Thing #3.  This morning, Kali sent me an email with a link to an article in the Washington Post about Frank Sinatra: "Ol' Blue Eyes Still Sparkles".  The article begins, "Frank Sinatra would have been 100 years old on December 12, 2015, and already the commemorations have begun - an exhibition at the New York Public Library, a two-part documentary on HBO, and the reissue of several books.  The music endures, but so does the dirt."  In the article, the Frank Sinatra is quoted as having once said "All men are lonely."  In her email to me, Kali wrote, "I like the line that 'all men are lonely.' You seem like that at times."  Maybe it's not weird, but it really took me aback; I think we'll have something to talk about over dinner tonight.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Field Trip Sampler


U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist with a rare bird
Last weekend (March 26-28), I attended the Society for Ecological Restoration Mid-Atlantic Chapter's 10th Annual Conference at the University of Delaware in Newark, Delaware.  (For those not "in the know," never pronounce Newark, Delaware like Newark, New Jersey.  The New Jersey city is pronounced NEW-erk, whereas the Delaware city is pronounced new-WARK.)  Following a Thursday evening dinner at which I and eight colleagues were feted as founders of the chapter, the group re-convened the following morning for a day of formal presentations.  On Saturday, I participated in a field trip of three restoration sites within a half-hour's drive of the university.

Saturday was mostly cloudy, cold (high of 40 degrees F in the afternoon) and windy.  As we waited for the bus to depart, the group endured snow squalls.

Northern Delaware is DuPont territory.  Many of the wealthy heirs of the DuPont chemical fortune established expansive estates in the rolling hills of Delaware's Piedmont west of Wilmington, and some of these were sites we visited.  Our first stop was Mt. Cuba, a 500-acre estate that has been turned into a botanic garden featuring plants native to the Piedmont.  The 50 acres surrounding the mansion are a horticultural showplace and are beautifully maintained, but the remainder of the property (the part our group visited) faces the same challenges I face at my preserve: overabundant deer, invasive plants, and stream flooding. 
Nathan Shampine, Mt. Cuba's natural lands manager, indicating that deer could gain access to this fenced exclosure
The golden rolling hills of northern Delaware's Piedmont in early spring
A Red-winged Blackbird's epaulet (Agelaius phoeniceus) found on the ground

Our second stop was the Delaware Nature Society's Coverdale Farm and Burrow's Run preserves.  At Coverdale Farm, we explored a wetland restoration project in which a wet cattle pasture formerly drained by terracotta tile pipes had been reflooded (by removing and breaking the pipes) in order to provide habitat for federally endangered bog turtles (Clemmys muhlenbergii).
The wetland created by re-flooding the field--a sedge hammock marsh
The re-engineered outlet from the marsh (still a bit raw)

Our group continued walking to the adjacent Burrow's Run Preserve, where the Delaware Nature Society has been converting pastures to native grasslands for grassland-nesting birds.  I literally was in awe and very jealous of their best fields, pictured below.  These fields support moderate growth of little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) interspersed with dozens of species of forbs (i.e., wildflowers) - exactly the type of habitat meadow-nesting birds are seeking.  The grasses provide cover and the forbs attract insects for the birds to eat.  The fields at my preserve, in contract, are almost exclusively grassy with few forbs, which is why we haven't had luck attracting birds to my fields.
Beautiful native meadows
Queen Anne's Lace (not native) against gray skies
Our last stop was the Flintwoods Preserve, a 157-acre private (DuPont heir) estate whose claim to fame is a stand of ancient forest.  Our group, however, toured the native grassland restoration projects underway in the old agricultural fields on the property.

A renovated barn on the Flintwoods estate
We parked our bus next to a renovated barn on the estate.  The barn is full of vintage baroque harpsichords that Peter Flint is in the process of restoring.  The Flints host sold-out baroque music concerts in the barn several times each year.

Flintwoods' land manager explaining how he intends to modify his management plan for his grasslands this year
A humorous aside: as we were returning to the university following the field trip, driving through the northern Delaware countryside sprinkled with DuPont properties, one of the fellows on the bus quipped, "I keep looking at all these houses and imagining sexually-charged wrestling matches going on in each one." (a reference to last year's film Foxcatcher).  Of course, after he said that, I couldn't look at the places the same way myself! 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Making Hay and Distinguished Visitors

 
 For the last three days, a contract farmer took advantage of the facts that (1) most of our snow had melted and (2) spring rains hadn't yet made the soil too wet for equipment.  He and his crew came to our grasslands and cut and baled 150 acres of native grasses.  The grasses are of low quality, so they're not valuable for feeding livestock or for animal bedding.  Instead, the baled grass will be used to grow mushrooms in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, "Mushroom Capital of North America."  Sometime in the next few months, if you buy mushrooms and they've been grown in Kennett Square, you may (indirectly) be eating our grasses!
A wider view.  Watch out, visitors on foot; the farmer stops for no one!
On Tuesday, we had a visit from the natural land stewardship crew from the Mt. Cuba Center in Hockessin, Delaware (suburban northern Delaware just west of Wilmington).  Mt. Cuba was a DuPont estate that was turned into a horticultural showplace for displaying native Piedmont plants in designed landscapes.  Fifty acres of the 385-acre estate are formal gardens; our visitors are responsible for the other 335 acres of fields, woodlands, and wetlands.

Because the du Ponts are/were fabulously wealthy, I had assumed that Mt. Cuba was like heaven on earth - that Mrs. du Pont would dispatch armies of gardeners to rout every weed on her estate.  I was quickly disabused of that notion by our visitors, who assured me that they had the same same problems with invasive plants, superabundant deer, and stormwater flooding that I face in my preserve.    
My two stewardship staff members (left) pointing out a land management feature to our three guests from Mt. Cuba.
My staff and I are going to pay a reciprocal visit to Mt. Cuba - when the weather gets better in May.  It was really cold on Tuesday.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Courting the Press

Reporter Matt photographing picturesque rapids on my creek
As a non-profit organization, we need as much publicity as possible.  So, when a reporter called and told me that he wanted to do a feature on our organization for a news weekly, I jumped at the opportunity.  The reporter came to my office and we talked for about a half-hour, then we went for a walk through the preserve.  I've hardly been out on the grounds during the last two months.
Partial ice-out on the marsh
Historic stone-arch bridge (1817) under repair since November 19, 2014
My creek, upstream of the historic bridge
This strikingly shadowed American beech caught my attention
Reporter Matt capturing images for his news piece
My creek at its most dramatic
The reach of the creek locally known as "The Falls"
These images were taken during our walk on Wednesday afternoon, March 18.  On Friday, March 20, we got four inches of heavy, wet snow.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

New York City, Part 2 - History and Solemnity

 
Yesterday's post featured the High Line Trail in Manhattan.  Though I posted about the High Line first, we actually visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island on Saturday, and then the National 9/11 Memorial and High Line on Sunday.

Saturday was a "washout."  It rained all day long.  It wasn't pouring, but it was definitely raining.  We took the ferry from Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan to Liberty Island and toured the Statue of Liberty and its museum.  Kali and I had visited the statue decades ago, but our friend Trijntje from the Netherlands had never been there.  We were able to get up to the base of the statue at the top of its stone pedestal, but we couldn't climb to the crown because the "crown tours" were sold out through April.  The fact that we couldn't climb to the windows in the crown was fine because the weather was so foggy that we couldn't have seen anything anyway.  The image heading this post is from the museum, which displays is a full-size replica of the statue's face.   I took the image from the opposite side of the building and only captured a part of the face; I liked the effect.

Considering that it was rainy and foggy, this image isn't half bad
The stone pedestal supporting the Statue of Liberty is a work of art in itself.  Though the pedestal was completed in the 1870's, it has a very "art deco" gestalt that appeals to me immensely.

From the statue, we cruised to Ellis Island and spent about three hours in the restored immigrant processing facility.  It was fascinating.  Kali's grandfather and father passed through Ellis Island when they immigrated from Italy; we have a copy of the ship's manifest with their names.  My ancestors may have passed through Ellis Island, too; I don't have any information about my family's origins
                                                                            _____
On Sunday morning, we took the subway to the National 9/11 Memorial.  I couldn't predict how I would react when we approached the site.  But as the dramatic and sombre memorial pools came into view, I choked up and began to tear.  It was very moving and sobering.
Our friend Trijntje (left) and Kali at the South Tower Pool
The pools (located in the footprints of the two towers) are beautiful and appropriate remembrances of the victims' their names are inscribed along the edges.

The South Tower Pool at the 9/11 Memorial
We went inside the 9/11 Memorial Museum and spent two hours there.  The building is large, spacious, and airy - except for the gallery where most to the story behind the attacks is presented.  There, the space is tight, dark, claustrophobic, and unpleasantly crowded.  I don't think the effect was intentional; instead, I think the designers did a poor job anticipating how popular the space would become.  I heard many people sniffing and sobbing as we toured the exhibit; it was very moving.

The new One World Trade Center will open in May
Outside the museum, we gazed up at the new One World Trade Center building, the tallest building in Manhattan at 1776 feet (with its antenna).  Personally, I wouldn't want to work in the building; surely, it's a target.
National 9/11 Memorial Museum (right) and the "bones" of a new transportation hub under construction (left)
It was amazing to me how the site of this tragedy has been transformed in only 14 years.  From the 9/11 Memorial, we went to the High Line, as I described in my last post.

We had a good weekend New York.  it was great to see our friend (whom we had last seen 12 years ago), and the city is always exciting.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Weekend in New York, Part 1: The High Line Trail

 
Last weekend (March 13-15), Kali and I met a friend from the Netherlands who we had not seen for 12 years in New York City.  Our friend, whose name is Trijntje, had been in New York for a week attending a conference; she extended her stay so that we could get together and catch up.  We had a great weekend.

One of my motivations to visit New York was to walk the High Line, a highly landscaped park built on an abandoned freight train trestle running along Manhattan's West Side from about 14th Street north to 34th Street.  Though the park is formally landscaped, the design harkens back to the scruffy, weedy ecosystem that had developed naturally on the trestle after it was abandoned.

Though the day was cloudy, windy, and very cold, the trail was crowded.  Kali at first said we would "sample" the trail by walking a few blocks, but even though she was chilled, we walked the entire two-mile trail and she became more and more impressed the further we walked.  So did I.

I took my pocket point-and-shoot camera with me to New York so that I didn't have to carry my large camera around the city, but the images the small camera produces are not nearly as good as those from my full-sized camera.  Please excuse the quality of some of the images.
The High Line near its southern terminus
Looking northward on the High Line
An unusually shaped building near the trail
The unusually shaped building, closer up
The Empire State Building visible from the High Line
A spring-blooming witch-hazel
The image above is a non-native spring-flowering variety of witch-hazel with unusual orange flowers.  Our native witch-hazel blooms in very late fall/early winter, and has bright yellow flowers.
The residential building in the image above was built after the trail was created.  It has become famous for its architecture and its proximity to the High Line.  Residential structures are popping up all along the trail (which formerly was New York's meatpacking district) and they command very high rents/prices.  A modest new residential condominium across the trail from this structure had signs in the window advertising units for sale from $2 to $20 million.
A closer view of the building above
In my next post, I'll feature some of the other things we did in the city.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Snow Scenes - The World Flocced

The morning after
Our area of the northern Piedmont received eight inches (20 cm) of snow on Thursday, March 5.  This came on the heels of a rainy day; in fact, overnight the rain changed to sleet, then to snow, and the snow fell heavily all day long on Thursday.  The birds were desperate; I couldn't keep an area clear long enough for them to take advantage of the birdseed I scattered on the ground, but many found the trove that I secreted under a picnic table - relatively snow free.

After the snow stopped, the temperature overnight Thursday plunged.  It was 2 degrees F when I awoke on Friday morning.  But Friday dawned clear, sunny and blue, the temperature recovered to the mid-20s, and the melting began where the sun could reach dark surfaces.

Dogwood Meadow at the height of the snowfall
Snowy filigree on the magnolia tree next to the house
The deer fencing surrounding my garden
Temperatures this coming week are forecast to approach normal, which means 50 degrees F during the day and 31 degrees F at night.  If that happens, it will be a welcome relief from a winter that just doesn't want to let go.