Monday, September 30, 2013

Speak for the Trees

Speak for the Trees

My neighborhood is about 45 years old. The garden plantings that were once mere twigs are now full-grown, often overgrown, bushes. The trees, especially, have grown in height and stature. A variety of species were planted on the strips of grass near the curbs to provide shade along the sidewalks, a welcome benefit during the hot summer days.

As the years pass, however, the trees are having trouble. Their roots are struggling for space to expand. Many sidewalks are now a mixture of gray and white concrete patches applied to the sidewalks to repair cracked cement where the tree roots have forced their way outward. Sometimes the trees expand over the cement squares, demonstrating a will to grow regardless of the circumstances surrounding them. Others send roots underneath the sidewalk squares, raising the cement blocks as they reach toward the expanse of the lawn.

We labeled this tree’s break for freedom The Step. It used to be a little glitch in the sidewalk; now it is several inches up, demanding care when we walk. I wonder how much more the cement will be raised. Will the homeowner take action and cut the roots so the concrete block can be lowered? Will that harm the tree?

Planting trees with limited growing space seemed like a good idea in the beginning but it stunted the plants’ growth. Many houses now have no shaded frontage because the trees have died, way earlier than their designated lifespan would indicate. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax  speaks for the trees; we could have used him when the houses were being constructed. Trees are an important and valuable asset to our communities but their needs should be considered, too.

Sometimes we forget that our actions have long-term effects. It is hard to fully anticipate what might happen decades down the road, whether in regard to nature or politics or health, but if we take the time to look beyond what seems like an immediate benefit to the possible later results, perhaps we could spare ourselves some angst – and the trees a shortened life.

Want to know how long trees can live?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Bald Eagles are Back!

Bald Eagles are Back!

I see many birds in my backyard, even some large ones like crows, hawks, ducks and the occasional turkey vulture. Bald eagles, however, are not among them. This weekend I took a mini-cruise on the Maurice River in NJ and had the opportunity to spot eagles galore. Some were on their nests, others were perched on the bare wood of trees along the banks of the river. The eagle here (click on the photo to enlarge it) had caught a fish and was flying off with it. The bird landed on a branch and proceeded to enjoy its meal.

The bald eagle, our national symbol, was once in trouble. A combination of land development, destroyed habitat, and hunting threatened to destroy the eagle population. Some claimed that the pesticides like DDT were responsible for thinning the birds’ eggshells and contaminating fish and water supplies. The population had gone from 100,000 nesting pairs to only 487 in 1963. DDT was banned in 1972 and on July 4, 1976, the US Fish and Wildlife Service officially listed the bald eagle as a national endangered species.

Since then the eagle population has rebounded. On June 28, 2007, the Department of the Interior announced the recovery of our nation’s symbol and removal from the list of threatened and endangered species. There are now over 9,700 nesting pairs in the U.S. Quite a comeback.

Seeing a bald eagle is thrilling. It has a presence. It also has a right to be here, as much as we do. We really do need to be more sensitive to our world. I’m glad to see the bald eagles are back.

History of the Bald Eagle’s decline and recovery:

Two pages of great Bald Eagle info:

History and activities along the Maurice River:

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tomatoes - Again?

Tomatoes – Again?

I’m sorry. Here it is, almost at the end of the growing season and I am still talking about tomatoes. I admit to being obsessed with them this year. Perhaps it was the challenge of trying to actually harvest some before the squirrels and rabbits got them all.

Challenges often lead to innovative solutions and this one did. We discovered that surrounding the tomato vine with fine netting seems to keep the critters at bay. I don’t know if they are confused or if the mesh coating covers up the tomato smell; what I do know is that we have had produce ripening on the plant without interference.

I acknowledge that the patch is not pristine looking and I can’t imagine a real farmer doing it but for such a small plot, it has proved to be a reasonable answer to an annoying problem. Each day I eagerly go out to the garden and pick the latest juicy, red treat.

Okay, I confess that I don’t deny the animals everything. After all, they can’t go off to the supermarket when they need food. I leave some of the lower hanging tomatoes out of the mesh for them to share. But at least now we can all enjoy Mother Nature’s bounty. I don’t need to wait until Thanksgiving to be thankful – I feel grateful every time I eat a tomato grown right here at home.

Tips for growing tomatoes:
And now, recipes for those great tomatoes!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Footprints in the Sand

Footprints in the Sand

Here are my footprints in the sand. There is something so tempting about digging into the grains and feeling them wrap around my feet, the warmth cuddling my bare toes. I’m obviously not the only one who likes walking in the sand; there were many tracks, feet and shoe impressions intertwining along the path. I could do it for hours, drifting along the water’s edge on the beach.

This particular site is not at the shore, however; it is at Atsion Lake on Route 206, part of Wharton State Forest in southern New Jersey in the Pine Barrens. It was part of the iron bog and glassmaking industry that existed in the mid 1700s to the mid-1980s. The red-tinted water reflects its iron ore and cedar origins. Atsion was acquired by New Jersey in 1954 and opened as a recreation area.

It is compelling to walk in sand even though the imprints are changeable and fleeting, prone to symbolism and clichés, and always left behind. Perhaps the lack of permanence is its attraction. Wind, water, other people, birds, and sometimes vehicles shift the sand and each day presents a clean palette for all who choose to make their mark. I find a sandy stroll is meditative and also a good reminder to enjoy today because life itself is all the same things as footprints in the sand.

What can you still see in Atsion?

Trails and natural Atsion attractions:

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Young Blue Jays

Young Blue Jays

A couple of young Blue Jays, just coming into their feathers and colors, were recently spotted on the feeders. They may be fledglings but their heft jiggles the feeders when they land and shakes them when they leave.

We seem to have a few Blue Jay families in the area. I know that some can be migratory but short of banding these particular birds, I can only guess they are year-round residents. That suits me just fine. A friend in the UK said that they don’t get such colorful birds so it makes me all the more appreciative that we do. Several things that may help them to stay: the feeders, of course, as they like nuts and seeds, the pine trees out back which provide good nesting opportunities, and the oak tree in our front yard that supplies an abundance of acorns. I discovered that Blue Jays love acorns. So these young birds will have a nice source of food to enjoy now and stash for later.  

The awkwardness of the young, whether avian or human, changes as they grow into themselves. They adapt to their environment and develop survival skills that help them progress to competence. These Blue Jays are already beginning to smooth out their spiky head feathers and exhibit a confidence in their grip on the feeders. What a treat to see.

Practically everything you can think of to ask about Blue Jays is answered here: