Category Archives: Wanderings

Longwood Gardens at Christmas

I’ve always wanted to visit Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA. This is their centennial year and my husband and I have the week off, so we decided to take the trip today and see their Christmas display. Of course this week after Christmas is their busiest and neither of us do well with crowds, most certainly not after 2+ hours in the car, but the crowds weren’t bad until we were ready to leave.

We spent a few hours wandering around the indoor conservatory and then walked the grounds for an hour or so at dusk and left just as the outdoor lights were looking their best. I had to do a lot of experimenting with the camera to be able to get decent pics of the gorgeous light festival, but I managed a few to share. This first pic is a favorite from the Beech Allée; at the end of a dozen or more Beech trees was a display of snowflakes and stars that seemed to be falling from the sky.

This blue spruce at right was gorgeous decked out in frosty blue lights and icicles. This is the main tree in the fountain garden which is done all in blue lights – really beautiful.

There was a lot that we didn’t take the time to see in our hurry to be on our way home, like the ice-skating performance and lighted fountain show. I enjoyed just wandering along and seeing the way each tree was lighted to its best advantage. Many of the light displays had a garden theme – daffodils, crocuses, lilacs and wisteria formed from lights were blooming in the garden beds along the pathways – very unique and beautiful, but hard to photograph in the dark.

Tomorrow I hope to share some pics from the conservatory.

Sky-blue or robin’s-egg blue?

I’ve been seeing pictures of this sky-blue grist mill for years and decided today to visit and see if the building really is that blue. Pretty, isn’t it? Not quite the color of the sky, but close. More like robin’s-egg blue.

The grist mill is located at Historic Walnford and is now part of the county park system. The site has been recently renovated and includes a Georgian-style mansion, carriage house, and other farm buidlings like a corn crib and cow shed.

The mill, situated on Crosswicks Creek, still operates for demonstration purposes and is powered by a turbine rather than an external water wheel as I expected to find. The creek is shallow and slow and could no longer carry goods by boat from Walnford to Philadelphia as it did during the 18th and 19th centuries. It is, however, still a popular spot for fishing and canoeing.

The communities surrounding Walnford are some of the most rural in our county. The only time I usually get to this area is when I visit the rescue that I adopt my bunnies from, but I really enjoy the little backroads that travel past horse farms and a winery or two. That’s another NJ surprise – we grow grapes here.

Traveling a bit further west today I came across a picturesque old town that I would like to revisit if I ever get in the mood for holiday shopping. What interested me most there today was the old mill pond filled with hundreds of snow geese. Quite a sight and a surprise this far north as I usually drive an hour or more south to see them in the winter at the wildlife refuge near Atlantic City. The only explanation I can imagine for their presence here are the many sod farms in the area. I would love to have a pic to share, but my camera battery died after taking pics at Walnford. Hopefully I’ll find the snow geese again on my next visit. There are more pics of some of the other buildings at the Walnford link above and I may post a few from the interiors on another day.

Back to the barrens

Aside from the creepy doll in the woods, my friend Kathy and I had a nice walk yesterday at Double Trouble State Park in the pine barrens. This is her place and I had asked her to show me around to her favorite spots so I might get to know the place better, without worrying that I would get lost there on my own. As I had mentioned in an earlier post about Double Trouble, the village in the park preserves an old saw mill and cranberry packing plant. The packing house is in the photo above. I was happy to see a few people picking cranberries in the dry bog, the way that it used to be done. The bogs here look quite different than the ones I visited at Whitesbog which had been flooded for harvesting. That telltale purple hue shouts cranberries even from afar.
A closeup view of the cranberry vines and fruit. I was struck by how much this *wetland* heath resembled its garden cousins. The leaves are leathery and evergreen and the flowers are bell-shaped with reflexed petals, reminding some of the shape of a crane’s head and neck. I sampled a few and they were tart! as expected.
The water in this irrigation ditch beside a bog that is no longer productive is not blue as the reflection of the sky makes it appear.
Instead, the water is tea-stained throughout Cedar Creek, a result of iron deposits in the water. Bog iron was mined from the streams and waterways of the piine barrens, as was the sand for glass-making and the trees for logging. The trails here are very quiet, with only a few dog walkers out at this time of year. I was hoping to see some ducks in the larger ponds, but didn’t find any. At one point along the trail we came upon a large group of robins with a few hermit thrushes feeding on the fruit of the many sour gum trees that grow beside the water. Kathy’s totem bird, the turkey vulture, was absent like the ducks. It’s an odd day that one doesn’t see a vulture over the barrens.
This exciting pic is an example of the sandy soil throughout the area. It is a wonder that anything is able to grow in it. Wildflowers are abundant here and I look forward to returning in the spring to search for them. The colors now are somewhat monotonous, greens and browns, with the occasional red huckleberry in the underbrush.
This last pic is Kathy’s secret swimming spot, during the warmer months, of course. The creek twists and turns and pools in places that invite swimming where the shore is shallow enough. I wish that I had a place that felt as remote as this closer to home. During our walk Kathy shared stories of the many hours she’s spent here, and of the friend who introduced her to this delightful place. I’m glad that she took the time to do so for me.

Creepy things in the woods

This is why I don’t like to wander in the woods alone. I might just run into the person who did this.

Maybe a Halloween prank, but for whom? Who carries a faceless handmade doll into the woods and strings it up by its neck along a sugar-sand trail in the Pine Barrens?


I don’t think I’ll be wandering down that particular trail again anytime soon.

Anyone in the mood to share ghost stories around the campfire? What creepy things have you found in the woods?

And in case you’re wondering; I was not alone and we got in the car and got the heck out of Dodge, thank you.

Pausing along Cedar Creek

Since high school I’ve visited Cedar Creek a number of times to camp or canoe, but more recently to try my luck with a kayak. The 17 mile trip through the meandering tea-colored water lasts about 4 hours and offers glimpses into the acres of cedar swamp and pine barrens habitat that comprise Double Trouble State Park in eastern Ocean County.

Last weekend I visited the park on foot for the first time to explore the trails and the historic village that preserves a cranberry farm and sawmill. Wandering through the woods I came across this view from the floodgate at the Mill Pond Reservoir. A group of kayakers had stopped for lunch as I passed by on my way to the white cedar swamp on the far side of the reservoir. According to my bird books, the area has nesting Wood Duck, as well as Black-throated Green and Black-and-white warblers. I’d never seen any nesting birds, other than Tree and Barn Swallows and Purple Martins, during my summer paddles down the creek. The barn swallows are ubiquitous and nest under the many small bridges that cross the creek.

For the most part the water is very gentle and slow; well suited to someone like myself who isn’t entirely comfortable in a tippy vessel on the water. My last visit 2 summers ago was my first time in a kayak, rather than a 2 or 3 seater canoe, and I can say that I much prefer paddling alone in a kayak to struggling in a canoe because I am so uncoordinated. That visit was the first time that I hadn’t tipped and dunked into the water at least once! In most places Cedar Creek is very narrow and curvy with overhanging branches that like to grab onto the unsuspecting paddler and send you into the cold water.

I especially like the many places to stop and rest along the way. Most of the trip is through dark woods, but suddenly you come upon an opening like the reservoir or a marsh before heading back under the dark and close trees. There are many shallow places with sandy beaches that invite a break for swimming and snacks. All of my trips on the water have been with a group that seems most concerned with getting to the end, rather than pausing along the way. That last visit stands out in my memory because it was made with my coworkers; among them Kathy -she who loves Turkey Vultures – and we paused often to take in the view or to swim. We arrived at the pick-up point at least two hours behind the rest of our group, who thought we had gotten lost somewhere along the way. We both were puzzled that anyone wouldn’t want to get lost, for an hour or two, in such a peaceful and beautiful place.

Mountain views of the Adirondacks

On each birding trip to the Adirondacks we make our way to Whiteface Mountain. We try to visit on a clear day so that the views will be good. From the summit of Whiteface you can see all the way to Vermont, I think!

We don’t do very much birding on this part of the trip. On the drive up the mountain we’ll stop periodically to listen for Bicknell’s Thrush and look for alpine butterflies and plants. Mostly we enjoy the spectacular views along the way. The Veteran’s Memorial Highway was a depression-era public works project and is more than five miles long. Whiteface is unique in that is has a *developed* summit – a visitor’s center known as Whiteface Castle. The castle was built from granite excavated during the construction of the highway.

There is an elevator to the summit (at the end of a very long and scary tunnel into the mountain) or you can choose to take the footpath. This sign is at the trailhead and warns not to attempt the footpath unless you are physically fit. The hike ascends more than 25 stories over a fifth of a mile. Not easy, but better than the claustrophobic tunnel to the elevator. I take lots of breaks on the way up to look at alpine plants and the lichen-covered rocks, and to catch my breath!

Here I am at 4867 ft. looking flushed and glad for a place to sit down and enjoy the view. Once we’re at the peak of the mountain, we generally take a break for lunch and take lots of photos. One year I took nearly a whole roll of film with pics of nothing but rocks.

There is always an interesting assortment of tourists milling around and one year the building that houses the elevator at the summit had a few Luna moths clinging to the windows! I’ve only ever seen Luna moths in the Adirondacks, so it is a treat to find them. On one visit the toll building at the bottom of the mountain was covered with them and other interesting large moths. We watched little chickadees coming in from the wood’s edge and flying off with the moths in their bills.

Sapsucker art

The (awful) photo at right was taken on my most recent trip to the Adirondacks, probably somewhere in Bloomingdale Bog. It looks like this tree was quite popular with local sapsuckers!

Sapsuckers remove the outer layer of bark and bore into the cambium, causing the sap to ooze out of the tree, which they drink with their long tongues. Their habit is to return to the same tree over and over and this can cause significant damage to the tree. I liked the pattern so I snapped the photo, although at that time I had never actually seen a sapsucker. Since then I’ve learned to recognize their *mewing* calls and sometimes find them in my neighbors apple tree. Last spring I had a great look at one outside my office window in a blooming crabapple tree. The are very pretty birds that might easily be mistaken for a downy woodpecker. The yellow-bellied sapsucker has a white wing-stripe and dull yellow underparts that are good field marks.