Friday, November 25, 2022

The Case of the Disappearing Portapotty

Portapotty 15750, where are you?

Yes, our portapotty at Herrontown Woods has gone missing. Is portapotty theft a thing? Apparently yes, according to United Site Services, from whom we rent. Turns out that, as renters, we may have to bear responsibility for the replacement cost of the humble structure, plus delivery fee for a new one. 

Rumor has it that the half-marathon that's been going on in our part of town also had a portapotty disappear. We strain to understand the logic. Is there a black market in portapotties? Is it really that hard to find relief these days? Did someone fall in love with portapotty #15750 and decide to elope? Without regular servicing, that romance is not going to last.

Hopefully this mystery will be solved soon. The apparent theft has a potential silver lining, however. After meeting with a police officer on-site to file a report, I was about to head home when I saw a hiker emerging from one of the trails. I went over and started a conversation, thinking he might have been there earlier in the week and noticed something. He hadn't, but having first visited the preserve 25 years ago, he gave a testimonial about how neglected the preserve had been before we formed the Friends of Herrontown Woods in 2013. Then he said that he has worked at a number of historic houses, and is currently a docent and researcher at the Frelinghuysen-Morris House in Massachusetts. 

My jaw dropped a bit, because the Whiton-Stuarts--the wealthy family that first owned what we now call Veblen House--lived for some time in Morristown, and had had a parcel of property near the Frelinghuysen Arboretum there. The Veblen House is a prefab that was originally moved by the Whiton-Stuarts to Princeton from Morristown. He also said that the Frelinghuysen family had a Princeton connection. We exchanged contact info, and will talk more. It would be quite the irony if a missing portapotty led me to someone who can help solve the riddle of the Veblen House's origins and why it was moved to Princeton.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Thanksgiving Weekend Nature Walk at Herrontown Woods

Update: A big blob of predicted rain has been sitting atop the planned timeslot for a nature walk this Thanksgiving weekend, finally causing us to delay the walk by a week. It is now planned for Dec. 4, 1-3pm.

Note: The consistency of the weather prediction, which showed the blob sitting in exactly the same Sunday time slot for five days straight, and which ultimately proved accurate, surely represents a triumph for meteorology.  

Astute readers will note a distinct resemblance between the blob of rain that swallowed our nature walk and the drawing of a boa constrictor that had swallowed an elephant in The Little Prince. 

A nature walk is planned for this Thanksgiving weekend, on Sunday, Nov. 27, from 1-3pm. If the weather looks iffy, check the events page of the website for an update. 

We'll meet at the Herrontown Woods parking lot at 600 Snowden Lane, across Snowden from the Smoyer Park entrance. Sturdy shoes are a good idea. Maps at this link.

The photo is of a pokeweed that came late to the fall color party.

Leaves Take Flight at the OK Leaf Corral

On a spirited Sunday morning with an invigorating chill in the air, volunteers staged a leaf roundup at Veblen House. 

Here's board member Keena, showing proper stance and form as she raked leaves onto a tarp. She's a natural, even though she grew up in the Arizona desert, where there were no leaves to rake.

Joanne didn't have childhood memories of raking leaves either, but warmed to the task as the task warmed her.

Elsewhere on the Veblen House grounds, Scott mowed leaves back into the lawn.

By chance, Richard, a neighbor who is doing a major cleaning out of his house, had just donated some tarps that worked beautifully. We hauled the leaves off to an "OK Leaf Corral," where they will quickly settle and slowly return to the soil. A leaf corral may look limited in how many leaves it can take, but the leaves quickly settle, making room for more just a day or two later. 

Though some may think of it as a task to avoid, raking leaves brings back joyful memories for me. It was a family affair. We'd rake oak leaves into a big pile at the bottom end of the yard, and then I'd run down the hill and leap into the pile. Sometimes we'd make small piles and burn them, turning the leaves into glowing skeletons. The acorns would make a big POP when we tossed them into the flames. Today the smoke is considered pollution, but back then, the scent of burning leaves was part of the romance of the season. 

The leaves we raked this fall at Herrontown Woods were wet, which makes them heavier to carry on the tarps, but helps speed decomposition after they are piled in a leaf corral. Our volunteer workdays are every Sunday, starting around 10:30am. 

Delightful Writeup on Herrontown Woods in the Nassau Weekly

On October 9th, we had a particularly serendipitous Sunday at Herrontown Woods. It was our monthly May's Cafe at the Barden, mixing coffee, baked treats, socializing, and some volunteer work, followed by a nature walk. A new attendee was Juju Lane, a senior at Princeton University and senior editor at the Nassau Weekly.

She talked to many of us, watched as we collected seed from the many kinds of native plants in the Barden, then went along on the walk, taking careful notes. 

Later in the month, she wrote up her experience, capturing the spirit of the Friends of Herrontown Woods in a wonderful piece published in the Nassau Weekly

Here, one of our volunteers, Carolyn, is collecting seed from a rose mallow hibiscus. May's Cafe takes place right in the garden, so in a way we are socializing with the native plants while socializing with people.

Bringing Dead Trees Safely Down

When a tree falls across a trail, we're often able to clear it with our electric chainsaws. But sometimes there's a need for someone with skills well beyond ours.

That's when we give a call to our chainsaw virtuoso and angel in our midst, Victorino. The ash was our most common tree before being killed by the wave of Emerald ash borers that has swept through Princeton in recent years. Though many, deeper in the forest, can be left standing to serve as habitat and carbon sequestration, some closer in need to be cut down before they grow brittle. In a crowded woodland, they need to fall in just the right direction, so as not to catch on, or damage, a neighboring tree.
Victorino came most recently in early October, when there's a lot of color in the woods. A tree that fell on its own some years back was bearing a promising crop of Chicken of the Woods. We weren't sure enough, though, to harvest it.

Another tree trunk seemed to be showing off its brilliant fall color, but in fact was a snag, up which a poison ivy vine had grown and branched out, forming what I call a "poison ivy tree." Birds feast on the berries, but we stayed away from that one.
As he carefully felled one dead ash, then another, a tree would sometimes resist falling. At that point, Victorino would cut wedges out of nearby dead wood,   
and hammer them into the cut to encourage the tree in its falling.
This one fell beautifully along the edge of a trail. Victorino learned his trade in Guatemala, where they would build a house out of the trees growing nearby. Oftentimes, he'll add an artistic touch, like this curved cut to bend with the trail.
After a couple hours of hard work, he takes a moment to rest and reflect. As Tom Lehrer, the mathematician and political satirist would say, "What good are laurels if you can't rest on them?"

It was a great relief to have those trees safely down. Thank you, Victorino!