Friday, April 19, 2024

Our 2024 Earthday Celebration--a Recap

Though the day began with a light sprinkle, by mid-morning we had a cool but comfortable day, as several hundred people came to enjoy the woods, five walks, good food, and many exhibits, both at the Barden and up at Veblen House. This was the third Herrontown Woods Earthday celebration--the brainchild of board member Inge Regan, developed in collaboration with the Princeton Public Library, with lots of ideas and organizational effort added by board members Shefali Shah, Pallavi Nuka, Nicole Bergman, Scott Sillars, and Adrian Colarruso. We held it a week early, April 13, to avoid overlap with other Earthday celebrations in Princeton. 

Herrontown Woods' Earthday 2024 began with a 9am frog and flower walk led by Princeton native Fairfax Hutter. Kids crowded around to see crowds of newly hatched wood frog tadpoles in the vernal pool.
Then I led a tree walk through what I'm calling the "Valley of the Giants"--accessed via a new trail meant to show off some particularly large tulip trees, oaks, and ironwoods that thrive on a seepage slope along the ridge. It took six of us to fully hug this tulip tree. 

The photo was taken by Alastair Binnie, who has been donating his time, funds, and organizational capacities to create a Tour of Trees for Herrontown Woods. During the walk, we used our phones to access an inventory of some 300 tagged trees that Alastair had just posted on the FOHW website. 
The tree walk ended on the Veblen House grounds, where kids and adults quickly became immersed in various displays. The Princeton Public Library helped promote our Earthday celebration. Their staff and volunteers hosted a table and later held a story hour for kids. 
Beekeeper Allison Gratton had many stories to tell about honeybees, 
and some wonderful products made by the bees, including some honeycomb from the remains of a wild beehive we had found in a fallen tree this past winter, and the heavenly smelling propolis that bees use for glue. 
Bhavya, a Princeton High School student who has been studying vernal pools in Herrontown Woods, hosted a table on salamanders. Earlier in the spring, FOHW organized a Princeton Salamander Crossing Brigade that involved Bhavya and other PHS students in helping amphibians cross the road to reach their breeding grounds. 

Philip Poniz shared his knowledge of mushrooms, edible and not. He and his family have a long tradition of collecting edible mushrooms. 
One of the tree walk participants collected the wild onions that pop up in the lawn. They are not native, and we think of them as weeds, but he and his family use them like chives for cooking. 
Nicole Bergman hosted her fabulous May's Cafe at the Barden. 
The popular restaurant Ficus donated some savory sandwiches to go with Nicole's sweets and coffee. 
Sophie of FloreOrganicBotanics sold pressed flowers, donating some of the proceeds to FOHW. 

FOHW board member Adrian Colarusso led a fun children's walk, past the streamside skunk cabbage and the ping pong/skeleton barn, up to the Veblen House grounds in time for the story hour presented by the Princeton Public Library staff. Photo from Town Topics.

An afternoon geology walk was led by not one, not two, not three, but four geologists from Princeton University. Thanks to Lincoln Hollister, Blair Schoene, Laurel Goodell and Frederik Simons for explaining some of the deep history of Herrontown Woods and the Princeton ridge. 

Meanwhile, fritillarias and primrose bloomed in the Veblen House garden. The most gratifying thing for me was seeing how much fun kids were having, clambering over rocks on the cascades, watching the tadpoles, listening to stories. The many talents and interests brought to bear in organizing the event are a reflection of the many dimensions of Herrontown Woods itself, where flowers, trees, geology, amphibians, and multiple cultural histories come together. 

We took a group photo of the geology walk, with the boulder field in the background. Back in the Barden, people lingered long after the 3pm finish time, in a kind of afterglow. A
special day at Herrontown Woods.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Barden Egg Hunt Brings Delight

Not every Easter egg hunt features a bagpiper striding down the Barden path, leading a procession of children to a table of games and goodies. But then, not every egg hunt is led by Mathilde Burlion, who honed her bagpipe chops in the south of France, where music is part of the spring migration up the slopes of the Pyrenees to higher pastures, though probably sans bunny ears. 

Working at the Barden as part of our weekly Sunday morning stewardship session, pulling weeds and propagating native plants, I could still pick up on the joy of the event. Written on the children's faces was that look of anticipation and concentration as they headed down a pathway to begin the search, basket in hand. The Barden has never been so thoroughly scrutinized by young eyes as it was during the search for hidden eggs. 

Part of the event happened the day before, when kids and adults gathered to paint the eggs and hide them. Some of the plastic eggs held candy, but others held little treasures that, when gathered together Sunday at the table in the gazebo, were incorporated into art projects. 

One of the boys, having helped hide eggs the previous day, hid them so well that only he could find them. That allowed him to come late on Sunday and still find some eggs. Nice strategy. 

The many egg hunt activities slowly gave way to adults and families out for a Sunday walk on a lovely cool day. Helping out before and during the event was our part-time caretaker, Andrew Thornton, whose combination of work ethic and whimsy adds so much to the Barden experience. Thanks to everyone who helped make this such a delightful community event.

Wood Dragons, Lanterns, and Song--Celebrating the Chinese New Year

February 24 was a very special day at the Botanical Art Garden in Herrontown Woods.  Community celebrations of the Chinese New Year had begun two weeks prior, when in the morning sun, the air cool and crisp, dragons began to appear in the Barden, first on the gazebo, 

then on a small leaning tree. 
Another dragon strode down the wooden bridge fashioned years ago from fallen trees.
By mid-afternoon, people had gathered, too, some 200 in all, for a dragon parade, traditional Chinese songs and games, and a tea party--all part of a festive community gathering in nature.
To the beat of red Chinese drums, children and adults carrying colorful dragons paraded through the winding paths of the Botanical Art Garden, known as “the Barden.” Children sang traditional new year songs, guests enjoyed tea and tangerines, and the Herrontown Woods visitors played traditional games like jianzi and ribbon dancing.

Some of the more adventurous participants joined FOHW president Steve Hiltner for a lantern walk up to Veblen House. 

The event was the brain child of Danni Zhao, who founded United Moms and recently completed a PhD in economics at Princeton University. She was inspired by the nature of Herrontown Woods, and also by the nature of this especially auspicious year of the wood dragon. Again, from the Town Topics article:
“The wood dragon, known for its cooperative, upbeat, and understanding nature, symbolizes a year of growth and stability, especially in relationships,” Zhao wrote in a press release. “It brings both the promise of fortune and new opportunities according to the Chinese zodiac. This made our event at Herrontown Woods particularly special, blending the wood dragon’s symbolism with the serene beauty of nature.”

Danni teamed with FOHW board member Inge Regan, and as they worked together over several weeks the event took shape.

Though this was probably the largest event we have hosted to date at the Botanical Art Garden, there was no sense of overcrowding, as kids and adults spread down the many paths that wind through the grounds, exploring the Barden's numerous nooks and crannies.  
After an afternoon of joyful processions 'round the gazebo and down the garden path, this dragon collapsed on a table for a well-deserved rest. 

One doesn't usually think of February as a time for outdoor events, but somehow the weather felt just right. Coats and dragons helped keep us warm.

Monday, April 1, 2024

Dinosaur Tracks Found in Excavated Rocks Near Herrontown Woods

In 2023, the development of a woodlot at the corner of Van Dyke and Snowden Lane was finally begun. As heavy equipment graded the site, excavations of underlying sedimentary rock yielded a giant pile of rocks that sat for months near the road. One day, Lisa Boulanger, a Herrontown Woods neighbor with an interest in dinosaurs and geology, took a closer look at the rocks, and found several fossils, including a dinosaur footprint.

Here is her description of what she found, sent to me in an email in June. The upper Triassic is a geologic periodic that ended 200 million years ago. She said that fossils were also found in a similar excavation for the Princeton University library years ago. 
"Attached are some photos of rocks from the Prentice Woods construction site on Snowden Lane, near Herrontown Woods. Excavation for basements exposed part of the Newark Supergroup, the Passaic formation, that is from the upper Triassic. (Interestingly the same Newark formation cuts right through the center of CT, where I grew up, so the rocks are very familiar-looking.)

I split one slab and got the positive and negative of what may be a partial print from some kind of vertebrate, but it's not well-preserved enough to tell what.

I knew they were hitting some layers that had been ancient shoreline, because I found shoreline ripples in the stone.

There are also many big slabs of fossilized mud with dessication cracks, another good sign of areas that were inundated and then dried.

I found one invertebrate track, a type called Cruziana.

And then finally I found one clear print, most likely a rear foot ("pes"; the front feet are "manus"), possibly from an Atreipes.

(Of note, both Cruziana and Atreipes are what the tracks are called - it's not the name of an animal.) I just went back to the site today, and the track has been damaged, so probably not worth trying to haul it out. This rock doesn't weather well once exposed, it tends to crumble. (Note footprint to the left of the sticks on the rock in the photo below.)"

The huge pile of rocks is now gone, but we are very grateful to Lisa for sharing this photographic record of the ancient history that lay just a few feet beneath the ground near Herrontown Woods.