Thursday, July 15, 2021

"Among Trees" -- Theatrical Event Tonight, July 15, 7pm

The Friends of Herrontown Woods will be hosting its first ever theatrical event tonight, Thursday, July 15 at 7pm, in a clearing next to Veblen House. Entitled "Among Trees," the hourlong performance will include a mix of classic texts and writings about nature contributed by the community, along with evocative musical performances on flute, Irish drum, and other instruments.

The event is free, with any donations going to the Friends of Herrontown Woods. The programming has been put together by professional actors Vivia Font and Ben Steinfeld. Ben is with Fiasco Theater and Vivia has connections to the Lewis Center for the Arts. The Princeton Public Library is co-sponsoring the event, and Small World Coffee will provide a refreshing beverage.

PARKING: There are two parking lots, with the closest being at 452 Herrontown Road. Take Snowden Lane to the end, go left on Herrontown Road, and take the first left into the gravel driveway. Parking at the main parking lot off Snowden involves a five minute walk up the orange trail to the Veblen House.

Bugs haven't been too bad this year, but some bug spray could be useful. We're providing chairs, but bring your own if you want.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

More Chainsaw Artistry, Thanks to Victorino

If you see Victorino coming up the trail, his chain saw slung over his shoulder, you know that some work is about to get done.
Good work that wouldn't happen otherwise, like getting a very big fallen tree cut up and rolled off the trail.
Sometimes the beautiful trunks of fallen trees become beautiful boards, cut by eye with the chainsaw. These he thought we could use as planks for a boardwalk, but they look too good for that. Benches, maybe? 

Where we might see only problem, impediment or hazard--more wood to noisily grind into chips--Victorino looks at the crook in a fallen tree and sees possibilities. 

He'd been working for two hours. It was time for a break. Cut a section of the tree just right, and one half becomes a chair, the other a table. The chair is angled just right to get you looking up at the cicadas' flying high in the canopy. Give him enough time in a woods littered with fallen trees and he'd build a whole house. 

What break in the day was ever more deserved? Thank you, Victorino.

(The chair's a couple hundred feet in along the righthand trail from the Autumn Hill Reservation parking lot. Best enjoyed with a cool beverage.)

Sunday, June 20, 2021

A Week of Magical Moments at the Gazebo

The leadup to a magical moment can seem mundane enough: a ladder leaned against the gazebo at the Barden at Herrontown Woods. The Barden, short for Botanical ARt garDEN, has become magical in and of itself, but this past week had a series of magical moments. 

On Friday, a solar panel was mounted on the roof of the gazebo, thanks to Princeton architecture professor Forrest Meggers.

A bit of wiring followed, and some stringing of lights, all mundane-seeming, at least until evening, 
when we gathered to celebrate in the glow of all those rays of light captured from the day to illuminate one small corner of the night. 

Two days earlier, on Wednesday, a group of kids had come with parents to explore the Barden, then sit down for an outdoor supper. Just as they were leaving, I took out my clarinet to riff with the cicadas. The kids came over to listen and applaud, and asked me to play different tunes--a jazzed up version of Mary Had a Little Lamb, and some others. 

When one of them asked me to play Ode To Joy, I figured the parents were needing to get going, so I led the kids down the Barden path to the parking lot, playing Ode to Joy like a pied piper. In the parking lot, we jammed for awhile, the kids using sticks to beat out rhythms. 
The day before that, on Tuesday, we spotted a monarch butterfly in the Barden--the first sighting of the year. What is more magical than a monarch, flying generation by generation up from Mexico each spring to join us for the summer? In one particularly delightful moment, it flew in a circle around the Veblen Circle of wildflowers, from one cage to the next, returning to where we'd first seen it,

on a purple milkweed. 

Photo below: "Moon Over Flying Pig"

Thursday, June 17, 2021

EVENT: Yoga with Gemma, Saturday, June 19

Gemma and Gratitude Yoga return to the grounds of Veblen House this Saturday at noon. You can just show up, with a mat if you have one, but are encouraged to register. More information on Gemma's website. Thanks to Gemma for leading these free classes at Herrontown Woods.

"We will meet in front of the historic Veblen House for an uplifting Vinyasa Flow class to celebrate our connection to nature and to one another."


Saturday, June 12, 2021

The Many Gifts of Girl Scout Troop 71837

Herrontown Woods was the recipient this year of what surely is one of the most ambitious and multifaceted efforts by a girl scout troop to have a beneficial impact on a nature preserve. Girl Scout Troop 71837, with girls 10-11 years old led by Danielle Rollmann and Heather Harnley, contacted the Friends of Herrontown Woods back in August of 2020. Since then, they have contributed their time and effort to the preserve in many ways. 

For starters, during a remarkable spring workday, they swept the parking lot area clean of garlic mustard--an invasive species that spreads aggressively if not pulled up before it goes to seed.

They were fascinated by the big skunk cabbage leaves along the stream, and took a break to check out the little frog pond at the Barden.

With guidance from their leaders, they then quickly became adept at using power tools, drilling holes and setting screws in repurposed wood to construct boardwalks for wet spots on our trails.

Another initiative spurred by the girl scouts' involvement was a new trail map for Herrontown Woods. The girls walked the trails with GPS tracking software, then sent the files to graphic artist Alison Carver, who worked with the girl scouts and FOHW to create a beautiful and detailed new map. Troop funds paid for the first 500 copies.

The scouts also painted new trail markers to greatly aid hikers in finding their way through the preserve. In the photo, you can see remnants of yellow paint, very possibly from when another girl scout troop helped mark trails, many decades ago, 

A particularly innovative project the girl scouts helped with is the creation of a Veblen Circle of native plants around the gazebo at Herrontown Woods' botanical art garden (nicknamed the Barden). Working with FOHW board member Inge Regan, the girls developed informative labels for thirty species of native wildflowers. 

Visitors to the Barden can see the wildflowers growing up in their individual cages, becoming like the pictures on the labels.

With help from Deane, the grandfather of one of the girls, the scouts made ten birdhouses, which FOHW volunteer Robert Chong then installed at Herrontown Woods' three landmark sites: Veblen House, the Cottage farmstead, and the Barden.

The scouts' volunteer efforts worked much like a matching grant. The positive energy and persistence they brought to the project prompted a similar input of energy and focus by FOHW's board members and other volunteers, completing projects that might otherwise have remained indefinitely in the "good idea" stage. 

The Friends of Herrontown Woods is grateful for all the work and spirit these confident girls brought to the project, and the opportunity to witness and participate in the mentoring of another generation of stewards of nature. 

May they return many times to Herrontown Woods to enjoy the fruits of their labors.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Outdoor Yoga with Gemma at Herrontown Woods, June 5, 1-2pm

Join us Saturday, June 5, 1-2pm, for a yoga class taught by Gemma of Gratitude Yoga. 

Outdoor Yoga with Gemma at Herrontown Woods -- This is a free event. Any class donations "will support Friends of Herrontown Woods' ongoing efforts to create a place of restoration and growth for the Princeton community." The class will take place next to Veblen House. Info about location and parking is on the registration page.

This is looking to be a unique experience, outdoor yoga while being serenaded by cicadas. 

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Disadvantaged Woody Species Find a Home in the Barden

A post at the PrincetonNatureNotes blog tells the story of disadvantaged woody species that are finding a place to thrive in the botanical art garden (nicknamed the Barden) at Herrontown Woods. By disadvantaged, we mean species that once prospered but have in our era been laid low, whether by heavy shade, excessive deer browsing, or introduced disease. 

Active human intervention can compensate for these forces of suppression by giving these species the sunlight and deer protection they need to show their true natures. 

The native pinkster azalea in the photo, bearing more flowers than any azalea in the preserve has managed in decades, is one of the showier examples. Other native species finding a home in this forest clearing are hazelnut, hearts-a-bustin', pawpaw, shadbush, pagoda dogwood, persimmon, American chestnut, butternut, and, most recently, Kentucky coffee tree. The latter is disadvantaged because the megafauna that once spread its seeds went extinct about 15,000 years ago. 

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Some Photographic Perspectives

Thanks to Joan Marr for her photographic perspectives on Herrontown Woods, up close and personal, 

looking sideways at some daffodils, 

looking down at a gray tree frog, indifferent to her camera and a spider she watched crawl across its face,

and a new addition to the gazebo,
looking up at a clustering of so-called snowflakes 
and some redbuds, both of which persisted as Veblen House slept through decades of neglect, 
and logs took a very long rest, even as Herrontown Woods has awakened, all around them. 

Friday, March 19, 2021

Spring Cleaning at the Princeton Botanical ARt garDEN ("Barden" for short)

Sunday workdays, 10-1, recommenced this past weekend. New areas are getting cleaned up and cleared of Japanese honeysuckle.

The shed/horse stable has gained some nifty suspended bottles to hold hardware, thanks to Andrew, and a chandelier. That was Rachelle's idea.
There's usually room in the parking lot, but sometimes on Sundays it fills to overflowing. FOHW is exploring ways to accommodate more parking.

Back in the 1920s and 30s, the Princeton ridge was a mecca for horse riding. Though actual horses are not allowed in Herrontown Woods, kids get to ride "Champion" while we're working in the gardens.


Friday, March 12, 2021

Letter in Town Topics about the Princeton Botanical Art Garden

One thing the Friends of Herrontown Woods has had to overcome is its acronyms. FOHW sounds like faux or foe, but sounds better when turned into the stirring call to action: FOHWard! Likewise, the grand-sounding Princeton Botanical Art Garden has the less than fortunate acronym PBAG, which somehow doesn't capture the beauty and serendipity of the enterprise. Thus this proposal to call it the BARDEN, short for Botanical ARt gardDEN. And if the Barden brings out the bard in those who visit or work there, all the better. 

The following appeared in the Jan. 13 issue of Town Topics.

Human Imagination, Resourcefulness Collaborate With Nature at Princeton Botanical Art Garden

To the Editor:

This past year, as the pandemic closed down indoor destinations, many people turned to Princeton’s nature preserves for diversion, renewal, and exercise. Coinciding with this surge in what is often called passive recreation has been an acceleration in several projects along the Princeton Ridge where people take a more active, restorative role in nature. Initiatives by the Friends of Herrontown Woods, the Friends of Princeton Open Space, and the Ridgeview Ridge Trail Blazers have all gained momentum, benefiting from an influx of volunteers.

On the eastern side of town, our relatively new nonprofit, the Friends of Herrontown Woods, founded in 2013 to make Princeton’s first nature preserve once again accessible after years of neglect, has overseen the rapid evolution of a space we now call the Princeton Botanical Art Garden. It began three years ago as a small loop trail through a former pine grove decimated by windstorms. As invasive species took hold among the fallen trees, we saw the opportunity to create a rare habitat — a sunny forest opening. Removing rampant invasive growth and planting sun-loving native wildflowers and shrubs, our first goal was to create a space where people could come to learn about native flora.

But the botanical garden took a cultural turn this year as artists and students displaced from school began building structures amidst the wildflower beds. A boy made a fort. Several high schoolers built a yurt. A chainsaw virtuoso cut planks and handrails from fallen trees to build a whimsical but sturdy bridge over a small wetland. Using massive upturned root balls as backdrops, a spiritual gardener created a meditation garden, and a daughter and mother created an exhibit of wildlife bones.

Another family dug a miniature frog pond that attracted real frogs. Rocks were gathered from a nearby construction site to line whimsical trails. Most recently, considerable resourcefulness and imagination were applied to moving a donated shed and gazebo to the site. Witnessing the joy visitors were experiencing, we knew we were on to something. One parent of young kids described the art garden as “a lifeline.”

If there were ever any doubt, the pandemic has proven the worth of Princeton’s investment in preserving open space, beginning with the visionary mathematician Oswald Veblen’s personal and professional efforts in the 1930s to acquire lands that later became Herrontown Woods and the Institute Woods.
But at the Princeton Botanical Art Garden we have discovered the pleasures and ecological benefits of going beyond preservation and passive appreciation to create an in-between space — part nature, part culture — where human imagination and resourcefulness can collaborate with nature’s unparalleled creativity and generosity. By locating ourselves within nature, learning from it and giving back, we can begin not only to heal nature, but also heal ourselves.

Stephen K. Hiltner