SKUNK CABBAGE 

SKUNK CABBAGE

 

Few are the poets who sing the praises of the earliest and largest of our spring flowers. But this is the fate of the skunk cabbage — a reddish-maroon flower that looks like a very pointy cowl and is often flecked with yellowish splotches.

 

This cowl-like part of the flower, called a spathe, is usually found in wet woodlands and swamps and comes up before the leaves of the plant even begin to show. The skunk cabbage is so intent on getting an early start, that it generates enough of its own heat (sometimes over 70° F.) to melt the frozen ground and snow above it. As a matter of fact, if you stick your finger inside the spathe near its base on a really cold day, and you are likely to feel the warmth produced by this plant.

 

Once on the surface, one side of the hood opens to reveal the knobby, oval shaped spadix, which is the actual reproductive part of the plant. At this time, the plant gives off a foul smell similar to that of rotting meat.  This smell can be a bit repulsive to humans, but it does appeal to the flies, springtails, beetles and other  insects that are attracted to the scent of carrion and pollinate the plant

 

Later in the spring, the green of skunk cabbage’s large leaves provides the dominant color on the ground below the trees.  However, by late July, most of them will have disappeared. If you bruise or break one of these leaves, you will understand how this plant got its name, for they give off a skunk-like smell, that, once again, is not pleasant to humans.

 

Many poets may have avoided writing about the skunk cabbage because it is stinky, un-flowerlike, and lives in swamps. Also, there is no word that really rhymes with “cabbage.”  But the poet Mary Oliver did capture the essence these early spring flowers when she wrote “What blazes the trail is not necessarily pretty.

A Crown of Leaves

The fallen leaves of autumn provide the opportunity to make leaf crowns, a dress up activity that never fails to please children.  Look for a tree that has shed wide, colorful leaves and gather a dozen or so of the very best specimens into a small pile.  Then, one by one, break the stems off these leaves and heap them together.  Next, take two of the stemless leaves and lay one on top of the other so that they partially overlap.  Now, pin those leaves together by pushing one of the stems down through the overlapping section and up again a short distance away.  Continue to attach the leaves together in this manner, and when the string of leaves is long enough to fit snugly around the child’s brow, pin the first and last leaves together.

      The leaves you put together do not have to be worn only on the head.  They can be worn as belts, necklaces, or even a vest if one has the patience to make it.  Since maple leaves are large, well-shaped, and colorful, they are perennial favorites of crown makers.  But I have also had excellent results with hickory, oak, and sweet gum leaves.  The type of leaf you use really doesn’t matter much, as long as it is large and firm enough to hold together when a stem is run through it.

      These headpieces are easy to make, fun to wear, and will create memories that children will cherish for years to come.

{Excerpted from Talking to Fireflies, Shrinking the Moon (Fulcrum, 1997) with permission of the author.  This book is available at the Sunbeam General Store.]

 

A Crown of Leaves

The fallen leaves of autumn provide the opportunity to make leaf crowns, a dress up activity that never fails to please children.  Look for a tree that has shed wide, colorful leaves and gather a dozen or so of the very best specimens into a small pile.  Then, one by one, break the stems off these leaves and heap them together.  Next, take two of the stemless leaves and lay one on top of the other so that they partially overlap.  Now, pin those leaves together by pushing one of the stems down through the overlapping section and up again a short distance away.  Continue to attach the leaves together in this manner, and when the string of leaves is long enough to fit snugly around the child’s brow, pin the first and last leaves together.

      The leaves you put together do not have to be worn only on the head.  They can be worn as belts, necklaces, or even a vest if one has the patience to make it.  Since maple leaves are large, well-shaped, and colorful, they are perennial favorites of crown makers.  But I have also had excellent results with hickory, oak, and sweet gum leaves.  The type of leaf you use really doesn’t matter much, as long as it is large and firm enough to hold together when a stem is run through it.

      These headpieces are easy to make, fun to wear, and will create memories that children will cherish for years to come.

{Excerpted from Talking to Fireflies, Shrinking the Moon (Fulcrum, 1997) with permission of the author.  This book is available at the Sunbeam General Store.]

 

The Delaware River: From small source to big mouth

The Delaware river starts with rain falling on what is known as the Hudson-Delaware divide in the Catskill Mountains of New York. Generally speaking, raindrops falling on easterly side of this divide flow down to the Hudson River and those falling not too far away on the western side will flow downhill to become the Delaware.
      However, a rainstorm showering down on Woodchuck Hill in Jefferson, New York is an exception. Raindrops falling on this hill can flow down to the Hudson River, the Susquehanna River, or the Delaware River, and, later, that same water will end up in New York harbor, the Chesapeake Bay, or flowing under your tube on the way to the Delaware Bay.
      The Delaware starts off as two smaller rivers in the Catskills. The larger one, called the West Branch, starts near Mount Jefferson in Schoharie County, NY, while the East branch starts at a small pond in Grand Gorge, NY.  These two branches flow west to join in the town of Hancock, NY where the combined waters then begin to flow south through the Delaware Water gap, past Frenchtown, and on towards Trenton.
      By the time the waters of the river travel from Mount Jefferson to Frenchtown they have dropped 2,513 feet in elevation (the height of two Empire State Buildings stacked on top of each other). And as the river travels downward along its course, it gathers water from 216 tributary streams and creeks and gets bigger and bigger until, finally, it runs past Trenton at the humongous rate of 86,000 gallons per second.
      With no dams or other barriers on the main stream of the river, the Delaware is one of the few remaining large, free-flowing rivers in the United States. The perfect place for some world-class fishing, a lazy day of tubing, or just sitting on the shore while daydreaming about where the water came from and where it will go.

The Frenchtown Bridge

The first bridge across the Delaware River at Frenchtown was a covered wooden bridge that was supported by the five stone and masonry piers that still stand today. The bridge was constructed in 1841, which was the year the first wagon train of American settlers arrived in California and 20 years before Abraham Lincoln was elected president.

      The present bridge between Frenchtown and Uhlerstown, PA is 951.2 feet long. In 2015, 4,000 cars crossed the bridge each day. These cars travelled a total of 3,804,800 feet (951.2 feet x 4,000 cars) every day, which equals 721 miles per day (3,804,800 feet/5,280 ft per mile]. This is enough mileage to get a single car all the way from Frenchtown to the outskirts of Chicago

      The width of the bridge’s roadway is 16.4 feet and, normally, this would be considered enough for only a one-way thoroughfare. However, two-way traffic is allowed and is made possible and safe by requiring drivers to move at only 15 miles-per-hour.

      The bridge has its own bridgetender who watches for large trucks or other heavy vehicles that exceed the designated 15-ton weight limit from a small office on the upstream side of the span on the New Jersey side. Any vehicles stopped are rerouted to the Milford Bridge or to other bridges to the south. This is an important job, since many historic bridges have been damaged by trucks who ignored weight limit signs and drove over the bridges.