Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association Celebrates Its 20th Year


This past weekend, I journeyed to Durham, NC to help celebrate the 20th year of the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association, a nonprofit I founded while living there from 1995 to 2003. I served first as president, then as executive director, continuing long-distance through 2005, and am proud to say that the organization has flourished in the years since then, growing to a staff of six, with hundreds of people attending this year's annual meeting in downtown Durham.

For the occasion, my friend and fellow plant-keeper Cynthie Kulstad (left) created a botanical portrait of the watershed--an extraordinary bouquet of native plants collected from different preserves that ECWA now owns and manages.


I seldom find myself posing for photos, but wanted to have a photo with Ellen Reckhow, a longtime Durham County commissioner who helped our fledgling organization get a county matching grant to purchase our first six acres next to the creek, twenty years ago.

One of the special places along the creek that I discovered was a beaver marsh, improbably located right behind a big shopping center. It was a classic juxtaposition of nature and urban development. Beavers maintain the water level, and have a big lodge in the middle of the marsh. ECWA went on to acquire the marsh and build trails through it. A Beaver Queen Pageant evolved in a nearby neighborhood park, becoming the nonprofit's biggest annual fundraiser, as aspiring beaver queen contestants perform flamboyant skits, encouraging their friends to bribe the judges. The pageant's irreverence is a good balance for ardent environmentalism.


Staff member Rachel Cohn did most of the organizing for the celebration, including help pass out pieces of birthday cake.

I was one of the speakers at the event. The new executive director, Rickie White, introduced me as a stay-at-home dad, which prompted me to lead a cheer for stay-at-home dads before launching into my speech. In the speech, I told what I consider to be an immigrant's story, of moving to a new city, happening upon a neglected creek that flows through town, seeing value and possibility where many had only seen a ditch.

What a great feeling to witness all the growth, and be a part of the celebration.




Friday, November 08, 2019

Leaves -- A Love Story

Leaves are easiest to love during their "fifteen days of fame" in the fall. But though a true love of leaves may first take hold in the fall, maybe in a particularly colorful leaf picked up on the way to school, it ultimately deepens and matures to include the less showy times that leaves go through, from an obscurity of green up above to an obscurity of brown underfoot, to a slow return to the air and ground from which they came. A love of leaves is so richly rewarded, by the oxygen they give in abundance, the shade, the transpirational, transformational cooling in the summer, the remembered exhilaration of raking and leaping into leafpiles, and the fabulous pulse of surface area and food leaves give to the ground each fall to insulate and feed the life of the soil that in turn sustains all life. Such abundant gratitude they show for what we give without even thinking, "a breath to build a leaf on." Leaves, after all, are built to a great extent from the carbon that we and other animals exhale.

Here are some photos collected this fall:


A sweetgum tree on Princeton University campus across from McCarter Theater. Of course, you expect leaves in such a setting to be above average,




but even the wild ones can put on something of a show, as in this field of sweetgum seedlings in a field next to Snowden Lane,

and even rival the cultivateds. This photo was taken only with the intent of showing variation in size of leaves that fell near Veblen House. The car's hatchback windshield was the closest horizontal surface. Only when looking at the photo later on did I see that nature, ever the artist, was composing the photo as much as I.

This photo of a native witchhazel planted next to a house on Linden Lane led to the unceremonious end of a phone conversation, as my cellphone battery died moments later.

In Herrontown Woods, witch hazels were more the color of these backyard pawpaw leaves. Shade can mute the brilliance of color, and sometimes alter the color itself.


The leaves of mapleleaf Viburnum vary year to year and place to place along the Princeton Ridge.

Wasn't expecting a musclewood to be so colorful. This is a lovely understory tree of Princeton's forests, but my neighbor has one flourishing in her front yard, close to a busy street. (Carpinus caroliniana)

Virginia creeper hanging from a blackhaw Viburnum. Lots of sun, lots of color.


The oakleaf hydrangia and stonecrop "autumn joy" can be a fine combo, their colors slowly shifting through the fall. The stonecrop isn't native, but stays where it's planted, and gives pollinators a fine late-summer dinner plate of nectar.

And lastly, another form of autumn joy--my older daughter when she was discovering the pleasure of leaves while growing up in Durham, NC. The child within us can make that love and delight last a lifetime.