In The Gathering Darkness of a Mid Spring Night

Article and photos by Joe Mish

4.20.17 - mish - green frog with lampshade

Areas which flood each spring are called vernal pools and attract several species of frogs. Each species produces a distinctive call, all in an effort to attract a mate. The orchestral performance this spring night was provided by spring peepers, pickerel frogs, green frogs and American toads. This green frog wears the equivalent of a lamp shade on his head after a night of froggy frolic.

The moon would not be full until the next night, though the difference could not be told without a lunar calendar. As the moon rose above the horizon it was shrouded in low clouds and tinted orange by the earth’s atmosphere. The moon appeared as if hiding behind a shear white veil, drawing more attention and holding a glance until it became a stare.

From the highpoint above the river, the first full view of the moon rising thru the thin white haze was screened by a loose weave of fine treetop branches. The delicate stems stood out in sharp contrast against the brilliant orb and moonlit clouds.

A tall cherry tree, growing out of a line of dark pines on a low ridge parallel to the river, perfectly balanced the moonlit scene with a staircase of blossoms turned luminous in the rising light.

A landscape painter could ask for no better inspiration than presented on this spring evening.

The overgrown path to the river was paved with fragments of white flowers from the blooming thornapple trees. The small round petals took on a glow in the rising moonlight to mark the trail, making it easier to follow.

A chipping sparrow, out later than it should have, hung onto a stem of tall amber broomsedge grass, as if it were a pole vaulter, caught in midair, hanging on to a pole at maximum flex.

The slow moonrise was reversed, as the trail to the river descended and hid the moon below the horizon.

Before the full moon reaches its zenith, visibility is lost in a temporary moment of deepening darkness, though a sense of night time vision may be provided by listening to the sounds of nature.

The call of geese from the river vibrated through the darkness to dominate the night. Their conversation was even and constant as they settled in for the night.

Their calls would pick up in response to late arriving flights validating a safe harbor below.

At night, geese dispense with circling and come right in with wings set and feet outstretched for touchdown. The sound of geese landing on water at night is a gentle extended, woosh, as their feet skim the water’s surface to slow the landing speed, followed by a barely perceptible splash.

The wind whistling through the primary feathers on birds wings, makes an odd creaking sound to betray their otherwise invisible night time approach. Straggling flocks of common mergansers and wood ducks landed parallel to the shoreline, mid river, and then dispersed to spend the night on the water in some eddy or quiet water below a fallen tree.

When the moon rose high enough to shed its gossamer haze to float above any earthbound obstruction, the moonlight intensified and now reflected on the river. Each ripple appearing as a silvery diamond. The ducks and geese became silhouettes as they drifted across a bejeweled stream of silvery light as viewed from opposite the light source.

Occasionally a call from an unidentified bird could be heard among the intermittent wood duck whistling and goose banter. The calls generated speculation, perhaps a black or yellow crowned night heron or just an irritated great blue heron.

The steady drone of spring peepers went nearly unnoticed as white noise, as it was separated from the sounds along the river by a good quarter mile. When attention was focused on the spring peepers which dominated the vernal pools, the solo calls of competing pickerel and green frogs could be heard. Focusing on sounds in the night, coming from opposite directions, was like simultaneously listening to two radio broadcasts; each source competing for attention.

4.20.17 - mish - american toad throat 4.20.17 - mish - american toad





American toad

4.20.17 - mish - carpenter frog, alias wood frog

carpenter frog, alias wood frog

4.20.17 - mish - pickerel frog

pickerel frog

4.20.17 - mish - spring peeper or hyla crucifer

spring peeper/hyla crucifer

Author Joe Mish has been running wild in New Jersey since childhood when he found ways to escape his mother’s watchful eyes. He continues to trek the swamps, rivers and thickets seeking to share, with the residents and visitors, all of the state’s natural beauty hidden within full view. To read more of his writing and view more of his gorgeous photographs visit Winter Bear Rising, his wordpress blog. Joe’s series “Nature on the Raritan, Hidden in Plain View” runs monthly as part of the LRWP “Voices of the Watershed” series. Writing and photos used with permission from the author.

Garden and Afield, Week of April 9-April 15

Article and photos by Joe Sapia

4.19.17 - Sapia - full easter moon over Manalapan Brook

The Full Easter Moon rises over the Manalapan Brook floodplain in Monroe, Middlesex County, on the April 10-11, Monday-Tuesday, overnight. The white speck to the right of the moon is Jupiter.

Author’s note: The yard references are to my house in the section of Monroe between Helmetta and Jamesburg in South Middlesex County. My yard is in a Pine Barrens outlier on the Inner Coastal Plain, the soil is loamy, and my neighborhood is on the boundary of Gardening Zones 6b (cooler) and 7a (warmer).

FIRSTS OF THE SEASON: For the first time this season, I saw a bee, bat, and cabbage white butterfly – all on the same day, April 10. The bee was in my side yard, the cabbage white in my garden, and the bats, both flying over my yard and near woods edge at Manalapan Brook. (Also, it was the first day I heard my attic fan kick in.)

4.19.17 - Sapia - cabbage white butterfly

A cabbage white butterfly in my garden, near an oak leaf for a size comparison.

     MULCHING TREES:  Oh, no, mulch “volcanoes”! Those are the volcano-shaped mulch structures around tree trunks. Mulching is done for a variety of reasons, such as providing moisture and drainage, while serving as a buffer against yard equipment and giving the yard a neater look. But volcanoes are bad for the tree – they can lead to over-moisture and the introduction of disease. So, go for the “doughnut”:  creating a doughnut-like circle around the tree, the inner circle having no contact with the tree or its roots, the outer circle 2 to 3 inches of mulch either to the end of the root ball or the tree’s drip line.

MA’S FLOWERING QUINCE:  My family is the original owner of my house, going back to 1953. I was born in 1956 and never recall a time without Ma’s flowering quince bush. So, I figure the bush was planted soon after the family bought the property in ’53. This year, the flowering is not looking good, probably because of the warm weather inducing budding, followed by cold weather killing the buds.

4.19.17 - Sapia - flowering quince

Ma’s flowering quince not looking too good this season, probably because the flowering was affected by the warm temperatures that prompting budding, followed by cold killing the buds.

4.19.17 - Sapia - flowering quince 2012

The flowering quince during a nicer bloom in spring, 2012.

FLOWERING AT “THE MASTERS” GOLF TOURNAMENT: The Masters Golf Tournament played annually in Augusta, Georgia, is known for its flowering beauty. This year, though, Augusta had a warm winter followed by cold spring days, prompting an early bloom followed by killing freezes. So, when the Masters was played April 6 to 9, the flowering was not that vibrant.

HELMETTA POND FISHING: Helmetta Pond is a typical Pine Barrens “tea water,” acidic body of water, here in the Spotswood Outlier of the Pines. Joey Slezak, my local go-to science person, fished the Pond April 12 and caught pickerel and largemouth bass.

BIRDS SINGING: Listen to the spring songs of birds, probably asserting territory or seeking mates. This week, I heard them as early as about 5:15 a.m., or more than an hour before sunrise.

SNORTING DEER: On the overnight of the full moon, I walked across the street to Manalapan Brook, spooking some deer. At least one gave out a few loud snorts, probably alerting other deer of my presence and maybe trying to spook me. The snort is sort of spooky, but something I get a kick out of, wildlife communicating because of me. Then, the deer bolted.

MA’S FLOWERS: Ma died at 81-years-old in 1995, but, come spring, her front yard daffodils and crocuses continue blooming.

4.19.17 - Sapia - daffodils

Ma’s daffodils, still blooming in the front yard, 22 years after Ma died.

MORE NATURE NEWS FROM THE JERSEY MIDLANDS: See the observations made by naturalist Bill Simmons, Bill is the retired environmental coordinator for the Monmouth County Health Department. He also is at @BillSimmonsNJ on

SUNRISE/SUNSET: For the week of April 16, Sunday, to April 22, Saturday, the sun will rise at about 6:07 to 6:15 a.m. and set at about 7:38 to 7:44 p.m.

WEATHER: Go to the National Weather Service forecasting station for the area,

— Joseph Sapia
2017, April 15, Easter Saturday,

Joe Sapia, 60, is a lifelong Monroe resident. He is a Pine Barrens naturalist and an organic vegetable-fruit gardener. He gardens the same backyard plot as did his Italian-American father, Joe Sr., and his Polish-immigrant, maternal grandmother, Annie Poznanski Onda. Both are inspirations for his food gardening. He draws inspiration on the local Pine Barrens from his mother, Sophie Onda Sapia, who lived her whole life in these Pines, and his Grandma Annie.

Garden and Afield, Week of April 2-April 8

Article and Photos by Joe Sapia

4.18.17 - Sapia turning over the vegetable garden

Turning over the vegetable garden

Author’s note: The yard references are to my house in the section of Monroe between Helmetta and Jamesburg in South Middlesex County. My yard is in a Pine Barrens outlier on the Inner Coastal Plain, the soil is loamy, and my neighborhood is on the boundary of Gardening Zones 6b (cooler) and 7a (warmer).

MESSING UP PREPPING THE VEGETABLE GARDEN: To get a jump on the vegetable garden, I sowed inside early season plant seeds of lettuce, carrots, and peas. That was a mistake. When I was transitioning them to plant outside, I killed them. I should have waited and planted them directly into the garden. So, I had to regroup….

…PLANTING THE EARLY SEASON GARDEN: I bought new seeds – “Salad Bowl Green Heirloom Lettuce,” “Rainbow Blend Carrots,” and “Sugar Daddy Snap Peas,” all Lake Valley Seeds brand – and planted the early spring garden April 8.

NEXT UP AT THE GARDEN: I will plant the summer crops – sweet corn, tomatoes, cantaloupe, and cucumbers, along with zinnias for color and to attract pollinators – roughly May 20 (if the weather has been warm) to June 1 (if the weather has been cool).

4.18.17 - Sapia unflowering trailing arbutus, May Pink

Unflowering trailing arbutus, or “May pink.”

FLOWERING IN THE WOODS: Swamp maples have their red tinge of buds, along with the budding of “May pinks” (trailing arbutus). I saw a report trailing arbutus has already flowered in the main Pine Barrens to the south, but have not seen any beyond budding in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta.

BIRDS SINGING SPRING SONGS: I am hearing the birds beginning their daily singing about 6 a.m. to 6:15 a.m., or about 15 to 40 minutes before sunrise. The birds presumably are singing to assert territory and to attract mates.

4.18.17 - Sapia - mute swan at Helmetta Pond

A beautiful, but invasive, mute swan at Helmetta Pond

“POND PIGS” AT HELMETTA POND: While beautiful, mute swans are a non-native bird that have been naturalized in America – and are disrupting the natural world around them. They are aggressive to humans and animals and deplete food supplies. There were brought to this country from Europe in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

LAST SNOW OF THE SEASON: Since the winter of 1995-1996, it has snowed as late as April 16 (April 9-10 for accumulating snow). Judging from the upcoming weather forecast, we probably had our last snow of the season, which was March 15.

OCCASIONAL LOUDNESS OF THE NEW JERSEY TURNPIKE: Wonder why the sound of the Turnpike is very loud at times, well beyond the quiet background noise? Probably because of warmer temperatures in the air compared with colder ones at the ground level.

GREEN WATERING OF THE GARDEN: Last year, I used a combination of drinking water from the house spigot and “gray” water (used bathing water). I got thinking about conserving house water – or even more conservation than I already do – and not putting soapy bath water into the garden. So, this year, 1. I am going to try using more accumulated rain water, making sure I keep the barrel covered when not in use so as not to promote mosquito breeding; 2. I am going to try to use available fresh water, perhaps from Manalapan Brook and a nearby swamp.; and 3., Conserve even more water at home. (In the 15 years since I have been taken over the family house, I have cut water usage by up to about 50 percent, the results of a bathroom renovation and conservation.

SUNRISE/SUNSET for April 2 to 8: Roughly about 6:20 to 6:30 Eastern Daylight Time for sunrise and about 7:30 to 7:35 for sunset.

VIEWING THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION: The ISS may be visible Tuesday, April 11, 8:16 p.m. to 8:21 p.m., from north northwest to east; Friday, April 14, 8:53 p.m. to 8:56 p.m.; and Saturday, April 15, 8:02 p.m. to 8:06 p.m.

4.18.17 - Sapia - near full moon over Manalapan Brook in Monroe

The near-full moon over Manalapan Brook in Monroe

NIGHT SKY: The Full Sprouting Grass Moon is on the Monday-Tueday, April 10-11, overnight. Also, see

DROUGHT: With the recent rains, drought concerns may be lifted in the coming days by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

— Joseph Sapia
2017, April 9, Sunday,

Joe Sapia, 60, is a lifelong Monroe resident. He is a Pine Barrens naturalist and an organic vegetable-fruit gardener. He gardens the same backyard plot as did his Italian-American father, Joe Sr., and his Polish-immigrant, maternal grandmother, Annie Poznanski Onda. Both are inspirations for his food gardening. He draws inspiration on the local Pine Barrens from his mother, Sophie Onda Sapia, who lived her whole life in the local Pines, and his grandmother.

Garden and Afield, week of 2017, March 26 to April 1

Article and photos by Joe Mish

RAINFALL: It rained about 2.5 inches in the New Brunswick-Trenton area at the end of last week. So, it will be interesting to see what this week’s drought maps say.

sapia - 4.1.17 garbage in drainage ditch

Garbage floating in a Monroe, Middlesex County, drainage ditch

sapia - 4.1.17 garbage on tree snag

Garbage caught on a tree snag
in Manalapan Brook, Monroe, Middlesex County

NON-POINT SOURCE POLLUTION: During and after the week’s rains, the flow of non-point source pollution was obvious in our waterways. The cost-free way of dealing with it is, do not litter and do not leave stuff out in the yard, then it will not float into waterways.

sapia - 4.1.17 spring peeper in Manalapan

A spring peeper treefrog, found in the Manalapan Brook floodplain

FROGS: I walked into the swamp hardwood forest of the Manalapan Brook floodplain between Helmetta and Jamesburg early in the week. The sleigh bells-like sound of spring peeper treefrogs, “Pseudacris crucifer crucifer,” was obvious. I also heard monkey chattering-like sound of wood frogs, “Rana sylvatica.”

RASPBERRIES: I planted five bare-root Burpee seed company Caroline raspberry plants.

GARDEN ZONES: Depending on the source, the area is Garden Zone 6 (cooler) to Garden Zone 7 (warmer). That means our last frost generally is April 15 to 30; Our first frost is generally Oct. 11 to 20. Beyond that, I am playing it safe and sticking with Zone 6 for my Helmetta area, Middlesex County, home, although the area becoming a solid Zone 7 because of global warming is likely just around the corner.

OUTDOOR PLANTING FOR SUMMER VEGETABLES AND FRUITS: My rule of thumb is May 20 if it is a warm to normal and, if it is cooler, wait to June 1.

PREPARING PLANTS INDOOR: This year, though, I am trying something new, sowing plants indoors before the outside plant dates. So, I am experimenting with Kaleidoscope Blend Organic and Touchon carrots, Iceberg A lettuce, and Sugar Snap peas, all Burpee, which I began sowing about March 5. I added Rutgers tomatoes about March 25. I plan on sowing more tomatoes – Brandywine Red and Red Cherry, both Lake Valley brand – indoors in the next day or so.

HUMMINGBIRDS: Get the hummingbird feeders up by about April 15 to attract the early “scout” birds and they hopefully will lead later-arriving hummingbirds to the feeders.


SUNRISE/SUNSET: Approximate times are April 2, Sunday, 6:40 and 7:23 Eastern Daylight Time; April 3, Monday, 6:38 and 7:25; April 4, Tuesday, 6:36 and 7:26; April 5, Wednesday, 6:35 and 7:27; April 6, Thursday, 6:33 and 7:28[ April 7, Friday, 6:31 and 7:29; an April 8, Saturday, 6:30 and 7:30.

WEATHER: Local weather forecasts are available at

sapia - 4.1.17 carnegie lake

Carnegie Lake near the Kingston dam
on the boundary of Mercer, Middlesex, and Somerset counties


Joe Sapia, 60-years-old, grew up and lives in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, where his family has resided for more than 100 years. He can be reached at or at P.O. Box 275, Helmetta, 08828.

Environmental Headlines – March 2017

The following are headlines to watch as the administration begins to cut protections to the environment:

Rollbacks on Obama-era environmental Protections: A sweeping new Executive Order passed on Tuesday March 28 includes rollbacks on emissions rules for power plants, limits on methane leaks, a moratorium on federal coal leasing, and the use of the social cost of carbon to guide government actions.

EPA Budget Cuts: The Hill reports that the new administration seeks to cut the Environmental Protection Agency budget by up to 31%.

Undoing the Clean Water Rule: On February 28, President Trump signed an Executive Order instructing the EPA to reconsider the Clean Water Rule. The Clean Water Rule, currently blocked by an appeals court, protects smaller creeks and wetlands under the Clean Water Act of 1972. Here’s more on the Clean Water Rule EO from The Hill.

Rollbacks on Bans of Known Neurotoxins: National Public Radio reported that the new administration decided not to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos (see here for coverage by NYTimes), despite EPA’s own documentation of significant risks. The Pesticide Action Network reports that chlorpyrifos is moderately persistent in soil and can take weeks to years to break down. The insecticide can also reach rivers, lakes and streams, where it concentrates in the fatty tissue of fish. According to the National Water Quality Assessment Program, chlorpyrifos contaminated surface water in urban and agricultural streams at levels potentially harmful to aquatic life.


Entry #1 – On New Jersey’s Environmental Values

Article by LRWP Board President Heather Fenyk

Starting from a belief that enduring environmental values will help us withstand current shifts in political winds, the LRWP is initiating a series of short blog posts to reflect on the normative standards that structured the last several decades of environmental politics in New Jersey.

Throughout this series we will draw attention to those actions that relate most directly to improving the the health of our Lower Raritan Watershed. We will also highlight other successful regional approaches that we can learn from to benefit our Lower Raritan River and local streams. Topics will include state-based policy making as well as alternative approaches including court actions, collaborative politics, and “private” pathways e.g. land trusts, consumer purchasing power and business actions to achieve sustainability. We also expect to explore mitigation banking, and proposals for stormwater utilities. In short, we want to identify a compendium of actions that might be brought to bear to further protect, enhance and restore our central New Jersey environmental landscape.

In this first entry we observe that while federal legislative changes may not currently be pro-environment (see our blog post here on environmental headlines), alternative pathways to positive environmental outcomes can be as simple as holding our state Department of Environmental Protection accountable for specific promised actions to protect our rivers, streams and watersheds. For example, we can regularly check in with NJDEP to request updates on the following on-going initiatives:

-Toxics reductions initiatives

-Water Quality Standards

-Maintaining the NJDEP water quality program

-Non Point Source reduction planning

-Communication of EPA/NJDEP TMDL prioritization work

-Legislative updates

-Permits updates


-Grants and loans, funding opportunities and state priorities review


Institutionalization of all the above on-going project and program efforts at NJDEP speaks to a on-going commitment to environmental priorities for New Jersey’s future. As environmental non-profits and concerned citizens we must regularly articulate our expectations associated with these priorities and hold NJDEP accountable for meeting our expectations.

Civic Science comes to PBS

Article by LRWP Board President Heather Fenyk

Wikipedia tells us that civic science or citizen science (CS; also known as crowd science, crowd-sourced science, volunteer monitoring or networked science) is “scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by amateur (or nonprofessional) scientists. Citizen science is sometimes described as public participation in scientific research, participatory monitoring and participatory action research.”

The LRWP employs civic science to better understand the health of our watershed. Our volunteers engage in activities like water quality monitoring, soil sampling, pollinator counts and mapping of invasive and threatened/endangered species. The data our volunteers generate is a key input to our analyses and restoration prioritization.

While the LRWP’s mission centers on protecting, preserving and restoring habitat and biodiversity within our Lower Raritan Watershed, our civic science approach to data gathering speaks to another core purpose: by training community volunteers to monitor and report on the health of the environment we work to ensure that science, community engagement and environmental stewardship become a permanent part of the culture and identity of the Lower Raritan Watershed.

Want to learn more about citizen/civic science? Not only how it is used to characterize the health of our watersheds, track climate change and map oil spills, but also how it can improve emergency responses, help us understand how diseases spread, and keep our drinking water clean? Check out the new PBS mini-series sponsored by The Crowd and The Cloud. For a month of Thursdays this April, PBS will host a 4-part television series exploring citizen science, crowdsourcing, and mobile technology. Below we summarize the episodes in the series:

Even Big Data Starts Small

The crowd, using mobile tech, and the cloud contribute to science that saves lives. In this episode, you’ll hear stories of everyday people contributing data used for emergency management, researching Alzheimers, mapping oils spills, and more.

World Broadcast: April 6th at 9pm EST
(replayed at 9pm PST)

Citizens + Scientists

Citizen scientists track air pollution in Wyoming, test for lead in Philadelphia’s drinking water, fish for data in coldwater trout streams and report environmental crimes in China, using the “Black & Smelly Rivers” app. Hear all these stories and more in Episode 2.

World Broadcast: April 13th at 9pm EST
(replayed at 9pm PST)

Viral vs Virus

Real-time data helps track environmental triggers for asthma sufferers and citizens confront air pollution and rising asthma rates by collecting real time data. In this episode, explore how maps and apps can combat globalized disease from asthma to Zika.

World Broadcast: April 20th at 9pm EST
(replayed at 9pm PST)


This episode explores a Year in the Life of Citizen Science. Counting birds with an app, surfers collecting ocean data while they ride the waves, volunteers surveying horseshoe crabs on the Delaware Bay, and butterflies wintering over in California.

World Broadcast: April 27th at 9pm EST
(replayed at 9pm PST)

Field and Stream dreams come true on the South Branch

Article and photo by Joe Mish

mish - field and stream dreams

Field and Stream dreams come true on the South Branch of the Raritan. Opening day of the NJ trout season stirs memories as strong as a lifetime of Christmas morning and birthday surprises.

Right along with the anticipation of presents on Christmas morning, April and the opening day of fishing season both involved a dedicated countdown. For a month, each passing day was marked with a big X on the complimentary Esso service station calendar. It was understood, there would be no sleep on the eve of this once a year event.

Times have changed but tradition still lingers as many NJ anglers prepare for the opening of trout season in early April. One of the best places to live out a fishing fantasy is in Branchburg. As the name implies the township is bound for the most part by the North and South branches of the Raritan River, both heavily stocked with trout by the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife.

Of course trout are not the only game in town. As the river flows from the mountains to the sea, fish can swim upstream as well as down. What that means is tiger muskies and hybrid bass can find their way downstream from Spruce Run as well as stripped bass, hickory and American shad can migrate upstream from the Atlantic Ocean. The state had been using an underwater camera to monitor quantity and species of fish in the area around the confluence of the Raritan and Millstone rivers, species you wouldn’t believe were observed. It was reported in a news article several years ago that trophy brown trout, walleyes, muskies, stripped bass, shad and several forage species were recorded. The beauty of fishing a river is you never know what you might catch.

While trout get the most press, the lower river is primarily a seasonal trout fishery with most angler activity occurring around opening day and subsequent stockings. It is considered to be ‘put and take’ fishing. There are holdover trout but you have to search for them. It is reported trout will travel distances to find suitable habitat with the water temperature being a prime factor. Each species has a preference for a specific temperature range so be sure to carry a thermometer if you want to become serious about your fishing.

The South Branch is also chock full of smallmouth bass which are a year around fish. Fish in the twenty-two inch range have been reported. Smallmouths in the twelve to fifteen inch range have a tendency to tailwalk on the surface of the water while their big brothers often stay deep and pull hard. My favorite lure for these ‘bronzebacks’ is a Panther Martin spinner with a small curly tailed grub on an ultralight fishing rod. Always have a hemostat or thumb forceps handy to remove the hook from any fish you wish to release.

Fishing methods and equipment span the spectrum of human imagination and most are effective on any given day. Expensive Orvis fly rods to lawn chairs and igloo coolers, garden worms to woolly buggers to Mepps spinners all take their share of fish. Fishing allows for as much science, superstition or tradition you might want to use in your piscatorial pursuits. There are even solunar tables which scientifically predict the best days to fish, however, everyone knows the best day to fish is whenever you get the chance.

So if your bumper sticker proclaims, “the worst day of fishing is better than the best day at work”, you already have your gear in ship shape condition and have started your countdown to the April 8th NJ trout season opener for 2017.

Author Joe Mish has been running wild in New Jersey since childhood when he found ways to escape his mother’s watchful eyes. He continues to trek the swamps, rivers and thickets seeking to share, with the residents and visitors, all of the state’s natural beauty hidden within full view. To read more of his writing and view more of his gorgeous photographs visit Winter Bear Rising, his wordpress blog. Joe’s series “Nature on the Raritan, Hidden in Plain View” runs monthly as part of the LRWP “Voices of the Watershed” series. Writing and photos used with permission from the author.

February Floodplain Clean-up with Friends

Article and photos by Francisco Gomez, Founder and Director of Raíces Cultural Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving cultural roots through the arts, history and ecology.

With many thanks to Francisco and the Raíces Cultural Center for joining us for our February 25 clean-up of the Raritan River floodplain in Piscataway.

We headed out for Johnson Park last Saturday for a river clean-up of the Raritan. There were about a dozen people gathered as we were given our trash bags and long reach garbage grabbers to tackle the debris.

I often take my daily walks along the river, especially during the Spring and Summer. There’s always been something special about the water, as polluted as it is, wildlife and the people that are out doing what I do to get my daily dose of Nature.

Having walked the river ever since I was a kid, and let me say many moons have passed since then; I have witnessed the gradual environmental destruction of this once great water way.

As a child growing up in Perth Amboy, I would hangout on Mechanic St. with my friends. We would walk to the waterfront and dive off of a dock at the end of Buckingham Ave., adjacent to the Chevron Oil Refinery. At the end of the dock there was moored an old World War 2 mine sweeper that we would explore when we weren’t swimming in the entrance to the Arthur Kill and across the Raritan Bay to Staten Island. That was the early 1960’s and the water was still good enough to swim. At some point in 1961 we noticed oil spots on our skin when we came out of the water, and we reeked of petroleum. Needless to say, we stopped swimming in the bay and that wonderful part of our childhood came to an unwanted end. It would be many years later, when I became involved in the environmental movement, that I fully understood the negative impact of what corporate greed and indifference to Mother Nature had done and is still doing.

Gomez - river-cleanup 2.25.2017

As our crew scoped out the coast line for garbage, a sudden sadness and anger overwhelmed me at the same time. It brought to mind a commercial clip made back in the early 1970’s of a First Nation’s man who rows down a river in a canoe, and as he gets into the greater water way he begins to see the incredible amount of garbage thrown into the river by humans. He also sees all the petrochemical companies spewing toxic waste from their chimney stacks and the pipelines from their factories that drain into the bay. When he gets out of his canoe by a highway, one of the cars passing by tosses a bag of fast food that lands at his feet. As he turns towards the camera you see a tear roll down his cheek. The actor’s name is Iron Eyes Cody, but what he was seeing was no act!

As we continued our sweep of the coastline I understood fully what our disregard and disrespect for Nature has produced. Just attempting to clean-up the vast amount of debris in one minuscule patch of river line was daunting and seemed totally futile; I believe this is what made me so angry. I know that I’m not without blame, for I have also contributed to this catastrophe in one way or another, directly or through the forced machinations of the corporate Matrix.

Gomez - river clean-up crew 2.25.2017

Enter the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership. This is the organization who coordinated the river clean-up and does the remarkable work of attempting to protect the Raritan River. These guys do everything from stewardship, civic science and environmental monitoring, habitat and ecological health, Eco-art and, of course, lots of clean-ups.

Two hours later we had collected a number of bags filled with trash, a bicycle, one or two huge plastic tubes and a very heavy corroded metal lid. The truth is we barely made a dent in our clean-up.

Volunteering to be part of these clean-ups can be quite disheartening and almost pointless because of the amount of new trash that is dispensed onto the landscape and into the river each day. However, one should not be deterred from joining in to do this most important work. There is some recompense in watching a jogger or cyclist pass by, smile and thank us for collecting what seems to be a very small amount of garbage. There is satisfaction in cleaning up other people’s carbon footprints, even if you may not believe so.

So if you’re so inclined and want to do your part to make the environment a little more ecologically balanced, then come out on one of the workdays and get a little dirty so we can make the Raritan River a little cleaner again – you won’t regret it!

Winter in the Jersey Midlands: December

Article and photos by Joseph Sapia

Sapia - crescent moon over Manalapan Brook

Above the Manalapan Brook floodplain, a crescent moon waxed toward December’s Full Long Nights Moon

Sapia - Christmastime in Fair Haven

Christmastime in Fair Haven, Monmouth County

Sapia - 12.17.16 snowfall in Jamesburg Park

Snowfall of 1-1/2 inches December 17 in the Jamesburg Park Conservation Area, Middlesex County

Sapia - ice in pitch pine needles

Ice builds up on the needles of a pitch pine, Pinus rigida, the common tree of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Here, in the Jamesburg Park Conservation Area in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta.

Sapia - Longstreet Farm cooking

Christmastime at historic Longstreet Farm, the Monmouth County Park System’s living history farm, replicating the late 1800s in Holmdel. Here, baking cookies the old-fashioned way.

Sapia - holly in Monrow Twp.

Holly in my neigbhorhood in Monroe, Middlesex County.

Joe Sapia, 60-years-old, grew up and lives in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, where his family has resided for more than 100 years. He can be reached at or at P.O. Box 275, Helmetta, 08828.

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