Tag: Ambrose Brook

Final Stream Habitat Assessment – Ambrose Brook

Article and Photos by Margo Persin, Rutgers Environmental Steward

Editor’s Note: In 2018 Margo Persin joined the Rutgers Environmental Steward program for training in the important environmental issues affecting New Jersey. Program participants are trained to tackle local environmental problems through a service project. As part of Margo’s service project she chose to conduct assessments of a local stream for a year, and to provide the data she gathered to the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP). Margo keeps a journal of her experiences, excerpts of which are included in the LRWP’s “Voices of the Watershed” column.

As my year-long project entailing the assessment of the Ambrose Brook is now drawing to a close, I wanted to make one last observational visit to the site, which I completed on 31 December 2018.  As I was driving over, in my mind I reviewed the year and wondered, at this point in the process, if there would anything more or new that I could possibly say about the Ambrose Brook.  Well, was I in for a surprise, and a most captivating one at that!  I arrived at just about 10:30 am, I was the only human around, and as I traversed the eastern side of the stream, I spied just one pair of mallards afloat on the lazy, meandering brook.  The male’s plumage was blatantly obvious against the muddy, slow-moving current, whereas the female’s was camouflaged just about perfectly with the background: muddy water, brown earth, fallen leaves.  The sky was overcast and the air was calm with a moderate 40 degree temperature that provided a welcome and silent capsule for my period of observation.  My goal was to walk the bank, if possible on both sides, from a bit past the small waterfall all the way back to the footbridge and back again.  And with this trajectory, nature provided me with a series of surprises.

               As I made my way south on the eastern side of the brook, a veritable flock of mallard pairs came into view, comfortably resting on the water’s surface, the first that I have seen in the entire year.  They gave me a slight if sneering glance, then turned away from me to glide closer to the western bank.   Secondly, as I walked along the bank farther and farther from the street noise, I noticed that several trees had a distinctive series of marks along the base up to about one foot, all around the circumference of the trunk.  I am not a naturalist, but I wondered if by any chance it could be a family of beavers at work.  “Nah”, I said to myself, this place has too many people around, “no way”.  Well, I suspect that I was proved wrong!  At another spot, a neatly chewed tree, gnawed to what looked like a precise pencil point, had been felled and now was lying in the water, the severed trunk just inches from the sad looking stump.  “Aha!” I exclaimed, “nature wins again, beavers’ resourcefulness as effective or more so as a mini-chainsaw”.  I never did see any beavers but their handiwork was a very good indicator of their presence.  At the farthest point away from the street, still on the eastern side of the brook, felled trees were piled up very close to the water’s edge, and I wondered whether that might be an indication of a lovely and cozy den.  Hmmmm…..

Beaver handiwork.  Very impressive!

               After crossing the footbridge to the western side of the brook, I was presented with another of nature’s surprises.  Now that winter is officially upon us and foliage has died back both above my head and below my feet, I was able to make my way about three quarters of the distance to the small waterfall.  As I walked among the brown brush, fallen branches, and dormant grasses, it dawned on me that the brook had on this western bank a lovely and wide flood plain well below street level that I had never noticed before, given the presence of a daunting array of vegetation, including some very fierce brambles that had heartily discouraged my passage in previous visits.  Wow!  Talk about hiding in plain sight!  I presume that this flood plain accepts the surplus of storm water that occasionally overflows the banks of the brook, which is then absorbed into the ecosystem, but in turn does not flood area streets … or basements.  Nifty!

West Bank flood plain, Brook is to the right, street to the left.

               And two last affirmative surprises.  Having crossed over once again to the eastern side, I noticed yet another storm water outlet that fed into the brook, close to the small waterfall.  I had never noticed it before because of the verdant camouflage offered by the grasses that were presumably fed by its generous flow and overflow.  It was right there all the time, but I had never seen it.  It humbled me and made me smile – in this visit, I suspect that nature, anthropomorphized to be sure, was having a good chuckle at my expense because of my naiveté.  To think that there would be ‘nothing more to see’ was pure hubris and I was given my comeuppance.  In addition, the waterfall also had a surprise.  Even though the water continues to flow, it was evident that it was starting to freeze at the base!  The clumps of white ice shone unmistakably through the tumbling current, a solemn reminder that winter is upon us.  I would have missed it if I had not walked closer to the waterfall than I had ever done on previous visits.

Waterfall view in winter.  Great for a contemplative moment.

               The last surprise was not a very happy one.  As I made my way on both sides of the brook, I took note of several places where the water was almost completely stagnant, where the current did not have the opportunity to lend an active, cleansing presence.  And in those small culverts at the water’s edge, I noted that the water kept a glaze of oil slick of who knows what composition.  At first glance I had guessed that the water might be beginning to freeze, but upon closer inspection, the real reason for the discoloration was obvious: water pollution of a chemical nature. Ugh.

            So this was my visit, a combination of wonder and despair.  I plan to offer in the coming weeks one last report, an estimation of the year’s trajectory as applied to my original proposal for this project.  Happy New Year, everyone!  May nature be your guide and live in your heart.  

Final Stream Habitat Assessment of 2018 – Ambrose Brook

Article and Photos by Margo Persin, Rutgers Environmental Steward

Editor’s Note: In 2018 Margo Persin joined the Rutgers Environmental Steward program for training in the important environmental issues affecting New Jersey. Program participants are trained to tackle local environmental problems through a service project. As part of Margo’s service project she chose to conduct assessments of a local stream for a year, and to provide the data she gathered to the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP). Margo keeps a journal of her experiences, excerpts of which are included in the LRWP’s “Voices of the Watershed” column.

Fall has arrived in all of its glory to Ambrose Brook. This visit entailed yet another habitat assessment, one of several that have taken place throughout 2018 under the aegis of my Environmental Stewards program project, and most probably the last for this year-long commitment. For this round of measurements, I was very fortunate to have for company, support and assistance Susan E., another Environmental Steward whose project has been an inspiration and role model of sorts for my own. We arrived at the designated spot on the Ambrose Brook at around 10:30 in the morning. The weather was co-operative: high overcast skies, temperature in the high 40’s, variable light wind. It was so helpful to have Susan to aid in the assessment from logistical and safety points of view as well as the advantage of the team work that it provided.

We immediately set to work by measuring out the required inspection distance, placing our flag markers along the designated route, and deciding who would undertake what task for the actual stream assessment of width, depth and velocity, in addition to visually based water conditions, stream and land use characteristic, and high gradient monitoring. To begin, my stream buddy waited at the bank pen and paper in hand while I lurched into the stream for width measurement, equipped with a handy retractable tape measure. I called out the measurement numbers and she jotted them down on the assessment sheets. So far, so good. The next task was depth measurement, to be taken with a rigid metal ruler at various spots along the flag marked course of the brook. I waded mid-stream along our designated route and quickly discovered to my chagrin that my waterproof boots were approximately two inches too low for the water’s depth …. so aside from our official water temperature of 49 degrees taken with a floating thermometer, my feet measured the water temp and gave out a silent primordial scream as the water rushed into said boots and soaked boots, socks, feet, and pant legs. Arrr-r-r-g-g-g-h-h-hhhhh! But I had thought about such an eventuality and had brought along dry socks, shoes and a towel, which were put to excellent use once our foray was concluded.

Stream monitoring equipment, including boots too short for the water’s depth midstream

     The measurement of velocity proved to be the most interesting to us. At the start of the designated course, Susan dropped in the red plastic duck mid-stream, which began to wend its way downstream toward me according to the force of the flowing water’s current. I used a stopwatch, timed each passage, and called out the numbers. Per the directive on the assessment sheet, we took four readings that varied between less than a minute to slightly over two minutes. However, with the fifth and last release of the duck, we got a surprise. It stopped mid-journey, irrevocably caught in a small whirlpool that was just about invisible at the water’s surface. We were only made aware of this singular current by the round-and-round dance of the red duck mid-stream, and midway between the starting point and presumed ending point. Thus our final measurement for velocity called for a bit of not-so-subtle human intervention in the form of ‘making waves’, in order to encourage the red duck to continue on its journey. The elapsed time for this final reading was four and one half minutes, double the greatest of the previous four. Not only was this a singular event for this round of assessments, but for all the previous ones earlier in the year. No doubt that stream bed conditions created this unexpected duck dance.

As a final contribution to the assessment, we took a seat on one of the park benches and worked our way through the rest of the paperwork. We consulted on each of the necessary readings and were able to arrive at mutually acceptable descriptive categories in regard to water conditions, stream and land use characteristics, and high gradient monitoring. A contribution that enriched our observation was that my stream assessment buddy pointed out an additional pipe outlet, presumably for rain runoff, that I had missed completely in my previous observations. Two heads are better than one.

So this yearly cycle will soon be drawing to a close, given that I began in December of 2017.  I plan to offer some reflections on this journey and offer for contemplation the lesson that have presented themselves to me with the turning of the seasons.  Happy Holidays, everyone.

Stream Habitat Assessment of Ambrose Brook – 10 October 2018

Article and Photos by Margo Persin, Rutgers Environmental Steward

Editor’s Note: In 2018 Margo Persin joined the Rutgers Environmental Steward program for training in the important environmental issues affecting New Jersey. Program participants are trained to tackle local environmental problems through a service project. As part of Margo’s service project she chose to conduct assessments of a local stream for a year, and to provide the data she gathered to the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP). Margo keeps a journal of her experiences, excerpts of which are included in the LRWP’s “Voices of the Watershed” column.

This visit to the Ambrose Brook in Middlesex, NJ took place on a sunny, blustery fully autumn day. I didn’t know what to expect in regard to this visit, given that Hurricane Michael had blown through NJ the previous day. What was most impressive about the site was that it was imbued with a sense of energy and even restlessness, perhaps a carryover from the weather event of the day before. As I wandered along the stream bank, my attention was caught by the wind, strong gusts that kicked up dust and a trail of early falling leaves that scattered along the footpaths, the banks of the moving brook, and settled momentarily on the water. There was plentiful sunshine, open blue sky, a few scattered clouds that gave scant shadow on the earth, but… fall is in the air. The surrounding trees have not yet lost all of their leaves, but it is evident that the summer heat and earth’s natural cycle are performing their annual duty: the tree color is washed out, leaves are drying out and there is more space between the upper branches, as evidence of the drying and falling leaves. The tall grasses at various points on the stream banks have taken on a brownish hue, in contrast with the deeper green of the earlier summer months. Is there a change in the sunlight’s power? I tend to think so. In resting for a few moments on the banks of the stream on a strategically placed bench, I noted that the angle of the sunlight was lower, so the sun’s rays and warmth were mitigated by the obvious change of season, the rotation and tilting of our green planet here in the northern latitude toward winter. Oh, don’t utter the word!

The restlessness that I noted previously can be attributed to the energy that is expressed in the pulsing of the planet via various sources: the movement of the wind, as noted in the trees, grasses and leaves, the rustling and creaking of overhead branches, and the comings and goings of the Canadian geese. For this visit, various groups of geese appeared to be organized into elite squadrons, squawking their arrivals and departures on clearly defined areas of the brook, which took on the function of an aquatic airport, an avian Newark Liberty, as it were. None were to be found on the grass or footpaths. In contrast with earlier visits during spring and summer; for this visit, the geese were supremely active, aggressive even, as if protecting given areas on the water’s surface for their landings and take-offs. I wonder if their ancient memory of paths of fall migration was contributing to their agitation. Their honking and hissing carried from all along the footpath. Other birds that were noted were hearty and intrepid blue jays, who with their size and weight, seemed to be able to tolerate the wind’s gusts and buffeting, as well as a privacy seeking blue heron. The latter was tucked into a quiet shallow at the base and to the side of the waterfall, likely an attempt to avoid and ignore the noisy Canadian geese. (This last comment is a glaring example of anthropomorphism, I know, but those geese really are quite vocal, pushy and …mildly annoying.) Ground squirrels, who appear to be in fine flesh, have begun to heed autumn’s warning, several were observed collecting and munching on the first fall of acorns from the surrounding oaks.

Ambrose Brook was swollen and fast moving, manifesting a steady and plentiful flow, with even some white water at the base of the waterfall. Although I had not brought any measuring equipment for this visit, my ‘guess-timate’ based on visual measurement alone as to water depth was approximately 8-10 inches closer to the bank and 12-15 inches toward the center of the stream and past the small waterfall, surely because of the rainfall from Hurricane Michael. The stream had lots of surface ripples, which acted as prisms for the sunlight, and thus produced a dancing refraction of water, waves, and light. Lovely.

So, this cycle of observation and assessment of mine will soon be drawing to a close. My commitment was for a year’s worth of visits and measurements. Given that I began in December of 2017, only a few more visits remain. Now that autumn is upon us, I am struck by the wholesomeness of this process and how the observation of nature’s constant change ironically demonstrates its sureness and constancy. The beauty of each season does not depend on human intervention – nature and the environment are enough, in and of themselves.

August Monitoring of Ambrose Brook

Article and Photos by Margo Persin, Rutgers Environmental Steward

Editor’s Note: In 2018 Margo Persin joined the Rutgers Environmental Steward program for training in the important environmental issues affecting New Jersey. Program participants are trained to tackle local environmental problems through a service project. As part of Margo’s service project she chose to conduct assessments of a local stream for a year, and to provide the data she gathered to the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP). Margo keeps a journal of her experiences, excerpts of which are included in the LRWP’s “Voices of the Watershed” column.

Internship Diary / August, 2018

For this visit to my assigned assessment site, I had new members of my ‘team’.  It so happens that two of my godsons were visiting from London, UK, where they reside and go to school.  Alex, 14 years old, and Mathieu, 12 years old, were presented with the option of participating as full team members to do a stream assessment at the Ambrose Brook.  They readily agreed, and we set off for the stream site.

The day was partly cloudy upon arrival and proceeded to get more clouded over as our time at the stream advanced.  I appreciated very much the extra eyes and hands, given that it would take a group effort to undertake and finish all the measurements required of the assessment.  It was so nice to have the company and the opportunity to share this activity with them.  They asked some pertinent questions in regard to the site, as well as concerning the focus of the project.  We were armed with marker flags, tape measure and ruler, thermometer, stop watch, and the required forms to fill out.  In addition, as a nod to my own childhood, I had dug out of storage the red plastic duckie that I had used so (too) many years ago when I was a child.  After having sealed the seams with glue, it proved to be water ready and floatable, and was thrown into our equipment bag.

Upon arrival, we did a quick survey of the site.  I gave the boys an overview of the project as we walked the required distance to mark off where we would take our measurements and set our marker flags.  We were not particularly surprised to note that summer was on the wane, and the stream site showed the effects of the copious summer rain fall of this year and the subtle yet visible march of time on the greenery.  There were a few trees already beginning to drop some leaves, apparent at their base as well as at the edges of the stream.  Some windfallen branches had made their way into the stream on both sides, evidence of the frequent storms that had buffeted our area during the preceding summer months.  In addition, the water level had risen, as marked by mud splashes on bushes, trunks and the mud banks.  There were a few ducks and Canadian geese, who had vacated the surrounding lawns and walkways; that day, they were floating lazily on the water’s surface between the far bank and the island, oblivious to our presence.

Ambrose Brook, August 2018 – Margo Persin

High water at Ambrose Brook, August 2018 – Margo Persin

At that point, the boys and I got to work.  Alex and I did the physical measuring, including wading to the middle of the stream to measure depth and velocity, while Mathieu took on the role of scribe and stop watch handler.  The first order of business was to observe, consult and come to a shared decision in regard to water conditions.  My team mates took their jobs seriously and we were able to arrive at mutually acceptable readings of turbidity and stream flow.  The next order of business was to measure width, depth and velocity.  Armed with the rubber duck and ruler, Alex waded to the starting point while I headed in the opposite direction.  Mathieu had been instructed in the subtleties of the stop watch, and as the two of us with wet feet called out the various measurements and Mathieu proceeded to fill out the form.  All of us – Alex, Mathieu, me, and the rubber duck – showed ourselves up to the task and we were able to finish that part of the assessment in due time.

After exiting the stream, it began to rain, so the three of us made a mad dash back to my vehicle, where we took refuge and worked through the rest of the form.  The boys were more than willing to express their views in regard to stream characteristics as well as all the elements of high gradient monitoring.  We reviewed the results in order to make sure that we were of one accord in regard to our observations and conclusions.  They did a wonderful job of giving themselves over to the project, with determination, seriousness, intellectual curiosity, good humor, and dedication.  After approximately one and half hours, we took our leave and headed to a nearby ice cream parlor for a well-deserved reward.  Their company and participation were most welcome and I hope that this experience will inspire in them the desire to become involved with environmental projects of their own, whether on their own or in conjunction with their school curriculum.

Summer Solstice Stream Habitat Assessment of Ambrose Brook

Article and Photos by Margo Persin, Rutgers Environmental Steward

Internship Diary / June, 2018

So summer is in full swing – I made a visit to the Ambrose Brook immediately after the summer solstice, on 24 June 2018. The environs have changed in several ways, both passive and active. There are several aerating fountains that spray a cool mist that is distributed by the shifting breezes off the water. The highwater mark on the center island has changed since I last visited, probably because of late spring run-off. But the water has even been higher, as evidenced by the residue on all of the banks, the tree roots that extend into the water, and the low-lying bushes. All are wearing a dusty mud color that gives evidence of water that has since receded. Water flow has significantly strengthened, as is noticeable over the modest waterfall close to Rte. 28. In addition, the rain run-off in the two drains has increased, so that more than a trickle from both of them is observable as it enters the brook after the waterfall.

Fauna have increased. One of my prize observations was that of a somewhat lazy or perhaps sleepy but wary blue heron standing on just one leg somewhat in the middle of the stream, past the waterfall. I tried to ease my way in a stealthy and languorous manner along the bank to not call attention to myself, but alas, the heron quickly reacted to my not so subtle approach, was on to me as I slowly worked my way toward the lovely bird . S/he dropped the second leg into the water, turned a cold shoulder in my direction, then deliberately moved away from where I had planted myself on the bank opposite to his/her position. Even though the distance between us stayed about the same, I was so taken by the proximity of this lovely creature and my ability to observe without causing a startled reaction. S/he continued a slow and deliberate saunter down the creek and disappeared around the bend. What a treat to be able to be a silent observer of a stream visitor. Nice!

I also noted that the population of Canadian geese has multiplied to a startling extent. And the birds have become so accustomed to human presence that they barely move when a vertical mammal saunters among them, even when they are settled down and roosting on the grass, the available paths or the cement. In order not to encourage their presence, the township has placed signs that pointedly give the command NOT to feed the waterfowl. Obviously, they greatly outnumber any other visitors to this place, either animal or human. And needless to say, mementos and tokens of their presence are all around, some pleasant and others not so much. An addition to the command to not feed the waterfowl would be “Watch your step and be sure to check your shoes before getting in your vehicle.”

Another observation is that butterflies and moths inhabit the environs, with several Monarchs making their graceful presence known as they fluttered past and through my line of vision. Their wingbeats cast a silent beat to the pulse of the planet as they made their way over and through the environs.
Human presence has also increased. It should be noted that the four walkways that run over and parallel to the stream offer an unobstructed view. And all of them are handicap accessible either all or in part. In other words, on all of them ramps are available so that proximity to the stream can be achieved. People who are fishing on the walkways are only part of the traffic. There were several runners, families with tots and strollers, and other quiet observers to finish out the panorama. My next visit in July will be for another stream assessment, boots, thermometer, floating duck, ruler at the ready Happy summer, everyone!

Ambrose Brook Stream Assessment: One-Year Chronology

Margo Persin, Rutgers Environmental Steward

Editor’s Note: In 2018 Margo Persin joined the Rutgers Environmental Steward program for training in the important environmental issues affecting New Jersey. Program participants are trained to tackle local environmental problems through a service project. As part of Margo’s service project she chose to conduct assessments of a local stream for a year, and to provide the data she gathered to the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP). Margo keeps a journal of her experiences, excerpts of which are included in the LRWP’s “Voices of the Watershed” column.

Location: Willow Dr.  Middlesex, NJ  08846, USA

            Latitude: 40:566552

            Longitude: -74.510890

Prologue

In working on my project, I plan to provide a detailed chronological report of the specified site over a period of one complete annual cycle.  Secondly, I will take photos to document any changes – or lack of changes – with the passing of seasons, and to bear witness to human intervention, whether it be positive or negative.  For example, has any work been done previously to prevent erosion of the stream?  Or, what are the effects of littering/ dumping in regard to stream health?  I am looking forward to being an active observer of the ‘big picture’ as well as the minutiae of this specific site.  Because I am a life-long gardener, it is patently obvious that my garden ‘talks to me’ – I learned that from my Mom.  One needs to learn to observe and interpret the sometimes subtle and sometimes obvious messages that nature sends out.  For example, a plant may not be partial to a planting site and thus sends out runners or shoots to a more appropriate placement and then a new plant pops up in the more favored location.  Needs more sun?  Wants higher or direr ground?  Example:  day lilies don’t like to be in the vicinity of lilies-of-the-valley and they also don’t tolerate any mulch…. With this in mind, I want to to enter into that active ‘observing/listening’ relationship with a stream habitat, which will be slightly different from one with a suburban garden.  But I suspect that some (many?) of the same or similar skills will apply.

And third, I want to create a written narrative of my relationship with the site, which I hope will be a meditation on the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of a more intimate connection with the wild part of nature that surrounds us.  How can we become more active and aware observers and listeners, in order to be able to honor the wildness in nature?  And how can we utilize that in order to attain a closer, more authentic and honorable connection between earth and human, to acknowledge that wild part that connects rather than separates us?

A bit of a delayed and bumpy start ….

Given that I wanted to do a stream assessment, the first order of business was to get some training in that field of endeavor.  To that end, I participated in a Visual Habitat Assessment training program offered by the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership that took place on 21 May 2017 at the Lawrence Brook. It was led by Heather Fenyk and those of us in the group learned how to assess stream quality utilizing a very helpful and specific set of guidelines that include water conditions, stream measurements, and stream characteristics.  In addition, we also were introduced to ‘high gradient monitoring’ that has as its focus such parameters as embeddedness, sediment deposition, channel flow, velocity/depth, channel alteration, bank stability, etc.  My mind’s eye was awakened to the plethora of detail that could so easily be passed over, if one’s full attention to detail is not called into service.  It was a wonderful learning opportunity and I was so glad that the opportunity had been afforded to me to learn in this very supportive and educational context.  It is my opinion that we learned from the group leader, from the assistants and from nature itself.  It was an experience that has stayed with me – I was so impressed by how the gifts of science and observation we who inhabit that green planet that we call home can both inhabit and commune with earth, water, sun, and sky.  We need to be silent, to look, to listen, to be, and to be at ease so that the earth’s signals can fill us with wonder.

My next step was to find out exactly where the stream was located, obviously.  But this task proved much, much harder to achieve than would be expected.  After contacting several people over a period of several months, the site coordinates were eventually sent to me by Mr. Robert Hughes, the Watershed Ambassador WMA 9, on 30 October 2017.  Progress!

The third step was to do a reconnoitering mission to the site – more about that in a moment – and finally, to arrange for an ‘official first visit’, in the company of another environmental enthusiast, so that the first official set of measurements could be taken.  It was strongly suggested by both Michele Bakacs and Heather, with an eye toward safety, to develop and utilize a team approach for site visits.  Two people had been recommended to me who might be willing to visit the site with me; I contacted these two people and because of timing, only one was able to co-ordinate with me for the site visit.  That first official visit took place on 2 December 2017, with Carolyn F as the second member of the site visit team.  So begins the project – it will continue over the course of an entire year, from December to December, so as to be able to capture the feel of the site and to develop a relationship with nature’s rhythm at this particular site.  Wish me luck.

Preliminary visit

Prior to the official start of my project, I wanted to locate the site on my own and to reconnoiter it from a very practical perspective: aside from the spatial co-ordinates, what was the easiest, safest, most direct route to the site?  Is parking available?  How safe/reachable is the site from a public safety perspective?  Is the site easily accessible via vehicle?  On foot? Are there walking trails? Are they cleared / easy to negotiate?  Are there other accommodations?  Is the site under the care of any public entity?  Are there man-made structures in the vicinity?  If so, what purpose do they serve?

25 November 2017

My first unaccompanied visit to the site was purely for reconnoitering.  The part that I visited is easily accessible from Rte. 28 in Middlesex and there is a small parking lot available that fronts the Ambrose Brook.  (It turns out that I was not quite at the coordinate site, but within walking distance of the GPS coordinates.  More about that later.) While seated in my vehicle I waited for a few moments to get my bearings:  there are paths that lead in both directions, one that parallels Rte. 28 and another that cuts back into a residential area.  Part of the path is paved, then gives way to some well-trodden dirt walkways that follows the contours of the stream as it meanders its way through the suburban area.  There is a small park with a pavilion, a suspended observation / fishing deck that is handicapped accessible, and a portable potty adjacent to the parking lot.  Farther down, barely visible from the road, is a lovely foot bridge that crosses the stream from the small park area to a rather dense suburban area.  The bridge is made of metal, quite sturdy, and provides a beautiful vista in both directions of the stream.

Exiting my vehicle, I walked farther down along the part parallel to Rte. 28 and observed a small but lovely waterfall that allows for the swelling of the brook during times of heavy rain.  There are two drains, presumably for rain run-off, that deposit water into the brook.  One is a cement structure with a grate that protrudes from under Rte. 28 and the other is a slightly battered metal pipe that extends from underground over the brook.  During that first visit, neither drain had any appreciable amount of water to contribute to the brook water capacity.  In regard to vegetation, being that it is winter, the ground is frozen hard but the water from the brook is not frozen.  The grass is brown and dormant, fallen leaves are all around and the trees are bare, sleeping as they should on this cold winter day.  Few birds made their presence known and the only sounds were those of the quietly gurgling brook versus the distant hum of the traffic less than one block away.

A lovely memory and observation came to me from the past.  One of my acquaintances from years past is a lovely Native American woman; if I remember correctly, she is of the Cree tribe.  In speaking of the turning of the seasons, she noted that within Native American culture, in her tribe in particular, winter is of great value because it gives members of the tribe both the time and the space for storytelling, for being with family and tribe members in close proximity, for listening and learning, for observing, for working on and teaching traditional crafts to the younger generation, for making music and singing, for the passing down of valued and cherished information such as family and tribal history, tribal traditions, myths and legends, for sharing the lessons that are needed to pass from one stage of life to another, for maintaining a way of life.  She also emphasized that winter is so important to nature because it is a time of somnolent rest, a time to retreat inward, to focus on the completion of one cycle before embarking on the renewal of spring and the start of yet another growing season.  As I wandered the bank of the Ambrose Brook on that cold and quiet winter day, I pondered the lessons that await me in this project.  The air was cold and I felt a quiet sense of contentment and anticipation, a turning inward that my friend had indicated that is one of the gifts of the winter season.  What other gifts would nature bestow upon me if I could just be still, wait, observe, and listen?

2 December 2017

Ready, set, go!  This was a cold and brisk, partly cloudy, not unpleasant day for the very first ‘official visit’ to the site; I was accompanied by Carolyn F, a valued member of the assessment workshop whose name had been suggested to me by Heather of the LRWP.  We communicated several times via e-mail and then met on this Saturday in order to put into practice the skills and formula that we had learned back in May.  It turns out that this environmental buddy had a bit more on the ball than I did, for she pointed out to me that the actual site of the GPS coordinates was a bit farther removed from the one that I had scoped out on Rte. 28.  After texting back and forth, we finally met at the appointed date and time at the GPS location; both of us came prepared, she more than I.  Her waders served her very well, given that we did a practice run of habitat assessment using the study sheets provided at the workshop.   We did a quick reconnaissance of the site via the latitude and longitude numbers, which is located in a residential neighborhood a bit farther removed – about two blocks or so – from Rte. 28, close to a modest children’s playground.  We walked the site, she took some photos, then we decided to head for the other section closer to Rte. 28 in order to try our hand at working through the assessment sheets as a practice run.

Using all the equipment and measurement tools provided by the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership – metal ruler, flag markers, floating rubber duck, thermostat – we happily set to work on the task, starting with the ‘general sheet’, then working through ‘water conditions’, and ‘stream measurements’ (width, depth, velocity).  Sounds fairly straightforward, right?  Well, what slowed the process at this point was that the measurements are required to be taken using the metric system and not the standard American system of inches, feet and yards, including centigrade versus Fahrenheit readings.  Arghhhhhhhh……  Needless to say, the conversions slowed us down just a bit but Carolyn’s phone (with calculator) turned out to be a most vital component of our visit.  We did some of the calculations on the spot and then later at home I checked our numbers and completed the conversions. Our tasks included wading into the stream – her waders and my duck boots came in very handy considering the distance and depth – and I appreciated very much having a buddy to ‘compare notes’ to take all the measurements and come to a shared decision in regard to stream characteristics and visual assessment of gradient factors such as epifaunal substrate, embeddedness, sediment deposition, channel flow, frequency of ripples, and the rest of the categories.  We measured out our required distance – 50 meters in either direction – placed the flag markers, then got to work.

The task was engrossing and the suburban context faded into the background as we assiduously worked our way through the assessment.  Even though the natural habitat was in full winter mode, I became aware of the subtle shadings of sound, color, texture, movement and stillness.  For example, the floating rubber duck signaled the literal ebb and flow of the stream with its bobbing and stalling as it responded to the currents and cross-currents of the slowly moving water.  At times it got caught in a pocket of calm, and then with a bit of encouragement from us, rejoined the water’s energy to make it to the final point of our measures.  In observing the little rubber duck’s movement, its vibrant yellow color so visible to our human eyes, it became for me a bit of a metaphor, in that it was floating on the surface of the all-encompassing stream, seemingly unaware of its insignificance vis-à-vis the natural world.  We humans ‘float on the surface’, unaware of our insignificance over time in regard to the pulsing of the planet beneath our feet.  Alas, our interventions often are negative, considering how overpopulation, pollution, and other forms of contamination interfere with this pulsing, as our lovely green planet hurls itself through the universe, the planet itself insignificant in the greatness of space.

Carolyn and I utilized our time well:  we were at the site for approximately two and a half hours, taking measurements, comparing our individual observations, appreciating the subtleties of the winter landscape.  And just one more observation.  We both noted that the area was relatively clean of human garbage, trash, and other forms of detritus, which was a pleasant surprise for me.  Given the site’s proximity to the road, the parking lot and rather dense housing, I honestly had expected there to be a stronger and more visible human footprint in the form of various forms of waste – trash, paper, cans, bottles, old tires.  But the area is fairly clean!  At the end, my environmental buddy suggested that a visit for the purpose of kayaking might be a doable undertaking at some future time in the warmer months, in order to explore the area upstream of the given site.  That idea will be placed on the list of possibilities for another day.  With that we each went our separate ways.  It was good to be heading home, with the heat flowing in the cab of my vehicle.

30 December 2017

         “The best laid plans….”  Now that this project had finally launched, I was anxious to establish a steady rhythm in regard to my site visits.   And in addition, there was contact with another environmental enthusiast, who signaled a sincere willingness to serve as my exploration buddy.  Susan E. had volunteered to accompany me on further adventures; she is perfectly qualified and suited for the task, having developed an environmental project of her own, which in truth, was the inspiration for my own.  We decided that an end-of-the-year visit would be an appropriate means to both close out one cycle and look forward to another, Janus like, in anticipation of a yet another change of season.  Alas, the plans fell through because I came down with a virus and was out of commission for the good part of a month.  So… on to the New Year and the start of another cycle.

21 January 2018

In the company of Susan E., we headed to the site on a cold, clear and sunny day.  We parked at the lot in close proximity to the brook, then on foot wandered back to where the GPS coordinates are located.  Our meandering took us farther upstream than I had previously visited. The footing was firm in places and quite soggy in others, and we noted the dormant vegetation, including a healthy crop of brambles that very effectively caught at our clothing.  Ugh.  We noted the places where the waters had left a mark on the land within an overflow plain, evident in the swirling, matted down grass and the markings on the shrubs and trees that line the banks of the brook.  Susan pointed out several places of evident erosion in the banks of the opposite side of the stream and noted the layering of sediment – different colors and textures — that gave evidence of the changing composition of the earth’s layering.   Many are the varieties of trees that line the banks, whose root systems benefit from the generous supply of water. [ Note to self:  try to identify the flora on the banks of the stream.  Are these specimens native to the area? Or have they been added to enhance the landscape from a human perspective?]

We made our way to the lovely footbridge, a steel structure that provides an excellent vantage point to look in both directions, both up and down stream.  Some fauna were present, a few ducks and geese on the surface of the water as well as a some fish that lazily lolled in the current below.  I was struck by the sense of solitude and peace of this beautiful place, in spite of the proximity of suburban life so close.  We continued on the bridge to the other side, then made our way carefully along the opposite bank.  The footing became quite muddy and unstable but the view from this far side of the stream offered the opportunity to reclaim a perspective based on a more unenhanced version of the site, one not as manufactured by human intervention.  Nice!

Our visit included stopping for Susan to take some photos, then we crossed back to the parking lot and took our leave.

21 March 2018

         As predicted by the US Weather Service, it has been a cold and long winter, followed by a cold and wet spring.  I stopped by the Ambrose Brook today in the hopes of spying a bit of change, whether in the early budding of trees, the minute sprouting of grass, a return of more birds with their flutters and chirping.  Any harbingers of spring?  No such luck, not yet.   However, this visit provided me with another opportunity.   It was a cold and mostly cloudy day that served for me to stand in quiet solitary contemplation on the observation platform.  Not to be deterred, I chose to focus attention on a small island that is at the center of the brook and attempt to take note of the visual minutiae that delineate the island’s subtle shadings.  The colors are primarily brown and green, with varying shades of tan and grey.  Black lurks in the shadows and slivers of flickering sunlight shoot arrow-like through the trees, shrubs and brambles.  Wind ruffles some fallen leaves that cling to roots and branches, decaying evidence of a season long past.   Some ducks paddle quietly along the perimeter of the island and barely take note of my presence.  Perhaps they have become inured to human presence in general or through experience have learned that the imposing, vertical mammals do not have the habit of crossing the water barrier between solid ground and the little island to their backs.  They occasionally glanced in my direction and then continued on with their creek cruising.  Not a bad life, given that their feathers and a layer of winter fat provide ample protection from the water and wind.

My observation also took in the water level, higher than in previous visits, presumably from early spring melting and run-off.  The brook water was a muddy brown and lapped at the edges of the island; there was some bank vegetation that was partially submerged and partially above water level.  As with the previous visit a bit upstream, trees on the island threw off roots, some as thick as the fists of a prize fighter, to sustain their height.  There was no indication as yet of buds forming on the trees, none that I could see from the distance, standing on the observation platform.  The quiet of this visit on this end-of-winter day comforted me, offered a soothing message of tranquility, endurance and the abiding wisdom of nature’s continuing cycles.

10 May 2018

         Spring has finally arrived at Ambrose Brook, there are many indications that the season has turned in alignment with the earth’s rotation and tilt.  I visited the site at around 10:30 am and stayed for about one and a half hours.  My time was spent in observation and contemplation of the natural environment as well as the effects of human intervention.  For starters, the leaves are starting to appear on all the trees – finally – the grass is starting to appear less stubbly.  As a result of the burgeoning leaf cover, the ability to see across the brook will be quickly diminishing in the coming weeks, I surmise.  The water in the creek seems to be moving at a bit faster pace, probably because of the amount of rain that has been falling in the last week or so.  I walked for approximately a quarter of a mile in each direction from the parking area off of Rt. 28 in order to determine what changes, if any, had occurred because of the winter weather.

What I observed in the area closest to the segment identification by latitude and longitude was some washing up and / or tree fall from winter storms.  Some of the fallen timber had been ‘cut down to size’ by someone wielding a chain saw, most probably a worker from the local DPW; the logs and branches were piled up on the left bank to a height of approximately three and one half feet.  This pile of wood and leafy debris may prove enticing to some small furry creatures in the future for a lovely, cool, and protected nesting or burrowing place, if it is left as it is. I was able to get around the pile and continue my observation but the brambles have started to fill in and the slog got a bit more difficult.  It was evident from where I was walking on the bank that there is a type of flood plain for the creek; the flow exceeds the bank where the creek takes a meandering turn toward the left.  The footing became quite muddy and the brown grass left over from the fall manifested the effects of flowing water – lovely swirls and whorls that give the impression of a lazy aquatic ballet performed upon the welcoming earth with the literal ebb and flow of the creek’s capricious visits during the winter months.

The brook’s water has now receded from the flood plain and is within a channel that has definitive banks, although the height of the banks varies at different points on my observation path.  Taking a turn in the opposite direction from the parking area, parallel to Rt. 28, the view is idyllic – a meandering brook with a few surface ripples that give off a low and pleasing hum, an overhang of greening trees, grass appealing to the eye and calling for the tread of bare feet, a small waterfall, and some waterfowl – Canadian geese and a few mallard ducks who were more than willing to share the space and beauty of the moment, either the ones who were on the banks of the creek or those who were enjoying the cool embrace of the creek’s sultry flow.    In spite of the minimal traffic noise emanating from Rt. 28, this was place and moment that could be described as a feast for the senses.   The gift of sight  that captures the nuance of color and form, that of hearing,  the sound of birds and brook, that  of touch, that encourages physical discourse with so many material forms as well as the ephemeral contact of wind on my face.  And the olfactory experience is not to be denied, in the sweet reminder of flowering trees and bushes that contrasts with the musty and not-to-be-denied odor of the languorous creek within its uneven banks.  And the experience of taste?  I was not expecting to add that to the list, but a bug unceremoniously entered my mouth and with an unanticipated crunch, the bitterness of the insect’s demise forged its way into my consciousness.  Ugh.  So much for poetic contemplation of this idyllic scenario.

In regard to human intervention, in addition to the chainsawed fallen timber, there was evidence of tidying up in the recently mowed grass along the banks, mulch piled and spread along the public walkways, and a cheerful DPW worker raking some leaves.  There was some human traffic; two men were fishing off of two different piers with hand rails – handy for resting their fishing poles –, and a young mother ambled briskly with her toddler son who had no interest in staying in the stroller but rather preferred to trot along beside her.

The visit was enjoyable, refreshing, renewing.  Some ideas for further exploration are to identify the trees and shrubs in the area, to focus on bird species that are present, and perform another official habitat assessment of the creek utilizing the format provided by the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership.  And the possibility of a kayaking expedition offers yet another challenge.  Onward!

About Margo Persin: I am a retired Rutgers professor who needed a project. I took the Environmental Stewards course offered through Rutgers and was inspired to get back in touch with this beautiful green planet that we all call home via a focus on water. I grew up on the Lake Erie shore, the northeast Ohio coastline, so the pull to return to a partnership with water was a logical and autobiographical one for me. Also, during my years as a professor, I spent several years in Mexico and was able to observe firsthand the devastating and catastrophic effects of no access to potable water. Water means healthy communities, healthy crops, healthy kids. Water is life.