It’s our last day in Princeton, New Jersey (and the east coast, for that matter), and I finally have a day without any plans and a large area to explore. I traipsed around the inside of the hotel last night, finding a nice couch to read in until 1 in the morning. I figured I’d save the outdoors for the daylight, where I’d be able to actually see what was in front of me and be free of the walking-in-the-woods-alone-at-night heebie jeebies. So now I’m here, at noon, sitting on a wooden chair surrounded by lush green woods and an overgrown volleyball court. It’s been quite a journey to get here.
I woke up because nature was calling. Then I showered and got dressed and then quietly (as I could manage) slipped out of the hotel room (pro tip: swipe your room key as you close the door, because then you can turn the handle outside so the lock doesn’t make a loud noise as it closes). I fixed myself a cup of tea in the lobby and set out one of the side doors to look at the gazebo I noticed last night. I was ready to explore.
I was considering stopping to read the multitude of books I had in my bag, but I figured I wanted to be a little more in nature than right next to the hotel. So next I saw a cute garden and some picnic tables. I sat for a second, adding sugar to my tea, and when doing so I noticed some clovers. I looked through all of them in an effort to find the elusive four-leaf-clover, but no luck. I remembered the only time I found a four-leaf-clover. We were living in Virginia at the time and spontaneously stopped at an old war site (I don’t remember which). After wandering around a bit, I found a grove of clovers on someone’s grave. With great stamina and determination (to the annoyance of my parents), I searched for the lucky exception to the rule. Eventually I found one, picked it, and we were off on our merry way. Whenever I look for clovers, my mom tells me how her mom was always the best at finding them, somehow always knowing exactly where they were. She’s a lucky woman, which is obvious by the love she found with my grandfather. I’m looking forward to our next east coast trip, where we’ll visit back home in Florida.
Next to the four-leaf-clovers, there was a patch of rocks smushed into the red mud. My morning walk was becoming a walk down memory lane, which I think is a good kind of walk to take. The rocks reminded me again of when I lived in Virginia. I went through a big rock phase. And by that I mean literally a big rock phase. I became enamored with quartz. I would see it everywhere, in our backyard or in the park or in our neighborhood. I’d see a piece sticking out and thinking it was a tiny piece I could hold in my hand, I’d push the dirt around a bit to dislodge it. But more often than not, quartz are dirty liars. What would appear to be a small piece would inevitably be just the tip of the iceberg, and my parents, always supportive, would wait the 20, 40, 60 minutes it took me to finally pry the gargantuan rock out of the earth, which usually ended up being the size of my head. I wasn’t going to fall for that ploy today, so I stayed away from the outcropping of stones. As for the ruddy mud they were encased in, it would have thrilled my mother. When reminiscing about growing up with the woods of New Jersey as her playground, the red clay mud plays a central character every time. After being here and seeing it, I do admit it looks much more fun to play with than mushy regular mud.
Then I set off on a path through the woods, or I guess more woods-adjacent (I stuck to the outskirts because flip flops aren’t the best exploring shoes). I peeked in on nature, checking that it was doing alright (it was). Lately I’ve been reading Sick of Nature, a series of essays by a nature writer gone rogue, so this morning I’ve been fancying myself as a nature writer myself (at least for this post). I stopped at every patch of clovers, so far to no avail. I did however find a wack looking spider in one patch, with a small orangey body and long legs reminding me of the arthritic fingers of an old man.
I continued on my expedition, still feeling awed at nature but now with a nuanced touch of oh-god-there’s-spiders-in-here, and I realized that I, unlike a nature writer, have no idea what the different species around here are. I know it’s not a black widow, so that’s good, but beyond that, who knows? Certainly not me (yet). And then I realized I still have no idea what poison ivy or oak or whatever looks like, so I may just have to put up with being itchy on the plane ride back.
The next part of my walk consisted of much of the same, thinking about how I could love living here and looking for right angles between heart shaped leaves. I stepped off the path to take a picture of a splotch of red that contrasted the spanse of green and brown everywhere else. It was a mushroom that reminded me of Alice in Wonderland. It looked like a swirling firey galaxy with teeth.
Of course I realize that it is most likely a very bad idea to open a random Easter egg you find in the woods in New Jersey. I remembered the phrase “Curiosity killed the cat” and thought that death by small purple egg would definitely be going out in style, and I figured in any case, satisfaction would bring me back. So I compromised between my apprehension and curiosity and went back to my caveman instincts: I’d poke it with a stick. To my delight, it didn’t explode or anything of the sort. Well, I guess it sort of did, in a beautiful way.
And just like that, my morning walk morphed into an impromptu Easter egg hunt in late July. It definitely explained the shiny foil circles and stars mixed in the underbrush. I scanned the leaves around me, and I was just about to stop looking (noting the highly unlikely probability of finding any more eggs), when I turned and saw a green egg taking shelter next to the trunk of a tree. Suddenly paranoid that the first egg was only harmless to get me to let my guard down, I decided to open this one with a nearby stick as well, and in doing so I made my first dollar faster than any other nature writer in history. (Update: I lost the dollar.)
I looked for eggs for a few minutes longer, more than once laughing at the absurdity of my surprise off-season Easter egg hunt. Then I sat down on a little wooden chair by an overgrown volleyball court, and well, reader, you know what came next.