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The Sourlands is a special place. How many times have you heard that? Probably too many times because you are already convinced that it is true. Its ecological importance and its importance as a place of refuge or a place of recreation for people is important. The Sourlands is also an important place to find beauty in a world where the beauty of meadows and forests is gradually being replaced by buildings and roads whose designs are determined by their cost rather than by aesthetics. The point of my year-end essay is to celebrate the beauty of the Sourlands.

Boundaries disappear on an overcast winter day with snow on the ground.

Wherever there is water there is life—and something worth looking at.

The roots of beech trees begin to branch from the trunk a little higher than the roots from many other tree species, giving beeches the look of firmly gripping the soil.

There are more shades of green in the spring than we imagine, even when there are only two plants; in this photo, Solomon’s seal and sensitive fern.

No wild animal is glad to see humans approach—with the possible exception of ticks and mosquitoes—but few of them express their displeasure as directly as this Fowlers toad did when I pointed a camera at his face.

 The Japanese honeysuckle vine gives scale to this photo of a decaying tree stump.

A standard way of distinguishing damselflies from dragonflies is that damselflies hold their wings clasped above their bodies when they are at rest, while dragonflies hold their wings straight out from their bodies. A few species of damselflies, like this northern spreadwing damselfly, follow the pattern of dragonflies by holding their wings out from their bodies.

Throughout the last half of the nineteenth century and into the 1930s much of the Sourland area was farmland. Scattered woodlots were often left where the boulders were dense, where the soil was too wet to farm, or the slopes were too steep. These woodlots were sometimes uncut, sometimes cut for firewood. The Sourland forest is therefore young, from about 100 to about 175 years old, but as it ages shade-tolerant species like oaks, hickories, and American beech are becoming more dominant. The beech leaves—the background in this photo—turn lovely shades of orange and yellow in late autumn.

In late autumn, after many of the leaves have fallen, those that remain cast dramatic shadows on the smooth gray bark of beech trees. This beech looks like a black lace shawl has been draped over it.

Autumn is usually all about the colors of the leaves, but it is also a time when the structure of the trees is revealed. This is when Sycamores—a species that sheds its leaves relatively early—are at their most strikingly beautiful. Their white bark creates patterns against the colorful background.

I hope that your new year is filled with joy, peace, and beauty.