One of the happiest of places to wander surprised us this weekend.

Art, New Jersey, Outdoor Adventure

When we can’t find the time to wander for countless hours and miles…we escape to “our happy place” — Natirar Park. Spanning 491 acres, through Peapack-Gladstone, Far Hills and Bedminster, Natirar Park reminds us of the hills, streams, vistas and open spaces still alive with wonder and beauty in New Jersey.

We have sat on every bench, appreciated the beauty of the spring wildflowers, followed sights and sounds of migrating birds, used the shade of the large trees to nap after spending the day sipping wine at the Wine Festival, breathed in the crisp air of autumn as the scenery changed to bright yellows, oranges and reds, and have reminded ourselves what it was like to have a true snow day; sledding until our bones ached and all we craved was hot chocolate.

Yet, this weekend our routine trip to Natirar still managed to surprise us.

We walked the lower and upper loop, stopped to sit on our favorite bench and even met an English White Golden Retriever. After returning to the car, a pitstop at the porta potty and a couple of “Are you hungry’s?” and “I don’t know, are you hungry’s”, we decided to go get something to eat.

But this time, instead of heading back toward home we put our faith in Yelp (which we do a lot when we are traveling, so why not when we are close to home, right?). And to our surprise, we were just 3 miles from satisfying our hunger. We set out for Gladstone Market thinking we would grab a quick sandwich or soup; yet when we reached our destination, we realized that the Gladstone Market shares a parking lot with the Gladstone Tavern. So after getting over the fact that we were probably under dressed, we walked left instead of right and landed on the porch of the Tavern quickly noticing the large horse statue that occupies the front entrance. (Very fitting, especially with the Far Hills horse race held each year just up the road.)

The first impression is very open, friendly, and inviting. If we were underdressed, we would of never known. We sat by the window looking out at the porch and that large horse. After some debating (because the menu is that good) we decided to share a few of the appetizer options. Guacamole (made to order) with warm Tortillas, Crab Tots, and Chicken Quesadilla with shredded brussel sprouts. We licked the plates clean! Perfect portions and the 3 sauces that accompany the Crab Tots really manage to bring out the flavor. But after having appetizers that good, we would have done a disservice to ourselves if we did not look at the dessert menu.

Not only do they have a dessert called “Hot Chocolate”, but they house churn the ice cream! So we went with the Little Apple Pie. A scoop of maple walnut is included and we added an extra scoop of the peanut-chocolate chip! It was delicious! We will definitely be back! A great surprise Sunday adventure indeed!

Natirar Upstairs

Art, New Jersey, Outdoor Adventure

Thought I’d share another one from the Natirar. This scene can be found in what I call the “upstairs” section of the park. Not too far from the entrance is a path that takes you over the Raritan river and up toward an open grassy area, where this big gray barn resides. It has been a “good” winter, so this area is almost entirely covered in snow and ice. Only a few random twigs and grasses emerge from underneath, and sway back and forth in the cold evening air. I have seen wild turkey in the area, so I thought that they might like to wander around the big barn once in a while in search of a meal. Who knows what else goes on when we are not around…

Snow Melt

Art, New Jersey, Outdoor Adventure

One morning before work I went out to Natirar Park to do a site assessment for my ecology class. I puttered around in the frozen field for a while and then I made my way down to the Raritan River to jot down a few more notes. A great blue heron patiently waited on the partially frozen section of the river and it probably wondered why I showed up and when I would go away. I know that’s what I’d be thinking if I were a great blue heron. I got what I needed for class and high-tailed it out of there before I completely lost feeling in my fingers. I rolled up to the stop sign and I noticed a bright red barn across the street. I thought it looked interesting so I snapped a quick photo before making a left turn out of the park. The following weekend I tried to recreate the scene on paper, minus that awful street running through the middle. I took out the street and put in a field where the snow had almost melted away. I didn’t like the way the first attempt came out so I tried it again. Here are the results.

Its like one of those electronic games you play at the bar trying to figure out the difference between the 2 pictures….

Attempt #1

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Attempt #2

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Mine Brook in the Other Direction

Art, New Jersey, Outdoor Adventure

In a previous post, I have included a painting of mine brook, late in the day, facing north. The image above is a quick watercolor sketch in the other direction. I was looking down from the 2nd floor apartment building and I only had about half an hour before the light would change. The daylight was so intense and it really lit up the big yellow house and the two red cars as well as the hill in the back of the house. A nice little picture, but I had covered up too much of the white snow to create the effect I was ultimately shooting for. In watercolor, once you cover up the white paper, you can never get it back. Applying white paint just doesn’t look right. This might be another one that deserves a 2nd attempt in the future.

Suburban Snow

Art, Life Balance, New Jersey, Outdoor Adventure

Some say that the suburbs are boring. I wouldn’t know because I haven’t been bored since I was a teenager. But, I do think that the suburbs are annoying. You can’t even enjoy a quiet walk. Frantic people in their Mercedes and BMWs speed up and down quiet streets in a rush to worship their television, or maybe they’re on an important journey to the mall. But, I think beauty exists everywhere; even in the suburbs. After a good snow suburbia or any other place transforms into a beautiful new landscape. Trees, houses, and roads are blanketed in this magnificent cold, fresh, white powder, and you can’t help but feel a sense of mystery and wonder. I don’t mean to sound like Aladdin going on a magic carpet ride, but the feeling is coincidentally similar.

I am thankful for a few good recent snow storms in my neighborhood, which inspired this painting. The house on the right seems to be a “second home”; the light is never on, and there is hardly any sign of life other than an occasional pileated woodpecker in that big old oak tree. On one night in July this year, this place was rockin with about 40 strong, and that was the only time I have ever seen a human soul here. I could be totally off the mark of course, as this might be the residence of Count Dracula. No, perhaps it’s Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Oh, I guess I’ll never know.

The photograph above of Spiderman’s Aunt’s place left a bit of room for painting imagination….

At Home On Mine Brook

Art, New Jersey, Outdoor Adventure

Mine Brook (above) is a brook that runs parallel (for a while) with the street I live on (today), and flows into the North Branch of the Raritan River. Attempting to re-create a place that is local is always more special than doing a scene that I have traveled to once (or twice), especially, if I don’t consider that landscape “home”. For instance, looking at a painting of a desert may not resonate with me the way it would with a resident of a desert landscape. I’m accustomed to hardwood trees like oak, maple, and hickory; rivers, streams, and slight rocky elevations (Piedmont); fields, swamps, and marshes in the lowlands. These types of landscape characteristics have engrained themselves in me as signs of home. This is not to say that people can’t find a new home in a new landscape. The painting of Mine Brook is embellished, of course, as it is the artist’s responsibility. In reality, the brook is more like a tiny trickle, which gives the impression that it will dry up by next morning. Yet, it continues to trickle on and after a good rain the brook comes alive with a strong steady flow once again…