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…
This is a quick watercolor sketch of the Hudson highlands in the distance and a glimmer of Lake Skannatati; one of the many lakes in Harriman State Park. The park is an outdoor paradise for city dwellers as well as suburbanites who travel here on weekends. The trailhead parking lot was a sea of screaming adults, kids, and clicking cameras. Walk about a mile up the red trail or the “long path” and all the noise and calamity fades away. It seems that most people “experience nature” from the comfort of their cars. On a beautiful day like this, the only thing that could make it better is a nice cold beer after the long hike!
And now….an exercise in Bioregional practice; a moment from tonight’s class assignment.
I was very excited to see today’s discussion topic because it ties in nicely into my daily routine. If I don’t get to take a walk I get a little crazy; like a golden retriever that didn’t get to run around. In the northeast, we are very fortunate to experience the seasons. During the hot summer months my strategy is to get out around 6am and take it all in while the air is still cool (or at least tolerable) before it climbs to a thick soupy 95 degrees Fahrenheit. In the winter, I’m outside during lunch time when the sun brings comfort in the cold. But, this time of year I choose to enjoy the experience later in the evening so I can smell the cool earthy crisp air, as that nostalgic fall feeling sets in. This is my favorite time of the year; a time to enjoy the brilliant display of “nature’s fireworks” as the leaves change before the cold makes its return.
These days I tend to run out of day light before I can escape outside for the daily life-place bonding ritual, and today was no exception. Much to my chagrin tonight was an unusually warm October night and it seems that the cool air arrives later and later every year. I stepped outside and headed down my usual route. I designed this route specifically to avoid as much car traffic as possible. To the casual observer, it may appear as if I am trespassing through private backyards into order to avoid busy streets, but I am traversing through areas where small businesses have shut down and the spaces are still unrented. I proceed to climb up a familiar gravel slope, as my eyes finally adjust to the dark to help me see the shape of the old stone church against the evening sky, which was noticeably darker than usual as we are only a couple days away from a new moon.
As I continued up the slope the area began to shift from an urban scene to more of a wooded area. The area I am describing is the beginning of a 276 acre sanctuary called the Scherman Hoffman sanctuary, which is owned by the New Jersey Audubon Society (2013). The sanctuary is named after Mr. and Mrs. Harry Scherman and Mr. Frederick Hoffman who donated the land to the New Jersey Audubon Society (NJ Audubon, 2013). I could only make out the silhouettes of the shrubbery growing along side of the road, but I knew well enough (from weekend day-time visits) that growing along the road is a tangled web of field thistles, chicory, golden rods, the invasive Japanese knot-weed, and the poisonous snake root, which follows me everywhere I go.
On my way back down the slope I tune into the sounds of late evening and it is quite the symphony. Crickets engage in harmonious music making that seems to carry on throughout all hours of the night. Don’t they ever get tired? Other insects (cicadas perhaps?) up in the trees echo back and forth to one another: chee-chee-chee….kaaa-kaaa-kaaa….chee-chee-chee…kaaa-kaaa-kaaa. It’s amazing how easy it is to ignore these sounds if our attention is focused on something else and how impossible it is to ignore these sounds once we become aware of them. Upon my return I am almost saddened that my experience had come to an end, but I am happy to know that I will do it again tomorrow.
New Jersey Audubon Society. (2013). About Scherman Hoffman. Retrieved from http://www.njaudubon.org/SectionCenters/SectionScherman/AboutSchermanHoffman.aspx
Lately, I’ve been doing a few solo-hikes. Not my favorite but, desperate times call for desperate measures. The leaves are gone and it’s cold as a witch’s teat (whatever that means). So it’s hard to get ordinary people to join me on a hike this time of year.
The chance to go play in the outdoors has eluded me over past couple of weeks. To be honest, I haven’t really been getting after it. I’ve been lucky enough to plan a couple of overnight backpacking trips with some friends not long ago. The trips went well and good times were had by all.
But, sometimes the outdoorsman doesn’t get outdoors; and it is always sad. So, I decided to bring the outdoors to my apartment. There are several ways to make that possible. The most common way – call your local cable provider and ask for NAT GEO WILD. FYI, if you can’t get a hold of me this week, I’m alright, I’m just watching Big Cat Week on NAT GEO WILD. The other way to enjoy nature while trapped indoors is to try to lure nature to come to you – grandma style!
Located in Chester, NJ this hike will take you along the black river, on trails, farm roads, and carriage roads. This place has a ton of history. You can almost smell the bread and cornmeal when you visit the Cooper Mill, found at the beginning (or end) of the hike.
The best part about hiking the Watchung Reservation is that you can hike out of the reservation and hike about an hour north on New Providence road, to a place where the beer flows like wine, where ladies take turns riding a mechanical bull, where couples of all ages gather on the dance floor to line dance their little hearts out, I’m talking about a place called Colorado Café. This place does exist, believe it or not, down the road from the Watchung Reservation. If you ever make it back to the reservation, there are even more spectacular things awaiting you inside.