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….
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…
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
I pushed the car door opened and stepped into the soupy stinky abyss. I don’t remember it ever being this bad. Am I just crotchety in my old age of 30 or is something just not right anymore with our climate? I prefer to think the latter. I tend to agree with all the “maniacs” that think “the fall” is coming (and I don’t mean autumn). The humidity was so thick you could chew it. I crawled toward my apartment door like a snail dragging my bag, knuckles, and testicles across the pavement.
Lo and behold I reached the front door to find out that it was even worse upstairs in the apartment than it was outside, if that was even possible. Of course my honey and I ripped the AC out of the window a few days ago, it being mid September and all; we thought that only cool crisp weather awaited us now. BULL SHIT!!! Dante’s Inferno was more like it.
There was only one thing left to do; run. If I was going to die of heat exhaustion, then so be it. Better than dying while staring at an excel spreadsheet. I started off with a peculiar trot; head way out in front, arms dangling, legs kicking way out back. I looked like a puppet if it were being handled by a sloth.
After I got done with bobbing around and got into a decent rhythm I glanced up at the sky and I knew this was going to be EPIC! Ominous dark purple-gray-blue stuff slowly gathered and gathered and gathered until a yellow-pink-neon line danced down into a far off hill and some trees. Then, another one and another one and then nothing, but darkness approaching. The heat and humidity was so intense at this point it was literally filling up my throat. I was beginning to think that nothing was to become of these dark clouds when finally it happened; sweet release.
At first, the droplets came in increments as if they were teasing me. A few minutes later I heard a hissing behind me and it made me run faster. I started grinning like an idiot as the rain came over me like a shower with really good pressure that you’d only find at expensive hotels. The wind bent the trees in any direction it pleased and acorns landed forcefully across the land and a few bounced off my head. A red fox jumped out of the woods and onto the road. It took off straight ahead way faster than I could hope to keep up with it. The run was over and the rain had stopped. I was drenched, tired, and very happy. It was time to stick that damn AC back into the window and live another day.
The two week immersion into the Pasayten Wilderness in Washington State did nothing to curb my appetite for exploration and adventure. The trip only made matters worse, leaving me hungry for more portions of delicious wilderness. I learned a lot on that NOLS (national outdoor leadership school) backpacking course and I was eager to put newly acquired skills to use. And off I went, but as much as I enjoy the company of my own thoughts I felt lonely at times. So, I dragged a few friends along for a couple of short backpacking trips. Later, it occurred to me that lugging a heavy pack for days, smelling like ass, and eating dehydrated peppers wasn’t everyone’s idea of a grand old time.
Looks like I wasn’t going to have my wilderness cake and eat it too. There was only one way to play the hand I was dealt and combine the company of my bros with being outdoors. I would have to embrace a particular kind of camping…..car camping. Oh yes, everyone loves car camping. Fans include bikers, hippies, birders, and beauty pageant winners. No heavy lifting, no need to emulate the diet of a goat, and best of all; no need to dig a hole after a sip of coffee. The bathroom is close and the car is even closer. So close, I often walk right smack into the car, usually after my 3rd specialty beer. It would be quite a challenge to backpack with a six pack of Boulder Beer’s “Hazed and Infused”.
After a strong night of partying in the woods, it was time to pass out on king-size air mattresses waiting inside tents that Andre The Giant must have loaned out. But, I still had the stars, the fresh mountain air, the eerie sounds of owls growing louder and nearer, and best of all; the company of my bros. My cynicism for car camping was replaced with a feeling of content, as I reflected on a terrific night of classic shenanigans. Same old jokes, same old impressions and comedy skits, for well over a decade now. There are trips where nights like this make the trip and trips where it’s all about summiting that peak, but I wouldn’t trade one for the other.
For some insane reason I decided to remotely log in to work to catch up on emails. ON A SATURDAY! So I definitely deserved what was about to happen next. I sat out on the balcony with my lap top, copy pasting stuff from one excel spreadsheet to another well into the 9 o’clock hour. I finally realized that darkness had surrounded me so I decided to head inside. I stumbled into the dark apartment, flicked on the kitchen light, and continued to copy paste things in corporate-zombie-like fashion.
Suddenly, a quick shadow darted across the kitchen. I popped my head up to investigate. My initial thought was that some poor bird flew into the apartment. Then, it dive-bombed at me. The biggest, blackest, furriest bat I’ve ever seen. A self proclaimed nature lover, I jumped out of my seat, setting a new world record for how fast someone could possibly jump out of their seat. I grabbed the nearest object that was within reach and hurled it at the bat.
That object was a box of multi-grain Cheerios. I threw it with such force that it was now raining Cheerios in the kitchen. I raced around ducking and dodging the belligerent bat, crunching the cereal beneath my feet. The thing finally swooped into the room nearest to the balcony and I politely locked the door behind it. I looked around at all the flattened Cheerios on the floor, pondering my next move. Five minutes later I am adorned with a snowboarding jacket, goggles, and gloves, holding a frying pan. I was ready for action!
I flung open the door and charged into the room with the bat, unleashing my best warrior cry. Tripping over various objects, I reached the balcony door and kicked it open. The bat sensed freedom and seized the opportunity. It was free and I gladly returned the frying pan to its usual location. My theory is that the bat originally followed me into the apartment because it was drawn to the bright glare of the computer screen as I brought it inside. Lesson learned so thank you giant-creepy-furry-bat for reminding me to never log in to work on a Saturday again.
Different Bat from Different Encounter
hang on little ice patch...
I joined this club and arranged to have a group hike, but we didn’t get there in time. It snowed in the Mountains of upstate New York, but it snowed in Central Jersey too. Continental breakfast at the motel was three rice crispy bars and Folgers coffee. It was colder than I expected. Shivering we layered up and threw our packs in the back of the jeep.
It was only a few hundred yards to the trailhead if you didn’t mind trespassing and hopping fences. We took the main road and further down the road it was closed off. My hunnie used her back-road navigation-phone-gadget-tech-devices to land us at the trailhead. The others had already gone up the mountain and now it was our turn to walk into the gray and white cold.
The snowshoes felt very odd. I quickly replaced them with micro-spikes and so did my hunnie. It was damn cold, but my body started to feel comfortable two miles up the trail and the golden eagle we just saw raised our spirits. I turned around to look back at the mountains. The silence was unsettling. My ears were ringing. I wonder if I could get used to the quiet if I stayed out here for a few days.
A while later we were down from the mountain it was time for beer. At the bar, everyone was wearing a hat. Even the large and in-charge lady bar tender was sporting a chauffeur hat. Was this a theme or were they trying to cover up bald spots? Doesn’t matter, beer was good and that made me happy. A pit-bull pup ran through the bar pouncing on empty peanut shells and I sat back and reveled in the memories the day had brought.