Apologies for my hiatus. But worry not, I’ve been out doing the things I love. Hiking, biking, gardening, p90x, and among these things, making an active effort to spend less time in my chair, staring idly at the computer.
And, in my journeys, which have brought me as far as the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (you were expecting more?), I have (re)discovered the wonder of New Jersey.
As a New Jersey citizen/resident, I’ve spent life in a defensive mindset, having to argue against ignorant outsiders who have donned this great state with the indelible sobriquet, “The Armpit of the Nation.” Most of these people have never been to New Jersey, and know what little they do from a combination of The Soprano’s and more recently, Jersey Shore. If you too are a New Jersey resident, I’m sure you’ve been in the position where you want to defend your beautiful home state, but lack the energy and desire, knowing that your adversary will refuse to understand your view without a visit, his dogged stance against our land ultimately unchangeable.
So, what has transpired to instill this deeper love for Jersey? No, it’s not my $31 tax refund, but rather a deeper exploration of the more natural parts of the state. You’ve heard the laundry list of perks before: close to New York City and Philadelphia, long coast line, respected learning institutions, billion dollar pharmaceutical companies. While all these benefits do make NJ a great place to live, its often overlooked natural offerings juxtapose nicely against the urban jungles of Newark and parts east.
A national park? In New Jersey? Surely we lack the grandeur of Half Dome in Yosemite, or Landscape Arche in Utah, but if you want to be in a place that replaces car horns with bird songs, head west to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, and its neighboring park, Stokes State Forest. The Appalachian trail calls NJ home for a rugged 72 miles, stopping at such locales as Sunfish Pond and Sunrise Mountain. From the latter, look west over the recreation area and see nothing but green. You would be hard-pressed to find one man-made dwelling in this forest. To the east, the only residences you’ll see are the farms of Sussex County; bright green fields flanking bright red farm houses. The 4 mile hike from exit 4 on Route 80 (Dunfield Creek Recreation Area) will take you to Sunfish Pond, an all but deserted intersection point on the AT that has its own certain stillness and majesty. The acidity of the water makes it an inhospitable habitat, but some well-adapted fish still manage to call the pond home. The solitude that these parks can offer is right here at home, fully accessible, and free of charge. Atop the overlooks, you will probably have to remind yourself that you are still in New Jersey. “Where’s Route 1? Where are the noxious fumes? Where are the refineries that say ‘BEST HEATS OIL’?” Far from here.
Next time, I’ll put to press a journal entry from observation in the “deep” woods, so even if you can’t make it out there, you can close your eyes and feel the brisk forest air tickle the back of your neck.
And next time someone gives you heat for living in this tenement, this excuse for a state, smile politely, and tell them, “…if you only knew.”