Indian Lake, Ohio

Indian Lake in North West Ohio was the site of my first pontoon round-up and I hope it won’t be my last.  After all, what could be more fun than a socially-distanced adventure involving sun, beer, music and open water?

My guide for the day was Captain Mark Grewell, my brother in law, who took us to a secluded cove where we anchored and went floating.

Ohio’s second largest inland lake is a 5,100 acre playground originially known as the Lewistown Reservior.  Built by Irish labor in the 1850s at a cost of $360,000. its’ orginal purpose was to supply water to the Miami and Erie Canal, creating a water route between the Ohio River and Lake Erie . It opened before the Civil War and was the  world’s second largest man-made lake until the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam in 1942.

When rail roads bankrupted the canals, local farmers wanted Lewistown Reservior returned to farmland, but the Ohio legislature had other plans.  In 1898 they renamed the site Indian Lake, turned it into a public park and  its long and fascinating history of development and redevelopment began –  a history that mirrors the evolution of American leisure.

In her engaging book Working at Play, historian Cindy Aron gives an overview of the evolution of vacations in America. If you don’t have time  to read the book, here is a link to a 4-minute NPR Interview .

As you might suspect, our Puritian ancestors did not encourage time-off, so vacation’s initially had to be justified as an investment in one’s health or self-development, hence the popularity of spas like The Greenbriar in Western Virginia and the The Chautauqua Movement .

Indian Lake’s Orchard Island was the site of  early Chautauqua’s that drew leading speakers, including William Jennings Bryan  . But the real fun was just beginning. Guilt-free leisure took a huge step forward with the opening of the Sandy Beach Amusement Park  in the 1920s, a park that soon became know as “Ohio’s Million Dollar Playground” and the “Atlantic City of the West.”

By the late 1960s, the  Sandy Beach fell victim to competition and changing tastes. It’s death was accelerated by a series of re-occuring riots each July 4th weekend beginning in 1961 and culiminating with an especially notable riot in 1967.

Today, the Indian Lake’s shoreline is dotted with a houses reflecting the lake’s ongoing evolution. Sparten 1940s cabins sit next to weathered trailers, 1950 bungalos, luxuary condiminimus and lakefront mansions.

During my three-day stay, I toured the lake by boat, jet ski, paddleboard and kayak.   I also had time for a long bike ride.  I can recommed the burgers from the Tilton Hilton and my sister Cathy makes a great BLT if your in the neighborhood.

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The Pennsylvania Turnpike: America’s First Superhighway

I could hear David Byrne’s remake of the Gene Autry classic Don’t Fence Me In as I turned onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike , heading west to Grove City, Ohio (home of the  World’s Largest High School Alumni Softball Tournament) to celebrate my mom’s 82nd birthday- a 490 mile one-way trip, which included 225 miles on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Some of my earliest  travel memories include the turnpike’s multiple tunnels and Howard Johnson  restaurants, with their memorable kitsch and distinctive orange roofs . Ho- Jos predominated from the 1940s to the 70s, feeding generations of hungry travelers.

The Turnpike’s opening in 1940 was a sea-change for car travel, with it’s engineering marvels that enabled long distance travel without stoplights, cross traffic, or grades steeper than 3%, advances that were incoporated into the future interstate highway system , whose early champion was President Eisenhower.

No doubt, Eisenhower’s enthusiasm for good roads was influenced by his participation in the Army’s 1919 Transcontinental Motor Convoy , a bone-jarring 62 day trip from Washington, DC to San Fransciso.  When I make my first cross crounty trip in 1972,  we traveled thousands of miles in just 4 driving days, with time for tours of state capital buildings along the way.

The road Eisenhower followed on his 1919 trip was the Lincoln Highway ,another historic road that has a special place in my memory.  My grandparents lived along this route, across the street from the famous Lincoln Highway Garage in York, PA.  My grandmother hated the noise and the dirt, but I remember falling asleep to the sounds of adventure, as cars rumbled west late into the night.

Round Valley & Spruce Run

John Prine’s ballad Lake Marie came to mind as I was considering where to kayak on Sunday.  Although John sings about Twin Lakes, Wisconsin, you don’t need to travel that far for good paddling. There is plenty of open water nearby.  In fact Clinton, my home for the past 20 years, is nestled between two of New Jersey’s largest lakesRound Valley and Spruce Run.  Proximity to these and other parks is one of the reasons we chose to raise our family here.

I opted for Spruce Run , and it was a good choice.  There’s something magical about spending the day on the water.  The minute you push away from shore the concerns of ordinary life fade away as other senses spring to life.  Suddenly, you’re out of your head and into your body, aware of the breeze on your arms as you track it’s movement across the water, captivated by the enormity of the sky and the hypnotic sound of water hitting the sides of your boat.  

There is such dynamism here in the interplay of light, water, wind, sound and shadow – a continual invitation to embrace the living world. This practice of  greeting experience with our full attention is as sacred and redemptive as any holy book or cathedral and I much prefer a few hours in a kayak to time spend indoors.  

Marcel Proust got it right when he said “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”  Unfortunately,  finding new eyes  is challenging.  One person who points a way forward is David Abram’s, and I recommend his provocative book Becoming Animal: An Earthy Cosmology.   

Thankfully, a reviewer for  Orin Magazine summarized Abram’s premise better than I ever could when she said the book is “deeply resonant with indigenous ways of knowing…. reminding us of the porosity of the boundary between ourselves and the more than human world.” She also calls us to task in her review when she says the book’s primary accomplishment is to remind us of things we have forgotten, of how we have “allowed the artifices of technology and over-reliance on abstract intelligence to dull….” but we can reclaim our birthright because “we are each of us gifted with animal senses that languish without exercise, and that can excite and nourish our spiritual and sensual engagement with the world. ”  All we need to do is try.

So, if your interested in taking a voyage of discovery while so much of the world is still in some form of lock down due to COVID 19, find a nearby lake or a nearby river.  Spend a lazy afternoon along the shore on in a boat. Peer into the bulrushes and see what peers back.

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Cycling Along

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COVID has forced  us all to slow down and seek out nearby places that are often overlooked.  Interesting things happen when you change pace. My preferred method has been to switch from a car to a bike. Since late March, I’ve ridden my Bianchi Impulso  500 miles, taking in Hunterdon County’s endless back roads, small farms and beautiful vistas.  

When you go slow, you see more, including those markers commemorating local history.  I find them endlessly entertaining. Here are two of the more memorable ones I have ridden past:

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Liver Eating Johnson was born in Little York, NJ and moved West at an early age.  When Crow Indian’s killed his wife, he went on a 25- year killing spree.  As an added insult to the dead, he would eat their livers, as the Crow believed they could not enter the afterlife with out a liver.

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America’s first artificially inseminated cow was born in Stanton, NJ in February of 1939.  The man behind the operation was Rutger’s professor Enos Perry  It’s  fascinating story and if you want to get a feel for the times, have a listen to Orson Wells radio broadcast of War of the Worlds which had aired just 4 months before, with the spaceships landing in a New Jersey field.

Keeping me honest in all of this is my cycling partner, Oscar Jones.  We plan to keep riding until October.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ken Lockwood Gorge

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Ken Lockwood Gorge is a 2.5 mile slice of heaven along the South Branch of the Raritan River on the edge of the New Jersey Highlands. It’s a wonderful spot to bike, hike or fly fish and a place I have visited many times; it never disappoints.  This brief video by Tom Karakowski combined with Adam Polinger’s photographs  will give you a feel for this special place, which encompasses almost 500 acres of preserved woodland.  You can access the gorge via the Columbia Trail or a gravel bike path along the South Branch.

As we celebrate Earth Day #50,  I must admit  my discouragement at the lack of bipartisan support for environment issues. How did protecting our common home become a political football and why is the Trump administration rolling back of  environmental protections that will cost billions of dollars in the long run?  We can and must do better.

Growing up in West Virginia, I saw first hand the damage caused by strip mining.  This damage continues today, with the growth of mountain top removal and fracking.  If you’re interested in a timely Earth Day read, consider Eliza Grizwold’s 2019 Pulitzer Prize winning book Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America.   If you don’t have time to read, here is a link to an interview with the author. Amity and Prosperity is the story of fracking’s impact on the health and well-being of people from two towns in Western Pennsylvania, not far from where my brother lives.

Grizwold is also a first rate poet and I recently finished her translation of landays, poems originally composed in Pushto by Afghan women. According to Grizwold, these poems “frustrate any facile image of a Pashtun woman as nothing but a mute ghost beneath a blue burqa. The poems are “distinctive for their beauty, bawdiness, and wit, but also for their piercing ability to articulate a common truth about war, separation, homeland, grief, or love. ”

Here are a few landays to draw you in, but you can access the complete collection here.

“When sisters sit together, they always praise their brothers.
When brothers sit together, they sell their sisters to others.”
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“Making love to an old man
is like fucking a shriveled cornstalk blackened by mold.”
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“Because my love’s American,
blisters blossom on my heart.”

 

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Nishisakawick Creek, Frenchtown, NJ

Morning Light @ Nishisakawick Creek along the Delaware River ...

All state and county parks are closed due to COVID-19, so finding an interesting place to walk is more challenging now.  But there are still many hidden gems within a 20 minute drive of our home in Clinton. Nishisakawick Creek , a tributary of the Delaware River, is especially pretty in early spring, before the trees leaf out.   Creek Road is lightly traveled and affords uninterrupted views of  the Nishisakawick and the surrounding watershed.  I walked for 1:15 on Saturday afternoon, covering about 4.5 miles round trip, but a longer walk is possible if you follow Creek Road to the intersection of Rt. 519 (Kingwood Road), approximately 7.8 mile round trip.  The best place to start is at the Frenchtown Boro Park, where Creek Road intersects Rt. 12.

New Jersey abounds with places named by the Leni Lenape ,  one of the few reminders of the indigenous people who lived here for centuries before being pushed out during the first waves of colonization.  In 1915, the State of New Jersey commissioned an  archaeological study of Hunterdon and Warren Counties ,  documenting over 900 native american sites in the two counties. While many were situated along the Delaware River, there was a concentration of sites near Flemington, NJ, due to the abundance of argillite, commonly known as mudstone.   The argillite of Hunterdon County  was prized by the Lenape people, as it could easily be shaped by knapping to form arrowheads and spear points.  Years ago, when my kids were little, we had a favorite swimming hole on Capoolong Creek, near our home, where my son Ryan found the argillite spear point pictured below.

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Jugtown Mountain, New Jersey

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I  hoped to stumble upon a jug of forgotten moonshine during my visit to  Jugtown Mountain , but I only found rocks and mud as I hiked the 586- acre Jugtown Mountain Nature Preserve .     If you visit, wear boots and bring bring trekking polls. The terrain is surprisingly rugged. 

Hunterdon County acquired the property from Margaret Devonald in 1983. Her parents both worked for Thomas Edison at his West Orange, NJ  laboratory and her mother offered her voice for the production of the first talking dolls –  considered one of Edison’s greatest flopsListen to the recording and you will understand why little girls were terrified when they hit the shelves in the 1890s.

The mountain was also home to the Swayze mine  , one of the main producers of magnetite ore during the 1800s.  In the 60’s and 70s there was even a small ski area  with a 1,200 foot slope.  All that remains, are some pretty wildflowers.

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A Walk Along Capoolong Creek

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With travel limited due  to COVID-19, I’m thankful to live near trails, watercourses and woodlands.  A favorite destination is the Landsdown and Capoolong Creek trails   which begin less than a mile from my house. They are places of delight, reminding me beauty is ever-present when you pause, eyes-wide, and take it all in.

Along Capoolong Creek the wildflowers and forsythia are in bloom; birds are returning in abundance; the skunk cabbage is spreading its leaves; and the peepers are singing.  During a recent visit, Lynn Unger’s poem Pandemic came to mind.  It went viral last week. If you haven’t read it, check it out.    If you enjoy writers whose work will connect you to landscapes in new and special ways, consider Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek  or perhaps  a few selected quotes.  Another favorite is David Hinton’s Hunger Mountain: A Field Guide to Mind and Landscape.  And of course, there is always Mary Oliver. 

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Click to access capoolong_creek.pdf

Botanical Survey of Capoolong Creek

Karme Choling Meditation Center Barnert, Vermont

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m using the extra time at home to catch up on blog posts.  I’m sure all of you are finding equally creative ways to use your time.  Yesterday, my  22 year old daughter said she was actually looking forward to cleaning out the pantry – Ah the simple joys of social distancing and sheltering in place.

Today’s blog post  is about meditation, which is an adventure you can have without leaving  the comfort of your own living room. I’ve had a daily meditation practice for over a decade.  My wife Diane also has a longstanding practice. In recent years, I’ve made time for a week or two of  silent retreat each year.  It’s a wonderful gift to yourself and it really does help you cope with the stress of daily life.

My most recent retreat was in January, when I traveled to Vermont for a week long silent/solitary retreat.   Karme Choling is a place that seduces – 800 pristine acres in Vermont’s Northern Kingdom.    In winter, there is snow, ice and silence. It was the perfect venue to celebrate the arrive of  a New Year – in a remote cabin heated by a wood stove, without electricity or running water.  I spent most of the day in meditation, with a long walk in the afternoon.

There are lots of great resources online to learn mediation.  If desired, I’m happy to send you a list of some that I have found particularly helpful.  Wishing you the very best in these uncertain times.  Stay safe.

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24 Hours in Brooklyn

With so many things to do in Manhattan, I don’t get to Brooklyn as often as I would like.  So when my son Gavin suggested a guy’s night out exploring the hipster heaven of  Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I jumped at the chance. So did Kyle, who is 21, home from college and excited to use his legal ID.

We began our adventure by meeting my old friend and former boss, Stephen Roberson, for lunch at Junior’s Restaurant, a Brooklyn institution, world famous for their New York Style cheesecake, which you can order online .  It was great catching up with Stephen, who has been working as a community organizer in New York and beyond for over 45 years, with  so many accomplishments, including the construction of almost 5,000 Nehemiah Homes.

After lunch we spent a few hours at the Brooklyn Museum, enjoying their fine collection, before heading to Williamsburg for  the real stars of our visit – the food and music.

Our night began with drinks and and early show at Pete’s Candy Store , a free venue that books mostly unknown and unsigned bands 7 days a week, many of which have gone on to greater recognition, including: Nora Jones, Sufjan Stevens, Sara Jarosz and Sharon Van Etten, to name a few.  The place has a great vib and is worth a visit.

Dinner followed at Beco , a Brazilian bar and eatery  that takes its inspiration from the traditional botecos of Sao Paulo – local neighborhood bars known for friendly atmosphere, lively music and light fare.  I enjoyed Freijoda , a black bean stew with beef or pork, that is considered the national dish in Brazil.  We washed it down with a pitcher of Caipirinha , and our evening was off to a good start.

Our first stop after dinner was the Knitting Factory , a venue that has showcased new and established bands since the the late 1980s, with performances every night of the week.   We saw several bands, from heavy metal to an Allman Brothers style jam band,  with new bands performing every hour as part of the Knitting Factory’s  8th annual winter festival that was taking place Saturday night.

But when you are in Williamsburg, you must keep moving.  There are just too many places to see and our next stop was Skinny Dennis , one of Gavin’s favorite bars.

Skinny Dennis is a divvy, honky tonk offering live music 7 days a week.  Eugene Chrysler and his band played long into the night, pumping out rockabilly classics  mixed with songs from his 2017 album, Hillbilly Fun Park.   The signature drink at Skinny Dennis is  a coffee slushie mixed with whiskey and named Willie’s Frozen Coffee in honor of Willy Nelson, who would undoubtedly approve. It’s a really good drink that sneaks up on you.

Thankfully,  we had made arrangements to stay at the nearby Hotel Le Jolie , so no driving was involved.  We really enjoyed our stay at the Le Jolie. The rooms are nice, the staff is friendly and free parking and free breakfast make this place a great deal.

Thankfully, I was just fine the next morning.  No hangover at all.  We ended our 24 hours in Brooklyn with a walk to East River State Park , enjoying the river views followed by shopping along Bedford Street, with a lots of creative energy and independent shops.  Of course, no visit to Brooklyn would be complete without a reading of Walt Whitman’s classic, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry which I did over breakfast.

So if you planning a night out in Williamsburg, don’t wait.  There  are hundreds of place to go.  Here  are some web sites to help you plan your visit: Free Williamsburg ,   Visiting Brooklyn and Shop Brooklyn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cherished Adventures Shared