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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pottsville, Pennsylvania

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Pottsville is a city of 15,000 in rural Pennsylvania, situated along the banks of the Schuylkill River which flows southeast to Philadelphia, 100 miles away. It’s known for exactly two things – coal and Yeungling beer. Since I was nearby on Saturday, attending the dedication of the new Geisinger St. Luke’s Hospital in Orwigsburg,  I decided to stop-in for a tour of America’s oldest brewery.

Yeungling beer has a growing cult following. Several years ago I had an opportunity to meet the owner, Dick Yeungling, briefly during a cocktail party at ArtsQuest in Bethlehem. I remember shaking his hand with enthusiasm, telling him how much fun my friends and I have had drinking his beer. He grinned ear-to-ear and we  shared a good laugh.

The  Yeungling tour lasts about an hour, and our knowledgeable tour guide made our visit to this historic 1831 building fun and enjoyable.  We learned how a batch of Yeungling is produced over a 28-day period, from brew to bottle, seeing the massive brew tanks, the high-tech bottling equipment and the cases of beer that will soon be on their way to thirsty fans across the East coast and beyond. We ended the tour with a visit to the tasting room where they give you free samples – “Hip, Hip, Hooray” for Yeungling – for making good beer and for staying in Pottsville.

During my visit, I also learned a little bit more about coal production and the history of this quintessential Pennsylvania small town whose residents want what we all want – a good job, friendly neighbors and a safe place to raise their children and grow old close to people they care about and people who care about them.

Unfortunately, king coal has fallen on hard times and evidence of that decline is on full display in cities like Pottsville, with their attractive main streets filled with architecturally significant buildings – many of which are neglected, in disrepair or abandoned.

It’s sad to see this decline, and even harder to see the expressions of defeat on the faces of so many people.  Addiction has taken hold, especially among the young, who feel they will never enjoy the prosperity of those who proceeded them.

This economic decline is nothing new.  Pottsville and Schuylkill County have been hemorrhaging jobs for 70 years.  There are no quick fixes to this decline, and while some may blame the Democrats or the Republicans, the real culprit is a ruthlessly efficient economic system where jobs and capital flow without respect to borders – moving from country to country- seeking places where costs are low and profits can be maximized.  This movement of capital and jobs is not personal; it’s not political; it’s business.

This area of Pennsylvania is now Trump country, and many hope he will lead Pottsville back to greatness, away from the perceived evils of  big government, environmental regulation and worker safeguards that many feel have caused job loss. I feel differently, but respect their dreams for a better future.

I’ve heard it said that Pennsylvania is Pittsburgh in the west and Philadelphia in the east and Kentucky in between.   As someone who grew up in West Virginia, but has  spent most of his adult life in urban areas,  I think Philadelphia needs to spend more time talking to Kentucky.

Can you imagine what good things might happen if we put aside our smug judgments and actually discussed the dreams that unite us rather than yelling at each other from our social media strongholds which continually reinforce the narratives that separate us into smaller and smaller factions.  After all,  what are these stories but self-justifying interpretations of experience? By design, are they not reflective of the perspectives and biases of the teller, filled with truths and half-truths designed to influence, convince and inflame?

At this juncture in our national dialogue, perhaps the most helpful thing we can all do is acknowledge the inconvenient fact that truth is almost always located in the middle of conflicting stories.  If we can take this brave step, perhaps we can also acknowledge our county may not be as  divided as it seems and accept an invitation to set aside our simple, one-sided narratives, stop the name calling and labeling and sit down together with an ice cold Yeungling and work things out.

 

 

 

 

Washington, DC

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Washington, DC is one of our favorite cities, so when I had an opportunity to attend a conference, with Diane joining me for the weekend, it was a no-brainer. Visiting is always fun, but with the World Series in town, now tied at two games each, spirits were running high, with fans out late, rooting for the Nationals.

The conference was held at the Marriot Wardman in the Woodley Park neighborhood, close to the zoo. Poet Langston Hughes worked here briefly as a busboy in 1924 when a chance encounter with established poet Vachel Lindsay helped jumpstart his career.

I read some of Langston’s poems this morning; they still resonate today, as our county continues to grapple with its long and complex history of racism, inequality and the imperfect narrative of equal opportunity for all.

If your curious, check out “Let America Be America Again” with its plaintive opening and call to authentic vs. sentimental patriotism: “O, let America be America again—/The land that never has been yet—/And yet must be—the land where every man is free…”.  Here is a link to his ten most famous poems, including my favorite, ” A Negro Speaks of Rivers.”

One very positive attempt to advance the conversation on racism in America has been the opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture , which stands in the shadow of the Washington Monument. We visited yesterday, taking in this massive place, trying to absorb the 400-year history of slavery in the America’s and the forces that created it –unchecked greed and economic exploitation, evils that are alive and well today,  just as they have been throughout history.

We also had time to visit the National Portrait Gallery  and the Michael Sherrill retrospective at the Renwick Gallery of Art , both are highly recommend. One of the featured exhibits at the National Gallery was the Outwin Portraiture Competition , which is described on the web site: “Every three years, artists living and working in the United States are invited by the museum to submit one of their recent portraits to a panel of experts. The selected artworks reflect the compelling and diverse approaches contemporary artists are using to tell the American story through portraiture. Our visit concluded at Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of President Obama; it’s stunning.

No trip is complete without food, and we thoroughly enjoyed the Washington food scene. Lunch on Saturday was low-end, from the food trucks parked on the Mall, followed later in the day by drinks at Penn Social and dinner at the upscale Indian restaurant Punjab Grill .  On Sunday, we had brunch at the memorable Bindass celebrating Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights – good’s triumph over evil, light conquering darkness.

The best meal of the trip, by far, happened before Diane arrived, when I was invited to be a guest at the ultra- high end Fiola Mare in Georgetown. The food, service, wine and overall ambiance were exceptional. So was the price! I am so glad I was not paying for the bottles of Mayacamus Cabernet, the seafood towers and the glass of 18-year old McCallan I enjoyed at the end of a three plus hour dinner.

 

 

 

Cherished Adventures Shared