All posts by Patrick Bower

We're enjoying the journey - with all its twists, turns and unexpected surprises and delights. Hope you are too!

Merrill Creek Reservior

Merrill Creek is a 620-acre reservoir in the uplands of Warren County, built in 1989 by a consortium of utility companies. In summer, Merrill Creek’s 15 billion gallons are used to replenish river water that evaporates cooling the 14 power plants located between here and Philadelphia. We visited on a recent Sunday afternoon.

Merrill Creek Reservoir | njHiking.com

It’s a peaceful spot and indstrial use was far from apparent, but thermoelectric plants are vorascois consumers of water, accounting for 49 percent of total water use nationwide, about 200 billion gallons of water per day – nearly three times the daily volume that roars over Niagra Falls!

The Salem Nuclear Power Plant in Lower Alloways Creek, New Jersey, on the Delaware River.
Salem Nuclar Power Plant

As Diane and I kayaked across the open expanse of water, I felt a little jittery , wondering about the entrance to the 4 mile long tunnel to pipeline system connecting Merrill Creek with the Delaware. Trust me, it wasn’t a pleasant thought and I imagined myself being sucked into a gaping whirlpool like the one at Lake Berryessa, never to be seen again.

I kept these thoughts to myself as Diane enjoyed the sun and water, blissfully unaware of what lurked beneath. Her attention was focused on a group of 20 double-crested cormorants floating nearby.

We stayed far away from the damn, which is 280 feet high. There was a great deal of opposition to its construction, especially from familes living near the base. Who can blame them? In 1889, a much smaller 70-foot earthen damn failed, sending 4 billion gallons of water downstream, killing 2,200 people in the Johnstown Flood.

The Johnstown Flood

If you travel to Merrill Creek, be sure to take a ride on New Jersey’s first concete highway, a portion of today’s Rt. 57 that was orginally built in 1912 with cement from Thomas Edison’s nearby factory. For the histrory lover, be sure to visit the 1755 Shippen Manor , built by the family that owned and operated Oxford Furnace.

Oxford Furnace, New Jersey - Wikipedia

After sunset on Merrill Creek Reservoir.
Merrill Creek at Sunset

Wheels Turn at Dawn

My Bianchi Impulso and I have traveled 1,400 miles along the backroads of Hunterdon County since April, with 90,000 feet of climbing and 120 hours in saddle. Most rides begin at dawn, that magical time of day when new light spills across dark fields. I swear – there’s hope in that morning light – a freshness and vitality that works its way into you as you ride.

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

I have long understood these morning bike rides are more than just exercise – they’re opportunities to encounter the beauty of the natural world, and just maybe, if I’m lucky, welcome awe into my life.

Awe is a tranformative emotion – an overwhelming feeling of reverence produced by an encounter with something grand, sublime or powerful – be it a sunset, the flow of a river, or the murmuration of starlings as they wheel across the sky.

Time spent in nature often leads to awe. Nature also inspires joy, wonder, and even love as Michael McCarthy describes in The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy. Others are writing about this too, and there is a growing body of research documenting the benefits of awe.

You don’t have to convince me of the benefits of awe. So many bike rides lead to one of these liminal moments, a flash of insight when distance and time falls away and the barriers separating me from everyone and everything crumble.

In those moments I feel my connection to the body of the world with an honesty and intensity that takes my breath away. I want to stay in that wakeful place forever, but the connection always fades. That’s the way of life – you touch but cannot hold – yet the memory of that embrace inspires your best self.

Yesterday, I felt the familiar stirring as I descended after a short climb. The air was cool, still ladened with mist and the scent of damp. I was riding in shadow, but the sun was spilling across the road ahead and I could see the seedheads of grasses illuminated in the bright morning light. They were covered in dew, each one a shimmering diamond. I breathed in sun, bike, body, earth and knew it was enough; I was enough. I was firmly placed in this moment and could not be shaken. There was nothing to strive for, nothing to want, nowhere to be….. but here.

100+ Best 法器 images | vajra, buddhist art, buddhism

For the Love of Pizza

New Jersey is know for pizza, with six of the country’s Top 100 Pizzerias located in the Garden State, but our favorite pie shop is our own back yard, courtesy of a stout brick oven built 15 summers ago.  

The oven was born from Diane’s passion for cooking and her interest in artisinal bread, which led her to Alan Scott’s classic book The Bread BuildersScott died in 2008, but his book helped launched   the construction of thousands of DIY brick ovens all across the world.

The Bread Builders: Hearth Loaves and Masonry Ovens by [Alan Scott, Daniel Wing]

Our oven took a summer to build. It was heavy work and gave us both newfound respect for masons and bakers too. In the end, it was worth the effort, especially on nights when family and friends gather around a glowing hearth to enjoy one of life’s simple pleasures –  gourmet pizza, scented with wood smoke, accompanied by icy cold craft beer and good conversation.

All four of our kids were home this weekend, and it took about six hours and 20 pieces of firewood to heat up old smokey.   With the exception of a passing shower, the rain held off and a waxing gibbous moon gave off just enough light. 

In total, we cooked 16 pizzas, 8 frocassias and a roast chicken.  We also managed to finish growlers from our two favorite local breweries: High Rail Brewing in High Bridge and Sunken Silo in Lebanon.

If you don’t have time to build your own oven, you can still enjoy bread from one of the Alan Scott inspired oven’s that offer bread for sale, by visiting Bobo Link Dairy & Bakehouse in Milford, NJ.  Be sure to pick up some of their artisinial cheeses that are amazingly good.

Kayaking the Delaware

The Delaware River is the longest free flowing river east of the Mississippi. It begins along the western flanks of the Catskill Mountains, where the East and West Branches join together and journey south for approximately 400 miles until reaching the Atlantic Ocean at Cape May, NJ. I’m fortunate to live near this amazing body of water and have enjoyed numerous outing on the river this summer.

In 1881 writer and naturalist John Burroughs , a friend of  Walt Whitman, was one of the first to write about the joys of this great river after he built a boat and set forth on a 50 mile solo trip down the Delaware’s East Branch from Arkville to Hancock.  Burroughs memorializing his trip in an essay entitled Pepacton: A Summer Adventure, reminding us all that you don’t have to go far to find adventure; the ones that are close to home will do just fine. 

In preparing for his trip, Burroughs asked an important question regarding traveling companions when he wrote: “Whom shall one take with him when he goes a-courting Nature ? This is always a vital question. There are persons who will stand between you and that which you seek: they obtrude themselves; they monopolize your attention; they blunt your sense of the shy, half-revealed intelligences about you…….” Burroughs preferred dogs and boys, for their “transparency, good-nature, curiosity, open sense, and a nameless quality” that he believed were “akin to trees and growths and the inarticulate forces of nature.”

I’m fortunate to have a wife who is also my best friend. She embodies all of these qualities and more and was delighted to join me for a kayak down the river, including a jaunt through some Class I rapids in the section between Reigelsville and Milford.

I grew up rafting the Cheat River in West Virginia, which is especially exciting at high water,  so getting wet doesn’t bother me.  And today, we managed to get wet when Diane’s boat was pinned in the rocks and needed a little bit of untangling.  Fortunately, we were on our way in no time – filled with awe as a Great Blue Heron swooped low, glidding  close to the surface looking to make a meal from one of the 45 species of fish that live in the Delaware .  We were also attentive to the Ospreys that nest in the  Noxkamixon Cliffs that rise 300 feet above river’s surface north of Upper Black Eddy along senic PA Route 32 that passes through Washington Crossing further downstream,  a place commemorated in Emanual Leutze’s famous painting of George standing in the boat that is on display at the Met.

If you want to plan your own Delaware River adventure,  a great place to start is online, with the Delaware Water Trail Map . You can also order  a set of waterproof river maps, which I highly recommed.  If you don’t have a Kayak, tubing is another option.

And when your time on the water is over, be sure to visit one of the Delaware River Towns , each has its own special charm.  Once this COVID crisis is over, we hope to visit  Canal House Station in Milford, NJ  In Mach, they were one of 4 restaurants in New Jersey named as a 2020 James Beard Award Semi Finalist.  You can follow their acclaimed blog Canal House Cooks Lunch for ideas to inspire your own cooking.

Nockamixon Cliffs | The Wild Edge
TheNockamixon Cliffs
Kayaking | Delaware Canoeing | Kayaking The Delaware River | White ...
It’s Class I Rapids but it can get bumpy.
Osprey flying home with a fish
An osprey at work
Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com. Tranquility along the Delaware River

Cowboy Scramble

It’s the small things that bring joy, and today I’m celebrating my first successful Cowboy Scramble.  For the uninitiated, imagine you are in a kayak in the ocean or a a large lake.  You’re alone. The shore is far away and suddenly the boat flips over.  How do you get back in?  That is where the cowboy scramble comes in.   Here is a link to a short video for the curious.

I practiced re-entry last week, but was not able to get back in.  This week, I had a paddle float, and that made all the difference. I’ve now added a new skill in my paddling tool kit. I’m also working on edging. So much to learn.

In recent weeks, I’ve paddled Round Valley, Spruce Run and Split Rock Reserviors, as well as sections of the Delaware River, learning to handle my 16 foot touring kayak, the Episilon P200 from Boreal Designs.  It’s a much differnt ride than Diane’s Necky Rip 10 that we have had for the past decade.

I’m not sure what the future holds, the Episilon is made for the open water, but waves and wind are intimidating and before I launch into heavy surf, I’ve got to learn to roll.  They say it’s all in the hip snap.  We’ll see.

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:

liver eating johnson

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

Dream River.jpg

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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