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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

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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