Dover, NJ/Tinton Falls, NJ/NYC
April 12 – 30
We didn’t want to get anywhere near NYC traffic with our trailer in tow, so we planned to camp outside of the city somewhere in New Jersey. We figured that campgrounds would be few, far-between and expensive next to the biggest metro in North America, so we thought we would only stay in this part of the states for a few nights. Much to our surprise and delight, we ended up at a very inexpensive, wonderfully-wooded and beautiful campground in northwestern New Jersey. Since the only mental image I had previously of NJ was just a giant concrete suburb of NYC populated by characters from SNL skits, it was a completely pleasant surprise. So instead of rushing through the area…we stayed 9 days!
Our gem of a campground was near Dover, NJ. It was a lovely secluded place in the woods of the Mahlon Dickerson Preserve, with lots of space in between sites, trails carpeted with moss in all directions, and just a 60-minute train ride away from Times Square. As we entered our campground there were signs and warnings everywhere that we were entering “Bear Country”. Signs at trailheads reminded us of their presence, trash cans were bear-proofed, and we were urged not to leave any garbage or food around our sites because we were in…Bear Country. Since it’s springtime I thought we might be arriving in time to see hungry bears emerging from winter hibernation, so I kept my eyes open for them during our stay. One evening while we were eating dinner in Stumbo, a light spring rain drizzling down in the forest around us, I saw something dark moving through the trees. Elated, I jumped up from the dinner table and hurried outside to get a better look at what looked very much like a small black bear rustling in the leaves. The girls hurried out too and we all stood quietly, holding our breath, as small rain drops coated us, hoping to catch another glimpse of the beast. What was actually making its way through the woods turned out instead to be a very large wild turkey. Disappointed and laughing at myself for my reaction to this turkey, we headed back inside.
“Oh, silly me,” I remarked, as we climbed back into the camper. “I thought that turkey was a BEAR!”
“It’s ok, Mom,” Coral consoled. “You probably just thought that because we’re in Bear City.”
We spent the full day on Sunday driving to Brad’s Aunt Rachel and Uncle Reagan’s home in Tinton Falls. The last time we visited them it was in their home in Lucerne, Switzerland. It was great to be able to spend time with them in their new and old home in New Jersey. (They lived in this same house for 17 years in the 80s & 90s when they were raising their 4 sons.) We went to church with them, enjoyed a classic Sunday afternoon pot roast, and talked for about 8 hours. These delightful people that we are lucky enough to be related to are not people who we’ve been able to visit very many times in our marriage. But every time we have the pleasure of their company and conversation, we feel so filled up by their encouragement, their stories, and their insights. It felt like we had only scratched the surface of all their was to discuss, but we sat at the lunch table until it was time to eat dinner.
One of our days in New Jersey we hopped on the train in Dover and rode into NYC to play tourists. We hit some of the major sites, walking about 10 miles in doing so.
As much as I love visiting all of these places in our grand sweep of the US, I can’t ignore the fact that being in big cities makes me feel so so so small. There’s just something about moving forward as a tiny speck in a sea of humans that gives me the sensation that we are all just part of a big ant hill, and that each one of us is very insignificant. I understand that there are still just as many people on earth and my personal significance doesn’t change, whether I’m walking through a big city or standing at the edge of a vast, empty canyon. But being part of a herd of humans pouring like a wave onto the Staten Island Ferry or waiting with dozens of other tourists on busy street corners waiting for the light to change makes me perceive our human condition differently. Garbage blowing in the wind down the sidewalk and people yelling obscenities at strangers as they walk past make me feel deeply unsettled and pessimistic about the arc of human history. I also get the distinct feeling that although their is a myriad of people all around me from all walks of life that I somehow do not belong. Perhaps it’s a healthy exercise to be reminded that you are small in comparison to the world and that most people aren’t the same as you. Back home I sometimes felt like I led a very insular life, surrounded by so many wonderful people, but to a large degree by people who were very similar to me. It’s a humbling thing to realize that most people in the world are very dissimilar to me, and it stirs a deep loneliness inside me.
But thankfully we had this little piece of Bear City in the Garden State to come back to. We literally watched spring arrive here. The trees were all bare limbs when we arrived. We were there through the days when tiny buds and flowers arrived. We were there the day that thousands of little white flower petals came fluttering down in the wind while the girls jumped around yelling “It’s snowing! It’s snowing!” And by the time we left, a bright, new green had colored the entire area. One evening at camp we met two guys from France who had travelled across the US in an RV. They were heading back to France a few days later, so they were unloading all of their supplies in a free yard sale at their picnic table, and other campers were letting each other know about the opportunity for free stuff in a campground game of telephone. The girls and I went to check it out because we heard they were giving away a bicycle. Brad & I have been sharing his Trek, so I wanted to see if theirs was one that I could ride. I ended up having the nicest chat with them about their time in the US, their perceptions of cities like New Orleans & San Jose, and about their homes in France. After a great conversation and an offer to come back later to help them clean out their liquor cabinet, we left with a bike (a Huffy that weighs about 300 pounds and is in awful shape, but how could I say no?), a few new flavors of tea, bicycle lights, some dice and a football for the girls, and a jar of honey. In moments like this I am so overwhelmed by the generosity and friendliness of strangers from across the globe; these people that I only met for a few moments, but who were kind and thoughtful and funny, and kept returning to their kitchen cabinets to retrieve things that they thought our family might be able to use. So if I can be surprised by the natural beauty and friendliness I encountered in the state of New Jersey, the Garden State afterall, then maybe despite the fact that we still haven’t figured out how to keep subway stations in every city from all having the exact same awful smell wafting up the stairways or that I don’t know all the unspoken rules about walking down busy sidewalks in the largest city in our country, I can somehow keep faith in the human race. And maybe I can be even be more delighted than ever before by all the kindred spirits that I have been lucky enough to befriend in my short life.