I have a friend, James, who was raised in California but spent a part of his life in the Somerset Hills as a science teacher. He’s now moved back to California, no doubt due to feeling a similar tug on his own memory, but there’s nothing like an outsider’s perspective to articulate what we view every day but often don’t “see.” The colors of autumn in New Jersey always grabbed James’ attention. Oh, we all become aware of the brightly colored leaves in autumn, but he would take an inordinate amount of time to stand and look - stand and “see” and deeply appreciate - the colors around him. “They don’t have this in quite the same way in Cali,” James once said to me. “Stunning…absolutely stunning.”
Likewise, my great aunt Ella from Queens, New York, used to tell me when I was a child that the air in our area had a scent that reminded her of freshly sliced watermelon. I suppose, in comparison, it’s true, but I remember at the time never really appreciating the quality of the air around my home until she said that to me.
The sheer diversity of the landscapes and the environments surrounding us is a wonder to behold as well. Hills, valleys, riversides, ponds, dense woods, farmland, country lanes, and wildflower-painted meadows fill our eyes within only a short drive’s time. Brooks that contain some of the cleanest water in the northeast, can be found at our fingertips. Countless species of birds dot our treetops, fences, yards, and bird feeders, and, speaking of feeders, I even like the fact that I have to bring mine in at night, so they aren’t swiped by hungry Black Bears.
You want history? There is a cornucopia of it right under our feet! New Jersey was home to the Lenape who had villages, hunting grounds, and burial sites in our area. Plus, New Jersey wasn’t called the Crossroads of the Revolution for nothing, as Continental soldiers once moved through these hills and valleys constantly. Stagecoach stops and historic homes are to be found in every town. They aren’t all museums, but that’s the extraordinary part of this. They are everywhere!
Even our geographical location is perfect in my book. We live in an area that is tucked away from the hustle of the larger towns and cities, and that brings with it a sense of private intimacy that is becoming a rare commodity in today’s world. At the same time, if one has a desire to surround oneself with museums and nightlife, Manhattan is only an hour’s drive or a 90-minute train ride away from here. The landed gentry who built their estates in the Somerset Hills during the 1880s-1920s realized this as much as we do now, and many of their grand homes still remain as testaments to this.
One of the things I cherish most about home is the variety of natural sounds I can hear. Sometimes they are so hushed that one has to strain one’s ears to hear anything at all. I received a delivery the other day, and the driver, upon exiting his truck, stopped dead in his tracks to say, “It’s so quiet out here!”
At the time, I hadn’t noticed, but he was right. It was true. “Yes, I suppose it is,” I replied.
Often, in the dim light of dusk and dawn, I am delighted to hear Eastern Screech Owls calling to each other. Herons squawk from beside the ponds. Frogs add their cacophony of voices to the spring and summer evenings, only to be overtaken and replaced by the katydids and crickets of autumn. Come winter, well, winter holds its own magical charm, for who among us hasn’t marveled at and reveled in the silver wonderland that transforms our world after bare branches, coated with ice and illuminated by the brilliant sun, crackle in the grip of a chill breeze.
We are extremely fortunate to live in a place of such beauty, immersed in wonder and diversity. Over time, it becomes a part of us, woven into the very fabric of who we are. This place never really leaves us. No matter where we may travel, it is the place to which we can always come home, be it in mind or body, to proudly call our own.
Article and Photos by Gordon Thomas Ward
Gordon Thomas Ward -
An author, singer-songwriter, presenter, and radio host, Gordon has been a regular contributor to The Black River Journal for many years with his series of essays and photos titled Meanderings, which relate captivating, reflective views of the world around us. In the past, Gordon has worked as a ministry programs director, a teacher, and a teambuilding facilitator. His works, aside from the The BRJ, include songs, books, speeches, articles, poetry, and a keen interest in researching ghosts and hauntings. Mr. Ward and his family reside in Pottersville, New Jersey. Tune in to Gordon's radio show, These Days, on WDVR 89.7 FM and wdvrfm.org, every Monday from 5:00-6:00 p.m., and learn more about him online at www.gordonthomasward.com.
What attracts you to the Black/Lamington River region? When you leave, what do you miss? What beckons you to return? These stairs that you see in my photo lead to a beach in Maine where I used to spend summers as a child, and, on occasion, I have returned to this place as an adult. It’s an amazing area, but I realize that while these stairs lead down to the beach, they also allow me to begin my journey back home.
I’ve spent my entire life living in the areas of Bernardsville, Long Valley, and Pottersville, New Jersey. No matter where I travel, there’s always a tug I feel on my memory that makes coming home a reason to smile. Truth be told, there’s much I often take for granted about home, and by “home” I mean more than just my house. The towns and lands around it are rich with rewards for the soul, and all we have to do is take the time to look and see.