About the Photographer

Corrections or additions?

This article by Carolyn Foote Edelmann was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on July 12, 2000. All rights reserved. For an article on the

Sourlands Planning Commission, see www.princetoninfo.com/200007/00712c02.html.

Sojourn to the Sourlands

E-mail: CarolynFooteEdelmann@princetoninfo.com

Face it: You don’t usually think `New Jersey’ when

you hear "Where the Wild Things Are." And yet, there is a

place not 30 minutes west of U.S. 1 that now welcomes you with the

sign, "Attention: You Are In Bear Country!"

High on a ridge that extends from Hopewell to Hillsborough lies the

Sourland Mountain Preserve. This place of impervious stone creates

poor aquifers, but sources the headwaters of the Stony Brook and seven

other vital streams. The ridge stretches from the storied Delaware

River to the Raritan, from the Millstone to the D&R Canal. It’s a

place where concrete and hard drives and viruses — electronic

and otherwise — are replaced by tall trees, babbling brooks, and

the insistent sounds of thrushes and warblers.

Lately, however, the Sourlands promise an added attraction. Black

bears are being driven and/or lured (depending on your paradigm) from

their traditional landscapes to what we had been considering "our

own." No, you’re not likely to see these denizens in their haunts.

But you will come across their "sign" on trees and trail.

Follow me to Hopewell and my favorite entry into the Sourlands. Route

518 West leads to Greenwood Avenue in Hopewell, near the old pharmacy

(see map, page 33). Right up the road, past the roadhouse with its

hints of nefarious doings over the years, cross Featherbed Lane (purportedly

named for the Revolutionary suppliers who tied torn quilts to horses’

hooves to silence their passage to needy troops). Go over a quasi-bridge

of metal and past a road with Church in its name. Make a sharp right

(even though there’s a mailbox) at the subtle brown sign to Hunterdon

County’s Sourland Mountain Preserve. Here you will find parking for

half-a-dozen cars (and no rest room).

You’re entering the domain of the glacier, where rocks the size (and

some say, the power) of Stonehenge have been put in place by primal

forces. You’ll walk under a tall and varied forest canopy that will

shield you from most elements, even on the hottest days. You’ll be

treated to birdsong and silence, rather more of the latter than the

former. You’ll be less than 45 minutes and light years from Route

1.

Wear hiking boots, and the New Jersey anti-tick costume of long sleeves

and long pants tucked into high socks. Carry your insect repellant,

and apply it at the outset — at least to a bandanna around your

forehead. Carry enough water (pint on a normal day, quart if it’s

hot), and set out.

You’ll walk on a road that was once used to remove the imposing rocks

to an ignominious fate as road gravel throughout our region. You’ll

walk alongside a stream that will tug at you, but save that for the

finale. You’ll almost immediately hear the "teacher, teacher,

teacher" of the furtive Ovenbird; you may be treated to the high

cry of the hawk.

You’ll have learned at the parking area bulletin board

what blooms are likely this day. You’ll be warned of wintertime hunters

(Sundays are safe, or any day wearing Day-Glo orange). You’ll be told,

yet again, about the ubiquitous deer ticks. And suddenly — for

the first time this year — you’ll be notified: "You are in

Bear Country." Yes, within minutes of the Route 1 business corridor.

Don’t worry, they’re black, not grizzly. It’s said they’re warded

off by noise (try singing). Don’t carry any food, not even a granola

bar. But they are likely to be far more shy than you, or you wouldn’t

have that desk and computer.

Deeper into the Sourlands, you’ll see "bear sign:" freshly

clawed trees at the human height, or prone — blazing the unlikely

yellow of freshly-cut lumber, shining like torches in the woods. Your

dog, if he or she is with you (leashed), may sniff out a significant

track. Tracks are deep (because of the bear’s weight), oval, sturdily

clawed, — there’s really not much question who leaves these marks.

If it has been raining, the trails will read like newspapers of earlier

arrivals. I have seen serious deep round indentations with heavy-duty

claw marks that, if encountered in the Berkshires, would be indisputably

tracks of a catamount; whether or not that’s true here, I don’t know.

Deer tracks inscribe their own stories: Heavily pointed at the front

means the deer was rushing; little hills thrown up at the back signifies

fear; splayed marks reveal the heaviness of pregnancy, when the protuberance

on the doe’s leg touches down to incise a triune sign. Unknown "scat"

(that’s tracker talk for defecation) may show up mid-path. Its placement

has little to do with elimination and everything to do with territoriality.

(I know, you get enough of this at the office, but this is where it

began.)

If you’re lucky, you may come across a spurt of spiky, ash-grey very

straight wild fur. Hopewell residents admit to hearing coyotes these

days. Rising from the pond is a rickety hand-made ladder. Could it

be Richard Bruno Hauptman’s? You won’t actually see Revolutionary

footprints, but you’ll likely remember that patriots coursed through

these woods, hiding personnel and supplies in groves and caves. John

Hart, signer of the Declaration of Independence, fled Tories here;

ultimately losing his "life, his fortune, but not his sacred honor."

In the Sourlands, anything is possible.

You set out easily enough on the broad track that once was used to

remove the imposing stones. I always wonder which New Jersey highway

has been formed of Sourland boulders "ground exceeding small."

The road rises and suddenly ends in a stony ground. No, this is not

the evocative stone circle that lies about an hour ahead of you. This

is where you begin to practice woodcraft. (1) Stop. (2) Drink deep

of your water supply (recommended rule: drink before you become thirsty).

(3) Reapply insect repellant. and (4) Look around.

Your task now is to locate the gray blazes painted on tree trunks

and some rocks to mark the trail. Do not move until you’ve found at

least one, preferably two. Luckily, blaze frequency and visibility

have been markedly increased since 1999. (Three blazes on one trunk

signify a crossroads.) Do not be tempted by a seemingly easy path

to your left — this is a stream bed. But go through the rocks,

blaze-by-blaze. It gets easier. Think of this part as a crossword

puzzle for the feet rather than the brain.

In the depths of this preserve, there is no sight nor sound of anything

man-made. These woods "are lovely dark and deep," as if you’d

driven a good seven hours due north, to New Hampshire or Vermont.

In addition to examining trailside for the flowers to which you were

alerted at entry, be on the lookout for trees growing through trees,

trees growing on top of (felled) trees, and trees thriving although

their roots have clawed their way across, around, and even through

boulders. Memories of these signs of persistence will come in handy

back at the office.

As the trail gently reaches its crest, there is a fork. If you go

to the right, you’ll end up at a fence complete with Holstein cattle

in a green field. Instead, go left at the cairn. Cairns are piles

of rocks, loosely yet carefully arranged by hikers and/or devotees

of the goddess Hecate. She is the deity of the crossroads (which most

cairn-builders do not know). No sacrifice required. Nonetheless, feel

free to follow the convention, leave your own rock, acorns, mosses,

oakleaves in place for Hecate.

You’re in a mostly deciduous forest with few evergreens.

It may be lit by sun in paling beech leaves. The April drop of beech

leaves is nature’s way of giving an infusion of acid nutrition just

when the beeches most need it for spring resurgence. Some could call

this gilding the lily, as the Germans who settled this region in the

1600s named the land for its acid soil.

In late April and early May, the understory is piqued by light in

the green parasols of May Apple. Under waxen white bells, in later

summer, will burgeon "apples" the lime green of Granny Smiths.

The forest canopy holds light like votive candles, in hues of chartreuse

and orange. These blossoms resemble tulips, giving the many tall tulip

trees their name.

In a warmer time, you’ll be treated to trills of wood thrush, but

not to many thrush sightings. This elusive bird (relative of the robin)

almost exactly matches the brown duff so plentiful in the Sourlands.

Shadows across your brow are the gift of turkey vultures against the

sun. You’ll probably be assailed on all sides by the sound of "witchety,

witchety, witchety" from courting common yellowthroats. You’ll

know them by their saucy black masks and feathers brighter than dandelions.

If you’ve delayed your walk ’til the afternoon hours, you may be rewarded

by the silent rush of owls.

Try never to set foot in the Sourlands on a schedule. Leave time and

tasks behind. Think about how long it took that glacier to scour the

waterway you are crossing on solid logs and rocks. Now you come around

a corner to the flat grey cirque boulders. Stop and sit awhile. Look

far out over the emptiness, and feel the southerly flow of that primal

force. Consider the Lenni Lenapes, Native Americans who surely sat

cross-legged in seasonal council in this power place. Try not to think

of determined Hauptman, high on a nearby crest with his spyglass,

his ladder, and his greed. Nor of the innocent Lindberghs, tucking

their sniffly baby in for the last time.

Greedy yourself for more wilderness, move on below the cirques (stone

circles) until you’re back on the logging and stoning road. If you’re

still enthralled by woodland and by timelessness, take a left at the

trail that soon shows up. It will delay your departure by about 20

minutes, most of them spent in lovely underbrush. You’ll sharpen up

your tracking skills, as the trail flirts with the watercourse (yes,

a glacial remnant; last signature of this fine artist). In a moist

time, colorful mushrooms will light your way. On felled logs, there’ll

be sunbursts of vivid yellow fungi, cabbage-sized and the color of

scrambled eggs. They’re dramatic enough almost to tempt this hiker

to sample them, sauteed in a bit of fruity olive oil. You’ll come

to a fording or balancing place (with handy staffs left by earlier

pilgrims), where the crossing delights the child in all of us. There’s

just enough danger of falling into the waters to generate the thrill

of accomplishment on the other side.

And then, too soon, you’re back reading the bulletin board — what

you should and should not have encountered. Personally, this newly-admitted

possibility of bear adds a delicious frisson to the experience. Yes,

I had seen "bear sign" on earlier trips, and cherish the confirmation.

You might think about hunters and how you really feel about them,

especially if you have many friends with Lyme disease. And you might

consider buying something orange, even if you hate that color, so

that fall days, too, will be welcoming in the Sourlands.

This woodland gem, like Bowman’s Hill Wildlife Preserve or the Brigantine

Refuge, is not a place to check off a list like a conquered tourist

destination. Sources and resources — they are there to return

to again, and again, aquifers of the spirit.

Sourlands Mountain Preserve, Hunterdon County Parks, 908-782-1158.

Open daily, sunrise to sunset. Www.co.hunterdon.nj.us/depts/parks/parks.htm.

Somerset County Parks Commission, Hillsborough, 908-722-1200.

Top Of Page
About the Photographer

A life-long New Jersey resident and environmental activist,

Clem Fiori is a freelance photographer and artist whose work has been

exhibited and published widely. Born and raised in Somerset County,

he lives in Blawenburg, in Montgomery Township, with his wife, Joanna,

and their two sons.

An appointed municipal official, he is chair of Montgomery Township’s

Open Space Committee. "As a conservationist involved in local

open space planning, I am dedicated to doing what I can to revise

the sense of priorities of those around me regarding what is happening

right here," he says. His book, "The Vanishing New Jersey

Landscape," a collection of photographs and writings about rural

places in central New Jersey, some of which are reproduced in the print edition of U.S. 1, is

published by Rutgers University Press.


Next Story


Corrections or additions?


This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

Facebook Comments