Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What's Done Just Looks Different in New Clothes

Got up early before work this morning, with my son, and we traveled for nearly an hour one way from down here in Bedminster by Interstate 78 to well north of Interstate 80, getting an hour-and-a-half of bass fishing in, fully worthwhile, but the bass doesn't make it so appear. Mine was no bigger, and that's all we caught, though we missed a few hits, apparently from fish no larger.

We fished the shady side, and found it's too shallow for the most part. I kept casting to deeper water, but knew I threw to spots which, for the most part, offered no clues to cover underneath, so it's no surprise I got no takes. It's just that last year, Matt fished where we began this morning, actually a shorter length of shoreline connecting both longer sides, and he tossed his worm about 30 feet from the bank, repeatedly, catching three bass better than today's and losing a big one. That was evening. Today, sun fell on this water, barren of bass, except for a 16-incher Matt spotted in close.

Fishing done, we crossed the spillway on an elevated roadway, which reminded Matt of Sunrise Lake in Washington Township. "I love that place," he said. We haven't been there in six or seven years, but during his boyhood from age two, perhaps nowhere else meant more to him. He mastered the plastic worm for largemouths there by age five. It's where I realized I took fishing seriously again, because almost every day after I picked him up from Mendham Country Day School as a preschooler, we went the opposite direction to home. That's what he wanted; so that's what we did. More important than fishing, at least in a way, he caught frogs--some big bull frogs, too--salamanders, and attempted water snakes, before he went on to sight, capture, and photograph 10 of the 16 New Jersey snake species, including pine snakes, copperheads, and timber rattlesnakes. He related his Sunrise Lake memory--I've never forgotten it either--of going there on a Mendham Country Day daytrip at age five or six and sighting "more water snakes than I've ever seen" below the spillway. That's when his passion for science really dug in. Science begins and ends in the field, because without the real stuff, it's nothing.

We walked on towards the car, and I thought about how outings between us seem to end now, now that he's applying for universities as I write, but I looked at his MIT sweatshirt. End? Nah. It began with Mendham Country Day and Sunrise Lake, and MIT is just a different lettering of the same.

Life never ends. It's always beginning, because what's done just looks different in new clothes.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Why Stewart's Root Beer Could Offer Clams on the Half Shell

 Patricia and Matt

Outings anywhere always deliver me to the mental capital I've abstracted off, not to the electronic cloud, no, better than that, to the substance participating in nature, the metaphysical essences infinitely more subtle than binary process wired to digital devices. You think and learn, acquire knowledge, and you have to let it go, when you go into work to man the gourmet meat counter, prepare vegetables, sauces, and Quinoa, every minute of eight hours on concrete tasks. But when I have time off, plenty of what is more truly myself greets me at every turn of whatever it is I do: fish, shoot photography, hike. And always in purely original ways; it's just that every theme plays upon a fundamental story that is my own from birth and before I arrived here, so I can anticipate updates every time I have the chance to meet them, because it's like opening a door to a mansion I've stocked myself.

Ever since Patricia and I came to Round Valley on the first day of summer this year, she's wanted to return, and we did last month for the Round Valley Trout Association barbeque. We have family membership. And she wanted to go again, so I offered that today on my day off, we'd hike into the back of the reservoir. Oh, no. Not in the heat, she said. But today's high temperature never reached 80, and I'll get to what we did in a moment. First, she wanted us to have a late lunch at Stewart's Root Beer in Lebanon.

Matt and I got a table, me taking Sadie's leash off to wrap it around a picnic table post, run the end through the loop and reattach it, the two of us receiving drinks--a chocolate milk shake for me, Matt root beer, and another root beer awaited his mother as she returned to the counter to await burgers, fries, onion rings. I noticed the drawing of a sweet-looking young waitress on roller skates, and commented on that rap song the radio still plays, that song lifted directly from the very first rap piece, this knock-off real good in its own right, called "Good Times."

"Stewart's should sell clams on the half shell," I said.

Matt gave me that uncertain look, as if maybe the next thing I'd say would be so stupid, he would be embarrassed to hear it...but maybe not, since his dad says things way off the ordinary, but pretty clear.

"You ever hear the song that took off on the very first rap song? 'Good Times'"?


"One of the lines concludes a passage," and I pointed to the girl on roller skates, "'Clams on the half shell, and," and I emphasized, "roller skates, roller skates."

He looked at me as if to store the words away somewhere in the back of his mind, because perhaps someday the cryptic observations I relate will make some sort of sense. And then I suggested that Stewart's in Lawrenceville--his mother had just sat down with us--should have a statue of Jon Stewart erected out in front of the drive-in. (Jon Stewart worked there; he graduated from Lawrence High School a year behind me.) Stewart could stop by and etch his signature into wet clay on the front of his likeness.

Matt laughed lightly, and then we returned to mundane things.

So we enjoyed a nice meal in the shade, so cool out that we could almost wear light jackets. I didn't return to my earlier plea that we hike into the back, not yet. When we finished eating and threw out the trash--first I asked Matt to keep his root beer cup as a souvenir for me, since I want to be reminded of Stewart's, roller skates, clams on the half shell...since, after all, I only spent 13 years of my life digging clams for a living with my feet--when we finished, I turned our new Honda Civic, not yet driven 2000 miles, onto a back road which led into the village of Lebanon, or perhaps Whitehouse Station first and then Lebanon immediately thereafter, me pointing out the South Branch Rockaway Creek as we passed over it, and I turned left onto the road, whatever that road is named, which leads uphill to the reservoir and on to the turn into the main launch area.

Patricia and Matt got out ahead of me as I went to use the restroom and relieved myself in a strangely disgusting urinal that doesn't flush, but apparently just releases flow by gravity, remaining half full. I then jaunted down the stairway making a marginal effort to forget about my experience in the men's room, carrying my camera bag on my shoulder, and tripod in my right hand. Matt and Trish, I soon observed, had set up on the gravelly beach shore-style, and Sadie swam some 10 yards out. I took the trail leading down to the edge from the gravel parking strip, through the overgrowth where water once covered sand, gravel, and stone. The reservoir is still down at least 10 or 11 feet, maybe 12. I slung my camera bag off my shoulder and placed it down carefully, so as not to whack my lenses on the hard stuff. I got out the camera, removed the wide angle, and put on my long lens, getting a few good shots of more that won't quite make the cut.

Eventually, I joined my family, sitting not on the towels, but sort of kneeling; my knees got a little chewed up by that iron tinged gravel as I waited upon and took photographs. Finally, things got to seeming boring, at least to me, and it also seemed to me--more so to the rest of my family, really.

So that's when I made my sales pitch. It worked. No, it wasn't 90 degrees out, nowhere near that. We would hike into the back. We rode over to the main entrance and found nobody there to take our five dollar entry fee, just a notice that we could drive on in; an earlier notice informed us park closes at 8:00.

"What time is it," I had asked.


"No one here to tell us where the trail head is," I now say.

"Bruce," Trish complained, "I told you...."

"Don't worry. There'll be a posting."


She had said we would not bushwhack.

A most obvious posting, there is. I wasn't very surprised to see it in bold lettering.

"That's the trail?" Trish asked in a tone of voice to suggest I couldn't be right.

"Yes," is all I said.

We read the description. No loop. I knew that. Nine miles in, nine out. We determined it's three miles in to the first real juncture with the reservoir edge. Not time for that, Trish saw the white trail description and suggested we do that, further suggesting--to my pleasure--we hike into the back during the fall. I said we will. But I also said it might have to wait until next fall. It might have to wait until the next fall after that, given what little time off I have. But I didn't say that. 

So we hiked a half mile or so, taking plenty of time by the reservoir at three different junctures, having enjoyed a nice walk in the woods, and I'm not sure if the pines are white pine or not, but I always like to see pine groves, gives me a sense of forest quality that deciduous trees don't quite fulfill, not that more pines than deciduous exist here, or that I got good photography of the pines.

As for the photography, I shot 242 total, plus the shots I deleted, and most of these still on the card will be deleted, but quite a number more than what I've posted are good. I'm going to pitch a book of Round Valley photographs eventually, but this may be 10 years from now, don't know when. I certainly don't take these outings, whether with family, with friends, or alone, so I can create books. Books are just expressions of life. Or they are so, if any good.

Every one of these outings is a joy in itself. For years during my 20's, I kept a correspondence with Sheldon Vanauken, author of A Severe Mercy, a memoir that riveted me as a teen. He's also the author of at least one novel I read. He wrote me, "Books are letters to friends," and I never forget how honored I felt.

 St. John's Wort

 Matt and Sadie, rain gully with pan effect.
 Never a random dog walker.
 Star Flower
The White Trail