Friday, November 18, 2016

New Jersey's Living History

     Allaire Village is a quietly preserved village in the middle of New Jersey.  Over a century ago it was a self-sufficient community with a glowing furnace producing iron for the Industrial Revolution.  A town complete with carpentry, blacksmith, and even a bakery.  The bakery is still active today and supplies bread, as well as locally sourced baked goods, to visitors.  The shops are alive with volunteers showcasing their skills and educating anyone that will listen on their dying trades.  We, as a family, enjoy visiting these living museums and interacting with the re-enactors and volunteers.  And what better days to visit but the cool, sunny weekends of Fall, October, Halloween.
     The village hosts an Autumn festival for a small, token fee.  The shops are alive.  The houses warmed by fired hearths.  The gift shop brimming with ideas for the upcoming holiday season.  There is fresh bread and other treats, pumpkin picking and crafts, a train ride and hiking trails, even a traveling flea circus.  It is quite a pleasant way to spend an afternoon in NJ.  Not many folks make use of this resource as is evidenced but the "uncrowded" feeling of the place, even as children race back and forth between the activity tents.
     As the sun begins its descent, we stretch our legs on a 30-mile back road jaunt toward another living museum, the site of one of NJ's largest cranberry bogs.  Whitesbog lays claim to the innovation of the highbush blueberry and is a National and State Historic site.  We were visiting for the spooky lantern tour of the bogs and the surrounding Pine Barrens.  The local caretakers and volunteers were excited to see our arrival and to share their knowledge of the community.  The place had a lonely, fading feel to it, which only added to its Halloween charm.  The buildings held all the museum standards while also being decorated for the evening's events, replete with real lanterns with actual flickering flames.  There was a community bonfire and elegantly dusty general store.
    The sky loomed grey and grumbling with far off thunder as we took to the walking paths following our lanterned guide from building to building, past the glowing depiction of the Jersey Devil and into the Barrens.  We were only amongst the trees for a few paces when the Halloween lights began to glow in the trees and the planted wisps of artificial spider webs brushed against our faces.  Then with a booming thunderclap, the skies opened, and in the dark of the woods and the October evening, we were thoroughly soaked.  Turning frantic circles along the paths, the guide had us misguided for a few steps and the spooky tour was truly becoming a trick and a treat.  The village's volunteers, in their earnest to make the best possible situation out of a stormy deluge, had created the best Piney experience one could ask for.
     It is a mystery why anyone would not visit these living history sites or make the day out of enjoying such local treats.  But for me and my road-tripping family, we'll take the smaller crowds and unique gems along the back roads.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Forgotten Day

It should be right behind the Fourth of July. It should be held in higher regard than all the rest. There is no reason for it to be forgotten. Parades and ceremonies and fireworks simply are not enough. This is a day to truly be thankful, a day that should be met with football and giant dinners and family gatherings. It is the one day that should never be taken for granted. Today is Veteran's Day.
      The company I work for, like most companies theses days, does not recognize today as a day worthy of remembrance. It is a normal Wednesday. The union, as willing to accept dues as they are to concede recognized holidays, does not consider today a day worth fighting for. I wear the American flag stitched upon my work clothes, but can not recognize the heroes of this country without a sick day. The men and women who have fought and sacrificed for my rights and freedoms are not worthy of a day of recognition according to many, my company, it's customers, Local 807, and most of the rest of the country included. The beginning of Summer is more important. The "unofficial" end of Summer is more important. A fictitious fat man in a red suit is more important. Watching a giant ball descend a pole while partying with friends is much more important. The veterans of this country are not as important as these things. However, without them we would not celebrate such frivolous matters.
      For many years, I hunted with my father on Veteran's Day. We used to meet in the morning and drive to the Delaware Water Gap and walk the fields there in search of small game, pheasants and squirrels mostly. We never mentioned that it was a holiday. We just walked the woods together. Spending time together was enough, no hoopla. As my parents left New Jersey to reside in the slower pace of Pennsylvania, my father and I still made plans to meet on Veteran's Day to walk the same fields. Times have changed since those youthful hunts. The holiday calendar at work has grown lean on what is considered an important or allowable day off. I, at one time, resorted to sick days to keep the tradition of hunting with my dad on Veteran's Day going. Recently, I have used seniority and vacation to ensure that this day is spent with family.
      My father is a disabled veteran of the Vietnam Conflict. He carries many scars of all kinds with him. There were years when those scars took their toll not only on him. I lost some years to those scars, too. The loss was of time and chances to make memories and I refuse to allow that to ever happen again. My children take pride in the fact that their grandfather was a soldier and fought for this country. I will not allow them to lose the opportunity to make memories of time spent with their grandfather. They proudly celebrate this day knowing they are, in some small part, connected to it. It is his day and he should have it. He has surely earned it and continues to earn it, everyday.
      My story is only one of thousands, perhaps millions by now. My experiences of the effect of war and the cost of politics and freedom are merely a blade of grass in a meadow of such experiences. All of those stories deserve a place, a day of recognition, a moment to reflect and remember, and a small word of thanks. These stories are attached to lives, to families. They can not be allowed to fade from the memory of a nation. They have sacrificed for every American. They have earned their day.
     Who wants to be the one that takes their day away? Who wants to be the one that allows their memories to fade? Who wants to be the one that keeps their stories from being told?

It will not be me. Mine is but a small inconvenience compared to their scarifices. It will not be me.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Upstate Apples

     About an hour outside of Manhattan, pretty much a straight ride north on the NYS Thruway, apple orchards abound.  Usually situated next to, if not with, these orchards, vineyards grow in neat rows.  The farmlands are surrounded by history and historic sites.  Some of those farms actually are the historic place.  Over two weekends in October, we spent a free day or so away from our errands to enjoy the scenery and, literally, the fruits of that scenery.
     Our first sojourn was to the acres of farms surrounding Poughkeepsie and New Paltz.  There was Bad Seed Hard Cider Co., Weeds Orchards, a handful of local wineries, several other orchards offering donuts and cider and pick-your-own apples.  We simply could not travel down a road without coming upon a farmers market, orchard, or vineyard.  One could spend more than a weekend traveling all these roads visiting every single apple hawker.  We found a favorite at the Brooklyn Ciderhouse.  It was a combination marketplace, hard cider tasting room, u-pick orchard, artisan pizza kitchen, and picnic spot.  This place had it all and effortlessly and, for some strange reason, a noticeable lack of overwhelming crowd.  There is a new mark on our travel map for apple season.
     After a side trip to a bizarrely hipster farm brewery, with taps literally amongst the picked veggies, and seats straight from the farmhouse kitchen strewn out in the garden, we decided a slightly more commercial stop would suit us better.  Angry Orchard is a destination.  A treehouse tour, a tasting room with entertainment stage, food truck parking, gift shop.  This is Upstate NY essence trapped in an orchard where no one picks the apples.  Most of the people here seemed as if they were visiting for the day, comfortably lounging on the grass as games of cornhole were being settled nearby.  Our trip would conclude at The Mill House in Poughkeepsie.  A rather quaint brewpub with satisfying fare, quality brews, rooftop patio seating, and comfortable indoor accommodations, the Mill House is awkwardly situated in a somewhat derelict neighborhood.  Do not let that be a deterrent to visiting this place and to make it more enticing it is only a short distance to the Walkway Over the Hudson, which is worth the effort also.
     Our second weekend would not bring us as far north but was just as satisfying, if not more so, than our last trip.  The destination was General Washington's final cantonment of the Revolutionary Army.  The actual site was oddly developed around by a small neighborhood and the bell tower was nearly in someone's backyard.  The paths around the place were overgrown and unkempt and the boardwalk was rotten wood.  A glaring difference across the road was the Purple Heart Memorial and a living history museum that protected what seems to be the oldest Revolutionary War hut in the country.  This is what we had come for, a fitting tribute to our armed forces at the site of the its original presentation.  Another overcrowded apple farm and then off to Storm King Mountain overlooking West Point.  With our continuing summit quest, we felt a short, steep hike to take in the views would be appropriate.  The weather was perfect for the walk, a mix of October cool and comfortable blue sky.  The trail was an entertaining mix of scramble and path and quite worth the non-descript parking area.
     We would conclude our dual weekend odyssey to Upstate with the Halloween staple of Sleepy Hollow.  This year my youngest would try her mettle at the Horseman's Hollow at Philipsburg Manor.  The living history village would be transformed into the haunted rendition of the Headless Horseman's sleepy Hollow home.  It was her first haunted house and she was "scared awesome" and smiling ear to ear as she walked the lantern-lit path.  The village of Sleepy Hollow always does well to represent this wonderful time of year and this time around was no disappointment.  We look forward to visiting every year and next year will be no exception.  The sites of Upstate NY never disappoint and I look forward to traversing the further reaches of the state in our annual jaunt to Cooperstown.  The backroads of NY, less than an hour from the Big City, are always worth the day.