Picture Perfect: A Sense of Vacation

The other day, several of my students were (needlessly) gathered around my desk.  I pointed this out, and asked them to please vacate the area and return to their own desks.  They (proceeded to do what they do whenever I use a word they don’t know, and) stopped in their tracks, stared at me, and waited for the explanation.  A teachable moment emerged, and so we discussed what it means to “vacate” and how the word is similar to the word “vacation.”

On vacation in Colonial Park

That conversation from earlier in the week has had me thinking a lot about vacations.  To me, a vacation doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to go very far or even physically leave, but that I get to have a break from my routine, a temporary escape.  With summer on its way, especially, I am ready for a vacation!

I took this Picture Perfect photo in Colonial Park in Franklin Township, NJ when I truly felt a sense of vacation.  I was outside, on a warm and breezy day, in a comfy place to sit, and had a good book – with most of the pages still ahead of me…

~Melissa
The Jersey Girl

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Picture Perfect: A Walk in the Woods

A peaceful scene along my walk at the Loantanka Brook Reservation.

A leisurely stroll can be very relaxing.

This Friday evening, I took a walk along the trail at the Loantanka Brook Reservation, and it was a great way to end  my day – and the work week.

The chirping birds and running water provided a calming and soothing soundtrack.  Deer grazed just a few dozen feet from the trail.  Each step I took put the stress of the week further and further behind me.  I took several pictures along my walk, but I think this one captures it best…

Hoping you have a relaxing (and Picture Perfect) Mother’s Day today.

~Melissa
The Jersey Girl

Picture Perfect: Cherry Blossoms in NJ

In all my years of living in New Jersey, I’ve never been to Branch Brook Park in Newark – that is, until today.

Cherry Blossoms in Branch Brook Park, Newark NJ (photo taken on my cell phone)

I visited the crowded Essex County park today, on the last day of Blossomfest.  I was among hundreds and hundreds of people in Cherry Blossom Land, capturing signs of spring.  It truly was a gorgeous sight.

Hope your Sunday is Picture Perfect as well…

~Melissa
The Jersey Girl

Somewhere over the Paterson Falls


Looking out over the Great Falls in Paterson, NJ (Photo by Jeffrey Morris)

When it comes to our founding fathers, I am a (huge!) Thomas Jefferson fan.  Really.   It is very possible for me to go on (and on) about the variety of his talents and the numerous contributions he made to this country.  However, I must give credit where it is due and recognize Alexander Hamilton for the foresight he had in 1778 when he stood across from the Great Falls in Paterson, NJ and understood their potential role in the industrial opportunities of our developing country.  Even when many of his contemporaries (including Jefferson) insisted that the economy of the country be built by agricultural means, Hamilton felt that manufacturing was a better direction to take.  He was a driving force behind the development of the land surrounding the falls (named after New Jersey’s governor at the time, William Paterson) which became our country’s first industrial city.

Some of the history on display at the Great Falls Historic District Cultural Center (photo by Jeffrey Morris)

A lot has happened in the city of Paterson since Hamilton worked his magic there.  Visitors to the Great Falls Historic District Cultural Center, located across the street from the falls, can learn about how Paterson earned it’s internationally known nickname of Silk City, how it fared during the Great Depression, its ties to the motion picture and locomotive industries, how many residents from Paterson became members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, the impact of the great fires, droughts, and flood cycles that have come through the city, and the way the city and its hydroelectricity (a green energy source) continue to thrive today.  Glen, the guide the day my parents and I visited, provided us with many insights he gained while growing up in Paterson, watching history happen first hand.  At the visitor center, you can pick up literature about the falls and other attractions in the surrounding area as well as find art from local artists on display and available for purchase.

On this early spring day when only a few trees began to bud, I stood in the same place that Hamilton had over two hundred years ago to experience the grandeur of the Great Falls myself.  From the impressive height of over 70 feet, water rushes with turbulent force and makes its way, crashing along basalt rocks, flowing into the Passaic River.  Forgetting for a moment how this water is responsible for providing power or its role in history, I found myself lost in the beautiful way the strong and graceful water danced.

Harold Jackson and Robert Denson take time to appreciate the beauty of the Great Falls in Paterson, NJ.

While standing across from the falls (under the watchful eye of a statue of Hamilton), we met a number of people who also came to enjoy their splendor.  Among the people we met were Harold Jackson, a Paterson native, and his uncle, Robert Denson.  Jackson, also known as DJ Smooth, is a local DJ and photographer.  Jackson shared with me that though he lives so close to the falls, he doesn’t often take the time to really appreciate them.  So this day, he took his camera and his uncle and decided to be a tourist, right in his hometown.  While Jackson was taking pictures of the falls (and seeking photography advice from my dad), his uncle told me a little bit of what it is like to live in Paterson.  Originally from Georgia, Denson is no stranger to hot weather, but he doesn’t mind the heat in Paterson since there is a special source of relief – the falls.  He told me that, “In the summertime, when it’s really hot, a lot of people walk over the falls to escape the heat.  It’s like air conditioning out here.”

Somewhere over the rainbow...at the Paterson Great Falls (photo by Jeffrey Morris)

Though the heat wasn’t unbearable at all that day, we still decided to check out what Denson was talking about.  We walked around to stand above the falls and appreciate them from a different view.  (In the pictures from our first view, on the platform next to Hamilton’s statue, you can see the bridge over the falls.)  Up on the bridge, the spray from the water below reached high above where we stood and in certain spots, it felt as if we were caught in a rainstorm.  I could see how on a very hot day, this would be the ideal place to go and find relief from the heat.  What I wasn’t expecting, however, was that the combination of the sunny afternoon and the fine mist in the air would create a beautiful rainbow.   While we stood on the bridge, with the falls rushing by below our feet, we were also standing over the rainbow! This fictional place we learned about many years ago from the song that Judy Garland sang in The Wizard of Oz, became very real.  And though your troubles might not all “melt like lemon drops” you may find, like Hamilton and many others did, that the Great Falls in Paterson, NJ is a place where “the dreams that you dare to dream, really do come true.”

~Melissa
The Jersey Girl

Note: In 1976 the Great Falls area was declared a National Landmark District.  In 2004 the Great Falls Historic District was declared a NJ state park.  Most recently, in 2009 President Obama signed the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park Act, designating the land as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.  You can visit the falls year round, but it is recommended that you visit during the day, while it is light out.  There are plenty of picnic tables around the falls where you can eat lunch, chat with friends, or just sit back and enjoy the majestic view for a while.

The Great Falls in Paterson, NJ (photo by Jeffrey Morris)

Sources and additional information:
Great Falls Historic District Cultural Center, 973-279-9587, www.patersonnj.gov
http://www.patersongreatfalls.org/index.html
History Walks in New Jersey, by L. Rosenfeld and M. Harrison

The Art of Nature Show (Environmental Education Center building at Lord Stirling Park)

Relaxing with a book in an outdoor classroom in front of the Environmental Education Center.

The Art of Nature Show held at the Environmental Education Center at Lord Stirling Park (part of the Somerset County Park Commission) was brought to my attention by friends who know I’m always interested in learning about local artists.  Not being familiar with any of the artists featured, or the facility itself, I was eager to take a trip to see the show.

The Environmental Education Center is situated next to the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge on 950 acres of land, that in the 1600s had been the home of the Lenni-Lenapes, and in the late 1700s had been the home of Revolutionary War major-general, William Alexander (Lord Stirling).  Within walking distance from the Environmental Education building, you can find a myriad of wildlife living in the midst of forests, open fields and meadows, swamps, rivers, streams, and ponds.  For those interested in exploring the surrounding area, there are 8.5 miles to hike, and maps can be picked up in the Environmental Education building.

The Environmental Education Center building.

Inside the building, there is a gift shop with trinkets commemorating both the fun and beauty of nature, a library, and the gallery where I found the Art of Nature Show that I had been looking for.  The show is on display in a large room with high, slanted ceilings, and features the impressive work of about twenty local artists.  As I began to walk around the space, the word that immediately came to mind was “respect.”  It is evident that the artists have a great respect for their subjects and through their work, that respect was transferred to me (someone who doesn’t stop to smell the roses or appreciate the beauty of the bald eagle as often as I should).  I felt humble and human as I quietly walked around with my notebook and pen in hand, focusing on each raindrop, each feather, each moment captured by either a painting or photograph.

Unique among the watercolors and photography were the scratchboards of the talented Basking Ridge native, Colby Krolak.  Krolak has always had a deep appreciation for nature and when studying at the duCret School of Art, her subjects were often wildlife, animals in particular.  While classmates enjoyed working with media like acrylics and charcoal, Krolak found a strong connection between her primary subjects of owls, raptors, and other birds of prey, with the scratchboard drawing technique.  Scratchboards have been around since the 19th century when people would use sharp tools to etch drawings into a surface of white clay or chalk covered in black ink because it was less expensive than the wax and metal or wood materials that had been used previously as templates for printing.  The practice was not used as much once photography presented another way to accomplish printing goals, but in the 20th Century, scratchboards as finished pieces of art themselves became popular.

Scratchboards by Colby Krolak on display at the Art of Nature Show.

When talking about why she chose to use scratchboards, Krolak says, “I fell in love with it from the first piece.”  She enthusiastically speaks about how through her favorite medium, she is able to uncover the story hiding within each board.  And with her masterful technique, each whisker or claw or curve of a beak is brought out of the ink and into life.

Krolak loves domesticated animals as well as the wild ones and is also available for pet portrait commissions.  Information about the portraits can be found on her website:  http://www.colbykrolak.com/.  The Art of Nature Show will run until April 26, 2010.  Afterwards, you can find Krolak’s work during July and August at the Bernardsville Audubon Center.

My favorite of Krolak's scratchboards in the Art of Nature Show.

Reminding you to stop and appreciate the nature around us,
~Melissa 🙂
The Jersey Girl

Related links and sources:
http://www.somersetcountyparks.org/
http://www.colbykrolak.com/
http://www.hmdb.org/Marker.asp?Marker=18231
http://www.nanticoke-lenape.org/
http://www.scratchboard-art.com/about.html

(You can read a related post about my trip to Colonial Park, part of the Somerset County Park Commission, here.)

Colonial Park, Franklin Township

Thankfully, the weather cooperated very nicely yesterday!

Colonial Park, Franklin Township

Colonial Park, Franklin Township

When I arrived at Colonial Park around 8 o’clock in the morning, there were already plenty of other people there, walking their dogs, sitting and chatting with friends on benches, or exercising.  (The latter is what I should have really been doing myself!)

I packed a bag with the map of the park, my camera, voice recorder, pen and paper, a novel, and some snacks.  Because I had the map ahead of time, I had a general sense of where I was going.  I parked my car near the entrance to the Lois Howe Nature Trail.  Until recently, I have not been much of a hiker.  My first true hiking experience was the nearly seven mile hike through the Cinque Terre in Italy earlier this summer (not a bad first hike, if I say so). The idea of intentionally setting out to explore a trail in the woods is still a new notion of mine, and so I carried a bit of trepidation with me as I started the trail.  The ground was damp and increasingly growing hotter with the intense morning sun.  It was a lot buggier than I had thought it might be.  Normally bugs don’t bother with me.  These did.  So, it took me a few seconds to become accustomed to walking with them landing on me every now and then.  I think one of them actually bit me above my right knee.  Pretty soon though, none of that mattered. Continue reading

The first day of the journey…

It has taken a few days, but I am back on New Jersey time and successfully sleeping through the night again.  The first few days back from my trip to Italy, I felt as if I had forgotten how to sleep! My mind was wide awake with the exciting memories of the trip as well as the invigorating prospect of beginning this travel project here in New Jersey.  I was worried that it was only me who was having an extraordinarily difficult time getting sufficient sleep, but one of the girls that I traveled to Italy with assured me that she had a similar experience the first few days back.  I suppose that jet lag is a small price to pay for the opportunity to travel abroad.  Please note that I am by no means complaining, just sharing.

On the other hand, having the above-mentioned jet lag, I didn’t get the chance to explore New Jersey the way that I had hoped to this week.  Tomorrow is already Friday, and though it signifies the end of the week, it will be the beginning of my New Jersey journey (even if I have to take a brief hiatus because am leaving the state and the country again next week).  I would have loved to begin the journey earlier, but since I am a big believer in “everything happening for a reason” (and if you continue to follow this blog, you will no doubt see that theme come up quite often), Friday feels like the perfect day to begin.

I’ve selected Colonial Park in Franklin Township to be the first stop on this journey.  I want to bring you to this park for a few specific reasons:  1) it is not that far from my house (and to be honest, with a car that has been in the shop more days than it has been on the road the last few weeks, and an expired inspection sticker due to an unfortunate incident related to my bold attempt to master online banking, I think it is best not to travel too far from home, 2) my fabulous photographer (who is also my father, by the way) may or may not be able to accompany me tomorrow…so if need be, I am pretty confident that I can handle the photographs of the park on my own (though I’d much rather he be with me), and 3) there is actually a substantial amount of information available about the park online, so I’ve been able to research what I want to do when I get there.  Oh, and 4) going to the park is free.

I checked the weather forecast for tomorrow and it looks like it will be partly cloudy for most of the day.  That’s just fine with me just as long as the rain we’ve been having the last few days takes a break!

And, we’re off…