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reeling it in

This last weekend I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to go camping at Cheesequake State Park about 15 miles off the Jersey shore. Located upon 368 acres of reserve, Cheesequake (pronounced just like cheese steak) offers a diverse landscape of smelly coastal salt marsh, upland forest and small watering holes which one could easily imagine were once frequented by the likes of Opie and Sheriff Andy Taylor.

Although we were only there for one overcast and drizzly day and a stormy night swept clean by Hurricane Charley, I had a wonderful time during this sojourn away from civilization. There were many small wonders privy to this pastime, which I re-experienced and that rekindled a fond batch of childhood memories. Some of these included:

♦ Having 6 different interesting (and innocuous) insects land on you with in the first hour of your arrival
♦ The symphony of rain playing a soft percussion upon the leaves of the forest canopy as we walked to find a good fishing spot.
♦ Digging for bait worms in the soft banks of the lake.
♦ The whisk and lithe loft-and-drop of a (fishing) cast; the invigorating whir and giddy anticipation of reeling it in.

♦ Gathering firewood; the not-so-subtle challenge of who can carry over the biggest stump
♦ The initial whiff of citronella
♠ Playing poker by flashlight
♦ Roasting your friends with spontaneous parodies of gibing camp fire songs
♦ Singing fire songs around the campfire: (come on baby, light my fire; I fell in to a burning ring of fire, I went down, down, down and the flames went higher. And it burns, burns, burns—the ring of fire)
♦ Watching the embers glow orange and black right before going to bed and hitting the sack
♦ Going to bed feeling and smelling like a roasted pig
♦ Making your way to the tent with a stream of flash-light

♦ Listening to the thunderstorm while lying quietly in your tent
♦ Sleeping in the buff in your sleeping bag because its too humid and your clothes are saturated with smoke
♦ The subtle spray of rain at midnight wafting through the side vents of the tent
♦ Sleeping and waking to the sound of nothing but a thousand hungry insects

♦ Waking up to a dimly lit sky, heavy eyes, and a grey light peering through the patchwork of leaves and branches
♦ The plethora of spiders; finding six daddy long legs first thing in the morning loping over your tent with a high-stepping canter
♦ Noticing the lingering and piquant smell of last night’s campfire as I sat quietly admiring the silence and serenity of no telephones ringing, no neighbors, no bus to catch


Although camp grub was simple, the sparse pickings cumulatively were a succulent feast becoming of this Spartan outing. The menu included:

♦ Sourdough baguettes spread with Dijon mustard and sprigs of fresh basil, and stuffed with fresh mozzarella and roasted red peppers saturated in garlic olive-oil.
♦ Kalustian’s NY Aphrodiasic trail mix (yum!)
♦ Clusters of crisp red grapes from the cooler

♦ The one-hit wonder of a little herb to enhance my appreciation of the finer details of the meal.
♦ A salad of arugula, baby spinach and mesculin, flavored with bits of honey-glazed burnt pecans
♦ Filet mignon flavored with roasted garlic and cracked pepper corn, and cooked upon a bed of fresh basil leftover from lunch.
♦ Bubbling baked beans poured straight from the can
♦ S’mores
♦ Fresh date rolled in shredded coconut

♦ A glass of iced fresh-squeezed OJ
♦ Thin slices of cooled moist date nut bread complemented with a spread of cream cheese

As a pre and post-camping treat we stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts for a cup of coffee both on the way in to and on the way out of the state park.


One particular activity which brought back a flood of memories was the whimsical sway upon the swings at the lake and adjacent to the showers at the campsite. As age will do, I mulled over the thrill and realized why nostalgic and now swinging has long been so gleefully satisfying. Here are some of the reasons conjured:

♦ swinging in the opposite direction of a good friend and smiling at each other in utter glee
♦ swinging so high that at the apex you get a slight levitating lift
♦ swinging in the mist of light rain or early morning fog
♦ swinging when no one is around and you can hear the wind whisper at your ears
♥ swinging and dreaming and laughing with a close childhood friend who you‘ve long had a budding crush on

♦ swinging and reminiscing about the days when you did not hesitate to jump off
♦ swinging until the lingering vertigo sways you to-and-fro long thereafter


Early Sunday morning it dawned on me why I was being bothered by a subtle and slow pique of rien-vu (the perplexing feeling that you’ve never experienced something before even though you are amidst similar circumstances). I didn’t understand why the constant bother of bugs and their bites had never seemed such a preoccupation before, as I had been camping throughout my childhood. Sure, we had to spray a little from the orange Off can on occasion, but it rarely seemed to be the never-ending task it was now.

After mulling it over while taking a walk in the half-cool—half-humid forest surrounding camp, I suddenly realized the source of the uncanniness of it all. Prior to moving East a dozen years ago, all my camping had been done in California—Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Santa Cruz, Big Sur, the redwood forests along the Coast. Hence, it was always dry, usually cool or at least warming with a measure of dry heat and occasionally complemented with a refreshing sea breeze or blanket of mountain fog. Thus, the scarcity of annoying gnats, green flies, misquitoes and other irking insects which thrive upon the sultry climate. The existential contrast became as clear as the sun peering though the cover of remnant storm clouds. The difference is quite akin to that between Vermont ice and fresh powder at Heavenly.

The result of this insight was another list of camping delights from my childhood:

♦ Long half-day hikes in high altitudes where the air is uncommonly infused with invigorating oxygen
♦ The scratchy and care-what-may appeal of well-worn tin flatware
♦ Camp clothes for cool dry weather, especially flannel shirts, puffy down vests and green cotton paratrooper pants with lots of pockets in them.
♦ The full moon reflecting upon the river
♦ Gazing up in awe at a thousand stars twinkling like granules of scattered sugar
♦ Wading in creek beds with cobble stones the size of various citrus fruits
♦ Scooping up and sipping refreshing cups of crisp-and-clean mountain stream water
♦ Setting up camp amongst redolent pine with the salty breeze of the sea whispering through the trees
♦ The sibilant hush of waves rushing to the shore, sand-licking lullabies to fall soundly asleep by after a long day of walking and running and playing and getting dirty.
♦ The cool allure of camping equipment.


As an aside, after packing up on Sunday morning we spontaneously decided to ride over to the shore. We ended up jumping into the ocean and tossing around a bit of pigskin on the sand at Sea Bright. Afterwards, we had lunch (a plate of romain and iceburg lettuce sprinkled with parmesan cheese and adorned with five strips of grilled chicken: $9.50), in the posh center of Red Bank, an exceedingly rich enclave hidden within the plush fold of Monmouth Country, surrounded by the boroughs of Fair Haven, Tinton Falls, Shrewsburry, Little Silver and Rumson, which we had to pass through and which is dotted with large estates the color of the Great Gatsby—long white wood fences to keep the roaming Albinos, Appaloosa, and Arabians in; modern-day replicas of the hanging gardens of Babylon; and lots of brown-skinned servants and manicurists either walking across lawns or road-side. The display of wealth was an unsettling model for opulence. Interestingly enough, I later read that “the racial makeup of the borough is 97.77% White, 0.24% African American,” and “1.39% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.” So much for diversity.

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