There are secrets in New Jersey

New Jersey has a secret. It wears an industrial mask and is draped in a costume made from the fabric of loud boardwalks, clubbers, and miscellaneous state stereotypes.

But, beneath the façade, there is something very—very different. The secret’s out, New Jersey is bursting at the seams with plant life and environmental diversity.

My partner, Robbie, and I have gained a lot of memorable and joyous experiences exploring NJ and its plant life. We have driven through rough and gritty dirt roads deep into the soul of the Pine Barrens. We did not find the Jersey Devil, but we did find adventure.

We camped under hearts of oaks and pines, nestled in the rib cages of blueberries and huckleberries. N.J. unveiled its rare Lysimachia terrestristhe and Pogonia opioglossoides to us in the summer’s boiling bogs brimming with sun dew and pitcher plants.Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 10.10.03 PM

We have taken shelter from the sobs of the earth and its storming pulse under the spiral bark of the Atlantic white cedar.

We’ve inhaled the aromatic scents of Rhododendron viscosum of the Appalachian Mountains tucked away in the northwest of the state.

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Rhododendron viscosum

We kayaked through the narrow veins of the creeks, and saw the Spartina species thriving on the scalps of muscle clams.

Egg Island, NJ

Egg Island, NJ

We escaped the vicious greenflies and their shocking vampiric bites.

We traced roads that evolved into thick, impassible tickets. We baked like potatoes in the summer’s oven. We searched through the labyrinth of dunes seeking beach plum (Prunus maritima), bear berry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) , and heather (Hudsonia sp.).

Endless Gaylussacia baccata

Endless under stories of Gaylussacia baccata

We saw proud bald eagles, and ravenous osprey gripping fish in their razor talons. We saw black face terns plummeting and breaking the skin of the sea. We eaves dropped into conversations of sand pipers and red winged black birds as they discussed territory defense strategy.

Turkey Beard (Xerophyllum asphodeloides)

Turkey Beard (Xerophyllum asphodeloides)

 

Our alarm clocks were not actual timepieces, but roaring torrential downpours, leaky tents, and whippoorwills gossiping into the night.

Our breath would escape our lungs from the snakes slithering across our boots.

We were freckled with ticks.

We waited patiently for nesting terrapins to cross the road.

We learned the language of the land and had the opportunity to listen closely. It spoke in gentle whispers. It said, “I have a secret. Can you guess what’s under this mask?”

Wenatcheeee!

One last heave and I manage to squeeze my life into my car; I am finally ready to hit the open road. It takes a few seconds for this realization to dawn on me after hours of countless reshuffling of my possessions. It’s at this point, once I hop in the car and put my key in the ignition, that I realize what I’ve been packing for. I’m finally headed to the great state of Washington!  …but what is Wenatchee!?  A surge of emotions too chaotic to pin down to one feeling rush through me as I grip the steering wheel tightly trying to keep everything in check. Check. Double check. The most important things to remember, myself and my already homesick travel buddy, Spirit. Did I remember his toys? Food? I run through the mental list one last time. I grabbed all my love plants. Triple check. Unfortunately, I reassure myself, there is always one thing I am forgetting, so progress for progress sake I must ‘get the show on the road!’

After a successfully uneventful drive from the armpit of California to the immensely beautiful expanse that is the Eastern Cascades, it takes all my effort to stay awake and entertain a so called intellectual. It’s at this point that I contemplate if successful and uneventful should be used in the same sentence.

Camping at Cape Disappointment was just “awfully” drab as the name states. Who in their right mind wants to go to a beach with black sand!? It makes for a bright sunset!

Who wants to watch a man pour his broken heart all over the Walmart pavement? There are pigeons for that!

Who wants to watch a twenty foot tall pastor lecture biblical themes to you? Hardcore movie fanatics!

Who searches rest stop trash cans with an IPad? Competitive geocaching retirees!

A hippie bus only able to travel 35 mph!? What sight-seeing!

Reality beckons. Three hours into the most bizarre life interview I’ve ever witnessed, let alone experienced and nothing sounds more enticing then my scrawny floor mat to lie upon and sleep. As I sit in this dingy basement trying to keep my eyelids from getting heavier, I wonder why I’m here, straining to search for any type of sign to reassure my heavy heart; to make sense of all this change and wrap my head around my surroundings. The first night is always rough in a new place, especially when you realize you might actually have standards.

Minus all the paperwork and signing my life away to the government (oh wait I already did that a long time ago!), Wenatchee, WA holds a lot of promise. By the end of my first week, I’ve learned more plants than my feeble brain can even manage to soak in. It’s a good thing my overall disposition is a bright shade of optimism with a slight hue of empathetic. I need this to make sure my confidence doesn’t drain out the pin sized holes forever forming in my brain. When looking at the differences between an agoseris, a microseris, and a crepis on the second day of the job, it takes all my effort to minimize the obvious amount of head spinning one would expect.

Thank goodness for the cross training days that have offered me glimpses of the raw beauty of the Columbia Basin, and to a peculiar yet vaguely identifiable light that shone out of the forests of Leavenworth, WA, reassuring me that everything this summer is going to be all right. As if one can help the stress that comes with life situations, even when aware that life in all its eccentricities always has a way of working itself out. Now in the third week, I am encouraging a growing need for exploration and a ravenous thirst for more…

The adventures are just beginning,

Calo Girl and her Slobbery Steed

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