Limestone Valley
I started searching around Manunkachunk. I'd seen an 1859 George Inness painting of the Delaware Water Gap with that classic field and village foreground of the Hudson River School. Their art glorified a continent's wildness, and the gap's a prominant early American landmark. I wouldn't match the view, but wanted something of the feel for a photograph. Over many roads I roamed in the tight folds of the ridge and valley country, again and again.
Stop by Hot Dog Johnny's on the Pequest for their birch beer float. It's red, fresh on tap, and served in a frosted mug with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. Very cold and delicious. And it's a most interesting country too. There, Fair View Hill Road might be good, the view turns out far more than fair, but the Gap's too far south for the photo. This is part of the Great Valley of the Appalachians, like the Shenandoah, and full of limestone and shale outcrops, ferns and columbine, small farms and small towns. Neighbors meet and greet daily picking up their mail at the general store. Stillwater. Middleville. Narrow, winding roads and stone bridges.
Finally, November light provided a good opportunity at Knowlton's old center, settled up on a hill as was common to avoid the pestilences near the rivers. Bugs and that persistent dampness. The leaves' falling had allowed just a glimpse from a small cemetery. Still, that is Interstate 80 that passes through the Gap, and we are close enough for a long commuter's trip to the metropolis. Houses continue to be fit into the corners of the woody hills, too often on top. Horse country encroaches. And this is bear country too.
Now I've traveled a lot. Camped and hiked too. And I'm not too intimidated to rise up and shoo off the occasional bruin misdirected enough to think I've cooked by my dinner fire for other than my own benefit. I'm more persistent. But here a too speedy night time state highway ride reports of a some six hundred pound bear. I'd think again. New Jersey hadn't had a hunt since the '70's when I took the opportunity to stop in at the Whittingham Wildlife Management Area. This is the most active station. Early December. No protesters. Little resentment of them either. I get a wildlife biologist to fill me in. Mildness of winters and variety, so abundant food supply accounts for the size of the bears. Even bigger than some western grizzlies. Hickories from the Mid-west meet southern species and with the oak and beech ranging north provide a reliable mast every year. Berries - low blueberrry, inkberry, and grapes too. So bear breed every year with litters up to five. Twelve of thirteen bears they collared and tracked for a year had human contact. Bears are animals of the deeper woods, not the fringes, so it's how we take responsibility for a situation we've created. I wasn't there to take pictures.
Still before Christmas and we're well into our second snowstorm on the day Phil's asked me to come by the farm. I share a quarter with my neighbor, 275 pounds all cryovac'd . Simmental is the breed. Brodheckers' a distributor, they mix it so they know just what goes into the feed, no hormones. Not strictly organic, but chemical use is minimal only as needed on the land. It's beautiful open space. I take a picture.

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