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Verona Lake bridge

Verona Park is a small, suburban park near my home. It is 54 acres (219,800 m2). It is a place I often go for a walk around the lake. I think I know it pretty well by now, so I easily can see small changes in it. I notices tress that lose branches, new signs, things in the water that don’t belong. I have watched the seasons change there many times now.

Some of my observation skills came from reading a book by Annie Dillard the year after it was published when I had just graduated college and started teaching. It had a big impact on me.

I have written before about how those stories of an anchorite by a creek changed how I taught my students writing. It also changed my ambition from understanding and exploring the world and the wilderness to wanting to know smaller, more knowable places where I lived.

Some of those places are in the small woods near my home. This is not forest or wilderness. These are places I went to a hundred times with my sons. I felt like if I could really understand a small piece of the world, I could understand myself and the larger world better.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is that book and it’s about a year Dillard spent in the Roanoke Valley of Virginia in close observation of a small wooded area near the creek. The book made her a Thoreau of the suburbs.

In literature, we call it close reading. Close reading is careful, sustained interpretation of a brief passage of text. Such a reading places great emphasis on the single particular over the general. You pay attention to individual words, the way Dillard spent looking very carefully and writing down what she saw in nature and the seasons.

The title of her book suggests a pilgrimage, but like the labyrinth walk, she does not have to journey far from her home near the creek. This pilgrimage is not religious, but the pilgrim does seeks to behold the sacred.

The lake at Verona Park was once a swamp, and the lake was formed in 1814 when someone dammed the Peckman River for a grist mill. The lake with its weeping willow trees and paths was a place to escape to before it became a tamed county park with landscape plans prepared by the famous Olmsted Brothers.

The Peckman River in New Jersey flows northeasterly until its confluence with the Passaic River. The Passaic River itself is the remnant of Glacial Lake Passaic.

I have followed many sections of this troubled river over my lifetime. I have followed the Lenape Trail that follows the river in some sections the way the Lenape Indians followed it long ago.

The section of woods that is my pilgrim land is called Mills Reservation.  It is 157 acres and more than I can ever understand in detail. It was also a minimalist design by the Olmsteds while they worked for Essex County, but most of it has never been developed.

On a clear day, I can see Verrazano Narrows Bridge to the south and the New York City skyline and even the Statue of Liberty to the east. From one lookout point on a cliff of this Watchung Mountain, there is Hawk Lookout atop a 500-foot basalt ledge. Basalt is a common extrusive igneous, volcanic, rock formed from the rapid cooling of lava. People join the Audubon Society birders who gather on that ancient ledge to watch the migration mixture of both coastal and ridge flights every autumn.

If you follow the trail out of the Mills Reservation to the southwest, the yellow trail blazes will lead me to a trail along an old Erie Railroad line and into Verona Park. Everything comes around.


The title of this post is from the novella by Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It, which is collected in his book of short stories and was made into a popular film version.

fishing by the full moon

Looking over the possible names for this month’s Full Moon (occurring Sunday, August 10th in 2014), this year I chose the Full Sturgeon Moon. It is not the most Romantic of Full Moon names, but is one that was used by some Native American tribes, particularly the Algonquin, who noted that this fish in the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain were most readily caught during this Full Moon.

Here in Paradelle, the sturgeon is an endangered species. It is not a fish you will find on menus. The sturgeon family is among the most primitive of the bony fishes.

The shortnose sturgeon has a body that contains five rows of bony plates or “scutes.” Sturgeon are typically large, long-lived fish. Atlantic sturgeon have been aged to 60 years. They inhabit fast-moving freshwater rivers, lakes and, for some species, into the offshore marine environment of the continental shelf.  Atlantic sturgeon are similar in appearance to shortnose sturgeon but are larger in size with a smaller mouth and different snout shape.

In their estuarine and freshwater habitats, Atlantic sturgeon face threats from habitat degradation and loss from various human activities such as dredging, dams, water withdrawals and even ship strikes.

Atlantic Sturgeon

You may know that the delicacy caviar is salted sturgeon eggs which has been long associated with Russia and as a “treat of the tsars.” I have written elsewhere about the surprising history of New Jersey caviar.

In short, the Delaware Bay and Delaware River was one of the most productive sturgeon fisheries in the country in the late 1800s and the United States was the world’s top caviar exporter. A small town in New Jersey was named Caviar (or Caviar Point) because of its processing plant and railroad spur for sending the caviar north through the Pine Barrens to New York City.

In 1895, they were shipping 15 train cars of caviar and smoked sturgeon every day out of NJ. The fish were plentiful, but taking the females for their eggs, increasing demand and the species being one that is slow-maturing meant that this overfishing crashed the population and the business in the early 20th century.

Atlantic sturgeon were placed on the federal endangered species list. But Atlantic sturgeon were not eliminated from the Delaware River. The estimated 300 to 500 adult females that spawn there now is a very “endangered” population when compared to the estimated 180,000 breeding sturgeon believed to be in the bay prior to 1890, New Jersey monitors migration patterns and the slow comeback of the species.

American Indian names for the Full Moons, which was their calendar, always took note of the natural world.  August’s Full Moon was called the Green Corn Moon (being still early for some corn harvests in the north), Grain Moon, the Wheat Cut Moon (San Ildefonso, and San Juan Indians), Moon When All Things Ripen (Dakotah Sioux), the Moon When Cherries Turn Black or the Blueberry Moon (Ojibway).

Europeans and American Colonists took on much of the native information about the seasons but still tended to use names like Red Moon (for the reddish hue it often takes on in the summer haze), Mating Moon, Dog’s Day Moon (constellation), Woodcutter’s Moon, Chokeberry Moon, Summertime Moon, Corn Moon, and the Barley Moon.

Continuing with our Sturgeon Moon theme this month, we might wonder if fishing and fish activity changes when there is a Full Moon. That’s debatable and probably more about Moon Lore than about science. There are entire blogs devoted to Full Moons that I follow and there are plenty of theories.

The moonlight attracts or repels fish, depending on your beliefs and experiences. Of course, the actual fullest moment of the Moon isn’t always at night. It could occur during the day, so any influence would be felt then. This month, the Moon reaches its “full” moment in Paradelle in the afternoon at 02:09:24 pm (EDT) and on the Pacific coast it will be at 11:09:24 am. In Moscow, they can eat caviar, drink vodka and watch the Moon become full at 10:09:24 pm (MSK).

And, while we are thinking about the relativity of lunar events, this very Northern Hemisphere-centric blogger takes note that on the bottom half of this planet it is now time for the Snow Moon, Storm Moon, Hunger Moon, or Wolf Moon.

space

My father worked at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, NJ in the late 1950s and into the early 1960s.  Bell Labs was where the photovoltaic cell, the laser, the transistor and many other discoveries were born.

In 1961, my Dad wanted to move us to Holmdel, NJ where a new Bell Labs was located. That is where a 20-foot horn-reflector antenna was built to listen to the Milky Way. What the antenna was hearing was a constant hiss, though it had been built to avoid picking up extraneous interference.

This was in 1964.  Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias were two young astronomers working there and they couldn’t figure out what was hissing in their radio-wave measurements of the sky. Radio noise from New York City? Remnants of nuclear test detonations? Pigeons nesting in the antenna horn.

In 1931, the labs had made a foundation for radio astronomy when Karl Jansky was investigating the origins of static on long-distance shortwave communications and discovered that radio waves were being emitted from the center of the galaxy.

This was a time when there were two competing theories of the origin of the universe. The Steady State theory proposed that the universe was essentially unchanging and would look the same from every vantage point within it. the opposing theory was called the Big Bang theory. Proponents of the Big Bang theorized that the universe had begun with a massive explosion that created immense amounts of radiation, which gradually cooled but continued to expand from the force of the explosion.

The hissing interference persisted and the astronomers decided to ignore it and continue with their measurements.

I only discovered this history via a recent article by Leslie Garisto Pfaff.

 

Robert Wilson with the horn-reflector antenna in Holmdel – Photo by Christopher Lake

 

Penzias was told that he should connect with Robert Dicke at Princeton University. He gave him a call and talked to him while he and his fellow physicists were eating lunch.  Dicke realized by the end of the call that the Bell Labs astronomers had found evidence of the Big Bang theory in their microwave radiation. The hiss was radiation left over from the Big Bang (Cosmic Microwave Background). Wilson and Penzias wrote a paper about their discovery for publication.

The 1960s are not so long ago but back then, cosmology—the study of the origin and development of the universe—was quite new.  There was a Nobel Prize for Wilson and Penzias’s discovery which made the Big Bang theory the accepted origin story. The universe had a discrete beginning some 13.8 billion years ago with a an infinitesimally small bundle of immense energy that exploded and has continued to expand ever since.

Holmdel’s Crawford Hill still is home to the horn-reflector antenna which Pfaff describes in her article as looking like “a prop out of a 1950s science-fiction film. It doesn’t turn its ear to the cosmos any more., but it reminds us that the Big Bang was confirmed in new Jersey.

cherry blossom ani

Cherry blossoms are a staple of the haiku poets as a sign of spring.

3 poems by Basho

Leafless cherry,
old as a toothless woman,
blooms – mindful of its youth

A lovely spring night
suddenly vanished while we
viewed cherry blossoms

Kannon’s tiled temple roof
floats far away –
clouds of cherry blossoms

(Kannon is the Bodhisattva of Compassion)

3 poems by Issa

cherry blossoms scatter –
snap! the buck’s antlers
come off

cherry blossoms
under every tree
a Buddha on display

on the paper amulet
cherry blossoms
scatter

(inmons are paper charms or amulets sold at Buddhist temples)

 

Branch Brook Park in bloom with the Cathedral in the distance

Branch Brook Park in bloom with the Cathedral in the distance

Washington D.C is famous for the thousands of cherry trees sent there as a gift from Japan more than a hundred years ago. In my home state of New Jersey, we have the cherry trees of Branch Brook Park in Newark which actually has more cherry trees than D.C.  Every spring, residents and visitors can see the largest cherry blossom collection in the United States there.

Branch Brook Park has more than 2,700 Japanese cherry blossom trees that burst into full bloom during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival that features various events for visitors of all ages.

The park itself is historically unique for being the first county park in the United States opened to the public. It was designed by the famed landscape architectural firm of Olmsted Brothers, a successor to Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of Central Park in New York City.

The neighborhood on the east side of the park, Forest Hill, is Newark’s most affluent and is the setting for the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart Basilica, the fifth-largest cathedral in North America.

From April 5-13, the park hosts its spring festival under pink petals. (see essexcherryblossom.com)

Director Maurice Tourneur [left] with his 1st cameraman Lucien Andriot and 2nd cameraman John Van den Brouk on the set of ‘Poor Little Rich Girl’, Paragon Studios, Fort Lee, New Jersey, 1916.

I re-encountered the film Before Hollywood There Was Fort Lee, N. J. on Netflix. I had seen this documentary sometime in college, and used it in a film course I taught.  My New Jersey students had a tough time accepting that Fort Lee, New Jersey was once the center of American film production. But it is true. This was at a time when Hollywood was full of orange groves.

This documentary combines photographs from private collections and restored footage from such films as Thomas A. Edison’s “Rescued from an Eagle’s Nest” and D.W. Griffith’s “The New York Hat,” featuring Mary Pickford and Lionel Barrymore and filmed at the studios in Fort Lee.


D. W. Griffith made many one-reel Biograph dramas there (Mack Sennett appeared in his first film). Pearl White endured the “Perils of Pauline,” and Mary Pickford and Theda Bara starred in early features.

The American film industry got its start with the construction of Thomas Edison’s “Black Maria”, the first motion picture studio, in West Orange, New Jersey. New Jersey offered land for studios for much less than nearby New York City. By about 1916, a dozen major movie studios were operating across the Hudson River from Manhattan.

The movies came to Fort Lee when pioneer companies started to look for new filming locations. In 1907, it was found that the Palisades near Fort Lee and Coytesville could be used for “Wild West” scenes and other outdoor scenes. Rambo’s Hotel on First Street was used as a place to dress as well as for the exterior of a Western saloon.

In 1907, Thomas Alva Edison used the cliffs of the Palisades for the exterior of “Rescued from an Eagle’s Nest.” It was in this picture that D.W. Griffith, later to become more famous as a director, first appeared in a starring role as an actor.

In 1914, with the expansion of the giant French film companies into the United States market, Maurice Tourneur moved to the United States to direct silent films for Éclair’s American branch studio in Fort Lee.


His once-lost 1917 feature, A Girl’s Folly, is included on the DVD of Before Hollywood, There Was Fort Lee, N.J in a half-hour abridgement with views of the glass stages, rotating sets, tank for water effects, projection room, and crews at work, along with his hour-long 1914 feature, The Wishing Ring.

Watching these early films, you can see the development of film language with the early use of editing, intercutting and the variety of shots (fewer long shots and more close medium shots) which was rare in early films.

Fort Lee also prospered with the businesses that came to the city to service the film studios. Fort Lee’s reign as the film capital lasted about 20 years. Nestor Studios of Bayonne, New Jersey built the first studio in Hollywood in 1911. Later, Nestor merged with Universal Studios and co-owner William Horsley’s other company, Hollywood Film Laboratory, is now the oldest existing company in Hollywood (now known as Hollywood Digital Laboratory).

California’s climate was more cost-effective and by the 1930s pretty much all filmmaking had moved to the West Coast.

Another motivation to be on the opposite coast was because at the time Thomas Edison owned almost all the patents relevant to motion picture production. Movie producers on the East Coast who violated Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Company were often sued. Movie makers on the West Coast were able to work independently of Edison’s control.

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