The softer side of Jersey

A branch on our family tree has stretched to New Jersey for the second time. One of the silver linings of grown children moving far away is that you discover places you might not otherwise visit.

Jersey is a difficult place to describe to those who have never been there.

There is the Jersey you see on the news with the boardwalk, the crime, the hurricane fury and the big and bold and popular governor, Chris Christie. There is the Newark airport, a cramped, gerbil-tunnel sort of affair that sits across the street from a prison. There is the Jersey that is old brick, shipping ports, box cars and towering cranes.

And then there is the other side of Jersey. It is the unexpected Jersey, the quiet Jersey.

Borough after borough, small town after small town seamlessly fold into one another. The very old blends with the mildly old and the new. A third-generation Italian bakery sits sandwiched between two new storefronts with crisp awnings. A pizzeria with a 93-year-old oven is next to a house built in the 1700s and adjacent to a mini-mart with a fresh facelift.

Sidewalks serve pedestrians, restaurants, delis, small shops and professional offices. A jumble of above-ground power lines border the streets, dipping to homes and businesses and linking each utility pole to the next.

Wander a half mile or so off one of these main thoroughfares and you are suddenly on winding roads that hug the rivers and creeks. These two-lanes weave through woods, dappled sunlight and over rolling hills. This is the Garden State, so named for lush fields and good soil. Farmers markets and produce stands punctuate the countryside.

Deer are thick in these parts. They bound across fields and roads and leap fences, their white tails held high like the feather plumes of can-can dancers. In Central Jersey skunks are the opossums of the Midwest, mighty in number but frequently flattened.

Stately colonial homes sit precariously close to the road, while others are back a stretch, down a gravel lane or behind a low stone wall. It is easy to picture a rider on horseback clip clopping from one place to another.

Horse barns and dairy barns and homes in their shadows have a gracious amount of space between them, but there are few wide expanses of open land. They’ve been building for centuries in this neck of the woods.

Old and crumbling buildings are undisturbed. They just stand there, slouching, sighing, boards buckling. Nothing appears subject to the wrecking ball. Someone just sticks a plaque in front of a dilapidated structure and declares it history.

May we humans fare as well in old age.

It is always a pleasure to have reason to travel an unfamiliar road. Most of us are partial to the place we are from and, consequently, reluctant to leave. It is good to be jarred loose, tugged from the familiar and led somewhere new. There is a satisfying enjoyment in seeing that no nook or cranny has escaped the beauty of God’s brush.