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Yes, New Jersey has lakes

| 01 May 2019 | 03:18

    Tom was taking me for a swim at one of those special places in the country it seemed only he knew about. I was waiting on the stoop to escape my broiling Jersey City apartment when he pulled up in his van. He slid open the door to reveal two giant truck tire tubes with “$4” scrawled on them in silver spray paint. I recognized them right away. They were sold at a corner lot that also sold paintings on velvet. The tubes were stacked alongside paintings of the crucifixion and the Matterhorn and, yes, dogs playing poker. These were the days before they became objects of kitsch. That’s how old I am!

    Our plans hit a snag. The van was leaking oil and wouldn’t make the trip to North Jersey, so we had to take my Camaro instead. That, or spend the day in my kiln of an apartment. The weekend before, we were too enervated to do anything except watch the candles on my sideboard wilt in their holders then melt into a puddle. The sight made me burst into tears. There was no chance we were doing that again.

    On my way to work earlier that week, two little boys, cherubs in swim trunks and flip-flops, emerged from the PATH station as I was going in. They looked around, puzzled. Here was the same scorching blight they’d hoped to escape. Where were the lakes? Some uninformed person told them all they had to do was get to New Jersey. It was left to me to tell them they couldn’t get there from here.

    I didn’t know where the lakes were either. But Tom did. First, we had to get those tubes into the trunk of my car, which barely had enough room for my purse. So Tom took out his bungee cords. No matter the problem, his first recourse is to take out his bungees and see if anything comes to him. He looked at the tubes and then at the bungees and back again, then went to work. He cinched the tubes in the middle and clinched them again, until they resembled sausage links. Together we stuffed them into the trunk and bounced on the hood until the mechanism clicked into place. Yes! Keep making things happen for me boy, and I’m all yours.

    It’s a short walk from the trailhead to the first of four lakes left pristine after the National Park Service took them over back in the sixties. A network of easy trails, some unmarked, were roads in a long-ago housing development. We freed the tubes and rolled them ahead of us. They took on a life of their own -- racing ahead, bouncing merrily off trees and boulders, as we ran to catch up.

    We pushed our tubes into the water and climbed aboard. Immersed in the cool water, surrounded by the blur of green forest, overseen by the deep blue firmament, I was immediately overcome by a delicious feeling of dissociation. The puddle of candle wax, the crestfallen cherubs, the van’s oil leak all seemed like a bad dream. I was waking up even as I fell into a doze, floating blissfully in the space between heaven and earth.

    We still hike to Blue Mountain Lake, pausing for a while on its lovely grassy beach. It’s just as it was on my first visit. Yes, New Jersey has lakes, beautiful ones that offer solitude in our most densely populated state. These days, instead of settling on the grass with our books, we continue on. We follow the Blue Mountain Lakes Trail to Hemlock Pond and then to Crater Lake, both with their own encircling trails. If you wanted to take in a fourth there’s Long Pine Pond, which can be reached by taking an unmarked spur off the Appalachian Trail.

    I think sometimes about my PATH train cherubs. They are middle-aged men now with jobs and oil leaks of their own. Did their disappointment that day lead to a downward slide? Or did they try again, finding their own green forest, their own blue skies? Did they slip their sunburnt shoulders, at last, into their own cool lake?


    Trailhead: Blue Mountain Lakes trailhead on Blue Mountain Lakes Road, off the Old Mine Road in Flatbrookville, Walpack Township, N.J. (Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area)

    Follow lower Blue Mountain Lakes trail for .2 miles, then hike spur trail to the lake. Continue along the south shore for about a mile, then turn left (north) on .25-mile spur to the upper BML trail. Turn right and hike another mile to Hemlock Pond. Turn right and follow shoreline .35 miles to Orange-blazed Hemlock Pond Trail. Follow for .45 miles to the Appalachian Trail, which skirts Crater Lake. Take short spur down to the lake.

    Length: 6.25 miles round trip