Huge thanks to Mohamad Al Karbi for the invite to guest write in his wonderful blog’s “Around the World” section. I’ve enjoyed Mohamad’s blog since the beginning of my time on WordPress, and have much appreciated his support of mine. He asked me to write the post below about where I come from, and I am excited to do so.
I remember once when my mother and I traveled to a city far from New Jersey a man asked where we were from. When we told him he said “Oh, you’re from the garbage state!” Well, his attempt of a pun on “The Garden State,” the state’s nickname, was not only rude, but also completely off. New Jersey is actually quite amazing, in my opinion. We have over a million acres of protected pine forest, fields with rich soil, miles of beautiful sand beaches, and plenty of wonderful wildlife, even bears. One landmark everybody knows, but few people realize as being located in New Jersey waters, is the Statue of Liberty!
Clockwise from top left: The Delaware Water Gap, Island Beach State Park, and Barnegat Bay.
I am a central New Jersey gal through and through. Yes, I have an accent, but no, I don’t sound like “Snooki” from the inane reality TV show Jersey Shore. That’s another common misconception about my home state, outsiders often think we all speak like someone from the old TV show The Sopranos. My accent happens to be a milder version of a Philadelphia accent. I grew up, attended university, and now live in Central Jersey, a most pleasant place pretty much equidistant from New York City and Philadelphia.
Shown: New York City, NY (with the Statue of Liberty in the foreground) and Philadelphia, PA behind the Delaware River
Living in central New Jersey has offered me the best of all worlds. If I long for the cacophony of a big city, the train ride to Manhattan takes about an hour. The sound of ocean waves is at its most soothing at Island Beach State Park, which is less than two hours’ drive from my house. If I feel like hiking or skiing, the Poconos Mountains in Pennsylvania are roughly two hours in the opposite direction. All three of the towns I’ve lived in have rich history, world class arts and cultural offerings, vibrant and bustling streets with a variety of restaurants and shops, and are surrounded by forests, farm land, parks, orchards, and significant waterways, one of which I’ll describe in detail because it’s particularly enjoyable.
The Delaware and Raritan Canal, 60 miles of pure recreation, is where the bucolic meets history. Connecting the Delaware and Raritan rivers, the canal was built in the early 19th century as a principal transportation artery between Philadelphia and New York City. For decades, it served as one of the most important navigation canals in America. Powered by mules and later steam, the cargo vessels carried mostly coal to satisfy New York City’s appetite for energy. When canal use fell into a desuetude in the early 20th century, shipping companies switched to railroad. Unused and abandoned, the canal was deteriorating. And what did the State of New Jersey do? No, it didn’t fill it with garbage. It rehabilitated the canal as a supply of drinking water, and later turned it and the surrounding trails into a state park. Today, it is on a National Register of Historic Places and many locals’ favorite place to go fishing, canoeing, bicycling, jogging, horseback riding, etc. I often wonder how long it would take me to paddle a canoe from my childhood hometown to my current neighborhood. My arms would certainly be sore.
Clockwise from top left: Woods and brook, Carnegie lake, a friendly bird resident, and the Delaware and Raritan canal.
Central New Jersey has deep early American roots. Some of its towns were settled in the 1600’s. It was here in central New Jersey, where on Christmas Day, in 1776, George Washington with his troops crossed the Delaware River, and by winning several subsequent battles in the area, drove the British out of New Jersey, which started a major pivot in the American Revolution. In 1783, Princeton, a central New Jersey town famous for its university, was briefly the capital of the early United States. It was also Princeton, where Albert Einstein settled after he crossed the Atlantic Ocean for the last time. Obviously, it doesn’t take a genius to recognize a great place to live, but the greatest of them all chose a central New Jersey town and I second his decision.
Shown: Historic small towns and other scenes around central New Jersey
For some unknown reason, a great number of singers were born in New Jersey. Paul Robeson, Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Whitney Houston, Paul Simon, and many more. Maybe there’s something in the water around here. Other talented people also flock to this area. Scientists and researchers from around the world work or study at the numerous local institutions and major corporations in the area. Several famous writers like T.S. Eliot, Toni Morrison, and Joyce Carol Oates wrote here. Past Presidents like Woodrow Wilson, James Madison, and Grover Cleveland also called New Jersey their home.
It makes me happy to have neighbors who came from all parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, Central and South America, the Middle East, and beyond. I think that by nature, people in central New Jersey are very accepting of others and open to learning about new things, new cultures, and new ideas. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else because of that.
During the course of my over 45 years, I’ve met so many people and feel like part of the central New Jersey community. I still know many of the locals in my hometown, and whenever I frequent shops or restaurants, I can rely on running into someone I know. I might even get a hug or a kiss. There is a comfort in that. Not to say I don’t enjoy traveling. I love to explore the country, and countries around the world, but New Jersey is my home. People often joke about a slogan one of the former Governors came up with years ago, “New Jersey and You, Perfect Together” he used to say. Yes, it does sound a little cheesy, but I kind of agree with him.