In early May 2014 I cashed in some airline miles for a vacation to NJ and surrounds. I allotted myself 9 full days for the maximum activity with the most people. Amazingly, everybody’s schedules meshed perfectly.
I took the redeye flight, and arrived in Philly Tuesday morning. After picking up a rental car at the airport, I headed over to Maria’s place in Bala Cynwyd. I know Maria from my Mac user group activities, and we’ve been friends for years. One of her close friends came over and we hung around her condo the rest of the day, had dinner, and played on our Macs, iPads and iPhones. She has the greatest tech toys and enjoys games like I do too (we spent some time on Candy Crush).
Wednesday morning I left Maria’s and headed to NJ to see my friend Denise. I know Denise through the South Jersey Camera Club. I had suggested meeting a bunch of people someplace for dinner, but she proposed a party instead. Great idea! We did a little shopping in the afternoon for last minute items while we did come catching up. (I was excited to learn that she and her husband have plans to move to Colorado in a couple of years. Colorado is drivable, and I’m always up for a road trip.) Denise is a great planner and had already made some of the food. The party was a fantastic way to catch up with my old pals. The food was great, and the company (15 or so) even greater. The next morning, Denise headed for work, and I drove a few miles up the road to my old neighborhood where I met Pat and Diane, two friends from the party the night before who are also former neighbors, for lunch. Afterwards Diane and I walked around the neighborhood, passing by my old house. (I’m glad they didn’t rip out my gardens.) We ran into another neighbor, Peg, and had a nice visit with her.
After that I headed to the Mt Laurel YMCA and went for an hour swim. That worked out real well, although it was to be the only time I got in a swim on the whole trip. Then I drove to NE Philly to Linda’s house, where my board game group gathered. There were seven of us, and it was great to see Andy, Carolyn, Frank, Tammy and Dave come out for the evening. I know this gang because I used to date Frank, and made friends with his friends. Linda and I play an iPhone game daily and this helps us stay in touch too.
The next morning I met Jeanne and Pippi at a hotel parking lot off Exit 4 of the NJ Turnpike. Jeanne was the first friend I made after moving to New Jersey back in the early 80s, and we remain close friends. She introduced me to border collies and we have, as she used to say, “more fun by accident than most people have on purpose”. I parked my rental and we took off in her Subaru to St. Clair, PA for an adventure to gather the fern fossils that I love so much. Pippi is her new border collie, and such a sweet dog you can’t imagine. Anyway a few hours later we arrived at the site of the played-out strip coal mine and hoofed in a half mile to the collecting site. There is nothing but black shale with imbedded ferns all over the ground. You can’t help but find fossils, but the material is also fragile and broken up. The challenge is to find a piece with the tip of the fern intact. Unique to this area are white deposits on the ferns. Iron in the environment also stains them red, orange and yellow, and graphite makes them silvery. Beautiful stuff!
Jeanne and Pippi in St. Clair, PA
Beautiful fern fossils in St. Clair.
We were the only people there, and a few hours into our collecting a red truck rolled up and out came an imposing woman with a gun on her hip. We weren’t sure what was up with this, since it is technically private property. But soon enough, we were engaging in friendly chat. The gun was about bears, apparently. Turns out, Kelly is an electrical engineer turned full time fossil collector. Chances are, St. Clair fossils found in rock shops in other parts of the country came from her. We watched her undig the site she had been working on the previous day, and then out came a water cooled (to stop the dust) gas powered circular saw. She cut a big 3″ thick slab out of the ground and levered it up. Then she split it, and discovered a very nice find: a prehistoric crab-like creature; a rarity among the plants. She told me I should take out as much as I could and mail it back home in flat rate boxes. So I did. She wants me to send her some Trona pink halite. In fact she mentioned this several times, so we exchanged contact info. Kelly invited us to sit on her tailgate for a drive back up the bumpy road to Jeanne’s car. (This was pretty harrowing, but we managed, along with Pippi, to not fall off.) We had a great day and rolled out of there just as it got dark.
Kelly sawing out a slab. Notice the gun in the chair’s cup holder!
I stayed the night at Jeanne’s and the next morning, I drove up to Hamilton and caught the commuter train to NYC. One stop after Hamilton, my friend Maia joined me. After ending the ride at NYC’s Penn Station, we hopped the subway to Brooklyn’s Botanical Gardens. I know Maia from photography. We met at a Perkins Photo Show opening several years ago and exchanged emails, then became Facebook friends. But I don’t really do Facebook, and she lives in the Princeton area, so we never got together after that. A few years ago she showed up as a FaceBook friend asking for a game of Scramble on the iPhone. We’ve been playing daily since, and have discovered a lot of commonality (photography, swimming, biking, gardening). On this day, we had a great time getting to know each other better first on the train ride, then wandering the gardens with the cherry trees and lilacs in bloom. Afterwards, we went into the Brooklyn Museum next door. This is where the Judy Chicago installation “The Dinner Party” is housed. It was pretty interesting seeing this iconic piece of art in person. The rest of the museum is pretty good too. We made it back to NJ at a reasonable hour, and I returned to Jeanne’s for the night.
Maia on the subway
Cherry trees blooming at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens
On Sunday, I boxed up my fossils, then Jeanne and I met fellow photographers Amy and Joanna for a trip to Palmyra Cove. This is one of Amy’s favorite haunts, but none of the rest of us had been there. Palmyra Cove is an extensive nature preserve at the base of the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge, on the Jersey side. The weather was perfectly mild on this Mother’s Day and we hiked the wooded trails for 4 or 5 hours looking for birds, and finding so much more. Besides indigo buntings, Baltimore orioles, scarlet tanager, cuckoo birds, and others I forgot, we also saw a snake, a wild turkey displaying his fan, turtles, geese with babies, stinging nettles, paulownia trees (purple flowers in bloom), just hatched butterfly, ladybugs mating, tadpoles and praying mantis cases. Afterwards, Jeanne went back home, but Amy and Joanna and I went to a secret location to see if the rare and endangered swamp pinks were blooming. We did find them, but found only spent flower stalks. They had bloomed a few weeks earlier. I spent that night at Joanna’s, and the next morning we had a chance to go through her garden and catch up on life.
Joanna, Jeanne and Amy shooting birds in Palmyra Cove.
From there, I drove to Cherry Hill to my friend Phyllis’ house. I know Phyllis through a women’s business group. Phyllis is a smart businesswoman and a lot of fun. After unloading my suitcase, we went over to Penny’s house and the three of us drove down to the shore (Ocean City). Penny is also fun to be around, and has a great sense of humor. This turned out to be a perfect activity for us. The drive gave us lots of time to chat, and the boardwalk was entertaining in and of itself even though the summer season hadn’t started yet. There were plenty of people there and many of the boardwalk businesses were open. We had pizza for lunch, tasted fudge at a few of the candy shops, had frozen yogurt, and got some salt water taffy (although I still don’t know what the appeal is). It was mating season for the birds, so we watched several pairs of seagulls mating throughout the day. Unlike the quick millisecond oriole mating Joanna captured on film (card?) the day before, seagulls take their time and enjoy a little dance before consummating the act.
The quintessential candy shop at any given Jersey shore boardwalk.
Ritual mating dance of the seagulls.
The next morning, I said goodbye to Phyllis and her husband Dave, and headed up to Princeton to spend the day and evening with my Macintosh buddies at the Princeton Mac User’s Group. Every May, Bob LeVitus comes to the area to speak at the local Mac user groups, so this was one of reasons to pick May for my trip. Bob stays at my friend Andor’s house when he comes, and that was my destination also. The three of us hung out for a few hours doing geeky Mac things. I printed postage for my boxes of fossils and ran them to the post office down the street. Then I left to meet a fellow PMUG member-turned client Bill for dinner. I had a nice visit with the whole family, who runs the family printing business together, and discussed some changes needed for their website. Then I headed over to the PMUG meeting itself, which was an entertaining presentation by Bob. After that, I joined a dozen or so of them for pizza. This was a great way to catch up with my Mac friends. After that, Bob and Andor and I chit chatted until we all got tired.
The next morning, I got up in time to drive over to another fellow PMUG member/friend/client’s house, Leo, and drove him to his antiques shop. (He fell and broke his hip earlier this year and can’t drive for a while.) We had a nice, albeit brief, visit before I headed west back into PA where I met my friend Mike. I also know Mike through the Mac user group community and some photographic ventures. He and his wife Sherry started a petsitting business a few years ago and on this Wednesday, I joined him in doing home visits with 3 of his clients. First we let out 3 basset hounds so they could hang in the backyard for a while, then we went to another house and walked a boxer around the neighborhood. After that we walked a lapdog around the block, then met Sherry for coffee at a local coffee house. This turned out to be fun way to catch up with Mike, get a little exercise and have a visit without disrupting his busy day.
Leaving Mike’s, I left for Amy’s house. She’s another one of my photo friends that I stay in regular touch with. I had already spent Sunday with her, so I didn’t feel guilty about abandoning her to go the the DVESS (Delaware Valley Earth Science Society) meeting nearby. I brought a box of Trona pink halite specimens to give away; they included them for door prizes, and I think everyone got something. Like the night before at PMUG, this was a great way to connect with my rock hound friends all at once. Back at Amy’s we dinked around with some photos on her computer for a while until we got tired, then we said our goodbyes because I had to leave at the crack of dawn the next day.
Turns out, freeway traffic is light at 6 a.m., so the drive to the airport was painless and I got there in plenty of time to catch my flight. I got back to California in the middle of the afternoon, just in time to change clothes and go with my mother to a dinner where she got a volunteer of the year award from the local historical society. Oh, and the two heavy flat rate boxes of fossils were waiting on the porch. They actually made it cross country without ripping open.
I had a great trip and can’t believe all the people I was able to see and visit. A big thanks to everyone for carving out some time for me – what a great bunch of friends I have!