Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Monday, March 28, 2016

My Cathedral of the Pines

I wish I could make you hear the quiet I heard the other Saturday when I was standing in the middle of this pine grove at Rancocas Nature Center. I wish you could smell the fresh piney air.

The only thing that would've made this grove better would have been a few pine warblers calling their sweet trills, as there were the first time we came to Rancocas and stood in this grove six years before.

Pine grove, Rancocas, NJ (R.E.Berg-Andersson)

Rancocas is in Westhampton, N.J., abutting the much larger Rancocas State Forest. The nature center was once part of New Jersey Audubon but NJ Audubon went through one of its frequent financial shudders and closed down or gave up several of its nature centers, claiming not enough people were visiting. Rancocas is in central Jersey, so compared with the north Jersey location of NJ Audubon headquarters, it must've seemed on the other side of the Earth.

(Another center NJ Audubon shut down - the one on Sandy Hook, one of the best areas for birding in the state but rather elongated, so perhaps not as many folk got to the northern part where the office was located.)

This pine grove is interesting because the trees were planted in straight rows. However, the saplings were never thinned and so all the trees grew straight and tall, competing with each other for the light. "Forestry management" is what the pros call thinning out the trees. So if you look at the trees at eye level you can walk from one end to the other and not run into a tree. (You can't see it as well in this picture looking up at the sky.)

MH and I drove here one other time before Saturday, years ago, and found the placed gated shut. It was after NJ Audubon left. However, it didn't sit shut long - the site is now run by Burlington County and several groups, including the Friends of Rancocas Nature Center, which runs the visitor/education center.

Owls are here, and warblers and robins and woodpeckers of various types. There are trails through woods, marshes and uplands. But what I like about Rancocas is what made NJ Audubon give it up -- not many people were around. Hence the quiet.

In our travels MH and I were once driving in NH, near Rindge to be exact, and there was a sign for "Cathedral of the Pines." I made him take the exit to investigate. It turned out to be an actual, ecumenical church, open to the skies in some areas, enclosed buildings elsewhere.  

We did not stop but I remember being disappointed that it wasn't just a large grove for silent contemplation.

I am glad to say that many years later I found my Cathedral of the Pines in central New Jersey, at Rancocas.

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