Thursday, April 16, 2009

Lost in New Jersey

Today I had my once-every-three-years visit to New Jersey. Of course I am in New Jersey more often than that! I look at it every day from my apartment -- and it's what lies between me and Pennsylvania. But I mean going to New Jersey to be in New Jersey. When I'm in New Jersey, I am A Stranger in a Strange Land.

New Jersey offers no difficulties when I travel I-80. The Delaware Water Gap, and that great little bakery on its main street, lies ahead. As the highway winds down into the Delaware River Valley, and the cliffs rise up around me, driving becomes magical. But that's the Delaware Water Gap! Not New Jersey.

Part of it may because New Jersey has boroughs. Or "boros" -- ugh. But mostly, I think it's because a great deal of New Jersey is flat. Really flat. I wonder why out west places can be flat, and they are Big Sky Country. I've tried thinking of New Jersey as Big Sky Country. Does it work for you? I didn't think so. No, New Jersey is just ... flat.

And it seems that it therefore all looks alike. Stop at a traffic light, and all four corners of the intersection are the same. Here in Westchester, one of the four corners will be downhill and another will be uphill, and there will be a huge glacial erratic or tree stump near another corner. Not only that! Look at a New Jersey map. Route One cuts straight down the state like a Roman road. It's straight and it's flat. Oh, and there's a Staples and a Dunkin Donuts every two miles.

Perhaps the words "glacial erratic" provide the key. The familiar ever-varying terrain of Manhattan, the Bronx, Westchester County, and points north was all shaped by glaciation. The hills and the skewed valleys and the dropped rocks everywhere are the results. Only the northernmost part of New Jersey was glaciated. Then central New Jersey, Staten Island, Long Island, and Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket are formed by the glacial moraine: gentle hills filled with gravel and a sandy outwash plain.

Come to think of it, Long Island is fla..., um, Big Sky Country too. And all four corners of every intersection look alike!

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