If These Stones Could Talk

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For several years in the early 1970s, I taught American History in elementary school.  In February I addressed Black History.  There were African-American history filmstrips. I didn’t know a lot of what was presented and there were individuals I didn’t recognize.  Frederick Douglas, Marcus Garvey, Sojourner Truth, Booker T Washington.  My elementary, high school, and college history classes were far from integrated.

Later at Holy Ghost Prep and Holy Family University in History and social studies methods courses I began to abandon the Black History and Women’s History months.  My own reading had exposed me to the history of women, blacks, immigrants and the poor and convinced me that their histories should be woven into the daily texture of United States History courses.  I attempted to be inclusive.

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I just finished reading “If These Stones Could Talk: African-American presence in the Hopewell Valley, Sourland Mountain, and surrounding regions of New Jersey,” by Elaine Buck and Beverly Mills (Lambertville NJ: Wild River Books, 2018).  My kind of book.  Buck and Mills, middle age African-American women, are amateur historians and educators.

I was first drawn to “If These Stones Could Talk” because it was Local History.  Several years ago we began driving to Princeton through Pennington and Hopewell and now dog walk and farm market shop in the area.  I’ve encountered the name Sourland Mountain (actually have another book about the area).  I was also intrigued that it was an African- American story.

It’s not academic, professional but a personal history.  The authors tell their story.  How they began to research the history of African-Americans in the area and became committed to having the history of local, common Blacks included in school history curriculums.  Their book includes the slave origins of many black families in the area.  Families that have lived for generations in this section of central New Jersey.

Their research begins with their involvement with the Stoutsburg Cemetery in Hopewell.  Located on “the Avenue,” Columbia Avenue, the Black neighborhood, the authors discover war veterans, community leaders, and relatives buried there.  In the tradition of “new social” historians they weave the local stories with State and National history.  We read about slavery in the north, African-American service in wars from the revolution to Vietnam.

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This is not just a story of Black Americans.  It is the story of small towns.  So many of the individuals the authors profile are related, many to themselves. Mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, all play a role.  Several chapters are recorded oral history interviews.  Most of average people; some more famous.  Interesting is Bill Allen who discovered the body of the Lindbergh baby.  Charles Lindbergh ignored him.  And Dooley Wilson (piano player in Casablanca, “play it again Sam”) briefly lived in Hopewell.  Roy Campanella (baseball) visited Elaine Buck’s family.

Religion and church are important to the community.  There are several churches featured from Pennington, Hopewell and Skillman.  AME churches inspire a chapter on Richard Allen and the foundation of Black churches in the Philadelphia region.  Buck and Mills also describe the faith, traditions, and centrality of the church in the community.

I particularly enjoyed several chapters devoted to local living and food ways.   The slaughter of pigs and chickens, gardening, canning, holiday menus, African-American cuisine.  Recipes included.

I’m anxious to explore the neighborhoods, cemeteries, and areas described.  There is a Stoutsburg Historical organization.  Maybe I can meet Buck or Mills.  I am not finished with “If These Stones Could Talk.”

 

 

 

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Walking the Dog

Do you remember Rufus Thomas’s hit ” Walkin the Dog.”

Walking the dog
I’m just a walking the dog
If you don’t know how to do it
I’ll show you how to walk the dog …

 

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The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith the Grateful Dead and many others did covers.  I remember reading once that we should walk like a dog, slowly, using our senses to be aware of everything.  Since my medical issues I’ve been forced to walk a slower pace.  I walk the dog.  I’ve long been a fan of Thoreau who wrote in “Walden” about the wilderness as a tonic for body and spirit.  And just recently discovered a Japanese practice.

“Forest bathing—basically just being in the presence of trees—became part of a national public health program in Japan in 1982 when the forestry ministry coined the phrase shinrin-yoku and promoted topiary as therapy. Nature appreciation—picnicking en masse under the cherry blossoms, for example—is a national pastime in Japan, so forest bathing quickly took. The environment’s wisdom has long been evident to the culture: Japan’s Zen masters asked: If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears, does it make a sound.”  Walking the dog.

A part of Diane’s reason for having a dog is that it forces the walk.  Although I believe in a daily walk, there were quite a few cold winter days that I skipped.  Diane had not choice; Nala, the rescue we got in the fall is her project.  For Diane a walk isn’t around the yard or even just along the canal in back of the house.  Most days she drives to a different place.  Since the weather has improved I’ve joined in fairly regularly.

 

Goat Hill Overlook outside Lambertville was a challenge for me.  Most of my walking the past 8 months have been on the canal.  It’s generally level.  I was pleased that Goat Hill didn’t present a problem.  The view of New Hope, the river and Lambertville is fantastic.  Nala loves it because the area is “dog friendly.”  Users accept and let their dogs off leash.  We discovered Goat Hill about 6 years ago. Having lived in New Hope in the 1970s and explore the countryside we were amazed that we were unaware of the trail.  Then I discovered it’s only been a public trail for a few years.  We began to hike it regularly, there is a gravel road and a cliff path through forest and rocks.  Our best trip was in late summer several years ago when we picked 12 quarts of blackberries (at $5 a pint, that’s over $100 in berries).  We ate them fresh, made preserves, pies, and juice.

 

The next day we decided to go to the 121 acre Fiddler’s Creek Preserve (Hopewell Township).  Although we live in PA, we’ve found many trails and paths across the river.  Check out the website of the NJ Trail Association.  Much of this particular land preserve was part of a lumber mill complex owned by the Titus family (Titusville is down the road).  This day we walked in a large fenced area that is being reforested with native species.  The fence is deer protection.  It’s another area where Nala can run free.  She and we love it.  Spring was been slow coming this year but we enjoyed a warm sun as we worked our way through the field.  In the same area we could have walked in a ravine along the creek.  We did this a few weeks ago when close friends, the Pagliones, were visiting.  And across the road is the Baldpate preserve.

 

On day three, we drove just above Stockton to Prallsville Mills and walked along the Delaware and Raritan canal towpath. This part of the canal is a feeder that was originally built to supply water to the main D and R that runs from Bordentown, through Trenton to Raritan.  The feeder begins at Bulls Island Recreation Area where there is a foot bridge across the river to Lumberville, PA.  We head toward Bulls Island from Prallsville but didn’t make it all the way — it’s about 3 miles.  Unfortunately on the towpath, Nala must remain on leash.  Despite a halter she will pull particularly if I am walking ahead.

If we made it to Bulls Island, we could have treated ourselves to some snacks or lunch at the Lumberville General Store across the street from the Black Bass, a favorite riverside restaurant.  We settled on the towpath and the Prallsville mill complex.  Originally this early industrial village had a saw mill, linseed oil mill, grist mill, and grain silo. Today the complex hosts art and craft shows, and a variety of community activities.  The canal from Bulls Island to Trenton is 23 miles.  Some sections are better walks than others. Then there is the section toward Bordentown and north to  Trenton.

 

The next day we decided on Rosedale Park above Pennington (Mercer County).  This is a favorite for Nala.  There is a small dog and a big dog park.  No membership or rules. But we skipped the dog park and walked around the lake (only a few cormorants) to a forest path that leads to Willow Pond.  Rosedale lake area is part of Mercer Meadows, 1600 acres with four bodies of water and miles of trails.  What’s great about walking in NJ, they seem to connect areas.  A warming sun, we find a bench and sit for a while on Willow Pond.

We found most of these parks, preserves, trails when we traded I-95 for back roads when driving to Princeton.  We also found several interesting restaurants and farm markets.  In Hopewell there is the Brick Farm Market, a few tables, deli and prepared foods, bakery, cheese and meat department, some packaged goods, fruits and vegetables.  They also opened a restaurant.  Blue Moon Acres in Pennington is a micro – green farm originally in Buckingham, PA.  When they expanded to Pennington, they began growing rice and the market sells “all local.”  There is produce, honey, jams, cheese and meats, some packaged goods.  Almost all local.  Walking the dog can easily turn into lunch or farm market shopping.

 

 

Our next walk took us to Bulls Island.  In the 1970s, I camped there with HGP scouts.  Today that area is closed due to a disease attacking Ash trees.  There are a lot of cyclists taking the D and R Trail toward Stockton (we were on it a few days previously).  Instead we decided on a nature trail between the river and canal.  The chilly weather warmed as the sun rose reminding us it’s spring.  The last section of the trail is cobble stones.  Why?  Interesting but hard to walk on.  It ends at a dam or wall separating the canal from the river.

At the visitor center, a ranger explains that the cobblestone path was used by a quarry.  It wasn’t totally clear but sparked a local history interest.  The center also had several brochures and maps of areas we could explore.  When I told the ranger I was walking the dog, she recommended Horseshoe Bend Park a few miles west.  There was a big, very big dog park.  We headed there.  She was right.  Walking trails, rural dog park.  What more could we ask for.  Lunch actually.

We continued on to Frenchtown, the bridge to PA and down river to  the Lumberville General Store.  Although Nala seems fine in the car after a walk we decided on an order and car picnic.  Unfortunately the sandwiches were bland, mundane.  We expect more when we are walking the dog.

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