The view out the big bay window changed considerably as I headed north into New Jersey. Rather than backwater agricultural fields, boggy tracts of forest land and the occasional sleepy town, the horizon was ablaze with thousands of sulfurous yellow pinpricks, tiny beams of light against a dark concrete backdrop creating a sort of strange horizontal man-made night sky. It was quite a sight to behold, the glimmering skyline of one of the world’s most iconic big cities drowning out any starlight that might have been present. Manhattan is what everyone all over the world thinks of when they hear ‘America’, the Statue of Liberty standing a solemn watch over the harbor. The sprawling island city has been around so long it’s hard to imagine what the original landscape was like before being paved over with bustling streets and skyscrapers; likely very similar to the swampy forests I had explored in Maryland and Delaware. I’ve visited the Big Apple before, however, and had no desire to try and navigate Turtle’s less-than-maneuverable bulk through the narrow streets of the city, so I kept on puttering north.
Later that evening as I was walking back across the parking lot after stopping at a grocery store, I noticed a strange round object peaking from underneath one of the windshield wipers. On closer inspection it turned out to be a red and black sticker, a gear emblazed with the unmistakable shape of a VW beetle, the emblem of the Central Jersey Volkswagen Society. Perplexed, I turned the sticker over to find a note scrawled on the waxy paper backing: ‘Cool bus! Check out our club’, singed ‘Casey’, with a phone number. Smiling, I dialed up the number to let him know I’d received his note; less than an hour later I was sitting with Casey and his family in northern New Jersey, petting their wiry English Pointer.
We stayed up into the night swapping stories about traveling and the different places each had visited, comparing notes on how to keep our old VWs running happily, and telling them a little about Green Footprints and the goals for the project. The next morning, following the meticulously detailed directions I had received (“take a right, go a little ways, then I think a left, and just go down that way for a bit…”) I ran through Jockey Hollow, the site of one of George Washington’s winter camps during the Revolutionary War. It was pretty eerie seeing the remnants of the ancient encampment, knowing that the country was literally started by these people fighting to stay warm through a brutally cold and snowy winter nearly 250 years of years ago. I thanked Casey and his family for their generous hospitality, but had to pack up and head a little farther north with a bundle of fifty Red Oak seedlings. Meeting new people like Casey has been one of the greatest parts of the Green Footprints project. Without the unabashed kindness in the simple act of leaving a note, I never would have met them or have been able to further share Green Footprint’s mission of sustainability. If you’re reading this Casey or Denise, thank you so much! (And thanks a ton for the donated space heater! The van was nice and toasty, a welcomed change from the drafty frozen interior I’d become used to). You guys rock.
After some help from Casey to find a suitable spot for fifty Red Oak trees in New Jersey, I followed the highway across the boarder and into Connecticut, passing endless quaint little harbor communities that announced themselves with gently bobbing forests of stark white masts, sails furled and tucked away for the winter. I stopped a few times to explore the tiny towns, many of which had been there for over two hundred years. At one in particular I decided to take a stroll on the beach, parking Turtle in the sand just off the narrow shoreline. A cold wind whipped across the water, flinging flecks of foam and sand in every direction. It wasn’t long before I headed back to the bus, but when I went to pull away, the accelerator responded with a loud VROOM! and didn’t budge an inch. Hmm. Thinking I must have left the parking break engaged, I reached down for the oddly-shaped twist-handle, but it was nestled happily in its spot against the dashboard. I tried one more tentative tap, and although the engine responded, I still wasn’t going anywhere; but I did happen to notice sand flying up into the air in the rearview mirror. I hopped out and around to find that I had been creating a nice trench for the back wheel like a dog digging furiously to bury a bone. Sighing, I went around to get my shovel when I heard a voice call out from a porch adjacent to the sandy road:
“You’re not stuck, are you? I’ve got to get to work later and I can’t get out with you stuck there.”
I looked over to find a tall, strong-looking women squinting in the diffused brightness that always seems to accompany an overcast day. “Nope, all good!” I shouted back, not wanting to concern her (and hoping desperately that I was correct).
“That’s a cool old van. What year is it?”
I can’t count how many conversations have started with that question. But I happily obliged, going over and telling her about Green Footprints and some of Turtle and I’s misadventures. Her expression quickly shifted from annoyance to genuine interest, and we ended up sitting on her porch for the better part of an hour as I listened to some of the work she had done around the state and picked her brain for how I could best experience it. When I mentioned I had fifty White Pine seedlings to plant, her eyes lit up and she dashed inside, emerging with a pen and paper as she scrawled a rudimentary map. Turns out she knew the perfect place, and after some digging Turtle and I were headed north into the familiar temperate forests I had come so accustomed to at the beginning of the project. A few hours later, fifty White Pine seedlings were newly nestled into the Connecticut soil.
The next morning I ran through Rocky Neck State Park, winding through the pine straw covered trails down to a rocky castle-like building that jutted out over the beach below. Looking out over one of the parapets, I wondered if some of the hazy outcroppings in the distance belonged to Rhode Island. I guess I’d find out, as I was headed there next!