Monthly Archives: December 2011

Merry Christmas, Jill!

Dollar knew this girl, Jill, that lived on the other side of town in the little brick apartments by herself.  I remember going there a couple of times, hanging out, having a beer or two.

It was December and Jill was down in the dumps.  Christmas was approaching and she was lonely.  I felt bad for her.  So, when Dollar stopped over on his way home from school one day, I threw my extra pair of Timberland’s at him, along with a surplus field jacket, grabbed the bow saw and lead him into the woods.  Not much was needed by way of explanation.

“Jill seems pretty sad, what with Christmas coming up and all.”  I opined.
“Yeah. And…?”
“And I thought we might bring her a Christmas tree to cheer her up a bit.”
Dollar’s face lit up like an Advent wreath.  “Do you have a worthy specimen picked out, Birchwheel?”  (he tended to butcher my name, for effect.)
“I do indeed.”

Our spirits thus buoyed, we traipsed off into the local woods as a light snow began to fall. (sometimes things just fall right into place).

At the time I lived along the Route 78 corridor in Onion, NJ.  This corridor ran down past my neighborhood and opened up into a patch of woods along the Rahway river.  The recent construction of a sound barrier had decimated one of my favorite vistas – that being a big, grassy hill set back from the highway – and I was not pleased.

In retrospect, it was a blessing in disguise.  The sound barrier, a 25 foot concrete wall that stretched more than a half mile, sealed off the wooded areas from the highway (and our houses from a lot of noise).  This allowed flora and fauna to flourish to the point where deer were walking around where they hadn’t been for years, like behind my house.  And that was very cool.

Somehow, a few white pine trees had escaped the bulldozer and now resided on the highway side of the wall.  Being as my ‘solitude hill’ had been so rudely bisected, I had no problem with a little ‘quid pro quo’ as it were.

I led Dollar out to the grassy hill and around to the leading edge of the sound barrier.  There, about 50 yards or so distant, were the trees.  The entire hill was exposed to highway traffic, so we picked our quarry carefully and waited for a break.  It was snowing more heavily by now.  The prudent highway driver was more concerned with the degrading road conditions than two numbskulls cavorting on a distant hillside.

During a brief period of no cars, we rushed out and attacked our target conifer.  It was a lot bigger up close, but Dollar jumped up, grabbed the top and bent it over.  With three quick swipes of the saw I separated the top half from the rest of the tree.  Laughing joyously we secured our prize and dragged it to safety around the other side of the wall.

I can recall distinctly being filled with holiday spirit as we dragged our freshly harvested Christmas tree through the snow blanketed woods.  We sure didn’t know of anyone who cut their own Christmas tree, let alone dragged it out of the woods.  It garnered a couple of looks from the locals when we emerged onto the street, but no alarms were raised.

At Jill’s house we were greeted with somewhat of a skeptical eye.
“Merry Christmas, Jill!”, we cheered.  “We brought you a Christmas tree!”
“It’s awful big.”  Jill remarked, not sure if she should let us in.  Indeed it was much larger than we had initially thought.
“That’s ok, Jill.  We still have the saw.  We can trim it down a bit.  Merry Christmas!”
“I never saw a Christmas tree like that before. Where did you get it?”
Questions, questions.
“You paid for it with your taxes.  Merry Christmas!”

I can’t speak for Dollar, but I felt like breaking into a few verses of ‘God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen’ or something like that.

Jill had that look on her face that we were familiar with.  It was that ‘You-two-knuckleheads-are- (or were) up-to- something’ look.  But she couldn’t deny that it made her feel better.

“Merry Christmas, Jill!”
“OK, ok. Thanks. You want to come in for a beer?”
“Sure!” We chimed.

We wrestled the tree into Jill’s tiny apartment and shoved it into a corner.  Well, shoved it into half the kitchen, really.  It was a lot bigger than we thought.

“Don’t they spray those trees with some kind of chemical to keep people from cutting them?” Jill asked, prudently.
“Not that I know of.  It sure doesn’t smell now.”  We inhaled the fresh cut piney goodness.
“Yeah, that’s because they have to warm up first.”
“Nah, can’t be.  What would be the sense of emitting a odor AFTER being cut?  Seems like they got that backwards, to me.”

We drank our beers and bid Jill adieu.  A more happier Jill, I hoped.

About two weeks later we visited Jill again, just to check up on her.  She didn’t look pleased.
“Happy New Year, Jill!  Where’s the tree?”
“I threw it out.  It began to stink something awful.  And you want to know how hard a time I had getting that huge f!#@%# thing out of my kitchen?”
“Not really. You should have called us.”
“I did! You weren’t home.”
“Oops. Our bad. Got any beer?”
Damn, I thought. Not only did our well-intentioned jesture go awry, there wasn’t going to be any beer, either.  Now I felt like breaking into a chorus of ‘Oh, Holy Night’ a la Bird…

…Oh, holy shiate!
You’ve really screwed us now, Bird
One oversight, and
we can’t quench our thirst.

And so, another kind-hearted jesture, in the name of Christmas spirit, wound up smelling like a dead skunk laying on top of burning tires.

But our hearts were in the right place (I think I can say, at this point).

In case you are wondering – the tree trunk from which Jill’s Christmas Tree was detached – it grew back nicely.  We were careful not to cut the tree to the ground and left a good four feet of lush growth.  Within two years, I had a hard time telling from a distance which tree we cut.  Today, you cannot tell it was ever assaulted.

Lastly, and humbly, I submit this.

Luke 2:8 – 14

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them:  and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you;  Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.'”

“…That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Thanks-giv-o-fest2 The Pines

We decided that The Rock and surrounding area were not sufficient to retain us.

One issue was that we could see, as well as hear a whole lot of human activity. From our vantage point on the side of the mountain we could see Green Pond Road, the main road through the area.  Also, there was Hewlett Packard and their constant comings and goings.  On top of that, there were the dirt bikers ripping up the old field at the base of the mountain.  I think that was really the issue; that constant dirt bike motor whine.  It spoiled the sanctity of the woods, the quiet and solitude.  It pissed us off.

Dollar’s older brother lived in South Jersey on the outskirts of the vast Pine Barrens.  Dollar reported that he had found an area far out in the Pines where we could do our thing without interruption.

Our first trip there was on a rainy Wednesday evening, the day before Thanksgiving.  I remember speeding down what was called the Red Road (it was mostly red clay), in an area known as the West Plains, in Walt’s Mazda pickup. Radio blasting, chasing deer (it really is fun), skidding, hydroplaning, but not caring much about any of it.  We crashed into the trees when it came time to turn, but that wasn’t as bad as it sounds, because the trees were only about 10 feet tall, pitch pines, and we pretty much plowed right through them. Plus they cushioned the impact.  No, we weren’t wearing seat belts, no one did back then. If we got stuck, we would push the truck back onto firm footing and carry on.

Stuart and Dollar were in Studogg’s Mom’s full sized pickup (with cap).  We turned down one unmarked road, then another and before we knew it, we were as far away from civilization as you can get.

Or so it seemed. On a map (we didn’t have the luxury of Google Earth back then) we were only a couple of miles from Route 72, as the crow files (if said crow didn’t get blasted out of the sky) but certainly in the middle of one of the most desolate stretches of forest that road goes through.

The New Jersey Pine Barrens are a unique ecological area, comprised of mostly Black oak and Pitch pine, those being the only trees able to adapt to the poor, sandy soil and frequent wildfires.  Where there is water, you will find Atlantic white cedar.

Another unique feature of the Jersey Pine Barrens is that they are prone to sweeping forest fires that turn a verdant ecosystem into a scorched, blackened wasteland suitable for filming post-apocalyptic nightmare movies.  It is these fires that keep the trees stunted and short, hence the term ‘scrub pines’.  (I always like when a opportunity to use ‘hence’ comes up).  In the Plains (West and East) trees don’t top much over12 feet.

But, true to the mystique of the area, the scrub pine and oak have adapted to the more-than-occasional burn.  In fact, the forest is dependant on it.  It is the very thing that destroys invasive plants and trees.  Both the scrub pine and oak can regenerate from their rootstock, which has survived the heat beneath the sand. Within days of a fire you can see pine seedlings sprouting.  A couple weeks later the blackened trees have leaves.

And that is all pretty cool, except when you are on a long hike in the blazing summer sun and there is nothing overhead to shade it.  Or when a frigid, steady wind is blowing unimpeded across miles of scrub, cutting right through your outerwear straight to your bones.

Or when it’s raining.

The first Thanks-giv-o-fest in the Pines was a soaker:  four days of showers, downpours and drizzle. I remember going hunting and having to turn the barrel of my shotgun downwards to drain water out.  Not that we cared much, though.  Thinking back, I am impressed with our tolerance of the crappy weather.  We were having a good old time camping, hunting, drinking and enjoying our freedom.

We did manage to bag something that weekend, though.  A pheasant flew across our path as we went on one of our food excursions.  We ate it that night. Talk about a Thanksgiving like our forefathers enjoyed.

We strung up a huge canvas tarp between the pickup trucks. We built a fire and promptly burned through all of our available wood.  However, there was a series of half buried pallets in a low area off to the side of the road.  This was a little used (at that time, at least) motorcycle trail.  Occasionally that area would be wet, during wet years and the bikers must have dropped pallets to aid them in traversing this low point.  You would not have known it by the continuous rain we were encountering, but it was a dry year.  And that was fortunate, because we excavated nearly every pallet and burned them.

Pallets burn hot, if used properly.  These were slightly wet, it was raining for a couple of days, but they only needed to be dried around the fire for a half hour before they were ready to burn.  Then we would kick them into the flames.  How hot? We melted beer bottles into little globs of green glass.

We had not planned this trip as thoroughly as our previous excursions and needed to make daily excursions out of the woods seeking food.  We visited everyone that Dollar knew in the area – his brother, sister and their most gullible friends.  We would gratefully take whatever was given – a loaf of white bread, can of beans, packets of instant oatmeal – then drive back into the woods.

One night, vittles were in short supply.  The rain was coming down hard and we were holed up beneath the tarp.  Beer was plentiful, though, so we were good.

We cooked up the last of our food – instant oatmeal.  I’d like to say it was one of the flavored varieties, but I’m pretty sure it was unflavored.  It makes sense. Those usually are the last to go.  Again, we hadn’t planned well for this trip, so we were short on a few utensils.  We all had a spoon, but there were only 3 coffee mugs to mix in.  So the drill went like this:

You would take two spoonfuls of oatmeal, and pass the mug to the right.  In short order a mug would be handed to you from the left.  If you tried to sneak a third spoonful you got kicked in the ankle or shoved off of the cooler.  It worked for us.

Eventually everything we had was soaked and we ran out of pallets to burn. We left for home, but knew we had established a new area of operation. Our next trip there heralded a new era for the Birdcrew.

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