New Essay in The Phila. Inquirer: Canoeing in the Pine Barrens

20120926-004823.jpgToday, my essay on canoeing in the Pine Barrens runs in The Philadelphia Inquirer. Click on it here: “Communion on the River” or cut and paste the URL:

“I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river / Is a strong brown god” wrote the esteemed poet T. S. Eliot in Four Quartets. In my imagination, the Pine Barrens’ Wading River isn’t a god but a naiad, a river spirit from ancient mythology. A tricky lady with dark, syrupy eyes who just might nick you with her tree branch fingers if you steer too close to the low-hanging branches lining the waterways. In the photo below, taken by Jeff Markovitz, I think you can catch a glimpse of the dark waters of the Pine Barrens, its inkiness the result of tannins leaching from pine tree roots. The Pine Barrens rivers are very clean, however; in fact the region is an enormous aquifer, supplying water to locals through wells dug down to the water table.


Recently my partner John and I went canoeing in the Pine Barrens with three close friends. Brian Gannon, Jeff Markovitz and Amy Tarr joined us for the not-quite six mile trip, though it felt like far less distance at barely three hours. Jeff is a fellow author, writing under the pen name Jeff Mark–check out his books at Amazon. More about Jeff and Amy in a few weeks–something big is in their future. When we stopped for lunch, I got to read a draft of my poem, “New Jersey Naiad”, along the riverbank as Jeff shot a video. If we can ever figure out how to download it from Jeff’s Blackberry, maybe you will see it here someday.

20120925-235919.jpg Pictured L/R: Jeff, Amy, John, Kelly, Brian.

At this time of year, when deciduous trees show their first tint of orange and red, nostalgia blooms in the air20120926-002303.jpg. It was great to return to an old haunt John and I hadn’t been to in years, and to share the experience with three friends who had never gone before. I hope you will click on the link above and read about the experience. To go on your own, visit Micks Pine Barrens Canoe and Kayak Rental online. You 20120926-011815.jpgmight even want to stop at a roadside farm market for apples and pumpkins and specialty jams on the way back. And don’t forget to tell Old Smokey hello when you see him. I still remember the stuffed toy I had of him as a little boy, the first toy I slept through the night with as a toddler. Glad to see he’s still on patrol.


2 thoughts on “New Essay in The Phila. Inquirer: Canoeing in the Pine Barrens

  1. Mr. McQuain, I loved your article and had to tell you. I’ve bicycled most Wed nights all summer with a group that leaves from Tuckerton and gets out to a bridge crossing the Wading River in New Gretna. It’s about 11 miles through the glorious, very few cars, pines. We stop and meditate, laugh, and appreciate the scene, then continue in a circle back to Tuckerton.

    Your beautifully written article captured every nuance of the area. Are you an English professor? My son, who works full time at Temple U. Hospital, is taking evening courses at CCP towards an RN associate degree. Both he and I have been impressed with the quality level of his instructors. I’m adding you to that list.

    Christine Torello
    Cherry Hill, NJ


    • Wow, Christine, I am jealous of your great biking trips! Yes, I teach at CCP. Is your son one of my former students? What’s his name? We have some great instructors there and I hope he had a good experience. Sounds like he did! Thanks for the feedback!


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