The Pine Barrens.


People in New Jersey still use the term, with variants such as “the pine belt,” “the pinelands,” and, most frequently, “the pines.” Gradually development of one kind or another has moved in over the edges of the forest, reducing the circumference of the wild land and creating a man-made boundary in place of the natural one. This transition line is often so abrupt that in many places on the periphery of the pines it is possible to be at one moment in farmland, or even in a residential development or an industrial zone, and in the next moment to be in the silence of a bewildering green country, where a journey of forty or fifty miles is necessary to get to the farms and factories on the other side.

— John McPhee, “The Pine Barrens

The bay.


Sometime you may find yourself, improbably, at the southernmost reaches of New Jersey, perhaps on assignment at one of the state prisons. Then you might leave the gates and the wires and the big metal doors behind and pick up a mediocre gas station sandwich on your lunch break and drive just a few miles further to where the land gives way to the water, and the air is crisp and cold as shit and has that saline bite, like seltzer, and there are no signs of life except the reeds and the gulls and the picked-over exoskeletons of small crabs that they left behind. But then you’ll walk a little further down the path among the crooked pines and see a cardinal, then a bluejay, and yet more dead crabs, and you will lose yourself for just a bit before you remember, shit, I’ve got a long fucking drive, and you amble back in your beat-up hatchback toward the Turnpike.