I grew up next to an old abandoned nudist colony called Nature’s Rest founded by the friends of the guy who ran NYC’s garbage industry for the Italian mob at the turn of the last century, but that is not the interesting part of this post. Before, the poultry farm, the brickwork and its cable cars, and General Lacy’s (who hid General Howe on his lot after his refusal to go north to Saratoga during the Revolutionary War) bog iron industry, and the nudist colony there was a Native American community. What remains is their bonsai forest.
In the Pitch Pines of NJ, we have very flexible trees. Near the headwaters, the native Lenni Lenape would create their burial grounds. Much like ours today, with some wonderful landscaping.
One of the landscape designs was to bend trees at 90-degree angles for decoration and to serve as trail markers. The picture below is of one of them. You can tell it is not natural, for when you look above the trunk at the bend, you will see where the original top of the trunk was cut off.
Other landscape designs would have circles of various species of trees in which they forked the tops to look like antlers. Usually, next to them, they would also have trees shaped to look like lightning bolts. Another feature of these gardens was to bend them while they are young and let them spray out like giant spreading junipers. There will also be one or two bull pines, which they would lean at 45-degree angles.
Now, where I grew up playing in, this old nudist colony was actually one of their cemeteries. In the area, the Boy Scouts would pitch their tents are about thirty circular depressions in the ground where many of the natives were buried. Also, where the burned-out farmhouse was and by the old apple trees is still a large open field with circular indentations. Once you disturb the ground in the pines, it never comes back. In this cemetery and the other one on the other side of the neighborhood by the pond that disappears and comes back, lichen grows in the open spaces they cleared centuries ago. Another feature of their landscaping is mountain Laurel hedges. Also, they had plentiful wintergreen patches next to the scrub oak they cultivated for the acorns. The blueberries, well, they are just everywhere.
Now, between the two native cemeteries, was their neighborhood. Each lot had a circle of forked trees on both sides, with oaks in the center. Each had about an acre.
Now the secret to this is when things might strike you down thinking that life is a bitch, keep looking up. You will be amazed at what you find. Plus, if you are looking up, you are not looking down into the grave or up from one…
It is also better to think of the people who lived in your neighborhood before you who had good or average lives, rather than a couple of nudists who owned property with the mobster that dropped murder victims into the mineral quarries next to where the Hindenburg blew up.
Like visiting, your grandparents, it is better to focus on the living and happiness they once spread through the world. Not of the tragedies that once befell an area, even if they sound cool and made documentaries about them (Oh, the Humanity!). So learning from that, I walk with the spirits of the Lenni Lenape that once went through my woods and no longer feel the presence of the nude mobster who would drive through town with his rat rod with the devil hick hood ornament thumbing his nose to the Pineys.
Looking for the Lenni Lenape’s ornamental trees is much more fun now, but I still look for the bog iron that General Lacy’s men have left behind too by the edge of the ponds…