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Meandering with My Mutt: The embrace of nature


This sunny, balmy mid-February day holds the promise of spring but I don’t trust Mother Nature on this one. She has a way of lulling us into a false sense of warm weather security and then surprising us with wintry wrath, and after all spring is yet a month away.

Noah and I are at Voorhees State Park in Hunterdon County, N.J., exploring the trails here being a first time experience for us. In 1929 the original park lands were donated by Foster Voorhees a former New Jersey governor, his 325 acres later enlarged to 640 through succeeding land acquisitions. Members of the Civilian Conservation Corps occupied the area during the Great Depression and can be credited with building roads and parking lots, constructing shelters and picnic sites, planting trees, and establishing trails, creating the beautiful park folks enjoy today.

As we arrive and drive past the park office and down the park road, we appear to be the sole visitors at this point in the morning with the luxury of having the park all to ourselves. Given my feeble sense of direction, I have prudently printed up a park map that displays a number of color-coded trails. We embark upon the Brookside Trail, which runs along Willoughby Brook, its waters churning and tumbling over moss-covered rocks. Along the path a bench sits atop an incline with a view to the waters below. It invites me to sit, relax, take in the landscape, and enjoy the scenery, an invitation I willingly accept. Stay a while, it says, and I do.

Despite the monochromatic, winter landscape there are traces of greenery if one seeks them out. Interspersed throughout the forest are spruce trees, frequently scraggly, appearing to suffer from the domineering canopy of the towering hardwoods. Moss is everywhere and beneath our feet are patches of grass and tufts of wild onion grass. Wild onion grass has an unmistakable onion aroma and flavor and is a cousin of our garden grown chives, onions and garlic. Like the domestic versions, all parts are edible, although perhaps not quite as palatable.

Our path follows along the brook, zigzagging back and forth over it via wooden bridges. Noah descends the bank to partake of the icy water and, having quenched his thirst, leaps across in super dog fashion to avoid getting his tootsies wet. If possible, he has gotten even leaner and lankier, not yet fully grown into his rangy legs. He’s a confident, handsome fellow, his sleek, black coat gleaming in the sunshine.

At the top of Brookside Trail we turn left, crossing over a bridge and onto Hollow Trail, which brings us through the woods, skirts small fields and dives back into the forest, meandering along the brook. Eventually, it loops uphill and back onto our original trail where we savor our final moments outdoors before heading home. Whatever the season, the natural world embraces and nurtures, uplifting the soul and nourishing the spirit.

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