To waste, to destroy our natural resources,
to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it
so as to increase its usefulness, will result in
undermining in the days of our children the very
prosperity which we ought by right to hand down
to them amplified and developed.
In the woods off Rt 511 in Boonton, New Jersey, on a tract of high ground know as Pyramid Mountain, is a large boulder that the locals call 'Bear Rock'. Its unusual shape and some Lenni Lenape Indian artifacts discovered there in recent years, suggest that it was probably used as a shelter by Native Americans who hunted the area centuries ago.
I drive by there often and as I made the trip on my Harley Davidson this afternoon on one of the first really pleasant days of the year, I found myself thinking about the time a few too many years ago, when I first hiked through the woods on Pyramid Mountain. I was nine years old and a proud member of Cub Scout Pack 104. The memory came gently like a soft breeze and I drove my Harley off the side of the road and down a narrow trail that ended at a narrow brook. Then dropping my helmet, I pushed down the kickstand and took a walk into my past. It felt somewhat like returning home after a long absence, but then, Pyramid mountain has always affected me that way.
My first hike there with the Cub Scouts in 1956 was an eagerly awaited adventure. I had imagined encountering wild bears, wolves and Indians, but what I found was something much more rewarding than the realization of a young boy's daydreams.
What I discovered instead was a feeling. I had trouble describing it then and it isn't much easier today. It was a good feeling, one that reached all of the senses.
The smell of the trees, the taste of the autumn air, the sounds of the birds and squirrels and the running brook, the feel of the leaves and the grass under my feet, and most memorable of all, the magnificent sight of Bear Rock, which to a small boy was as staggering as Mount Everest.
I've never forgotten the experience.
The sun had disappeared behind a cloud several minutes earlier and we were all talking as we trekked along the beaten path, seeing Indians and wild animals behind every tree and pretending we were pioneers being led by Dan'l Boone himself.
And then, there it was.
Descriptive terms come to mind: majestic, imposing, regal, really big, and a hundred others that might adequately describe a large glacial erratic. However, there is no word or phrase in the English language to properly convey that little boy's awe.
Just at the instant I first laid eyes on the boulder, the sun came back out and the talking ceased. It seemed that even the birds had stopped singing for a moment. I do recall one sound though. Struck speechless for perhaps the first time in my life, I'm sure I heard a choir of angels.
It may have been my imagination but...
When I got home I couldn't wait to tell my dad about the big rock and the fun we'd had. And today, when I think of Bear Rock, one of the memories it stirs is an image of my father listening with great interest to my story about the strange singing.
I also remember my Scout Leader, Jerry Scott.
It was there on Pyramid Mountain that he gave us our first lesson on ecology and the environment.
It was nearly fifteen years before I returned there.
I was a twenty three year old Marine sergeant recently returned from Southeast Asia and finding it difficult to adjust to a world which seemed radically different from the one I'd left behind.
I wasn't sure about anything anymore.
I'd lost friends, innocence and just about any expectation of anything ever being the same again.
I went to visit Jerry Scott and we took a ride out through the country to Pyramid Mountain. It seemed that as I had gotten older, Jerry had gotten younger and by this time he was one of my closest friends.
We left the car and took the same trail we'd hiked that day a lifetime before.
It was a fine day to be out in the woods. The trees were coming into full bloom and the air was fresh with the scent of new grass and wildflowers.
The tension, stress and confusion I'd been feeling seemed to lessen as we walked along, not really paying attention to the time or where we were going. The sun faded behind a cloud for a while and I was totally unprepared for the sight before me as we came upon Bear Rock for the second time in my life.
The sun came back out just as it had done fifteen years earlier and with it, the same feeling I'd had the first time.
In my mind I saw nine little boys in Cub Scout uniforms, on the lookout for Indians and wild animals.
I heard Jerry telling tales of the Lenni Lenape and how they loved the land. Once again I was at a loss for words but it was okay. Words would have been out of place.
I learned something that day that I've never forgotten.
I really could go home again.
At least I could on Pyramid Mountain.
I've gone back often since that day.
It's a good place, a place to go and remember. I even bought a house nearby so I could walk to my remembering place whenever I wanted. And when I relocated to New England for four years, I still went and spent time on Pyramid Mountain whenever I returned for a visit to my family.
Now that I've come back home to New Jersey to stay, I again have the opportunity to visit my remembering place where I can happily and quietly recall my childhood.
I go there to remember that little boy.
I go there to remember Dad and Jerry, both gone to a better place now...a place that I hope is as tranquil and beautiful as Pyramid Mountain.
Not too long ago, I heard that my remembering place is being considered for development into a condominium complex or some such commercial enterprise.
If I had the resources, I'd buy it myself to protect it the way it has protected my memories for all these years. Unfortunately, I have more memories than riches, but those memories are more valuable than any riches to be gleaned from desecrating such a special place.
There's something intangible there, something that grabs the spirit and won't let go. The Lenni Lenape would call it a 'Place of Good Medicine'.
Vietnam, cancer, political corruption, drugs and pollution have taken away many of the things our generation grew up with and loved, like friends, the environment and faith in the system.
It is difficult at times to believe things will ever be truly normal again. I'm not even certain I would recognize normal today if I saw it.
Saving Pyramid Mountain might be a step back in the right direction.
Without our Pyramid Mountains, we wouldn't be able to go home anymore.