NJ Visit and Empty Sky Memorial

I enjoyed a short but lovely visit with my son in Jersey City, NJ over the Christmas holidays.  A bit of culture shock for me to stay in the city, after living out here in the Daniel Boone National Forest.  On Christmas day, with temperatures incredibly in the mid-50s and the sun shining,  we decided to visit Liberty State Park and walk off our dinner.  Amazingly, even though I was born, raised, and lived in NJ until 1995, I’ve never been there or even close to the Statue of Liberty.  And, I had not been anywhere close to the NY Skyline since 9-11.

They’ve built a beautiful memorial in Liberty Park, called the Empty Sky Memorial.  It was dedicated on Sept. 11, 2011.  You can read more about this park here.  The two walls are as long as the Towers were wide and direct the visitor to a view of Ground Zero, just across the water and a little more than a mile away.  The names of NJ residents lost on 9-11 are inscribed on the walls.  The Freedom Tower is filling the empty space where the Towers once stood.

Under Construction - the Freedom Tower


Old train station

The old train station is still there, and I realized my father probably came right through here after Ellis Island.  We drove around to the other side of the park and then walked again, for a closer view of  Liberty  and Ellis Islands.  From this vantage point we were behind the Lady, but that didn’t matter.  I couldn’t help but think of my father, my grandmother, my aunt and uncles who came to America in the early 1920s, passing through this place – and tried to imagine what they were thinking and feeling.

Statue of Liberty

Ellis Island

I’m sort of ashamed that it’s taken me this long to get this close, especially having grown and spending most of my life in NJ. I suppose, living a little over 50 miles away, it was either too far, or we just never found the time.  Or,  quite possibly, we just took it all for granted.

But I think getting closer to it, seeing it in person – is something every American should  do.  You’ll understand why when you do it.


Bearly There (sorry)

 NJ Black Bear – photo by Rob Socha

A few ‘bear aware’ flyers and posters are beginning to appear around town – especially in sporting goods stores or places that sell feed. A bear population in KY is a relatively new thing – which seems rather odd considering the amount of bear habitat here. But the bears have been gone since around 1900.  The wooded habitat was severely logged, and the bears hunted without laws or limits.

The forest habitats have largely recovered from excessive logging, and black bears are now finding their way into eastern Kentucky from Virginia and West Virginia, and in southern KY, from Tennessee. We’re sort of between the two, in south-central KY very close to Tennessee in the Daniel Boone National Forest, and only 20 miles from the Big South Fork Recreation Area.  Plenty of prime bear habitat – but we have heard of only one or two sightings.  I can’t believe that there are no bears here, so I’m thinking the lack of sightings may be due to the fact that, unlike overpopulated New Jersey (a few old posts  here and here) the bears in KY simply have plenty of open space and don’t venture near or stay around people long enough to be seen.

The current bear situation in KY reminds me of NJ when I was a kid in the 60s.  I’m sure there were a few around, but we never, ever saw them. I saw my first bear in NJ in the mid 80s, only because I was with the bear biologist and we were tracking a radio-collared female. Come to think of it, we never did actually see her – she kept moving away whenever we got close.

According to the Fish and Wildlife authorities here, the number of bears in KY is unknown.  There are enough, however, in three eastern counties that there’s going to be a short bear hunting season this December. Of course there is.  I won’t say any more about that….

For now, having come from NJ where bears are commonplace, I’m enjoying not having to worry about them being in my face.  But the truth is, I miss seeing them.  Surely, they belong in woods as vast as these, and I’m certain they are out there. I”m hoping we can continue to enjoy this natural balance, where they remain wild and in the woods instead of parked in my yard.

I have all this new-found freedom!  I can hike here and be outside without constantly watching for bear. I can put up my bird feeders and suet without imposed restrictions from the authorities. I can leave my birdfeeders out overnight. Still can’t leave the trash, but that’s due to coyotes, feral cats, raccoons, opossums, neighborhood dogs, and other mysterious nighttime critters.

So far, my suet and bird feeders have been molested only once by raccoons.  I’ve hung them out-of-reach on a wire line now, so the raccoons will have to scrounge for leftovers on the ground. When my hanging suet and sunflower feeders disappear, and when I find my cross wire ripped out of the poles and on the ground, I’ll know there’s been a bear in the yard.  Or maybe Bigfoot.  Cain’t never tell around here….

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