• Frances Schwabenland

The Pine Barrens of New Jersey

In the visually stunning and compelling documentary, "The Hidden Life of Trees", forester Peter Wohlleben shows how trees communicate with one another. Trees take care of offspring and warn each other about enemies. Wohleben described them as social beings and in one handful of forest soil, there are more living organisms than humans on earth. The whole forest is connected through the tree roots and the fungi network. The World Wide Web exists under the earth!



On Sunday, I had the sheer pleasure of photographing in the New Jersey Pine Barrens with two extraordinary photographers, Bob Laramie and Richard Lewis, the author of "Photographing the New Jersey Pine Barrens." In 1988, The United Nations declared the approximately 1.1 million acres of the Pine Barrens a UNESCO Biosphere. There is the Upland Forest of pine trees which can be seen by many on the drive to the Jersey shore. The Lowlands consists of bogs, marshes, savannas, vernal ponds and more. Cedar Swamps are populated with the Atlantic white cedar trees and tend to be along the banks of the rivers and other waterways.



Even though I live so close, this was my very first time in the Barrens. We met at 6 am and I was grateful that Bob had a huge 4 wheel drive to get us deep into the forest to one of the bogs. Dramamine would be recommended to the faint of heart! Small winding dirt roads with branches dinging at every turn. We parked just in time as the night sky slowly lifted to the morning light. I felt as if I was watching a beautiful stage performance with the curtain slowly rising on a never before seen show. I was anxiously awaiting to see what would emerge from the darkness. It was mystical. Out of the silent stillness, my eyes adjusted to the rich hues of golds, reds and greens. Straggly branches reached in all directions...curved, rigid, flexible. It enfolded us and took us in. We became one with this powerful mystery. We could not help but feel reverence for this pulsing energy of life. Rather than just seeing the trees as simply carbon and nutrients, the sense of awe took over as we realized the connections with the trees are so very crucial to our well being as they also are symbols of endurance, flexibility, rootedness and rising to reflect upon.



We walked through the water of the bogs to photograph the varied angles, light and colors. Rich said that he would be very disappointed if I did not get mud on my jeans and of course I hate to disappoint. At one point, my foot was just pulled down into a deep hole and my body followed. I was up to my waist in water and mud but I saved my camera!!! My boot just kept sinking lower and lower into the muck and I was finally able to pull my foot out of it and unless Rich goes back to retrieve it, years and years from now, someone will come across a flowered women's boot...Maybe next time, I should rethink my fashion choice for something more "sturdy" and I hate to say, "manly". This was my "baptism" ritual on sacred ground and afterwards, I actually walked proudly with Bob and Rich into a restaurant, sopping wet and covered in mud!



I would encourage everyone to contact Rich and take one of his private tours. He has such knowledge of the area and his entire demeanor speaks to photographing with the utmost respect and responsibility. You will hear the whispered request to be a true steward of this most valuable resource of nature and you will be mesmerized by it all!

Photographs are copyrighted and written permission is required for use in any form. Prints on metal are available sale.

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