An Interview with 21st Century Pine Barrens Explorers Josh Loew and Roula Theodoropoulou

Disclaimer- Josh Loew and Roula Theodoropoulou contributed to this article in their own personal capacity. The views expressed are theirs and do not necessarily represent the views of author and Piney Tribe team administrator William Lewis.

“Frog things, turtle findings, nighttime bow fishing, native species, blueberry eats, saving the world one day at a time!”

Roula Theodoropoulou

“The future is written by the decisions of every person on this planet at every moment. Sometimes we believe we can take the wheel and direct it where we want. Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes we dream so much about the future that it seems to already exist. Sometimes that dream has to be erased. As we go through life, it is important to dream. It is important to hold on to the wheel, but when everything changes and the way we were heading becomes impossible or it is no longer what we want, we should learn to appreciate the beauty in the pure chaos, that is, the unwritten future.”

Josh Loew

Interview conducted on 10/07/2020

1) If you were forced to categorize your interests in the great outdoors what one would you say fits you best? Example botany, local history, geology, herping etc.

Josh- “A few months ago I would have been unsure.  I have interest in all of them. But I’ve narrowed it down today to native plants and fighting off invasive plants.”

Roula- “Narrowed it down to birds. I thought about this long and hard in the past. And my general interest from loving animals has narrowed down to just the flying ones.”

2) We never truly know the influence we have on others. Someone out there probably lots of someones look up to you in your endeavors in the Pines. Who do you list in your top 3 influencers of your own interest in adventuring?

Roula- “Steve Irwin 1st, he’s what I grew up with as a kid. A consistency I think I had in my childhood. I watched him as I grew up and I tried to be just like him. I didn’t take gender as a consideration. This is a man going out in the wild being all manly and crazy. But I didn’t take that into consideration. I wanted to be my own crazy wild nature adventure person in the future, and it stayed that way for many years.

2nd Dian Fossey, she wrote a book called Gorillas In the Mist where she talked about her adventures alone In Tanzania. She just went out there and studied silver back gorillas. I thought that was really cool. I think I was drawn into the bravery in these people and the independence and the curiosity that drove them into the wild. Just sitting with themselves their thoughts and their surroundings is what sparked my interest in both these individuals Steve Irwin and Dian Fossey.  And the fact that Dian Fossey was a woman, and she was brave enough to go out on her own and do those exhibitions. The book is what sparked my interest, but I have yet to see the movie.

3rd There’s a lot of famous people I can refer to. I think what also drove me to the direction of nature and loving it just the realization of the connectivity of everything.  I can sit down and read all these things about all these people and I can look at plants and birds all day long. The reality of it is I don’t find enjoyment in anything else other than the things going on outside. I feel that is the most important thing in life because without it we wouldn’t be here today. So, my third thing would be just the realization of the beauty of life itself if that makes sense. I gained that awareness in Yoga school and I think Yoga helped me get in touch with myself a lot more than college or high school ever had. With yoga I was able to get creative with my practices and having everyone else join me. And the most comforting space was just being outside and having everyone realize where they are when they’re doing it and how they’re doing it. And how everything works, and I think Yoga was the key to that.”  

Josh- “I’m going to have to go with Douglas Tallamy for my number one. He’s a writer. He’s been a big inspiration for me lately.  A new friend of mine Jane Galetto introduced me to Douglas Tallamy’s works. I read them as soon as I got my hands on the books and it took me one day to read through them. Bringing Nature Home and later I got Nature’s Best Hope. Reading those two books fueled my interest. Now I’m reading more books on the topic. Studying native plants and understanding the importance of native plants for wildlife. It helped me kind of take my interest in all things and narrow it down to plants specifically native plants. It encompasses everything else. Without those native plants everything else would cease to exist.  

2nd Family in general. All of them I feel had some role in shaping my interest in nature. While they are much attached to nature and very much interested in nature it is in a very different way. They are outdoorsmen they hunt and fish. To spend time looking at different plants and identifying them or identifying insects or birds to them that’s just abnormal. It doesn’t make sense. I’ve spent time explaining to them why I’m pursuing biology. Many of the men in my family have traditionally been tradesman mainly welders. I know they wanted me to be a welder. I started to pursue that field. I always held on to the adventures in nature I had as a child going hunting and fishing. While they’re out catching fish, I’d be on the banks scooping up little fish trying to figure out what I was catching. I was always a little different that way. But they’re the ones that introduced me to nature and sparked all those interests. I gotta give them credit for that.

3rd past work experiences; I worked for 7 years every summer and on weekends Beaver Dam boat rentals. The business was focused mainly crabbing where the customers went out to catch crabs. There was always beautiful with bald eagles flying and everything. But the beauty of nature didn’t catch up to me until a few years working there when I was promoted to be a tow boat operator. I was driving customers out and bringing them to their spots. I found the job more enjoyable by being able to explain to the customers more about the wildlife. So, I took it upon myself to learn more about the local wildlife that way I could tell them about it. I just made me feel that I was better at my job being able to say, “Today you might not catch that many crabs as the conditions aren’t right but you came a long way and your still going to enjoy your day. Because if you look over this way there is nesting bald eagles.  If you look along the marsh, you might be lucky enough to see baby rail birds.” I learned about the different species of birds and different fish and felt so much better about everything. Being able to make customers enjoy what they were seeing rather than focuses on the crabbing portion. I did another job for last few summers at the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge. Two summers as an intern and one summer under a fellowship program at the refuge some of it in the Pine Barrens doing invasive plant management. I would work side by side with a US Fish & Wildlife biologist inspired me a lot for Wildlife biology. That’s the direction I want to head for my future career as a wildlife biologist for the Fish & Wildlife. Definitely a big influence on me just hearing how passionate the Wildlife biologist was and how much knowledge she had. That was my first introduction to an ornithologist. We were on the beach one day and she says, “Stop I hear a piping plover.” And I’m like what are you talking about? It had to be a mile down the beach, but she heard it and knew exactly what species it was and that was impressive.”   

3) Do you prefer solo or group outdoor adventures?

Josh- “I’m pretty solo. I like doing educational things though. If I take friends who don’t appreciate nature like I do, it won’t be that kind of journey. If I take my nephews out, I can teach them things.”

Roula- “It depends. Some days I like to go by myself. I’ve done plenty of camping and hiking alone where I found satisfaction. Then there are days I kinda want to bring another person with me to experience this with.”

4) What’s your typical mode of operation (MO) when it comes to how you interact with your interest. Is it pure hobby, part nostalgia, or academic in purpose? What’s your goal from doing it?

Josh- “I’ve done it for each of those reasons. I’ve done it for academic reasons for herpetology to find a certain number of species. I’ve gone just to enjoy nature. Sometimes just to learn some more. I do sometimes feel guilty spending too much time in the woods by myself. I feel like there should be other things I should be doing instead. I’m always trying to find a good explanation for it like taking my nephews on a field trip to just get myself to feel ok with what I’m doing. Which is kinda funny its almost like I feel guilty about doing something I enjoy?”  

Roula- “I think its comfort reasons. I find comfort in nature. I don’t do shopping therapy I find that extremely stressful. I seek the answers that I don’t even realize I’m looking for in nature. This is nourishment. Every time I go out you here different birds, you hear the wind blowing the leaves rushing; everything. You hear that you smell that its just pure nourishment. Does that make sense?”

5) Is there a way to encourage people to follow your passion or should we not encourage others that may or may not be respectful in the same manner to the environment?

Roula- “There are so many different aspects of nature that people can relate to that no matter what we do we can at least attract one person. Or even if a person can act that they hate everything about nature I believe there is at least one thing that they can relate to with nature. Instead of trying to convince these people otherwise I think the best thing to do is to continue live your life the way you do. Show the different things you do everyday in nature. All these adventures and see what ways you can inspire people with those different adventurers. Its never the same. I don’t think you can force someone to love something but I think you can change perspectives to a more peaceful and understanding empathetic perspective when it comes to nature. No matter what way you do it.”

Josh- “There are a lot of people that don’t understand nature well enough and when they do go into nature, they can cause damage. There are the people that ride four wheelers and dirt bikes through places where they aren’t supposed to. There are people who blindly stomp on plants. It could be a rare orchid in the forest, and they don’t see it. There definitely a unique challenge to communicate with the public about their interactions with nature. Of course, we want to encourage it because that interaction is what fuels the interest which is going to fuel the desire to gain knowledge about it. And then that person will become that person that does respect nature. But then there are also people that never will be comfortable going into nature. Craziest as that is to me it’s the truth. I’ve found that a lot of times people just don’t understand a lot of things about nature. I do my best to try to educate as much as possible. In the FFA it encouraged us to be proactive and not reactive.  Someone says something negative about nature or something and you start arguing with them. Its better to promote that positive thing that you think. So, they see that before they something negative. For example, about saying something negative about deer hunting. Instead I post about myself deer hunting in the most educational way possible. I understand the biology of it the conservation of it. So I give that perspective rather than arguing with people who don’t understand it. I try to educate them before we get into that sort of situation. I just recently did this. I harvested a white tail doe. I posted photograph on my social media. I’ve accumulated a bit of a following (on social media) and I know a lot of these people aren’t nature-oriented people like myself. I posted a black screen with a warning that said, “Warning deer hunting photo coming next.” Caption this is why people deer hunt, and this is what it does. And the next picture was me with the deer. Posted it and I felt good about it. Probably ten people messaged me and thanked me. And not thanking me for saving them from seeing it but thanking me for sharing the information that they didn’t know before. I really felt good about that. A lot of people can enjoy nature by just seeing it on the screen. Seeing their friends interact with nature that seems to satisfy a lot of people. Just my experiences posting about nature people love it and appreciate but I don’t see them going and doing the same thing. Ways we can educate people more, but my main message is to be proactive and send out the right information.”   

6) How many people do you know that have told you that what you do in the wild is crazy or kinda weird?

Roula- “Like everybody. A bunch of people that I went to school with like in high school and college.”   

Josh- “My little sister comes over with her young adult friends they think it’s hilarious when I start talking about native plants. “Oh my gosh you and your plants!” I’ll be planting trees. I’m big on this idea of ecological landscaping. My dad is always saying since high school he’s encouraged me to be a welder. He really things its foolish to pursue a wildlife position. People also look at me like I’m Crocodile Dundee. What I do is normal to me. But the way I dress people compare me to Crocodile Dundee.”

7) What’s the best resource you can share with someone looking to pursue your specific hobby?

Josh- “Douglas Tallamy’s two books; Bringing Nature Home and Nature’s Best Hope. If you read any of those two books your view of nature should change. My entire prospective of everything has changed since reading those two books. The simplest but greatest plan for conservation this country has ever seen. Rachel Carson has a great argument but totally different areas. Douglas Tallamy has the best action for ordinary people. The Pine Barrens should have very specific vegetation and Tallamy talks about the importance of keeping the right plants where they belong.”

Roula- “Douglas Tallamy books too. What this man has to offer is absolutely brilliant. It’ll change all sorts of perspectives. It shifted mine for sure as a bird lover and conservation. Every time I think about doing something productive my mind always goes to, “What can I do that can help benefit biodiversity today?” That’s how he shifted my perspective. Me being selfless connected with nature and how I can benefit it.”

8) What’s one thing you’d like to change about our current New Jersey environment?

Josh- “Native plants; this is a country wide thing. Super important for New Jersey where there is a lot of suburban areas and rural areas too.  The whole state could benefit from changing the traditional mindset on landscaping. Everyone wants to have this pure luscious green lawn. This strange status symbol that we’ve created in this country. That no one benefits from it. Humans don’t eat grass. Must insects and animals don’t eat grass. Basically, useless land. People could use their land much better if they were growing vegetables for food. Best option is to plant the plants that belong there. Native vegetation is what provides the insects and food sources for our native wildlife. We are holding on to some weird cultural practice that makes absolutely no sense.”

Roula- “I’m going to have to agree with Josh on planting native plants. I think that is extremely important and crucial for native biodiversity. One thing that I’ve recently been complaining about is noise. I would like a reduction in noise pollution. And a lot of people find it absurd, “Like what’s the big deal?” How do you think I was able to memorize 250 bird vocals? By peace and quiet. Being able to sit down in the dark or wherever I am in the woods and just listen. Just listen and get in tune with yourself. Understand yourself you understand everything else around you.”

9) I may have asked this and or you answered it in another question but now that you had more time to think on it, “What drives you to your specific sport?” Is it exercise, mental renewal, religious experience etc.?

Roula- “What drives me to birds? I think communication drives me to that. I feel like birds have a lot to say. Birds are talking about all sorts of things. And I think to understand them better and understand their situation in nature you gotta understand their calls. I think its so complex. I think communication is really important. Josh says, “Roula has a gift. She can just hear birds and know what they are. She hears them and has a picture of them in her mind. Somehow her brain processes sound in an incredibly unique way that is really impressive to me”

Josh- “I had a High school running coach. He told me, “The secret to life is one thing.” It comes from an old movie. He was trying to convince me that I should focus on running. I was involved in too many things but that is how I wanted to be. I didn’t want to focus on one thing. I kinda held onto that quote and find it interesting to look back on. But I started thinking about it more when I got interested in biology. What is my one thing? This person is interested in birds that person is interested in sharks. Everybody seemed to have their thing. And I could never figure mine out. It seemed like whatever class I went into that suddenly was my thing. I was super interested in whatever I was learning about. I was in herpetology and this is it. I’m all about herpetology. Then I get into ornithology I’m like this is it I’m all about birds. Finally, I got to go to Costa Rica on a trip for tropical ecology in school. I thought this was my chance. Whatever I like most on this trip that was my thing. We were supposed to bring one field guide on the thing we were most interested in. I brought every field guide; plants, birds, and herps. I went there I was mostly interested in birds and herps but mainly herps. I thought that was it, but I went home and there wasn’t as many herps and as interesting to me as it was before. Then I got introduced to Douglas Tallamy. Then everything suddenly became connected. I’m interested in everything and everything depends upon the native plants. Ever since I read those books nothing has been able to change my deepest interest my deepest passion as botany. Studying the impact of invasive plants and the necessity of native plants.  It’s the connection to all things that you find in plants.”

10) Do you consider yourself a Piney?

Josh- “Yes definitely I live on the edge of the Pines. But there is something about it. Immerse myself in the pines is a special feeling. I think that’s why that was our first date. Roula came down to hang out with me and I was loading up the kayaks in the truck and I said get in we’re going on a trip. We paddled out amongst the sand and the pine trees and set up our hammocks in a Pinus rigida. We had our hammocks set up on those giant pine trees and it was the perfect night for a first date. I don’t think we’ll every forget that. There was a reason I took her there as our first date. I think that says a lot. The first place you wanna bring someone that first place you want to show someone. Paddling in we were listening to whip-poor-wills her first time hearing them. We just kept talking about how beautiful the landscape was. I Never want to leave South Jersey. I always want to be able to visit the pines.”  

Roula- “My story growing up was very nomadic. I was all over the place. Because I grew up going back and forth from the United States and my home country Greece. As a child my parents did a lot of moving back and forth. So, when I started growing up as a teenager and early adult years I just continued with that pattern. I kept moving. I’d go up mountains. I’d go down south, constantly moving. I’d always stay here in the northeast area though. I just kept going. A lot of people say that humans naturally go back to what we are comfortable with. Which is why a lot of us stay in what we know and what we are comfortable with? But I’m so used to adaptation that I came up with this quote, “Find home in every place you meet.” I relate to that a lot because of the amount of moving I had to do throughout my entire life. That is also a big part of my connection with nature. Getting to know Josh and hanging out with him it makes me feel like I’ve found my place or my home. Wherever we end up if we are together, and we do the things that we love I think that will be my place that I find home. I can definitely say I love the Pine Barrens.”

An Interview with Pine Barrens Explorer Albert Horner of Medford Lakes New Jersey

“Photography is a way of preserving wildland. Pinelands is preserved more or less. I feel more comfortable out in the woods.”- taken from ArtC TV interview Apr 28, 2020.”

Albert Horner

Albert Horner contributed to this article in his own personal capacity. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of author and Piney Tribe team administrator William Lewis.

I continue to find myself accumulating friends who are the ‘Lewis & Clark’ of the 21st century and their passion is the New Jersey Pine Barrens and surrounding natural areas. I am hosting a series of interviews and photos from each of these Piney Explorers. Sometimes I feel like I need to keep up with their awesome discoveries but mostly I’m in awe of our shared passion for wild places. One positive from social media is the window it opens to the lives of other’s adventures. It’s so easy to get swept up in their energy and their world view as seen threw camera, binoculars, hand lens, kayak, and the written word. Thanks for reading and from the Piney Tribe a big thank you for loving our Pine Barrens!

 

 

9/30/2020 Interview questions:

1)     If you were forced to categorize your interests in the great outdoors what one would you say fits you best? Example botany, local history, geology, herping etc.

“It’s being in the landscape. Its pretty unique and not found in a lot of places other than South Jersey. There are some Pine Barrens in Long Island and a piece up in Cape Cod. I pretty much grew up around the area. I caught my first fish caught at Atsion Lake. I had a friend who owned one of the cabins that were first built. I spent my early springs and part of my summer there.

I have difficulty describing it, but I know it’s part of my feelings about the Pinelands is how it smells in the Spring. My experiences when I was young around the Pinelands and spending so much time at Atsion Lake. I always recognize that smell. Sort of like after the first dry period after it rains, and it starts to get warmer. It is the smell of cedar or the cedar water to tell you the truth. I look for really different landscapes. The Pinelands isn’t this vast array of mountains and valleys. Basically, its scrubby pine and oak forest. You really have to look for things that are pleasing to people that you can photograph. Finding those unique little spots. If you ever been up at Apple Pie Hill, Forked River mountains, or East Plains where you can get an idea of the vastness of it. I have always thought I would like to explore as much of it as possible. And I really have.

Fifteen years ago I started to get serious about photography. I really had this urge to produce really fine photographs that were large that you could hang on a wall. I took this image in Friendship bogs. Way back in the bogs a friend and I were roaming around. I took an image of the moon rising. And it stuck with me. That’s where I’m going to photograph-I know it so well and its close to home. There is nothing better than photographing what you know. That’s what I mean by landscape.“

2) We never truly know the influence we have on others. Someone out there probably lots of someones look up to you in your endeavors in the Pines. Who do you list in your top 3 influencers of your own interest in adventuring?

“John McPhee obviously. I read the book when it first came out. Also, there was one particular uncle who spent a lot of time in the Pinelands. But I never knew a lot of people associated with the Pinelands. I always just explored it on my own. I was my own model. I wanted to see what was around the next corner, around the bend, the other side of the river. A lot of that was done with friends I hunted with.”

3) Do you prefer solo or group outdoor adventures?

“Solo. Absolutely. I have a shooting partner but only because he is so memorized by the Pinelands and a pretty darn good photographer. When I go out, I just like to go. If I’m going for photographing, I go for one specific photograph. I don’t go looking for photographs.  I go to make a photograph that I already know exists and you can’t do that with a group of people. This friend of mine that has been photographing with me I can literally call him up at any time and say let’s go and off we go. I used to do workshops they were always fun because I was introducing people to the Pinelands.”

4) What’s your typical mode of operation (MO) when it comes to how you interact with your interest. Is it pure hobby, part nostalgia, or academic in purpose? What’s your goal from doing it?

“Advocating for the Pine Barrens. I hate using the word Pine Barrens because I think it is very misleading but advocating for the Pinelands. I’ve done it in many ways. I would not be wrong or egotistical in saying I started a whole genre of photographers going out there to make really good images. I pretty much did it on my own for probably 9 or 10 years and then more and more people got involved. That is the catalyst to help preserve it and help expose it. I believe that its under used. I think the state is very remis in maintenance or their idea how important it is. As a result, the Pinelands are definitely not that user friendly unless you go to Whites bogs or Batsto Village(s). But if you wanted to drive hundreds of miles of sand roads you’re pretty much taking your life at risk. You could be stuck forever on one of those roads. I always thought if I could show people a really good image it would inspire people to want to preserve it. As a secondary consequence lots of people have taken up their cameras. I have a Facebook page called Pinelands Photography and Arts Coalition mostly photographers but artists as well.”

5) Is there a way to encourage people to follow your passion or should we not encourage others that may or may not be respectful in the same manner to the environment?

“Yeah, I believe the Pinelands should be and is open to everyone. But I get back to the lax attitude of the State of New Jersey for not having a motorized access plan. Its created numerous problems both in the destruction of land and destruction of wetlands. It could be much better controlled where more people could get around freely. With a motorized access plan roads could be maintained and roads could be blocked off. I have no problems with blocking off important estuaries, savannas, and intermittent ponds. Guts and life of the Pinelands. Its wide open for off-road vehicles. They do a horrible job and have done major destruction. I want everybody to be out there, but I want them to be responsible. The only way to be responsible is to be encouraged by the state where to go and where not to go. Do I want people out there, yes? Do I want them to ruin it no.”    

6) How many people do you know that have told you that what you do in the wild is crazy or kinda weird?

“I go out to take a photograph that I’ve already visioned. I’ll go out and estimate when the best time is to go there. Usually I only photograph in the morning 20 minutes before sunrise and 20 minutes after sunrise. Unless there is a fog bank or weather conditions that allow me to shoot more. Once the sun comes up over the trees the light is just horrible. There have been many mornings where I got up 4 o’clock even 3:30. One particular image I took 6 or 7 years ago. I drove from my house to the East Plains and never took the camera out of the bag cause the shot wasn’t there and I came home. On the 8th time it worked, and it worked great. And it is a pretty iconic photograph. People say to me you gotta be crazy. I always say to them especially if their photographers I say to them,” Do you want do this kinda work?” If they say yes than I’ll say you have to get up in the morning. It’s the truth. No control over mother nature. The only thing you have control of is where you go and hopefully your calling the shot with the right weather and your vision is made real. I only really look to make 12 photographs a year. When I go to do something, I key on one spot and keep going there and going there until I get the shot I want.”

7) What’s the best resource you can share with someone looking to pursue your specific hobby?

“The best resource for anybody to appreciate my hobby is to study the work of other photographers and painters. You are not copying them. People can put their tripod next to mine and they are not going to make the same photograph as I do. You learn what can be done. And you kinda make your own vision from there. You have to state your own purpose. I have 37 images of the Pinelands on exhibit at the State Museum. I have been inspired by watching or reading monographs from all types of photographers.”

8) What’s one thing you’d like to change about our current New Jersey environment?

“Controlling off road vehicles. I want everyone to have access. The question is how many people do you allow to have access. This is my big advocacy. The state is very reluctant to do anything, users and abusers. Number one threat to the Pinelands bar none. They go on Rides and do crazy things. I believe the state should ban every off-road event. Sanctioning of those events has created this bad culture.”

9) I may have asked this and or you answered it in another question but now that you had more time to think on it, “What drives you to your specific sport?” Is it exercise, mental renewal, religious experience etc.?

“For me it’s a spiritual experience. Not in a religious way. If there is such a thing as being close to god its watching the sun come up over a bog in the Pinelands. I usually have my camera setup already on a tripod using a cable release. I might take 20 photographs while I’m there. But more often than not I will say to myself, even out loud,” I can’t believe no one else is here to watch this.” All the years I’ve done this I’ve only ran into one person doing this and he was a birder.”

10) Do you consider yourself a Piney?

“No. The reason being when I grew up Chatsworth was the hunting capital of South Jersey. It was all hunting clubs. There were still people who literally made their living from the land. I met a few of them when I was growing up. I believe they were the true Pineys. They existed off what was there. Even if it was poaching deer. Lots of them pineconed and grew and picked blueberries and cranberries. Those are who I think were true Pineys. I think the rest of us today are just wannabes. Pineys really had passion for the land and they did nothing to destroy it. It was there when you go back to the Native Americans. I am here and this place can provide for me. Some people today may call themselves pineys. They poach snakes they pick flowers they shouldn’t and run their dirt bikes and ORVs wherever they want. And still can call themselves pineys. Whole lot of users and abusers out there that just don’t get it.”

An Interview with Pine Barrens Explorer Brian Parker of Mount Holly, New Jersey

“The beauty in something like kayaking is
you never know who will show up and you
can never predict the lessons you will learn
from listening.

Brian Parker

Brian Parker contributed to this article in his own personal capacity. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of author and Piney Tribe team administrator William Lewis.

8/19/2020 Interview questions:

1) If you were forced to categorize your interests in the great outdoors what one would you say fits you best? Example: botany, local history, geology, herping etc.

“Honestly, it would be personal and not just personal but rejuvenation. It’s what happens to me when I get to go outside. That connection with nature is the only thing that keeps me able to do everything else that I do. Completely helps recharge my batteries. Water… especially something about water I have to be near around water no matter where even if I live in a big city. I have to be able to see and get as close to water as I can get. Something about being outside that puts you in your place as far as the entire lexicon of the world and your place with god. And that you are just another speck in all of this. At the same time all these little specks come together to feed and nurture each other.”


2) We never truly know the influence we have on others. Someone out there probably lots of someones look up to you in your endeavors in the Pines. Who do you list in your top 3 influencers of your own interest in adventuring?

1- Huge John Woolman guy. He was a Quaker. There is a series of lakes called Woolman lake and a cottage. He grew up here. Helped found the Quaker friends here, he was a naturist, and he was an abolitionist. He would go to lecture other people he didn’t want to use a horse-drawn carriage because someone would use a black slave so he would walk to wherever he went. Where he found his love of nature.

2- For nature itself the boy scouts. I know that’s a broad range. That was a huge
introduction to me into camping and earning those badges and learning all kinds of things when I was a kid. Especially being stationed in Germany and all the hikes we would go on called Volks march. I had this cane. I used to go for the little sugar cubes they would give you fun as a kid. Each town they would take this nameplate of the town or mountain you climbed and attach it to your cane after each hike.

3- My dad. He lost his legs in 1974. Prior to that he definitely was a big outdoors person. Whenever he got some time, he was extremely busy in the Army and he always worked a second job especially with 8 of them to take care of and Army pay being horrible. But whenever he could he’d be outside. He would go out to in the woods. Love exploring. Brian Parker has been an adventurer since he was a kid.


3) Do you prefer solo or group outdoor adventures?


“Exploring I like to do by myself. I prefer by myself and then take other people show what I found. When you are out exploring if you’re not with someone who is like you there are a lot of other things you have to consider. Like are the bugs going to bother them, how much can they walk, getting wet will bother them, with myself I don’t have to worry about that.”


4) What’s your typical mode of operation (MO) when it comes to how you interact with your interest. Is it pure hobby, part nostalgia, or academic in purpose? What’s your goal from doing it?


“There is no one over the other. There are sometimes that I literally look at a map and say alright I heard about this place I wanna go and wanna see everything I can see about it. There is the explorer side. Then other times I say I’ve heard about this but I don’t know enough and I’ll pick up as many books as I can about something and try to read up about it first. And there are other
times where I’m looking for answers for other people. Very little of it is nostalgia because I’m always looking to understand something new and experience something new. I do go back to certain places but not looking to recreate what I already experienced but I’m looking to take someone else there or even go by myself and see what I missed. Combination of the three with
nostalgia being the least of.”


5) Is there a way to encourage people to follow your passion or should we not encourage others that may or may not be respectful in the same manner to the environment?


“I don’t want spots to explode and the cleanup can be horrendous. But I’m always trying to encourage people to got out and explore and to see beauty. To experience nature. To understand that it is there for us to help us. I’m part Cherokee and I’ve always felt that connection to Mother Earth. Whatever we take we are going to give back when we die. We are supposed to give back in abundance. If I do a cleanup, I’m not publicizing it for me. I’m publicizing for other people to understand hey this garbage is out there, and you don’t need an organization or a township to go out there and pick it up. Always, always trying to encourage people I don’t necessarily want them to exactly do what I do but do want them to get out and do something. Safety is paramount too. But most importantly understanding what you can and can’t do and the real dangers of the sport of kayaking.”


6) How many people do you know that have told you that what you do in the wild is crazy or kinda weird?


“Zero I wanna say. My niece posted a meme the other day on Facebook. It was like, “the world is on fire and Brian Parker is like yeah let’s go kayaking.” And the world is on fire and to me that’s why you need to take that time out and go kayaking or go running or go walk into the woods. Do something that can build up your defenses to deal with the world that is on fire. Or else you will succumb to depression or drug use or all kinds of things that can take you in the complete
opposite direction. People use to tell me I was crazy when I would kayak in February but now all my friends go out with me in February. Four years ago, they thought that but not now.”


7) What’s the best resource you can share with someone looking to pursue your specific hobby?


“I would probably say Fitness before I would say Kayaking. For kayaking team up with someone knows what they are doing then get personal experience. Not a book you can read. It’s the kinda thing that once you get in it you’ll know within 15 minutes if you love or hate it or in 15 minutes that you want to learn more. When I say fitness, I used to be a personal trainer and pointed out food was most important. Kayaking is a great physical activity but its not just the physical activity. It’s what it does for your mind when you are sitting in the middle of a waterway and looking at everything around you. Whether it is a pond or someplace like a reservoir or lake, you know where you can sit absolutely still and not do anything but take in every sound that goes in
around every bird and every mosquito or whatever. Or if you are in something, that’s like tidal and you have no choice but to go with the flow or go against the flow. Either way, it’s an intentional movement on your part as to what direction your go and how safe your going to stay in those times. That takes mental fitness. When I say fitness I definitely speak about the physical body but equally important is the mind and being outdoors and connecting to nature whether it’s
in the pines or anywhere else that is all about your mental fitness and mental stability. Which then leads to greater physical stability.”


8) What’s one thing you would like to change about our current New Jersey environment?


“People to understand that it is not difficult to not litter. I understand dumping. People have old TVs and they want to get rid of it and they don’t understand or don’t want to take the time to go to a dump. I don’t appreciate it I don’t like but I understand that mindset. I don’t understand when people go for a walk in a park and still throw their water bottle on the ground. I don’t get that. More than anything I would like to change that mindset if you brought it with you take it out. The old rule.”


9) I may have asked this and or you answered it in another question but now that you had more time to think on it, “What drives you to your specific sport?” Is it exercise, mental renewal, religious experience etc.?


“To me it’s all a religious experience. God is part of everything. It definitely more of rejuvenation for me. My mental sanity. IF I don’t connect frequently enough, I feel it. And a lot of people are like what is wrong with you because my tension levels go up. Everything in life is about balance and if I don’t have that balance it throws my perspective off when it comes to with other things I have to deal with and I’m a harsher person.”


10) Do you consider yourself a Piney?


“Definitely in spirit. When I was a kid 9 or 10. We lived in Mount Holly and would go out to my parent’s best friend’s house in Country Estates. Their backyard was sand. I knew that being out there was a completely different environment than Mt.Holly. And I loved it. I didn’t understand it but I felt like it was magic out there. When I got my license and after I went into the Air Force, I
would drive out there all the time. Browns Mills especially and go off dirt roads with a six-pack and find a water hole big enough to swim in. Cops never came back there. Drink for a little while listen to the radio and then got up and left. Took everything with you. For me I would absolutely consider myself a piney. At least in spirit I know I don’t live there. But I can not go out there. I’m
drawn to it all the time. And when I can bring people out there, I do. Like a friend of mine this last Saturday it was his first time out there. And he goes now I get it. Out of nowhere he says, “Now I get it.” 90% of the time when I kayak it’s out there. I have an infinity for it that you wouldn’t believe. Its pretty enchanting.”

An Interview with Pine Barrens Explorer James Pullaro of Leeds Point

Favorite quote from James, “A day where the most common spots were filled beyond capacity, I explored this amazing area deep within the Wharton Forest. It was so remote there weren’t even any ticks there! Lol. Needless to say, I saw no other Humans either.”

9/03/2020 Interview questions:

1) If you were forced to categorize your interests in the great outdoors what one would you say fits you best? Example botany, local history, geology, herping etc.

“Botany and history but basically develop relationship with the Pines, nature in general really. Just like anything that you love deeply of course you want to establish a more intimate relationship with it. If I had to boil it down to one thing is to develop a closer relationship with creation I in turn develop a closer relationship with the creator.”

2) We never truly know the influence we have on others. Someone out there probably lots of someones look up to you in your endeavors in the Pines. Who do you list in your top 3 influencers of your own interest in adventuring?

#1My dad. We grew up on the western edge of the Pine Barrens.  My father was a pretty good woodsman who introduced me at a young age to the woods.  Grew up just down the road from the Black Run Preserve over there in Marlton. Even though I was very familiar with the Pine Barrens I played in it it was my backyard my father taught me a lot of things. Both sides of my family are pretty recent Italian immigrants. My mom immigrated from Italy. My dad was born in America. His mom was born in US but his father was born in Italy. Records of family names could possibly have been here in Waterford since late 1800s right there in the Pines basically farmers who had a close connection to the earth. My dad though of 8 siblings was the only one who showed a great interest in nature, the woods, and sportsmen types like hunting. In 1959 he was in the paper for killing a 12 point buck with a recurve bow that he killed on the railroad tracks in Chatsworth. He knew the pines. When I was growing up he would take me out in Wharton and along the Mullica river showing me a lot of spots and we would go hunting out there as I got older. His skill in archery was awesome. As early as I could grip a bow he had one in my hand. He was also a craftsman, art runs in the family. With the woods though his favorite thing to do in his spare time was going into the woods. And that is how it is with me. If I have any bit of spare time I don’t want to go to the movies or the bar I want to go to the woods.

#2 Ted Gordon. Feel like I’m following in the footsteps of what he had done earlier with interest in botany, exploring, and the history of the area.

#3 And Budd Wilson. Two of them were friends as young men who went to the same university and had much of the same interests. Budd is highly regarded archaeologist of the Pines. He’s the one dug Batsto and Martha and many of the areas. Featured in many of the books I have read coming up. And I’ve become friends with both Budd and Ted. And had the pleasure of taking Ted Gordon out on explorations that I have found which is exciting.

3) Do you prefer solo or group outdoor adventures?

“I’m tempted to involve groups but at my heart I’m a solo explorer. Fifty percent of the time I’m solo and 50% my closest compadres join me who are into it the same way as I. These spots are very special to me and it may be a little selfish, but I like to keep them to myself. If my friends aren’t ready to join me, I don’t hesitate to go out on my own. Its like church to me. My style of exploring isn’t hiking from point A to point B. Its slow and almost always off trail through the swamps very meditative and spiritual experience for myself. The goal is always to go places where I don’t run into people. I want to feel like I could be in the middle of the Canadian wilderness.”

4) What’s your typical mode of operation (MO) when it comes to how you interact with your interest. Is it pure hobby, part nostalgia, or academic in purpose? What’s your goal from doing it?

“It really was 1995 became a complete fanatic about it and just really studying it and exploring it deeply. Spent a lot of years for portraits for hire. Focus art to illustrating various histories of the Pines that we don’t have pictures of like old sawmills. Recently a timeline of the Pines from 14000 years before to present. A mixed media piece. Also lately done illustrated album covers for local bands as well. Bachelors degree in illustration from Stockton University. You could call it a hobby interest but quite deep. Its on a deeper level than just a hobby. Its very much a part of life at this point who I am. Part academic as I point a good deal of time studying it. Botany is a study of sorts the history is too.”

5) Is there a way to encourage people to follow your passion or should we not encourage others that may or may not be respectful in the same manner to the environment?

“If I had something to give back I think it is the education. I’m not much of an activist type person. I think through education a lot of hearts can be turned towards the pines. That is what I do with social media for a number of years just presenting my experiences and my knowledge of the pines. These are the very things that caused me to fall in love with it. With the hopes that others would too. When you love something, you don’t want to hurt it generally. We should be careful about it. Jersey Pine Barrens group on Facebook I share a lot. I always protect sites don’t give locations at all. I try to drum up interest by the information or the history or the exploring without giving away exact locations. Trying to protect the forest that way. When you love something you like to express it at the same time it’s a double edged sword. There are so many people out there. The rivers are packed its hard to enjoy the rivers from Memorial Day to Labor day. That’s why a lot of my excursions are in the Winter. Example I’m up to my 20th annual winter camping and canoe trip in the Pines.”   

6) How many people do you know that have told you that what you do in the wild is crazy or kinda weird?

“Yes, I certainly get that. At the same time people who are close to me already know what I am about. They pretty much accepted it. I remember when I was going out canoeing and camping on the coldest weekends of the winter when it was going down to 4 degrees with snow predicted my parents would show some concern as we were younger than. But now even my wife and mom are used to it, so they don’t worry anymore. Another thing I enjoy is primitive skills or bushcraft. Some people think that is kinda funny, but I think I get more people who are interested in what I do because it is unique rather than think I am strange for it. Might spark an interest in some people.”

7) What’s the best resource you can share with someone looking to pursue your specific hobby?

“Depends on what aspect if it’s the exploring I’ve come to rely on Lidar and Satellite imagery. Before all we had was topo maps. That allowed me to explore the roads. Once I figured out where all the roads went, I became less interested in driving in the woods and began to want to find out what was in between those roads. Over the years I have come to realize the most interesting places in the pines are the low land/wetland areas where most of the diversity is and rare or unique plants grow. I’ll analyze that satellite imagery and find a place that looks interesting. Then set out to explore it. That is the ecological experience but there is the history part too. Studying it in books or old documents but also going out and trying to find the sites. There are so many sites in the Pines that have been forgotten. A lot of times I’m looking at old Mill sites by using maps from places like NJ Pine Barrens Forum (Boyds Maps) on the internet.”

8) What’s one thing you would like to change about our current New Jersey environment?

“Not to political or concern myself with that sort of thing but I think I don’t think we would have this forest anywhere close to how we enjoy it today if it wasn’t for the protections that were put in place. It was on the verge of definitely being exploited and developed. I hate to think about what South Jersey would look like if it wasn’t for the Pinelands Act. I’d like to see it be protected going forward for my daughter and my grandchildren hopefully. It’s a gem. People’s perception of New Jersey is quite different than my own. They don’t know how different South Jersey is to North Jersey. What we do have here is quite a gem in the Pine Barrens. That it exists in this great metropolitan region. It’s almost like what the Central Park is to New York City the Pine Barrens is to the whole metropolitan region.”

9) I may have asked this and or you answered it in another question but now that you had more time to think on it, “What drives you to your specific sport?” Is it exercise, mental renewal, religious experience etc.?

“Boils down to my relationship with nature and it doesn’t have to be just the Pines. Creation on the most basic level. I think that is the furnace. But also, the exploring goes hand in hand with it all. That is what gets me out there gets me out there alone deep into the woods away from people. Those times and places I get the best experience on that spiritual level that I’m trying to express. Equal parts exploring for me with study as well.”  

10) Do you consider yourself a Piney?

“Depends on how you define it. I don’t consider myself a Piney in the most traditional sense. I have a full-time job I don’t work the seasons. I’m not picking blueberries in the summer cranberries in the fall and pinecones in the winter. That’s one of the key characteristics of the Piney at least the formal definition. My family is relatively new maybe the 1880s. But they did reside not far from Atsion in Waterford. That’s the traditional sense I don’t assume that title. But if a Piney can be enthralled with the Pines and it’s their passion in life. Spends every possible opportunity or free time in it and studying every aspect of it who can’t be happier anywhere else. Under that definition absolutely I’m a Piney.”

What’s in a forest sky?

By now with social media injection into our daily lives we all have seen an image of the forest sky. You know when your hiking through a forest and you look up and see nothing but trees you take out your camera and snap a photo of the view above your head. Why do you think that is so interesting to folks?

The image above captures the dark mood of an Atlantic cedar grove with a cedar burl nicely. So what is the mood or feelings that the hiker is experiencing while staring at the forest canopy above? I’ll wager its a combination of things. If they are alone and new to the trail area it may be a bit of fear as the trees of the forest eclipse the sun. Giving the person a feeling of confinement. Hopefully that is but a fleeting emotion one that is hardwired into our caveman’s DNA.

Another feeling or mood that captures my thoughts at these moments can be described in a song lyric by Leon Russell. He sang, “And I love you in a place where there’s no space or time. I’ve loved you for my life, you are a friend of mine”. I find happiness in that moment. A sense that the trees are forever. That each single tree is but a part of the one living thing- the forest. The trees at the top they all got there over years of growth but that growth was together. Each tree’s presence inspired the surrounding trees to reach for the sky. The sunlight was their goal their reward was a long life surrounding by family.

If you know the forest trees that you are looking at well enough you may feel and understand your own life’s timeline and the space that it takes up. The trees above may stand as a reminder to you that your short time on this earth is dwarfed by the time these green sentinels enjoy. When one stands in a Florida Bald cypress forest and realizes the trees towering above are over 500 years in age one can not but feel young and question one’s own use of time on Earth. It’s definitely time well spent when one wanders into the woods!

I’m in love with the woods. Leon Russell explains it so well, “I’ve loved you for my life, you are a friend of mine.” I hope everyone looks up when in the woods and a new budding romance takes hold of their lives with nature. The forests are worth fighting for when you truly understand all that they mean to the people.

Humor me here and play along. The game below is to figure out what forest canopy are we looking at. I’ll list the forest types and you figure out if; A) you’ve seen and experienced that glorious view before and B) what tree type dominates the view. Three are Jersey inspired and two are Florida inspired. List of names are: Atlantic White Cedar, White Pine, Pitch pine, Slash pine, and Pond Cypress. Till we run into each other in Leon’s “place where there’s no space or time” take care of yourself.

JB Stone Saga continues…

Interesting, folks are still commenting and reading a post about the stone I found in the woods somewhere in Ocean County.  The story behind it plagues my sleep as well.  You know we all suffer from the Henry Beck condition.  Henry Charlton Beck was a newsman who captured details of old abandoned or lost towns of New Jersey both in the North and the South. HCB says, “It is my honest belief that in all of us there still lingers something of the early explorers, a something which in some measure may be appeased in retracing these journeys we have made.”Its that HCB condition that makes me wonder about what others have told me could be a 1700s property marker.

In Henry Beck’s book More Forgotten Towns of Southern New Jersey I let my imagination wonder and it finds two new possibilities. I have little credence that they match the evidence but are entertaining to think of. They are; 1) John Buckingham and or 2) John Bacon. Both are original characters in their own right and described in Henry’s book.

On page 89 John Buckingham is mentioned. I’ve personally visited a private hunting club that was part of Buckingham in Manchester down savoy road. Around 1873 he was in South Jersey area doing what Beck calls, “cedar-swamping.” Buckingham’s lumber camp turned into a town and lasted over 15 years but after the tragic death of Buckingham’s daughter who died by way of a cow trampling so too did Buckingham’s desire to run the business in the Pines.  The thing with the stone marker with the initials of JB on it is in a thick band of elder Atlantic cedar.

More farfetched is John Bacon discussed on page 86 of said Beck book. What if it wasn’t a property stone but a grave marker? Beck describes John Bacon as a refugee and a Pine Robber that eventually got shot. Supposedly by Mr. Cornet Cook in Egg Harbor. He was the leader of the Refugees and his death at Cedar Bridge Hotel was brought on by his own action in killing a local militiaman named William Cook prior to his own demise. Cedar Bridge Hotel was held by Penn Producing Company which also owned a chain of blueberry and cranberry plantations throughout the bog country.

Well the reason my dad and I went to that area where we found the JB stone marker is to see if we could relocate the Hessian Island. Grandpa Emery had passed onto his kids that a certain area in Ocean County was called Hessian Island. That is where the robbers hid out after holding up the local stage. Some of Becks writing makes me believe Hessian robbers may have been the deserters that became known as Refugees and Pine Robbers. In my research it seems the Hessians got a bum rap even though they were mercenaries they were not in America under their own free will. And that once colonists had close experiences with them they were surprised by their humanity.

In a weird connection could one of John Bacon’s fellow outlaws have taken his body back to one of their hideouts,on a map as a cranberry bog, and buried him there? Note the area also had an overgrown blueberry patch that was planted. Who knows but it sure is fun thinking about the possibilities isn’t it? But at least we know others are aware of Hessian island who apparently are also litter bugs.

And so the journey begins…

You ever have to go back to your roots to realize who you are? It’s an odd thing but I’ve been on a personal journey to rediscover my past and the past of many others who came from the evergreen woods of the Pine Barrens. This website will be a place for me to share ideas, stories, photos, and other rambles about the Pines and the Piney people.

My quest is to define what truly is a Piney today in 2020 and to tell the untold stories of so many great Piney families. Whatever I do before I ascend or descend to that gate I want to have this man’s story told. John Richardson is intrinsically to Piney life past and present. Pineys of today and of yesterday come along with me and you’ll see we have a lot to be proud of. In the works for me as a budding author is a two book series on the topic. I’ll share book release dates and exclusive offers here as well as the Piney Tribe Facebook page.