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.

Interview Conducted on 8/19/2020

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.

Brian- “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?

Brian- 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?

Brian-“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?

Brian-“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?

Brian-“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?

Brian-“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?

Brian-“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?

Brian-“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.?

Brian-“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?

Brian-“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.”

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