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.