What is it About the Jersey Pine Barrens?

All you have to do is go a few yards in…

Man has a love/hate relationship with nature. If you look at 17th century paintings of America, you’ll notice that the wilderness, for the most part, seems ominous and foreboding. Nature could kill you. It was the enemy, and it had to be tamed.

That was the general consensus until Yellowstone, the first national park anywhere in the world, was designated under the administration of President Grant in 1872. Preserving nature seemed like a strange concept up to that point. I’m convinced that the only reason we managed to keep large swaths of uninhabited land until then was that the environment in those places was harsh and unwelcoming to human habitation. If it weren’t for that, we’d be one big housing development from sea to shining sea.

So, three cheers for uninhabitable land! But the majority of us rarely, if ever, step foot in the untamed wilderness. It’s daunting. It’s threatening. Anything could happen.

Because of that lack of direct experience, these places sometimes become the source of legends and stories of paranormal activity. The Boogeyman lives under your bed or in your closet because you rarely hang out in there. The forest primeval is the Boogeyman writ large.

Case in point: the Jersey Pine Barrens, 1.1 million acres of nearly impenetrable forest that stretches across about 7 counties in the state of New Jersey. It butts up against some of the most densely populated parts of this country. Even so, these woods have always been sparsely populated. People tend to avoid the area because the sandy soil isn’t conducive to farming, and all you have to do is go a few yards in and you can become completely lost.

It’s creepy enough to contemplate the fact that this forest is the home of brown water and several species of carnivorous plants, but then add to that the fact that people have been known to disappear, and… shiver.

Many strange stories involve the Pine Barrens. The most well known one is that of the Jersey Devil. Sightings of this scary kangaroo-like creature, with a horse’s head and bat-like wings, abound. And many people claim to have heard its blood-curdling screams. I chalk this up to campfire stories gone wrong.

The place is full of ghost towns, where industry never quite made it into modern times, and odd place names, too. Shamong. Chestnut Nuck, Nesco. Water Witch. Whitesbog Village. Batsto. Mount Misery. Hog Thief. Shell Pile.

Perhaps the strangest name is the one given to the ghost town of Ong’s Hat. That place, with its abandoned buildings that are slowly rotting into the underbrush, is ground zero for a conspiracy theory game that got too real. I highly recommend that you read that article. It’s fascinating, and just goes to show that a lot of people are willing to believe the most outlandish things, such as portals to other dimensions that were created by “The Institute of Chaos Studies and Moorish Science Ashram”. I kid you not. People still believe this, despite the story’s creator debunking it over and over and over again.

A massive, dense forest full of witchy water and strange plants and stranger names… That’s the perfect cocktail for legends and scary stories, don’t you think?

Jersey Pine Barrens

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The Bunyip and his Cousins

Behold the fearsome Bunyip. This mythological creature was much feared among the Aboriginal people of Australia. Until recently I had never heard of this beast, but it intrigues me because it seems to be so far from even the mainstream creepy folk creature as to be unrecognizable.

Bunyip_(1935)

bunyip 2 bunyip stamp 

As you can see from the various artists’ renderings, no one can agree on what this monster was supposed to have looked like, and therefore one can only speculate as to what animal the Ancient Aboriginal Peoples could have seen that appears to have scared them silly. I think a combination of that country’s vastness and isolation and the fact that it’s already a land that is inhabited by some of the strangest animals on the planet all played a part in creating this extremely bizarre imagery.

It seems as though every culture has its bunyip. The boogeyman. The thing hiding under your bed or in your closet. Apparently all humans have a need to conjure up creatures out of their free-floating anxieties.

Below are just a few of the many.

chupacabra

The Chupacabra of Latin America

Mothman

The Mothman of the Appalachians

ebu gogo

The Ebu Gogo of Flores

 Aswang

The Aswang of the Philippines

 Brosno Dragon

The Brosno Dragon of Russia

 Canvey_Island_monster

The Canvey Island Monster of England

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The Taniwha of New Zealand

 grootslang

The Grootslang of South Africa

 yeren2

The Yeren of China

jersey-devil

The Jersey Devil of New Jersey

Peluda

The Peluda of France

 mongolian_death_worm2

The Mongolian Death Worm of the Gobi Desert

 Ropen

The Ropen of Papua New Guinea

It’s a very big world that we live in, full of isolated and uncharted places. It’s also full of people with wild imaginations. But if even one of these creatures were to exist? That’s the reason they are so disturbing to us. We can never be quite sure. Shudder.

Happy Halloween.

Come the Apocalypse, I Want to be with my Dog.

I have a new theory. The best possible thing that can happen when you are searching for a mate is a horrible first date, because then you can see how that person reacts under pressure. Stress separates the men from the boys. It cuts through all the surface bs and shows you what someone is truly made of. There are all sorts of ways of dealing with negativity, as evidenced by nature. All of these ways are legitimate, but only a few of them are viable in terms of a life partner in this modern world. Here are a few examples.

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The Shark. In times of great tension, the shark will not only attack the source of the problem, but will also turn on anyone and anything that happens to be in his vicinity, even members of its own family. When in the midst of this feeding frenzy, the shark has absolutely no regard for loyalty, and does not care about who is on his side. When in the presence of this type of fury, there is nothing you can do except prepare to be eaten. Frankly, I find the shark to be tragic and self-destructive. And the most depressing thing about the shark is he cannot see why this type of behavior is a problem. Somehow being eaten will become your fault. You’ll never feel completely safe with a shark.

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The Fainting Goat. Also known as the Myotonic Goat, this poor creature freezes in times of panic and keels over, thus rendering him utterly useless to himself or anyone else. I used to date one of these. Don’t ask me why.

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The Turtle. When the sh*t comes down and you’re with a turtle, you are on your own. He will pull himself into his shell and wait for the boogeyman to go away. Oh, he’ll protect himself all right, but he won’t confront anyone or anything and prefers to live in a state of denial. He’s completely resistant to change, which makes improvement impossible. Also, if you come by his house and he doesn’t feel like talking, he simply won’t come to the door. Who needs that?

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The Badger. No need to wait for a crisis situation when on a date with a badger. He’s going to be in a foul mood regardless, even if you could potentially be the best thing that ever happened to him. He’s never going to see it.

porcupine

The Porcupine. Now, here’s a guy who is prepared. He doesn’t want to be messed with, and has made sure that he won’t be. The problem is, since all he wants is to be left alone, he’ll never let you in.

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The Octopus. I have to admire this guy’s ability to avoid conflict. I like his stealth and intelligence. But if none of that works, he shoots ink. Do you want someone who’s going to throw stuff at you? No. That, and he tends to be clingy.

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Frilled Lizard. You’ve probably seen one of these guys on the National Geographic channel. When you piss one of them off, the frill on their neck expands and they’ll chase you on two feet. Yes, they look intimidating and they get the job done for the most part, but honestly, what would happen if you stood your ground with them? Not too much, I suspect. I think you’d win that confrontation. These guys are all sizzle and no steak.

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The Rattlesnake. The rattler is sort of a first strike kind of guy. He prefers to be the aggressor in anticipation of any possible antagonism you may or may not have in mind. Don’t hang out with the rattlesnake if you’re hoping for cozy get togethers with groups of friends.

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The Praying Mantis. Honestly? Do you really want to hang out with a guy who is so desperate for sex that he’s willing to go there with you even though he knows he’s going to get his head bitten off for his troubles? This guy is so focused on what he wants that he has no concept of the consequences.

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The Meerkat. I have to admit that I have a certain fondness for meerkats. They’re loyal. They’re family oriented, they’re protective, they’re cautious. But they’re also an emotional drain. They’re constantly anticipating trouble. They’re always on the lookout. Their watchword is paranoia. They never seem to relax.

sn-bonobo

The Benobo. Scientists have dedicated their lives to studying benobos, because these cousins of ours seem to be totally devoid of aggression. They’re the hippies of the primate world. They’re all about free love and live and let live. I could see myself getting caught up in this lifestyle, but I suspect I’d get fat and complacent, and years would go by without my realizing it.

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The Dog. Dogs don’t seek fights, and in fact try to avoid them, but if you eff with them, they’ll take you out. I can respect that. They tend to restrict their aggression to those that deserve it. They’re loyal and protective, and usually generous and kind unless they’ve been abused. They’d much rather cuddle with you than argue, but they’ll do what they have to in order to protect themselves and the ones they love. A dog will always have your back. They also know how to heave a heavy sigh and release all tension. This, to me, is a very healthy and well-balanced approach to life. Yup, I’ll take a dog every time.

So next time you’re thrust into the dating world, pray for a flash flood or an earthquake or an armed robbery, because then you’ll know exactly what you’ve got on your hands. Disaster can save you a lot of time and heartache.