My wonder for all things in nature was really fostered by my Grandparents. I spent many weekends with them as both my parents worked a different type of job, not your regular nine to five. Dad was a Police Officer and Mom was a nurse who was still attending college to further her degree. When they were working or maybe just needed a break, I was dropped at my Grandparents for an outdoor adventure.
Hiking may be on tap for the day. The Delaware Water Gap was one of their favorite spots to take me. My Grandpa would park the truck on the side of the road and we’d walk up the slope a ways before the tell tale trail markers would begin to show up attached to the trees. Little bits of hard plastic stapled to the trees or sometimes a piece of colorful plastic tied around the trunk would mark our path up the side of the mountain. My Grandpa carried a knapsack that had a few items that never changed, a little blue plastic cup, a tiny salt shaker with a lid and a pocket knife. He would bend in the stream and lower the blue cup and fill it with the coldest, clearest water I can remember drinking. When we reached the summit a small picnic would be assembled. Hard boiled eggs, granola bars and, if I was lucky, hot dogs and marshmallows. I am sure fires were not permitted, but a small one was sometimes built to cook our hot dogs and roast our marshmallows. There was never a finer view, gazing at the Delaware River below, munching my hot dog on a stick with my feet dangling over the rock edge, nothing finer.
Other days my Grandparents would take me out in their canoe. The Delaware Raritan Canal system is not too far from their house. I knew I was in for a treat when we pulled up to their house and the canoe was loaded on top of Grandpa John’s truck. There was a little life vest just my size and a small square cushion for me to sit on the bottom of the canoe. We would head over to Bound Brook to drop in and paddle down the canal to Colonial Park. There was a boat slip there, where we could tie up the canoe. A little zoo used to be at the park with peacocks and monkeys, you can still find the old buildings down by the canal. The Rose Garden was my Grandmother’s favorite. She would point out the different flowers to me and name them, her knowledge had no bounds in the garden.
When our fun in the park was done, we would pack up our things and head back to the canoe. It was a short paddle home with many birds to be pointed out and plants to be identified on the way home. I was tired by now, with my head lazily resting on the side of the canoe, my fingers drifting in the water. The water was cold and crisp with greens reeds dancing in the sunlight. “Grandpa?”, I would say. “Why is your name painted upside down on your canoe?”. The bright red letters wobbling in the water as I stared at them. He smiled as he thought for a moment. “Because, fish read upside down.”
Many years went by and I must confess, I truly believed fish read upside down. One day, when I was much older, I was walking by that old canoe. I saw “JOHN” clearly painted right side up on the side of the boat, resting on top of the canoe stand in the backyard. I stopped and looked at that canoe and laughed and laughed. Grandpa John was awesome!