Nancy’s Secret Garden

When we came here in fif­teen or so years ago, Nan­cy Forrester’s Secret Gar­den was a mag­i­cal oasis tucked in the mid­dle of a block in Key West, a small for­est said to be the last unde­vel­oped acre in the city’s Old Town neigh­bor­hood. Full of wind­ing paths and trees it was the rarest of spaces: loved, care­ful­ly tend­ed, and shared with the pub­lic as a gift of beau­ty. But even then it felt besieged. In 2012 tax­es and expens­es became too much and Nan­cy sold off parcels to devel­op­ers. From an arti­cle in Key News:

The tucked-away entrance to Nan­cy Forrester’s Secret Gar­den off Free School Lane in the 500 block of Simon­ton Street will be closed to the pub­lic after today, as finances and prop­er­ty tax­es have forced For­rester to sell the land parcels that have housed an artist’s cot­tage and gallery, par­rots, orchids, rare palms, mean­der­ing path­ways and a med­i­ta­tive gar­den for more than four decades.

These days the gar­den has been reduced to a small back­yard on Eliz­a­beth Street which Nan­cy uses as a res­cue par­rot refuge. In the morn­ings she gives edu­ca­tion­al lec­tures on the birds, full of facts about their bril­liant behav­ior, the destruc­tion of their native habi­tats, and gen­tle lec­tures about how we can all pro­tect native par­rot habi­tats by liv­ing more light­ly on the land (hint: no red palm oil or beef). From behind the fence came the sounds of a swim­ming pool being installed in the cut­down mid­dle of the for­mer gar­den. Nan­cy has life ten­an­cy on the ill-repaired house where she lives with the par­rots. 

I don’t know the details of the real estate trans­ac­tions or Forrester’s finances but I find it incred­i­ble that Key West couldn’t ral­ly around one of its liv­ing trea­sures. I’m glad that Nan­cy remains along with her par­rots and I’m grate­ful my kids got a chance to meet her. 


Wheat planting at Howell’s Living History Farm

We’ve got­ten into the habit of vis­it­ing Howell’s Liv­ing His­to­ry Farm up in Mer­cer Coun­ty, N.J., a few times a year as part of home­school­er group trips. In the past, we’ve cut ice, tapped trees for maple syrup, and seen the sheep shear­ing and card­ing. Today we saw the var­i­ous stages of wheat – from plant­i­ng, to har­vest­ing, thresh­ing, win­now­ing, grind­ing, and bak­ing. I love that there’s such a wide vocab­u­lary of spe­cif­ic lan­guage for all this – words I bare­ly know out­side of bib­li­cal para­bles (“Oh wheat from chaff!”) and that there’s great vin­tage machin­ery (Howell’s oper­a­tions are set around the turn of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry).

Three-fort touring

The three-fort tour from Ft Mott near Salem, New Jer­sey, to Ft Delaware on Pea Patch Island (de fac­to Delaware), to Delaware City, Delaware and adja­cent Ft DuPont.

A few weeks ago Yum­my­gal at South​jer​sey​ex​plor​er​.com wrote up a trip report on The Three Forts Fer­ry Tour. It didn’t take more than two min­utes of texts before my wife and I decid­ed we would recre­ate this.

It’s wasn’t so easy at first. I spent way too long on the park system’s web­site try­ing to fig­ure out how to board the fer­ry at Ft Mott on the New Jer­sey side. Every option I tried had me board in near­by Salem, N.J. It wasn’t till I was home that I read that the Ft Mott stop had been out of com­mis­sion until ear­ly this sum­mer because of Sandy and that Salem had been the alter­nate board­ing loca­tion. The web­site hadn’t been updat­ed.

Once we got to the dock we saw there was no tick­et kiosk. Once the fer­ry came in we found they couldn’t swipe a cred­it card onboard (real­ly? can’t any mod­ern smart­phone han­dle that?, but I digress…). The only place they could han­dle a cred­it card was the far end, in Delaware City. We’d have to dock on Fort Delaware/Pea Patch Island but stay in the boat and con­tin­ue to this city. We’d hadn’t even real­ly planned to nec­es­sar­i­ly go to Delaware City but we end­ed up spend­ing much of our day there.

Delaware City was a small port town whose claim to fame was its loca­tion as the east­ern ter­mi­nus of the orig­i­nal nine­teenth cen­tu­ry Chesa­peake and Delaware Canal. The mod­ern canal bypass­es it a few miles to the south, so Delaware City is a bit frozen in time.

First stop: Crab­by Dick’s, one of three eater­ies rec­om­mend­ed to us (the oth­ers being a pub and an Ital­ian restau­rant). Being a veg­e­tar­i­an I don’t get into this sort of a restau­rant very often but they had veg­gie burg­ers and cre­ative sweet fries (cinnamon-covered with an apple but­ter dip – yum!). Luck­i­ly it was near­ly emp­ty around noon in a Sun­day so our trou­ble­mak­ing kids didn’t cause too much com­mo­tion.

Next door was a small ice cream shop. The tem­per­a­tures were in the 90s so this was an obvi­ous stop.

What we should have done next is wan­der the town until the next fer­ry to Pea Patch Island and its fort. One of our par­ty was deter­mined to see all three forts so we set out for Ft DuPont. It’s adja­cent to Delaware City’s dock and down­town as the crow flies. But we aren’t crows, or fish. DuPont’s on the oth­er side of the old canal. You have to walk about a mile to the first bridge that cross­es it, a rick­ety one at that, then make a sharp left to trav­el in the same direc­tion you had just come from, only on the canal’s south side.

There’s no signs for the fort. Even Yum­my­girl had got­ten lost on her trip so I knew to rely on my phone’s maps. Most of Ft DuPont’s acreage is a large cam­pus dot­ted with an odd assort­ment of run-down ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry mil­i­tary build­ings sur­round­ing an old parade field. The camp had been a major deploy­ment cen­ter dur­ing WW II and had also served as a POW camp for Ger­mans. The state’s been try­ing to repur­pose it in recent years but it’s an odd assort­ment of halfway house ser­vices and nation­al guard asso­ci­a­tions, stuck in between crum­bling build­ings that will nev­er find a new role.

At the far end of all this a nature trail going through what remains of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry Ft DuPont. Walk­ing it is a bit like tour­ing a jungle-covered Aztec city: every so often a ruin sticks out of the trees and tan­gled vines. It’s an interesting-enough trail but not worth a four mile round-trip hike with four kids in 90 degree heat. We were able to beg a ride back from a park ranger fin­ish­ing her shift thank good­ness but much of our day was sit­ting under trees drink­ing the last of our water.

Back at the Delaware City fer­ry office, we bought a small for­tune of water from the vend­ing machine till the next (and final) boat to Pea Patch Island. This is typ­i­cal­ly the des­ti­na­tion of the tourists but by this time we only had about 45 min­utes before the last boat from the island to Jer­sey. We had an extra half hour as the boat wait­ed in dock for a spec­tac­u­lar storm to pass over the riv­er.

We’ll def­i­nite­ly return but prob­a­bly skip Delaware City except for pos­si­bly a meal.


Derecho Storm Damage in Mays Landing

Last night a huge thun­der­storm front with a phe­nom­e­non called a dere­cho swept across South Jer­sey. Where I live in Ham­mon­ton the strangest part of it was a strobe-light effect caused by dozens of cloud-to-cloud light­ning flash­es per minute, punc­tu­at­ed by light­ning strikes. Fur­ther east into Atlantic Coun­ty winds took down incred­i­ble amounts of trees.

This morn­ing trav­eled to Mays Land­ing, which was sched­uled to host a street fes­ti­val today. A few brave mer­chants like Brown­ies Squared opened with­out pow­er and made the best of it, sell­ing refrig­er­at­ed goods at half-price. But most of the town was deal­ing with trees across downed pow­er lines. Accord­ing to NBC40 Weath­er 162,000 house­holds are with­out pow­er – con­sid­er­ably more than were out in last year’s hur­ri­cane.

* http://​en​.wikipedia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​D​e​r​e​cho
* https://​twit​ter​.com/​n​b​c​4​0​w​e​a​t​h​e​r​/​s​t​a​t​u​s​/​2​1​9​0​7​8​6​6​2​5​3​0​6​7​8​784