“What did you find out?” That was the question I was asked when Jimmy and I returned from our one-day field trip to the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, to find Elizabeth White’s house, Suningive, and explore Historic Whitesbog Village, a state trust which preserves a turn-of-the-century company town built around cranberry and blueberry farming.
The question, innocent enough, made me bristle. It seemed to beg for information, and the purpose of the trip had really been about sense. Having spent a good part of the summer reading about agriculture, fruits, the Pine Barrens, and Elizabeth White and her family, I wanted to test my sincerity. Am I really interested in this subject? Is my curiosity powerful enough to bring me back here, to keep taking the next steps?
There’s something about the beginning of an idea that’s so fragile: just a few cells, stuck together, with a heart barely beating. One must hold onto it, without exposing it. That’s how I feel. The beginning should be conducted in the darkened room of privacy.
So the question — wow! That felt like an intrusion. Inside, I felt my will kind of clamp down around what I could say or reveal, wanting to keep it for myself.
Still, the question-asker is a kind of audience, and I had said enough about my impulse to write a biography of Elizabeth White that the audience deserved a response, an early communication. I said, therefore, that “the Pine Barrens is a different New Jersey: remote, farmy, unfancy, uncrowded. It makes me wonder what it took to live in that place, to devote one’s self to it.” About Elizabeth White, all I said was, “We saw her house, and where she started her blueberry fields. At the General Store, I picked up a pamphlet she wrote on blueberry cultivation.”
That trip was last Monday, and the passing of a week has given me some necessary detachment. It’s like I can cope with the experience I had: really think about it. Reflect.
As I look back on the pictures that I took, and that Jimmy took, I feel my pulse quicken. Wow, I was there. Sand, water, berries, roads into pines, the sound only of far-off artillery fire at Fort Dix, bugs clicking on the car windows like fingernails on a desk, a dearth of road signs and landmarks, farm stands, mobile homes, and stores and diners and gas stations with local and unfamiliar names. Sure, I’m going back.
You can see some of what we saw, here: