Friday, October 02, 2009

Mining and connecting

Wednesday was my birthday, and I decided to celebrate by taking one of my traditional wanders through another part of the state. Since I've been on an Edison kick lately, I chose to look for the site of one of his lesser-known enterprises, the iron ore mining venture in Ogdensburg, NJ.

A web search unearthed the location for me: Edison Road, just off Sussex County Road 620. With maps and GPS in hand, I got in the car and took the ride west via interstate 280, to Route 15. While 620 wasn't on the GPS, I was able to locate it without too much fuss, and then kept my eyes peeled for Edison Road, on Sparta Mountain. I arrived to find the stone and brass marker erected by Sussex County not too long ago, and a sign with topographic mapping of several trails that ramble through the woods. No other vehicles were there, not surprising for a Wednesday morning.

I parked and found my way in, quickly coming upon some narrow stone-walled drainage canals with rebar briefly protruding the tops. To the right was a sinkhole with a sign helpfully noting that sonar measurements found it was 86 feet deep at points. Wow. I walked in a bit farther to find a transmission tower right of way (ironically) and a few more crumbled walls. There wasn't as much to see as I'd hoped, but the reason for Edison's mining was clear. Many of the rocks and boulders showed the clear signs of oxidized iron.

I figured that there had to be more ruins in the woods, or at least some really good trails, but I didn't think it wise to explore them solo. The cellular coverage up there can be spotty, and if I got into a jam I'd be literally shouting into the wilderness. Resolving to return with my exploring buddy, I headed back to the car.

Just as I reached the trailhead, a Jeep Wagoneer pulled up, and a man, little girl and two rambunctious dogs came out. Naturally the dogs came running at full tilt to check me out, until the man called them back. Introducing himself as Rob, and shaking my hand, he asked if I'd been out to the ruins, and when I recounted my exploration, he told me there was a LOT more I'd missed, and if I wanted, he could show me where. He's explored a lot of the woods, some with an older man who actually wrote a book on Edison's mining operations.

Something about him and the little girl made me trust them. That, plus my new resolve to let people help me and do nice things for me more often, got me to agree to tag along with them for a little bit. As we hiked along, he explained that he was originally from South Carolina and had moved up here with his wife for her job. He really enjoys geting out to the woods in Sussex, had been surprised at how much there was to see, and how nice it is. Yeah, New Jersey tends to be that way.

In any case, he was right -- there is a LOT more to look at from Edison's operations, much of it reclaimed by nature since the mine closed (coincidentally, 109 years ago to the day of my visit). If you didn't know better -- and there wasn't so much rebar jutting out from the stone walls and the ground -- you'd think you'd stumbled on an ancient village. Along the way, too, I started remembering why it is that I've enjoyed hiking in the woods so much. It might have been that the little girl reminded me of myself when I was just a little older than she, when I'd play for hours in the woods across the street from my house. Back then, I'd have gone nuts over finding the ruins of a real building among the trees and scrub.

We parted company after about 45 minutes, and I ambled back to my car. Along the way, I got to thinking about another time when someone just happened to show up at the right time: my trip to Bandelier National Park in New Mexico. There, as in Sussex, I was traveling alone, looking for ruins with no-one seemingly in shouting range. At Bandelier, however, it was ancient Native American cliff dwellings, and you needed to use a series of ladders to get to them. As I'd approach a ladder, I'd question if it was prudent for me to climb it without a spotter. Every time, someone would appear, seemingly out of nowhere, offering a word of encouragement or a firm hand to hold the ladder secure as I climbed up. The uppermost cave was said to be used for sacred ceremonies, and reaching it was a transcendent experience in more ways than one. In fact, I still draw on my memories of being there whenever I need to center and calm myself.

That experience reminded me about a lot of things. Sometimes you just have to have faith that what you need will be there when you need it. You have to be willing to let other people help you, even when there doesn't seem to be any reason for them to help. Sometimes people don't NEED a reason to help. Sometimes things are just meant to happen at a certain time and certain place, and you just need to accept it. Perhaps Rob and young Willow came by the other day to remind me.

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