National Geographic : 1974 Jan
The People of New Jepsey's Pine Barrens By JOHN McPHEE Photographs by WILLIAM R. CURTSINGER I GREW UP IN NEW JERSEY, and so did Bill Curtsinger. Our towns are many miles apart, but on a rainy day it would probably be possible to hike from his place to mine -going in and out of factories, restaurants, warehouses, bus stations, supermarkets, shopping malls, bowling alleys, and house after house-without getting particularly wet. Ours is the most densely populated state in the Union. In some parts of it there are 50,000 people per square mile. Henry Webb lives in New Jersey. We both know him. Al most every day he goes far into the woods with his bow-bar chain saw and cuts down dead oaks. While he is doing that, Charles King, another man we know, is working in a spong perhaps ten miles away, pulling sphagnum moss. The terrain that separates these two as they work is all but unpopulated -e ssentially, unbroken forest. A spong is a low, wet area-rhymes with tongue. If a low, wet area has white cedars growing in it, it is not a spong but a cripple. King pulls moss out of cripples, too-a hundred bushels a day. The implement he uses is a five-tined drag. Fifteen or twenty miles south through the woods, Fred Brown rolls out of bed, ready to face his day. He lives alone. He does what he pleases. At 6 a.m. his dog, France, who is somewhat Labrador, licks Fred's face and ears until Fred Dawn breaks like a whisper in an East Coast wilderness tucked between megalopolis and the sea. The rugged self-reliant "pineys" who live in the 650,000-acre oasis look askance as developers nibble relentlessly at their wildwood home.