What I Miss Most From Home: Summer Rain in the Jersey Pine Barrens
Welcome to What I Miss Most, a recurring column in which writers wax poetic about the things from home that they found themselves yearning for upon moving to NYC (or the things from NYC they craved upon moving away from it). For an archive of previous What I Miss Most columns, click here.
I had a good childhood. The first 18 years of my life were spent smeared in blood, gunpowder, and the occasional chigger (don’t fret: my father is a hunter). Mountain pinks and grape hyacinths line the path up to my parents’ converted rancher, wherein Dad’s trophies and overexposed photos of me at prom hold court.
I spent most of my time setting rabbit traps and blueing my palms with the huckleberries that grew out back, in the part of our property that bled into the untouched wilderness of the Pinelands Reserve.
My hometown is the sort of small place that makes leaving difficult. “Village of Chatsworth, Population 1,200,” a green road sign proclaimed last time I was there. This was new. Prior, Chatsworth was a mere “unincorporated community,” which was still a pretty highfalutin name for a cluster of houses, a squat municipal building, and a red-brick schoolhouse serving grades K-8. Our post office lives in a trailer, and our hot dog cart is locally "famous.”
Rain in New York is a soul-sucking nightmare.
Out of my eighth grade class of 20, five of us went on to universities. The rest opted for community college, jail, the army, or suicide. I made it out, moving first to Philadelphia, then London, and most recently, to Brooklyn. Chatsworth is still home, though, and I think it’s the most beautiful place you’ll ever clap eyes on. I love it most when it rains.
Picture this: peals of thunder roll majestically through the Jersey air. At night, jagged bolts of lightning illuminate the sky like signal flares, and there are no street lamps or neon lights to tarnish their intensity.
The rain meets the tree line in pearly sheets and in big, fat drops that bounce off leaves and scurry down windshields. Afterwards, droplets glisten on pine branches, suspended gently in midair.
The water seeps into the earth, swelling Chatsworth Lake and soaking into the bed of grass, fallen leaves, and pine needles that carpet the forest floor. On the road, it lingers a bit longer, magicking up rainbows in the oil spots pickup trucks have left on the asphalt.
Even the warm, sandy mud smells good. Yankee Candle would make a killing if they could distill the scent of Pine Barrens rainfall into a candle. They could probably figure out a way to do it, too, but I like to think that it’s something too ephemeral and precious to bottle.
When I see the sky start to darken, I wish I were back home in the pines.
When it rains in New York City, it’s hellish. The streets run black with sludge and detritus, and the specter of the day’s garbage wafts up from the corner in a fetid miasma. Tiny bodies wield massive umbrellas with pointy tips. Plague-ridden puddles lay in wait to soak sneakers you can’t afford to replace. Crowds flood the subways, lowing their discomfort like sweaty, frizzy, drenched cattle.
It’s a gross, soul-sucking nightmare, the thought of which is enough to make you board yourself up inside at the first hint of a drizzle.
Not so in Chatsworth. As a kid, I’d run outside whenever it rained, my bare toes squelching in the grass and long hair tangling wildly, face upturned. It felt like a cleansing when the mid-Atlantic skies opened up and laughed down at us. I’d tumble back inside, sopping wet, and flop down with a book to air-dry.
On the other hand, when I come in from a downpour in New York, a scowl, a stress headache, and a pair of soggy trouser cuffs come in with me. It’s one of a thousand resent-able inconveniences you encounter living in NYC. You bet your ass I resent it, but it’s just another small price I pay for having had the gall to pack up life in Chatsworth and set out for The Big City.
Don’t get me wrong -- I’ve built a good life over the past half decade somewhere between Gotham’s grime and grandeur. I have no intention of leaving just yet. Every summer, though, when I see the sky start to darken, I wish I were back home in the pines.
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