When people ask me where I'm from, I tell them New Jersey, but not the New Jersey you're thinking of. "It's like someone took a piece of West Virginia and stuck it into the northeast," I say. They have a hard time understanding that there are still places in the state where black bears and coyotes roam.
Growing up in a place like this, where it's still a little rough around the edges yet only an hour away from New York City, helps a person figure out what they're after in life. Some of us left and never looked back. I guess nature never got under their skin like it did mine. There are others, like me, who left only to return. The harshness of the city was for some reason less palatable than nature's indifference. And there are others still who never left. Maybe they were wiser than me and realized that everything they would ever need in life was right here.
Out on the trails that flank this town, you can tell who's a local and who isn't. Last weekend, my friends and I hiked a portion of the Appalachian Trail that spans the New Jersey/New York border. It's easy to spot the locals on the trail. They hike in sneakers and blue jeans, carrying backpacks laden with beer. The through-hikers struggle by under the weight of internal-frame packs, burdened with necessities to get them from Georgia to Maine. And then there are the college kids from the city, who come out for day hikes in their Patagonia jackets, yoga pants and ironic t-shirts. The latter two groups usually scoff at us as we down our beer and cause a scene that would seem incongruous with the place they're viewing as outsiders.
But we understand. We know this place and it knows us, too. And no matter where we go in the world, this place will be here for us, ready to welcome us back with a beer and a beautiful view.