Header Image: Sunset Beach by Morgan Catherine (@_morgan_catherine)
“I can’t wait to get out of this place, people get stuck here.”
Year after year, I watched the graduating classes from my high school pack up and leave. I was friends with kids from the deepest reaches of Cape May County all the way to the flat blueberry country of Hammonton. Yet, as time went on, and our childish behaviors and nights out way too late turned into nights at home deciding on the next step, everyone I grew up with came to the same conclusion: “I can’t wait to get out of this place, people get stuck here.”
Some of them packed up and left for the marijuana colleges of California. Others jumped the Delaware River or trekked north to settle in ivy league schools in Pennsylvania or New York. Now, out of college and deciding on the next step to my life, I’m wondering if I won’t get out of this place too. Do people really get stuck in South Jersey?
Three-hundred years of paternal lineage have led to my residence here. My ancestors came over right after South Jersey was established, which spawned from the Long Island whaling community. In fact, some of those original settlers have descendants that are now my neighbors, having even deeper roots in South Jersey than me. They all came for the same reason though: this land was productive and valuable; South Jersey was the place to be.
Even before the original European settlers, Native Americans, wildlife big and small, and plants and ecosystems unique to this area and this area only found South Jersey worth the stay. Tens of thousands of years ago, before my ancestors laid the foundations of the now road US route 9, it was a wildlife trail used by prehistoric deer and Mastodons, and later by the black bears and cougars that inhabited South Jersey not so long ago. Eventually it became a Native American trail, used by the Lenni-Lenapes who, among their love for the swamps and waterfowl filled marshes of South Jersey, came to Cape May for its fish and clams, cedar wood and game. The natives left our area around the time Europeans settled in, but I bet it was a reluctant and dreadful leave.
The Pine Barrens became the economic engine for our community. The villages of Batsto and Weymouth, Martha and Friendship, housed some of the realest blue collar workers to ever live. They’d work all day mining bog iron out of unnavigable pinelands swamps and golden cedar water ravines. Now, much of their landscape is known as Wharton State Forest, and the people who live there today are as hard working as the backwoodsman who laid the foundation for life there.
Maybe that’s what makes South Jersey so great, the history of it. Perhaps, the history is what anchors people here, leaving them “stuck”. Or maybe it’s the places.
We’re a short ride from Atlantic City and Philly. All in the same day we can go gamble our bi-weekly pay check and blow our winnings on Geno’s cheesesteaks. Our summer nights are spent on Ocean City and Wildwood boardwalks, where we took our first real boyfriends and girlfriends, and where we ran around as children. If we’re lucky, we can beat the shoobie traffic and watch the sun rise in Cape May, or wait till night and head to the Ugly Mug or Carney’s, Cape May Brewery or Cold Spring Village.
Maybe we’ll decide to head inland, to a setting that feels more like southern Alabama or Kentucky than New Jersey. We will take out our trucks on the mudding paths of Belleplain or set up shop in a buddy’s back yard for a pallet fire. The sound of coyotes in vast oak woods will make us realize our disdain for our Northern Jersey counterparts, and as the fire smothers and the beer bottles dry we’ll go to bed smelling of wood smoke. The next day we’ll wake up and go to Wawa or take the boat out for a day fishing for perch and catfish, maybe even striper and blues.
Perhaps it’s not the places though. Maybe the love for South Jersey is a more personal connection. Maybe the love for South Jersey has to do with its people.
Our friends bust their asses as local blue collar workers or go to school at Stockton or Rowan, where they hope to gain an education. They are vulgar and crude, educated and enlightened. Our next-door neighbor to the right is a religious hunter and fishermen, who has honed his craft as an outdoorsman his whole life. The house to the left is home to a white-collar worker commuting to Philly every day, hoping to provide their family opportunities they did not have growing up.
We’re caring and prideful. We love Wawa and hoagies, and we hate shoobies and Pennsylvania drivers. We don’t eat taylor ham we eat pork roll, and yes, South Jersey should be a state of its own. Whether you’re in the farm country of Hammonton and Salem or in the shore communities of Cape May, there’s a reason behind it. Yeah, some may say it’s because we get “stuck” here, but I don’t think it’s that simple. We love the culture and we love the people, the South Jersey mix of culture and places, history and people, is unlike anywhere else. It’s what makes South Jersey so great.
Yeah, maybe I’ll follow some of my friends and get out of here for a while one day, go explore the world and enjoy the wonders from across the country. But for some reason, whether due to a deep-seated relationship or divine fate, I know where I’ll end up. It’ll be the same place I started. I love my South Jersey Life.
This is the beginning to a new blog series brought to you by Woods & Waves. We will be covering the South Jersey Life and Outdoor Lifestyle. Follow Woods & Waves on Instagram at @woodsnwaves. Follow Mike Adams on Instagram at @mikeadamshunts.