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A History of Manahawkin
An irreverent look at Manahawkin from past to present.
Once the goddess of nature passed by a section of the Earth and saw that the north was beautiful. She smiled. Big oak trees grew; the land was fertile for farming, and the people that lived upon it where happy with their gardens and farms. But the land to the south- how sad. So the goddess tried to grow new plants. But the soil had spent so many eons under the sea that did not have enough nutrients for her beautiful plants to grow. And just when there was a little hope, the god of fire laughed at her and sent fire to destroy all her work. After eons, which are surely a blink of an eye to a goddess, she put her hands on her hips, shook her head and said, “I will leave this land. What will be will be.” And she flew off to another part of the world to work her magic.
So, left alone, the plants grew. They changed to survive in this sandy soil ravage by fire an average of every eleven years. Why bother to make trees tall and strong? It was enough to just survive. The trees became scrawny pines. They called themselves the pigmy pines. Full grown, they will never reach over four feet. Dwarfs to their brothers to the north. Why bother to be like their brothers that grew so tall to reach the sky with their thick full, heavy branches. The god of fire will only destroy them. But small that they were, they were smart. When the god of fire was sent to destroy them, they dropped their fire pine cones that only opened when the heat of the fire consumed the forest. They survived. And other plants and animals and later people came to keep the pine forest company. And today the pines grew to be one point one million acres. The biggest forest from Maine to Georgia. They became the New Jersey Pine Barrens.
If a teacher asked a Manahawkin elementary student, “How do you grow vegetables and flowers?” They would answer, “First you go to Home Depot and buy biiiiiiiiiig bags of dirt.”
The Lenape, Native Americans from this area, might have called it “The Land of Great Corn” but I have never seen corn even in someone’s back yard garden. Not that there might not be some intrepid soul out there that has some in their garden—just that I’ve never seen it. The soil is so poor and porous not many people try to garden. The soil is known as sugar sand. The land around Manahawkin is on a coastal plain.
Sometimes, when one tries to grow a plant without the top soil and fertilizers and pesticides it seems as if the soil thinks it is still under the ocean. For those who have lived in Manahawkin for many years, they might remember leaving the McKinley Avenue School and going to “The Fossil Pit.” The fossil pit is approximately where the K-Mart is now located. Students would spend their science class locating sea fossils. So many shells and remains of sea creature were discovered by the students.
There are many types of plants that grow wild in the Barrens. Blueberries and cranberries were harvested by the early Native Americans and early settlers.
But do not get them mixed up with the large berries found in today’s super markets. Without cultivation the berries were small. And picking cranberries by flooding a bog did not start until the early 1950’s. Cranberries float. Think of an above ground swimming pool with the sides made of dirt. Flood the pool and hit the vines with a beater like machine and the berries are ripped off the vine and float to the top where they are collected. Cranberries grow on a vine that inch along the surface of the ground. Picking them was looking under leaves, one by one. So, some poor Lenape had to take a long time to pick the tart berry to add it to their venison stew.
Although the land is poor, under that land is a 17 trillion gallon aquifer. If you want a garden, buy that “biiiiiig bag of soil” and some fertilizer and grow those Jersey tomatoes. And you will have water to make it grow.
I had a friend who threw a peach pit into his back yard. He did nothing to help the tree grow. In a very few years a beautiful peach tree grew. He came to my house with the most delicious peaches I have ever tasted. So you never know because…
Every once in a while the goddess returns and smiles on the land.