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Life on the moon

Esther Poulsen
Esther Poulsen

This year I will be celebrating Independence Day on the moon.

Of course, I jest, but for those of us who are transplants from other places, Lake Hopatcong can seem like a very, very faraway place. The Skylands region is not a well-known part of the Garden State, and with its unusual name, our beautiful lake can have as many pronunciations as we have species of birds and fish. I’m convinced the meaning of Lake Hopatcong is not “honey waters of many coves” but “a pseudo-Lenape word designed to trip up the tongue.”

The “Hopatcong Name Challenge,” as I like to call it, usually begins when I converse with someone unfamiliar with the area and they attempt to pronounce my street address. When I hear that initial hesitation as the caller tries to figure out how to say Lake Hopatcong, I know I’m about to enjoy a new lesson in Lakelandia Linguistics. It usually starts with a pause, as a faraway caller reads my town name on a screen or piece of paper. Lake is (usually) not a challenge, but then there will be brief silence while their brain processes (and panics) over the odd name. The results can be as lyrical as they are diverse: “Hoppit-Kong,” “Hopatacong,” “Ho-pot-Cong,” and the most common one, “Lake…Ho…uh…Ho…” followed by a helpless pause until I gamely assist with the proper Lake Hopatcong lilt. However, this can backfire, as I learned some years ago when I gave my address over the phone, and after carefully pronouncing the town name, it arrived at my address in “Layco Patcung, NJ.” This was when I learned to appreciate the value of ZIP codes.

But back to the moon. I was born and raised in South Philadelphia and its suburbs, and when I announced I was marrying and moving to Northwestern New Jersey, one might have thought I was relocating to another planet, a mysterious place my family and friends vaguely waved aside as “up there.” In Philly, the perception of New Jersey is pretty much confined to a) “Down the Shore,” b) the suburbs east of Philadelphia and c) everything else, which starts just north of Princeton and ends somewhere in the Adirondacks. I find similar perceptions from our New York friends as well, who seem to think that North New Jersey ends somewhere around the Oranges and everything west belongs to the Poconos. And for people living away from our part of the U.S.? Fuggedaboutit! Given how the rest is portrayed on television and film, this part of the Garden State is non-existent.

We North Jersey residents are the forgotten Jersey Souls, at least as far as our far-flung families and friends are concerned. Until, of course, they finally visit.

It took a few years, but family and friends finally realized that visiting the Lake Hopatcong area did not require a wagon pulled by a team of oxen and yes, though far from the parkways and turnpikes and expressways, we do have paved roads. As years passed and people made the trip here, I do admit I enjoyed a teensy bit of smugness as my husband and I took them on their first tour of the lake.

For those visiting for the first time, Lake Hopatcong is a beautiful surprise, especially when the waters twinkle in the brightness of a clear summer day. “I had no idea it could be so nice up here!” first-timers always exclaim. Perceptions of New Jersey as oil refineries and crowded highways crumble as people see how pretty our mountain lake can be. They are even more surprised to see the graceful homes that dot the hills and learn the role Lake Hopatcong has had in U.S. history, from industry to entertainment to leisure. These days, friends and relatives make the trek “up here” to Lake Hopatcong (and can even pronounce it correctly) a few times a year, and we always enjoy sharing our lake with them. They now know that my adopted state is more than shore towns and metropolitan suburbs and when it comes to Lake Hopatcong, “the moon” doesn’t seem so far away after all.

Update on my garden, if you were chuckling over my misadventures in last month’s column: This year’s garden is an experiment in hydroponic containers. I fell (again) for the notion that gardening can be done with an “easy” solution. But this time it seems to be going well. Only one of five plants has died in the last month, and if this predicts my success for the rest of the season, I just may have a plant or two surviving to autumn frost. I’ll keep you posted!

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