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Voices in the Pines – True Stories From the New Jersey Pine Barrens

Almost eighty years ago Henry Charlton Beck, Camden Courier Post reporter and later Episcopalian minster began chronicling the people and the history of the Pine Barrens for his weekly column. A short time later a number of his stories were collated into Forgotten Towns of Southern New Jersey. This book was the first serious look at the culture of the Pine Barrens as told by the people who call it home – the Pineys. His book, and the follow-up volume More Forgotten Towns of Southern New Jersey paved the way for generations of cultural historians, ghost town hunters, and Pine Barrens enthusiasts.

Karen Riley’s second book, Voices in the Pines: True Stories from the New Jersey Pine Barrens, is worthy as an heir to those epic titles. This book is a refreshing look at the culture of the Pine Barrens today in which the author takes the reader right to the heart of modern day pineylore.

Contained in this book are stories that not only speak about the Pine Barrens, but also touch on the human condition. The wisdom shared here is applicable to anybody. These are universal truths as shown through the eyes of the native people of South Jersey. The stories here are just a fraction of those who have called this region home. For hundreds of years mankind has loved, triumphed, and lost in these woods Industries have been born, flourished, and died.

This isn’t a book about ghost towns or strange ruins in the woods. This is a book about the dying breed of people who call the woods of Southern New Jersey home – the pineys. Contained within its two hundred and one pages are the triumphs and tragedies of people both known and unknown to the Pine Barrens community. Typical of other Plexus titles, the printing quality and binding are top notch, and the book is an absolute bargain at $15.95.

The book starts with a thrilling chapter entitled “Murder in the Pines” which, with gripping prose draws you deeper into the story until it eases out into the story of the Steinmentz Farm in Little Egg Harbor, and a glimpse into the life of dairy farming in South Jersey.

Continuing onward, Riley brings us to harvest on the Lee Brother’s cranberry farm, which countless Pine Barrens explorers have past as they wind their way south from Chatsworth, or take the road in to the ruins at Friendship. Riley expertly explains the harvesting process so well that if you listen you might actually hear the rhythmic beating of the harvester, knocking the berries off the vines so that workers can later corral and sort the berries. Through the chapter you can tell of the deep love and appreciation for the land that the Lee family – chronicled in this chapter – have for their land and the cranberry farming industry.

The book closes with a magnificent chapter about Lucille’s Country Cooking Diner. It’s hard to find anybody in South Jersey who doesn’t know of – or go to, regularly – Lucille’s in Warren Grove. This is the story of a true superhero – Lucille Bates-Wickward, who battled adversity, including the death of her business partner and husband Jim, to build one of the most popular eateries in the Pines. The story is touching and inspirational to all who work against the odds to achieve their goals and make the world a better place for others in some small way.

The Pineys of today are a dying breed. As more and more outsiders move into the area, the Piney culture dilutes. As more opportunities for advancement show up outside of the Pines, younger generations leave their native lands to follow new paths. The Piney way of life is as threatened as the ecosystem itself. Those who remain, who choose to keep true to their roots or newcomers who embrace the Piney way of life, look stoically towards the future, always mindful of the important part they all play in the culture of the region. This book is an important chronicle of the last of the Pineys. You can hear the pride in their voices as you read their stories and share in their triumphs. The New Jersey Pine Barrens are unlike any other place in the world. Those who live here know how truly blessed they are to be part of such a unique culture.