Tag Archives: Lake Hawthorne

Gone Fishing

Tom Sawyer (courtesy of kidsblogs.nationalgeographic.com)

Tom Sawyer (courtesy of kidsblogs.nationalgeographic.com)

My blog has been so dormant over the summer, one might wonder where I have been. To borrow a term from Tom Sawyer, I would simply say that, this summer, “I went fishing.”

The place was our family’s summer cottage on Hawthorne Lake, a community in the New Jersey Highlands established by my great grandfather, H.P Dillistin, together with his friends and relatives. Dating back, in fact, to Mark Twain’s days, it shares much in common with St. Petersburg, Mississippi, the town along the river where Tom Sawyer had his adventures.

Grandaddy Dillistin

Grandaddy Dillistin

Like the people in St. Petersburg, Mississippi, we have lived together in close proximity for over five generations, experiencing good and bad times, intermarrying, sharing common lore, befriending and sometimes feuding with one another, as in one big, extended family.

My own recollections of Hawthorne Lake are very vivid, dating back to the Second World War, when we spent the summers together with the wives and children of my parents’ male friends who were off at the front. So sparsely populated was the Lake at the time, we shared the waterfront with deer, beavers, muskrats and otters. And we children were much like Tom Sawyer and his friends, preoccupied with the adventures of exploring, frog hunting, cooking mud pies, turtle trapping, and looking for hidden treasures, totally oblivious to the raging events around us.

As in Tom’s case, one special past time was fishing; for the lake is home to many good fish–bass, pickerel, perch, and the sunnies that nip at you as you dip your toes in the water. As a young girl, I often accompanied my father fishing, rowing the boat as he wound reel and cast his line. It was a way of sharing with him, drawing him out, and perhaps getting hints about what was really going on in the world beyond the Lake. But my father was reserved with his children, and said little, as he waited for the fish to bite. I sat there patiently, watching the ripples wrap around the oars of the boat. But–not liking to eat fish, much less to skin them–I secretly hoped the fish would not take the bait.

No wonder I have come to believe that fishing is not so much about catching fish, as it is about capturing our thoughts and our daydreams as they float on by. So this summer, even though I was not sitting on the river banks, as Tom was inclined to do, I was fishing for ideas as I sat with my husband, in our wicker chairs, on our screened in porch, observing the world around me. Energized by LIFE, I am–as we used to say–now ready to roll.

Coming to Closure

Lifehack from manu contreras

Lifehack from manu contreras

Making the most of the last days of summer is like squeezing the tube of toothpaste until there are no squeezes left. This was our intent, in fact, the Thursday before Labor Day, when–on a whim–my husband Brock and I decided to head back to the Lake. We were looking for closure. We wanted to gather our wonderful summertime experiences together, and wrap them up, so we could leisurely unpack, and savor them, at some later time.

Having assembled together at Lake Hawthorne on the Forth of July to welcome in the summer, so too we gathered in early September, along with the katydids, to bid it goodbye. As in all such comings and goings, there were rituals involved–in this case, rituals designed to build social capital and hold the community together over the long winter months.

As in all such comings and goings, there were rituals involved.

The weekend was chockfull, to say the least. An evening cocktail party mellowed us before the annual business meeting on the following day, when we joined in a circle on the meadow to discuss and debate the thorny issues entailed in jointly managing a 450 acre commons. A community picnic followed, along with the raffling of prizes, boat races, and more. But, for me, the main event was the treasure hunt!

Let me emphasize, this was no ordinary treasure hunt. The groundwork was laid the evening we arrived, when my son Steve greeted us by quickly ushering us out the door. Armed with a chest of jewels (or so they seemed to the innocent eye), he explained the plan: on the next day, the lake children would search for the treasure by following clues, written by Steve in elaborate verse, and deposited in significant sites around and in the lake–Sunset Rock, The Ice House, Table Rock, etc. As we followed Steve into the woods, we came to the point where four trails converged. Depositing a clue on the branch of a nearby tree, Steve then paced out forty steps to the right, where he buried the chest, marking the spot with crisscrossed deer bones shaped as a cross. Brock and I, feeling depleted after our long drive, headed back to the house for a swim and a cocktail, while Steve traipsed on, depositing the rest of the clues.
21treasure hybt

The real fun began the following day, when the children, escorted by a few adults, set out together in search of the buried treasure. They were not alone. Along the route were a few of Steve’s friends who, dressed in unbelievable costumes, helped interpret the clues.

Fortune Teller in the Attic from Brock Evans

Fortune Teller in the Attic from Brock Evans

The next-to-last stop was our house, where the children climbed the stairs up to the dormitory (reputed for generations to be the home of ghosts) only to find a fortune-teller who–in exchange for the coin sequestered at their last stop–provided the final clue. Not long after, among shrieks of delight, they were divvying up the treasure.

It is times like these that make farewells so bitter sweet. The more enjoyable the experiences, the harder it is to bring them to a close.

Wrangler Jeans From Way Out Texas

Wrangler Jeans From Way Out Texas


Driving home from the lake, and contemplating the new school year, I thought about my next point of closure–resigning as Director of CCT. I leave the program in excellent hands–those of Dr. David Lightfoot, my former dean and mentor–who without a doubt will bring the program to new heights. And, as a member of the faculty, I shall have more time to do what I love best, pursuing with my students the treasure of seeking greater knowledge and understanding. Nonetheless, I am grateful to the students, faculty and staff who–given the special times we have shared–have made this, for me, a tender moment indeed.

“Once More to the Lake”

View from my chair in the corner of the porch (D. Linda Garcia)

View from my chair in the corner of the porch (D. Linda Garcia)

One can never forget E.B White’s essay “Once More to the Lake,” written for The New Yorker” in 1929. In this essay, White describes in a most eloquent, and detailed fashion, the pleasures he experienced as a child, making an annual retreat with his father to a lake in the woods of Maine. Equally compelling is his account of bringing his own son to this special place. As he notes, the joyfulness of the place was enhanced with each new iteration, as he relives his own childhood experiences through the eyes and delights of his son.

I know the feeling well.  As I described in my earliest blogs, I have had the good fortune of inheriting a cottage at Lake Hawthorne, situated in 450 acres of woods, in Northern New Jersey.  It has been in my family now for five generations, so I have had a chance to witness a number of traditions being reenacted and reinforced over time.  With each new crop of children I, too, was able to fondly reminisce and relive some powerful experiences not only with respect to my own childhood but also that of my son.

It was, therefore, with great anticipation that I set out for the New Jersey Highlands on the Thursday before the Fourth of July. Never mind the two and a half days of preparation–cleaning, laundry, planting the few pots of daisies that had yet to be put in the ground. Never mind the relentless traffic along the way–the endless New Jersey Turnpike, with police cars stationed behind every turn, the roaring trucks racing along Route 287, and the crawling cascade of cars on Route 80, all leaving the city, seeking solace, and heading for destinations such as mine.  As I neared the turnoff on Route 517 in Sparta, I could once again smell the flowers–so to speak. So could my dog Sparky, who extended his nose as far as he could out the car window, and then sniffed and sniffed and sniffed.

Arrival (D. Linda Garcia)

Arrival (D. Linda Garcia)


 Although I was as eager as Sparky to get to the Lake, we had to slow down. The last leg of the trip is a dirt road, and the heavy rains of the previous weeks had left a number of washboards in its stead. Negotiating the hills on the winding road around the lake we finally arrived. Out jumped Sparky, and I soon followed, my books, computer, and luggage in tow.

We were hardly there more than an hour, when my grandson Ben arrived full of pressing news. “Remember,” he said, “when my Dad and Uncle Bret had a fake marriage with their cousins Jenny and Tara. Well, tomorrow we are going to keep up the tradition; I am marrying Olivia (Jenny’s daughter and his third cousin), and Sophie (my grand daughter) is going to marry Brody (her godmother’s son).” It was all settled: they had been planning the event for a week.

The next day, in between claps of thunder and streaks of lightning, the wedding took place–best men, maids of honor, flowers and all. My husband Brock and I supplied the cakes–one chocolate, one vanilla. The children were serious, but a bit tenuous–as well they should have been. When asked if he took his Cousin Olivia for his wife, Ben replied: “Well sort of.” In response, Olivia replied, “Well kinda.”

Mock Wedding--Second Time Around (D. Linda Garcia)

Mock Wedding--Second Time Around (D. Linda Garcia)

You can imagine why sometimes when I am at the lake, I am–like E.B. White–not sure whether I am coming or going. At times like these,  I like to remember that my son Stephen did not ever marry his cousin Jenny.  However, he  did marry his lake playmate Haley–the girl next door.  

The Safety Net

CCT alum Molly Moran flying high! (courtesy of Garrison Le Masters

CCT alum Molly Moran flying high!

In some circumstances, it really behooves one to have a safety net! That’s why when children take their initial steps, and teenagers first get behind the wheel, mothers and fathers are close at hand. A ritualistic dance ensues–as children develop their skills and talents, parents step back, making room for them to grow. The trick is establishing the right distance, appropriate for the circumstances at hand. 

Even as adults we benefit from safety nets, although they are far more transparent, receding into the background until a need for them arises. For example, I vividly recall a time a few summers ago, when my husband Brock and I came to appreciate the value of a safety net, while vacationing at our home at Hawthorne Lake.

Hawthorne at Sunset (courtesy of RHITMrB)

Hawthorne at Sunset (courtesy of RHITMrB)

As is our habit, Brock got up early to make coffee, which we planned to drink in bed, while watching the sun come up. Eager to watch the dawn break, he went down to the dock while waiting for the water to boil. Unfortunately he fell asleep. When he awoke the kitchen wall was in flames. Smelling the smoke, I ran downstairs, almost colliding with my husband who was racing up from the dock. Somehow we managed to call the fire deparment all the while throwing buckets of water at the fire. Driving ten miles up the mountain road–the last leg of which is dirt–the firemen finally arrived. They were there just in time to tell us that we had successfully put out the fire.

Sparta Fire Department

Sparta Fire Department

We were panicked nonetheless. How were we to inform my son Stephen–one of the fifth generation to grow up at the lake–that we had destroyed his patrimony? How were we had to restore the kitchen, much less Crossepatch, our smoke filled house, to it’s historic charm? Although it seemed a hopeless cause, we jumped into the car and raced to town, where we purchased every cleaning apparatus, and cleaning solution, in sight. Scrubbing away over the next few hours, our efforts seemed hopeless. However, not much later, my sister Anne came along, and–sympathetic to our plight, but surprised by our endeavors–reminded us our house was safe: As she pointed out, we had a safety net–our insurance company.

Crossepatch in Summer (courtesy of Haley Collins)

Crossepatch in Summer (courtesy of Haley Collins)

Safety nets are not always institutionalized. Nor do they necessarily require financial investments. Even though we are less cognizant of them, many safety nets inhere in the social structure in which we are embedded. This fact was brought home to me ten day’s ago after my husband’s fall. Within a few hours of the event, the phone began to ring. Neighbors and friends alike emerged from out of nowhere, looking for ways to help. Most touching to me was the call from Rachael, my husband’s ex-wife, who–reassuring me that “she was there for me–” invited me over to share her delicious, Seder left-overs.

Some say that the safety nets that emerge from social interactions are no different from formal institutions–such as insurance companies–in which we consciously invest in order to hedge our bets about the future. Thus, for example, rational actor theorists such as Nan Lin insist that individuals weigh the costs and benefits of investing their time and energy in establishing connections in the hopes of capturing future returns in the form of greater resources. I beg to disagree. Just as Mark Buchanan has argued in his book The Social Atom: Why the Rich Get Richer, Cheaters Get Caught, and Your Neighbors Usually Look Like You, humans motivations are far more complex than rational actor theorists might surmise. As Buchanan emphasizes, we are essentially social atoms whose behavior is guided as much by our evolutionary instincts and emotional needs as it is by rational choice.

And thank goodness! Circumstances call for a variety of actions, and a variety of responses. When our formal institutions fail us, we have our social relations to fall back on–just as in the hard times of today, when family and friends are turning inwards to support one another. If scholars such as Robert Putam are correct, these informal groups might generate greater social capital in the course of their interactions, which can be employed, in turn, to help reshape and rebuild much sturdier formal institutions for future generations.

Back to School

Courtesy of Avoire

Courtesy of Avoire

Across the globe, the New Year is celebrated at different times of year. My own preference is to begin the New Year in September–the date used in the Gregorian, Eastern Orthodox calender; for this is the time when, everywhere, students and teachers alike, are returning back to school. To be sure, on January 1st, I never fail to make New Year resolutions, some of which I actually keep. But in September, I feel differently. Instead of focusing on self-improvement, my expectations run high when the new school year begins. Satiated with all the diverse, lackadaisical, and serendipitous happenings of Summer, I am right up there–at the gate–ready to take off. Enthused and excited, I think: A new year, a new beginning!

I attribute some of these positive aspirations to nostalgia, and my early summers spent at Lake Hawthorne. In mid-August, not long after the brown-eyed susans blossomed, the huckleberries ripened, and the katydids arrived, we would begin to plan for school. It was a memorable event. My mother would drive my sister and I in our old, maroon-colored Dodge to the nearest large town, about forty five minutes away. Wandering along the streets inhabited by white, Victorian buildings, their paint often peeling down the sides, we would shop to buy new outfits for the first day of school. The selection in this rural town was limited to say the least, but we always found something–typically a red/blue plaid dress with a white collar and ruffled sleeves. No matter, it was never the actual style of the dress that was important: Rather, it was its newness, an important symbol that conjured up for me the idea of a a fresh start and a propitious beginning. To accompany the dress, we bought very sensible shoes, the ugly, brown, lace-up type. Then, we would stop by the five-and-ten cent store–now an artifact of antiquity, to be sure–where we would very carefully finger through and select from among the wide array of three-ringed notebooks, paper, and pens. I hesitated, convinced that my choice of which items to buy would determine my academic success. Best of all, before driving home, we would visit the local luncheonette, where we sat at the counter, and slowly savored an ice cream soda. Back at the lake, I imagined myself on the first day of school, dressed in my new outfit, and armed with my ‘lucky’, hand-selected writing implements. A renewed sense of confidence came over me. I knew that I would not be shy on that first day. No, I would be thrilled to see my old friends; glad to make new ones; and–in those brown shoes–start off on the right foot with my new teacher.

More than fifty summers later, it is that time again. Time to get ready for a new academic year. Already I have noticed recent graduates stopping by the office to catch up and say their final goodbyes; new students visiting in search of housing and perhaps to reassure themselves that their investments in the CCT Program will payoff; faculty straying back from out of town with tales of their summer exploits, and, of course, the book store nagging faculty to turn in their book orders. Refreshed and stimulated by my month-long vacation, I am eager to start. However, just as I did as a youth, I follow some rituals. First, I prime my pump, putting all my recent reading materials on the floor, and slowly savoring each. Each book has become a part of me, a new window through which I can look at the world. But, my attachment to all these books constitutes a major problem for me as well: how will I ever decide what books I should assign, and which I should leave out? Without a doubt, I will include The Stag Hunt, and for sure, Epstein’s introductory chapter in Generative Social Science.. Likewise, in my discussions on networks and emergence, I will use Paul Pierson’s Politics in Time and Beinhocker’s wonderful book, The Creation of Wealth. As part of this sorting process, I fiddle, and faddle, and fiddle some more, changing the reading assignments, the sequence of classes, and even the style of the font. Having become a convert to blogging, I also integrate an on-line component into my courses. Eventually, I am satisfied–I think I have it right.

Then, before going home, I check out Howard Rheingold’s blog, and look at his syllabi posted there. In one, he includes a short film clip, produced by Michael Wesch and his students at the University of Kansas. Entitled A Vision of Students Today, the film takes me aback. It all too compellingly coveys how our traditional teaching styles are less and less relevant in today’s digital environment. I stop. I pause. Tomorrow, I determine, I will revisit my syllabus, taking this film into account. In the meantime, and just to be on the safe side, I will stop at the store on my way home, and buy a new outfit to wear on the first day of school.

Blogging on Blogging

Often, when I am planning to travel to an Italian, German, or Spanish-speaking country, my foreign language skills improve the closer and closer I get to the trip. Then, when I arrive at my destination, and begin to immerse myself in the foreign experience, the language becomes ever so more natural to me. Eventually, I feel at home. But, to my surprise, towards the end of the trip, an inverse process occurs — I stumble on grammar, am reduced to the present tense, and forget all sorts of familiar, every-day words.

Experimenting with this blog has been much the same for me as learning a new language.

Experimenting with this blog has been much the same for me as learning a new language. I had to seek help, stumble a lot, and make many mistakes before I could begin to get the hang of it. And now that I have, my vacation here at Lake Hawthorne is coming to an end: We are about to leave this idyllic place for home — forsaking the frogs in favor of sirens in Washington DC. Sitting, for the last time, on the porch in the early morning, watching the reflecting sun ripple like diamonds across the water, I take my leave, wondering: Have I met my husband’s challenge to use the blog to relate theory to practice and practice to theory? More specifically, has blogging affected how I experienced my own vacation at our cabin, here on the lake? Did it alter the way I think about and perceive what I am reading? Will I keep blogging, or will my new found enthusiasm deteriorate, much the way my skills at a foreign language might, when I return home to Washington and become engrossed in the world of work?

Forest Food Web

The Forest Food Web (courtesy Maryland Public Schools)

I speculate… Yes, to be sure, blogging has made a difference. I am more attuned to, and reflective about, what is happening around me. I find that, when reading, writing, and reflecting on my own experiences, I bring my whole self to bear on a problem, issue, or observation. Every object around me is brought into greater relief, and I can recall it in the greatest detail. Thus, I can still see in my mind’s eye the three pileated woodpeckers, their red top-nots bobbing, hammering away simultaneously at the dead tree adjacent to our house. At the same time, however — as is true when looking at any set of objects and activities in all their complexity — I experience how the whole is greater than any of the parts. So I see the frogs, the birds, the midnight sky, my grandchildren — even the deer ticks — as part of a wondrous on-going process: The substance of life, as well as the material for the blog. As Ron Burt might agree, it is the interaction among the diverse senses that is the source of good ideas.

A Froggy Goes A-Courting

Bull Frog, courtesy dbarronoss on FlickrIn Washington, D.C., I am often awakened by the shrieking sounds of sirens, as police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances go racing past my house and down my street. But here, at Lake Hawthorne, it is the sounds of frogs — Bull Frogs to be exact — that interrupt my nightly reveries. Some say that it is chirping, but I perceive the Bull Frogs’ vocal chorus more like “plink-plunk,” as in the cello’s pizzicato notes that adorn some of Beethoven’s chamber music. Except for their mysterious, and thankfully temporary, disappearance several years ago — the Bull Frogs, together with many amphibians all across the States, constitute an eternal feature of The Lake. Thus, as is true for other aspects of my surroundings here, I have tended to take them for granted. No longer! Reading Skyrms’ The Stag Hunt, I have been inspired to ponder them, or in Jim Rosenau’s words, “to think about them thoroughly.”

Nature’s solution to this dilemma is the evolution of a signaling systems (or, as we have seen in the specific case of language, conventions) are established not by prior agreement. Rather, they evolve through interactions.

Recall that the Stag Hunt is all about cooperation, and how it might emerge and be maintained, notwithstanding that, at the individual level, non-cooperation will likely have a higher pay-off. Here we have a major social dilemma; for, although the individual may gain in such a case, society as a whole loses. Nature’s solution to this dilemma is the evolution of a signaling systems (or, as we have seen in the specific case of language, conventions) are established not by prior agreement. Rather, they evolve through interactions. As importantly — pointing to many human experiments and computer simulations — Skyrms notes that signaling systems are in equilibrium (in other words self-enforcing) in nature; hence, alternative strategies just don’t survive the evolutionary process. No wonder, then, that this kind of cooperation can be observed all around us, especially in the biological world. Thus, we find that cells merge together to create organisms; mouth bacteria join together in a community to form plaque; and myxococcis xantus aggregate themselves in mounds so as to survive food shortages. When, and how, these life forms alter their behaviors — often described as a phase transition — depends on timing and the specific situation in which they are located, as well as the types of messages that they exchange. 

At Lake Hawthorne, with Skryms’ discussion in mind, I am not only awakened by the Bull Frogs, I typically spend the next few hours, after their first “plink-plunk,” contemplating their sounds and signals. Imagining the contours in the lake’s circumference, and imaging the sequence of coves, I wonder which frogs are making what signals, where? I ask myself: What messages are they communicating? Do their different pitches signal a different message? According to my subsequent Google search, Bull Frogs communicate in order to stake out their territories, or to attract a mate and reproduce — certainly one form of cooperation. That the Bull Frogs signaling system is effective in this latter regard is verified to the extent that, according to my Google sources, female Bull Frogs — on connecting up with a Bull male — produce up to 25,000 eggs. This number assures their survival, even if, as my dog Sparky is wont to do, intruders constantly dive into the frogs’ habitat, seeking to satisfy their own curiosity about the sounds and signals.

There is another way in which The Stag Hunt is relevant to my experiences with frogs at Lake Hawthorne. As young adults, my cohorts and I initiated one more yearly tradition — the Frog Jumping Contest. It was held on the Fourth of July. To enter, and capture a contestant, we had to organize a “stag hunt.” In our little cooperative venture, one person rowed the boat, one held the flashlight, and two got in the muck (along with the leeches) to net the frog. The pay-off was having fun. In those days, we called it a “blast.” But one night, after searching all the coves, and getting all mucked up, we had little to show for our efforts — a smallish frog, no more that four inches in length. Perhaps we were over-zealous, but in our merriment, we decided to substitute our frog for a larger frog that our friends — who were also competing in the Jump — had sequestered that evening in their bathtub. Stealthily sneaking into their house, and switching our frog for theirs, was every bit as challenging, not to say entertaining, as the hunt itself. But in the morning, it didn’t seem so funny: our friends, viewing us as “defectors” who had broken the rules of the game, were no longer enthusiastic about the Jump. Understandably, there were few subsequent jumping contests after that night. And it was soon thereafter that the frogs just disappeared. My mother, who loved the frogs, said it was the fault of Frog Hunts. Post-Skyrms, I think that she might have been right — too many intruders disrupting their life cycle, or, better yet, their signaling system.

Blogging Lake Hawthorne

It might be somewhat unusual to start a blog on vacation in the highlands of northern New Jersey, but I thought that this was a good time to read the stack of books I have been collecting, and to try to tie them together in anticipation of teaching my courses Networking, Technology, and Society and Networks and International Development in the Communications Culture and Technology Program this fall. It so happened that, once we became ensconced in our chairs on the front veranda, my husband stared at the pile of books I brought and asked somewhat skeptically: “Do all the theories is those books really tell you anything about every day life?” That statement became my inspiration. My plan now is to reflect upon and characterize my surroundings here at Lake Hawthorne through the lenses of the theories presented in my books. The question I ask myself is: What do I see that would have been invisible to me if I had not used theory to focus my attention?

First, let me say a little about Lake Hawthorne. It is located in the mountains, literally at the top of New Jersey. My great-grandfather, H. P. Dillistin, belonged to a hiking club in Paterson, NJ, and he and his friends would explore the area. One day, when he found out that he could buy the property (540 acres) for $540 dollars, he didn’t hesitate. The land was purchased and then parceled out to independent families with the number being limited to 30. This limit remain in place today.

Who knows, if behind the next turn in the road, you might find a coyote, fox, or bear. Sometimes they come visiting.

The house we live in, at the south side of the lake, was built in 1908 by my grandfather, Franklin Crosse. Except for indoor plumbing, the installation of a refrigerator to replace an “ice box,” and the electricity, the house is pretty much the way it was when my grandfather built it. Imagine the screened-in veranda facing the lake, and the creaking sound of the front porch door. The house is ten feet from the lake, so the view is both spectacular and serene. Around us is a second growth forest, which is home to a large variety of birds, including an occasional herring or bald eagle. Who knows, if behind the next turn in the road, you might find a coyote, fox, or bear. Sometimes they come visiting. The motto of Sparta, New Jersey, the township in which we are located, is very apropos: “People living with their environment.”

It has been my good fortune to have spend most of my childhood summers here, as did my son Steve and daughter-in-law Haley, who are now rearing our grandson Ben and granddaughter Sophie (five and seven), in accordance with the same kinds of traditions and activities. The common meaning of our experiences is re-enacted each year, generation after generation, so that everyone has come to take it for granted. No matter what our age, we all feel the same excitement, and know what’s in store for us, when we say: “We are going to ‘The Lake.'”

This description suffices as background materials for the coming discussion linking theory and everyday life, which I will begin to pursue next time. In particular, I will look at “the Lake” as a commons, and discuss it in terms of Brian Skyrms‘ book, The Stag Hunt (2003).