Little Brook Sanctuary is 100 acres of land purchased by The Somerset County Park Commission, my husband's former employer, with the mission statement of acquiring and conserving for future generations lands that have unique or special value due to the natural beauty and ecological features. This includes a brook that meanders through undeveloped land which serve as a habitat for mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds, insects, flowers, trees, shrubs, vines, herbs, grasses and ferns.
Little Brook Sanctuary is also where my husband took me on a mucky hike to the top of the hill, where he proposed to me 28 years ago and I said yes. Six months later, on a muggy August morning, a small group of family and friends gathered there, a bagpiper playing Amazing Grace in the morning mist.
Little Brook Sanctuary is where we plan to have our ashes scattered. To offset the toxicity of the recent two day visits with his daughters and just because I somehow managed to find our original Certificate of Marriage while trying to organize our paperwork, I decided to take my husband back there on our anniversary. I was not yet officially a Methodist when we married, but he worked with a woman whose husband had been a pastor at the Methodist church I later joined. The pastor was rather open and agreed to marry us. I wore white despite it being my third marriage.
Little Brook Sanctuary has rather meager mention on the internet. I wanted to surprise my husband, so all I told him was he could sleep late, then we would be going on an adventure together. Our older son printed out a map. I found a CD of seven different versions of Amazing Grace, given to my husband last Christmas by my daughter: a rare acoustic performance (heard on the radio) by Hubert Laws, Willie Nelson, Celtic Woman, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Celtica Pipes Rock!, Johnny Cash, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
Little Brook Sanctuary, according to the website has "a small parking lot adjacent to the rustic entrance. Entrance through old gate a few yards up road from parking area." Anniversary adventure indeed...we followed the map while listening to Amazing Grace. My husband kept saying how he had never been here before, but it was so beautiful. According to the map, we should have gotten there in six minutes. After realizing the road signs were not matching the map, I tried to text our son. "We are SO lost." My cell phone replied, "No Service. Emergency Calls Only."
Little Brook Sanctuary, when we got married, was right near former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' estate, the perimeter guarded by Secret Service, who actually stopped us back in 1986. It was this tidbit of information that helped as I stopped to ask a dog-walking-woman, then later a running-in-purple-woman. Neither had ever heard of the Sanctuary, but both knew where Jackie's estate had been, gave us conflicting directions but wished us a happy anniversary.
Little Brook Sanctuary has a small disclaimer on the website: " MapQuest and GPS do not recognize Little Brook Sanctuary's location since it is too remote." After over an hour, driving in various circles and loops on lush green back roads, I drove up a dirt private road, past several No Trespassing signs, through two intimidating gates and finally found the three car unpaved parking lot. Rustic entrance, understatement. "We found it!" I exclaimed. My husband asked if we were still in New Jersey.
Little Brook Sanctuary is certainly a well-kept secret, wedged between several wealthy towns. We walked up the road and found the equivilent of a deer path. Single file, I kept turning back to make sure he was okay. Finally we came across a trail marker, then several more, uphill and getting hotter, nothing looked the same to either of us. The trail ended with large trees crisscrossing the path, a crude bench on which we gladly sat. As he caught his breath, I pulled out the white and gold-lettered Certificate of Marriage and with an unexpected lump in my throat, told him we were renewing our vows.