(Based on an article for Borzoi Connection…)
One day several years ago, an opportunity presented itself to us to purchase a borzoi. We knew someone who owned a lovely one, and the breeder had the litter-mate of this borzoi for sale. Our friend’s borzoi was among the most delightful dogs we had ever known. Our friend recommended us to the breeder, agreeing that we would be a good home for him. We immediately agreed to buy him, sight unseen. By then, the dogs were young adults. We thought, how wonderful it would be to have a borzoi! He would be reunited with his litter-mate, and they could play together in the park! So it began our life with borzoi.
When this exquisite creature joined our household, we realized things would not be so easy. He had lived most of his life as a kennel dog, not as a house dog. He had limited socialization and was not housebroken. To compound problems, our little home, so perfect for us, was all wrong for him. Not having a fenced yard only complicated the situation, since that was what he was accustomed to. A month of confusion reigned. We got through it, and it lead to the decision of finding a more suitable home for us to live in with him, and for the other borzoi that would soon join him. We could not have only one. Although he was always sweet and loving, he seemed nervous and easily frightened with new experiences for some time to come. We strove to teach him that the world was a good place to be and that it could be fun, too. It took a lot of hard work, consistency, and the passage of time. Eventually, he rewarded us with his unconditional trust and came to understand that the world with us was a safe place. Today, he is a happy dog with his place in the world.
When we began to show another dog, a breeder told us to pick a kennel name. “But, we are not breeders!”, I said. “No matter”, she said! After much thought and consideration, I knew I wanted a word that connoted a mental state, then, one that was very positive, and then, the best word I could think of was “Bliss” because that was the emotion I experienced with my dogs. I made the word special, my own, and named the kennel, “Blyss Kennels”. It is more than a name, it is a goal and a purpose, first and foremost, for our dogs.
Bob and I both have demanding careers that keep us busy during the week. However, when we come home after a long day, as we drive through Mountainside, up the first ridge of the Watchung Mountains and turn into the long hill that is our driveway, the outside world disappears behind us. There, our focus is on our dogs that are our passion. There is nothing more compelling to us than our dogs during this time in our lives. Perhaps we represent a more modern kind of kennel, as the world is changing, and costs of living are so high, sadly. Today, more breeders and kennel owners work full time and make do with less land, with costs so prohibitive in most parts of the country. We know that we are not unique. Perhaps down the road of life for us, we will breed a litter or two if we are living in a different place, or if one of our bitches is whelped elsewhere. It is not ideal, but somehow we may find a way to make that dream litter happen, as others do. People have a way of finding their blyss…
In 2003, when we looked for a house to buy that would support our growing interests in dogs, we chose this particular property atop the first ridge of the Watchung Mountains in Mountainside, NJ. Looking east from our ridge, the first, one sees the distant harbors of NY, Newark and Elizabeth on display with dramatic vistas. Looking west, one sees the series of ridges going into the distance toward Morristown.
Down the road from our home, is the entrance to the nearest park, The Watchung Reservation. The Watchung Mountains were carved from the sliding of glaciers over many millennia. They left behind a series of three tall ridges in the landscape parallel with the coast line, with sloping hills and sheltering valleys interspersed among them. Together, these ridges hide a network of valleys, streams and lakes which hold the secrets to the communities that dwelled there in the past. Fortunately, along the top of many of these ridges, much of it has been preserved forest and county park lands.
The Watchung Reservation is a preserved wooded forest atop the first ridge of the Watchung Mountains. It is a county park consisting of over 2000 acres of heavily wooded natural forest. We may not call it our own, but the proximity of it beckon to our dogs daily. There, we walk them at dawn. What a way that is for borzoi to begin a day, with so many different trails from which to choose! Certain ones of the borzoi are allowed to run off-leash to “hunt” on trails, deep in the forest, far from any road. Walking north-west into the park, Bob often turns left down Cataract Hollow Road. This road leads to an old abandoned town, formerly known as “Feltsville”, so named after its founder, David Felt, and now called “The Deserted Village”. Established in 1845, it was once a grand, industrious, Utopian community. However, today it consists of a dozen abandoned but still handsome cottages. Upon entering the town, the appearance is such that one thinks its inhabitants are simply gone for the day.
Immediately upon entering the vicinity of the town, the air feels pristine and cool. There, towering old forest trees surround the houses. The borzoi always want to stop and rest there for a while when they arrive to breathe in the especially refreshing, restorative atmosphere for a time. As they linger, one wonders, are they visiting old friends, perhaps?
Behind the row of remaining houses, the land drops in a sudden precipice and creates a sheltering valley, with another high cliff rising up on the other side. This dramatic enclave is known as Blue Brook Valley through which the creek, Blue Brook, flows. During the time of Feltville, two great paper mills stood on the banks of the brook, and a profitable factory once operated, situated on the high land above, providing the essential manufacturing jobs for the community while it was there
Blue Brook is also the water source for Surprise Lake down stream, a tranquil, picturesque lake with an abundance of water-lilies. What a beautiful backdrop Surprise Lake makes for an autumn photograph.
Blue Brook supports the diverse biosphere of the forest, without which it would be arid. Blue Brook would later play a role in other ventures that followed after Feltville was sold due to its steady water source and the pristine beauty of the valley and the pure forest air. A businessman purchased the site and turned Feltville into an elegant summer resort called Glenside Park, using the lovely cottages remaining from Feltville for guest houses through the early twentieth century. He then purchased the water rights for the largest nearby city of Plainfield. Nothing worked for long, however. Over time, none of the subsequent entrepreneurs were successful.
In the 1920s, the County purchased the site. By then, the mills and factory were long gone, and most of the structures had been torn down, leaving only several cottages and the great barn remaining. No one had the will to tear them all down, it seemed. The remaining structures were shuttered closed as they were, and so they remained until recently, until a state college acquired funding to make it an archeological site. However, at that time, in 1920, the town was renamed its official moniker, “The Deserted Village”, and it became a rich source of local myth and lore. Subsequently, it became a popular hiking destination, due to its proximity to the Sierra Trail that also runs through the Watchung Reservation at the South West point, and it appears on many tourist maps in the region for that purpose. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, thereby securing its status, study and preservation. Like our borzoi, it seems that modern people like old places. We cannot help but wonder what it is that the borzoi see when they stop to visit for a while.
Leaving the The Deserted Village by Cataract Hollow Road, walking in the other direction and back into the forests, one comes upon a cemetery dating from Revolutionary War times, a Four Century Designated Site. They mark the graves of two farming families who lived in the areas called Peter’s Hill. The grave markers bear their names and those of their family members: Peter Willcocks (d. 1776), and his cousin, Joseph Badgley. Both men were soldiers in the American Revolutionary War, who fought on the American side. War was then, as it is today, an ever present part of peoples’ lives.
One year, General George Washington’s men marched nearby after encamping for a winter at Morristown. They traveled south over the Watchung Mountains’ ridges from Morristown and into Greenbrook, a few miles west of Watchung Reservation on their way to the Battle of Trenton. Today, where those soldiers lived and farmed, are schools, multi-national corporations, towns, and homes. So many people to visit, so many places to see, and all in a borzoi’s morning walk in the woods. We can only wonder what it is that the borzoi know and see.
This is where we find ourselves today passing many hours of our free time with our dogs. For we have no field or farm or woods to call our own, or any prospects of acquiring one anytime in the near future. Yet, we look to the future with a dream of owning them, with an expanse of land, land that is flat and fenced, and measured in multiple acres and not fractions of one. We look forward to welcoming the new borzoi that will grace our lives, perhaps a descendent of our own beautiful Mikhailya. Yet, we shall always look back on these years when we lived with our borzoi in the Watchung Mountains as an enchanting time, a time of firsts and beginnings for us. Quite by accident, we bought our first borzoi, then others, all special and each with their own story, followed. Our beloved Opal lived with us here, from 2004 – 2006, too, too briefly. And although she has been gone a while now, I still see four borzoi walking ahead of me on the trails in the Watchung Reservation, and not the three that are really there. And I look upon the special walks she and I took together as among my most cherished memories. Perhaps that is because of other dimensions for which the Watchung Reservation is known that I have failed to mention with all that I have described. Those opaque dimensions that endure, hanging over the mountains like a shroud as they do in all ancient places:
The dimensions where light is refracted through ancient prisms
The dimensions of dimmed and dearest memories
The dimensions of romance most dear in reverie
The dimensions weave a golden-threaded tapestry in the sky.
The dimensions where dappled light deludes the wanderer
The dimensions where truth melds with legend for eternity
The dimensions of the sought after, sheltering valley
The dimensions of silence for listeners to comprehend
The dimensions of loving that what was lost forever in time
The dimensions of ancient places joins the old to the new.
The dimensions of never failing friends never seen in rendezvous
The dimensions of footsteps seeking eternal streams
The dimension invisible within the sphere of time
The dimension camouflaged beneath the canopy above
The dimension of an ever-changing colored kalidescope world
The dimension that tugs me ever onward to the quest
The dimension that pulls me, beckons to me, calling me home.
When the walk is finished, and the dogs’ care is complete back at home, only then do we turn our attention to the day ahead that demands so much of us, that binds us here, that wrench us from our dogs, our very hearts. However, as everything ends, someday they too will end. We look toward a long awaited retirement with a new full-time job, Blyss Kennels.
We would like to say Thank You to the following breeders who made Blyss Kennels happen for us by entrusting us with their beautiful dogs:
Joseph Lara. Lara’s River of Dreams. Casanova
An Curtis. Blyss Paris Lights of Lido. Paris
Karen Staudt-Cartabona. CH. Majenkir My Ksar Mikhailovna. Mikhailya
Roni & Jennifer Zucker. Raynbo Opalesque at Blyss. Opal.(2004 – 2006). Never forgotten…Always loved.
March 24, 2008