Tag Archives: Nature

North Jersey’s Secret Campground

We went deeper and deeper into the forest. Tents and shelters disappeared, replaced by foxes, deer, and silence.

We pulled up to a small clearing, scarcely another human in sight.


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The road to Steam Mill

This is Steam Mill Campground in Stokes State Forest. The 16,000 acre park in northern New Jersey is popular with campers, but today we were off the beaten path.

This beautiful spot is less visited than other camping spots in Stokes. The sounds of music and conversation were replaced with bird calls.

Deer near Lake Ocquittunk

Dinner was an incredible coq au vin courtesy of our friend Jim*. A lengthy reduction of the broth left it redolent of bacon and wine.

We weren’t the only ones who loved the smell. As darkness fell, an adorable baby raccoon wandered onto our campsite!

Our friend Roscoe

He was so tame, he rubbed against my leg like a cat. My friend Tim* named him Roscoe.

As he ambled back into the forest, we heard his mother scold him with a loud shriek. I guess little raccoons can be as naughty as little humans.

Our days were for exploring.

Tillman Ravine

We hiked Tillman Ravine, a steep and dramatic landscape of rock and evergreen. It reminded me of the hills and pine forests of the Pacific Northwest.

After a short hike, our friend Victor* casually mentioned “I think the car is this way.” Some campers prefer the hot dogs to the hiking. 🙂

Towering evergreens at Tillman Ravine

Eager to go further, I took a long stroll down an abandoned fire road. The isolation and quiet does wonders for the mind.

But I wasn’t entirely alone. A huge barred owl glided across the path and landed in a tree, looking down at me.

Look closely…

In all our lives, what were the odds that we’d ever see each other? But I’m glad we did!

That night, unexpectedly heavy rain came down. I suffered a catastrophic tent failure and ran to the car.

Settling into the dry seat, I was so grateful for civilization. Sometimes you need to rough it just a bit to feel that gratitude.

Despite its remote location, Steam Mill is quite livable.

There’s delicious spring water on tap a short walk away. Many sites have platforms for tents and there’s even a bathroom…sort of.

The toilet seat is like the one you have at home, but it sits above a deep pit. 😨 It may not be the Four Seasons, but it’s serviceable.

Flush toilets and showers are a couple of miles away at the Lake Ocquittunk camping area, among others.

If you yearn for quiet and wildlife, Steam Mill is for you. It’s a bit less comfy, but the tranquil beauty makes it more than worthwhile.

Hope to see you there!

What are you favorite natural spots? Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know!

More on the outdoors:

A Hidden Castle…In New Jersey?

The Real Groundhogs of New Jersey

Pine Barrens Glamping in Brendan Byrne State Forest

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Misfits Market

I’ve used Misfits for years, and it never disappoints! Every fruit and vegetable is organic, super fresh, and packed with flavor!

I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $15 on your first order. 

*Not their real names.

A Wisconsin Summer With The People Who Matter Most

As I entered the baggage claim, I heard an old friend’s voice calling my name. But where was he?

My head swiveled around, confused. Then, Matt* rolled up to me in a purloined wheelchair with a big smile on his face.

That’s when I knew this would be an interesting trip.

A mural in Milwaukee celebrating the great Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks!

One of the greatest things about the world today is how we’re getting back to the moments we used to love. In person events, concerts, and travel are finally returning to brighten our lives after a long absence.

I’m back today from the most wonderful vacation I’ve had in a long time! I got to see my mother and my old friends in Wisconsin for the first time since COVID.

I began with a visit with Matt in Milwaukee.

We’ve known each other since the 8th grade. I’m lucky to have such a longstanding friendship.

It had been nearly three years since we’d seen each other, but we didn’t miss a beat! We laughed all the way home from the airport, always on an adventure no matter what we’re doing.

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Milwaukee’s Hoan Bridge

Dinner was airy spanikopita and delicate baklava at Sts. Constantine and Helen Grecian Fest. Milwaukee is known as the City of Festivals, and in the warmer months there are celebrations of heritage and food almost every day.

The next day, I grabbed the bus north to my mother’s house. Getting to hug her after nearly three years apart felt like the end to the difficult period the world has been in for the last several years.

Or…almost the end. Ironically, we both got COVID for the first time as soon as I arrived!

Luckily, our symptoms were mild and we’ve made full recoveries. And on the bright side, COVID kept us close to home and enjoying the simple things, like reading on the glider as deer and chipmunks passed by.

Deer in the yard
The view from the glider

We played cards with the same deck we used with my great grandpa 30 years ago. We walked slowly down the streets at sunset, just happy to be together again.

Frozen custard at Culver’s a Wisconsin must!

After about a week, I came back to Milwaukee to meet Matt again, joined by our friend Brian* from Madison. When we all lived in the same neighborhood shortly after college, we were an inseparable trio.

But we hadn’t been together all at once since 2018. We ambled down the charming industrial streets like the Three Musketeers, always more excited when it’s all three of us together.

When they dropped me at the airport to go home to New York, I wanted nothing more than to stay! But they have work they need to get back to, and so do I.

There’s only so many times I can go three or four years without seeing friends and family. At that interval, I might see them a dozen more times at most before we’re all gone.

So I plan to come more often and enjoy that special feeling of being around those I love and have known the longest. As Dorothy said, there’s no place like home.

More on travel:

A Special Weekend in Stokes State Forest

Pine Barrens Glamping in Brendan Byrne State Forest

Is this NJ’s Most Beautiful Spot?

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This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 with great returns.

More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get $100 in free bonus shares!

Misfits Market

I’ve used Misfits for years, and it never disappoints! Every fruit and vegetable is organic, super fresh, and packed with flavor!

I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $15 on your first order. 

*Names have been changed

A Special Weekend in Stokes State Forest

I walked up the cracked country road, wildflowers on either side. The birds sang and a rustle in the bushes made me turn my head.

A chipmunk! The little grey man stood still, awaiting my next move.

I tried to get a picture, but he was too fast!

This weekend I had the joy of visiting Stokes State Forest in northwestern New Jersey. Our state may be known for chemical plants and garbage dumps, but in these verdant woods, you’d never know it.


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The land undulates gently, slowly rising into broad, thickly wooded mountains. Tucked away in that woods was our campsite.

I returned to our temporary homestead after my stroll, dropping into my lawn chair with a groan. Burgers sizzled on the grill.

After a wonderful dinner and many laughs with friends, I retired to my tent on the edge of the forest. There’s something peaceful about making your bed in nature.

Stokes State Forest has excellent camping facilities that I’d recommend to anyone.

There are real bathrooms nearby, and they’re actually clean! The dispensers always have soap, a rare amenity in the woods.

A short drive away were the showers, and I felt like a new man after lathering up there on Saturday!

The campsites themselves are spacious and provide a good distance between you and other campers. But the water might be the best thing of all!

Stokes has an artesian well that provides some of the best-tasting mineral water you’ll ever drink! Locals who aren’t even camping drive into the forest to fill dozens of plastic bottles from this pristine spring.

When we’re camping, my friends and I don’t have to worry about getting home. Home is a tent just a few feet away!

There is no other time in this hectic modern world where I get to spend days at a time with some of my favorite people. That’s why camping is special.

If you’ve never camped, give it a try! Stokes is just over an hour from New York City and its natural beauty is more than worth the trip!

What are some of your favorite experiences in nature? Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know!

More on the outdoors:

How Camping Is Improving My Life

Pine Barrens Glamping in Brendan Byrne State Forest

My Camping Essentials: The Basics, The Wishlist, And The Things I Never Thought I’d Need But Can’t Live Without

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Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 with great returns.

More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get $100 in free bonus shares!

Misfits Market

I’ve used Misfits for years, and it never disappoints! Every fruit and vegetable is organic, super fresh, and packed with flavor!

I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $15 on your first order. 

Pine Barrens Glamping in Brendan Byrne State Forest

We opened the door to the cabin and stood silently, our mouths agape. In years visiting the woods, we’d never seen anything like this.

A beautiful brand new cabin!

The bunks were feathery soft. The carpentry was stunning, each board fitting together perfectly.

No sleeping on a bare floor tonight!

This is Brendan Bryne State Forest in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. This unusual ecosystem of pine trees and sandy soil is home to many rare plant and animal species, including 274 kinds of moss!

My friends and I unpacked our gear and started a fire, grilling up steaks and salmon burgers. Sitting around that fire, the concerns of daily life faded away like the smoke.

After a fine night’s sleep in the cushy bunks, we wolfed down ham and eggs and set off for a hike. The hiking is easy in the Pine Barrens, with flat terrain and well groomed trails.

We wondered at the beautiful conifers and placid ponds, often content with saying little.

As we made it back to camp, our friend Victor* pulled up! He had been tied up Friday but didn’t want to miss this wonderful weekend entirely.

Together, we cooked burgers, apple gouda sausages, and even a savory chili over the flames. We joked and laughed, untroubled by the need to get home at the end of the night.

Come Sunday morning, we all sat around after breakfast, reluctant to begin packing. It would mean the trip was over.

But pack we did, already planning our next visit.

Brendan Byrne has both cabins (with plumbing and electricity) and “shelters,” which was the simpler cabin we stayed in. I found it more than adequate, and at about $50 a night for Jersey residents, it’s a steal!

Now is the perfect time to visit the Pine Barrens!

The weather’s getting warmer but the ticks have yet to emerge. Enjoy this unique world while you can!

More on New Jersey:

Is this NJ’s Most Beautiful Spot?

The Mafia’s Hoboken Fortress

New Jersey’s Jelly Donut Heaven

*not his real name

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This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been great so far.

More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me.

Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor.

I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy!

I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. 

Meet New Jersey’s Biggest Polluter

Along the New Jersey Turnpike, it comes into view: a massive complex of tanks, smokestacks, and tangled pipes. This is New Jersey’s biggest polluter: the Phillips 66 Bayway Refinery.

The Phillips refinery releases far more toxic chemicals than anywhere else in the state, and more than twice as many as the runner-up (another refinery). Some of these chemicals may cause cancer.

Where do these chemicals go? Into poor communities in surrounding Linden, NJ:

“We live in a very low-income neighborhood, so we’re advocating for food, and shelter and everything else. I don’t believe we can get to the point where we’re able to advocate for the smells or the chemicals that are released in the air,” she said.

Despite its staggering environmental toll, the plant employees just 800 people and, even at full capacity, produces only 155,000 barrels of gasoline daily. This is less than 0.05% of the gasoline the US uses every day.

Even those far from New Jersey may have cause for concern: the plant sits two miles from Arthur Kill, the waterway that separates Staten Island from the Garden State and feeds into the Atlantic Ocean. I shudder to think what could happen in a natural disaster, to say nothing of a man-made one. Indeed, the refinery had to shut down prior to Hurricane Sandy.

We have a dangerous plant in the middle of one of the most densely populated places in the country, leeching out toxins. Its damage falls disproportionately on the poor and nonwhite. Its economic impact is modest.

Perhaps it’s time for a change?

More on New Jersey:

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Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account. I will also get a fee waiver for 90-365 days, depending on what type of account you open.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! I’ll also get 5% of however much you spend, at no cost to you.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

Why Are There Cars Full of Bulletholes in Ringwood State Park?

As I walked up the beginning of a trail covered in red and orange leaves last fall, I saw a dark form to my left. What is that, a rock, a downed tree? As I got closer, I realized it was the shell of a vintage automobile.

Coming closer, I realized this was not your average junker. The car appeared to be from the 40’s or 50’s, and it had more than mechanical trouble. Along the side was a series of large holes that appeared to have been made by a powerful firearm.

Did the car belong to an old time mobster, perhaps rubbed out in some gangland dispute and then dumped in the woods? If so, was there also a body nearby? And are there more cars in this woods?

This interesting find occurred to me again last night, so I did some Googling this morning but was unable to find any information about junked cars or dumped bodies in Ringwood State Park. The park is under an hour from New York City, so it seems entirely possible that it could be a mob graveyard. But the secret may have died with whoever was in that car many years ago.

Mysteries aside, Ringwood State Park is a beautiful and accessible spot that I highly recommend. Its undulating terrain affords beautiful views any time of year but especially in fall. Despite its proximity to New York City, I’ve found it to be generally uncrowded and quiet. The trails are not always marked well, so I’d suggest bringing a GPS unit if possible, although we were able to manage without one.

If anyone knows anything about the history of this area and what’s going on with that car, please leave a comment at the bottom of the page!

Have a great weekend everyone!

Dig into these posts for more on the outdoors in New Jersey:

If you found this post interesting, please share it on Twitter/Reddit/etc. using the buttons at the bottom of the page. This helps more people find the blog! 

Save Money on Stuff I Use:

Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account. I will also get a fee waiver for 90-365 days, depending on what type of account you open.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! I’ll also get 5% of however much you spend, at no cost to you.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

A Hidden Castle…In New Jersey?

As you round a clear blue lake, a second, smaller path winds away from the main trail. Up this path, on a peak covered with flowers, lie the remains of a vast stone edifice.

This is Van Slyke Castle in Ramapo State Forest in Oakland, NJ, just 30 miles from midtown Manhattan. I visited with a friend last week and was mesmerized by the spooky ruins and the beautiful natural setting.

Van Slyke Castle was built by a wealthy stockbroker named William Porter at the beginning of the 20th century. After his death in a car crash, his widow Ruth married attorney Warren Van Slyke, who lent his name to the manse.

After Ruth’s death, the castle fell into disrepair, and burned down in 1959:

Ruth died in 1940, leaving the castle without an owner for nine years. It was finally purchased in 1949 by a couple who subsequently resold the property two years later to Suzanne S. Christie. She abandoned it shortly after. No one knows why she left the place, though it’s suspected it could have been the result of a bitter divorce.

After years of desertion, the mansion met its fiery demise when vandals broke in and set the place ablaze.

More on the history of the castle here.

The stone ruins are expansive. Though the structure is overgrown, the pipes are still visible and behind the house is the remains of a large swimming pool.

Beautiful flowers are everywhere. Perhaps Ruth Van Slyke planted them? From the peak, you can see the New York City skyline in silhouette in the distance, a marked contrast to the woodsy surroundings.

My friend and I lied on a rock near the castle and enjoyed the sun, flowers, and beautiful lake view. As we descended, I reflected on how amazing it is that inside this beautiful woods was a grand castle we could’ve easily missed.

If you haven’t been to Ramapo State Forest, I strongly recommend it! The scenery is beautiful and the hiking is easy. Add great views and the odd chipmunk, and it’s hard to beat!

Dig into these posts for more on the outdoors in New Jersey:

If you found this post interesting, please share it on Twitter/Reddit/etc. using the buttons at the bottom of the page. This helps more people find the blog! 

Save Money on Stuff I Use:

Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account. I will also get a fee waiver for 90-365 days, depending on what type of account you open.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! I’ll also get 5% of however much you spend, at no cost to you.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

The Real Groundhogs of New Jersey

You look out onto a small grassy area in a nearby park. Surrounding you are tall brick buildings and in the distance, the New York City skyline. Wait…is that something moving?

A few days ago in West New York

This is how I discovered the adorable groundhogs of Auf der Heide Park in West New York, NJ two years ago. I’ve seen as few as one and as many as five or six, and they can be found reliably spring through fall every year. In winter, they hibernate deep in their holes, the way we sometimes wish we could!

Last summer

My favorite groundhog was an older gentleman I met last spring. It was early April, during the worst part of the COVID crisis. There wasn’t much to do really, besides walk. One day, I figured I’d bring up a few snacks for the little guys. They love fruits and veggies but don’t care for carbs. Perhaps they’re on the Atkins?

That’s when I came across an adorable Grandpa Groundhog. I fed him a few veggie snacks, and as he ate, I noticed his back right foot was severely injured and barely attached. I later spoke with staff from the Animal Medical Center in New York as well as animal control, but they recommended against trying to trap a wild animal for treatment. So I just kept visiting him.

He soon became so tame he would sit on my foot and eat like a dog. Then, after a week or so, I stopped seeing him. The other groundhogs weren’t very nice to him and tried to steal his food, probably knowing he was weak. But not too weak to give them a penetrating stare that had them backing off in a hurry.

Here’s a video of him:

I don’t know what happened to him, but I assume he may have passed away. I’m happy he had at least one friend in his last days, and I’m honored I got to be that friend. At that time, I needed a friend too.

Dig into these posts for more on the outdoors:

If you found this post interesting, please share it on Twitter/Reddit/etc. using the buttons at the bottom of the page. This helps more people find the blog! 

Save Money on Stuff I Use:

Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account. I will also get a fee waiver for 90-365 days, depending on what type of account you open.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! I’ll also get 5% of however much you spend, at no cost to you.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

Is this NJ’s Most Beautiful Spot?

Our car wound into the hills along deserted roads. The scenery went from small towns to vast woods. We crunched down a gravel path to a secluded camp site along a lake. This was Stokes State Forest.

This weekend, I went camping with some friends in this beautiful spot in northwestern New Jersey. I can heartily recommend it for its varied scenery and peaceful ambience. Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect if you visit:

Location: About 70 miles northwest of New York City in the beautfiul Delaware Water Gap, just a few miles from the Pennsylvania border. If you’re in the NYC area, this is one of the more convenient campgrounds to visit.

Scenery: The most varied I’ve seen yet, after having been to Harriman State Park and the Catskills in New York and the Pine Barrens in South Jersey. We saw small mountains, ponds, lakes, marshes, and plains all within a 5 mile hike!

Wildlife: We saw squirrels, a beaver dam, and even a bald eagle circling above us! You’ll see a lot of signs warning about bears. Be sure not only food but anything aromatic like lotion, toothpaste etc. is inside your car or in a bear bag when you go to sleep. Don’t take chances.

Amenities: There are water spigots with fresh, cold H2O everywhere. The nearest was about 50 feet from our camp site. There were also nice, clean bathrooms just a couple hundred feet away. The only available showers, however, were in the Lake Ocquittunk area, which was so far from our campsite we had to drive. This was a definitive negative, but at least the water was hot when we got there! The fire rings and the campsites in general are beat up from heavy use, but functional.

Cost: $40 for two nights. Split between the three of us, it was negligible.

Unexpected benefit: Compared to the Pine Barrens, where we often camp, Stokes State Forest has fewer ticks, which makes it a good summer camping spot.

Watch out for: Fire bans. Because it had been windy the day we arrived, there was a fire ban that lasted most of the trip. This is a real problem: you don’t have a heat source or a way to cook. I’d strongly recommend bringing a butane camp stove. Ours is a Coleman and it’s great. It cost about $30.

We sat around the fire (once the fire ban expired) and gobbled up pork chops, sausages, and s’mores. When nature called in the morning, I enjoyed a beautiful sunrise over the nearby lake.

This is a beautiful spot! If you’re in the area, I encourage you to check it out!

For more on camping and the outdoors, check out these posts:

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Did You Know Dragonflies Can Do Backflips?

I came across this interesting new study today showing dragonflies can do backflips, even unconscious!

They found that conscious dragonflies, when dropped from the upside-down position, somersaulted backwards to regain the rightside-up position. Dragonflies that were unconscious also completed the somersault, but more slowly.

Check out the video below!

I happened to be watching a wonderful David Attenborough documentary on insects, including dragonflies, last night with my wife, so this interesting tidbit caught my eye! Nature continues to amaze me, day after day.

See the full study here.

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Photo: “White-faced meadowhawk dragonfly” by Tibor Nagy is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0