In central New Jersey, the homes have spread out from the arteries of interstate 287 and 22. The countryside is composed of low rolling hills, dense forests, bubbling streams, old farms, placards commemorating battles of the Revolutionary War.

In recent years the neighborhoods have expanded, climbing up the hills into the groves of maples and oaks. The commute isn’t horrible into New York or Newark, probably only an hour in rush hour, and middle class families have built castles for themselves here.

There are modest homes set back under the trees, a swing set in the backyard and a basketball hoop in the corner of the driveway. Then there are the eyesores, the McMansions. The most egregious of these neighborhoods is cut into one of the tallest hills in the town, adjacent a state park. The lush forests have been carved away, leaving vast swaths of ChemLawned Bermuda grass and faux-European palaces with 25 roof vertexes.

And then the housing bubble popped and the credit crisis deepened and construction stopped. Lots that had been cleared with yellow earth movers sat empty and the grass grew tall. The cheap pine foundations of half-build monstrosities sat exposed to the elements, warping.

Nature has begun to creep back. The earthmovers and bulldozers rust in their tracks. The fields of churned earth and trampled straw are visited only by bored teenagers and herds of young deer.

Dusk is the best time to see them as they forage. They gather in loose clumps, socializing like neighbors at a Memorial Day barbeque. One or two keep lookout. As I pull up they all crane their long necks, twisting their slender heads in profile. A trio of fauns kicks their legs, skittish. I approach for a few snapshots in the half light and they dash off. Turning back to the car, there are a half dozen more, staring me down, led by a four-point buck.

Creeping around the arced neck of a back-ho I trade stealthy steps with them for a better photo. Then I pass that threshold and they all dash off. They disappear, white tails last, into the tree line – that leafy horizon where the exurban encroach has been stopped. For now.

From [Bridgewater August](
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