from the Prologue
by John T. Cunningham
... I became almost as one with the past with Indians who came in summertime to harvest fish for winter months and to garner shells to make their wampum; with those who found God in the unrelenting waves and the gentle winds and founded religious camp meetings at Ocean Grove and half a dozen other spots from Atlantic Highlands to Cape May Point; and with those who came in the 19th century for the sheer worldly pleasures at Long Branch and the discreet, gentlemanly gambling in Cape May inns.
Notebook after notebook gathered my facts and my thoughts and my sharpened senses retained the beauty and the wonder. When it came time to write, my first words were: Most important is the sea in all its ever-changing moods.
I wrote of the history, the boardwalks, the man-made pleasures, and the distinct regions of the shore, but I also dwelled on rewards that come from even a bit of adventuring in sailing on Barnegat Bay, in seeking Cape May diamonds, in exploring then-secluded Sandy Hook, in watching an osprey take flight, in walking for miles along the hard sand left by high tides, in watching snowy egrets seek food in the meadows, and in watching the sun go down across Delaware Bay.
Most important is the sea, free (except for beach fees) for anyone, whether he is down for the day or down for a few weeks in a multi-million dollar seafront mansion. Free, too, are the seashells, the saucy seagulls, the relaxed chatter from nearby beach blankets. The only requirement is that the senses must be given full play. The strand belongs more to the child who picks up shells than to the man who lolls away precious hours watching television on the most expensive and expansive beachfront deck on the coast.
The waves roll on, fascinating newcomers as much as they have enticed me nearly all my life. Wild storms strike, rearranging the shoreline in ways that no one anticipates or desires. Birds follow prehistoric spring and autumn migration patterns through Cape May and the wildlife refuges to the north, little fingers reach in wonder for a dazzling clam shell burnished by countless waves.
The Jersey Shore is, as always, what we seek, what we find or think we find, and if we stay with it, is always far more than we might have imagined.
by Rich Youmans
Once again, I return to this still-empty beach. Shorebirds wheel and glide, trailing their shadows along the incoming waves, their bellies inches from whitecaps. Glyphs of heron and gull track the sand, and wet shells shine in the noon sun. Behind and above me, rising from the Highlands like a medieval fortress, the fraternal Twin Lightsone square tower, one octagonal, both of a time long gone. Far across the Atlantic, the New York skyline serves as a hazy reminder of the world beyond. I walk on, caught between eras, between environments, between the ocean and the bay.
Not far away, holly grows hard against barracks that withstood two world wars, and the bird shadows flit over crumbling battery emplacements. Everywhere, divisions: human vs. natural, concrete vs. sand, eternal vs. ephemeral. Season vs. off-season. A winter chill laces the salt air, but so does the spring sun. The wind blows in off the Great Atlantic, sending showers of spray, little hosannas. I feel it in my ears, along my raw cheeks. It penetrates my chest, and in so doing it hollows and cleanses me. In that moment, I am like a mirror through which this landscape processes endlessly the white-crested breakers, the gleaming shells, the marram waving among dunes as if in celebration.
That is the special power of the Shore in spring, when a walk along the beach can be a personal journeyone that for many of us has become a sustaining ritual. Soon, no doubt, I will welcome the advancing crowds, the rush of energy that summer brings. But not now. I walk on, absorbed by this place and its elemental beauty.
by Sandy Gingras
Oh, summertime, you are an invitation, a seduction. I am so lusciously confused by you. Ive lost my sense of time; I put it down somewhere next to that book I was reading, next to the sweating glass of iced tea. I am grown up; Im a child. I dont know what I am. What was I thinking, what was I saying
? Summertime: You sway me on the hammock, dance with me to that old Van Morrison song, elongate my hours, dip me in and out of afternoon naps. You hum to me with bees, sugar the air with flowers, lullaby the surf. You pull the tide out, stretch the longest day. Im a body of languor. Im humid; Im yawning. But dont let me sleep through it. See how Im burning? Put some lotion on my back. Please. Because under the quiet, summertime, you are urgent and pushy and I cant hold onto you. June
August, you are zero to sixty and gone. You melt the asphalt. Theres not enough ozone in the world to block you. Your flowers open and are done. Your colors are glare. Everything at the farm market is ripe at once. There are mountains of white corn, acres of peaches. The world is ready, ready, ready. Dont waste it.
Look how the morning waits for us pink as a promise. Come out into it. Just sit on the porch with a mug of coffee and watch it becoming. The wind gathers itself from sleep, an egret stalks the salt marsh. That vine is winding itself into knots and flowers. The air holds the smell of bacon frying, draws out the laugh of that gull, echoes the cheap, innocent slap of a flip-flop. Dont be distracted. Dont go and do something else. The world is full of pause. See that fisherman balanced on the horizon in his little boat? I can hear him reeling in; Im right there with him. The air trapezes us over, connects us. Hes humming some song that everyone knows. Hear how it goes?
Afternoon is full of itself - turn up the color, open the breeze. The beach beckons and glitters - all sensations arrayed. Try to take it in
but its a too big sun in a too big sky. Every beach is a postcard -- wish you were here! The people look so various but similar. Here they dart and dive, boogie and strut, nap and dream. They are philosophers and litterers. They are burned in odd stripes and sticky and sun-blocked. Feel the heat of it! How electric the air really is. How it smells like something cooking up. Even in the quietest moment, theres amusement park in the air. Theres the wide open throttle of a flower. Theres Coppertone and barbecue. Theres the gushy, tangy, spiritual wash of the sea. Theres a skid in the road. You cant deny it. Summer wears the bikini, makes its own parade, cant stop staring. Summer: All you need is a heart to run you all day. All you need is a body....
By Larry Savadove
But to dwellers by the sea, fall is relief, and belief. The beach no longer smells of coconut oil. It is primeval again. Looking seaward, you recognize eternity. Houses stand empty-eyed. Gulls squawk at tire tracks in the sand until they, too, are gone. The sea darkens, but the sky lifts. You can stand on the beach and cast a line and connect with the deepest abyss. You can surf a wave of your own, named and claimed. You can kayak out with the porpoises and pelicans, just that.
The sand fills in summer footprints until only yours remain. It's cool underfoot, as if the core of the earth were pulling into hibernation. Your shadow reaches out over the waves to meet the moon. You can hear the dune grasses strum. You can hear the wing beats of migrating ducks high in the sunset and the soft calls of overnighting geese. Shore birds leave. The laughing gulls slowly pull off their black hoods to blend feathers with the sky that will carry them away. Piping plovers flee the rumors that blow down from the north pole. Egrets suddenly find memories of distant bayous in their eyes, and maps to get there. High in some unreachable stratosphere, icy arrows point the way.
But the air that chills also sparks. Stars that lay hidden in the summer earthglow emerge again, reminding us we're not alone. We walk down the middle of the street and are surprised by a stray car, reminding us how alone we are. Boats retreat into their cocoons. The bay is redolent with the pungent perfume of dank mud and old bait and rotting vegetation. Whiffs of wood smoke delight with a primal comfort. The seawind draws patterns in the shifting sands, spreading a carpet of arabesques. It tidies up the sky, too, pushing the dust and pollen and fumes of summer somewhere off the edge of the world.
By Margaret Thomas Buchholz
The winter beach is invigorating, visceral. If the wind -- always the wind -- is from the west the dunes protect me. On a sunny winter day the beach seems wider, flatter, more expansive, the sand whiter. Flocks of scoters and gulls claim the water, floating just beyond the breakers. Formations of sandpipers swirl in figure-eights as they lift from a jetty then settle again. Mares-tails of foam stream off the breakers to the east. A solitary line of footprints interlocks with paw-prints. Wind has softened the edges of four-wheel drive vehicle tracks. An incoming wave reshapes a patch of shells with a rattling, clacking sound. Down the beach, in the distance, black-clad surfers cluster like the ducks
A coastal blizzard leaves the beach so white the sand becomes gray by contrast. A veil of white obliterates beachfront homes. Snow fills gullies in the rock jetties and hugs the dunes. Children would sled down them if they were allowed. I used to. Now cross-country skiers glide along the edge of the surf.
On some beaches seawalls and boardwalks have usurped the dunes. Behind the seawalls, boarded beach cabanas and empty condominiums front the ocean, shuttered against winter storms. Along the boardwalk, a congregation of white-bellied gulls faces into the wind, defining its direction. Runners buck this wind, or speed before it. In red and yellow parkas, they sparkle on the gray ribbon of boards. Two men lounge on a bench in the sunny niche of a closed concession stand and look longingly at an empty fishing pier projecting into the pewter sea. A cold sun only hints at warmth.
Amusement parks are static, giant immobile sculptures, steely and cold. Marinas display plastic wrapped boats. Motels are barren. Traffic lights on broad ocean avenues blink at very few cars. A flock of Canada geese waddles across an intersection; a formation of cyclists, bent low over handlebars, glides around them. Rows of Cape Cod cottages, angled modern homes, pastel Victorian concoctions and sprawling, multi-porch shingle palaces line quiet streets. They are empty and cold, pipes drained. Up and down the coast, tens of thousands of rooms quietly wait for summer....
Copyright ©2004 Down The Shore Publishing Corp. All Rights Reserved.