Paradise on the Jersey shore

Tucked along the edge of the Delaware Bay, bounded by the Cape May Canal and Town Bank Road, lies a small community with big sunsets.

A “snowman” sunset, as seen from the end of Lincoln Avenue

Just about all of the photos are from North Cape May, and unless otherwise noted, are taken by us.

Summer solstice in North Cape May

The strawberries fade out as the blueberries arrive.

The sunsets have finished their journey northward, inching their way further and further right since the start of winter. Light is at its peak.

Dead horseshoe crabs litter the beach after their last full moon frenzy. All 10 eyes of this one are dark now, its last sunset passed a day or two ago.

The tides will continue to rise and fall as the sun hesitates a few days then starts its journey back towards the ferry jetty.

The light has peaked, the days slowly darken again.

Lichen and the NCM economy

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A few summers ago I watched a wasp attack a patch of lichen on our Adirondack chair.

Wasps are fascinatingly creepy as they stalk prey among the flowers, but this one got fooled. It stalked the lichen, then made its attack.

After a moment or two of trying to do something with the lichen, it flew a couple of feet away and then cleaned its legs, classic displacement behavior.

(It was embarrassed.)

The chair was made by a local man. We bought two, the price not cheap, but was more than fair, and he was surprised we opted not to oil them. We like to see things age as much as we do, and, in the local way of acceptance that is under-rated, he nodded and went on his way.

Because we chose not to oil our chairs, they have turned grey and are covered by lichen. They are now over a decade old, and will likely last another 5. With oil, they may have outlived us.

Wheat grown in our backyard by my toddler grand-daughter on an aging cedar chair made by a local craftsmen.

When we need new ones, we’ll seek the same man. We do not need chairs to outlive us. That’s what plastic is for.

Because we chose not to oil them a decade ago, I got to see a wasp explore the lichen, which might not seem like much, but I enjoyed seeing that a wasp could be as easily fooled as a human.

We are all easily fooled–life is foolish, in the best sense of the word.

Oysters in North Cape May

I like to clam. A lot.

I am not about to burn my clamming spots, though I did get one ridiculously cheap by tipping the bartender at the Villas Fishing Club $10 on two $1 beers. (Rumor was he loved to clam in his younger years.)

Another mess of local clams, and plenty more if you know where to find them.

The first $5 tip got me this–if you want fresh clams, go to the Lobster House.

The next $5 got me a lovely mudflat I only share with close family.

What’s not nearly as secret though are the oysters hanging off the jetties in North Cape May.

The rainbow is for gold, the jetty is for oysters.

Are they sandy? Yep.

Are they way too close to the discharge pipes? Yep again.

(I cannot vouch for their safety but I can vouch for their tastiness; I’ve eaten a couple raw right off the jetty.)

Avoid the canal, the rest of the bay is fine.

You’ll need a license ($10/year for state residents) and little else. Just beware that they’re going to be a bit sandy.

You can dine at Heather’s On The Bay–just tell them you’re with the band or the kitchen. You cannot beat the view, and its a more intimate setting than Harpoon’s On The Bay.

Dead bunker on the bay

Bunker dominate the bay. They’re a big reason why dolphins, stripers, and humpback whales wander just off our beach. My grandchild calls them “skyfish” when she sees one wiggling in the talons of an osprey as it flies overhead.

Chances are you’ve seen pieces of larger bunker along the tide line–stiff, gray, dead.

This little guy was also stiff and dead, but its brilliant colors jumped at me as I ambled along the ferry jetty. A storm tide had left him on the wrong side of the rocks and the gulls had yet to find him.

I tried to toss it back into the canal, but with the stiff breeze, it fell between the jetty rocks, a treat for the crabs.

Whale poop and public education

I know what folks will pay for this.
I also know what it’s worth.
Two very different things….

I have a chunk of ambergris, found it years ago, and while briefly tempted to sell it, am grateful now I kept it.

It was sitting right on the edge of the bay just north of Lincoln Avenue. It wasn’t much to look at, and I am not sure what possessed me to pick it up. Even then I almost tossed it back into the bay.

I mostly forget about it, but now and again I walk through a cloud of its molecules and get briefly taken to, well, not sure where, some vague place of immeasurable joy.

Not immense.
Immeasurable.

In the literal sense.

Edge of the Delaware Bay brings gifts every day.

You cannot measure the pleasure, the joy, the presence of the herenow that lump of aged whale shit brings me. It apparently has the same effect on others, why else would anyone offer thousands of dollars for a slab of shite?

The big data junkies among us might argue that all things are measurable, and I supposed you could take pre- and post-ambergris exposure levels of my serum oxytocin and plot them over time, but that becomes impractical, and it’s not important anyway..

Turns out measuring some pretty important things in education are impractical, too. Brilliant writing. Unorthodox but rational thinking. Sense of public duty. Joy. Ability to observe subtle details. Flexibility when confronted with new ideas. Empathy.

When our ability to measure outcomes trumps our choices of which outcomes matter, we’ve stripped “public” from education.

David Douglass Sr. Memorial Park

(My sister has a park named after her in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I’m sure many locals call it many different names and I’m fine with that. My clan calls the David Douglass Sr. Memorial Park “the ferry jetty” and many locals have a variety of names for this tiny patch of paradise. This post is to remind all of us about the man whose name adorns the small monument at the park entrance.)

January 17, 2022

North Cape May is not a large neighborhood, only about 1 1/2 square miles. The bay gives us an air of grandness bigger than our britches.

Patrolman David Douglass Sr. was shot and killed in our neighborhood almost 28 years ago while pursuing a suspected burglar. The suspect fired at Officer Douglass, mortally wounding him. His body now rests in the Cold Spring Presbyterian Church cemetery just a couple of miles away from the park.

David Douglass Sr. Memorial Park gazebo overlooking the canal and the bay,

A plaque memorializes his name at the entrance to the park, but perhaps the words of friends, family, and neighbors give a better sense of the loss felt by our neighborhood.

David Douglass Sr. was both a local police officer and firefighter. He was a husband and father to a son and two daughters, the oldest only 15 at the time of his death. He has both a school and a park named after him, and his son has followed his steps into law enforcement.

Ferry in the distance on its way to Delaware.

Next time you amble down the narrow road to the park, take a moment to view the memorial honoring the man. I hope it brings some comfort to the family, as I get comfort from seeing my sister’s name on her park.

Samuel Pepys on the beach

Some days I’m little more than the Samuel Pepys of North Cape May, noting the day to day changes along our tiny patch of the Delaware Bay. Pepys’ musing were punctuated by the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London. We have COVID and the demise of democracy, but unlike Pepys, I’m sticking to the beach.

This afternoon was about 10 degrees warmer than yesterday, just this side above freezing. The skies were gray, the water steel, and an east breeze kept the waves down. The clouds were threatening rain, and started to spit before the walk ended.

The crab claws were just a couple of feet apart, both awkwardly lovely, blues and purples and reds contrasting with the gray day. The blue crab claw held on to a piece of seaweed, the calico crab claw clutched a strand of grass.

The rest of the crabs are likely in a gull’s gullet, if not already vomited out in a crunchy bolus.

Yesterday’s icy chill painted the jetties with ice, only three months after my last swim in the bay back in October.

Someone else has remembered the warmth as well, leaving her artistry scrawled on the beach, the rising tide slowly erasing her work, a girl dressed for the beach. Next to this was another drawing of Batman–even superheroes need a vacation now and again.

I’m not the only one thinking of warmer days on the bay.

A couple of jetties down has the hull of a sunfish sailboat up on the edge of the grass. It washed up after a storm a couple of years ago, and has been banging around since. It once belonged to someone in Ben Oaks, Maryland. I wrote to the village over a year ago, never heard back.

This hull has been banging around almost two years now.

No whales, no seals, just a few sand pipers and gulls, the detritus of the dead, and me, still breathing–that’s more than enough.

Ben Oaks, come get your boat….

A chilly beach walk

The snow is just about all gone, but the Arctic air has returned. A pair of bedraggled snow guys welcomed me to the bay.

The recent storms have taken a bite out of the shore–consider bringing a parachute if you come down the Scott Avenue entrance.

The air is a nippy 28 F–it would be lower but for the bay. Some pipers flit and tweet around me–they do not pay me much mind.

On the way back I opted to take the sidewalk. I stumbled upon a couple of good-sized pumpkins near a large dead hare, the bright oranges and blood red standing out on the gray ground.

One of two pumpkins found near Beach Avenue.

The cold is deep. and getting deeper. Pipes will freeze, a few will burst. Winter is rough on all of us.

When I got home, I cleared away a few leaves from the edge of the basil box, and after a day of bone-chilling cold and a dead rabbit, the crocuses reminded me that warmer days are coming.

Imbolc is coming .

Christmas trees by the ferry park

It happens every year.

North Cape May elves decorate the trees leading to Douglass Park (the ferry jetty park), a local treat made by locals meant for locals.

Photo by Leslie

(The spectacular light show put up each year by our neighbors on Town Bank Road shines, but it’s no secret and not done by elves.)

And then our local paper The Cape May County Herald with the very local “Spout Offs” reminds us that even elves could use some help some time.

If you missed them this year no worries, they will be back, as sure as the high tide that follows the low, here in our town graced by the edge of the Delaware Bay.

Hope in a crocus

The darkest six weeks of the year are behind us. While winter has been harsh for these parts, the sun continues to strengthen since the darkest day three weeks ago.

The plants know.

A January crocus in North Cape May
(1/13/13)

Tiny spears of crocus are stirring around the neighborhood–this one comes up faithfully on Leaming Avenue, year after year after year.

North Cape May crocuses, February 6, 2011.

If you look, you will find them, tiny green fingers breaking through the earth reaching up for the sun, reminding us that faith comes in all forms.

North Cape May crocus, February 20, 2011

You won’t find one flowering yet–at least I have not seen any this early–but their buds are already forming beneath the ice and snow, knitting water and carbon dioxide together to create the spring flowers that will explode open in just a few more weeks.

If you find one flowering before March, let me know.