If you hang around North Cape May, you know the first ferry leaves at 7 AM, because it tells you.
The first short toot comes almost always on the dot, as the captain lets the crew know it’s time to go. Shortly afterwards, there’s a long blast followed by three short (more or less, depending on the captain), as the ferry backs out into the canal, getting ready to head over to Delaware.
When there’s a south breeze, the sound is crisp, even loud. The day is going to be seasonably warm in February as the south wind carries some ocean warmth our way. On days when we hear nothing, the breeze is likely from the northeast, foreboding, dark.
In late spring we sometimes hear a long blast every minute or so as the ferry slips through the foggy mist. We’re about a half mile from the beach, often bathed in morning sunlight, when we hear this.
Occasionally, usually in summer when some smaller craft are piloted by folks with more beer than brains in their skulls, five short blasts remind folks that colliding with a ferry is not in anyone’s best interests.
There’s free miniature golf at the ferry terminal. It has has everything you need if you want a fairly challenging but spartan nine hole course. No flags, but the sound of the ball rattling in the cup is as satisfying here as anywhere else.
Except for one hole . The Abyss.
The second to last hole, perpetually damp sitting under the pedestrian bridge, is deep. Very, very deep. Deep enough that it swallows light. Go ahead, try to see the bottom. Disturbing.
Even more disturbing, perhaps, is the echoing voices.
Go ahead–stand a foot or two away from the hole and shout something. (Maybe not Beelzebub, why take chances.)
Most folks will look at you as though you’ve lost your mind, and maybe you have. Better to lose your mind than to lose your soul.
I would drive a long way to taste a damn good brew, but fortunately I do not have to,
We have the best beer in the state right here in North Cape May. Cape May Brewery is really, really good. Gusto Brewing Company is even better.
Our merrie crew hunkered down on Sunday, and despite the delightfully cool and dry climate inside the brewery, opted to drink outside in the garden. (OK, don’t get overly romantic here, you want lush surrounding and Adirondack chairs around a fire pit, go to Cold Spring Brewery, but know you’re going for the scenery.)
I brew beer, My son and his girlfriend brew beer. My daughter and my son-in-law brew beer. We used to brew because we wanted exactly what we wanted. Gusto makes a good case for letting someone else do the work.
We tried several brews, all of them excellent, but two stood out, one for its cleverness, the other for its skill.
The Inside Joke: Tangerine+Peach Créme is a fruited sour with a creamy, rich mouthfeel and a complex (in a good way) estery swirl of flavors, but to describe it that way makes it sound too serious. It’s fookin’ good without being cloying.
The Real Fake Doors is a better bitter, done exactly right. The Fuggle hops were spot on, balanced perfectly by the crystal malt. I felt like I was back in London, experiencing the sounds and aromas near the Thames. It is not hard to make an ESB, but it’s difficult to make it just right. This was a fookin’ home run.
We also had the Slam Poet, a classic IPA that shows off by not showing off, and the Little Spoon oatmeal stout, also good stuff.
The menu varies, as it should, and the staff has always been nothing but friendly. Our first visit was four years ago, when the tour consisted of a card and a formal signing in a composition notebook acknowledging you took the tour, but now a quick glance at the wall (and the merch) suffices.
Nope, not the fireworks, though shooting up major fireworks into the teeth of a thunderstorm squall, though that does make for chaos.
Hours earlier, when the Scott Avenue beach looked like the Fourth of July scene in Jaws, a two year old was digging in the sand.
And two year olds are really good at digging, and soon he had a small pool to play in.
He stumbled upon some horseshoe crabs, as happens often in early summer, and his Granddad buried them again, to await the next high tide.
And then, miraculously it seems, the pool filled with tiny horseshoe crabs, spinning and swimming and looking as exuberant as late June lightning bugs. They spun and swam wildly with an exuberance too many of us no longer recognize.
We tried “saving” them, most of them anyway. Hundreds, maybe thousands ,were sent into the bay.
And maybe one or three will survive the next decade and return to the beach as mature adults. laying eggs for a 12 year old child to discover again.
North Cape May is, according to the USGS, is fill. Just north and west of us are nice, loamy soils. Strawberry festivals, lima bean festivals, even barley festivals (if beer counts)
But fill that’s mostly sand makes for good potato gardens–some compost, some nice seed potatoes from Pinetree, a tiny bit of sulfur, a little bit of hilling, and then a ridiculous amount of fun while on all fours digging up potatoes with your grandbabies.
Yes, it’s early–they haven’t even flowered yet–but the kids are here this week, and we needed blue potatoes for a patriotic potato salad.
A few moments earlier, only a few of the critters were visible, but cued by voices humans cannot hear, they rose from the waters, seemingly in unison, to creep to the top of the tide line.
An hour later, most will be gone. A few will not return to the water, their gills a treat for the gulls.
In a couple of weeks, the high tide will help release the few of the millions of new critters that survive through June.
Most will fall prey to the ghost crabs, the gulls, the grackles, the killies and kingfish. The Audubon Society folk will praise the eggs as fodder for the red knots, perhaps easier on human eyes but certainly not nearly as interesting as these creatures from the depths of the bay.
Decades ago I stumbled on thousands of horseshoe crab babies, moments before they emerged from their now transparent shells, spinning and spinning as if anticipating their release.
Ghost crabs spend their winters right here in North Cape May, snuggled a few feet under the beach in their burrows, waiting for spring.
You get through winter several feet under the sand. You greet living again after a long months in your dark wintry tomb. And then you keel over at your doorstep as the sun sets, again, on your patch of Earth. There’s a lesson here.
If the beach is not crowded and you sit real still (their eyeballs work real well), you can see them going ghost crabby things during the day.
Enjoy their company and try not to step on their doorways. They’re locals, after all.