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.)
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.
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.)
You’ll need a license ($10/year for state residents) and little else. Just beware that they’re going to be a bit sandy.
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.
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.
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.
(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.)
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In a couple of days we will be leaving the darkest six weeks of the year behind us.
A northwest blow is going to remind us that even though the darkest days are behind us, we still have a cold couple of months staring at us.
Words shrink as the sunlight grows. Imbolc is still weeks away.
A few years ago in late January I watched a crow at the ferry jetty caw caw caw at a gull sharing a light post. The gull did not respond.
The crow swooped down to the pavement, picked up a piece of paper, then returned to its perch near the gull.
The crow carefully ripped up the paper, piece by piece, dropping each piece, one by one, watching each piece until it hit the ground, looking at the gull between pieces as if to say Hey!
When done, the crow cawed once more, and this time the gull squawked back. The crow, now seemingly satisfied, nodded, and then flew to a trash can and cawed at a few human folk, one of whom cawed back.
Short of stepping outside, the ferry is our best low-tech weather forecaster. If you can hear their horns clearly, a lovely southern breeze promises a decent day. If you hear nothing at all, beware, a nor’easter may be blowing in soon.
Far more sophisticated, though, is the NOAA buoy weather station that sits right in our neighborhood, just feet away from where the ferries port each night. (Yes, I know, it’s not a buoy.)
Sitting by the water’s edge like an awkward cousin of C-3PO, this station collects real-time data available to all of us, a high-tech center that collects pretty much any type of data you could want (and plenty of data you might never have thought of before).
For most of us, the temperature, wind speed/direction, and water temperature tell us what we need to know on a given day. When a nor’easter rolls in on the heels of a moon tide, you can watch the water level rise in real time as well look at extremes in the past.
(Just under six years ago the water rose three feet over the mean high tide burying North Wildwood. Two years later the bay receded 2 ½ feet befuddling the ferry captains while delighting any clammers braving the January blow. )
As the days get chillier you can watch the rate of ice accretion as the Delaware Bay starts to freeze over.
You can wander to the ferry terminal to see the equipment (but it won’t tell you much) or you can explore the page below available to everyone. Few towns get this kind of information, and it is literally right in our neighborhood.
You walk. Then walk some more, one bare foot in front of the other, sometimes on the beach, sometimes in the water.
You look without focus, more seeing what there is to see, less seeing what you expect to see.
You hear the wind, the murmuring of the bay’s edge, the crunching sand under your feet, the squeaky toy noises of the sandpipers, and the low harrumph of a black-backed gull when you wandered too close.
You feel the sand mold around your feet, the water cutting your legs as you cross from flat to flat, the varying hands of the wind as you scan the gray on gray.
But is the way the bay caresses your nose that you want to remember most. The near metallic hint of salty air carrying particles of life, of death, of the in-between into your nose, less than an inch from your brain, memories of faith in whatever this is is.
But you can’t–trying to hold onto a memory of the air of the wintry beach is like trying to grasp a melancholic memory with your fingers.
You need to walk and walk and walk until you cannot.