Love locks

I think the date says November 30, 1985, almost 4 decades ago,

The tide has risen, the tied has ebbed over 25,000 times since then.

The love lock rests on a sign post facing the bay, a bit rusty, but still holding. A couple likely placed this there themselves, many years ago. (It might have been there for decades, though. The bay is unforgiving.

Where are they now?

Kale! Kale! The gang’s all here!

Kale has kept the Irish (and other northern folk) alive for over a millennia, even before cabbage (at least according to Donnchadh Ó Corráin while he still breathed), but here in the States it’s often used as an an ornamental, and eating it became a fad

Early spring red kale, just about to bolt.

Using kale as an ornamental is like using a Maserati to commute in Manhattan. I mean, yeah, but why would you?

I suspect part of the problem is not knowing when to eat kale–late summer kale can be as tough and bitter as a sea salt’s boots. Best time to eat it is after a hard frost, and it only gets better as the winter melts into spring.

You can use it in colcannon (an Irish dish with its own song), but I love it in a very local clam dish.

NCM clam and kale soup

  • Two handfuls of fresh dug clams
  • Three fistfuls of fresh cut kale
  • A few sprigs of rosemary cut off the bush by the driveway
  • A small onion
  • Just enough olive oil
  • Big dab of butter
  • A glass (or two) of white wine
  • A cup of half and half cream

Prep the clams: 

  • Scrub the clams.
  • Bring clam pot water (about 3/4″ deep) to boiling
  • Put clams in until opened.
  • Scoop out the clams, chop up the meat, save the juice, and hold in bowl until all clams cooked.
  • Once all clams cooked, dump chopped clams and juice back into the clam water and let simmer.

Everything else:

  • Pour just enough olive oil into iron skillet to coat bottom.
  • Toss in a few sprigs of fresh rosemary and cook until leaves flatten in oil, then remove the sprigs
  • Toss in chopped onion, and let simmer until onions start to sweeten just so
  • Pour in wine, and let simmer for 5 minutes
  • Rip up kale and toss into above in several handfuls–each handful should shrink into manageable size before tossing in the next.
  • Toss in dab of butter, simmer until melted

Put it together:

  • Pour the kale broth into the clam broth
  • Simmer a few minutes, long enough so that the kale and clams get acquainted
  • Toss in cup of half and half, turn off flame, and let set for 5 minutes.

Serve with bread and Guinness.

A seahorse story

The tide was ebbing. The seahorse lay on the beach, just beyond the reach of the receding waves. I assumed it was dead–until I saw the tiniest movement of its tail.

I picked it up and let a few waves wash over my hand. Its head flicked a couple of times, spasmodically, without intention.

Then I felt its tail wrap around my finger.

Edge of the Delaware Bay, March 30, 2013

I do not presume that this seahorse had any awareness of me. It was in trouble, and may not have survived the day, but that’s not why I am telling the story.

I am sharing the story because I felt its tail wrap around my finger with surprising strength, with an unexpected vitality.

 I do not believe that the seahorse was in any sense communicating with me–dying critters do not waste energy talking to alien beings. I had nothing to say to my seahorse, and the seahorse had even less to say to me.

The tail of this seahorse had wrapped on hundreds, maybe thousands, of things before me. It clung to eelgrass, to its lover, and if a male, grappled with other males who dare to separate him from his partner.

If this was the seahorse’s last few living moments, the last thing it held was my finger.

***

Seahorses do not share language with humans, but if they did, their tales would be shared through their tails. If this particular seahorse felt any sense of vitality from the palm of my hand, the only way it could share this would be through doing just what it did–hugging my finger.

Another critter fro the bay

This is not why it did, of course, and that is not the point. But if the only way for a creature to share its world with us is a way that we dismiss as reflex, then we will forever see a mechanistic universe, and we will remain the lonely species we are.

***

We need evidence! Proof! Substantiation! Concrete facts!

Today much of the world rejoices over an event pieced together with the slimmest of evidence–the oldest of the Gospels, written more than a half century after the death of Jesus, ends with frightened women fleeing from an empty tomb (Mark 16:8). The rest is appended history.

I am not going to equate the curling of a dying critter’s tail with the scantest of evidence that (in a perverse form) drove much of European history. Both evidence and faith have their place.

Still, if we cannot allow for the possibility that perhaps even a seahorse has a story to tell, then the slight tug of a seahorse’s tail, a twitch of life on an early spring beach, means nothing, and everything is just noisy chaos.

(Seahorses, it turns out, are monogamous.)

Dragonfly city

They come every summer, these magnificent fliers, chomping up flies and mosquitoes as they pass through.

Yesterday hundreds were flying north along the edge of the Delaware Bay, the wings glinting in the late afternoon sun, moving like they had a train to catch in the upper bay.

I reported it to The Dragonfly Swarm Project, and here, mostly as a reminder to myself.

In two days of just sitting on the beach I’ve seen dolphins, pelicans, and dragonflies, and interacted with stinging nettles twice.

The ferry horn

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.

View from The Lookout (before it was The Lookout.)

The abyss at Ferry Park

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.

Gusto Brewing Company

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.

But don’t tell anybody, The Atlantic City Press damn near ruined our beach a few years ago, and things got pretty crowded for a bit. The beer here is as good as beer gets. My fear is Gusto gets too successful. Until then, we’ll keep sharing our oasis with folks who stumble down the shore, as long as they keep it semi-secret.

If the place is too hoppin’ (it is summertime, no?) grab a 25 oz crowler of a 64 oz growler. They also carry 4-packs.

Chaos on the Delaware Bay

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.

These are “older” horseshoe crabs, weeks old instead of minutes, reared by Rutgers in Lower Township. Photo from”Rutgers lab churning out baby horseshoe crabs,” Washington Times, 9/27/2014 (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

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.

Bees and blueberries

A few miles away Kid Rock is waking up, getting ready to defile a beach as only he and his fans can, so we’re staying away from Wildwood this weekend.

Honey bee on a milkweed flower.

But sometimes a backyard is more than enough.

If you have a small patch of land not blanketed in mown grass, herbicides, and pesticides, you have a lot going on right now. Go take a look.

Limulus love

Every year thousands creep their way to the edge of their world and celebrate the long June days as only a critter around for hundreds of millions of years can.

They came before the dinosaurs.

The only other humans on this half-mile patch of beach were a few kids flipping exuberant males back on their many feet, their parents drinking at the local watering hole across the street.

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.

Never saw a red knot do that.