The light is returning

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.

Weather or not

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.

Delaware Bay, December 2010

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 could just take a walk on the beach.)

Local holly berries

Christmas and Epiphany have passed, but winter is persists, and this week we’ll see our lowest temperatures of the new year.

The bay has yet to ice up, so we’ll get a little warmth off the water, but we’re headed for a couple of difficult months and so is the wildlife..

Holly berries on Leaming Avenue

The harsh cold at night will freeze the berries, the sun will thaw them during the day. The freeze and thaw cycle will make the berries mushy enough for our neighborhood birds to enjoy deep in winter, when food becomes scarce.

Winter beach plum

Beach plums were ubiquitous in these parts long before the Europeans arrived, and despite their excellent flavor and ease of growing, beach plums have eluded commercialization.

I suspect it may have to do with their predilection for real estate rich folks like to own for their seasonal beach homes. (It may also have to do with their capricious fruiting–some years branches are laden with fruit, some years barren.)

This particular plum hangs from a bush in our backyard, one we (and other animals) missed, though it looks like a six-legged critter found its way in. The beauty of the decaying fruit on a burgundy branch more than makes up for a few drops of juice.

Tonight we may share some beach plum melomel bottled long before the flower of this plum erupted last spring

In just a few short months, the beach plum flowers will return–hopefully I will have last fall’s fruit bottled by then.

In January, nothing feels certain but decay and death–tonight we’ll toast to the returning sun.

Winter beach walk

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.

(This was after a walk in late December, 2020.)

Rosemary by the shore

When we bought our home in North Cape May years ago, we stumbled upon the LCMR plant sale, a work of love by Joanie Dilling and her students. We paid a couple of bucks for a small rosemary plant, planted it next to the house, and pretty much left it alone.

The tiny plant is now a sprawling lovely aromatic mess threatening to take over the driveway, and continues to give and give and give.


Every time I walk by, I stroke a few sprigs then bring my fingers to my nose, remembering again what I thought I could not forget.

The periwinkle flowers. feed the few foolish bees who wander out of the hive on the rare, deliciously warm December days.

The sprawling trunk holds its own beauty, wood arising out of the Earth like a writhing Naga.

Chopped rosemary, a staple in our home

A few sprigs of fresh rosemary will run you $2.49 at the local Acme, about the cost of the seedling I carried home, started by a struggling high school student shepherded by a kind woman from Ocean City.

Or you can swing by here, snip a few sprigs, and thank the universe for living in a land as blessed as our neighborhood.

If you’re local, you can grow one, too. We are blessed by our bay, our skies, our weather, and our sand.

Winter sand

Blue claw on a local beach

A blue claw sitting on a late December beach at dusk grabs my interest–I’ve spent a lifetime appreciating the beauty, the feistiness, and the tastiness of the blue crab. The blue on this gray wintry day is startling.

So I took a picture.

And now, looking at the photograph, I marvel at the sand. Pieces of rock, thousand to millions to billions of years old , broken into tiny pieces, mixed with mortal shells, a mishmash of shapes and colors.

The edge of the bay tells stories of time, of mortality, of the unimaginable power of eons of time and tides.

With every step you add to the story.

A snowy day

Snow guy welcoming us to the bay

Snow Guy warned us–he mysteriously appears each winter to greet us as we amble down to the bay.

Last week I walked barefoot along the water’s edge, wandering and wondering. The gray skies hid the sun, but the signs were there.

Harpoons on the Bay knew it was coming–the Christmas lights teased me as I walked back up from my walk.

Harpoons on the Bay last week

Winter has been coming for a while now. The ghost crabs are deep in the sand and the laughing gulls are gone, replaced by the diving ducks seen in winter.

Enjoy the snow while you can. Memorial Day is less than 5 months away.

Our town’s heartbeat

Ferry returning home in late December

We do not have a town village nor a town clock, but we do have the ferries, coming and going and coming and going, day by day by day.

In the winter months, the ferry’s horn welcomes us at dawn–a short toot just before 7 AM, then the familiar toooooooot toot-toot-toot a minute later–like the town clock bells of old.

You can gather the weather report without electronic media. 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.

You may hear tales of drama–TOOT-TOOT-TOOT-TOOT-TOOT –as yet another squid plays footsies with a vessel with a displacement of over 4 million pounds.

Yes, they don’t toot for grandchildren!

And finally, if you have a grand baby old enough to wave from the jetty (but not old enough yet to shave). a friendly captain will often toot a hello for her, and she will be a ferry fan for life.

Clamming on New Year’s Eve

Yesterday was warm for late December, warm enough to clam barefoot. So I did.

Mudflats remind me of my mortality, not that anyone needed much reminding this year. Every empty shell had the same ending to share.

The back bay waters were quiet. A reddish-brown sea weed has, for now, taken over the shallows. A few shotgun blasts broke the quiet. Someone enjoys ducks as much as I enjoy clams.

A small blue claw clung to my rake for a few moments, then let go–I saw it scurrying back under the brown blanket of seaweed.

Happy New Year!