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….

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.)

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.)

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.

Beach walk, January 5, 2020

A peek at the ferry through a North Cape May jetty

The Christmas crowds are almost gone now; the big display on Town Bank Road was not lit up Friday night. The warm holiday lights give way to the wintry darkness. The beach belongs, again, to those who need it.

A few herring gulls, a lone sand piper too busy to worry about me. If there were any scoters or loons, I did not see them in the frothy waves.

Delaware Bay, Jersey side, January 5, 2020

A nice blow from the northwest built up foam on the edge of the bay. Small pieces break off and scamper up the beach like scalded squirrels, quickly dissipating into nothingness.

If you kick along the waves’ edges, you can kick up a storm of beach foam balls, skittering up the beach. Child’s play, but my birthday is closer to the 1800s than to the new year, and anyway, no one else was on the beach to see my foolishness.

I found a small knobbed whelk shell and a large quahog shell, a piece of muscle still attached, at least a few decades old. This part of the bay was once flush with clams, and may be again someday, but not today.

Among the scattered oyster shells lay a moon snail shell.

Today the sun was as close as it’s going to get until next January rolls in, but not close enough to make much difference in the chill. I wore 4 layers, should have gone with five.

In just a few months, the laughing gulls will be back, stealing from children squealing under a June sun.

Ferry terminal phragmites

But today, I’m the only one on the beach, from Scott Avenue down to the ferry jetty, kept company by the few birds facing into the stiff breeze.

Comb jellies, lightning bugs of the sea

It was just past dusk, a warm September evening welcoming us to the beach. And there it was.

An impossibly blue flash of light at the edge of the bay, just inside the curl of a gentle bay wave.

Then another. And then yet another. Brief flashes of blue from the bay, another surprise from our beach. We had never seen them before.

Comb jelly, taken at Monterey Aquarium by Bastique, CC

Comb jellies are not the same as jellyfish, despite their similar names (and similarly gelatinous bodies). They do not sting.

Sometimes in late summer they can overwhelm the bay–you feel them slip through your fingers with each stroke as you swim, at first a bit unnerving, but can be soothing once you get used to them.

Hundreds sometimes wash up on our beach, little glass globules sitting on the wet sand. I sometimes put a few back. We can all use a hand now and again.

If you watch one and the sun catches it just right, you will see a beautiful rippling iridescent wave along its edges, a living kaleidoscope. You can do this easily at high tide when you’re chest deep in water. It’s worth the effort.

And a few, it turns out, will erupt into light when disturbed. Our bay continues to surprise us.