Yes, this is what the beach looks like in the winter, and being a Jersey Girl from the Shore, it’s a sight I’ve seen many times. Still, it’s no less strange, seeing snow on the beach, and it’s something that I’ll probably not see soon nearly as much as I’ve seen in the past. We’ve put the old homestead up for sale since the ‘rents have passed on, though if you live in Jersey, you’re never too far from the coastline. It’s where I grew up and it’s what has sustained me all these years, but change is good, and I’m looking if not for greener (or sandier) pastures, but different ones.
Like where? Well, I’ve always loved the mountains. My father’s side of the family comes from the Catskill region of New York State (though their roots are in Iowa and South Dakota). I have friends in Vermont, and having only been to the Rockies once, I’d like to see more of them. My sister is contemplating moving to a house on a lake, and at least if I swam in it (which is a given), I wouldn’t have to think about sharks. Not that I worry too much when I swim in the ocean, but it’s one less thing I have to worry about.
Anyway, we still have the beach house a bit longer so here’s one more pix. It’s a hell of a lot better media than I’ve been gawking at lately anyway.
This week while I’m running around getting ready for classes to start next Tuesday, I came across this photo, and right away I started pining for the beach. It’s been a hell of a summer for me, and the fact I haven’t had my toes in the sand since Fourth of July weekend has left me a bit addled. You see, at least for this writer the beach, or rather the Shore as we say in New Jersey, is an essential muse to my literary existence, and here are five reasons why…
1. The Horizon – Stressed? Have a bit of the old block? I’ll tell you, there’s nothing like zoning out at the beach. You sit your fanny in a chair, bury the toes, slide on your shades and simply fix your sight on the horizon. By the time your gaze glides past the sand and surf and out over the water, your blood pressure’s dropped twenty points. After a few minutes your mind blanks and oh boy, do the ideas start flowing. Compound that if you’ve got your fingers clamped around a Yuengling.
2. The Surf – Still stressed? Dive in. This is especially effective if the water’s particularly rough that day. There’s nothing like a wave ass-whooping to bust the kinks out of those tense muscles. In fact, it’s practically mandatory for an effective day on the beach. Why? Because a dip is an absolute precursor to the…
3. Beach Nap – You’re heaving like a busted bellows, there’s sand in your crotch, and your hair looks like the wet mop coming out of Nardi’s men’s room after a Saturday night. So the only thing left to do is fall on your face and pass out under the sun. Let me tell you, I’ve solved more plot problems through the bizarre REM dreams I’ve had during these snooze sessions. Or maybe they weren’t. Hmmm…
4. Chat ‘n Chew – More often than not I have a friend or two (or three or four) along with me as a I sit on the beach, and often that friend or two are fellow writers. I cannot tell you how many books were started or finished in that rumpled milieu, whole characters developed, titles created, contracts debated. Often these brainstorming sessions are aided by a new pack of Twizzlers, various summer fruits – peaches, watermelon, plums, etc – as well as the mandatory chips ‘n dip. Inevitably, this is supplemented with the Red Carpet chatter that ensues watching the various forms of scantily-clad humanity plodding near the shoreline, invoking even more spirited discussion. Oh–the stories we can weave!
5. And then, as I look to the West… – As our day on the beach comes to a close, and we trod homeward, after we shower, barbecue and before we hoist a few more Yuenglings, we venture to the other side of the Island and Barnegat Bay. In a blaze of red, gold and orange, the sun sets, staining a path across the water, eliciting oohs and aahs. And if that isn’t inspirations, well, I just don’t know what.
I’ll be spending the Fourth of July weekend down the Shore, on the beach, and for a fair amount of time, in the water. Growing up there you’re taught to respect the ocean, namely by local elders who are only too happy to school you with horror stories of those who didn’t. You hear all kinds of things, and a lot of the time I’m sure they were exaggerating, but there were some things that just came down to good old common sense. Above all, one of the first things you had to learn was to how to swim and I did, courtesy of the local Red Cross. After you had that under your belt you were forewarned to abide by these three rules:
1. Never swim alone.
2. Never swim at night.
3. Never swim with an animal.
Now, two of the three were actually pretty easy for me. I never swam alone because I never went to the beach by myself as it was too boring. When I did go, it was usually when the lifeguards were around from 10 to 5, because before ten was way too early, and by five o’clock I was usually working a summer job and being way underpaid to miss any hours. I also never swam with an animal as dogs aren’t allowed on the beach in the summer, and my horse was 35 miles inland (yes, I had one. His name was Max and he was a palomino.)
Okay, truth be told I DID swim at night a couple of times, but it usually was after the bars closed and a bunch of us would go to the beach and there was this guy who… I think you get where I’m going with this, right? In any event, the older I got the more common sense prevailed and I stopped swimming at night. Because even after the bars closed and even with all that Coors Light in me I knew to keep to the dry side of the beach because the wet side of it probably had sharks in it.
Okay, here’s the thing: sharks live in the ocean and the ocean is on the wet side of the beach. The ocean is their home, and if you walk into their home there is a random chance you could meet up with one. But just so you don’t think even dipping a toe in the ocean will set a shark to snapping at it, here’s a bit of sanity courtesy of National Geographic:
– 93% of shark attacks from 1580 to 2010 worldwide were on males.
– Surfers accounted for 50.8% of all attacks in 2010.
– Snorkelers and divers accounted for 8% of all attacks in 2010.
– Inflatable rafts/inner tubes accounted for 3% of attacks in 2010.
– Over the last half-century, there have been more unprovoked shark attacks in Florida (27 out of a total 139) between 2-3 pm than any other time of the day.
– You have a 1 in 63 chance of dying from the flu and a 1 in 3,700,000 chance of being killed by a shark during your lifetime.
– Over 17,000 people die from falls each year. That’s a 1 in 218 chance over your lifetime, compared to a 1 in 3,700,000 chance of being killed by a shark.
– In 1996, toilets injured 43,000 Americans a year. Sharks injured 13.
– 1n 1996, buckets and pails injured almost 11,000 Americans. Sharks injured 13.
– In 1996, 2600 Americans were injured by room fresheners. Sharks injured 13. (How do you get injured by a room freshener?)
– The US averages just 19 shark attacks each year and one shark-attack fatality every two years. Meanwhile, in the coastal U.S. states alone, lightning strikes and kills more than 37 people each year.
– For every human killed by a shark, humans kill approximately two million sharks.
Okay, let’s get to my side of the world There hasn’t been a fatal shark attack in New Jersey waters in more than 32,000 days. In fact, there have been only 15 confirmed, unprovoked shark attacks on humans in recorded history along the Jersey Shore. So does that mean it’s safe to strip to the skinny and take a midnight dip? Well, if you’re planning on it, think of this: the impetus for Peter Benchley’s book Jaws was based on the 1916 shark attacks that happened off the coast of New Jersey.
Will that keep me out of the water? I think not. But neither will it keep me out of the bars.
I just passed the sagging middle of my work-in-progress, so to celebrate–er, rather as to verify some of the locales I wrote about, I decided to take a trip to see how close I came to their reality. Google and Google Earth will only take you so far, and the committed writer shouldn’t ever rely solely on virtual reality over the real thing. So my husband and I packed up the car and headed for coastal Jersey, which to this South Jerseyan, is not the same as the more celebrated Shore. Parts of Southern Coastal New Jersey consist of a vast tidewater region of creeks, rivers, and salt marshes or what what the locals refer to as meadows (“meddas,” as my Piney husband calls them), which are varied and lush as some of their inhabitants are hard-shelled and truly, well, bizarre.
Our first stop was just past Tuckerton near Mystic Islands, in an area we simply refer to as Great Bay Boulevard. It’s a long, straightaway (more or less) though the meadows teeming with fish, crab, egrets, osprey, songbirds, even the occasional eagle, and especially this time of year–April to August–turtles all over the place. In fact, I’ve never seen SO many wild turtles in one place. They were in the water, the reeds and most especially, crawling all over the road. The locals take this mating period quite seriously, and are very protective. Everywhere we saw not only official TURTLE CROSSING roadsigns, but hand-scrawled and painted ones by the dozens. And for the amount of turtles we saw scampering (if that’s what you can call it) across the road, and believe me, they were EVERYWHERE, in two days we only saw one dead. Pretty miraculous if you think about it. We also saw at lot of them swimming in the bay at a place we went for dinner called the Oyster Creek Inn (fabulous) in Leeds Point. And if you don’t know what Leeds Point is legendary for, then I suggest you look it up, or troll old episodes of The X-Files. (An aside: if you have ANY kind of aversion to greenhead flies, do NOT venture anywhere near here. They are huge, vicious, tenacious bastards with wings, and they will hunt you down, then proceed to chaw the skin off your bones. I truly believe this is where the legend of the Jersey Devil began. A photo cannot even begin to do them justice.) I should also mention that all around us the spring flowers were in full bloom. I’m pretty dumb when it comes to naming flora, but I did recognize a profusion of honeysuckle as well as wild rose, plus a bunch of other stuff I won’t embarrass myself trying to name. There was also a lot of pretty good fishing and crabbing around, as I could tell from the amount of people hanging off the bridges that link the various sedge islands. And apparently the shellfish must be doing pretty good as well, as my husband fell into a food coma after a dinner of Barnegat Bay broiled scallops. (A note about the picture to the right: it is the boardwalk below the Oyster Creek Inn where my husband’s arm was nearly chawed off by a greenhead. No sympathy. Kill. Them. All.)
Anyway, I could go on and on, but I’ll end this pictorial by letting the snaps below speak for themselves. What follows is what we encountered on Route 9 just past New Gretna. It’s a mansion that sits on the southbound side of the road, but luckily enough has a big enough shoulder on the opposite side, otherwise traffic would surely be snarled. It is out-and-out the purest display of WTF I’ve ever seen, crawling over and atop and in front a seven-foot-high concrete wall. Classic Weird New Jersey. Enlarge, enjoy.