We didn’t plan to go here. We spent the weekend in Wildwood, and the local paper mentioned that there were Monarch butterflys migrating and Cape May Point State Park was described as being a good place to watch this event. The Wildwood Roar To The Shore motorcycle weekend was a pleasant surprise for us as well, we had no idea we would be surrounded by bikers and their polished chrome machines. We did learn some about the world of bikes from our neighbors who were pleased to show their artistic customized creations to us, but by sunday afternoon, the butterfly migration in nearby Cape May promised a quiet experience, and this was indeed fulfilled.
This is the setting. The Cape May Times had a very welcoming description of the park and what to expect. We did not bring binoculars, but the informative folks at the Cape May Bird Observatory had staff on site who pointed out the birds and handed out loaner binoculars. So even if you are not a birder, you will become a guest birder at Cape May Point State Park. We got to see Eagles flying really high up in the sky on the specially built bi-level birding deck, packed with birders and fully staffed with knowledgable people offering a wealth of information about birds. If you like birds, this is the place.
We then ventured into the habitat that supports the birds.
Hibiscus moschutoes, in full bloom. The freshwater marshes had a bounty of blooming Hibiscus. The trails were very pleasant to use.
The Monarch butterflys were everywhere. This one is visiting Boneset, Eupatorium perfoliatum.
This is the first time we have ever seen the Hisbiscus palustris, above. The flower is smaller and it does not have the red center like the Hibiscus moschutoes.
Above, the Hibiscus moscheutos. Some creature has eaten away at this flower, creating these interesting holes.
The Butterfly and a bee are very interested in this sunflower.
Isabelle saw this dragonfly out of the corner of her eye.
When the Hibiscus goes to seed, its a different story than the delicate and ephemeral flower. The seeds are tough creations nestled into a rigid encasement which holds on to the plant and eventually will fall off . On our garden specimen, we have let the seeds fall where they may, and now two years on we have seedlings sprouting up!
The Cape May Point Lighthouse.
This is the pink variation of Hibiscus moscheutos.
The network of trails in the freshwater marsh opens up to a beach, with the Atlantic ocean crashing aggressively against a steeply pitched shoreline. We later learned at the museum on the premises, that the shoreline is being degraded, and that it used to much further out. So far a small town and a trolley line have been consumed by the intruding ocean. A giant concrete monstrosity from WWII is next in line and it teeters on a foundation of wood pilings just below the sand.
If you like dolphins, this is the place
If you like clouds, this is the place.
With the migrating butterflys and birds, the lighthouse, and the whole effect of the peninsula, we got the feel of a place that is a sending off and receiving area for the continent. Cape May has a remote and seafaring quality that we find intriguing. At the end of the afternoon, we had seen a sensational and enduring panoramic of the vast sky and ocean.
FASTEN YOUR SEATBELTS DEAR READERS: ITS GOING TO BE A LONG AND WILD RIDE!
The two-toned black and white 1959 Chevrolet Impala was readied for the road trip. The 283 cubic inch small block v-8 engine was given a once over before the trip and off to Wildwood! This is how we roll, yo. Almost nonstop to the shore, hear that Chevy metal roar. At the wheel in Detroit steel.
We made a quick stop at Concourse Lake, in West Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park Centennial District, at a site that is being vastly improved. We stopped to admire a stunning display of the blooming native Hibiscus moschuetos, with wide white and pink 6 inch flowers.
Keeba loves the backseat of the Impala.
It is an old car, sluggish at stoplights, but once at speed, the machine cruises right along. It also has a time machine feature, which we have used in the recent past, with interesting results. There is a button on the dashboard that activates it, much like cruise control on the newer Impala models. This button must have been pushed into the ‘on’ position by accident as we approached what we thought to be Wildwood New Jersey, July 1, 2012.
Our expectations of our reservation and stay at a ‘Doo-Wop’ motel, boogie boarding, the Boardwalk, cruising, all of that was changed in a flash. No Pool at the end of the expressway. The car show was off. (Rolling in a ’59 Chevy guarantees looks and attention). Seafood and beverages?
Not Gonna Happen.
All the good folks and good times at Wildwood were now off the calendar.
The Time Machine button on the dash was accidentally activated, and we arrived in a flash to times of all times and dates of all dates, July first 1012 A.D., that is correct, Ten -Twelve A.D., exactly 1000 years ago, to the day and time of day!
What was that like you ask? O.K, so we are on a smooth blacktop on a bridge over to the Barrier Island, about halfway, cruising right along, at cruising speed, we are so exuberant at reaching the shore destination, we are bantering and laughing. Perhaps the pedal was pushed a little closer to the floor, which is what activated the time machine. All of a sudden, its sand everywhere, there is bright light and darkness, the steering wheel becomes stiff, and the car comes to a stop. All of a sudden we are stopped cold, the engine off, and the car is leaning on the side of a dune or some mass of land. No bridge, asphalt or motels. The car is completely stuck in the sand of this massive dune.
The Time machine! How did it get left on? Where and when are we? What will we do? The date July 1, 1012, read clearly on the dash, just under the odometer. My first thought as the driver: This car had this time machine as an option, with its fancy calculations, but did not come with power steering? Y’know it was an option in 1959, to have power steering, and this specific car had manual steering, and now its one thousand years ago, 1012 A.D!? … Go figure.
Isabelle said that we should reboot the time machine, like we do to our annoying modem at home that constantly dies in the July heat. If we wait a few hours we can re-set it, and hopefully go back to 2012, it wont be the first time. In the meantime, we should definitely check out the place we are at. Re-booting the time machine involved opening the hood, disconnecting the battery, waiting a minute or so and then reconnecting the battery cable and then turning the key halfway.
Because it is a time machine and not a modem we have to wait a few hours instead of a few minutes.
Some things never change do they? Actually, do we really want them to change? Maybe the simplicity of this time machine isnt so bad. After this simple exercise, I stood back from the car, half buried in this pleistocene sand and asked myself: This car aint so bad from a technological perspective is it? It got us here and hopefully it will get us back, with little effort.
While the time machine rebooted itself we decided to check out Wildwood New Jersey in the year 1012. What an opportunity.
The native shrub American Holly (Ilex opaca) grabbed our attention and we quickly forgot about all of our misadventures. The size of the specimens we encountered left us speechless, and the gravitas of the species on this long and wild lone barrier island was an astounding presence. This native beauty welcomed us into the Jersey Shore Barrier Island Thicket Habitat as if we were aliens from another planet. However we embraced this thicket, as if it were a beloved but long lost family member, and in return, we were granted the privileged invitation into the magical world of the New Jersey Barrier Island Thicket Habitat. (We had to inform our gracious hosts of the New Jersey part)
How about this unique A.D. 1012 image of Wildwood, captured in our adventures? Seeing this pristine beach made us want to stay forever. Whos to say we are not still there now? Maybe we are there forever.
Isabelle discovered this Serviceberry she is posing in front of. We are deep in the Thicket Habitat of this barrier Island, one day to be called Wildwood, New Jersey. We wondered at the size and form of this specimen, as well as the many others we encountered. The Serviceberry is a multi-stemmed small tree/ large shrub with smooth bark and oval-shaped leaves. ( Amelanchier laevis). Interesting that we can go back 1000 years and still be able to recognize shrubs and habitats.
As we entered into the realm of the Barrier Island Thicket Habitat, we became more and more ensconced in the world of the Jersey Shore. This is the dream, this is the weekend at the shore we always imagined, the true weekend, the pure weekend, the summer weekend that never ends.
This next plant is truly found on a long and wild barrier island off the coast in 1012: A highbush blueberry! Yes, this is on our planet! The Blueberries were wild, plump and tasty. We could taste the shore. We would now become part of the shore barrier island as the berries became part of us. We discussed the fact that right where we stood was where our motel was supposed to be, in 1000 years!
This made us think- What if our motel was to have these blueberry bushes and Thicket Habitat plants on its property, off to the side, but still included into the program? Could it be possible that Wildwood could support the amazing wildlands of the barrier Islands and be a fantastic beach destination at the same time? Lets bring our ideas into the future than shall we?
Above, the Highbush Blueberry, a multi-stemmed shrub, growing in its native habitat, on the barrier Islands of the New Jersey Shore. It couldn’t make us happier to see this habitat flourish and to be in the place allowed to be just as it always was. It is enchanting, and illuminating, to see and experience the Jersey Shore as it has been for millenia.
We ended up discussing how the Highbush blueberry will one day become a great part of the future economy in the region, and humans will one day cultivate and sell blueberries to each other, a great example of a native plant creating direct economic value in the human ecosystem. In 2003, the 4th grade elementary students in Brick New Jersey, lobbied to make Highbush Blueberry the official state Fruit, and it indeed gained that special status in 2004.
Above we find the American Holly (Ilex opaca) in an advanced state, and below the Highbush blueberry, both fully filling in this barrier island thicket habitat.
Vaccinium corymbosum, Above. Here is the native highbush blueberry, purely wild and uncultivated. Someone with enough imagination would be able to create a viable industry out of this wild shrub, and it would be found in our yogurt and Ice cream and made into pies. This valued species flourishes and it continues to provide sustenance to natural habitats.
Juniperus Virginiana, Red Cedar, above, another Barrier Island Thicket tree.
Below, for the first time we discovered the Beach Heather, also called Sand Heather, Wooly Beach Heather, False Beach Heather, Poverty Grass, and Hairy Hudsonia, all of these names classified by the USDA to be Hudsonia tomentosa.
It is listed as a threatened species in Connecticut, Indiana and New Hampshire. It is listed as endangered in Illinois, Iowa and Vermont. In Ohio it is considered extirpated unless one can be otherwise found growing naturally. It is comforting to know that in this place that will someday be called New Jersey, this plant will still be growing in 1000 years in the year 2012. When a species becomes extirpated from a habitat, there can be only trouble.
We reached the ocean beach and went right up to the crashing waves with their rythmic and timeless expression of the shore. This is why we came here, to feel the cool breezes and to be in contact with the salty air, and to hear the crashing waves. We are soothed into the earth’s timelessness, the endlessness of the shore, the widest expanse of the earth we will ever see, the closest we will ever become to the expansion of the universe, to forever as we imagine.
The ocean allows us to stretch our eyes, and to see the curvature of the earth, to watch the sky change and then to comprehend this curvature and roundness, and then we begin to feel the tides, and the waves crashing differently. We feel gravity, and the feeling of being bound. The ocean waves are crashing, and the wind is blowing, and we are bound together, into the sand and along the shore.
At the shore, the sky is bigger than ever, and we can see the clouds in their full manifestation, their impressive heights vault over the horizon, giving us a sense of the spacial characteristics of our weather and their movements visible from the beach give us a glimpse into the time it takes for clouds to move. The picture above shows the dune habitat to the right and the wind-blown thicket habitat to the left, where we have just spent the better part of an hour exploring.
We are at this juncture at an epic point of our journey through the forests of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The land as we have been exploring it is now going to dip into the vast ocean, a body of water so large, that it is difficult to comprehend. Some of the plants we have in Morris Park, Philadelphia, such as the American Holly, Serviceberry and blueberry grow right up to the edge of the vegetative line before the land briefly becomes a beach before it dips down into the Atlantic Ocean.
There it goes, the land full of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants that has been such a large part of our lives as we work to restore a small section of Morris Park, as we explore the natural lands of the area and beyond, now the land dips into the ocean, where the continent has come to its end.
The Jersey Shore forces us to reflect on the larger intersections-where land and ocean are defined, we can visualize the round shape of the planet. We get a sense of where we are when we can see a great distance and hear the great rumblings of the crashing waters, and smell the salty and breezy distillations of millennia, and we can feel the seawater and sand rush past our feet as we walk along the breaking ocean, and we can behold the stiff undertow and wild crashing waves as we wander into deeper waters, feeling the icy cold turn warm and inviting and dangerous and exciting as the waves become larger and more powerful, dangerous like nature is, however sustaining and fulfilling.
The salty water penetrates our senses, soothing us. Visually satisfied, swimming with the endless vistas, seemingly eternal sights we behold, the beaches go on forever in two directions, and the sky is half the universe. The western sight is the land mass we have come from, that life-giving terrestrial land mass where there are rivers and tall trees, hills, valleys and swamps as well as humidity and fresh drinkable water .
The shore offers something unique to our life’s terrestrial experience; the end of the land, but with a twist of beauty instead of fear of an ends -as is often the situation as ends go. The shore offers and end that grants every participant the material needed to realize an end in a personalized elegance; here is where our sustaining land ends and dips deep into the earth, beyond our sights and senses, except we can hear the waves and smell the salty air. Here the end is so powerful and prevalent , so acceptable and natural, without societal precedent or procedure, the ocean is an end we can appreciate, count on, remember, reconcile with, relate to and understand.
The shore helps us think and to meditate. The continual crashing waves create an environment conducive to thought. The waves are not interrupted and they have a resonance to them that we desire in the backround, like Cicadas and Crickets in the summer, the waves of the ocean make us feel a part of nature, that where we are is the best place to be. Our soundscape is an important part of our well-being, and it can help us bring perspective to our lives.
We also appreciate the live, up to the second geological updates we get at the shore. Here we can see and feel the forces of geology first-hand, as the waves churn the sand, and suck it away at times, where it is brought into currents that carry it further, or the sand is deposited on the site. Regardless of the specifics, we are there when it happens and have a first hand experience of real geological history taking place! Does it get more exciting than that?
We came upon the most magnificent plant, the native prickly pear cactus.
Finding these plants growing in their natural habitat, undisturbed, is what makes our memories. This is what we talk about on the walk back to the car, as that big ol red ball drops below the western Horizon.
Its all about the evening.
We got back to the car after crossing over several older dunes and went into a thicket of Rose. The green ‘time machine’ light was on and was not flickering. “Its re-booted” Said Isabelle. So what do we do now? There are no roads or anything, just a 1959 Impala stuck in the sand.
“We just all get in the car and re-set the machine. Then it will work” Said Isabelle. The engine started up right away, and needed a bit of a warm-up period. We closed the windows with the manual cranks. We fastened our seat belts. ( This car did not originally come with seat belts, by the way, they were installed in the 1990s) I pushed the button.
“what if we cant get back, I mean forward to 2012?” I Asked
“Then we are here” Said Isabelle
“Its not a bad option is it? either way its win-win. If we are stuck here for the rest of our lives, forever, really, then we can eat blueberries, for starters, and find others ways to sustain ourselves. The Impala will rust away, but then again, it was rusty to begin with. There must be natives, who can show us the way,as long as we do not kill them all off with whatever diseases we carry into their world. We never did think of the ramifications of carrying invasive pathogens or even plant species for that matter into the world of a barrier Island in the year 1012, 1000 years ago? What if there was just one seed of Garlic mustard on our clothing that ended up here? How would that change things? Maybe its just as well we didnt stay the whole weekend here!”
I pushed the button again and it worked. The outside went bright, as if it was sterilizing our stay here, and we felt as if the car was accelerating and moving. The steering wheel began to move back and forth in rapid motions and the engine raced at times, as if the car was on an oddly conceived cruise control.
The car was pretty much driving itself in the time machine mode. We could feel the speed of the machine, and wondered if it could withstand the ravages of time. It was like a roller coaster ride that we could not see. At one point the windshield wipers went on!
Than the engine decelerated, and it began to purr. The seats felt firm and crisp all of a sudden. I grabbed the wheel as the blue sky emerged, and the car was cruising along New Jersey Avenue, chrome gleaming. Every car around us was old, but brand new looking. None of them was newer than 1958.
“Isabelle, check out the cars and hair-do-s”!
“Its like we are back in time, in the 50s or something!”
We stopped at a light. A shiny red 1957 Chevrolet convertible rolled up beside us, and the couple in the front bench seat both turned their heads at us.
“what year is it?” they asked- I thought this was a question we should be asking!
“1959” I replied
“Its beautiful- Love the black and white two tone. I wonder if they make the convertible model?”
” Hey, I like your car too. Its a beautiful ’57 . By the way, can you tell me what year it is?”
” A YEAR WHAT IS?”
“WHAT IS THE DATE? TODAY?”
The light turned green. I hit the pedal and the engine lit up in response and the car lurched forward in an unlikely manner, effortlessly cruising alongside the 57 Chevy and a 58 Cadillac. We hit the next light, after passing some brand-new motels, with fake palm trees, and bright new neon signs.
At the next light, I asked again,” What is todays date?”
“Its July 31st!”
Light green again, roaring engines. The time machine. On the dash. It says 1959. July 31. (Isabelle’s Birthday, but not for some years to come)
We are in Wildwood New Jersey, and our Chevrolet Impala is Brand-New, not a scratch. Neither of us have been born yet. I’m Driving, Isabelle is navigating. Noone wants to tell us what year it is. We are in what was once a Barrier Island Thicket habitat. We park the car between a 1959 Ford Galaxy and a 1959 Oldsmobile, and we go to the beach. We will have to check out the swimming suits, umbrellas and hats, on the boardwalk . We will find what will in 50 years be called a ‘doo-wop’ motel, and get a room. 1959 is good enough for the Shore.