When you grow up where I did, when the temperature or boredom rises, you head to the shore, 20-40 minutes away depending on which beach you aim yourself toward, and wild with sound, wind, sea and energy. Manasquan. Sea Girt. Asbury Park. Ocean City. Seaside Heights. Point Pleasant. The names alone make me remember sitting in the high wind on the beach, hunched over a journal, trying to find fresh ways to write about the ocean.
Now I scan the internet for videos and photos, trying to wrap my head about the devastation that erased so much of the infrastructure of the shore. While the heart of each place is surely still alive, the boardwalks, beach houses and amusement parks are all-too-often swept out to sea or buried in new deposits of sand. The supports for boardwalks, long and curving lines in many photos, lie exposed as grave markers. The ocean has moved inland in pockets or wide expanses.
Most startling to me was the video I watched of Long Beach Island, where I spent several long summer vacations at a house, jointly owned by four families related to my stepsister. The very long and narrow island (as most barrier islands are) is composed of a line of cities – Beach Haven, Spray Beach, Long Beach, and Surf City, where we stayed. I remember walking along the beach for hours, collecting shells and wispy images to translate into poetry, interspersed with stops for ice cream or popcorn. The sea was everywhere and everything.
My heart goes out to the people who’ve lost loved ones especially and all those whose lives and homes were turned upside down. Although I’m half a continent away, in my mind, I can still hear the surf and smell the sea.