Written By: Neil Van Oost Jr.
A Walk on the Beach… It is mid April and I could hear the rain on the roof for a good part of the night. I woke late, it was almost six, I could feel twinges in my right knee, so I really did not have to look out the window to see if it was still raining, but I did, and it was. I sat back down on the bed — “What the heck,” I thought, as I rolled over and snuggled back under the covers. By the time I got organized, checked the email and did some computer shopping, had breakfast, did yesterday’s dishes (all six of them, not counting knives, forks and spoons) it was time for lunch. A very slow start to the day.
The rain had stopped, but everything in the yard was wet, I just could not face another day of yard work, moving heavy, wet, pots of earth had done me in yesterday. As usual, when I get the clean -up bug, I do not know when to stop, thank goodness it only strikes every couple of years. This left me with two choices, do clean-up in the house or the garage, and neither of those appealed to me at the time. I made my decision on the spur of the moment, “Just get away from the house, go for a drive some place,” I thought.
I decided to set Veteran’s Bicentennial Park, on Long Beach Island, in Beach Haven as my target because I knew it well and had done quite a few craft shows and even attended a couple of Summer concerts there in the past. I had not been out that way since way before Sandy struck, and was curious to see how the area’s recovery was coming along. In 1873 the town was established as a beach-front resort for wealthy summer residents from Philadelphia and was known by islanders as “Queen City.” On November 11, 1890, Beach Haven was incorporated as a Borough by the New Jersey Legislature. From a census population of 239 in 1900, to an estimated, almost 1200 full time residents in 2013 it has grown quite a bit, considering it only incorporates a land area of 0.978 square miles, and a water area of 1.342 square miles. I love looking a the architecture of some of the older houses and buildings which reflect the influence of the bygone Victorian and Edwardian periods.
As I left the house, the sky still showed dirty gray clouds with only a few small holes showing blue. The outside temperature had crept to just a bit over 60 degrees, and I thought, perhaps it might even be clear over the water. The drive was about thirty miles and in the Summer can take up to an hour and a half if you are doing it at the wrong time of the day. Today it took a little over an hour, I wasn’t in a hurry and because I had forgotten the street I had to turn at, I went some fifteen blocks to far. I was lucky, I spotted a friendly borough policeman at a road construction site that set me right.
Arriving at Veteran’s Bicentennial Park, I grabbed my camera and locked the car heading for the fencing and that restricted path across the dunes. The weather had not cleared, as I had hoped, but instead had deteriorated. The wind had picked up, and as I passed over the top of the dune path, I felt the cold hit me. It felt as if I had stepped across a barrier with a more than ten degree drop in temperature, and, of course I was in my t-shirt. There is a smell to the ocean here, it is unlike the smell of other ocean shores, and I have been to several. Sometimes you can smell it on the Eastern side of the bay, if the wind is right and it declares, “You are now at the Jersey Shore.” I almost had the entire beach to myself, except for the couple in the distance on my right and a couple of fishermen on the distant jetty to my left, and the brave seagull that walked by some fifteen foot away, not even bothering to notice me, just pecking at something in the sand every once in awhile. I suffered the cold and wind for ten minutes or so, I was worth it, like having a total reset, the day wasn’t a disaster at all.
On the way back, I took some side street trips and looked things over, there were bare lots here and there that once contained bungalows, Summer beach houses, or homes to local residents. I passed some homes that, I knew if I stopped and looked in the bare windows, they would be empty inside. I passed one house that sat on bare I-beams on top of pilings, just recently raised up from its place on the ground. Other homes and commercial buildings showed their new clothes, siding bright, paint jobs sparkling with new color. Yes, Beach Haven is coming back to its old self, stronger I hope.
But still it is the empty lots and houses that affect me the most, and the nightmares they surly contain.