January 13, 2013

City Folk And Shore Folk





My fellow blogger and champion of most things New Jersey, Baydog, has been in mourning of late.

He might manage a smile or two and put up the cheery post to keep up appearances, but underneath, there's the telltale melancholy that we often wear when we've lost a loved one.

In late October, Baydog's beloved New Jersey shore was brutally ravaged and left for dead in the wild Atlantic surf. Worse, appalling images of the violence were splashed all over the tabloids and the evening news. There was no opportunity to cope with the loss quietly or to mourn in private.

Baydog is mending as best he can, as his folk always have. For Baydog is shore folk.

He was raised down the shore, got most of his schooling there, and grew up with sand between his toes. He was babtized in the warm water of Barnegat Bay, took communion in a hard-chined dinghy, and sang in the boatyard choir. He lettered in clamming and wrote his senior essay on the sound of the surf.

I spent my summers just two hours down Route 528 from Baydog, but I may as well have been ten thousand miles away. I was born of city folk.

My city was paved over. Almost all of it. What wasn't concrete was asphalt. And the few odd lots that remained between the concrete and the asphalt were given a peculiar name - vacant - as if whatever had once lived there had moved away. Trees and grass had been herded together and put in places called 'parks' where they wouldn't get in the way of more important things. If you wanted, you could visit a park, but you could never live in one.

In my city, there were no waterways to speak of, outside of the parks. The big river was mainly hidden behind security fences. Our parents would warn us about the dangers and tell us never to go there. In fourth grade once, we all got on the bus and took a class trip to the sewage treatment plant, but that was pretty much the most water I got to see all in one place. And it smelled funny.

Occasionally, we city folk would try to escape the summer heat and drive down the shore (you never drove down to the shore). As we'd approach the ocean, I could sense my parents getting uneasy. We were leaving the safety of the city behind. Not only were there no sidewalks here, but there was sand everywhere, and sand got into your shoes and socks. "Make sure you don't get any sand in the car," we were warned. "It gets into everything."

My parents never really understood these shore people who liked to walk barefoot in the sand. Why would anyone build a house down here? You'd be tracking sand into the house all of the time. How would you keep the carpets clean?

And then there were those awful storms. Didn't these people know the ocean could come up and wipe their houses away? How could they be so foolish?

It wasn't until many years later that I moved to California, far away from my city, where I got a sailboat that started teaching me about the ocean. At first, this city boy was afraid to venture very far from the safety of the harbor. But the boat and the ocean soon began their usual conspiracy.

It wasn't long before the ocean stopped smelling 'fishy' and started smelling like home to me. And it wasn't too much after that that I began thinking about those foolish shore folk back in New Jersey. I was beginning to understand their foolishness. And I was getting a little foolish myself.

Some of us live lives that are entirely too safe. Boats can spring leaks. Boats can leave you stranded out in the middle of nowhere. Boats can sink. But sailors keep sailing. Sailors need to sail. It's what we do.

I'm beginning to think those foolish New Jersey shore folk knew very well what the storms might bring. But they also knew things city folk would never learn.

In time, the shore's battered barrier islands will recover. The shore folk will recover. And Baydog, I hope, will recover. They all will have been changed a little by their ordeal.

Meanwhile, back in my old home town, the city folk are safe, untouched by the ocean, untouched by the storm.



25 comments:

  1. Wow. We actually have one thing in common. We both went on a school trip to the local sewage treatment plant. What a small world!

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  2. I think I first learned one of the essential rules of sailing at the sewage treatment plant.

    Never lose track of which way the wind is blowing.

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  3. There's where my public education failed me... I don't recall getting a tour of the sewage plant.

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  4. Wow. Nicely put, O Docker. But I personally don't feel like I've been through an ordeal. There are so many of my fellow Jerseyans in such worse shape than I am. I'm glad, however, that the city boy is finally able to deal with a little sand in his carpet.

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    Replies
    1. Even if you think you're OK, Baydog, you should take it easy for a while and maybe have some nice chicken soup.

      And hell, now I even take my socks off when I go to the beach.

      Delete
  5. Oh, yes, I remember the tour of the waste water treatment plant.

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    1. Pat and Carol Anne, I don't know how many years you two have been together, but, if Pat has never been, maybe it would be the loving thing to do to finally take him to see the sewage treatment plant.

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  6. I've become a city dweller: the big smoke of ol' London town has sucked me in like so many before. But technically I'm also on the coastline as the Thames is tidal at Putney - does that count as the shore?

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    1. I think it's a question not of where you are, but of who you are.

      City folk can live at the shore and shore folk can live in the city. City folk, in time, can even become shore folk, but I don't think it ever goes the other way.

      It must be one of those irreversible thermodynamic processes, like entropy.

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  7. I once worked at a sewage treatment plant where I installed a computer system that monitored water flow rates and evaluated the activated sludge processes. Exciting stuff!

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    Replies
    1. Activated sludge processes?

      That sounds a lot like how I write this blog, Joe.

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  8. Around here, we call it the beach.

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  9. In Jersey it's always the shore.

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  10. I guess every region has its name for the place where the land meets the ocean, but I've never heard such a name used quite the way it is in New Jersey, where the connotations are cultural as much as geographical or geological.

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    Replies
    1. When are you moving back East? You can stay at our place until you close.......

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    2. I've decided to tough it out and continue with my missionary work here for mother Jersey.

      I won't rest until you can get a good pastrami sandwich in Sacramento.

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  11. Regarding tours of sewage plants, I never, as Art Carney said on The Honeymooners, "took the plunge". Hopefully, we'll shift gears (or something) and see a (ahem) "movement" toward composting toilets which will help save our waterways. Even so, we need to squarely address climate change if we are to prevent many recurrences of this horrible storm. Let's do it for Baydog's sake!

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    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for stopping by, Anonymous. It's remarkable that you had an old room mate who kept talking about a devastating storm that would happen sometime in the future. But, what are old room mates for?

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      I'm actually glad you decided to comment here. After hardly posting at all for nearly a year, I was starting to worry that no one was reading my drivel anymore. But getting comments like yours is a sure sign that the murky river of the internet still dampens these muddy shores.

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    ReplyDelete
    Replies
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      Delete