The jetties of Long Beach protrude into the North Atlantic like black piano keys under a grand-piano swoop of white sand. They are my sanctuary.
These beach protrusions are actually groins, but we Long Beach, NY locals reserve “groins” for other favorite areas in our lives so we call these rows of beach rock, “jetties”. Also, if we referred to them as groins a phone message from a friend that, “We’re all going to join at the groin tonight.” might be misinterpreted…or not, as the case may be.
Our jetties can be both delightful and deadly. But they can also be a sanctuary for shore birds and me.
“Sanctuary, sanctuary.” the hunchback cried. And it’s sanctuary we all seek at times, sometimes we find it by being focused in our work, sometimes in our hobbies, or hiking mountains or trekking forests or sailing the seas. Sometimes we find it in booze or drugs or gambling or sex. Sometimes we find it in just a tar roof and the stars…and maybe memories of better times.
The whole beach is a sanctuary to me, a walk in the reality of the sun, a respite from the helter-skelter of “news” shot at me in staccato machine gun blasts from my TV. I won’t bother you with these repetitive TV news stories, no need, you’re right here with me on this planet of turmoil. Sanctuary is a respite from it all, a breather. It might seem to be only a temporary escape but it is far more. It does help one to cope. It renews, it calms, it heals; it prepares you for the inevitable return to the cave of shadows on TV.
Right now my favorite niche of beach-sanctuary is the jetty.
The jetties are there to provide the stabilization of our sandy beaches from the constant westward sweep of ocean current. But they also provide a wonder of fun for me as well. When storms send crashing waves into a jetty’s tip they provide a scene of explosive white water. When the ocean is as gentle a mountain lake I can catch the serenity of sea and sail in a foreground of dark, wet, rock.
Even the tankers offshore add to the horizon for me, reminders of our maritime heritage, commerce on the high seas that founded our new land centuries ago.
For years our Neptune lifeguard team’s color, purple, was painted on a cubed block of jetty rock. There the color flew like a boulder-banner for all to see and maybe even perch upon. But the sea-surge of Sandy tossed its tonnage to the sea like a purple burnished leaf in an autumn gust.
Long Beach lifeguards are constantly vigilant of the adventurous among us walking the tops of the rocks. A fall could result in broken bones, bashed brains or worse…a slip into the deadly rips that often run parallel to the rocks, taking a soul to sea. When the lifeguards are gone the peril is acute. Most locals know of the danger and are adept, fishermen know of sure footing, but sometimes naive day-trippers succumb to the slippery lure at their peril.
When people speak of inhabitants of the shore they think of terns, gulls, crabs. But humans too are natural denizens of the shore. Fishermen of the jetties carry on the tradition of subsistence-by-sea of prehistoric man. The earliest fish hooks, 42,000 years old, were made of bone. Even the remains of tuna have been found in prehistoric caves.
Today’s anglers love the jetty’s added reach to their casts, the water alongside it harbors stripers, fluke, king fish and snappers among many other species. Families love them as a backdrop for snapshots, lovers for just sitting and watching the sun or moon rise or set. Yogis love them for just BEING there. Some of us just like to stop and stand and inhale the vista with eyes and ears as well as lungs.
I like the jetties for the accent they add to a photo shoot. But I also like to just BE be among the sea birds as they struggle to sustain their individual life, just like me, just like you. I see the shore’s inhabitants, scurrying and flying, twisting and diving, naked in their quest for survival. Yes, they devour live protein to survive but they don’t engage in faithicide or decapitate life forms to “send a message.” There are no tenets in the talons of ospreys, just a grasp of survival.
Gulls because they are so ubiquitous seem banal to some of us, as if they were the dandelions of the sea birds. (Don’t get me started on dandelions.) Some even call them sea rats. But I suspect that if one had never glimpsed a gliding gull before then came upon one, they’d need to drop their jaw…in absolute awe.
Alongside the jetty, when the tide is low, is where the sandpipers peek and peck at morsels that present themselves: mussels, crustaceans, even dead fish among other things. Sometimes they feast on flies that hover around the sea weed and mussels.
The mussels provide a deep black background for the skittering sandpipers. They scamper with feet of a movie camera’s speeded-up motion. As they run in and out of the rushing and receding surf they appear as busy and hilarious as maddened Manhattan shoppers at another tide known as Yule.
Yes, it is here that I enter their sanctum of jetty-life as closely and as marvelously, as I can…right down to the flies.
Here’s a little photo video I made, if you like it, maybe we can all join at the groin: