The crisp morning air and the pungent bouquet of decaying seaweed opened a scrapbook to my early career. The Hook, as we called it, ignoring the obvious Sandy part of it, hadn’t changed much in all these years. The single paved road through the narrow spit kept the Atlantic Ocean on one side from spilling over to Sandy Hook Bay on the other. To the right, a slender parking lot extended for more than a mile to welcome visitors to the easily accessible recreational beach (alas, the nude beach was less accessible). On clear days a squint could bring into view the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and the whispers of the New York skyline in the distance. To the left, the meandering shoreline hid several small coves where poles grouped like sentries signaled the fixed menhaden nets. A fyke net stuck closer to shore grabbed small bluefish – snappers – as they fed before heading offshore to begin their lives dodging day boats full of hungry tourists. I avoided the public beach and headed for this “research” side, where my memory recalled many days and nights at the fisheries lab I was on my way to visit.
And on this side the seaweed smelled. Not a curdling smell like the famed rotten egg odor of low tide; more of a salty, gummy smell that told of a productive growth perfect for hiding snails and small crabs from the marauding gulls. The air itself carried the briny spirit of past seamen. Standing on the sand just above the intertidal zone of Horseshoe Cove, looking out over the sailboats, skiffs, and, these days, kayakers, always filled my soul with a sense of fulfillment. Invariably, Dan Fogelberg’s The Reach would rise from the recesses of my mind into my subconscious ear. I belonged here.
Walking along the inner beach out to the rocky point I could see a few half-awake teenagers jigging for blue crabs. They may sit for hours, dipping a single hook on a string armed with a lonely hook and a once-frozen chicken neck for bait. Occasionally a slight tug would catch their interest long enough to slowly raise the line in hopes of finding a Jimmy blue crab desperately clinging for its meal…only to become a meal itself. For a while I sit on the rocks, watching, breathing in the perfumed essence of fresh marine air in the early morning. Listening to the silence of the seas, immersing myself in the scents of the day, the fragrance of life on the seashore.
And that life is good.
David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.