Bits of summer in Cape May

I drove south to Cape May on Saturday, in the middle of *Hurricane* Hanna, and so missed a lot of the signs of the season I know to look for along the coast. I missed the beach plums ripening close to shore and the wash of russet-gold that comes to the sea meadows that border the parkway in South Jersey. Mostly I concentrated on the raindrops and the taillights of the cars in front of me so as to not run off the road and into a tree. God I hate driving in the pouring rain!September is always beautiful in Cape May, regardless of the weather. By Saturday evening, Hanna was little more than a gray curtain over the ocean, but there was some hope of good birds brought in by the storm. Unusual birds never materialized beyond a Magnificent Frigatebird that we missed (of course!) I did hear some interesting call notes overhead one night on the beach though. If you ever have reason to be on the beach at night in the late summer under a clear sky – take it!

All the usuals for late summer were there and things are happening just as they should; I guess to most, September belongs to Autumn, but for me it’s still Summer and the best part at that. It’s hardly ever too hot and the nights have a faint chill that hints of what’s to come. The skimmers were barking and dancing over the cove by the jetty while we played in the surf as the sun set down along the bay…

We crossed paths with a box turtle looking for shade from the hot sun at Hidden Valley among the balled up fists of Queen Anne’s Lace going to seed and the ripening greenish-purple berries of Porcelain-berry Vine. We didn’t spot any of the hunting hawks that I know to look for there, but instead found vultures pitching and banking among the few clouds overhead.

I can’t go to Cape May and not remember other times there; other September days with hordes of migrating monarchs and dragonflies, clouds of sanderlings flying in a lane close to the edge of the ocean like distant twinkling lights as they turn and flash their underparts in the sun, wheels of hawks rising together over the Point and then setting their wings and streaming south.

The sanderlings this weekend were doing their thing on scurrying feet, up and back with every shining wave, alone or in twos. The egrets congregated in big groups at Bunker Pond in front of the hawkwatch, entertainment for the lack of hawks, despite a merlin spotted feeding on a swarm of dragonflies. Of course there’s no picture of that; the best memories somehow manage to always escape my camera.

Just because…

… I think he’s handsome. A painted turtle I crossed paths with this summer in the Pine Barrens. I wish I knew more about turtles and saw them more often. Other than this type, or the Diamondback Terrapins that turn up once in a while in a crab trap, or the cranky Snapping Turtles I see in local ponds – I know nothing of turtles. They seem pretty likeable and don’t mind posing for photos, either.

September’s Certainties

There are the certainties of September, a month by grace of the calendar but a season by its own insistence. Now comes the time of pause and slow transition, a time neither new nor old, growth nor completion. Summer nor Autumn.

There is the certainty of fire in the maples, now evident in the coals and brands of the sumacs. The coinage of October is now being minted in the elms, and the ripeness of the grape is forecast in the big New England asters, purple as amethysts. The certainty of Indian Summer’s mists is there in the thistedown and the finespun silk of the milkweed. The frosts to come are foreshadowed in the froth of small white asters at every roadside.

The crows now know the certainty of their own tenure and proclaim it loudly. The jays no longer make any secret of their presence or their coming inheritance. The cricket and the katydid tell the darkness the certainty of time and its implacable demands. The whippoorwill and the owl exchange confidence in the night, reluctant companions in the slowly shifting eternity of starlight.

There is the certainty of sun and evening light, which mark the time of change in the breadth of a shadow, the depth of dawn and dusk. Two more weeks and the compass can set its needle by the morning sun. Yesterday’s new moon will wax toward the fullness that will double the certainty of the equinox.

September makes its own commitments, abides by its own inevitabilities in the decisions of time.

–Hal Borland, Sundial of the Seasons

If I were to make a short-list of favorite nature writers, Hal Borland would probably be at the top of it. I love the way his writing so often sounds like poetry, yet gently teaches me things about astronomy and botany and phenology.

Do you have a favorite nature writer? Can we share short-lists?


A day on the river

Okay so… this whole boat thing is kinda novel and the learning curve is pretty steep, too. Sitting here typing, I still feel myself rocking back and forth, kinda like you feel after a day spent rollerskating. Very disconcerting. I almost think I may be seasick. Is that even possible or did I just get too much sun?


Mention a boat and my brother Brian magically appears. Our idea today was to do some crabbing, so Bri found himself in charge of cutting bait, which I learned he’s pretty good at.

I also learned he’s really squeamish about these worms… nasty things he was using for the fishing poles. They made him squirm like a girl. Very funny.

I really need to do something with my hair. Could it maybe stick up in one more different direction?

I was surprised (boo hiss!) to find mute swans on the river…

Nice, though, was this oystercatcher feeding near a sandbar. They are such cool birds. It’s very hard to take pics on a rocking boat… though at this time we were almost stuck on that sandbar.


Have I mentioned that my brother is a total goofball? You’re suppossed to stay in the boat!

So… we didn’t catch many crabs at all, but Bri did the goofy fisherman grin anyway. A bad day fishing…. (you know the rest)

He got the pretty blue claws, but I got this tiny little calico crab that didn’t even try to bite me.