a mid-december escape to cape may

When I arrived in Cape May late on a gloomy mid-December afternoon, blustery winds assaulted my face with stinging ice-gusts. Frigid gusts thrust their way through my down jacket and bulky sweater, through the wool yarns of my pompom hat, through my skin and bones.  I walked numbly amidst colorful Victorian buildings with fanciful turrets and gingerbread trim. The houses, strung with pine wreaths and swags, offered window glimpses of sparkle-lit trees. At Washington Street Mall, pine scents mingled with tobacco shop aromas, while “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” serenaded shoppers. 

I veered away from downtown to stroll on the beach, an empty stand and a lone runner my only company.  In the wild salt-infused air, sea grasses rustled in exuberant disarray, seagulls squawked and dipped, waves rumbled.

Frozen through, I emptied the sand from my shoes and sought warmth at Fin’s Bar & Grill. Silver fish floated motionless in a fish tank under paper cutout snowflakes to the tune of “I feel good, so good.” I ate a Fin’s Pie Flatbread with jumbo lump crabmeat that tasted a bit off. I didn’t “feel so good” by the time I left.

In my aqua third floor room of the narrow Pink Cottage, a tiny heating unit whispered warmth while relentless wind attacked the cottage. All night, as I huddled under two heavy down comforters, the tempest roared, shutters creaked and clattered, the cottage swayed and groaned like a drunken sailor. The whole house leaned into the wind, and the wind was winning.  In the morning, an Irishman delivered breakfast of a hard-boiled egg, Greek yogurt with honey, and hot coffee, saying, “God bless, sweetie. Have a nice day.” I was taken aback by his “sweetie.”  After he left, I found in the closet a heavy white terry-cloth robe, its texture rough against my skin, and a space heater that I cranked to full blast. Outside my window, the sun rose, pale and pink, over the Atlantic.  Ruffled waves gently rolled into shore and skies turned blue, hinting, misleadingly, of warmth outside.

I collected my car from the valet at the Virginia Hotel and drove to Cape May Point State Park and the Cape May Lighthouse, where my little Corolla was the lone car in a sprawling lot. A friendly woman at the Visitor’s Center told me to take the red trail and then the yellow to keep a tree barrier between myself and the gales off the ocean. I thanked her and added I wasn’t worried about the cold; I simply sought escape from the problems of my 25-year-old son who was living with us.  She commiserated that her husband is the ultimate enabler for their 33-year-old son who still lives in their house:  “It comes from them being given everything and never having to work for anything.”  She handed me what looked like a lime green tennis ball wrapped in cellophane, a LushUSA Bath Bomb, and instructed me to soak in a hot bath and let it explode all around.  “You need to treat yourself gently,” she offered.

A boardwalk and trails carried me through tall marsh reeds, beach grasses and swamp rose mallow bandied about by biting winds.  Around me, sassafras, pitch pine, Eastern red cedar, American holly, bayberry, and white oak trees whispered and danced. Mute Swans floated on the ponds, all other birds gone south for the winter.

On the beach, a huge hulking thing squatted — a World War II bunker that served as a gun emplacement when built in 1942.  At that time, the behemoth stood on high ground 900 feet from the ocean; these days because of rising ocean levels, high tide swirls around it.

I drove to Sunset Beach, where I fought mightily with the wind to open my car door.  The S.S. Atlantus stuck up all askew out of the ocean, all that remains of an experimental concrete ship, one of twelve built during WWII.

Later, after turning over my car to the valet, I walked well over a mile to the “Stick Style” Emlen Physick Mansion, where a rude woman told me I was misinformed that tours were offered until 3:00. “Our last tour was at 1:00,” she stated gruffly, no apologies offered. I trudged all the way back to town and stopped at Red Oak Trading, where I bought two scarves.  At Bath Time, I rubbed grapefruit and bergamot hand lotion over my chapped hands, inhaling the fragrance, and bought “Beer Soap” from the Cape May Soap Co. for the boys.  At dinner, I was foolhardy enough to try crab cakes again, this time at The Mad Batter, “where the locals go,” sitting under more paper cutout snowflakes amidst chatter and laughter.

My last morning, after another squalling night, a young lady brought breakfast to my room: a cheddar biscuit, whipped honey butter, a boiled egg, and hot coffee. I discovered more Victorian homes and a Memorial to Fishermen Lost at Sea on my way out of town.

Stone Harbor’s delightful, but utterly desolate, undulating dunes swayed under shivering beach grasses.  Birds hollered wholp! wholp! dweep! dweep!  Later, I walked over a boardwalk and dirt path at the Wetlands Institute, discovering rusty crab traps and bluish red cedar berries.

At Wildwood, vintage signs on hotels and restaurants looked dispirited and neglected.  Maui’s Dog House was closed for the season.  A deserted air lingered over the whole place, even under impossibly blue skies. At the Star Diner, I savored a Jersey hot dog with chili and cheese fries and chatted with the waitress about her yearly drive to Florida for the winter. Her sister will accompany her on the drive, but then she wants to get rid of her as soon as possible. “I like my time alone,” she told me.

On my drive home, north of Baltimore, an amazing sky unfolded, periwinkle and coral with jet entrails like fuzzy confetti. Black spindly trees stood silhouetted against a dappled sky, while a huge flock of birds gracefully swooped overhead.

I was barely able to be there at all, my thoughts were on the future so.



Walking to the beach


Cape May Lighthouse


Eastern Red Cedar at Cape May Point State Park



World War II Bunker


S.S. Atlantus

On the way out of town:

Stone Harbor & The Wetlands Institute:



“PROSE” INVITATION: I invite you to write a 1,000-word (or less) post on your own blog about a recently visited particular destination (not journeys in general). Concentrate on any intention you set for your prose; in this case I described my experience with close attention to using all five senses.

You can either set your own writing intentions, or use one of the prompts I’ve listed on this page: writing prompts: prose & poetry.  This page is a work in process.  You can also include photos, of course.  I limited mine to 30 (31 really!), but the fewer the better. 🙂

If you don’t have a blog, I invite you to write in the comments.

Include the link in the comments below by Monday, April 16 at 1:00 p.m. EST.  When I write my post in response to this challenge on Tuesday, April 17, I’ll include your links in that post. My next post will be about Nashville, Tennessee, and I’ll be using my five senses plus using lines from country music songs and poetry to inform my post. 🙂

This will be an ongoing invitation, once weekly through April, and monthly after that. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂

I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!