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.
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!
At he risk of being a nuisance, I’m going to give you the link to mŷ ‘on the journey’ here as it doesn’t seem to be showing where I tried it earlier…..: https://suejudd.com/2018/04/10/on-the-journey-taking-ourselves-from-here-to-there/
You’re never a nuisance, Sue! 🙂 🙂 Is she, Cathy?
LikeLiked by 1 person
Well, thank you for your kind words, Jo! 💕
LikeLiked by 2 people
No way, Jo, Sue is not a nuisance at all. She’s so sweet! I can certainly see her frustration as all her comments and links were going into spam; I have no idea why!!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Those blue skies are deceiving: if I hadn’t read your essay I might have thought the weather was tropical. Your writing has an air of melancholy: I hope your trip blew the cobwebs away.
I did feel very melancholy for a while, Anabel, because we’d just had the incident with our son where we called the police. But I felt much better after going away. Also, it was miserably cold and windy there, so the worst possible weather to visit a beach town except for the 2 out of 3 blue sky days. Still cold though, around 20 F degrees! Every trip I went on over winter was icy! I’m ready for warm weather.
Aren’t we all! I’m glad your trip made you feel better.
Thanks so much, Anabel. It really did make me feel better, and it also helped that my son seemed to be on the right track for a while. But what is the “right track?” It’s never going to be what I think it is!
LikeLiked by 1 person
I could definitely feel the chill, Cathy, and some of your descriptions are great. I love the seagrasses, in ‘exhuberant disarray’ and the undulating dunes. I can picture you stomping along, trying to keep warm. Did you end up with a dodgy tum? You pushed your luck there. Funny to a Brit to have breakfast brought to your room- that’s not something that happens over here. 🙂 🙂 I kind of wanted you to end up with how you felt at the end of your break and whether it had helped, but the post is quite long anyway, and the ‘afterwards’ may well be the subject of a further post?
Thank you, Jo, for your encouraging words. It was really impossible to keep warm except by dipping into shops and restaurants. And I felt sick all night after that first crabmeat flatbread. Yes, the afterwards will be on Monday: on return. I did feel much better, especially after meeting that nice lady at the state park who has similar issues with her son, and he’s even older! I was happy to get away from home at that time and to have some alone time. 🙂
LikeLiked by 1 person
This is a wonderful piece – such detail, and not only sensory. I love your brief encounters, especially the one with the woman who understands. And then there are specific descriptions. I’m a fan of lists naming things: they offer a kind of poetry – “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”. I’m reading the cataloguing chapter of a lovely book, “Shimmering in a transformed light: writing the still life” by Rosemary Lloyd: you’re part of a tradition that includes Proust, Dickens, Robert Burton, Norman Lindsay, A.S Byatt. And then there’s the economical phrase: “dispirited signs. And the totally original metaphor: “periwinkle and coral with jet entrails”. What a feast!
I’ll take this as a model for Warsaw writing. I’ll even steal your sensory intention.
As for sons. I’m extraordinarily lucky. My resident 37 year old mows, vacuums, prunes, leaf blows, cooks: and he’s just set up my new mobile phone and encouraged me to splurge on pre-booking an aisle seat. He also provides me with frequent fish, which he doesn’t eat himself.
I’m off to mindmap writing intentions for Warsaw, first page of my new jottings notebook.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Meg, you are so sweet to have read so carefully and to comment so thoughtfully. Your words are very encouraging. I was so happy to have met that woman who understood; she was a special gift and she made me feel like I’m not alone in my struggles. I will write about that in my blog on Monday about returning home.
I am a big fan of lists in writing, and I hope to incorporate them more. It was so much fun to write and to take time and play around a bit. I’m definitely going to check out that book you mention. I do hope to offer poetry invitations starting in May.
You are already an excellent writer, Meg, so I don’t know that I’m offering you any new ideas; I definitely look forward to reading about your Warsaw trip using sensory details. I don’t know if you saw the page I have for writing prompts; if the sensory details don’t excite you and you want something else, maybe you can find some inspiration there.
So does your 37-year-old live with you? He sounds great. My 25-year-old, the one I talk about here, has bounced home again and is cooking dinner at this moment. He’s got ideas about how he wants to live his life and they are definitely not conventional. He’s taking off for another “hero’s journey” next Monday. Who knows where he’ll end up or how he’ll support himself!
I like the mind mapping idea. I’m going to steal that one from you! I have some unusual intentions for my Four Corners road trip on May 1. 🙂 And a new jottings notebook? I want to see! xx
PS I was so carried away by your descriptive powers, I failed in sympathy for the reason for your road trip. I hope you returned home to calm – the tumultuous weather, it seems, was a good image for what you left behind, and maybe returning to. I hope I didn’t sound inappropriately gloating about my son.
Oh dear, just wrote a long response to this but lost it! Oh well, I guess it wasn’t important, but all is better now with my son, though I don’t know that things will ever be how I wish they were. There’s no point in wishing my life away, is there?
You don’t at all sound gloating about your son. I’m happy for you that you’re so happy with him! I wish to be that way myself one day. I don’t want to be like MY critical father with my son, although I can see those tendencies in myself. My son was gifted all through school and I feel he hasn’t found his way, but he thinks he is finding his way, just not in the way we would like! If any of that makes sense. 🙂
Your writing is a delight Cathy. I love this style of recording memories using all the senses and the sense of melancholy threading through this piece. I’m hoping that life has settled down somewhat since these turbulent times. Is Adam still at home or flown the nest yet again?
Thank you so much, Jude, for your encouraging words. It was fun to write, but of course much more time consuming than what I used to write! Adam left home at the end of February, after walking out on his job, and just landed back at home over a week ago. He’s planning to leave again on Monday. Back on the “hero’s journey.”
He sounds very confused about life. What a good thing he has you to fall back on! [said a little ironically] You must be all over the place wondering what to do about him. Why doesn’t he stick to a job for a year, save money and then go backpacking for as long as the money lasts. Maybe get whatever is in his head out of it!
Sometimes I think he’s very confused, Jude, and other times it seems he has such clarity about how he wants to live his life. He’s very bright and creative, and has figured out ways to live that I wouldn’t have the wits to do. He certainly has very unconventional ideas about life, so I guess if he can make it work, then more power to him. So often he falls victim to his emotions, though, which of course worries me. He seeks connection more than anything else, and he’s determined to have it at all costs. Sometimes I still have great hope for him, and other times, I feel he’s completely lost! He plans to leave home Monday with some money in his account (not sure how much) and a backpack and meet up with a friend, and who knows where they’ll go. I keep thinking when he does these things, he’ll get this yearning “out of his head,” but then he returns home even more determined to make this kind of life work. For me, I will always want a roof over my head; he seems to want to rid himself of all belongings and be as minimalist as possible. Like people on the Camino believe the Camino provides, he thinks the universe will provide. Such different thinking than mine, but I’m trying to learn from him. And mostly to accept and love. Every day I’m climbing a steep learning curve!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Connection with what? Religion? The planet? Sounds like one of those people who go and live their lives in some remote place, surviving off the land. But that is a very hard life. Ben Fogle takes part in a program called “New Lives in the Wild” about people who have gone ‘off-grid’ there are some on YouTube I think. Is this the sort of life Adam seeks?
I think he somewhat likes the idea of being off the grid, but he does not have any desire to be a loner. He wants to find a community. I’d say a commune might work well for him. Who knows? He doesn’t share much with us because he knows we have different views of life than he does, but every once in a while I can get him to open up.
Well let’s hope he finds his way. As you have said, you have to love and accept. Hard to do at times, I know.
Let’s hope so. And yes, it’s very hard. But I’m getting better at it, day by day.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I am intrigued by your challenge once again! Maybe this time I’ll have the time to write something. I’m not sure about the writing intention though. I will have to cogitate that part…..I always enjoy your wonderful photos!
Thanks so much, Toby. I hope your trip here was a good one, despite the sad reason for the trip. As for the writing intention, feel free to set your own. You can see some of my writing prompts for inspiration: https://wanderessence.com/writing-prompts-prose-poetry/
The trip was good even though my original flight got cancelled due to your snow storm. It turned out the flight we got on came in at the same time as my niece and her husband so they drove us to my sister’s house. The memorial went well but back to reality and getting ready for my daughter to graduate. 7 weeks away, yikes!! and a party to organize….on and on. and oh yea, I need to file my taxes too….I did look at the prompts, will have to look a little closer. I like your challenge ideas, just need to find time to write which is always my struggle…..
Toby, I’m glad the memorial went well. I was at the March for Our Lives on that day, which was fabulous. Congratulations on your daughter’s graduation! Well, you’ve got more important things to do for now; the challenges will be ongoing, so when you have time, I’d love to see what you come up with! Good luck with all those plans!
Thank you. I saw some of your photos from the march, sounded awesome! I shall return 🙂
LikeLiked by 1 person
Our adult kids can cause more bother than little ones at times but Ii sounds like you chose the perfect place to escape for a few days. And you had some encounters with a couple of nurturing people 🙂
My kids were so much easier when they were little, although at the time I thought them a challenge! I was so thankful for the nurturing people I met along the way, Gilly. 🙂
I honestly can’t decide which I adore more – your pictures or your writing! The “wholp! wholp! dweep! dweep! “ of the birds and the silver fish and the bayberry … or the houses, the beach, the lighthouse .. 💖💗
Thank you so much, Shia, for your kind and encouraging words. I’m glad you enjoyed coming along. 🙂
LikeLiked by 1 person
[…] Shiarrael also nominated this post, which I must say does have some of the most amazing photos, give it a go via a mid-december escape to cape may […]
Comments are closed.