Day before yesterday, my daughter The Heir and I set out on a little New Jersey road trip. Heir just loves New Jersey. She has done everything she could to win me over to this gritty state, and her sheer enthusiasm for its smoky grandeur is indeed inspiring.
We both like to look for beach glass, so we set our sights on a place we had never been before, a little fishing village on the Delaware Bay about 25 miles south of the nuclear power plant.
It only took us about 80 minutes to drive to this village, and I have to admit, if you like salt marshes, there's a lot of prime salt marsh in that vicinity. You would never know you're in New Jersey down there in the lower reaches of the Delaware Bay.
From a distance, the village sat perched, oh so picturesquely, at the water's edge. When we got up close to it, though, we found a virtual ghost town.
Most of the houses were boarded up or damaged somehow. Some were completely gutted. Others looked okay but showed no sign of recent habitation.
I looked around me at the desolation, and all I could think was, "Whose bright idea was it to build these houses anyway?" The homes in question were almost literally on the water, standing on stilts or right across the street from a sea wall against which the high tide beat dramatically.
There were two nice ladies in the street, and I struck up a conversation with them. Of course we started talking about Hurricane Sandy. The storm decimated the village. The storm surge was 18 feet in places ... way higher than the stilts, vastly higher than the sea wall.
One of the ladies said that everyone (population 400) evacuated when necessary. Upon their return to their hamlet, their furniture was floating in the Delaware Bay, and most of the homes were severely damaged. She told me that grown men cried. Some people lost everything.
Ten months later, the fishermen cannot put to bay, because the storm shifted sand bars all over the place. At least one in three houses has a "for sale" sign in the front yard. The beach, at high tide, is a yard wide.
"Well," one of the ladies sighed, "We get one of these storms every 50 years or so. It's just the way of things."
You know what the way of things should be? People should have respect for the coastline.
Humans have always loved living on beaches, but the smart cultures of old, the ones who worship the bored gods (and modern Third World folks too), those people respected the nature of the sea and kept all seaside habitation of an impermanent nature.
Permanent structures do not belong on the edge of the ocean. They do not belong at the edge of a bay. nor, for that matter, do they belong in the flood plain of a little ol' country creek. Water is lovely to look at on a good day. On a bad day, it wants your furniture.
This summer, the state of New Jersey has tried to attract tourists with the theme song, "We're stronger than the storm." What a conceit! No one is stronger than a hurricane. No one should be living cheek-to-jowl with the sea. We don't even need global warming as a rationale for keeping a safe distance between ourselves and the surf: barrier islands have never been suitable for development.
If there are any bored deities deserving attention, they are Triton and Oshun. Respect them. Water is pretty, until it isn't. And no one is stronger than the storm.