is the author of, most recently, "Going Over," about 1983 Berlin
Beach Haven, Long Beach Island: Preseason.
The blades of dolphin fins at dawn: jeweled and slivered.
The locals packing the bar at Buckalew's.
A handful of teens counting down a friendly wrestling match by the shore.
One solitary kite kicked up over the sea foam.
A father and a son and a yellow lab race outlaw skateboards on the tennis courts, where the nets are not yet hung, and the hardy clientele have gathered at the windswept Sand Bar, and at the island's southern end, at the wildlife preserve, one man in a parked car watches the frothy waves roll in.
The soup is on at Country Kettle Chowda. The cures and conveniences of Kapler's Pharmacy are for sale on brighter shelves, and Murphy's Marketplace glimmers, and the restored door is open at How to Live - the loose fashion and garden ornaments and simplicity cards causing a stir among the handful of female shoppers.
Also: The pigs are scrubbed at Uncle Will's Pancake House, and the coffee's fresh, and they are doing up the French toast like they always have - quick and confectioner's sugar stylish. Also: The Saturday night wait is on at the Black Whale, the seafood specials impermanently inked onto the board. There are costumes hanging on a rack in the back of the Surflight Theatre, dogs off their leashes in the dog park, and over on Dock Street, the New Jersey Maritime Museum has got on a fresh coat of spearmint-tinted paint, while inside, its 400 notebooks of history, its rescued china platters, its shipwreck artifacts, its speaking trumpet, its old postcards are all, mercifully, intact, as is Deborah C. Whitcraft, not just the museum's bold leader, not just an EMT, but also the mayor emeritus and a wedding officiant and one of the best storytellers Beach Haven has.
Dusk still turns out the lights over the bay. The oystercatchers still dazzle with their stop-sign red bills. The northern harriers still ride the thermals, the buffleheads still dive, and I suspect there'll always be that hint of gold in the deep of the big gulls' eyes.
It won't be long now before they take the wraps off at the Giant Wheel and the Sea Dragon at Fantasy Island. Not long before they open for service at the Marlin. Not long before the bustle begins in the shipyards, and in the Craftmarket, and up and down the wide main street. For real. In earnest. Again.
There are new grasses in newly heaped dunes.
There is fresh wood along the docks.
There is life diversifying in the salt-marsh islands.
There is the sound of hammers and drills, electric sanders, and industrial staplers where the rebuilding carries forward.
Eighteen months after Hurricane Sandy aimed its massive eye toward our eastern shore - 18 months after many were forced to leave the homes they loved, the schools they taught in, the motels they managed, the restaurants where there was always sufficient sweet sugar and cold-enough beer - spring has come on, which means summer will be soon. The long lines on the bridge. The bright bikinis and the over-large towels. The ice cream melting over the cones. The shows that must go on.
Those of us who remember (and who doesn't remember?) the post-storm photographs - the evacuation trucks on the boulevards; the houses on their suddenly exposed stilts; the sand knee-deep down the main streets; the trailer homes like bumper cars; the boats adrift; the stuff of the original Hand's Store ("If Hands doesn't have it; you don't need it") tossed and torn and saturated - can only imagine what it has taken to return Beach Haven, Long Beach Island, and, indeed, every hard-hit Jersey destination to this degree of orderly calm. No sand in these streets. So much miraculously shored up and shined.
We read about the millions upon millions of dollars. We hear of the waged wars with insurance carriers. We extend our gratitude for the pluck and perseverance. We empathize with those who have chosen not to return.
And, also: We know that it is a new age. We begin to agree - at last - on the lessons that must be learned about planetary fragility, the dangers ahead, last chances. We live in a time when we are being exhorted to "think like the Dutch," to weigh rebuilding strategies, to "promote resilience through innovative planning and design," to reflect, in a considered way, on barrier islands and why they exist and what might be done to protect them.
We have the past to reclaim.
We have the future to look out for.
We have each day to live.
Spring is verging on summer now. The big wheel at Fantasy Island is poised to turn.