On my way down to the Maritime Heritage Conference in Baltimore this week, I stopped by my old Atlantic haunts in Bay Head, NJ. My parents bought a house across the street from the beach there around 1980, & that short stretch of beach, with the pilings you see in the picture, were my home waters through high school, college, grad school, & beyond, until they sold the house about five years ago to move to FL.
It’s probably over-sentimental to think I was swimming with ghosts, but there’s a lot of personal history ground into that sand. Plus September is the best swimming month on the Atlantic seaboard.
On Wed morning, little jelly fragments were thick in the water — not stingers, but marble-sized chunks of jellyfish-body, scattered in the water and swirling about. A couple of moon jellies, too, but mostly just bits. You can swim through them pretty easily, pushing your way through the cloud with an extra tactile sense of the ocean as a home for living, strange, inhuman bodies.
Jellyfish are the ocean’s future, scientists tell us. They are the species that will do best in the ocean that’s coming: oxygen-deprived, warm, depleted of fish. It’s a gruesome thought, a violation of our long shared history of ocean aesthetics. But swimming through the jelly-cloud early Wed morning, with a solitary older fisherman just up the beach on a cloudless day, it seemed as if swimmers & jellies could manage. The feel of them between my fingers was foreign, slimy, a little disturbing — but also something I could get used to.