Corrections or additions?

This article by Carolyn Foote Edelmann was prepared for the June 29,

2005 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Heralding the Natural Shore . . .

You can tell a true New Jersey resident by what happens when you

mention “the Shore.” In our state, this phrase is capitalized, even

out loud. Watch your listener go all daft and dreamy, what we could

term “The Brigadoon Effect.” No, the Shore doesn’t disappear for 100

years like that enchanted village — but it can seem to vanish for nine

interminable months.

People don’t have to own a Shore house to exhibit symptoms of Shore

mania. There are no synonyms for “the Shore”: the Coast doesn’t do it;

the Beach, well, close but no cigar. True Jerseyans know there is only

one Shore, shimmering between Sandy Hook and Cape May. Shore syndrome,

of course, peaks in summer. Yet others insist the obsession is worst

in winter.

Now the Shore-obsessed can endure the off-months. Down the Shore

Publishing and Plexus Press have come out with new volumes on that

unique region of sands, waters, and pines. A thesis of both books is

that there ARE no off-months. In word and image, these beautiful

volumes reveal the allure of the Shore and the Pines (that’s the Pine

Barrens) in every season.

“Natural Wonders of the Jersey Pines and Shore,” published by leading

regional publisher Plexus in Medford, is written by Robert A.

Peterson, who tragically died before he could hold his book in hand.

More than 50 nature essays appear, written by Peterson, a former

headmaster of Egg Harbor City’s Pilgrim Academy. In depth and wonder,

the segments reveal Peterson’s secondary career as a journalist.

Photographers Michael A. Hogan and Steve Greer literally cover the

waterfront. New Jersey has more coastline than most realize. “Natural

Wonders” honors the too-often-unsung Delaware Bayshores, as well as

the Atlantic Coast. With national and international reputations, both

artists give full vent to their passion for both the Pines and the

Shore (290 pages, $49.95).

Down the Shore Publishing offers “Four Seasons at the Shore,”

featuring the stunning work of 49 photographers. In this work, text is

admittedly secondary to electrifying images. Shore natives Rich

Youmans, Sandy Gingras, Larry Savadove, and Margaret Thomas Buchholz

provide memorable prose. In the book’s prologue, readers are welcomed

by John T. Cunningham, New Jersey’s best known popular historian,

a.k.a. “Mr. Jersey” (222 pages, $48).

The 300 photographs in “Four Seasons” conjure startlingly recognizable

scenes, many of which you thought you alone had found or observed.

Here is the Shore in solitude, then crowd-infused. Encounter it at

dawn and dusk, then moonlight. In flat calm and full tempest. Discover

the Shore of joggers and surfers, fishermen and gamblers. Even that of

Lucy, the Margate elephant. Open to the child’s Shore, awash in

shells; that of teen-agers, full of possibility. Experience it as

consolation of the aged. Regard the Shore of battered boats and

spiffed-up Cape May mansions. Survey the attenuated Shore from

overhead and from deep in the troughs of sharp waves.

The text reminds us to bring all of our senses to our Shore. Do the

same with these pages: absorb salt tang and clam broth, the pungent

sweetness of cotton candy and saltwater taffies; whiff artist’s

turpentine, fishermen’s bait. Blink before violent dark/light

contrasts as a cold front moves through — a birder’s nirvana. Feel

dense fog of several seasons on your skin. Shiver at the

ice-surrounded “Old Barney” Light. Hear the clunk and clatter of

mating horseshoe crabs, the clamor of shorebirds. In “Four Seasons,”

lost avian crowds still flutter and contend.

“Natural Wonders of the Jersey Pines and Shore” marches to a different

drummer. Text comes first, in the knowledgeable hands of its late

author. Photographers Hogan and Greer spend much to most of their

lives in the Pines; they clearly know every sugar-sand road, capturing

with their lenses the rarest plants and elusive critters, obscure

scenes to new scrutinies. Their lyrical images marry well with author

Peterson’s rigorous prose.

The distilled foreword of “Natural Wonders” — written by the dean of

Pinelands naturalists, Howard Boyd — is a welcome introduction to this

mysterious region. Ever since John McPhee’s warnings in the Pine

Barrens, outsiders have hesitated to set foot and/or tire upon Piney

trails. Yet Boyd himself is the quintessential insider. A genius of

word and image, he has crafted several of my Pinelands “Bibles,” not

limited to “Wildflowers of the Pine Barrens of New Jersey” and “A Pine

Barrens Odyssey.” Boyd revels in this mystical region, with its wild

rarities and 17-trillion-gallon aquifer. His concise prose reveals the

Pinelands stretching “from mountains (he names four and hints at

others) to the ocean, white with foam.”

I have but a few quibbles about “Four Seasons at the Shore. One, that

the “male northern harrier” identified in Rich King’s arresting

photograph is no doubt an owl. Two, that autumn gets short shrift. I

know, the Shore doesn’t provide many red leaves but I would have

relished more text. Works by Buchholz and Youmans continue a legacy of

satisfying works as editors of “Shore Stories, An Anthology of the

Jersey Shore” and “Shore Chronicles: Diaries and Travelers’ Tales,”

both from Down the Shore Publishing, among many others.

I have stronger qualms about “Natural Wonders.” There are brilliant,

unforgettable images between its covers. Yet I yearn for a ruthless

photography editor. The cover image, for example, looks as if it could

be any sunset anywhere. Any of a number of magnificent scenes on the

inside, had they been used on the cover, would compel the curious to

pick up and purchase this book.

A photo editor with a sharper eye would have left more images on the

cutting room floor. The Pine Barrens are scintillating scenery, yet

too many scenes in this book exist as illustration or example, as in a

picture dictionary. More accurate cropping, to home in on the

essential esthetic and visual elements of the photographs, would have

served to engage the reader more quickly and dramatically. The

emphasis on wide-format is useful for this seemingly limitless region

yet I feel that a certain addiction to that shape shackles this fine

work.

I hesitate to critique the text, since its author never had the chance

to read galley proofs. His subjects are fascinating, some areas new

even to those who spend many hours each month in those alluring

reaches. “Ice Fishing” is delightful in information and images, and

“Fire in the Pines” is extremely well done. I savor the story of the

Pinelands horse named Cranberry, whose victory at Ascot won Britons

over to Hammonton’s scarlet jewels. But I wonder, for example, that

Peterson neglects Chatsworth, heart not only of the cranberry

industry, but of the Pines themselves. I also miss regional foods,

except in their raw state.

Even as I appreciate its thoroughness, I find the text simplistic —

perhaps betraying years the author must have spent translating the

region for the admittedly accomplished students of Pilgrim Academy. I

puzzle over Biblical naming of the otherwise intriguing earth, air,

fire, and water sections: “Wonders of the Deep,” “Lilies of the

Field,” “Beasts of the Earth.”

But I forgive every apparent lapse for the joy of Steve Greer’s fine

images of the Pine Barrens tree frog and eagle-eyed sharp-shinned

hawk; Hogan’s seductive curled red fox; and the luminosities of his

throw-away scenes of Pinelands bogwaters. For these photographs alone,

“Natural Wonders” is a worthwhile addition to the library of any true

Jerseyan.

Both books, too, would serve as hand-held blessings to armchair

travelers, those now unable to walk our silken strands, who are held

at arm’s length by distance and/or infirmities. People who once formed

young character by contending with wind and waves, who matured in the

full glare of Beach Blanket Bingo, can rediscover, in these pages,

their many selves as child, teen, or young adult, among evocations of

the New Jersey Shore’s unequaled beauty.


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