Standing atop the entrance to Holgate, looking over the vast beach wilderness, and saying goodbye, is bound to stir up a toxic mix of emotions in anyone who truly loves recreating on the wild beach. Some good, some bad, some ugly.
I think I was in the “sad” zone, and quite close to a tiny tear, trying desperately to think of things I could do for the next five months while the Feds keep a lock around my heart’s treasure, when my quiet reflections were shockingly interrupted by a piercing wail. Looking down the ramp I saw a young girl, not more than six or seven, erupting into a full blown tantrum while her parents walked sheepishly behind her.
BUT I WANT TO GO ON THIS BEACH!!!!1111!!! WAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!1111!!!
“Sorry honey, but you can’t. It’s closed,” her parents answered calmly.
BUT THIS BEACH HAS THE BEST SHELLS!!!!111!!! WAAAAAAA!!!11!!!
Smart kid, she is 100% correct on that. “We can go home and play on our beach instead,” they tried.
BUT I HATE OUR BEACH. OUR BEACH IS SMALL AND HAS TO (sic.) MUCH (sic.) PEOPLE TAKING SHELLS AND THIS BEACH IS BIG AND I HAVE ALL THE SHELLS!!!11!! WAAAAAAAAA!!!!111!!!!
“I’m sorry honey, but it is closed for the birds all summer,” her parents answered less calmly.
BUT I HATE BIRDS! BIRDS ARE SCARY!!! WAAAAAAAAAAA!!!111!!!!
I think it was at this point that I interrupted to whisper to her Dad that Holgate was actually still open for another day, and the big beach at the bottom of the ramp was always accessible. And also that the Piping Plover, the Least Tern, the American Oystercatcher, and the Black Skimmer are not scary, they are adorable. They told her the good news about the beach, but she was now too scared of the birds and wanted to go home.
And, like that, she was gone. But she left something that will probably stick with me for the next five months. She reminded me that I’m a grown up.
And because I’m a grown up, I can understand that the reasons I love this place so much are basically the same reasons they close it each summer. It is a vast beach wilderness. It’s rare, it’s special, and it’s awesome. And what truly makes Holgate so special is that it has zero things to do with us. It is a tiny piece of a wickedly fascinating world that does not care about us, does not need us, does not want us, and is much better at being interesting and awesome without us around. Those are things we generally aren’t used to, or good at dealing with. That makes it even more special & valuable.
And without us, each summer, it comes to life with the insane and adorable beach nesting birds who were truly born to live down the shore, in a way we just weren’t. They were made for it. It was made for them. We like to live at the beach, to recreate at the beach, to make money off the beach. But the beach nesting birds were born to live on the beach. The beach loses a huge part of its meaning, and its purpose, without them.
While Superstorm Sandy sent us people into total chaos and panic, it was the best thing to happen to the Holgate Refuge in years. The Beach Nesters have been booming there ever since, and putting LBI on the map as a super important place on the planet because of it. That’s a curious thing to chew on, because of how it puts things in perspective. Storms like that just might be part of the long term plan to which we are not privy. The Island, and the things that were actually made to live on it, are apparently perfectly adapted for it. It’s almost as if they needed that storm. Crazy. And it is Holgate that reminds us of that. It reminds us that we are all just tourists here on this Island. It gives us a glimpse of a world beyond us. Which is precisely what many folks love so much about the shore in the first place. Holgate just turns it up to eleven.
There is a wondrous world out there that has absolutely nothing to do with us. And that’s kind of cool, kind of scary, and very true. It’s certainly special, surely valuable, definitely worth treasuring.
So now we have five months to enjoy the other 16 miles of Island that we have made exactly as we want, in our image of what “thriving with life” looks like. And I love every mile of it. The truth is, the human part of the Island and the natural part of the Island give each other context and meaning. We are best off with a good mix. Holgate provides that balance.
I feel like a real grown up now that I can finally comprehend that I love Holgate so much precisely because it is closed to me for the Summer.
I once was blind, but now I see.