I don’t believe it is a coincidence that I’ve held these difficult posts back, finally choosing to slip them through on Memorial Day weekend when everyone will be too busy to actually read them.
And driving around the Island today it appears we are, indeed, all too busy.
I used poor judgement earlier today when I decided to hit up the fee-free cash machine at the WaWa, right at noon. It has been a long, long time since I’ve seen it that bustling with life. Sitting in the parking lot, debating with myself if I had the mental fortitude to fight my way through the crowd of youngsters wearing wet swimsuits, sandy flip flops, and brandishing hoagies, I saw something that will probably stay with me forever.
Through the blurry stream of anxious vacationers entering and exiting the WaWa, I saw a lone veteran standing against the wall. Solemn and wrinkled, basket of Poppies hugged closely to his belly, he was a rock of reality standing proud and tall above a swirling sea of careless and carefree indulgence. He went all but unnoticed. But still he was there. A candle of remembrance; dangerously fragile and almost swallowed by the currents of change swirling all around him.
Like most of our modern holiday weekends, many people will have a momentously fun weekend with friends and family without even a thought about the weekend’s original intent, and its purpose: to remember the fallen. There was a bit of sadness to the scene, but also an intense, vibrant sense of the passage of time and the flow of history. A sense of the imbalance between those few things that matter, the things that are worth preserving… and the overwhelming glitter and volume of the frivolous things that don’t and aren’t.
Any Reader who followed along closely last Summer, might have picked up on the fact that Tufters the Piping Plover, “The Lord Of The Lighthouse,” had vanished. His failure to return to Barnegat Light State Park this spring confirmed it. Tufters is dead. He most likely died just after the tragic loss of his four newborn chicks to the crows who had discovered them just as they were hatching. I’m willing to believe he died fighting those crows. I’m also willing to believe he died from sheer trauma, and grief.
Tacey did return, and she hung around Barnegat Light for a while, looking hopelessly for her lifelong mate, then trying to find a new mate to continue their legacy in Barnegat Light. She even tried moving south into Loveladies. Maybe she really was trying to fulfill the dream I liked to pretend Tufters had… to live among the people and share the beach.
I hear she is at Sandy Hook, incubating two eggs, and doing her part to prevent the Piping Plover’s extinction. I really should go visit her sometime. I wonder if she would recognize me. And if she did, I wonder would the sight of me make her happy or sad.
I obviously spent years full of intimate moments with Tufters while documenting his life on the Island. NPR even once did a bit about the crazy man in New Jersey who threw his life and his family under the bus to hang out with a bird named “Tufters”. They tried so, so hard to understand why Tufters mattered. But they couldn’t. They never got it. Like the old veteran with his basket of poppies, Tufters was just too boring. He seemed too boring to matter.
I’ve felt some kind of self-inflicted pressure to do a proper tribute. To pick the best moments, the best images, the best stories, and retell his life in a neatly compacted eulogy. But I’ve kind of already done that. I don’t know if I could do it right. I certainly don’t want to dishonor him.
So instead, I’ll just remember.