Friday, August 6, 2010

A Review of "Bayshore Summer." [59]

Bayshore Summer: Finding Eden in a Most Unlikely Place by Peter Dunne
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN 978-0547195636
272 pages, June 9, 2010

From the bookcover description...
Bypassed by time and "Joisey" Shore-bound vacationers, the marshes and forests of the Bayshore constitute one of North America's last great undiscovered wild places. Sixty million people live within a tank of gas of this environmentally rich and diverse place, yet most miss out on the region's amazing spectacles.

Bayshore Summer is a bridge that links the rest of the world to this timeless land. Pete Dunne acts as ambassador and tour guide, following Bayshore residents as they haul crab traps, bale salt hay, stake out deer poachers, and pick tomatoes. He examines and appreciates this fertile land, how we live off it and how all of us connect with it. From the shorebirds that converge by the thousands to gorge themselves on crab eggs to the delicious fresh produce that earned the Garden State its nickname, from the line-dropping expectancy of party boat fishing to the waterman who lives on a first-name basis with the birds around his boat, Bayshore Summer is at once an expansive and intimate portrait of a special place, a secret Eden, and a glimpse into a world as rich as summer and enduring as a whispered promise.

Regular readers here know that, from time to time, I attempt at my blog to present a view of my fair state of New Jersey that differs from what many of you may think. Beautiful beaches, lighthouses and marshlands and fields of lovely summer vegetables, to name just a few images, that try to combat the prevailing idea of a state made up of rowhouses and turnpike overpasses. But if you want to see a region of NJ that may even surprise many who live here, one really must venture down to the Delaware bayshore.

Once home to a number of thriving communities that made their living from the rich bay waters, plentiful with blue crabs and oysters, today visiting them is often like stepping back in time. And if you can deal with the insects, one of the few things that may thankfully retard development, it is a wild and beautiful area.
"Likewise, there is no green like salt marsh hay. It is deep and rich and pure; untainted by blue, untinged by yellow. Just pure, pure primary green. Green enough to make the Emerald Isle want to trade up. Green enough to make you wonder what the rest of Eden was like, because after its equilibrium was shattered by a simple act of harvest, it is pretty clear that some of it washed up here, on the shore of the Delaware Bay."
Mr. Dunne, a resident, with his wife, of the charming Cumberland county town of Mauricetown, vice president of the the New Jersey Audubon Society and director of the Cape May Bird Observatory loves the bay coast of NJ and has written a book that makes that very clear. It is also a book that will share that beauty with the reader.

Part history, part geology, part natural science book and 100% love story with the land and hardy people that make this area their home, Bayshore Summer is a delightful book. How can I not love a look that takes us several time to his local Wawa convenience store, a store I know quite well, and explains where the name Wawa comes from? How can I not love a book that tells us, time and time again, about the amazing array of incredible insects that populate this area? Having been driven back to the safety of my car, blood running down my arms and legs, when the breeze died down and the attack of the green heads began, I so understand.

But don't get me wrong, because Mr. Dunne does not sugar coat the story. It is a place with its challenges. He takes us along with a fishing captain trying to eke out a living catching blue crabs and bait fish and often barely breaking even with his costs of going out. He takes us to a couple of the farms of Cumberland county that depend on migrant workers..illegal migrant workers...and introduces us to a few of those workers that return, year after year, to support their families back home. We travel along to Thompsons Beach, a community reclaimed by the bay, the houses that lined the shore washed away and go along with Mr. Dunne to see the constant battle between deer poachers and game wardens. He discusses the delicate balance that saw a virus almost totally wipe out the once thriving oyster harvest, overfishing that almost destroyed the bay's Atlantic Sturgeon, the harvesting of the horseshoe crab, a prehistoric looking creature if there ever was one, that had a huge effect on the millions of migrating birds that feed along the coast.

But it is not all a negative story. We visit a family farm that still successfully harvests salt hay, a harvest with a history that is centuries old in the area. Herons and egrets are once again plentiful, ospreys successfully nesting and hatching young throughout the marshlands. Harvesting the horseshoe crab is now proscribed and hopefully they will start making a comeback and maybe the weakfish will return in greater numbers some day soon. And maybe a book like this will help more people understand what a treasure we have along our bayshore and help to protect it.

Happily, it is an area that will most likely never be densely populated, due to the Air Defense System of blood drawing no-see-ums, strawberry flies, green head flies..and of course ticks and chiggers.. and yes, mosquitoes. But as the author says, along the bay, they laugh at mosquitoes.
"Unless your hide is made of Kevler or your pores excrete 99 percent deet, I'd think long and hard if I were you about choosing to live here: the place one entomologist of my acquaintance confidently dubs 'home to the worst biting insects on the planet."

At least they keep the 'shoobies' away. lol

If you are interested in birding, love the coastline and marshlands, if you would like to find out more about a little known area of NJ or just want an introduction to a different way of life so close to some of the country's major metropolitan areas and be introduced to some interesting people, this is a book I would recommend to you.

My thanks to the Amazon Vine program for an ARC of this book.


  1. This sounds very good - I love the quotes, and I've always wondered about the name Wawa!!!

  2. it is Lenape Indian for the goose on all their signs.

  3. I've never heard of a WaWa convenience store, but then, I've never been to New Jersey.

  4. they are in NJ, PA, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.
    In south NJ, they are king!

  5. Ahhh...Wawa. What we do without you? We had a Super Wawa open up just a few minutes from our house and it is heaven. : )

    And having spent the last two hours slapping at bugs outside, I can attest to the large amount of insect in NJ.

  6. Never been to your place before. Looks nice.

    BTW, we gave you an award yesterday but couldn't get the connection up fast enough to tell you.


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