Wednesday, March 08, 2006

March 8, 2006 - By the Inlet

This afternoon, after I go for my weekly blood test – my counts are just fine, by the way – Claire and I drive down to the ocean and go for a walk on the beach. It’s a crisp, cold day – and pretty windy, besides – but the sun is bright, and the sea is lovely. I’ve always liked going down to the ocean in the off-season – a memory that goes back to my early years, growing up here on the Jersey Shore – though it seems we rarely get down there anymore. Our little town of Point Pleasant Beach gets inundated with visitors in July and August, so much so that it hardly seems to be our town anymore. Go down to the beach in these winter months, though, and you may only have to share it with the seagulls. That’s the way it is today: blessedly deserted.

We don’t stay long. The wind is just a bit too cold for comfort, and besides, my stamina for any kind of exercise is nearly non-existent. We drive over to the nearby 7-Eleven, pick up a couple of hot chocolates, then head over and park by the Manasquan Inlet.

The Inlet is part of the Inland Waterway, a major navigation route for small boats. It’s actually the mouth of the Manasquan River, but the Point Pleasant Canal empties into it about a mile upriver. This means the mouth of the river serves as the Canal’s outlet to the ocean – the only way into or out of the northern part of Barnegat Bay. At certain times of year, you can sit by the Inlet and watch a constant parade of boats, both recreational and commercial fishing vessels, chugging through this narrow channel between the concrete sea-walls. The lore among local pastors is that this is where our parishioners go when they’re playing hooky from church on Sunday morning: they sit in their cars by the Inlet, with bagels and the New York Times. At this late-afternoon hour, though, the prime parking spaces in the Inlet lot are only about one-third filled. As for the Inlet itself, the only marine traffic we see is one small Coast Guard boat, which makes the passage out into the ocean as we watch.

Then we see it, poking up through the surface of the water. At first we mistake it for a sea bird, but the outline is just too distinctive. We’ve seen that dark silhouette plenty of times along the Scottish coast (and even photographed it), but rarely are we so lucky as to see one here. It’s a seal – treading water right there in the middle of the Inlet, as plain as day. After a few moments of looking around (probably enjoying the good fortune of being able to take a long, leisurely look, with no boats to cause interruption), the seal submerges, and we see it no more.

It’s a special showing the Universe appears to have arranged, just for us. The people sitting in the other cars in the lot would have had to be looking at that particular patch of water at just the right time, in order to see it. The seal is a reminder to us that there’s a whole world out there we rarely even think about, so wrapped up are we in the sheer daily-ness of living. Beneath the waves, the seals slice through the black water, doing their barrel rolls and loop-de-loops, living their feckless, fishing life. This afternoon, for ever so brief an instant, we have come into contact with their world.

Note to self: go down to the Inlet more often. It’s good therapy.


Anonymous said...

wow! for a minute there I thought you were going to tell us that you saw the Loch Ness Monster! :)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I thought you were going to say old Nessy, too! Hey, maybe it's the Jersey Devil, taking a winter vacation down the shore!! ;)

Mary Beth said...

I love that stuff. You know that harbor seals are almost common place here this time of the year. I remember vivdly being a child in Mantoloking and having my Mom take us out to the bay to see some seals that were floating along on an ice flow. It must have been a really cold winter,that year!!And I have been told by folks that live on the bay/lagoon front in Point have seals come up on their docks. Good to know that their is plenty of fish to keep those guys going. When you said Scottland and the seals, I thought you were going to say something about the, "The Tale of Roaninnish" (sp?). What a great movie that is! Thanks for the local update.

Vicki said...


I'm going to continue to read your blog. And all the years I lived on the Jersey shore, I didn't know that there were seals! I feel like I missed something. Thanks for sharing and teaching me something new about my old home.


My email is

Anonymous said...

All creatures great & small, the Lord God loves them blessed were you to be in the right place at the right time to see a harbor seal in Manasquan Inlet!!

amy collings said...

i, too, grew up along the jersey shore, in toms river to be exact. although i swam in the local country club pool more often, hours spent in the ocean (like your pinniped friend) were heaven ... not so the sandy bottom of my swim suit on the drive home! carlos, i remember you when we were children - i send positive thoughts your way ... thank you for reminding us of the world's beauty - it's all around us; we just need to notice

Carlos ("Carl") said...


I remember you as well... not only from when we were kids, but from Washington College also.

If you read this, send my your email address, to:

I'd love to catch up on what's new with you.