My impression of New Jersey turned inside out last week when I traveled there. Before that, my main experience with the state was gained through several extended stays in the Newark Airport (one overnight on a hard plastic chair) and from brief, accidental, distasteful viewings of the “Jersey Shore” TV show.
What I learned:
- New Jersey is not an industry-strewn state. Nature abounds in the pine barrens, designated natural areas, wildlife sanctuaries, and even in the tangle of forest along the highway.
- Hydrangeas are obviously New Jersey residents’ favorite flowers.
- It can get hot there! My Minnesota blood was thinned by the 80- to 90-degree days. There’s even a native cactus.
- Drivers are not allowed to pump their own gas at service stations according to state law.
- Liquor is sold as “packaged goods” (which provides easy fodder for jokes among the dirty-minded).
- The state is home to Lucy, a human-made, six-story elephant that serves as a national historic landmark.
- Palm trees can grow in New Jersey. Although they are not native, certain species can survive, providing the last word in tropical ambiance for its beach-going residents.
- Beach culture is alive and well on the Jersey Shore. Several times I had to shake myself and remember I wasn’t in California.
- Although people can be crass by Minnesota standards, at least one person in New Jersey was pretty darn nice (ahem).
The highlight of the trip for a piping plover novelist like myself, was seeing plover nests, chicks, and adults. While my home of northern Minnesota hardly has any, the beaches of New Jersey are home to about 100 pairs of breeding plovers. These endangered shorebirds (reminiscent in looks to a killdeer, but much cuter) are monitored and protected by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife and conservation groups like Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.
I also saw frolicking dolphins, horseshoe crabs, diamondback terrapin turtles returning to the sea from laying eggs, and bunches of other birds unusual to me.
If you ever get a chance to visit the Jersey Shore, don’t be scared off by its television-show namesake!