When people ask us what we like most about RVing, we both answer, “being in nature.” And the freedom to explore places outside of the big and busy cities.
Even when we have flown somewhere and stayed in a hotel, we’ve always sought out the quiet, open places, usually where Marika can watch birds.
Today’s article, first published in 2010, is exactly why we love this life!
I grew up reading maps. I have an excellent sense of direction and can usually find where I’m going, even without specific directions. But Southern New Jersey is a web of winding roads where the names on streets don’t correspond to their State Route numbers and, on a cloudy, overcast day, there is no sun to point the way.
Marika and I had driven the rental car to one of the Nature Center’s in Cape May and asked the volunteer for some suggestions where to find shore birds. The man circled several places on a birding map, spouting what birds had been seen at each place.
He pointed to a spot on the western coastline of the map. “They’re dredging here and there were a lot of shorebirds there a few days ago. Just go down to the end of this road,” he pointed, “and you’ll see it.”
Our GPS (nicknamed Mimi) does not understand destinations like “end of the road.”
While Mimi was able to direct us to the general vicinity of the dredged channels, she couldn’t get us to the exact location on the map. We randomly turned down streets, heading toward where we thought the water would be, but instead, we kept crisscrossing the small town’s Main Street.
We were officially lost.
We turned into the Post Office and I asked a State Trooper who had pulled in, for directions.
You’re not even on this map,” he said when I showed him my printed birder’s map.
I asked him about the dredged channels. “I don’t know where he was talking about,” he said, “but if you go down this street almost a mile, turn left on Strawberry, and then just head to the end of the road, there’s a parking lot and a walkway out over the marshes and there are lots of birds out there.”
We followed his directions and pulled into a parking lot in front of an expansive view of salt marshes. The loud chatter of red winged blackbirds filled the air. An osprey flew overhead and Marika quickly got out of the car with her binoculars.
“There’s a nest!” she pointed to the stand of tall dead trees that lined the edge of the salt marsh. Atop one of them was a huge mound of layered sticks and twigs. We watched the osprey land on the nest with a piece of tree brush in it’s talons.
Marika set up her spotting scope and tripod and focused on the nest. “There’s two of them!” I looked through the lens and saw their white and brown heads, the striping on their eyes.
While I studied the pair, she scanned the trees with her binoculars. “Oh my God, it’s a bald eagle.” She focused the scope on it, showing me the bright yellow of his beak and the crisp white of his head. “This is incredible,” she said, “to be able to see them so close.”
I walked the length of the boardwalk while Marika kept her scope focused on the ospreys and the eagle. I stood in the breeze at the end of the walkway, breathing in the fishy, brackish smells. Looking out over the water, I could see unnamed ducks in the far ponds and egrets flying overhead.
I left Marika at the boardwalk and followed the nature trail that was paved with thousands of broken white shells. My boots crunched on the path as I followed it around the edge of the pond, past a fallow corn field where blackbirds and pigeons were feeding, alongside a grassy meadow teeming with butterflies. A white swan floated in the marsh ahead of me. I stood there, just watching and listening and breathing it all in.
When I returned, Marika was at the end of the boardwalk, looking in her bird book. “I’ve seen so many different birds!” she said. “Foster’s terns, laughing gulls, great black backed gulls, green winged teal, great egrets, Canadian geese. And the osprey chased the eagle!”
In the past, I would been bored already, staying in this one place, waiting as she watched. I would have needed a book to read, a journal to write in, snacks to keep me occupied.
But this time was different. I was simply and completely happy to be where we were.
We stayed at the end of the boardwalk for hours and, as the afternoon passed, the water receded with the lowing tide, revealing the mudflats. Dozens of shorebirds appeared and we watched them poking their beaks into the gooey mud for food.
A local couple came with binoculars and their dog, Harley, and we talked about birds and traveling and how beauty is often found right in our own backyards.
“And to think we would have never found this place if we had ended up where we were looking for,” I said.