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Building Your House and Your Hopes on Sand

Story and Photographs by Chris Poh

Photograph by Michael Massaia, Our thanks to you and to Gallery 270 as well    
The roller coaster at Casino Pier post Hurricane Sandy in Seaside Heights as seen in American Public House Review
The roller coaster at Casino Pier in Seaside Heights, New Jersey post Hurricane Sandy

     ďAnd everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.Ē  
                                                                                                                                                             - Matthew 7:26-27

In the first book of the New Testament, those who choose to heed the authorís words will avoid building either their physical or metaphysical domicile on the ever shifting sands of our existence. Unfortunately, for those seeking a more holistic view on real estate from scripture, this Gospel offers little insight as to where one should construct casinos, amusement parks, restaurants or luxury timeshares. In fact, to the best of my Catholic Sunday morning memoryóneither Matthew, Mark, Luke or John express a clear-cut position on the wisdom of placing high yield ratables in the path of those inevitable bouts with natureís severe potentiality. So here once again, we find ourselves measuring our response and recovery a year beyond one of those extreme, yet rather predictable events.

Public Domain     
President Obama and Governor Christie tour a stoem shelter
President Obama and Governor Christie tour a storm shelter

On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy began its brutal battering of the northeastern United States when the storm made landfall near the coastal community of Brigantine, New Jersey. In its wake would be the almost immeasurable amount of broken and twisted pieces of concrete, wood and steel that were once part of the lives and livelihoods of thousands of human beings. As for myself, other than the discomfort and inconvenience of downed trees, minor flooding, impassable roads, and being without power for an extended period of timeómy own personal pain was limited to those empathetic twinges while watching the televised suffering of others from the relative safety of my inland location. But much like what has occurred with the coverage of the recent typhoon in the Philippines, the way in which modern media so comfortably mixes tragedy with marketing tends to dilute and dumb down the impact of any story. And those images which are meant to evoke an emotional response tend to be lost in the endless stream of competing and unconnected concerns. But then there was that one image from the remnants of Sandy that struck a deeper chord within my own consciousness.

The sight of a rollercoaster half immerged in the chilled grey Atlantic waters at Seaside Heights would rekindle a bond to those people and places that were now coping with the devastation. And a simple memory of holding hands with a girl from high school as we braved the sudden drops and jolting turns of that brief, nonetheless exhilarating ride would compel me to visit a shoreline that has been mostly avoided for the greater part of my adult years. My own nature would steer me toward those quieter, less developed stretches of coastal New England when struck with the need to commune with the changing tides and salt-laden easterlies. But this seasonís waterside wanderings would be confined to a portion of the Jersey Shore that had endured some of the worst of Sandyís wrath.

Sandy Hook Beach as seen in American Public House Review
Sandy Hook Beach

All appeared normal during my morning into afternoon walk along the beach at Sandy Hook. In a place mostly devoid of manmade structures, it is difficult to recognize those changes that are the consequence of natural occurrences. The sound of contented seabirds feeding on natureís bounty reminded me that those forces that prove to be the most disruptive in our daily lives are also as necessary to the continuation of life as the air we breathe. But the fact that hurricanes help to revitalize coastal estuaries is little consolation to those that felt the fury of Sandy, and that of her previous brothers and sisters.

The Sea Gullsí Nest, the only spot on the Hook where one could lift a libation while watching spectacular sunsets over the bay remains closed. According to Ed Segall, the owner of this well-regarded Jersey Shore bar, it might take an act of Congress to get the National Park Service to reconstruct the building that housed his family run business for over a quarter century. It seems somewhat ironic that someone who served his country during World War II would be displaced from part of his home, while a sitting president may have retained his residence, and a sitting governor might just move from the statehouse to the White House in part because of that unforgiving October storm

Having more than my usual fill of direct sunlight, I retreated across the bay to the welcoming cover of the open dockside snug at Bahrís Landing. This legendary location, which began its commercial life over one hundred years back as a beached houseboat that doubled as a sport fishermanís motel, has seen its share of mighty blows and cruel Norí Easters. It provided the perfect setting to get a very local perspective on the great gale. There was of course the usual talk about rebuilding and resilience, and those inspiring accounts of neighbors helping neighbors. But there were also those stories of people who were just too badly scarred by what had transpired, and would most likely seek a safer place from which to carry on with their lives.

Sign at Bahrs Landing in Sandy Hook, New Jersey as seen in American Public House Review

Bahrs Landing in Sandy Hook, New Jersey as seen in American Public House Review
Bahrs Landing in Sandy Hook, New Jersey

View from Salt creek Grille in Rumson, New Jersey as seen in American Public House Review
View of the Navesink River from the Salt Creek Grille

When it comes to the question of staying or going when faced with similar circumstances, none of us probably knows what choices will be made until those dragons are at the door. But I did give the matter some thought as I caught the last fading light of the day from the bar at the Salt Creek Grille on the banks of the Navesink River. On balance, I believe the prize usually outweighs the pain. My own greatest joys and inspirations have occurred at the waterís edge. So build whatever you like on those shifting sandsójust donít ever put anything on the beach that you are not willing to give back to the sea.

Listen to a poignant song about a devastating hurricane by celebrated recording artist and our friend, Ellis Paul
Hurricane Angel

Bahr's Landing

2 Bay Avenue,

Highlands/Sandy Hook, NJ 07732

Phone:  (732) 872 1245


Salt Creek Grille

4 Bingham Avenue,
Rumson, NJ 07760

Phone:  (732) 933 9272


Editorís Note:
The rebuilding of those hardest hit areas will continue on for some time. To contribute to those efforts, donations can be made to the following recommended sites:
For Jersey Shore communities - https://sandynjrelieffund.org
For Staten Island neighborhoods - http://www.dratlasfoundation.com

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