To my mind, the prettiest preserved barrier reef I have seen juts ten miles off mainland New Jersey. Narrow. Pristine. Banked by sea and bay. Island Beach State Park was a two-hour drive south of my childhood home. Its' capacity is guarded. Often closing its' gates to tardy-anglers by 8 a.m.. The Oldsmobile pulled promptly from the gravel drive at precisely 5 a.m., one gas peddle ahead of the game. My dad behind the wheel. My mom holding his coffee. And I, stretched drowsily across the back seat until awakened two-hours later by sea air. Front windows cranked wide by driver and wife. Rear widows, a fraction later, by a now wide-awake daughter. First one, then a quick slide across the bench-seat to the other. Sea mist filling the car as the last causeway was crossed to glistening respite mere miles away.
The most beautiful sight to behold was the green entrance flag blowing west. A west blowing flag meant no black-flies were swept from bay to sea to take siege of the sand. An east blowing flag meant dime sized flies that could not be pried from ones' skin until the wind blessedly changed its' course. A red flag meant the Oldsmobile was not getting in.
My Dad requested that, when the day would come, he would like to cross that causeway one final time, as ashes in a coffee can. He imagined a final swim home to Norway. A poetic request from an unpoetic man. Yet for circumstances, I care not to share, that was not to be. A regret, that my grief outweighed my courage to insist. Instead his ashes lie beneath a seventy-five foot Norway Spruce. In the twenty-or-so years he is gone, I imagine he is a part of its' roots. The spruce journeyed to New Jersey from Norway as a smuggled-sapling, wrapped in newspaper, tucked into my grandfathers' suitcase and planted upon the land on which my dad built our home.
He died one September day. One month later, I clipped a branch of that tree and drove two- hours south. My mom cradling the spruce branch rather than coffee. I swam as far past the breakers as frigid October sea would allow. The branch, gifted from my hand to the currents. My Mom waiting on the shoreline with a towel and an uncapped thermos of tea and honey. Neither as warming as her arms. Safe journey, Daddy. I hope you make it home for Christmas. The towel tightened and in the minds of his daughter and wife, he did.