Over a generation had passed since the days of my youth at the New Jersey seashore. Progress had so drastically altered the landscape that I grudgingly realized my old haunts could only be recaptured as fond memories the remainder of my adult years.
Those youthful summers were filled with carefree days. I remember traipsing down beach gravel roads under a scorching sun; heat waves reflected from the white gravel and shimmered in the air like silent banshees. I remember those special places where an inquisitive young mind could explore, discover, experiment and learn.
Patches of milkweed, pods bursting with white, feathery, cotton-soft seeds. A boy could capture colorful black, white and yellow striped caterpillars from the milkweed leaves and observe one of the miracles of nature, as the caterpillar, in its new shoebox home, would change into a brilliant golden-green chrysalis and, after several weeks, would emerge as a gloriously beautiful orange and black Monarch butterfly, to be released and live out its short life in freedom.
Beyond the milkweed patches, down an overgrown path, were the woods. Majestic oaks and diminutive scrub pines stood side-by-side; the ground was covered with a cushion of pine needles and acorns. In the center of the woods was a secret hideaway. An abandoned hut stood beneath the shade of one of the larger oaks, windows broken and the once white paint peeling in molding curlicues down the rotting wooden walls. Inside the hut was a single room and amidst the dirt and dust were an archaic three-legged stool, a splintery wooden desk and the rusted remains of a dilapidated coil-spring bed. The floors were cluttered with a variety of whiskey and wine bottles - mute evidence of the ancient recluse who once lived there.
Leaving the woods behind, I would visit the blueberry bogs for an impromptu lunch of the ever-abundant, succulent, thumb-sized berries before continuing on to a nearby pond. The pond was a place to sit in the shade under the drooping branches of a weeping willow and to study the sluggishly moving water and its many inhabitants. The mirror-smooth surface would be covered with water striders skating upon the surface film like performers at an ice rink. A five-foot long Black Racer moved sinuously just beneath the surface, its head slightly extended in the air; probably in search of an afternoon snack. On the bottom of the pond were painted terrapins, their colorful black, red and yellow shells shining in the reflected sunlight. Off in the distance the garrulous croaking of bull frogs would signal the afternoon's end; time to return home to plan yet another day of exploration.
In the passing years progress has laid claim to the land. The white beach gravel roads are now widened and covered with hard-rolled lack-luster asphalt. The milkweed patches have disappeared beneath land-fill and concrete; the Monarch butterflies have flown away. The majestic oaks and scrub pines have been hewn down and skeletonized into lumber; their trunks have been uprooted. The abandoned hut has been ravished by bulldozers; the ancient recluse forgotten for all time. The woods have been replaced by regimented subdivisions of prefabricated homes, each-like-the-other with their hundred square feet of lawn and a flag pole; the dwellings only differentiated by house numbers. Blueberries can only be found in the frozen food section of the supermarket which has been erected over the "reclaimed" blueberry bogs. The idyllic pond and its inhabitants no longer exist, but have been conveniently eliminated by a "modern" system of concrete pipes and culverts created by "Progress", in the name of sanitation. The mechanical clang of the supermarket time clock now signals the afternoon's end.
All that was is no more: but my memories will always remain.