© Pete Dune, images © Linda Dunne.
New Jersey, my home state, occupies an unusual place in our collective knowledge. Many people who haven’t seen much of it, or perhaps any of it, feel they know New Jersey from films or TV shows or perhaps a trip along the New Jersey Turnpike between Philadelphia and New York City. Those are aspects of the state, but as you might guess, there are vast areas of it that are quite different. It’s a state full of diversity physically and socially, from the hilly, rural northwest Highlands to the lush aristocratic horse country of the north center, through the highly developed central corridor and areas near New York City and Philadelphia, south to the mostly empty and forested Pine Barrens, east to the famous Jersey Shore and Atlantic City casinos, south again to Victorian Cape May, near where I live. If there is an even less known part of the state it’s the southwest corner, the Delaware Bayshore, and that’s the focus of this fine new non-fiction book by Pete Dunne, with photos by his wife Linda.
Upfront I should say I’ve known Pete for many years, he’s the director of the Cape May Bird Observatory, where I’ve been volunteering weekly nearly as long as I’ve lived in the area. I can’t say we’re close, but I’ve been buying and enjoying his books just as long, and consider him an excellent nature writer as well as an entertaining person and a top-notch birder. “Bayshore Summer” is the second in a series of four seasonal books he’s writing. I reviewed the first one, “Prairie Spring,” when it came out. While this book does cover the biggest bird story of the region; the symbiosis of the Horseshoe Crab and the Red Knot shorebird, it’s more about the people, places and history of its subject, the home area of Pete and Linda: Cumberland County, just west of Cape May County. Pete explores the quickly disappearing lives of bayshore watermen, from fishermen to charter boat captains, looks at the long cat-and-mouse game of deer poachers and game wardens, explores the growing of the famous Jersey tomato and its harvest by migrant workers, joins the harvesting of salt hay from the marshes, goes into itchy detail on the many biting insects of the area, and investigates a forgotten naturalist who covered this same beat in the 19th century. Even if you don’t have a particular interest in New Jersey, Dunne’s prose will entertain and enlighten you, and Linda’s pictures will help you visualize this little-known corner of our state. Highly recommended!