The first time I visited the beach with my then-boyfriend now-husband and his family, I was astonished at the sheer amount of STUFF they brought along. A canopy tent, grill, Coleman stove, equipment to cook pasta and meatballs for lunch and later, sausage and peppers. Coolers, plural, crammed with food. His dad would have the car in line 45+ minutes before the parking lot opened. Those not tasked with the important work of driving in the supplies (aka the females) were dispatched to 'claim' 2 picnic tables for our use. Once the gate opened, there was a mad scramble to get 'our' spot on the grass above the beach, drag over the picnic tables, and set up all that equipment. Once done, they'd relax with cards and chitchat, punctuated by bouts of energetic cooking and (maybe) an occasional trip down to the sand. Sunday as Beach Day was an Italian American tradition that originated in the days before air conditioning; after a hard week of work, you'd spend Sunday in the cool breezes at the beach, returning to the heat of the city only after sunset.
Those Sundays were fun, but also quite a production. My beach routine these days has a more minimalist vibe: towel, chair, sunscreen, book, water. For food, maybe a sandwich. Or grapes. I used to bring a bag of popcorn, but that proved problematic. The seagull population has grown so aggressive that if you leave a bag of popcorn unattended for a minute or two, they'll make off with the whole thing. They've gotten quite bold; a few weeks ago, I witnessed a bird swoop in and steal a french fry from a kid's hand on the short journey between cup and mouth. Has the gull population increased, or have the birds just become accustomed to stealing their food supply from humans? I don't recall battling marauding gulls in those sausage and peppers days, but then again, a noisy tribe of Italians may have kept them at bay. I do know that swatting away aggressive birds kind of messes with the peace of my beach day.
What to do? Some people fend them off with water pistols. And a recent study, published in the journal of the British Royal Society, suggests that fixing the birds with a steely gaze and simply staring them down has met with some success. But officials in Ocean City, NJ have a truly novel approach to the gull problem; to quote a New York Times article, they've turned to "an army of winged bouncers": 4 hawks, 2 falcons, and an owl. The birds, rented from a falcon company, patrol the skies around the beach, deterring gulls from settling in and pestering beach patrons. The service is costing the city $2,100 per day through Labor Day, but officials claim it's worth every penny to preserve the peace. Tourists don't like being dive-bombed by seagulls.
I don't have any trained hawks handy, and don't fancy a staring contest, either, so I'll just stick to keeping my food neatly stowed and avoiding anything with crumbs. I'm savoring the peace of these late summer beach days. If you're a beach person, I hope you are, as well. Rest up-we have a LOT of fun planned for September and beyond!