AVALON, N.J. - You don't expect to necessarily have a sound track, let alone a Bob Dylan-alluding surprise, found along the 1.1-mile self-guided Avalon Dune Trail, lately in the news because of a plan to cut down some (nonnative) Japanese black pines that has stirred up controversy and conspiracy theories among residents.
But there it was, and it was not blowing in the wind.
Rather, it was hidden behind a fence post on the 48th Street trail back to the street, and you'd either have to have a geocaching treasure-hunt app on your phone to know where to look, or, alternatively, you'd just have to follow a girl in jellies leaving the beach - who adamantly and perhaps admirably refused to either comment or give her name - who knew where to look and had signed her name earlier on the little yellow scroll contained inside the pillbox.
Yes, it was a leopard-skin-covered pillbox, which had to be a wink toward the old bard and his "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat," classic song, with the lyrics:
Well, if you wanna see the sun rise
Honey, I know where
We'll go out and see it sometime
We'll both just sit there and stare.
And this would be a lovely spot to watch the sun rise off the ocean, then mark yourself present in Avalon's little hidden piece of the global treasure hunt.
But this was late afternoon, with the only sound track the sound of the ocean and the wind rustling through the trees, and the reeds, and the brush, and the rumble of the banner planes, and more treasures in store on the walk.
3:27 p.m. 44th Street entrance off Dune Drive. Avalon's Dune and Beach Trail is a loop that also cuts along the beach. Only Barnegat can boast of dunes as big as Avalon's around these parts, and walking to the beaches in Barnegat gives you a height and vista that Avalon's trail does not.
Barnegat's dunes will surprise you with a well-considered bench, sometimes even unexpectedly memorializing the mom of someone you in fact know (this happened to me).
In Avalon, only the wealthiest get property with views of the ocean, their homes visible up high in the dune bluffs, but the survival of original dunes of this barrier island gives a glimpse of what things used to look like. (It was all maritime forest.)
3:35 p.m. Swales! This is what the space between dunes is called, according to Guide Post Number 9, a place where rainwater pools and reed grass and blackberries grow. In Margate, which fought unsuccessfully against man-made dunes, they worried this would be a place of trash and pests. In Avalon, in springtime, it's a place of wildflowers and amphibians like Fowler's toad.
3:37 p.m. Sand! Descending from the tertiary dune, filled with trees and vegetation that block any view of the ocean, down to the secondary dune, to the inter-dune wetland, to the primary dune, you finally hit sand. And immediately, there is a sign with "beach regulations" with all the forbidden things of the Jersey Shore. A bit of a buzz kill, but on the other hand, the ocean breeze is finally free to cool things off. The next sign is "All Sorts of Wildlife," onto which a seagull has left signature territorial droppings. There's only one king on these beaches.
3:39 p.m. Beach-tag anxiety. As the trail descends to the actual beach, I realize I don't have a beach tag. Will Avalon stop me midpath? So late in the day, midweek, there were no checkers in sight. Not sure how the "I'm just walking the trail" excuse works on a busy weekend.
3:51 p.m. The walk along the beach itself, next to an area roped off for nesting of piping plovers and least terns, yields a nice view of a pair of red-beaked oystercatchers in the sand. No piping plovers. Some well-fed seagulls dominate the beach itself, planning their next mission.
3:57 p.m. Fore! Back to the dunes, via 48th Street, marked by a sign that looks like a 48th golf hole, perhaps in some future where the beach has been turned into an unending Avalon Dunes course. Heading back up the incline, the guide sign seems a bit defensive: "More than a Pile of Sand." Of course, it's more than a pile of sand! It's got a hidden geocached leopard-skin pillbox!
4:13 p.m. Why all the stumps? Back to Dune Drive, via the clumps of stumps and a bunch of Japanese pines marked for cutting down with orange ribbons. Avalon officials say the trees are beetle-ridden and they are not cutting them down to make for better views for the big houses. A sign makes it clear these huge trees were never meant to be there, at least naturally; they are nonnative, brought in by people, and have been nothing but trouble, ecosystem-wise. Shoobie trees. Then again, the Shore has always welcomed visitors, hasn't it? As Dylan wrote in a very non-Jersey song titled "If Dogs Run Free" (they don't on most Jersey beaches): True love can make a blade of grass/ Stand up straight and tall/ In harmony with the cosmic sea.