Friday, December 7, 2012


Sandy left behind devastation of all kinds on large and small scales:  invasive phragmites roots here exposed to new tidal erosion on Fire Island, impaling an innocent, but also invasive jelly, glistening in the sun.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Framed and Matted

I must have walked this stretch of beach hundreds of times in all seasons.  Can a rock this big and full of personality have failed to make an impression before?  Perhaps only the upper icebergish tip had been exposed before the latest cataclysmic floods and beach erosion.  But now begins a new era of sunlight and tides,  a shining moment of contemporary communion with gulls and humans, exhumed from subterranean rest after a glacial journey, itself only the most recent episode of a story unimaginably older.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

November Emergence

After the flood tides and snow
emerge ladybugs by thousands
for reasons of their own. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

July Beach Stones

I'm less likely to take long walks on the local beach in the summertime, but after torrential morning thunderstorms the air was thick and still, threatening more rain, and enticing to me.

The summer birds are less varied than the winter visitors.  We have a tern colony, noisily defending a patch of beach delimited by symbolic fences purportedly for the less common piping plovers, of which I saw none.

As I walked across the beach  in front of this patch of reeds, blocking the view of the salt marsh behind, the skies blackened with wheeling flocks of what?  Mosquitoes, locusts, bats?  No, these are swallows, thinned out substantially in the moments it took me to pull out my camera and record the speckled sky. 

This was my treat for the day:  walking an extra half hour farther along the beach, beyond familiar territory, I came upon this odd relic, exposed only at the lowest of tides.   Puzzlement makes me want to make up a history:  devotional sculpture of an extinct race obsessed with slotted lumps and holes;  ancient defensive barricades against amphibious landing parties?  Or maybe just chance erosion by waves of the erratics scraped by glaciers from the New England bedrock and left here to amaze.

More likely an old, failed, and weathered attempt to forestall the nor'easter storm surges' effect on the sandy bluffs holding up expensive homes with water views above.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Stormy Bay Crossing

photo credit: Nancy James

6:30 am windblown Fire Island Lighthouse:  100 swimmers, 100 kayakers, plus countless volunteers, friends and family, after preparing for this day for the past year, would have been disappointed but secretly relieved to have the 5 1/4 mile, open water swim cancelled due to high wind, waves, rain, and poor visibility.  The event goes on, under challenging but not ridiculous conditions.



photo credit: Nancy James

That's my back in the foreground, under the PFD and paddling jacket, captured as I arrived on the scene to check in and meet up with T., my swimmer.   Winds stayed moderate at 10-15 kt from the E, and I don't think we ever got the 20 kt gusts that had been predicted.

I would have liked to take a few photos underway, but I can't brace in the chop, keep an eye on my swimmer and snap a photo without dropping my guard on at least one of the first two.  There were some memorable images, however, of sharp-edged, steel grey, low clouds blowing west above the shore of Fire Island behind us, against an otherwise uniformly overcast sky,  causeway bridge in the distance, my swimmer beside me.   Behind my westward gaze  come 2-3 foot waves, rolling in from my starboard beam, usually giving a predictable bobbing rhythm to the paddle, but occasionally converging or breaking in confused regions of rapidly changing depth.  I try to notice the bigger waves coming, but all T. can do is catch the occasional big one in the face while breathing, and keep my yellow form in view by his side as stroke follows stroke.  

T. finished with a pace just under 30 min per mile, remarkably similar to our pace last year under more festive conditions. My congratulations to all the swimmers and paddlers, organizers and safety personnel who participated in this Long Island tradition once again this year.

Monday, May 7, 2012


I wonder if we look as goofy to these American Oystercatchers as they do to us.

Piping plover still thinks it's a good idea to lay eggs on deserted beaches, trusting to camouflage, the DEC and the good will of strangers.

Trio of Great black-backed gull, oystercatcher and black-bellied plover (F), whale-watching from shore.  "Who are you staring at?" glares the gull.

Willet digesting crabs on the beach 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Wild Fire

On a clear windy day, a little over a week ago, a brush fire started in the tinder-dry pine-oak woods of Eastern Long Island, not far from the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, a nuclear physics machine designed to create and observe the hottest matter ever made on Earth, thousands of times hotter that the center of the sun.  The source of the fire remains under investigation.  More likely a careless cigarette butt than an escaped quark-gluon plasma, in my opinion.   

By late afternoon, smoke was visible for miles in all directions. Hundreds of volunteer fire fighters from across Long Island were working to keep the fire contained and away from the clusters of homes as the wind swept the front of the fire line eastward across sparsely populated woodlands.  First thoughts, of course, turn to friends who live downwind, with their organic garden in the woods and small flock of pastured, named chickens who supply us with eggs.  Then to their unknown neighbors, and to the countless volunteer fire fighters, who train and equip for just such occasions,  who enjoy a special camaraderie, the rare opportunity for heroism amid danger, plus a chance to dig in the sand with their expensive toys, and the unending gratitude of their neighbors.

When it is over in the morning, I read that over 1100 woodland acres have been scorched, several homes and businesses destroyed, but mostly astonished relief at how much worse it could have been,  with only a few minor injuries among the fire fighters.  After catching up on  the "where were you when..." stories with friends and acquaintances, it is time to think about mourning for the woods that feel like my own, through which I often walk to work, solitary miles of sandy paths, through pitch pine and scarlet oak, blueberry and cat brier, more likely to encounter white-tailed deer and wild turkey than a fellow walker.

Here, a foggy morning walk through these woods only a few weeks before the fire.  The leaf-litter is decorated with the foiled camouflage of ground webs,  deadly-invisible to unsuspecting insects in dry weather, but now revealed to all in a cloudy dew.   Even the architect is too embarrassed to be seen next to her luminous creation, far too visible to be functional.

The disaster tourist's urge to gawk is restrained by closed roads, continuing fire danger and police investigations for a day or two, but eventually I am drawn to the smoky devastation, to see for myself.

Failed Firebreak

Unnamed sand roads cross in the woods.
Hidden by overgrown pitch pine saplings, stands a street sign
incongruous, once red, now charred and blistered,

East Firebreak and North Firebreak
dividing four quadrants of scorched earth.

What was once pine needles, leaf litter, early spring-dormant underbrush, and a generous tangle of new windfall from last autumn's tropical storm Irene, is now monochrome black and grey, stretching to a more distant horizon, a rolling carpet of lustrous charcoal in the shapes of needles, twigs, and logs.  The standing trees are in shock. Many will survive, but for now, the needles change from unhealthy yellow-green to brown, almost as I watch.  I tell myself, these woods are made for fire.  The pines and the oaks take one more step in their battle for sunlight. And a cleansing burn of the understory is something that in retrospect, we can wish had been done more proactively throughout the pine barrens, to reduce the danger of the truly rampaging wild fire that might one day follow the fuel and wind through an area 10 times or 100 times larger, making us wonder, whose land is this, anyway?    

Our western neighbors, toward "the city", have already cleared and paved their habitat,  leaving a few parks and many lawns, but little wild land or wild fire danger, just as thoroughly as we have exterminated wolves and bears. We need not pave and exterminate, indeed we depend on these wild acres not only for their wildness, but also to recharge our wells with rainwater better than what we drain through our cesspools.  But those of us who choose to intrude on the woods must expect to be part of nature's cycles, like tenants on the fault line, or in the flood plain. 

A week later, and we've finally had a soaking rain. Roots beneath the char push out new growth and the race is on again.  The air is still heavy with damp smoke odors, but alive with territorial bird calls, pronouncing their intent to start over.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

White Mountains

Dr. Rorschach shows me snowy mountains from a plane window


I blink and now see a mass of  microscopic fungal infestation, disguised as an icefield.

Will it ever snow again?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Eve Invasion

What organic refugee litters our January beach now?
Animal? Vegetable? Mineral? Terrestrial?
And why have I never seen this before?

PS:  It is a red-beard sponge.  Thanks to Mary Laura for help with identification!