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pipl_nest_007

Photo: Wayne Hathaway
The endangered Piping Plover is a species that actually benefited from Hurricane Sandy in 2012 — at least on Fire Island.

It’s a ill wind that blows nobody good, as they say, and the ill wind of Hurricane Sandy seems to be a case in point. As devastating as it was along the East Coast, there are reasons why an endangered shore bird benefited on Fire Island, a place I spent many youthful summers. Annie Roth has the story at the New York Times.

“The wrath of Hurricane Sandy’s powerful winds and violent storm surge left considerable damage across New York and New Jersey in October 2012. But for one tiny bird, the cataclysmic storm has been a big help. …

“The piping plover is a small, migratory shorebird that nests along North America’s Great Lakes and Atlantic Coast. The species, which is listed as endangered in New York State and threatened federally, has been the focus of intensive conservation efforts for decades. But on one island that was heavily damaged by the big storm, the piping plover population has increased by 93 percent, [as Katie Walker, a graduate student in wildlife conservation at Virginia Tech] and colleagues reported in the journal Ecosphere. …

“Fire Island, a 32-mile-long barrier island off the southern coast of Long Island that is popular with vacationers, was hit particularly hard by Hurricane Sandy. The storm washed sand and seawater across the island, flooding homes, flattening dunes and breaching the island in three places.

“Sand deposited from Fire Island’s oceanside onto its bayside created a number of new sand flats. Some areas were also breached by seawater but most were filled by the Army Corps of Engineers shortly after the storm as part of the recovery effort. …

“Piping plovers like to nest on dry, flat sand close to the shoreline, where the insects and crustaceans they feed on are easily accessible. But over the past century, coastal development and recreational use of shorelines have vastly reduced the amount of waterfront property available. …

“For the past three years, the majority of new and returning plovers chose to nest in habitats generated by the storm. And now, for the first time in nearly a decade, Fire Island’s population of piping plovers is growing. …

“Barrier islands like Fire Island are known as early successional habitats, which means they require regular disturbance events to keep their ecosystems in check. Under normal circumstances, Fire Island would experience disturbance events on an annual basis. However, engineers have gone to great lengths to stabilize the island, and now only powerful storms like Sandy are able to have a significant impact on the island’s ecosystem.

“ ‘Barrier islands are very dynamic systems, they don’t stay the same from one year to the next. The species that inhabit them there are adapted to these changes, so if we try to keep these systems static, we are going to lose these species,’ said [Jonathan Cohen, assistant professor at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, who was not involved with the study].

“Last year, 486 pairs of piping plovers nested along the shores of New York and New Jersey, approximately 10 percent of which did so on Fire Island. If current trends continue, the two states may soon reach their recovery goal of 575 breeding pairs set out by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”

More at the New York Times, here.

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I just went back to bathe in the golden glow of blogger KerryCan’s early summer memories here. I’ve been planning to take her up on the idea of sharing a childhood summer photo and letting train of thought take over.

KerryCan says she and her cousins had “absolutely nothing to worry about except breaking a plastic flip flop or getting sticky drips of Popsicle running down an arm,” which doesn’t quite fit my childhood. But I was always looking forward and believing something nice was coming.

I began dreaming of Fire Island in January or so — creating a paper pocket on our front door with Ocean Beach postcards tucked in and badgering grown-ups with “When are we going?”

And goodness knows, I dearly loved the ocean, swimming every day in my early teens unless there was a red warning flag. On choppy mornings, I might be the only one out there in front of the lifeguards.

Here I am at about age 10 with the older of my two brothers, probably competing for who could run fastest.

I didn’t learn until I was practically a grandmother that some kinds of competition with him might be ill-advised — like the time I tried to bend back my thumb the way his joints allow him to and ended up with a trigger finger and a hand operation! Ha, ha. Laughing now.

On this Atlantic beach, we used to dig for the tiny armadillo-like mole crabs that we called “jumpies.” Where are they now?

Fire-Island-in-the-50s

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I’ve been meaning to share a charmingly illustrated 1986 publication called The Book of Holidays around the World. The author is Alice van Straaten.

Her entry for January 1 mentions the Rose Bowl Parade, of all things, and how it was launched in 1890 in imitation of the Festival of Flowers in Nice, France.

She also describes a celebration in Greece honoring St. Basil: “Children go from door to door, carrying an apple, a paper ship — or a paper star — and receive coins for singing calends, carols of good wishes for the year.”

(Kind of makes me think of going door-to-door at day camp on Fire Island with a list of scavenger-hunt needs. Of course, in that case, you’d be asking for a paper ship or an apple, not carrying items to the houses. Summer renters were very tolerant of scavenger hunts. Today, you’d probably want to do a scavenger hunt only where you knew the neighbors.)

I’ll conclude with one more tradition, highlighted on the website Watching the Swedes.

“Almost every New Year’s Eve since 1896, a well-known person has stood on the stage at a Swedish open-air museum and recited the poem ‘Ring out Wild Bells’ by Lord Alfred Tennyson written in 1850. This may seem weird, but nowadays, the event is televised and attracts a large public. Translated into Swedish, the poem is called ‘Ring Klocka Ring’ and it has a very meaningful and deep content as we leave one year and enter into another.

“Various famous people, mostly actors, have had the honour of delivering this rousing poem throughout the years. Of the 20 narrators so far, only one has been a woman. However, this year the second female narrator – popular opera singer Malena Ehrman – will take the stage.”

Art: Edmund Dulac
Father Time, featured in The Book of Holidays around the World.

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Two grandsons are starting school this week and overcoming shyness, which got me talking to John about what happened one time when I was a shy first grader.

My family had stayed an extra month on Fire Island that year, which meant that when I got to first grade on the mainland, I didn’t know any of the routines. For example, I didn’t know what the lined paper that appeared on my desk after recess was for. (It turned out it was not for drawing a picture of a girl.)

Another routine was morning attendance. We would all sit quietly at our desks, and when Miss Dobbins called our name, we would say, “Here.”

This particular morning, I was really not feeling at all well but was too shy to raise my hand in the middle of a ritual. I didn’t want anyone to look at me.

But becoming increasingly desperate, I made up my mind that when my name was called, I would go up to the teacher’s desk and tell her I felt sick.

Miss Dobbins called my name. I got out of my seat quickly and hurried up to her desk and opened my mouth to say, “I feel sick,” and vomited all over her lap.

She didn’t get mad, just asked another teacher to hold the fort while she cleaned up and got me some help.

People looked at me after all.

(One always feels an urge to come up with a moral for every tale one tells children, but I don’t think this tale has one. Stuff happens to everyone. Even grandmas.)

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I spent my first couple decades vacationing on Fire Island, a barrier beach off New York’s Long Island. Once you get islands in your system, you never want to get them out.

Nowadays I frequent an island that is part of a state that calls itself an island, too: Rhode Island. Here are some pictures from my latest visit.

The photos are mostly self-explanatory, but I would like to draw your attention to the carrot. The young man in the photo pulled that carrot out of the ground for a neighbor, who gave it to him. His mother washed it, and he ate most of it in one sitting.

And he didn’t even feel like he had overdone the eating the way Peter Rabbit did. No need for a dose of chamomile tea.

2115-Galilee-for-fishing

082315-sheltered-harbor

082215-vase-on-deck

082315-one-big-carrot

2215-fuzzy-fruit

082215-blackberries

082315-about-sharks

082315-lobster-boat

082315-sold-to-pirates

082315-Southeast-Light

082215-sunset-RI

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I admit I dropped the poem-a-day e-mail from poets.org because I couldn’t keep up, but I saved a few that I liked recently.

This one by Alberto Rios, for example.

“One river gives
Its journey to the next.

“We give because someone gave to us.
“We give because nobody gave to us.

“We give because giving has changed us.
“We give because giving could have changed us. …

“You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
“Together we are simple green. You gave me

“What you did not have, and I gave you
“What I had to give—together, we made

“Something greater from the difference.”

Read the whole poem here.

Meanwhile, poet friends have been busy capturing present realities and past screen shots. Ronnie Hess wrote a poem inspired by watching home movies of her Fire Island childhood. It reads in part,

“follow your sister
“as she leaps and cartwheels along

“the beach into the sea. I see your eyes
“follow her, your mind dart,
“your body imitate her older moves.” The whole poem is at Quill and Parchment.

And poet Nancy Greenaway caught the mood of our endless winter with this roll-over-and-go-back-to-sleep nugget

Sleeping In
School vacation: time for winter hibernation.

Photo: svsnowgoose.com

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It’s a little hard to get my head around using this topic for an opera, but an article at FastCo Design makes it seem almost logical.

“A legendary 1960s battle over the urban design of New York City is getting its dramatic due. The struggle between urban planner Robert Moses and journalist/activist Jane Jacobs over Moses’s proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway will become an opera, thanks to composer Judd Greenstein and director Joshua Frankel.

“Moses and Jacobs had deeply divergent visions of New York City’s future. Moses was the powerful planner behind a swath of New York City expressways that displaced half a million people during his reign as the city’s master builder. He envisioned a city built for easy driving.

“Jacobs, who popularized the idea of eyes on the street — the notion that streets are safer and more vibrant when there are pedestrians on them — vehemently opposed Moses’s plans to raze Washington Square Park and much of Greenwich Village, where she lived, to build yet more miles of highway.” More here.

If you ask nicely, I will sing you the lyrics Arnold Horwitt wrote to the tune of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” (substituting the word Moses) that the crowd sang on a ferry ride to protest a road Moses proposed for Fire Island.

Photo: FastCoDesign

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Today I had an amusing back and forth with Fire Islanders past and present. It was about a fund raiser for what we used to call “Group” back when I was a day camper and later a counselor and writer-director of teenage musicals.

The fundraiser is to restore the Ocean Beach Youth Group (“Group”) building below, which was pummeled by Hurricane Sandy. From the first e-mail:

“Food . Beer & Wine . Auction . Guest Bartenders . Tequila Tasting
“Sun., Jan. 6, 2013, 4-7 pm @ Rodeo Bar, 375 Third Avenue, NYC
“$50 cash/check at door, 21+
“$30 for 16-20 For advance tickets or to make a donation, visit http://www.nycharities.org/Events/EventLevels.aspx?ETID=5691 OBYG is a 501(c)3 organization.
“As an added bonus Tony Roberts of Broadway fame and Youth Group Alumnus will be our guest.”

I wrote back that I was in one of Tony Roberts’s teenage plays (back when his name was still Dave) and can sing most of the lyrics to the theme song of his show Like You Like It.

I then indulged in some contradictory reminiscing with my first co-writer/director and with the daughter of playwright Arnold Horwitt, who was an adviser on the first show we wrote.

“Memories can be beautiful and yet” … (Oh, sorry, we used to burst into song a lot.)

But about memories. I know I have the most accurate memories for the shows I worked on, yet friends keep remembering differently. And who can blame Arnold Horwitt’s daughter, for example, if she thinks her father wrote all the lyrics to our “Return of the Native” when he only contributed the song that he had already written for a cruise to fight a bridge, “Everything’s Coming Up Moses”? He was a huge support, and that’s what she gets right.

Want me to sing anything for you?

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Even people who think they know all about Thoreau, Emerson, Hawthorne, Alcott and other Concord worthies often seem not to know Margaret Fuller. She was a key member of the “genius cluster” that author Susan Cheever has called the “American Bloomsbury.”

Although Fuller has passed from public awareness, in Concord it is different. Which is why a reading at the Concord Bookshop on January 29 was standing room only. Fuller’s latest biographer, John Matteson, was there to read about her “many lives” and engage in discussion about such abstruse topics as what Fuller thought of Emerson’s second wife. (Answer: Not much.)

It’s always amusing to attend a reading of a book about one of the Concord greats, as participants have such passionate feelings. Especially the Bronson Alcott fan base, who cannot bear to hear a word said against Louisa May
Alcott’s innovative but impractical father. I have been to a couple readings of books in which Louisa appears, and you can see Bronson’s partisans stiffening their spines, baring their fangs, and rising to the bait.

But who was Margaret Fuller? She was a first in many realms, including first female editor of the highly regarded 19th century literary magazine The Dial and the first overseas war correspondent. Matteson bemoaned the fact that she was probably best known, however, for the way she died, having perished in 1850 at age 40 in a shipwreck off Point o’ Woods, Fire Island.

That fact touches a nerve in me, I admit, since I spent all my childhood summers on Fire Island, and it is still a mystery why many of the ship’s passengers were saved while Margaret Fuller, her husband, and her baby drowned. Fortunately, interest in her life has been renewed, with Matteson’s book only one of several in which she plays a significant role.

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I’ve been thinking of Lucille Corcos the last couple weeks. I have no idea why, but I hope eventually to reconstruct the train of thought that led to her. She was an artist I knew when I was a child. I rediscovered her art in the 1990s in a Minnesota museum. That was when I realized I love it.

Since Corcos wasn’t in Wikipedia, in spite of having works in museums, I taught myself how to write a Wikipedia contribution and am just waiting for the Wiki experts to let me post it.

As Cipe Pineles Golden and Martha Scotford write in Cipe Pineles: A Life in Design (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1999), Corcos and her artist husband, Edgar Levy, moved from New York City to the artsy South Mountain Road in Rockland County, New York, in 1941.

“Corcos was a successful painter and illustrator by this time. In the 1930s, fashion, culture and home magazines published her work and her popularity continued into the 1960s. Cipe Pineles’s close friendship with Corcos had begun when Pineles commissioned Corcos’s work for Seventeen and Charm. Her humor in personal interactions and in her art made her an engaging collaborator. Corcos’s paintings were densely packed with many small stories and commentary. The compositions had detailed multiple subjects; perspective and scale were distorted for practical and expressive purposes. This new modern primitivism was considered part of a native tradition in American art and its ‘unacademic’ nature was celebrated. Corcos’s subjects included rural landscapes and urban scenes, ranging from Christmas Eve, Rockfeller Center to The Oyster Party  to Everybody Meets the Boat. In addition  to doing commissioned illustration, Lucille Corcos built her career as a fine artist and was a steady participant in New York gallery shows from 1936 to 1954. During the same time, she was a part of major exhibitions in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and other institutions in New York.”

I found a few other tidbits about her by Googling around. For example,  I found an article in the July 12, 1954, issue of Life magazine that shows two Corcos paintings, one of her life in winter in Rockland County, another of activities around her Fire Island house in summer. And here is a 1950 painting of her Fire Island house. I remember the house well.

Levy was often spoken of as the great artist in the family, with his numerous Picasso-esque paintings of his wife as mostly feet and eyes, but my mother pointed out that Corcos herself had an art career. Levy is not in Wikipedia either, but I leave it to an admirer of his art to fix that lapse.

 

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One of the great things about going to the beach with your toddler grandson is seeing it through his eyes and remembering your own early experiences.

I remember the first time I went to Fire Island and played in the tide pools on the broad, sandy beach. My brother and I didn’t want to leave, and my parents also seemed relaxed and playful.

This morning I asked my in-law children whether they recalled any early beach memories. My daughter-in-law remembered an overcast week on Cape Cod, where she and her younger sisters liked climbing on a rocky jetty that stretched out into the water along the sand.

Erik, growing up in Sweden, didn’t see a lot of sandy beaches but has lovely summer memories of the islands of the Archipelego — climbing on the rocks and exploring. He also spent a lot of time on the water in boats and remains an avid sailor.

Here is Erik’s nephew climbing the rocks on the Swedish seacoast as Erik did at that age.

Here is my grandson with his mom yesterday. He was crazy about the ocean. And although he is not quite walking yet, he held hands and ran like mad along the sand, shrieking for joy.

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What makes you happy? The bluebird of happiness brushed a little air current toward me today as I crossed over a bridge at lunch. So I can report that one thing that makes me happy is seeing the jellyfish arrive in Fort Point Channel on a sunny day in late June.
*
I remember being ridiculously happy at the sight of Fort Point Channel jellyfish some years ago on a Boston visit that broke up a three-year landlocked Minneapolis sojourn. Minneapolis had its points, but it didn’t have jellyfish. Jellyfish naturally lead to thoughts of 25 summers on Fire Island and going with my father at dusk to shine flashlights on glowing blobs in the water along the boat dock.
*
Two poets share many Fire Island memories with me. Poem 1 is by my sister Nell. Poem 2 is by Ronnie Hess, now based in landlocked Wisconsin. I offer the conclusion to Ronnie’s “Dinner at the Shish Cafe,” and you may read the whole poem here.
*
1. May 1986

Now the island belongs to the deer

And the birds and the wild bayberry flowers

*

And the workmen

Wearily riding the ferry,

To work on other people’s houses,

Carrying their tools home at night.

*

There’s no honeysuckle

Yet rimming the streets

And the crown-vetch sliding through

Rips in the concrete

Has no pink buds

*

And the rain is like tears

Over the fog-filled ocean.

*

What brush, what watery ink

Has painted this sky

The color of bruises?

*******

2. My husband says listening to poetry is hard work. Poems are dense.
Sometimes, I let him read mine. He sits quietly. He studies them.
He edits in blue ink in the margins, he writes words like
Good, nice image, not quite right, and meaning unclear.
*
Those lines of Ronnie’s remind me of the ever ironic poet Marianne Moore, who wrote of her beloved art, “I, too, dislike it.” By which she meant, I think, that it was hard work.
*
More poetry by Ronnie is here and here.

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