Happily Civilized


Seems like I spend a great deal of time avoiding the immediate traces of industrialization around here.  I take shots over fences, around boats and houses, avoiding bits of trash, cutting out the auto traffic.  But, of course, it is always there, as here with the fence and the signs and the houses across the way.  Sometimes I may seem to imply that life would be far better with a return to wilderness.

But I do not really believe that, even on a perfect summer day.  I am well aware of my attire, my last meal, my health, my camera, my latest reading and the very language in which I think, none of which would exist except for the civilization in which I live.  Signs, fences, cars, noise are all part of that, as much as the seagulls overhead.  I am especially aware of it in cold air, with winter on the way, happily wrapped in heavy clothing and with a warm house to which to return after my stroll.

Unlike some of the more bucolic coves of the North Shore, Huntington Harbor has been commercial for nearly the last four hundred years.  Originally, that just meant clearing the marshlands and building piers and bulkheads and landing spots, but as the motorized traffic increased another problem became obvious.  All of Long Island is one glacial sand dune, and constant churning of motors disturbs the hills alongside the water and naturally clogs the channels over time.  Not to mention the constant garbage, flotsam, jetsam, and sunken docks and boats and (probably) bodies.  Eventually, it has to be cleared.

I am sure that somewhere someone is trying to stop the dredging.  It is certainly not good for the natural wildlife _ it kills of oysters and clams and who knows what else, although I imagine most of the fish simply take off elsewhere.  Yet, honestly, it is part of what makes the harbor the harbor.  You need the access to have the boats, and the boats to have the stores, and the stores to have the people, and the people to have the money to create and maintain access with roads.  The roads that I use everyday.  Complaining about one element in a necessary chain is like bitterly hating your nose because it sometimes drips.

That is a huge plastic water tank on a trailer behind a pickup truck.  Some local entrepreneurs have apparently found a way to make money siphoning harbor water and taking it somewhere _ they are reloading almost everyday.  I assume, without having verified, that they sell it to restaurants and stores selling live lobsters.  I prefer my romantic imaginings to whatever the truth may actually be.

Cold has arrived, although without the huge snow of Buffalo.  Even the wildlife is a bit stunned.  I saw a seagull lift off, take a few dispirited flaps into the strong biting wind, and flop back down resignedly onto the sand.  Another useless gift I have is being able to anthropomorphize anything at all, not so much to enhance my worldview as to fit it into whatever momentary story line I happen to be weaving.

Mid twenty degree temperatures cannot prevent activity at the marin
a.  The harbor water is still too warm to be affected, but boat owners have been reminded that there will not be many if any nice days left to sail.  Also with this early hard weather, this winter may cause an ice freeze thick enough to crush hulls.  So there is a little more urgency to get the boats out and winterized.

Walking along, I notice birds and trees and other natural events.  But I enjoy watching the patterns of humans just as much.  People are nature too (as the supreme court might put it.)  Their activities are easily as fascinating as those of hawks above or seagulls along the shoreline.


The point of this picture is that even the views that do not include some kind of industrial theme all involve some kind of human cultural attributes.  Around here, two hundred years ago or so, there were very few trees _ everything had been cleared for grazing land for sheep.  This area is called Southdown for precisely that reason.  This vista is here courtesy of Mr. Brown’s gold coast estate.   Arriving before the Europeans, you would not have been able to see the harbor from this hill.

We inhabit a world formed by us and by our ancestors.  The current debate is how much of the general patrimony is anyone’s by birth _ and why.  But the first realization must be that at this point almost all the world _ even that which seems wild, even that which represents nature _ has for better or worse been heavily shaped by our species.
Sat –

Ice forming on the little pond below the hill.  Fresh water even now attracts birds and insects, provides habitat for various plant species, and is a welcome change from lawns and salt bay.  We think it quite natural that such scenes should occur frequently everywhere.

Yet looking more closely, there is a concrete rim around the edge _ not a muddy bank with willow thicket.  This was just a muddy trickle until it was shaped by some landscape architect almost a hundred years ago.  Recently, it was all but lost until the eutrophication caused by reeds and algae was partially dredged out by the county, and the dam where the stream exits repaired.  Here in the heavily populated  northeast, very little if any of our favorite natural spots is truly natural.  So what?  It is in some ways unnatural that I can think in twenty-first century language or write and show my reflections on this machine or send them to you.

Skin ice pretty early this year _ of course we haven’t had it this cold for a long time.  My sister reminds me that according to records, we have no conception of the harsh climate the first colonists were facing.  For them, perhaps, harbors freezing over around now may have been the normal expectation.

Just as one swallow does not make a spring, one cold snap or snowstorm does not do much to predict the eventual pattern of the winter.  In fact, most of the time we can only say “that was really warm, or cold, or snowy, or dry” after the fact, sometime in late March.  Now that I no longer have to be anywhere or do anything on any particular day, my worries about weather have pretty much vanished.  It’s a nice day, no matter what.




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