From Mountains to Shore


  • Pine trees on the beach were severely damaged by the horrific winter, and at least one is dead.  Those that remain are putting out new needles and cones.  Evergreens are easily overlooked amidst the spectacular sparkle and pop of the deciduous trees, shrubs, and flowers.  Green as always, chugging along, unnoticed, quietly taking their place in the background scenery.  As complex a miracle of nature as anything else, the end result of as long a tale of survival and struggle and adaptation as any sunbather down here.
  • Chinese and Japanese painters loved painting pines, sometimes just for the joy of evocation, sometimes as moral lesson, often enduring snow or wind or rain.  I have sometimes seen myself as more of a lonely pine tree just getting through life adequately than as one of the more spectacular vegetative specimens.  There are no “pine lovers shows,” no “best pine in its class” awards.  But I do my job, I try to stay green, and I endure as well as I can.  There is beauty in that approach to life as well, at least so I tell myself.


  • Some smaller berries and fruits and many seeds are now in the midst of one of the basic species survival strategies, what  Confederate General Forrest called “fustest with the mostest.”  By making many edibles available early, potential offspring have a chance to be eaten and scattered with excellent chances of staking out the best ground before anything else.  Not coincidentally, many of these are in brilliant colors and attractive shapes.
  • All nature becomes an extravagant cornucopia now.  Yesterday I passed a linden tree that was humming loudly _ turned out to be countless thousands of bees attracted by the strong sweet perfume from the blossoms.  Each day I take ten or so pictures, and there are way too many to use.  Each one different, unique to this exact time of year, illustrating some unusual perspective.  A wonderful time to be aware of nature.


  • In the Northeast, untended ground immediately reverts to scrub and woodland.  Unfortunately, interesting forest ecologies can take centuries to develop.  Meadows, on the other hand, provide an immediate paradise for an astonishing variety of plants, insects, birds, small mammals and their predators.  They are also human-friendly, providing open views brushed by cooling breezes which keep the mosquitoes and other pests at bay.  However, maintaining a meadow takes time and money.
  • Caumsett State Park provides expanses of meadows in all their mature glory.  Migrating birds find respite, as does anyone overwhelmed by the crowds, traffic and noise only minutes away.  I often find more solitude here than I could in the wilder areas to our north.


  • At first glance after a trip to the mountains Huntington Harbor seems an example of humans crowding out nature.  Scenes that only a Manhattan-dweller could consider natural _ boats and houses and roads and cars and people without end, square mile after square mile.  And yet _ the initial impressions are not of houses, but of forested shores and reedy wetlands in the foreground.
  • There are an awful lot of trees right here _ as there even are in Brooklyn.  Moreover, there is more diversity of trees, shrubs, flowers, and landscapes than in the vast but somewhat monotonous vegetative cover upstate.  What I continually forget is how complicated the world really is, how contradictory its various tensions (for example between civilization and wilderness), how impossible it is to have one true conception of its immensity.    Traveling may broaden the mind, but it also deepens understanding.


  • At twilight, mountains and lake seem deserted.  Air feels pure, water crystal, only sounds of natural wind and wave.  But, of course, this air and the rainfall it produces are tinged with residual pollution of an entire continent to the west and the industrial machine of China across the vast Pacific.   These forests were logged once, and at least along the shore are heavily developed with vacation homes, hardly virgin.  Isolation is not quite an illusion, but the planet remains interconnected even here.
  • Our generations hold the future in balance.  I am perhaps less active than I should be, but I am not convinced that frantic activity, even in a good cause, is the answer.  I truly believe Thoreau; I honestly feel we must learn to be content to save ourselves and the Earth.  Not to be poor savages, of course, but to learn when better and more are wrong, when it is time to be satiated and say “enough.”   The paradox is that to live such a life as an example is the only effective way to prove the point, but to live such a life is by definition to have almost no external impact.


  • People live in these mountains, although in relatively small clusters along highways threaded through the Adirondack wilderness.  Lake George village is larger than most _ obviously because of its lakeshore assets.  The “last of the Mohicans” was fighting here in the French and Indian War a century after the founding of Huntington.  Fort William Henry with its massive timberworks followed a year later, but has never since been important except as a tourist attraction.  Before air conditioning, a trip to the mountains in the summer was something wealthy people could do for a week or a month when they grew tired of the ocean, even building a hotel here on the peak reached by cable railway.
  • What I find here is the past, hardly prettied up.  Farmers settled the bottomlands but the winters and rocks defeated them, loggers tore down the remaining virgin forest and moved on.  Scars and signs of ancient settlement are thick in the dense second-growth forest, now a respectable hundred years old or so.  Towns continue to fall into decay, abandoned buildings aging into picturesque ruins, in spite of attempts at revitalization.  And, in our own family, we spent some summers up here in the eighties when our children were small.  Since that time, seemingly everything away from the interstates has stayed in suspended animation.


  • No, this is not Huntington.  A long drive upstate is refreshing in a way that a plane ride is not _ one begins to understand the immensity of distance.  Our ancestors and native Americans appreciated the vastness of the continent far more than we do.
  • I try to limit myself locally, and steep wisdom from long contemplation of small and usual things.  But as with any concentration, I tend to see the reality of the entire world though its sharp specialized lens.  It is refreshing to be forced to recognize that my microcosm is only a microcosm.  More than enough for me, infinitesimal compared to the whole.

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