Winter Shore

– Dormant grasses before an open distant sky

From a beach or esplanade, winter shorelines on Long Island are as beautiful in winter as in all other seasons.  Because of the long history of New England in general and Huntington in particular, we are blessed with abundant public access to water views, some in parks, many roadsides.  Unlike some places, most development is hidden under trees, partly from climate, partly from low density housing, so distant shores often appear uninhabited when gazing across the waves of Oyster Bay or other ubiquitous wetlands and inlets that surround our island.

Seen from the North Shore, Connecticut is usually just a hazy blue ribbon across wide Long Island Sound.  Underfoot sands crunch with innumerable moon shells, fewer oyster and clam shells than there should be, and less plastic flotsam than one would expect.  Gulls, geese, ducks, ospreys, crows and egrets are fairly numerous, dwindling populations of migrating and other birds add to worry that nature is in trouble.  Yet on a frigid January morning all is deserted and quiet, I listen to surf and the swish of sand, and almost imagine that I am viewing the world in a more pristine time.

This place is basically a giant sand bar formed when the Wisconsin glaciation receded twenty one thousand years ago.  As such, it was always doomed to a short life in geologic time, although its disappearance may have been significantly accelerated by oncoming sea rise.  Thus it postdates the emergence of modern humans from Africa and perhaps was created simultaneously with the migration of people to North America.  Folks were living here by eleven thousand years ago.  From the first, it was heavily wooded, and stuffed with game, shellfish, and marine bounty in general.  Before the European invasion, corn and other crops were widely grown in clearings and on the fire-cleared Hempstead plain.  By all accounts it was peaceful and as near a paradise as possible for Neolithic tribes.

Crystal waters display pebbles behind rippled reflections

The water is almost hypnotically clear on another early Sunday morning.  Sixty degrees _ a January thaw although we have not had much to thaw from.  The local beach is deserted, not even birds.  Houses crowd adjacent hills, boats are removed to storage.  Lovely blue sky streaks under scudding clouds as it ever has done.  A mild breeze brushes my hair;  water from an underground spring bubbles gently behind me as it forever flows into the bay.  One lonely seagull meets another high overhead above decaying piers.   Repose and meditation in another beautiful place on this Earth which we must treasure.

Even in the short half century during which I have been aware of Huntington harbor, it has changed dramatically.  Some old structures from colonial times have fallen into ruin and been removed.  Many houses have been rebuilt partially or totally, as new mansions crowd previously vacant lots.  The old oil and coal depot is now a marina, and the barge that once conveyed fuel is sunk in puppy cove and long decayed.  Boats elbow each other in summer, dolphins which my wife saw in childhood are long gone, lobsters vanished decades ago.  Diebacks of marsh grass are increasingly evident.  There are, in short, few signs of the environment getting better.

On the other hand, water scenes remain a joy.  Waterfowl in declining but still relative abundance fly about, squawk on sand, float majestically.  Children play at the beach in summer, dogs race endlessly, old folks just sit and reminisce.  Cars still slow down on the shoreline drives, happy for a few moments to have spectacular views that do not require trips on an airplane.  And for those few, like me, who have the time and desire, there are hidden pockets of wonders from unexpected wildflowers to magnificent sunset, storm, and peaceful dawn.

So what is real?  The historic paradise of centuries ago, the short few hundred years of European dominance, the presumed decay now, or the projected destruction of all this by climate change already making its mark in toppled trees and too-high tides?  Unlike many around here, I am aware of all of them, yet only my moment really counts for me.  That is a selfish attitude, but natural for a human consciousness.  Should I feel residual guilt at all that society is wreaking on the environment?  Or should I just accept what is and enjoy my remaining days as I can, even accepting trash and destruction alongside the beauty and life?  No answer, perhaps not even a meaningful question.

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