Authors Posts by Alex Petroski

Alex Petroski

Alex Petroski
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The Rinx in Port Jefferson is a favorite spot for Suffolk County hockey fans. Photo by Alex Petroski

Through 45 games, the New York Islanders sit in second place in the National Hockey League’s Metropolitan Division, one point ahead of the New York Rangers. On the ice, the first half of their inaugural season in Brooklyn has looked similar to the past few years for the Islanders — they look like a playoff team with the potential to make a run at the Stanley Cup in the spring.

Off the ice is a different view: With 25 of the team’s 41 regular season home games in the books, the Islanders are 28th out of the NHL’s 30 teams in average attendance, drawing a little more than 13,000 people per game, according to approximate figures reported by media outlets, including ESPN.

The league does not confirm official attendance statistics until the end of the season, but reported that the Islanders drew more than 15,000 fans on average during their final run at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, in the 2014-15 hockey season.

The trip from Smithtown to Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, where the Barclays Center is located, takes more than an hour and a half by car. Taking the train from the Long Island Rail Road’s Smithtown train station takes about two and a half hours, including a change at Jamaica Station.

In an unofficial TBR Newspapers poll of Islanders fans from Suffolk County, most people said they had not yet been to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to watch the Islanders this year.

Ron Carlson, a Port Jefferson resident and former village recreation director who had season tickets to the Coliseum for about 10 years, said the trip is too far by car and “I’m not a train person.” He has not been to a home game yet this season.

Erin Morano, of Shoreham, who regularly used to take her family of five to games in Nassau, hasn’t been to a game in 2015-16 either.

“It’s not as convenient,” Morano said. “Parking is tough and expensive in Brooklyn.”

Brittney Skarulis, of Smithtown, used to attend Islander games as a fan and an employee, but not so far in Brooklyn.

“It’s too far to go and the traffic is terrible,” Skarulis said. “I was a guest Islander ice girl when the games were in Nassau Coliseum. It was more convenient to go there than the Barclays Center.”

Some parents, like Ken Hayes from East Setauket, said it’s hard to bring their kids to game due to the long ride home — when games begin at 7 p.m. and end anywhere between 9:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., they would get home too late.

Hayes went to his first game in Brooklyn in January. He said that it was fairly quiet for a hockey game.

Distance, lack of convenience, lack of parking and expense of the travel were the most common explanations for those who haven’t yet taken in a game this season. No one had a bad thing to say about the brand of hockey that the Islanders are putting on the ice. With a young core of talented players, the team is trending in the right direction. But fans from Suffolk County are not there to witness it as frequently in 2015 and 2016.

From left, Chris Barba, Matt Irving, John Petroski and Alex Petroski have fun at the 2015 Cotton Bowl at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Photo from Alex Petroski

College football fans that live on Long Island might as well live on a deserted island. A Long Islander looking to take in a major college football game on a quick Saturday trip has two options, and sadly, at the moment, neither is very appealing.

Rutgers University plays their home games in Piscataway, New Jersey, which is about a two and a half hour drive from the Times Beacon Record office located in East Setauket. Under three hours isn’t a terrible ride to see a Big Ten football game, but the Scarlet Knights’ 4-12 conference record since joining leaves a bit to be desired for five hours round trip.

The University of Connecticut in East Hartford is about the same distance from East Setauket as Piscataway, New Jersey, with the help of the Port Jefferson ferry. Though a $75 each way ferry ticket is difficult to justify to see a team that saw a dramatic improvement to go 6-7 overall this year, up from their 3-9 and 2-10 2013 and 2014 records, respectively.

Rather than use up my time, energy and money to make one or more treks to Piscataway or East Hartford to see struggling teams, I went with my brothers and a couple of friends to games in the newly minted College Football Playoffs the last two seasons. On New Year’s Day 2015, a year ago, I was at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, to see Florida State University play the University of Oregon. On New Year’s Eve 2015, I attended the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, where the University of Alabama met Michigan State University. The games were moved from New Year’s Day to New Year’s Eve this season, so technically both games took place in 2015.

It may be premature to call a two-time occurrence a “yearly tradition,” but they have to start somewhere, and I think that is what my brothers, friends and I have created — a yearly New Year’s Eve/Day tradition.

As far as New Year’s Eve plans go, traveling to Texas to see a football game might seem comprehensive and overwhelming. But if you consider what goes into planning some of the “all-inclusive” catering hall-type events that are closer to home with a large group of people, the difference in legwork is negligible. When compared to bustling into Manhattan to see the ball drop in Times Square, I’d argue this is even simpler and easier.

I can’t recommend highly enough for college football fans living on Long Island to try and make it to one of the three playoff games next season. We flew out of LaGuardia Airport on the evening of December 30th, landing in Dallas and checking into our hotel in enough time to explore the area around the vast AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys and the largest video board known to man. We stumbled upon a local sports bar with infinite televisions and beer-on-tap choices to go along with some excellent Texas style barbecue. On game day, the 31st, we explored the stadium, which can’t remotely be captured in words, and attended the game.

College football fans have a reputation for being ravenous and boisterous, so imagine about 100,000 of them packed into some of the nicest venues in the country and worked into an absolute fever. The two games I’ve attended were experiences unlike any other, let alone sporting events.

Both years, we booked flights home for the day after the day after the game, leaving us a day to do some modest exploring in a new city. Dallas did not disappoint. We visited the site of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, which is now a museum. We stood and looked out the window down to the road from the perspective of Kennedy’s killer and saw the same view that he saw on that day. We drove the same path that Kennedy’s motorcade took. It was a breathtaking experience.

Believe it or not, costs for both trips were not as outrageous as you might think. Because the venues are so large, there are game tickets to be had, and if you’re willing to leave a little before the 31st, flights are more manageable as well.

Next year, we’ll be choosing between the Peach Bowl in Atlanta, Georgia, the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona and the National Championship game in Tampa Bay, Florida. Trust me, keep it in mind.

Northport-East Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Northport school district’s security greeters are on the verge of receiving health benefits — thanks in large part to the efforts of one of their own.

Diane Smith is in her seventh year as a greeter at Fifth Avenue Elementary School, and said she has never received health benefits, despite numerous pleas.

“Before this position was created, anyone could go to the office and often stroll right down to classrooms, creating a lot of interruptions,” Smith said in an interview after the meeting Thursday night. “We finally have some boundaries.”

Greeter’s duties include monitoring who is coming and going from school buildings, assisting in late arrivals and early releases and helping parents get forgotten items to the students, among other day-to-day tasks that may arise.

According to the district supervisor of security, the position of greeters was created about 10 years ago.

Over that time, the responsibilities of the job have changed, with greater emphasis placed on security in the aftermath of violent school-related incidents like the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.

“We [greeters] know the parents, grandparents and babysitters, as well as most of the personnel that visit our buildings,” Smith said in an email on Friday.

Smith said she has been working a second job to afford health care, while continuously searching for another job that would give her benefits, though she is hesitant to leave the Northport school district because she loves the job.

Smith said she has been expressing her desire for health care for the nine full-time greeters via letters and in person for years, to the school board and to district officials. She showed up on Thursday to take her campaign to the next level.

So far her efforts have been fruitless, but that could soon change.

“[The greeters are] going to get an opportunity for health insurance,” Superintendent Robert Banzer said during the meeting. “It just happened to be so ironic that she showed up today, because we just talked about it and kind of said, ‘Yes let’s go ahead and make it right and make sure they have an opportunity for health insurance.’”

Banzer attributed the delay in providing health insurance to the greeters to a switch from part-time to full-time designation.

Smith was skeptical when she left the meeting Thursday. She said it was more of the same rhetoric she’s been hearing since she began her battle.

However, as of Friday, she is approaching the situation with more optimism after receiving an email from Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Irene McLaughlin that established Jan. 19 as a meeting date for the greeters and members of the district to sit down and discuss health care options.

“I am very guardedly optimistic,” Smith said.

Drummer Jarrod Beyer plays at a Gnarly Karma rehearsal on Jan. 12. Photo by Alex Petroski

Rocking out is the name of the game for a Huntington-based band of driven twentysomethings who are preparing for their biggest show yet.

On Saturday, Jan. 23, they’ll be headlining The Bitter End, a Manhattan music venue that has hosted the likes of Stevie Wonder, Lady Gaga and Bob Dylan.

“It’s awesome,” Jarrod Beyer, the band Gnarly Karma’s drummer, said in an interview Tuesday. “We’re all ready for the task. This is what we’ve been working for, big shows in the city.”

Initially, Beyer said the Greenwich Village venue only offered the band a weeknight spot. However, just a few weeks later, the person in charge of The Bitter End’s booking called Beyer to tell him he had heard some of their music and felt that they were weekend quality, and would have the opportunity to headline a Saturday night show.

“It’s definitely a lot of excitement,” bassist Ryan McAdam said about the gig. “I always get a little nervous a couple of minutes before, just waiting to go on stage. We put a lot of work in, so we always feel pretty comfortable going into the shows. I’m pretty confident we’re going to bang out a great set.”

Bassist Ryan McAdam, lead singer Mike Renert and saxophonist Billy Hanley practice at a Gnarly Karma rehearsal on Jan. 12. Photo by Alex Petroski
Bassist Ryan McAdam, lead singer Mike Renert and saxophonist Billy Hanley practice at a Gnarly Karma rehearsal on Jan. 12. Photo by Alex Petroski

It turns out the Huntington community set the perfect stage for this band to come together.

Beyer, 25, graduated from John Glenn High School in Elwood in 2008, and first met Mike Renert, the band’s 29-year-old lead singer and guitarist, through a mutual friend about four years ago.

“When you play music with someone, you know in the first 30 seconds if it’s going to work, and that just happened,” Renert said about the first time he and Beyer got together to jam. “It was one of the first times in my life that I … was just like, ‘Hey, I have this song,’ and I started playing, and he played, and it was like, ‘Whoa, that’s the first song and that was exactly what I wanted to hear.’ And it just went from there.”

Renert and Beyer’s natural chemistry inspired them to expand. Beyer had been in another band as a teenager — he called 24-year-old McAdam, another John Glenn graduate from Huntington whom he had experience with.

“He came through, and he gelled with us perfectly,” Beyer said of McAdam.

The band was still missing a little something, so when Beyer heard that Billy Hanley, 25, a saxophone player who Beyer had played with in the John Glenn High School jazz band, was running a record studio in the area, suddenly there were four bandmates.

Gnarly Karma released their first studio album, “Classic Breeze,” via iTunes in September 2015. The group has a familiar but unique sound — they could be described as a distant cousin of The Dave Matthews Band, with a punk edge.

The guys credited their small-town upbringing as a vital ingredient in their success.

“It’s very small, so you know everybody, even if you don’t want to know everybody,” Beyer said. “So it’s kind of cool that, as we got more progressive into music, people who we haven’t talked to in a long time are coming to our shows and supporting us.”

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The Smithtown board of education meets on Tuesday night to discuss potential school closures. Photo by Alex Petroski

The Smithtown school district board of education is weighing its options for ways to cut costs, and thus far parents in the district have delivered a clear message: Do not close Branch Brook Elementary School.

In a housing report released in November 2015 by the school board with Superintendent James Grossane’s name on it, the recommended course of action was to close one of the district’s eight elementary schools, specifically Branch Brook.

The report estimated that closing an elementary school would save the district about $725,000 annually, though very little data was provided to back that up. Prior to the 2012 school year, an advisory housing committee was formed and recommended that Nesconset Elementary School be closed, based on substantial data accumulated about the district and the community. Residents accepted the closure.

This time around there is little evidence that any data was used to come to the conclusion that Branch Brook deserves to be closed, according to Peter Troiano, who is a member of the Save Branch Brook group.

The organization is comprised of about three dozen parents, Troiano said in a phone interview last week, but a look at the group’s Facebook page or their petition showed support in the hundreds.

“I’m not a PTA dad, I’m not involved in the schools,” Troiano said. “When I saw this proposal I knew right away looking at it that it doesn’t make sense.” Troiano said that he’s never a fan of closing schools, though he understood the necessity to close Nesconset a few years ago based on the data and research provided by the district.

The overwhelming sentiment from the Save Branch Brook parents at the meetings has been to ask for another housing committee to be assembled, and the same due diligence done as was done prior to 2012’s closure. A housing committee was assembled in 2014 to assess the feasibility of closing another elementary school, but no specific one was chosen, Annemarie Vinas, a member of that housing committee said at Tuesday night’s board meeting. Vinas contended that none of their findings would lead them to suggest Branch Brook be closed, but that is what the board recommended anyway.

“No one wants to close a school,” Grossane said in an interview following Tuesday’s meeting. “We need to be fiscally responsible. The board asked me to look at the results [of the housing committee’s findings]. These were my suggestions. The board is listening to the community. It’s their decision. I’m not sure where they’re going to go.”

Grossane declined to get any more specific than that prior to the Jan. 19 public work session for the school board, which will be their first chance to address the specific questions and concerns that the community has presented since November.

Since that November 2015 school board meeting that made it evident closing Branch Brook was on the table for the board, very little else has emerged as a topic of conversation at multiple school board meetings, workshops and hearings.

The Save Branch Brook parents came armed not only with matching blue T-shirts sporting the group name, but also with substantial statistical data.

Parents involved in the Save Branch Brook movement who wish to remain anonymous who are also analysts put together their own presentation for the board ahead of the December 2015 meeting. Entitled “Quantitative Analysis of Smithtown Elementary School Information,” the report concluded that Branch Brook was the elementary school that made the least sense of the eight to close based on the following factors: projected enrollment decrease over the next 10 years; building occupancy; square foot per student; students per usable classroom; and utility cost.

Another area of contention is the New York Avenue district office building. The housing committee that condemned Nesconset Elementary also suggested that this building be sold, and another space in a school in the district be used for the school board. To date that has not happened, though Grossane said at Tuesday night’s meeting that the board is working with the community on a way to repurpose the building and move to save costs.

The debate seems to be just getting started, though more will be clear following the work session on Jan. 19.

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Kings Park Central School District Superintendent Timothy Eagen says the district has already responded to recommendations made by the state comptroller’s office. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Changes have been made to the way that Kings Park Central School District officials track and record fuel usage for district vehicles, following an audit by the Office of the State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

The comptroller’s report recommended that written policies and procedures be adopted to ensure that fuel inventory is measured and records maintained, especially when fuel is delivered or pumped. The district has approximately 62 vehicles, according to the report.

“New formal fuel accountability procedures were adopted and went into effect on Dec. 14, 2015,” Eagen’s response said. “The new formal fuel accountability procedures require that tank fuel levels be measured — morning and afternoon — and reconciled both daily and every 10 days. The procedures also require that any significant reconciliation issues be submitted in writing to the superintendent of schools.”

The audit was conducted from July 1, 2014 through July 31, 2015, but the results were given to the district back in December. 

“The district has embraced all of OSC’s recommendations, and as of today, all of these recommendations have been fully implemented,” said Timothy Eagen, Kings Park Central School District superintendent.

Eagen said in his statement that he was happy to report that fuel accountability was the sole focus of the audit, and not issues with the district’s budget overall. “This speaks to the high level of internal controls and budgeting procedures that are typical of the Kings Park CSD,” Eagen said.

Issues with the district’s tracking of fuel stemmed from sloppy record keeping, not a loss of fuel, which would indicate potential theft or environmentally dangerous leakage, Eagen said. 

“On both the diesel and gasoline forms, Department personnel entered the same beginning and ending inventory amount on multiple lines of the forms or entered the same beginning and ending inventory amount even when fuel use was recorded that day,” the report said. These forms were provided during the audit period, in lieu of the hand written notes that were the only real source of record keeping before the audit.

“District officials are responsible for establishing procedures to provide assurance that vehicle fuel is accurately accounted for and used for appropriate District purposes,” DiNapoli’s report said.

“To determine day-to-day use for each fuel pump, department personnel subtract the previous day’s pump reading from the current day’s reading and note the gallons pumped. No reconciliation was performed to determine if the gallons pumped agreed with the change in stick reading from one day to the next.”

Prior to the audit period, the fuel pumps and tanks at the district’s bus garage were monitored by security personnel 24 hours per day along with video surveillance, though no official written policies or procedures were in place to assist employees in accurate tracking of the fuel inventory. The comptroller also recommended that all employees who use fuel document the gallons pumped, vehicle and type of fuel.

Montesano crucial to success of Abrams after it was shut down for gun violence

Rae Montesano has served as principal at the STEM school since 2014. Photo from Jim Hoops

Huntington Superintendent Jim Polansky is searching for a new leader for the Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School following the news that Principal Rae Montesano will retire at the end of the school year.

“Rae has been instrumental in helping me to put this school in a place where it has found tremendous success, and great things have happened for children since she took over as principal,” Polansky said in an interview following Monday night’s school board meeting. “She will be missed based on all of the work and effort that she has put forth.”

Montesano has held the position since July 2014, though she served as the acting principal beginning in January of that year. She was previously the district’s chairperson of science and instructional technology for grades seven through 12.

“I’m just very appreciative of the confidence that the board had in me to make me the principal and of the wonderful opportunities here at Huntington,” Montesano said.

The Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School opened in September 2013, three years after the building, then called the Jack Abrams Intermediate School, closed in July 2010 due to recurring gun violence in the area. Between that spike in gun violence and when the school reopened with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math, police reported they had successfully reduced crime around the school.

“On a personal level if it wasn’t for Rae, I don’t know if we could have gotten this off the ground,” Polansky said during Monday’s meeting. “I know I couldn’t have done it myself. Rae has been right there with everybody every step of the way.”

Montesano has a degree in psychology from Cornell University and a master of science in education from Hofstra University, according to a press release from the district. She worked at various districts before landing in Huntington, including Harborfields Central School District.

I’m going to miss the children,” Montesano said in an interview Monday night. “I’m certainly going to miss my colleagues and the parents. Everyone’s been very supportive of me in the district.”

Stock photo

Comsewogue kids are going to get another view of their education system.

“Beyond Measure,” a documentary by director Vicki Abeles about “America’s troubled education system,” will be screened on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium, in an event hosted by TASK, Comsewogue High School’s student government. The film is a follow-up to Abeles’ 2010 documentary “Race to Nowhere,” which provided a close-up look at the pressures placed on young students in America.

“In Beyond Measure, we find a revolution brewing in public schools across the country,” according to a description on the film’s official website. “From rural Kentucky to New York City, schools that are breaking away from an outmoded, test-driven education are shaping a new vision for our classrooms.”

Comsewogue school district and its superintendent, Joe Rella, have been at the forefront of the battle against the Common Core and standardized testing, standing out as one of the strongest voices on Long Island and in New York State. In addition to appearing at local protests, the district even went as far last year as considering a proposal to refuse to administer state exams unless the state delivered more education aid and reduced the weight of student test scores on teacher and administration evaluations.

The description of “Beyond Measure” on the documentary’s website echoes some sentiments expressed by educators and parents who oppose the Common Core and state testing.

“We’re told that in order to fix what’s broken, we need to narrow our curricula, standardize our classrooms, and find new ways to measure students and teachers,” it says. “But what if these ‘fixes’ are making our schools worse? In ‘Beyond Measure,’ we set out to challenge the assumptions of our current education story.”

Screenings of the film have taken place across the United States over the past year, with more scheduled to take place in the coming weeks.

“I am thrilled that our high school students are actively playing a role in exploring education policy, and look forward to their insight,” school board member Ali Gordon said in an email. “I believe that the issue of standardized testing is central to the debate about the direction of public education all over the nation, not just here. Education policies created at the federal and state level focus heavily on data collected from standardized testing, which has resulted in a huge shift away from student-centered learning.”

Tickets to attend the screening of the film at Comsewogue High School are $10 and are available online or at the door prior to the event.

For more information about the film, visit www.beyondmeasurefilm.com.

Heather Buggee and a young boy paint a mural. Photo from Buggee

The way someone handles the loss of a loved one can speak volumes about their perseverance and character. Heather Buggee has used her personal loss as inspiration to brighten the lives of others.

Splashes of Hope, the nonprofit organization she established in 1996, provides murals for medical and social service facilities to create welcoming environments that facilitate healing. For her efforts to uplift her neighbors, Heather Buggee is a Times Beacon Record Newspapers Person of the Year.

Buggee said in a phone interview that the loss of her friend Will Harvey in 1989 was what drove her to start painting scenes on the ceiling tiles of Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Westchester County — where she also created her first mural. Harvey was an artist too, and the projects she took up following his death served as therapy for Buggee.

Donna Spolar and Darlene Rastelli from the Carol Baldwin Breast Care Center of Stony Brook and Splashes of Hope artist Sarah Baecher stand in front of a mural. Photo from Heather Buggee
Donna Spolar and Darlene Rastelli from the Carol Baldwin Breast Care Center of Stony Brook and Splashes of Hope artist Sarah Baecher stand in front of a mural. Photo from Heather Buggee

“While staying with her friend, she realized how sterile and uninspiring the environment was and would talk about how they would brighten up the space and let artwork become a part of the healing process,” Phil Rugile, the Splashes of Hope board president and director of LaunchPad Huntington, said.

According to Buggee, what started out as a few volunteer projects on the weekends with friends turned into a nonprofit organization with the mission of turning hospital environments from “clinical to colorful.”

“After her friend died, she dedicated herself to creating artwork for hospitals, mostly children’s and then veterans as well, working with staff to understand the therapeutic nature of art in ERs and critical care units,” Rugile said. “That dedication to the mission has resulted in her creating inspirational environments both locally and internationally. Heather has built a small and effective organization that achieves maximum results for minimal personal gain.”

Jean Brand, the program director for the Adult Day Health Care program at the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook, sent a thank you note to Buggee after the hospital received an installation in November.

Splashes of Hope staff members pose. Photo from Heather Buggee
Splashes of Hope staff members pose. Photo from Heather Buggee

“The positive reaction of our veterans and staff to the new murals is overwhelming,” the note sent to Buggee said. “The colorful and lively iconic scenes of Long Island landmarks bring the program room to life, evoking warm memories for our veterans. The fireworks mural evokes patriotic pride, and of course all the American flags skillfully placed on each mural remind us of the precious freedom our veterans fought to protect.”

Buggee said reactions like those from the patients at the Long Island State Veterans Home are what she most looks forward to.

“My favorite part of the ‘splash’ journey, besides the creative process, is hearing the results of each splash and the purpose being served by each piece,” Buggee said.

In November, Splashes of Hope received the Humanitarian Award from the Adults and Children with Learning and Developmental Disabilities Inc. for “continuing to bring smiles to the faces of patients, students, staff and visitors at medical and social service facilities by creating art that transforms spaces, enriches environments and facilitates healing,” according to a press release from the ACLD.

Buggee graduated from the Connecticut Institute of Art in 1995 and then studied fresco paintings and interior design at Studio Art Centers International in Florence, Italy. She now lives in Huntington with her husband, Jimmy, her daughter, Sarah, and her three dogs named Roxy, Eve and Oliver. She refers to Huntington as “the greatest town in the whole wide world.”

But her efforts to bring smiles to her neighbors’ faces reach way beyond town lines.

To donate to Splashes of Hope or to get involved, visit www.splashesofhope.org.

Roger Kramer stands on his deck overlooking Conscience Bay with one of his sculptures, a great blue heron.

Directions to the small waterfront cottage pressed up against Conscience Bay in East Setauket included the phrase “follow the dirt road that’s covered by leaves.” Down a narrow, wooded path and around a hard left that is the last option prior to tires hitting water, you’ll find a small one-bedroom cottage with a deck overlooking the water. Out of his front window, the artist sees a sight suitable for framing each and every day. Inspiration is not hard to find in a setting like this.

Snowy owl by Roger Kramer
Snowy owl by Roger Kramer

Roger Kramer is a 74-year-old artist who lives alone in that one-bedroom cottage. He is separated and his two children, Matthew and Emily, are grown. He has two grandchildren, with a third on the way; his son and daughter live in New York City and California, respectively. Kramer has a psychology practice that he attends to a few times a week. Occasionally, he is accompanied by his son’s dog Jagger, an exceedingly friendly 95-pound ten-year-old golden retriever who needs sporadic breaks from city life. Together Kramer and Jagger spend much of their free time exploring the woods that engulf the cottage and flank the bay, searching for some of that inspiration that lies around every corner in Kramer’s world.

Kramer is a kind man with a warm, welcoming disposition. He stands about five feet, ten inches tall and has long gray hair. He was born in Brooklyn. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Brooklyn College and then went on to a psychology master’s program at Hofstra University. At 27 years old he got married and took off on a “whirlwind tour” of Europe on a motorcycle (which he had shipped overseas) with his new wife. When they returned, the couple settled in Boulder, Colorado. Stops in California and Woodstock, New York, lead him back to Long Island in 1971, where he earned a Ph.D. at Stony Brook University. After that, Kramer took a job as a psychologist in Vermont, which he did for about seven years. Eventually he made his way back to Long Island, this time to the shores of Conscience Bay.

Jagger the dog sits with Roger Kramer's artwork.
Jagger the dog sits with Roger Kramer’s artwork.

Kramer’s combination of artistic talent and passion for environmental preservation and appreciation serve as a perfect blend for his current life.

“I do ‘found’ wood work,” Kramer said. “I like taking a piece of wood that’s just dirty and foul and [you] can hardly see what it is but it turns out to be 200-year-old black walnut that grew around here.”

Specifically, Kramer turns the wood that he finds on the land surrounding his home into stunningly lifelike sculptures of birds (fowl wood), most of which he’s spotted not far from the places that he finds the wood. Kramer contests that they’re not meant to be too lifelike but rather interpretations of how he sees the shore birds that grace his fit-for-framing view. However, a few minutes in his presence make it obvious who his harshest critic is.

After that hard left turn is made and Kramer’s cottage and deck are finally, mercifully in sight through some forest that a Long Islander would classify as “fairly thick,” though that would probably be mocked by someone from another part of the country. For Long Island though, this is as remote as it gets. Along the right side of the “driveway,” which is paved similarly to that path leading to the house, with dirt and leaves, there’s a covered BMW motorcycle and a cherry red Saab crossover. Either one is suitable for a day of exploration.

Bald eagle by Roger Kramer
Bald eagle by Roger Kramer

Kramer accumulates wood in his travels, usually without a specific idea in mind of how he plans to use it. His favorite tool to shape the wood into wings or heads or feathers is a small handheld grinder. “I’m excited when I first see something, even if I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do with it and then the excitement comes when I’m in the process and something is emerging. It comes alive. It talks to me.”

After one meeting, it might be crass to identify Kramer as eccentric. Creativity oozes from him. “Right now I liken myself to some kind of wildlife artist,” Kramer said with a chuckle. It wasn’t clear if Kramer meant simply that the subject of his art is usually wildlife or if he as an artist is now part of what is classified as wildlife. Either way, the description suits him.

His living room is furnished with chairs and tables that he crafted out of wood, just like his birds. On his refrigerator hangs an Andy Warhol quote: “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”

When walking up the three or four stairs that lead to Kramer’s deck, the majestic and nearly to scale size birds finally come into view, and this is about the same time that just over the deck’s railing and some foliage that the bay comes into view. By the time one’s foot hits the top step, what follows is breathtaking.

Great blue heron by Roger Kramer
Great blue heron by Roger Kramer

In the early afternoon the sun was just peeking around the corner of Kramer’s house, giving the water a little shimmer that served as a perfect backdrop to view the birds. They are assembled into the corner when not being staged by the railing for jaw-dropping, beautiful photo opportunities. On this day, the blue heron has the main stage. This particular sculpture is crafted in such a way that despite being made of wood, flight looks to be imminent. There’s also a bald eagle, a snowy owl, and among about a dozen others, my personal favorite, an osprey.

Kramer sends picture messages to his kids for honest and constructive criticism. “I’ll send pictures to both kids and they’ll say either ‘oh, good,’ or ‘hmm maybe keep your day job.’” Kramer’s intention is to start getting more recognition for his work.

More words could be used to describe Kramer and his magnificent work, but they don’t do him or his beautiful birds any justice. Not many people have seen his work yet. A neighbor borrowed his bald eagle for a few weeks, just because he couldn’t keep his eyes off of it. I am not an art critic, nor do I have an artistic bone in my body, but  I can say with confidence that Kramer’s birds will be seen  and appreciated by far more than a few dozen eyes in the very near future.

To contact Roger Kramer and learn more about his projects, email him at rogerpsyqi@gmail.com.