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TBR Staff

TBR Staff
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TBR News Media covers everything happening on the North Shore of Suffolk County from Cold Spring Harbor to Wading River.

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Tom Manuel, venue founder, shares firsthand account with TBR News Media

A teenager in Haiti learns how to play trombone from the Jazz Loft’s Tom Manuel. Photo by Leah Claire Borrie

By Tom Manuel

The Jazz Loft ambassadors’ annual mission to Haiti to teach children how to play instruments hit a blue note as the capital, Port-au-Prince, erupted with riots.

Elvoi, a music teacher that we had hired, shared words of wisdom with us after our trip. “Everything is OK thanks to God,” he said. “But in Haiti we live day by day, we live one day at a time.”

We had landed bright and early on a Wednesday morning, a six-person team consisting of music educators, professional musicians and an independent filmmaker from California. This was another regular trip under the banner of The Jazz Loft to continue building the music program in a school perched high atop a mountain that is making a difference in children’s lives one day at a time.

One part of The Jazz Loft’s trifecta mission is education, and we felt that our community outreach should stretch further than how we typically define community. Our definition includes thinking globally, and a partnership with True Love Missions, of Stony Brook, and their successful school in Haiti was a perfect match. Thanks to the philanthropic giving of Robert Lourie and Ivana Stolnik in addition to the generous giving which was the result of an annual fundraising concert, the Jazz Loft ambassadors embarked on their trip. Barrels of school supplies, instruments, clothing and food were shipped down in advance and the team packed as much as they could bring as well.

Tom Manuel. Photo by Leah Claire Borrie

Our days unfolded one after the next with early morning rises, hikes up and down the mountain to the school, and sometimes rides on motorbikes which rival any amusement park ride known to man. Relationships were begun or made stronger, and the universal language of music transcended that of English and native Creole. Teaching trombone was interrupted by giving out worm pills and conversations with the school principal and teachers regarding school-book needs were put on welcomed pause to feed quite hungry people. The confines of an article cannot contain nor explain the experience of a trip like this. The art of loving and being so genuinely loved in return can only be experienced by doing it.

Then 48 hours before our departure, a protest march against the Haitian government took place in Port-au-Prince. A day before our scheduled exit protests had turned to riots, and from the school high atop the mountain overlooking the city, we could see two fires that signaled something was wrong. We awoke early Monday morning, Nov. 19, ready for departure but as we assembled something was missing. The sound of Haiti had gone mute. There is an unmistakable sound of thousands of people, motorbikes, trucks and animals all joining chorus in organized chaos as the sun rises, and it had gone silent. In its stead, we heard a natural silence penetrated by the sound of vintage radios projecting singular voices speaking of riots throughout the night that had heightened. The city had been shut down. Schools and all businesses were closed. Our van was not coming, and all vehicles were banned from the roads. A call to the U.S. Embassy in Haiti signaled greater worry as it was closed.

Fearing escalation, being stuck beyond our planned time and worry over our general safety, we explored available options and were getting nowhere fast. Hours passed, our window of opportunity was quickly fading, and our final and only choices were to stay, or bribe the police to give us an armed escort to the airport. As if defying reality — because these things only happen in movies, right? — we were quickly packing ourselves into a civilian vehicle and a police truck. I wound up being the lone person in the police vehicle as there was no more room in the other vehicle. As we drove the final distance to the main drag, I thought to myself, “Am I blowing this out of proportion? Is this really necessary?”

As we hit the bottom of the street, there was an abrupt stop, and machine guns were locked and loaded, and handguns quickly appeared. We turned right, and I was amazed to see nothing but an empty street. Our speed was where the vehicle maxed out, and the sound of walkie-talkies, phones and borderline yelling filled the vehicle. The trip to the airport takes a solid hour and a half typically on a good day, and the main drag is marked by thousands of people trying to sell their wares to buyers that do not exist. Our trip that day lasted roughly 15 minutes.

Piles of debris and tires on fire occasionally blocked the road which we would veer around. Burned out vehicles and damaged abandoned police vehicles marked the journey. At one point we passed a black armored vehicle that moved down the street like a dinosaur.

A young student takes a turn with the trombone. Photo from Leah Claire Borrie

Having made this trip many times, I noticed familiar landmarks. We were getting closer and closer to the airport. The cop to my right was clicking a clave rhythm on the barrel of his gun. I couldn’t help but wonder if he was nervous or if this habit was normal. Ahead, a human-made roadblock of boulders and debris appeared causing the driver to slam on the brakes, fly into reverse and head right, the only other option available, only to be met by another roadblock.

Two police officers got out and started moving the boulders. A deafening sound, unlike any other, crescendoed and two masses of people began to converge from behind from both sides of our vehicles. It’s apparent that fear set in as the cops jumped back into the car, and we rammed whatever was left of the roadblock that couldn’t be moved.

Distance was quickly gained and this all seemed to end in an instant as we arrived at the airport and made our entrance almost seemingly under normal circumstances. Our plane took off an hour early, and within a few short hours we were home. It’s a bizarre reality, to say the least, to go from such contrasting environments in such a short period. The next days in Haiti saw increasing violence. Innocent people died. The New York Times published an article Nov. 23, but little of the drama in Haiti made it to our mainstream news.

In Haiti they live day by day. They live one day at a time. When things settle down, which they will, I will return to Haiti. I will continue to love, because in the end, even if I could move those Haitian mountains, even if somehow I could magically fix their broken and corrupt government, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. Love doesn’t rejoice about injustice but rather it rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, it never loses faith, it’s always hopeful, and it endures through every circumstance. Love makes all the difference and there are many children in a little school atop a mountain in Haiti that I love very much, and they love me. And that my friend is always worth the journey.

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President Bill Clinton visits George H.W. Bush last year

We join the nation in mourning the passing of former President George H.W. Bush (R), the 41st president of the United States who died Nov. 30 at the age of 94.

Like all who serve in political office, Bush had his adversaries, but in the end we hope he’ll be remembered for the request he made for a kinder, gentler nation when accepting his party’s nomination for president, especially in these divisive times.

Bush was well prepared when he first took over as president Jan. 20, 1989. The World War II combat hero’s political résumé included two terms as a U.S. congressman, ambassador to the United Nations and chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in China. He also served as CIA head and is credited with turning around low morale at the agency. After he lost the 1980 Republican primary to Ronald Reagan, he was appointed by the future president to be his running mate for two terms as vice president.

While some may remember Bush’s only presidential term as ending in a recession and others may criticize how he didn’t do enough to fund HIV/AIDS education programs and prevention, there are those who applaud his approach toward foreign policy while in office. Many will remember him as a strong leader who helped oversee a smooth transition after the fall of the Soviet Union and for being the commander in chief who orchestrated quick success in the Persian Gulf War. On the home front, he was responsible for the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Clean Air Act Amendments, both in 1990.

What we find most impressive about Bush’s achievements is after his term as president he took to heart in making the nation a better country by helping others.

He is most known for his charitable work with fellow former President Bill Clinton (D), with whom he teamed up in January 2005, after his son President George W. Bush (R) asked the two to help figure out how to administer aid to the coast of Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand after a devastating tsunami. Later in 2005, the pair joined forces again and set up a joint nonprofit, raising millions for victims of Hurricane Katrina that had struck New Orleans.

The philanthropic partnership led to a friendship between the two former political opponents and shows how two people from different political parties can get along and even be friends. The two served as a prime example of what can be done when people are willing to reach across the political divide to work together for a common cause.

And when it came to achieving a kinder and gentler nation, Bush knew that goal started in his own home with the love he had for his wife of 73 years, Barbara, who died in April.

We hope Bush 41 is remembered for his quest for kindness, gentleness and lack of divisiveness, attributes that are most needed now.

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This week, the nonprofit organization ERASE Racism, of Syosset, and the Stony Brook Center for the Study of Inequalities, Social Justice, and Policy will hold the first of a series of five forums meant to start a public dialogue about structural and institutional racism on Long Island.

We applaud these two entities for coming together to advance an obviously vitally important discussion. Professor Christopher Sellers, the director of the SBU center, and Elaine Gross, president of ERASE Racism, each said separately in interviews the goal in hosting the first event and the subsequent forums is to begin a regionwide discussion about barriers certain groups face in their daily lives, not in some far-off time or place, but here and now close to home.

They each also referenced the misnomer that race-related issues are a thing of the past in this country, and that the Civil Rights movement or election of our first African-American president of the United States somehow delivered us to an end point in creating a just and fair place for all to live and prosper.

Gross stressed that the point behind hosting the forums and the desired byproduct is not a finger-pointing or shaming session intended to label people as racists, but rather it’s an educational opportunity meant to present attendees, and hopefully by extension the larger community, with a look at life through the lens of those who are part of racial minority groups.

According to ERASE Racism, today three out of every four black students and two out of every three Hispanic students attend school districts where racial minority groups make up more than half of the population, a phenomenon the nonprofit likens to modern-day segregation. Both figures represent a more-than 50 percent increase compared to 2004, meaning Long Island’s schools are becoming more racially segregated as time goes on.

“It is embedded — it doesn’t require that all of the players be racist people, or bad people, it only requires that people go along with the business as usual,” Gross said of structural racism.

On top of that, according to a report released by the FBI Nov. 13, hate crimes increased by 17 percent in 2017 compared to the prior year, a jump exponentially higher than any of the previous two years, a trend all Long Islanders and Americans should be inspired to stop and consider when reading.

We are glad to hear such an important discussion is not only taking place but being spearheaded in part by our hometown university. We hope that those who can make a point to attend, and those who can’t, do their due diligence to find out what it is all about.

Offshore oil and gas drilling has devastating effects on marine life. Stock photo

By Nancy Marr

On Jan. 4 of this year, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that the federal government is developing a five-year plan to lease ocean lands in federal offshore areas all along our shorelines, including two leases on the North Atlantic region of the Outer Continental Shelf to companies that would drill for gas and oil. (Each state along the Atlantic coast owns the waters 3 nautical miles from the shore at mean low tide; they have jurisdiction to decide whether or not to lease their territory for oil and gas.)

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has been considering the many possible effects of offshore drilling compared with the estimated potential of the gas and oil drilling. Research by BOEM will consider a wide range of issues: physical considerations; biological considerations; social, economic and cultural considerations; and alternatives and mitigation measures. BOEM estimates that, at current national consumption rates, the support of undiscovered economically recoverable offshore oil and gas in the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf Coast of Florida would only meet domestic oil demand for two years and gas demand for just over one year. 

Opposition has been growing 

Both Republican and Democratic governors in every state where offshore drilling doesn’t already exist (except Maine) have expressed opposition to opening their coastlines to the oil and gas industry. In case efforts to exempt their states are unsuccessful, lawmakers in California, New York and New Jersey are pushing legislation that would make new offshore drilling in federal waters as difficult as possible.

Resistance to the plan has been expressed by at least 130 organizations along the Eastern Seaboard, including groups that support conservation, wildlife, clean water and political action.

The risk of oil spills, which could destroy the environment for a wide area, as it has in the Gulf, is a major cause of opposition. 

Seismic air guns that fire intense blasts of compressed air every 10 to 12 seconds 24 hours a day for months on end will disrupt and displace marine life, including whales, which rely on sound to find food and mates, sea turtles and many fish and shellfish species, including those of commercial importance. 

Drilling and processing infrastructure along the shoreline and in nearby areas will limit tourist and recreational activities.

• Tourism, with fishing and other industries that depend on clean, oil-free water and beaches, supports nearly 320,000 jobs, which could be lost, with $5.6 billion from the tourism economy of Long Island.

The fossil fuel industries create five times fewer jobs than are created by the clean energy sector.

This proposal will slow our nation’s progress toward solving the climate change problem. The Fourth National Climate Assessment, mandated by Congress and released in November 2018, concluded that coastal communities and the ecosystems that support them are increasingly threatened by the impacts of climate change.

What can be done

Although dissent was expressed at many public hearings, it is likely that the Department of the Interior intends to carry out its offshore drilling plan. The League of Women Voters urges towns and villages that will be affected by drilling to pass memorializing resolutions to submit to the BOEM and its local elected officials. Riverhead, Southold, Shelter Island and Southampton towns in Suffolk County have already done so. (See a sample resolution at http://www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org/TakeAction.html.)

Representative Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) of the 1st Congressional District has opposed the drilling plan at local meetings. Individuals should write, call or email him (30 Oak Street, Patchogue, NY 11772; 631-289-1097; www.zeldin.house.gov/contact) to express their concerns about the need to protect our local economies and the environment.

Write to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), U.S. senators Chuck Schumer (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D) and your New York State senators and assemblypersons (visit http://www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org/DirectoryOfPublicOfficials.html for full contact details).

A revised plan, with a new period of public comment, may be released this month. If implemented, it will affect all of us. We can protest, as individuals. We should each also contact our town and village governments to ask them to adopt memorializing resolutions in opposition to the drilling in order to protect our oceans, our fishing industry, our tourism and our quality of life. Specific requests for action by many constituents are always more effective with elected officials … Act now!

Nancy Marr is first vice president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, call 631-862-6860.

By Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky

Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky. Photo by Donna Newman

I like Christmas. There, I said it. This may be surprising for some people to hear from a rabbi, and it may be misinterpreted by others. But it’s true. I like the feeling of this time of year. I enjoy the songs, the lights, watching Charlie Brown and the Grinch and especially the sense of good will that exists.

I also like Hanukkah. I enjoy the gathering of family and friends, eating latkes (fried potato pancakes), lighting the Hanukkah menorah (9-branched candelabrum), playing dreidel (a spinning top game) and feeling a sense of warmth and light in the coldest, darkest time of the year.

But my enjoyment of both holidays does not mean that I see them in the same way. It does not mean that I view Hanukkah as the Jewish Christmas. While I can enjoy aspects of both holidays, I am keenly aware of the need for both Christians and Jews to maintain a distinction between the two holidays, while also embracing a healthy respect for and appreciation of the practices of the other’s religion. And this begins, I am convinced, with a full understanding of what both holidays celebrate.

It is not for me to expound on the true meaning of Christmas. My Christian colleagues are much more equipped to do so. But I do know that the true religious significance of Christmas has little to do with trees and presents, songs and holiday foods. While these are lovely ways to enhance the enjoyment of a holiday, they should not replace the spiritual lessons taught.

By the same token, Hanukkah, which I am qualified to write about, is not about spinning tops, fried foods and gift giving, though these are all fun customs. It is about the story of a small group of Jews, the Maccabees, well over 2,000 years ago, winning the right to practice their religion freely, symbolized by the rededication of the holy Temple (“Hanukkah” means “dedication”). This episode has nothing to do with the true meaning of Christmas, and only happens to fall at the same season because it was common to hold festivals of light at this time of the year. Hanukkah is a stirring story of freedom, but it nonetheless remains a minor festival in the Jewish calendar. Its elevation to a level of such prominence is due solely to the fact that it is marketed to compete with Christmas from a commercial standpoint. And this speaks to a problem in our society in general, as well as presenting a challenge for Christians, Jews and all people of faith alike.

I address this issue to a general audience, rather than specifically to my congregation, because I believe that it is important for all people of faith, whatever their religion or heritage, to reclaim the true meaning of their holy days. Rather than falsely seeking to unite ourselves through the idol of materialism, focusing on the trappings of the various holidays, let us instead form a true bond with one another by each celebrating our respective holy days and recognizing their real significance. By doing so, we strengthen our own religious conviction and are then able to enjoy the beauty and teachings of other faiths without feeling that our own faith is undermined.

I, for one, am opposed to calling a Christmas tree a holiday tree. I am opposed to Christians feeling pressured to water down their religious beliefs because others may feel offended. But I am also opposed to anyone who mistakes proud displays of faith with the right to impose such faith on others. Celebrating Christmas, or any holy day, should be encouraged, as long as it is done with the understanding that we all choose to practice, or not practice, our faith in different ways.

Ironically, for me, Christmas helps reinforce the true message of Hanukkah, just as the true message of Hanukkah, I believe, strengthens the celebration of Christmas. We are so fortunate in our community and country to have the freedom to worship and celebrate freely. May we appreciate this freedom by expressing ourselves appropriately, while also embracing those of other faiths who choose to do the same, but in a different way. By so doing, we will truly find warmth and light at this season.

Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky is a rabbi at Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook.

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A photo of a partly destroyed French church was taken by Lt. Marco C. Smith Jr. in 1918. Photo from the Smith family

By Beverly C. Tyler

On Nov. 15, 1918, Lt. Marco Carmelich Smith Jr. wrote to his grandmother Eliza Tyler from France: “To say the least, one can live somewhat in peace, now that the Armistice is signed. Beforehand we had had rumors of one but as old Lame Rumor is always present we passed it off as such until the official notice came. We all had our watches out at 11 a.m. on [Nov.] 11th and it was very noticeable that cannon that had been thundering away all morning ceased firing exactly on the hour. So now, as I say, we can live in peace. No more gas masks or helmets, and at night we can have all the light we want.”

A 1918 photo of Marco C. Smith in uniform. Photo from the Smith family

Smith was born Oct. 2, 1886, at his father’s family home, called Fairholme, which was built circa 1824 and expanded circa 1860, in what is now the Village of Old Field. His great-great-grandfather, Walter Smith, a descendant of one of Setauket’s original settlers, Arthur Smith, was the Old Field Point Lighthouse keeper from 1827 to 1830. Marco Smith’s father, the first Marco C. Smith married Mary Amelia Tyler, daughter of Charles and Eliza Tyler, this writer’s great-grandfather and great-grandmother.

Marco Smith Jr. enlisted in the U.S. Army July 8, 1918, and was commissioned as 1st Lt. of Engineers, Company F, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Engineers. He was first assigned to Fort Benjamin Harrison, near Indianapolis, Indiana, and then transferred to Camp Merritt in Bergen County, New Jersey, where troops boarded ships on their way to the war in Europe.

Smith was on leave briefly July 28, when he married in Mamaroneck, Marjorie Aldrich, daughter of Capt. Clarence Aldrich and Irene Hand of East Setauket. According to a newspaper clipping, “Military orders hastened the ceremony, and the groom is now supposed to be on his way to France.”

Smith sailed for France July 31. He was assigned to the 1st Army Aug. 28, as an engineer on light railway construction for the Meuse-Argonne Offensive until the end of the war Nov. 11. He spent most of his time in the area around the village of Montigny-sur-Meuse and continued to be stationed there until March 3, 1919.

On Dec. 16, 1918, Smith wrote: “My dear Grandma, Here it is past the middle of the month and I haven’t started my usual monthly letter to you so here goes for this evening.”

Smith noted that the mail was arriving more regularly since the Armistice and that he had just received a letter from his grandmother written Oct. 18 as well as one written by his mother and dad Nov. 27. He continued the letter: “Sometimes I marvel that I am not sick as we sure are subjected to some pretty severe conditions at times. One night I just slept on the wet ground in a pouring rain and felt fine the next day. … We are very historically located too being near to Dun [Dun-sur-Meuse], Stenay and Sedan. This was sure some hard earned ground as everywhere are evidences of many battles. I believe the part where we were tho’ is about as bad as any. We sure thought so at the time. … Lord, when you see some of the shells old ‘Fritz’ uses to amuse us with, it’s no wonder we were “alarmed” at times. But after all, most of my feelings go to the poor French people who are slowly returning to their destroyed homes. … How they are going to make a go of it this winter is beyond me. … and the tales they tell of the hardships endured while prisoners. They are barely believable. I cannot write of them; they are too sad. Loads & loads & loads of love for yourself and everyone, Your loving grandson Marco — Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.”

Marco C. Smith and his wife Marjorie in an undated photo. Photo from the Smith family

In his Jan. 22, 1919, letter, Smith writes: “Just now we are trying to arrange for some pleasure trips for the men. They have been my faithful workers ever since the drive began on Sept. 26th. And it has been rather tiresome and tedious to them to have seen nothing but shell torn areas since that date. The trip we are planning for them is to Sedan which is only about 25 miles from here.”

The three villages mentioned by Smith — Dun-sur-Meuse, Stenay and Sedan — are between 29 and 40 kilometers northeast of Verdun, site of the longest lasting battle of World War I. During 1916, there were more than 300,000 French and German casualties there.

Smith was reassigned to the engineers office, District of Paris, from March 10 to June 3, 1919. He returned from overseas July 11 and was discharged July 31, 1919. On Feb. 21, 1920, he was commissioned a captain in the Engineer Reserve Corps. He returned home to his wife Marjorie, with a house in Brooklyn and a job in Manhattan as an engineer with the New York Central Railroad. According to family information, Smith and his wife maintained the house in Old Field as a summer home until four months after their first child, Marco C. Smith III, was born April 25, 1927. Smith became a trustee of the Village of Old Field when it was incorporated in 1927, and he also served the village as mayor. The couple’s second and last child, Judith, was born Aug. 9, 1932. Marjorie died in 1953 and Smith died July 8, 1961.

The three letters Smith wrote to his grandmother Eliza, written between Nov. 15, 1918, and Jan. 22, 1919, and copies of the photographs he took in France will now be a part of the Three Village Historical Society archival collection.

Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

A common grackle collects mud from the banks of the Swan River in East Patchogue to use to build its nest. Photo by Luke Ormand

By John Turner

As the famous philosopher Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by just watching,” and between the passage of the 2,018 common nighthawks we tallied over the 41 days of the 2018 season at the Stone Bridge Nighthawk Watch, we had plenty of time to watch and observe.

One of those observations involved the daily movement of large mixed-blackbird flocks, flying north each evening, their destination being the communal nightly roost they established in the reed (Phragmites) beds at the southern edge of Conscience Bay, just north of the Grist Mill in Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket.

Joined by European starlings, red-winged blackbirds and brown-headed cowbirds, the flocks, numerically dominated by common grackles, would stream over us at the Stone Bridge and then, as they passed over the northern bridge at the northern end of the pond, descend abruptly to land on the narrow and slightly arching stalks of the Phragmites.

Their predictable movement each night of the Nighthawk Watch reminded me of another characterization, this one by the famous scientist Rachel Carson, who described the regular movement of birds such as these blackbird flocks as “faithful commuters” in the sky.

As they flew over us, the members of the flock vocalized continuously with quick sharp calls and we wondered why they might do that. One answer for the continuous calling may be a way for a bird in a flock to let neighboring birds — in front, behind and to the sides — know of its presence, helping to maintain a buffer between the birds, thereby reducing the chance of collisions.

Maintaining this space is vital given the fact the several dozen to several hundred members of the blackbird flock are moving through the sky together, at 20-30 miles per hour, separated by mere inches. Makes you wish drivers on the Long Island Expressway were so talented, no?

One evening recently my wife Georgia and I walked to the north bridge to watch the blackbirds spill from the sky into the reeds. They descended into the marsh on both sides of the meandering tidal creek that flows from the spillway at the bridge. A constant cacophony of squeaks (one call sounds like a rusty gate opening), rasps and whistles filled the air as the birds called incessantly. Having landed, the grackles and other blackbird species must now be vocalizing for a different reason, but frankly we have no idea.

Scientists conjecture that crows murmuring together at the end of a day in a winter communal roost do so to exchange information about the day they just experienced, such as what predators they encountered and food sources discovered. Could this be at least a partial answer to explain the thousands of garrulous grackles vocalizing into early evening, as they settle in to sleep for the night in the marshes of Frank Melville Park? Could there be other reasons? Maybe, but we just don’t know.

I often encounter grackles in different settings, as evidenced by a recent walk in the county park just north of the Sherwood-Jayne House. Heading up the west side of the property, I came to an opening in the forest where a small flock of 20 to 25 grackles was feeding on the ground. They systematically flipped over leaves, pieces of bark and other woodland debris searching with their beautiful golden-yellow, black-centered eye, for food which for them consists of a variety of small insects, other invertebrates like slugs and worms, caterpillars, small salamanders and fruits and seeds, which collectively make up their omnivorous lifestyle.    

If you are an astute observer of grackles you might notice that adult birds vary in their coloration. Not surprisingly, males are showier than the females, their plumage infused with a purplish iridescence. But you might occasionally see, especially during the colder months, individual grackles tending to have more of a bronzy-colored tint to their feathers, rather than purple. The latter bird is referred to as the “bronzed grackle” while the former is the “purple grackle.” For many years they were considered different species but are now recognized for what they are — interbreeding color morphs of the same species.   

If you leave the friendly confines of the Three Village area and travel to the Island’s South Shore, you might encounter another grackle species native to Long Island — the boat-tailed grackle. This larger species, a breeder amid the salt marshes of the South Shore bays, gets its name from the keel shape tail tip of the bird, quite visible when a male flies directly away from you.

Want to experience grackles and their blackbird brethren closer to home though? Just head to the bridge next to the Grist Mill in Frank Melville Park (www.frankmelvillepark.org) as dusk descends on an autumn day and face north toward the dense phalanx of reeds. If your senses aren’t overloaded by the sound and movement, perhaps you can figure out what the birds are saying to each other.

John Turner, a Setauket resident, is conservation chair of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, author of “Exploring the Other Island: A Seasonal Nature Guide to Long Island” and president of Alula Birding & Natural History Tours.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“Not to brag (well, this is my story, so I guess if I’m going to brag, this is the place to do it, right?) but my house is the most beautiful, most magical, most jaw-droppingly fabulous place in the world …”

So begins Jenna Gavigan’s charming young adult novel “Lulu the Broadway Mouse,” appropriately subtitled “Tiny Dreamer. Big Dream.” And what is the protagonist’s house? It is the Shubert Theatre, located at 225 West 44th Street in New York City. Here is where the sassy young mouse and her family work and reside.

Jenna Gavigan

Gavigan made her Broadway debut as a teenager in the 2003 “Gypsy” revival, which starred Bernadette Peters. It is clear that Lulu is both a celebration of the author’s experience as well as a peek behind the curtain. “Show business is an uncertain path full of highs and lows, hills and valleys, sunshine and clouds … but still …” The tale (tail?) paints a picture of a theater world that is both exciting and challenging, full of rewards and disappointments — but, most of all—lessons in life.

Lulu works with her mother in the wardrobe department and has one goal:to perform on a Broadway stage. While it’s a daunting proposition, she is a wonderful role model of inspiration and drive:

“Here’s the thing, though. In case you’d forgotten. I know I’m eloquent and funny and it’s easy to forget … I’m a mouse. A darn cute and talented one, but, well mice can’t be on Broadway. At least, none of us ever have been. I know it’s not fair. It’s just the way it is. True, plenty of things never happened until they did. No one had ever walked on the moon until that Neil Armstrong guy did it.”

Lulu we learn (like all mice) can talk. “We can talk everywhere … but so far, only theatre people listen.” Gavigan creates a mythology with the story of a seamstress, Bet, who befriends Poppy, the first mouse ever to work in the building. It is a wonderful story in the narrative’s rich tapestry. “These mice are here to help us,” says Bet. “They’re our coworkers, not our enemies.” 

Lulu’s world is populated with a winning variety of characters including the stage manager, the child wrangler, the dance captain, backstage staff, actors and, of course, the show’s star, the regal-yet-kind Stella James. “What’s important is to remember that it takes a team, a village, a family to put on a Broadway show and take care of the theatre.” Here is the bustle of theater life, the demands of rehearsals and the excitement of performance. And we are appropriately reminded that it is not just the performers but everyone from box office to backstage who make the magic.

Driving the story is the arrival of young and diminutive Jayne, the new understudy for the show’s child star, Amanda. Amanda is the epitome of selfish and self-absorbed; she is a bully and a manipulator.  “Sometimes dreams come with terms and conditions. Sometimes dreams come with Amanda.” But Gavigan ultimately presents a dimensional character, whose harshness is rooted in a deep-seated insecurity.

What ensues in this enchanting work and how Lulu pursues her dream make for an eventful and engaging journey: “Because everyone — no matter what size or species — deserves to live their dream.”

While the book will be embraced by children (and adults) with a passion for theater, the lessons that are offered are universal and told in a way that all readers will embrace the joy that is both the heart of Lulu and Lulu the Broadway Mouse.

Recommended for middle school readers, “Lulu the Broadway Mouse” is available at your local Barnes & Noble bookstore; can be ordered at Book Revue in Huntington; and is online at Running Press Kids, Hatchette Book Group; Barnes & Noble; and Amazon. For more information on the author, visit iamjennagavigan.com and on Twitter and Instagram @Jenna_Gavigan.

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