Arts & Entertainment

'Downward Dog' by Dan McCarthy

By Talia Amorosano

In conjunction with the start of the last month of summer the Smithtown Township Arts Council’s Mills Pond House Gallery in St. James will host an exhibit devoted to the creative depiction of the nonhuman creatures who share our Earth.

Entitled Animals in Art — Our Partners on the Planet, the show kicks off with an artist reception on Saturday, July 30, at 2 p.m. The exhibit is juried and judged by renown art collector, Tim Newton, founder and curator of American Masters, a contemporary art exhibition and sale annually hosted by NYC’s Salmagundi Club. Prizewinners will be announced on opening day.

The exhibition will showcase 55 works by 39 artists from 16 states in a variety of media including pencil and ink, acrylic, oil, watercolor, bronze and pastel. Regardless of chosen medium or style, all of the works convey an appreciation for and attention to the unique lives and experiences of animals.

'A Perfect Perch' by Sharon Way-Howard
‘A Perfect Perch’ by Sharon Way-Howard

One of the 11 participating artists from Long Island is Sharon Way-Howard of Sayville, a frequent exhibitor at the Mills Pond House who describes her 36- by 30-inch watercolor painting of an osprey atop a sailboat, “A Perfect Perch,” as a work of art within her wheelhouse: “I tend to do a lot of marine-based art; birds, boats, shoreline creatures … I had done this piece a year and a half ago and it fit the description of the show perfectly.” She describes this particular painting as the result of her prolonged observation of one particular bird. “[My studio] overlooks a beautiful canal and there’s a sailboat two houses out from us,” she said. “That osprey comes almost every day and sits on that perch. I’ve observed him for many days and in order to help me with the painting I took many many photographs of him as well.”

Way-Howard, who was the first woman elected to hold the office of chair of the Art Committee of the Salmagundi Club, referred to juror Tim Newton as “an avid collector of art and sponsor of artists” who “really believes in the power of living artists.” She cited her work at the Salmagundi Club, plein air experience and bird-watching and boating-filled upbringing in Bay Shore as influences for her work.

To participating artist James Berger of Holtsville, the Animals in Art exhibit presented an opportunity to elicit artistic beauty from a deeply personal experience of loss. His 22- by 36-inch oil-on-panel painting of a wolf entitled “Twilight’s Preyer” was largely inspired by the death of Berger’s art teacher of over 15 years, Frank Covino, who resided in Vermont and had mastered the art of classical painting while working with the likes of Norman Rockwell. “[Frank] got sick and it bummed me out enough for a little over a year that I wasn’t doing anything art-wise at all,” said Berger. “It was depressing.”

'Twilight's Preyer' by James Berger
‘Twilight’s Preyer’ by James Berger

When Berger received word of the Animals in Art exhibit, he initially wanted to submit an older piece, but eventually came to the conclusion that the piece would not be a good fit. This realization prompted him to begin work on his first new piece in over a year, inspired by an old photograph of wolves at a zoo. “I felt like something was pushing me into the exhibit,” said Berger. “You get this feeling like someone is looking over your shoulder — that’s how I felt — as weird as that sounds — throughout the entire creation of this piece … I feel when I back away and I look at that painting it was [Frank] through me and its him through me saying, ‘You can do it. You can totally do it’.”

As further homage to his instructor, Berger painted his piece in the classical style with a progression of layers: sketch, underpainting, painting and gesso. He also added marble dust to areas of the piece, bringing more texture, weight, novelty and value to his one-of-a-kind labor of love. “I personally enjoy the freedom of painting animals,” said Berger, who described the art of depicting wildlife as different from that of portraying people, who tend to be judgmental regarding images of themselves. In the immediate future, Berger plans to continue painting (largely in the classical style) and hopes to someday showcase his work in a local solo exhibit.

In addition to Sharon Way-Howard and James Berger, participating Long Island artists include Marlene Bezich (Middle Island), Maureen Ginipro (Smithtown), Donna Grossman (Smithtown), David Jaycox Jr. (Northport), Elizabeth Kolligs (Glen Cove), Jeanette Martone (Bay Shore), Dan McCarthy (Selden), Terence McManus (Mount Sinai) and Margaret Minardi (Northport).

Animals in Art — Our Partners on the Planet will be on view at the Mills Pond House Gallery, 660 Route 25A, St. James, from July 30 to Aug. 28. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free. For further information, call 631-862-6575 or visit

By Katelyn Winter

Water, sun, sand and rocks. West Meadow Beach in Setauket is made up of simple components, but stop by any day of the week, any hour of the day, and you’ll see a symphony of activity going on.

The 1,100-foot waterfront off Trustees Road is where beachgoers of all walks of life go — and some go just to walk! There is a wide two-mile trail that goes through an 88-acre wetlands preserve, where visitors can explore on bike or foot the beauty of the marsh area. At around the midpoint of the trail is the Dr. Erwin J. Ernst Marine Conservation Center, which features a small dock and beautiful views.

The trail is a popular spot for people looking to up their step counts, but this Town of Brookhaven beach is popular because it presents the opportunity for a wonderful day outdoors, no matter what you’re looking to do.

Purchasing a parking pass or paying a daily fee is necessary, and you can visit the website at to find out more about what you’ll need to bring and how much you’ll have to pay. Regardless, the price is small compared to the summer of beach-day adventures it will unlock. 

“People love the sandbars,” says Jack Rachek, a town lifeguard working at West Meadow. “It’s our main attraction.” When low tide comes and the sandbars appear, you can expect to see young children and their parents heading out to wade in the shallow water and dig in the soft sand. Because the beach is part of the Long Island Sound, there aren’t big waves, and it’s small enough to keep that familiar hometown vibe.

Another lifeguard, Brittany, says she loves how “relaxed it is. There aren’t many saves; it’s just about keeping an eye out for the kids.” Lifeguards are on duty through Labor Day from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays, 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the weekends, so you can always be sure there is someone watching your children in the water and out. West Meadow is a beach for families. In addition to the calm waters, there are two playgrounds, checkerboard tables, a gazebo for shady picnics and a water sprinkler park.

Those features are why so many Three Village residents have happy memories of days spent at West Meadow. Beyond what the beach itself has on its grounds, though, there is so much that the people who work to make West Meadow the mecca of summer activity that it is have in store.

“People love the sandbars. It’s our main attraction.”

—Jack Rachek

Nancy Grant, of Friends of Flax Pond, is one of those people. She and her team of volunteers are working hard on the species conservation of the diamond-backed terrapin turtle, whose numbers are way down. “I have wonderful volunteers,” says Grant, who explained that while the turtles nest in the marshlands it is illegal to touch or pick them up. If you are interested in helping the diamond-back terrapins, there are meetings for new volunteers on the weekends, usually at around 9 a.m. Email for more information on how you can make a difference through volunteering.

The diamond-back terrapins aren’t the only cause you can support, though! Citizen Ranger meetings and beach clean-ups are scheduled for the summer, and for information on those or any other program you should email the park ranger, Molly Hastings, at, or call 631-751-6714.

With so much going on at West Meadow, it is amazing how relaxed the beach environment really is. “It’s a great lunchtime escape,” says beachgoer Jeff, “and it’s an awesome windsurfing beach in the fall.” Indeed, outside the green flags that indicate safe swim areas, you’ll see lots of people enjoying the water in different ways.

In recent years, paddle boarding has become a popular way to exercise and enjoy the tranquility of being out on the water. Ocean kayaking is another way to get on the water without actually getting in it.

For those who are looking to get in the water, you should stay between the green flags, and be sure to leave the inner tubes, rafts and snorkel gear at home. And for kids who still need to brush up on their swimming skills, or even teens and adults who want to improve, you can actually take swimming lessons at West Meadow Beach with certified Red Cross instructors. Session III starts on Aug. 1 and lasts for two weeks. You can learn more by calling 631-281-2866 or visiting the beach’s website.

West Meadow Beach is a great place to have fun, but it’s also a great place to learn — whether you want to be able to do the front crawl or learn more about wildlife and conservation. The beach and trail are speckled with informative signs about the beach’s ecosystem and the animals that thrive in it. West Meadow Beach is a beloved Three Village attraction, and because of that, there are so many local groups, like Friends of Flax Pond and the Ward Melville Heritage Organization, that want to see it stay clean, safe and hospitable for people and wildlife.

As she went on her daily jog down the trail at West Meadow, a resident named Eileen stopped to tell me why she loved this beach. “It’s a wonderful place to grow up,” she smiled, “And it’s a wonderful place to keep nature as it is. As you go down this trail, there are over twenty species of birds you can see. It’s a very inexpensive pass for such a great summer.”

Whether your favorite part is being in the water or walking along the shore, this beach holds a special place in the hearts of those who visit it all year round. And that’s why West Meadow is a treasure among us.

Author Katelyn Winter is a rising junior at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa.,  majoring in English and creative writing. She is from Stony Brook and hopes to one day work in the publishing industry.

Gene Casey & the Lone Sharks. Photo by John Broven

Gene Casey and the Lone Sharks performed for hundreds of concertgoers at the Port Jefferson/Northern Brookhaven Arts Council’s Sunset Concert at the Harborfront Park last Wednesday. The group entertained the crowd with tunes from Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, as well as their original music including “Who’s Sharing the Moon” and “It Should Rain” and received a standing ovation at the end of the night. Photo by John Broven

Erik Muller. Photo by Yizhi Meng

By Daniel Dunaief

Diamonds may not only be a girl’s best friend, they may also be important for doctors, particularly those using radiation to treat cancer patients.

Erik Muller, a principal investigator and adjunct professor in the Department of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering at Stony Brook University, recently demonstrated that a particular type of synthetic diamond can measure the flux, position and timing of radiation beams used in cancer therapies. His research seeks to adapt diamond detectors for use with an emerging type of therapy using high-energy protons and carbon ions. “There currently does not exist a technology which can precisely measure the flux, position and timing of these proton and carbon ion beams used in radiotherapy,” Muller explained.

The diamonds Muller and his team use are more pure than any natural diamond. They contain fewer than five parts per billion of nitrogen and less boron or other impurities. They are clear with no color. Nitrogen gives diamonds a yellow or brown color and acts as a charge trap, making natural diamond unsuitable for radiation detectors.

As an SBU postdoctoral researcher, Muller joined an effort at Brookhaven National Laboratory to investigate the use of diamond as an electron source. During that study, researchers found that diamond was a valuable X-ray detector. The success of that work led to the Department of Energy funding work to develop sensors for radiotherapy.

Diamonds can provide information that enable scientists to measure in real time the development of the beam.

Once diamond growers send the product to his lab, Muller and his team screen for a defect that can lead to unwanted hot spots in the detector response to X-rays. When Muller’s lab receives the diamonds, they look like small square pieces of glass. These diamonds are bread sliced into two to three pieces that are about half the thickness of a human hair.

Partners at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials at BNL prepare, characterize, etch and pattern the diamonds in the cleanroom. The Instrumentation Division at BNL provided custom electronics, circuit design, wire bonding and assembly. “The development of the detectors, particularly the pixellated diamond X-ray detector, would not be possible without the talent and expertise” in the Instrumentation Division, Muller explained.

Muller also lauded the contribution of the Stony Brook University students who worked on the diamond effort, including Mengjia Gaowei, Tianyi Zhou, Mengnan Zou and Wenxiang Ding. In preparing a proposal for the Department of Energy to improve beam diagnostics for particle therapy, Muller met Samuel Ryu, chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology and deputy director for clinical affairs at Stony Brook University’s Cancer Center. Ryu “expressed a strong interest in using these detectors for X-ray beam therapy and we have been pursuing that as well,” Muller said.

Ryu said the existing conventional detector, which measures radiation dosage, is “limited in some sense.” He likened the radiation detector to a thermometer. If a thermometer indicates that it’s 90 degrees, it may be 91 degrees, but the thermometer may not read the temperature with enough precision to indicate the exact temperature. Similarly, the diamond detector “will improve” the precision of the radiation dose measurement. The gap in the detection of the radiation dose has been like that for more than 100 years, Ryu said.

Ryu said the addition of the diamond to the detector should be commercialized and that he and Muller are “really trying to find out how we can use these detectors in the clinic.” Ryu said he doesn’t know the time frame for when this might become available in a radiation delivery system, but he would “like to see it as soon as possible.” Ryu and his staff meet regularly with Muller and his team to analyze the data and discuss how to proceed. He described Muller as “very open-minded” and indicated that it is a “very good collaboration.”

One of the challenges in taking this diamond discovery to the next step is to ensure that the software is robust and that it has enough redundancies to turn the beam off amid any contradictory readings. Before diamonds can become a part of these carbon or ion beam treatments, researchers need to demonstrate that the radiation itself won’t damage the diamond. While Muller doesn’t expect this to happen, he said he has to prove its viability.

In the bigger picture, Muller said he and the members of his lab spend considerable time understanding the physics of radiation sensing devices in high-radiation environments. “Diamond is a very promising material in this field for continued development and is our current focus,” he suggested. “In general, I am interested in any technique and material where we can understand how the structure affects the device function.”

Residents of South Setauket, Muller lives with his wife Yizhi Meng, an assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering at Stony Brook, and their daughter, who is in primary school. Meng, who is a graduate of Ward Melville High School, develops drug delivery materials for breast cancer and osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. The couple met when they were graduate students at Cornell University. They shared an interest in photography. Meng uses Nikon cameras, while Muller prefers Canon. “There’s a funny rivalry between us,” Meng said.

As for his work, Muller is optimistic that it will have an application in radiation delivery. He believes he can address the engineering challenges and is “planning to continue the commercialization of these devices.” Meng is excited by the progress Muller has been making. Muller is “working with some really great people,” she said. “It’s really exciting.”

Exercise is important in reducing the risk of fractures. Stock photo

By David Dunaief, MD

Osteoporosis is a complex disease. For one thing, it progresses with no symptoms, until the more severe stage of fractures that cause potential disability and increase mortality. For another, the only symptoms are from the treatment with medications, better known as side effects. Third, lifestyle modifications and supplements, while important, require adherence to a regimen.

I am not a big advocate of medication, as I am sure you have gathered from my previous articles; however, medication does have its place. There are studies that show benefit from the two main classes for osteoporosis, bisphosphonates such as alendronate (Fosamax, though it is now generic) and the newer class that involves monoclonal antibodies such as denosumab (Prolia). And, of course, I am a big advocate of lifestyle modifications including diet, exercise, smoking cessation and even some supplements. The side effects of these modifications are better health outcomes for chronic diseases and disorders in general. What I can’t advocate for, as a physician sworn to help people, is the new emerging cohort that I refer to as the “do-nothing group.”

Recently, a New York Times article on June 1, 2016, entitled, “Fearing Drugs’ Rare Side Effects, Millions Take Their Chances With Osteoporosis,” reported that prescriptions for medications to treat the disease have fallen by more than 50 percent from 2008 to 2012 because of the fear of the side effect profile that include rare instances of atypical fractures and jawbone necrosis (1).

In the article, one doctor mentions that patients prefer diet and exercise, but that it does not work. Well, he may be partially correct. Diet and exercise may not work if they’re not implemented. However, if people actually make lifestyle modifications, there could be substantial benefit. Just to give up on the medications for osteoporosis or to refuse to take them is not going to improve your chances or reduce your risk of getting fractures in the spine, hip, wrist or other locations. In other words, the “do-nothing” approach won’t help and may significantly increase your risk of fracture and other complications, such as death.

At the top of the list of risk factors for osteoporosis is nontraumatic fractures — in other words, breaking of bone with low-impact events. In this case, once you have had a fracture, the probability of having a recurrent or subsequent fracture increases more than three times in the first year, according to a recent Icelandic study (2). Lest you think that you are in the clear after a year since your first fracture: After 10 years, the risk of subsequent fracture still remains high, with a twofold increased risk.

Osteoporosis involves bone loss. We typically measure this through the bone mineral density (BMD) biomarker using a DXA scan. However, another component is bone quality. Sarcopenia, or loss of lean muscle mass, may play a role in bone quality. There are vitamins, such as vitamin K2, that can have beneficial effects on bone based on bone quality as well. No, this is not the same as the more well-known vitamin K1 used in clotting, which may also have a smaller benefit in preserving bone.

Let’s look at the evidence.

Avoiding sacropenia

Sarcopenia is a fancy word for a depressing phenomenon that occurs as we age and become more and more sedentary; it is the loss of lean skeletal muscle mass at the rate of 3 to 8 percent each consecutive decade after 30 and also loss of strength (3). It may have significant effects on about one-third of those over age 60 and half of those over 80. Unless, of course, you are physically active on a regular basis. In the Study for Osteoporotic Fractures in Men, results show that sarcopenia plus osteoporosis, taken together, increases the risk of fracture more than three times in older men (4).

The researchers assessed muscle wasting by using the European Working Group on Sarcopenia in Older Patients (EWGSOP), which takes into account weakness (grip strength <20 kg for men), slowness (walking=0.8 m/s) and low lean muscle mass (< 20 percent). This involved over 5,000 men with a mean age of about 74. The group with sarcopenia had significantly lower grip strength and was less physically active. In another study, those who were healthy 65-year-old adults who had sarcopenia or low lean muscle mass were at a greater than two times risk of experiencing a low-trauma fracture within three years (5). This was according to the EWGSOP1 cutoff criteria for sarcopenia.

Preventing sarcopenia

Well, beyond the obvious of physical activity and formal exercise, there is a medication that has potentially shown positive results. This is the bisphosphonate alendronate (Fosamax). In a study, results showed that alendronate increased muscle mass significantly over a one-year period (6). In the appendicular (locomotive) skeletal muscle, there was a 2.5 times increase in muscle mass, while in lower limb muscle mass there was a greater than four times increase. This was a retrospective (backward-looking), case-control study involving about 400 participants. While these results are encouraging, we need a prospective (forward-looking), randomized controlled trial. For those who don’t want to or can’t for some reason exercise, then medication may help with muscle mass.

Exercise! Exercise! Exercise!

In a meta-analysis (a group of 10 trials), results showed there was a significant 51 percent reduction in the risk of overall fracture in postmenopausal women who exercised (7). This study involve over 1,400 participants. Does exercise intensity matter? Fortunately, the answer is no. If you like jogging or running, that’s great, but walking was also beneficial. This is important, since you want to do the type of activity that is more enjoyable to you, especially since the benefit of exercise dissipates when you stop doing it regularly (8).

The importance of K2

In a recent study, vitamin K2 was shown to reduce the risk of hip fracture by 60 percent, vertebral fracture by 77 percent and nonvertebral fractures by a whopping 81 percent (9). According to the authors, this benefit may be derived from bone strength (BMC, or bone mineral content) rather than from bone mineral density (BMD). There were 325 postmenopausal women in this study. It was a randomized controlled trial with one group receiving vitamin K2 (MK-4, menatetrenone) supplementation of 45 mg/day and the other a placebo group.

Don’t forget fruits and vegetables

In the Singapore Chinese Health Study, a prospective population-based study, results showed that there was a 34 percent reduction in the risk of hip fracture in the highest quintile of vegetable-fruit-soy (VFS) intake, compared to the lowest quintile (10). This study involved over 63,000 men, premenopausal and postmenopausal women with an age range from 45 to 74 years old. The results showed a dose-dependent curve, meaning the more VFS, the higher the reduction in hip fracture risk. Interestingly, there was no difference in risk of fracture when meat in the form of meat dim-sum was used instead of plant-based protein. The researchers concluded that an Asian plant-based diet may help reduce the risk of hip fracture. I’m not saying to take medications for osteoporosis, but you need to do something — either medications, lifestyle modifications, supplements or all three — especially if you have a history of low-trauma fractures, because your risks of disability, complications and death increase significantly with subsequent fractures. But, do not be part of the growing “do-nothing” group.


(1) J Bone Miner Res. 2015;30(12):2179-2187. (2) World Congress on Osteoporosis, Osteoarthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases 2016. Abstract 0C35. (3) Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2009; 12(1):86–90. (4) American Society of Bone and Mineral Research 2013. Abstract 1026. (5) Age Ageing.2010;39:412-423. (6) Osteoporos Sarcopenia. 2015;1(1):53-58. (7) Osteoporos Int. 2013;24(7):1937. (8) Ann Intern Med. 1988;108(6):824. (9) Osteoporos Int. 2007;18(7):963-972. (10) J Nutr. 2014;144(4):511-518.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit or consult your personal physician.

Tom Manuel, back row in black jacket, and the Jazz Loft Big Band performed at the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Sunday Summer Concerts on the Green on July 24. As the sun set over Stony Brook Harbor, the band played many jazz favorites including “Woodchopper’s Ball,” “Satin Doll,” “Jackson County Jubilee” and closed out the night with “One Mint Julep.” Corinne Schaller, a Long Island’s Got Talent finalist opened the show.  Photo by Heidi Sutton

Julian Dennison and Sam Neill star in ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’

By Talia Amorosano

Garnering an impressive score of 8.4 out of 10 on IMDb and a perfect 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is a charmingly quirky, funny and imaginative film sure to seem particularly refreshing to those tired of riding the steady summer stream of formulaic and minimally heartfelt action blockbusters.

Written and directed by Taika Waititi and based on the book “Wild Pork and Watercress” by Barry Crump, the film made its world premiere screening at the Sundance Film Festival in January of this year to rave reviews.

It opens with sweeping overhead shots of the breathtaking and mountainous New Zealand wilderness, setting the stage for the film’s adventures, which take place entirely in this beautiful natural setting. One of the central characters of the film is a young boy, Ricky Baker (13-year-old Julian Dennison) who has spent his life in foster care and has just been transported to a new home. He first appears in stark contrast with the rugged landscape, wearing an oversized hoodie with multicolored dollar bills on it, jacket covered in Illuminati symbols, and snapback cap.

The other main character and one of Ricky’s guardians, an old man who Ricky relentlessly calls “Uncle” (Sam Neill) despite his preference for the less personal “Hec,” is introduced with a wild boar slung over his back, dirty work boots and an unflinching scowl on his face. Initially, unassuming playful Ricky and stern repressed Hec hardly speak, but a series of traumatic and unexpected events pushes and pulls the pair of unlikely companions together on an impossible journey through the bush, where they attempt to evade a national hunt to bring Ricky back under the care of New Zealand’s child protective services.

During their travels they grapple with hapless hunters, rare and fierce animals, a bush-dwelling conspiracy theorist and growing feelings of understanding and appreciation for one another despite having said their “I hate you”s earlier in the film. What the film’s plot lacks in complexity its characters make up for in humor and heart. While the two protagonists are markedly different from one another, they never devolve into caricatures or stereotypes. Each actor plays his role with such a high degree of earnestness that the character he plays is genuinely likeable both in and of himself and in amusing conjunction with his counterpart.

When Ricky initially arrives at his new home, Hec asks, “have you ever worked on a farm before or are you just … ornamental?” Later, in the woods when Hec threatens to take Ricky home and hand him over to child protective services, Ricky refuses to comply and says dramatically, “might as well just kill me now!” before Hec shoots him a look that prompts him to sheepishly continue, “… don’t kill me.” Ricky refers to himself as a gangster yet writes haikus. Hec puts on a stoic air yet becomes extremely touchy when Ricky exposes the fact that he is unable to read.

Throughout the movie, each character’s individual development and the changing dynamic of the two characters’ relationship are full of interesting visual and verbal surprises. In addition to quirky characters and stunning visuals throughout, an unexpected but fitting range of music traverses the landscape of the film along with Ricky and Hec.

From eighties-esque synth instrumentals to mellow folk-singing interludes, to humorous impromptu singing by the characters themselves, the eclectic sound track of the “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is indicative of the pleasantly surprising but logical progression of the plot and characters. Holistically, “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” manages to be different but not absurd, humorous but not heartless and emotional but not overblown. This thoroughly entertaining, down-to-earth and endearing film is almost sure to leave you exiting the theater retaining a bit of the warmth it exudes.

This movie is rated PG-13 for thematic elements including violent content and for some language.

Talia Amorosano is a rising senior English and studio art major at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and is a frequent contributor to Times Beacon Record Newspapers.

Tulip tree. Photo by Fred Drewes

By Ellen Barcel

In early June I was driving home from a trip to the East End when I saw a beautiful large tree with creamy colored blooms. Interesting, I thought, only to remember that it must have been a tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), also known as a tulip poplar.

Where did the name tulip tree come from? There are two schools of thought. One is that the shape of the leaves resembles tulip flowers. A second is the shape of the beautiful flowers, which bloom in late May to early June in our area. Or, maybe it’s both!

Actually, spring flowering tulip bulbs and tulip trees are not really related at all, other than the fact that they are both flowering plants. This deciduous tree is definitely colorful. The fragrant, spring flowers are yellowish color with orange splotches deep in the flower. The leaves turn a bright yellow in autumn. They are in the same family as the magnolia tree. Interestingly, neither the magnolia nor the tulip tree blooms as a very young plant; both can take a number of years for seedlings to reach an age where flowers will appear. The wood was used by Native Americans to make canoes. The leaves provide food for the eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly caterpillar, and it is the state tree of Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana.

Fred Drewes of Heritage Park in Mount Sinai noted that cardinals enjoy eating the winged seed pods (samaras) of the tree.

Now, if you decide that you want to add one or more specimens of this beautiful tree, you need to know some basics, some pros and cons. The tree is native to the eastern part of North America, meaning that you would be adding a native specimen to the area. It’s more adapted to the highs and lows of rainfall and temperature that we commonly have. So, this is a pro.

Note that there is an Asian variety of the tulip tree (Liriodendron chinenese), but the flowers don’t have the orange coloring of the American variety. The tulip tree is hardy (U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones) from zones 4 to 9. With Long Island being zone 7, right in the middle, you can be reasonably confident that your new addition will not suffer from winter-kill, as some of the local crape myrtle and hydrangeas have. The mature size of the tree can be anywhere from 70 to 90 feet tall or more and up to 40 feet wide — this is a big one. It spreads out, providing plenty of shade.

Now, here’s where the home gardener really needs to be careful. Since the tree gets so big and spreads out so much, it can be a positive in the garden if you’re looking for lots of shade and want a shade garden under the tree. On the other hand, if you have a small piece of property and want to plant lots of sun-loving plants — like roses or veggies — then this tree is not for you. The large size can be a great big (pardon the pun) negative.

As with most flowering trees, the tulip tree will do best in full sun but tolerates part shade. Full sun is generally defined as having six or more hours of sun a day. The tree prefers acidic, sandy soil, ideal for Long Island’s soil conditions. It is a fast grower, easily adding one to two feet of height a year and is generally disease and insect resistant.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. Send your gardening questions to To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

‘Serene Sunset’

It was a beautiful June evening when Frank Morrone of Stony Brook took this shot of the sun setting over Port Jefferson Harbor. The hues of pinks and blues created a gorgeous backdrop for the sailboats at this treasured harbor in our community.

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Robin Lounsbury (as Rosie), Michelle Dawson (as Donna) and Heather Patterson King (as Tanya) in a scene from ‘Mamma Mia!’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

By Rita J. Egan

The Long Island premiere of “Mamma Mia!,” the jukebox musical that features an assortment of iconic songs from the Swedish pop group ABBA, opened at the John W. Engeman Theater last week. And, it appears the name of the game for the Northport venue is success as it has produced another Broadway-quality show right here on the North Shore.

Director Antoinette DiPietropolo skillfully directs a multitalented cast of 20 who recreate the warmth, charm and energy that audiences loved when the production ran on Broadway for 14 years.

Written by Catherine Johnson, with music and lyrics by former ABBA members Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, as well as some songs with Stig Anderson, “Mamma Mia!” tells the touching story of 20-year-old Sophie Sheridan who lives in a taverna on a small Greek island with her mother Donna. After reading her mother’s old diary, Sophie, who is about to marry her fiancé Sky, decides to invite three men from the single Donna’s past, one that may be the young woman’s father. While the threesome’s visit may or may not bring the answer Sophie is looking for, it does take Donna on a wonderful musical trip down memory lane.

Hannah Slabaugh (as Sophie), Sean Hayden (as Sam), Jeff Williams (as Bill) and Frank Vlastnik (as Harry) in a scene from 'Mamma Mia!' Photo by Michael DeCristofaro
Hannah Slabaugh (as Sophie), Sean Hayden (as Sam), Jeff Williams (as Bill) and Frank Vlastnik (as Harry) in a scene from ‘Mamma Mia!’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

Portraying Sophie’s mother, Donna Sheridan, is Michelle Dawson, who played the character in the Broadway National tour. The actress perfectly embodies the quirky, free-spirited, earthy nature of Donna, and she has great stage presence, too. With her animated facial expressions and dynamite smile, it’s easy for the audience to decipher whether Donna is in agony over past mistakes or enjoying beautiful memories. Her vocals are strong on every number, and when it comes to “The Winner Takes It All,” in the beginning of the song she uses her singing talents to deliver the lyrics as if they were a monologue, and then she powerfully builds the song up to its heartbreaking ending.

Dawson also shows off her comedic abilities with Heather Patterson King and Robin Lounsbury, who play her visiting friends Tanya and Rosie, respectively. The three are funny during the song “Chiquitita” where Tanya and Rosie try to cheer their friend up, and then deliver a well-executed “Dancing Queen” as they remember their days as Donna and the Dynamos. A couple of scenes later, they treat the audience to their fantastic vocal talents once more with “Super Trouper.”

King is perfect as the sophisticated yet fun-loving Tanya, and during Act II, she sings “Does Your Mother Know” like a rock goddess. Lounsbury as Rosie is funny and delightfully carefree, especially during the number “Take a Chance on Me” where she playfully lets one of Donna’s former lovers, Bill, know exactly how she feels.

Hannah Slabaugh as Sophie Sheridan is everything you expect the young woman to be — sweet, loving, curious and determined. She captures Sophie’s spirit perfectly, and her vocals are lovely on every song she sings.

 Sean Hayden (as Sam) and Michelle Dawson (as Donna) Photo by Michael DeCristofaro
Sean Hayden (as Sam) and Michelle Dawson (as Donna) Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

Sean Hayden is charming and sweet as Sam Carmichael, one of Sophie’s potential fathers. On opening day, when Sam sang “Knowing Me, Knowing You” to the young woman, it seemed as if both Carmichael and Slabaugh were misty-eyed.

Frank Vlastnik is well-cast as the buttoned-up yet kind Harry, and during Act II, Vlastnik and Dawson treat the audience to a tender version of “Our Last Summer.” Jeff Williams captures the sexy, adventurous nature of Bill Austin and at the same time easily shows the character’s softer side. He demonstrates good vocals on the numbers he takes part in, too.

Jacob Dickey is adorable and endearing as Sky, Sophie’s fiancé. Dickey possesses the handsome good looks of a boy band member, but when he sings, he performs his parts like a successful solo artist. Jennifer Seifter (Ali), Lydia Ruth Dawson (Lisa), Darius Jordan Lee (Eddie) and Christopher Hlinka (Pepper) as Sophie’s and Sky’s best friends enhance the upbeat feel of the musical, and Hlinka shows a good amount of comedic ability when Pepper attempts to seduce Tanya.

Director DiPietropolo also choreographed the Northport production, and her choreography is at its finest at the end of Act I when the whole cast as well as ensemble delivers a fun, energetic “Voulez-Vous.”

As far as the striking set in shades of blue and sand with floral accents, it’s worthy of a stage on the Great White Way. Designed by DT Willis, the set includes doors that allow the actors to move effortlessly on and off stage as well as a section that easily switches from a front door to a bedroom.

Not to be forgotten is the band featuring Alexander Rovang (conductor/keyboard), Anthony Brindisi (keyboard 2), Douglas Baldwin (guitars), Russ Brown (bass) and Josh Endlich (drums). The musicians do an excellent job recreating the instrumentals of the cherished ABBA tunes.

After the bows on opening night, in true “Mamma Mia!” musical form, the cast had no trouble getting the audience to get up and dance with them to favorite ABBA hits. The pop group once sang “the winner takes it all,” and in the case of the Northport production, the cast, crew and audience all walk away winners.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main Street, Northport, will present “Mamma Mia!” through Sept. 11. Tickets are $76 for Saturday evening performances and $71 for all other performances. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit