Your Turn

An adult male yellow-rumped warblers in spring or breeding plumage.

By John Turner

On an Indian summer kind of morning in mid-October, I decided to explore the Preserve owned by the Village of Nissequogue at the end of Long Beach Road, on the north side of Stony Brook Harbor. I was hoping to see a lingering diamondback terrapin in the marshes fringing this side of the harbor. 

As soon as I exited the car in the small parking lot, flanked by coastal plants, there was flittering movement all around — movement that I half expected given the time of year. The ceaseless motion was in the form of a dozen or so small birds, and I knew I was witnessing the seasonal invasion of the “butter-butts,” or as a friend calls them “budda-butts” — a species that, whatever you call it, is formally known as a yellow-rumped warbler due to the conspicuous and distinctive bright yellow rump patch on the top side of the tail base.   

At any one time there were half-a-dozen birds flitting in the red cedar trees and groundsel bushes, and one hovered over the top of a seaside goldenrod plant for several seconds, presumably attracted to small, late-season, nectar-seeking insects in the bright yellow flowers. 

adult male yellow-rumped warblers in spring or breeding plumage.

The butter-butts were joined by half a dozen even smaller birds that flashed yellow too; not from the tail but from the top of the head. These were golden-crowned kinglets, a species that competes for the title of North America’s smallest songbird (hummingbirds are smaller but are not songbirds). It is closely related to the ruby-crowned kinglet, another bird that breeds north of Long Island but passes through these parts during spring and fall migration. This invasion will last through the winter until next spring, when the warblers and kinglets depart northward to their breeding grounds.    

Yellow-rumped warblers are one of 54 colorful species of warblers found in North America, of which approximately three dozen occur in the eastern half of the country. This group of birds has often been referred to as the “butterflies of the bird world,” given their resplendent plumage patterns of orange, red, yellow, blue and green colors in between. Their passing through Long Island during spring migration, when males are in their gaudy breeding plumages, is one of the highlights to a birder’s year. 

Warblers, as a general rule, flood out of the middle and northern portions of North America, overwintering in South America, Central America, the Caribbean and the southern United States. They do so because their food source — almost entirely insects — disappears with the cold weather since to stay in cold climates would be to risk starvation. The yellow-rumped is an exception and regularly overwinters throughout the United States. Why is this so you might reasonably ask? It’s due to the species unique ability to sustain itself by eating a type of food that other warblers and most other songbirds apparently do not or cannot — wax.

The wax is in the form of a waxy outer coating on berries, and there are two plant species on Long Island that best fit the bill, producing large quantities of waxy fruits — bayberry and poison ivy. Wax is difficult for birds to digest, and only a couple of dozen species worldwide have become adept at capitalizing on this novel food source, including our butter-butts.

An immature yellow-rumped warbler, also referred to as YOY – a young-of-year bird.

Scientists studying the phenomenon of wax digestion in yellow-rumped warblers have found several traits that allow wax assimilation — very slow digestive times with the wax broken down in the gizzard, high bile salt levels in their gall bladders to more effectively break down the wax into its fatty acid components and, remarkably, the ability to move partially digested foods back into the gizzard from the intestines to further break down the wax (which partially explains the slow digestive times). It can take a small warbler upward of four hours from when the wax berries are eaten until the digested remains are excreted. In contrast, songbirds eating sweet fruits in the summer and early fall can pass the material in as little as 20 minutes.   

Further south in their winter range, from New Jersey southward, yellow-rumped depend more upon wax myrtle, a close relative of bayberry, that also has wax-covered fruits. The bird’s association with this plant is so strong that for many decades the yellow-rumped warbler was known as the myrtle warbler.   

In the western United States, the yellow-rumped warbler is joined by its close associate: the Audubon’s warbler, which looks very similar to the yellow-rumped, except that it has a yellow throat patch while the yellow-rumped has a white patch.  

Golden-crowned kinglets apparently do not eat waxy fruits and survive the winter eating dormant insects, their eggs, spiders and oozing sap. If you pay close attention, the males can be separated from the females — males have orange-tinged head crowns while females have yellow. This bright orange coloration is the reason why this species in Europe is not called a kinglet, although it’s the same species, but instead the rather descriptive “firecrest.”

You can see kinglets and butter-butts until early spring — then they both wing back north, throughout New England and across much of Canada, for the breeding season. Here they’ll raise their next generation of birds that will brighten our winter days with a little dash of yellowy sunshine a year from now.  

A resident of Setauket, John Turner 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.

All photos by Luke Ormand

Vivian-Viloria-Fisher. File photo by Kyle Barr

By Vivian Viloria-Fisher

New York State lawmakers are moving forward with a number of progressive changes to our election laws. Democrats are to be commended for keeping the promise they made to New Yorkers to make it easier for all of us to exercise our right to vote.

Vivian Viloria-Fisher was a Suffolk County legislator from 1999-2011. Photo from Suffolk County Democratic Committee

But Albany has not yet addressed fusion voting. New York state is only one of eight states where fusion voting occurs. Voters come across fusion voting or cross endorsements when they enter the ballot box and see a candidate’s name on several lines on the ballot. This occurs most often in judicial races: candidate Jane Doe is on the Republican, Democratic, Conservative, Independence, Working Family and possibly other lines. The voter might ask herself, “What difference will my vote make?” Good question, since cross endorsements generally take the choice out of the hands of the voter and into the hands of party leaders.

In 2010 Suffolk County Clerk Judith Pascale (R) and county Comptroller Joseph Sawicki (R) both won their re-elections with 100 percent of the vote. In 2013, Sheriff Vincent DeMarco (C), county Treasurer Angie Carpenter (R) and Suffolk’s District Attorney Thomas Spota (D)  all achieved remarkable victories by garnering 100 percent of the public’s support. Of course, the support came from the backroom deals that agreed to put the officials’ names on the Republican, Democratic, Conservative and Independence party lines. Pascale repeated this feat in 2014.

Fusion voting created a Suffolk County government in which five of the six countywide positions were held for eight years by individuals who had been selected, not elected. This begs the question as to who was watching the proverbial store when both the treasurer and comptroller were beholden to party bosses or whether justice was being served when both the sheriff and district attorney — who later left office under a cloud — were ordained in backroom deals.

Minor parties gain a disproportionate amount of power by doling out their lines for patronage jobs or other political favors. Most egregious among these is the Independence Party that has no identifiable platform, and whose ranks are filled with people who believe that they have registered as Independent — unaffiliated voters only to later discover that they are part of a party.

Voters are often perplexed as to some discordant alliances reflected on the ballot. How is a Democrat endorsed by the Democratic and Conservative parties? Candidates waffle on important issues that define the basic values of the party in which they are registered in order to get on the line of a third party.

We focus our attention on the corruption and disenfranchisement on the national level, but we should not forget that all politics is local. Because of fusion voting, there is a disproportionate number of Conservative judges in Suffolk County, relative to the number of Conservative party members in the general public. In the 2018 Supreme Court 10th Judicial District race, all seven victors names appeared on the Democratic line: the top three vote getters on the Democratic and Republican lines, the next four on the Democratic, Conservative and Independence lines. Given the challenges to democratic values that our nation faces in the nominations of even more conservative judges to the U.S. Supreme Court, it is mind boggling to know that local party leaders align the Democratic and Conservative parties on the ballot of the 10th Judicial District.

I have voiced my concerns about cross endorsements for many years, but now is the moment that leaders and elected officials must be held accountable and must be pressured to put an end to this deceptive practice. Let your members on the New York State Assembly and Senate and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) know that fusion voting is contrary to our democracy’s basic tenet of a citizen’s right to vote.

Vivian Viloria-Fisher was a Suffolk County legislator 1999-2011. She ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2018 in the Democratic primary for the 1st District.

A Coast Guard Auxiliary boat. Photo Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard

By Herb Herman

On a cold evening in the fall of 2003 a few people got together in Port Jefferson to form a flotilla of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. Fifteen years later, Flotilla 14-22-06, the Port Jefferson Flotilla, is still among the most active auxiliary groups in the country. Thousands of Americans volunteer as U.S. Coast Guard auxiliarists, many of whom are still actively engaged in various professions. Their common motives for joining are love of the water and wanting to participate in an activity that has great regional and national importance.

The Port Jefferson USCG Auxiliary Flotilla, 1st Southern District 14, Division 22, Flotilla 06, was founded in 2003 and now has 33 members. Since its founding, the flotilla has been active in boater education and in patrols within the Long Island Sound and in the Port Jefferson Harbor and Mount Sinai areas. Additionally, in this era of deep concern about terrorism, the flotilla engages in a program to inspect the marine-related facilities and the Port Jefferson Harbor infrastructure in order to discover and to report to the Coast Guard any vulnerability in the marine area. The Bridgeport-Port Jefferson Ferry is of particular interest to the Coast Guard and to the auxiliary.

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, created by an act of Congress in 1939, is an all-volunteer civilian branch of the Coast Guard, acting as a “force multiplier,” where auxiliary members, both men and women, frequently aid the Coast Guard in wide-ranging activities. At Coast Guard stations around the country, auxiliary members carry out watch standing, that is, they will engage in communication management for a Coast Guard station. Frequently, they work in the stations’ kitchens, helping in food preparation and service. Many auxiliary members are talented craftspeople and will frequently work to support and improve Coast Guard station facilities.

Some 28,000 auxiliary members contribute over 4.5 million hours of service each year and complete nearly 500,000 boating safety patrol missions to support the Coast Guard. Every year auxiliarists help to save some 500 lives, assist 15,000 distressed boaters, and provide boater safety instruction to over 500,000 students, adults and children alike. In total, the Coast Guard Auxiliary saves taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

Auxiliary members commonly conduct safety patrols on local waterways, assist in search and rescue, teach boating safety classes, conduct free vessel safety checks for the public, as well as many other activities related to recreational boating safety. Appropriate training of our members is key to a dynamic and effective organization. Training enables auxiliary members to become valuable partners with the Coast Guard, helping them meet mission objectives. Also, we meet our commitment to be of service not only to the maritime community but the community as a whole.

In particular, the Vessel Examination Program is a major part of the Port Jefferson Flotilla activity. Nationally, the auxiliary annually performs over 150,000 safety inspections of recreational vessels. This program provides a free vessel safety check (VSC) service to boaters to educate them on boating safety and on the equipment they are required to carry in order to be compliant with federal, state and local regulations.

The auxiliary is prevented by statute from direct participation in the Coast Guard’s military or law enforcement activities. Other than that, the auxiliary has most of the positions of the active duty Coast Guard and trains for them using essentially the same materials and standards. There are some jobs that a new auxiliarist can begin after a few weeks while there are others, such as auxiliary boat crew, that will take a year or so to gather the training and experience to pass a qualification exam. During that time a new member can be out on active auxiliary boat patrols.

The Port Jefferson Flotilla, as well as the other six flotillas in Division 22 on Long Island, is actively recruiting men and women of all ages who want to serve their community and country in this unique way. Interested parties are invited to attend our meetings, which are held on the second Wednesday of each month at the Port Jefferson Yacht Club on Surf Road at Port Jefferson Harbor. Doors open at 7 p.m. and call to order is at 7:30 p.m. For more information on the activities of the Port Jefferson Flotilla visit www.cgapj.org, email info@cgapj.org or call  631-938-1705.

Herb Herman is the flotilla staff officer for public affairs, Port Jefferson Auxiliary Flotilla 14-22-06.

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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.

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.

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.

Volunteer firefighter Tanya Lee, above, after helping to extinguish a car fire. Photo by Dennis Whittam

By Tanya Lee

Living near Centereach Fire Department for the past 15 years, I have had my share of sirens and fire engines and ambulances driving past my house. There have also been many cold December nights with my kids waiting for the parade of fire trucks and Santa to make their way through the neighborhood with candy canes and cheer.

Volunteer firefighter Tanya Lee by one of the Centereach Fire Department Ambulance trucks. Photo from Tanya Lee

I always knew I could count on the volunteers to be there. I would think, “What a great bunch of people who are always going no matter what time of day it was.” I wondered why are they always rushing around for? Where are they going? Who are these people? Is this their full-time job?

Driving down my block one day, I noticed a huge sign in front of the fire department that read, “EMS and firefighters needed! Help your community. Inquire at the fire department.” I read the words and took that as a sign they were talking directly to me. This was the opportunity to get some answers about this organization. Being the curious and adventurous person that I am, I had no problem putting my blinker on and turning into the fire department parking lot.

I was like a kid in a candy shop as I walked into the beautiful red brick building with gleaming red fire trucks, ambulances and first responder vehicles. My heart was racing at the thought of meeting the people behind the sirens that went day and night. To this day, I don’t remember much of the process that happened inside; it’s all a corny, fuzzy memory now. But what I do remember is, as I left the building, I stopped in the middle of the parking lot, looked back over my shoulder at the impressive apparatus and thought, “Did I just sign up for the fire department? Am I going to be one of them? How am I going to make a difference here?” Sure enough, soon the call came from the chief letting me know my application was accepted. That’s where my journey began.

That first night I was given my gear, assigned to a company and given my training schedule. I was nervous, but to this day I have never regretted my decision to step up to the plate and help my community. The unsettled fear and nervousness turned into excitement and adrenaline the first time I stepped onto the ambulance and knew someone was in need of help. I finally had the answer as to who the people behind the sirens were — they were people like me. Ordinary people with families, young and old, single moms and dads, college students, business professionals. All ordinary people with one passion — volunteering their time to help their community.

Tanya Lee, second from right, stands with her fellow volunteers at Centereach Fire Department. Photo from Tanya Lee

I have always had a passion for helping people, but never thought in my wildest dreams that I could do so through the fire department. I kick myself for not joining years ago. Don’t get me wrong — being a member is not a piece of cake. The training is intense, we don’t always get along — as with many families — and some nights you could question your decision. But for the most part, there is encouragement and support behind those red bricks, and I can’t even list the countless friendships I have created. If you’re really in tune, you will realize a sense of accomplishment and growth within yourself that you probably never knew you had.

It took me one week in the department to know I needed to up my game and my training. Having a full-time job and being a single parent, I started night school and within three months was certified as an emergency medical technician. Within the next year, I stepped up my game further and went firematic and learned the firefighting side of the department. I am a 50-year-old female, and I am proud to say I am a volunteer interior firefighter and EMT for the Centereach Fire Department. I’m also proud to say my son has followed in my footsteps and is also an EMT and firefighter in the department.

My training will never stop, and I look forward to every minute of it. I love what I do. If you ever thought you’d like to do it but had doubts or apprehension, inquire at your local fire department. You might find this is a perfect time to reinvent yourself.

Tanya Lee is director of sales and marketing for Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook, and volunteer firefighter and EMT for Centereach Fire Department. She is also a former resident of Smithtown and Hauppauge.

Members of the bus trip pose for a photo between the statues of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr with dueling pistols.

By Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan

Twenty-seven enthusiastic day trippers boarded a chartered bus at the headquarters of the Three Village Historical Society at dawn on Nov. 3. Led by TVHS historian Bev Tyler, they arrived in comfort before 10 a.m. at Philadelphia’s newest tribute to the founding of our nation, the Museum of the American Revolution. There, the drama of the American Revolution and the ideas that inspired it came to life through the personal stories of the people who were there, from the early stirrings of unrest in Boston to the opening shots of the War of Independence and beyond, to the creation of the American Republic.

A must see was the recently opened exhibit, Hamilton Was Here: Rising Up in Revolutionary Philadelphia, on display through March 17, 2019. While New York City, our nation’s first capital, is the focus of attention in the Broadway hit “Hamilton: An American Musical,” it was in Philadelphia, the second national capital, that many of the major events in the life and work of Alexander Hamilton took place.

Museum visitors prepare to load and fire a cannon

The exhibition highlights different aspects of Hamilton’s contributions: his role as an artillery officer in Washington’s army and, later, as adviser to President Washington; his writings that persuaded states to accept the United States Constitution; creator of the U.S. Coast Guard; and first Secretary of the Treasury who envisioned the financial future of the nation.

Through interactive displays, hands-on activities and wall texts, the museum presents the struggles by Hamilton, who favored a strong central government, with Jefferson and Madison, who believed that power should lie with each state. These are questions that we still struggle with today: How do we achieve a proper balance between the rights of each state to act independently and  the need for federal oversight?

Other permanent exhibits are exceptional as well. The museum proudly displays Washington’s war tent, in which he worked and slept alongside Continental Army battlefields. Another remarkably stirring exhibit is housed in a small amphitheater containing life-size, three-dimensional representations of members of the Oneida Indian Nation. Each one “speaks” in turn, presenting arguments for and against sending their warriors to take part in the Saratoga Campaign in the autumn of 1777. Should they support the Patriot cause and fight alongside the Americans, or should they side with the British Army? The Oneidas wrestle with their decision and decide to fight with the Continental Army. The Saratoga Campaign became a turning point of the war.  

A scene from the Oneida Indian Nation exhibit at the museum.

Is this an appropriate museum for children? Yes, bring a child to see Washington’s war tent, or follow the 10 steps it takes to load and fire a cannon, or design a coin or paper currency for the new nation, or dress up in reproduction 1790s clothing to attend one of Martha Washington’s “levees.” All can sit in comfort to see excellent, informative short films.

That said, the museum’s exhibits appear to be designed primarily for high school and college students and adults. They pose serious questions — questions that the nation still struggles to answer. At the end of the day I asked one of the knowledgeable participants among the group to share his impression. “It was good,” he said, “but not great.”  When asked why the lower rating, he said, “Too politically correct.”

Hmm. Yes, the museum has expanded upon the history many of us learned about our country’s origins, mostly told from the perspective of affluent white Protestant males. Little was said in most textbooks or high school class discussions about the impact of the American Revolution on Native Americans, enslaved Africans, women, Catholics and other religious minorities and French and Spanish occupants of the land. For them, the revolution offered promise and peril. Some chose the cause of independence and others sided with the British.

Storybook touch screens called Finding Freedom introduce the African-American London Pleasants, who ran away from slavery in Virginia in 1781 and joined the British Army as a trumpeter. We hear about Eve, owned by the Randolph family of Williamsburg, Virginia, who fled to the British when they occupied the city. She and her son George enjoyed a period of freedom, working under the British, until she was recaptured at Yorktown in 1781. We learn of Elizabeth Freeman, who sued her owner for freedom based on the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution — and won.

The museum focuses attention on the most revolutionary legacies — personal liberty, citizenship, the right to vote and social equality. Is the museum “Politically Correct,” or simply “Correct”?

On the bus ride back to Setauket, the participants from the Three Village Historical Society were treated to a screening of the TBR News Media film about Nathan Hale, “One Life to Give.” They also had time to think about what they’d learned at the Museum of the American Revolution. If that was the goal of its designers, they accomplished their purpose.

The author is the former director of education at the Three Village Historical Society and an educator, writer and lecturer on art, artists and American history.

All photos by Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan

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Celebrations to honor soldiers weren’t the only results after World War I. Some empires had fallen while others suffered financially and a few were united. Photo from the Three Village Historical Society

By Charles Morgan

“Der Krieg ist vorbei.” “La guerre est finie.” “The damned thing is ended.” “Let’s git the hell home.”

So it was 100 years ago on Nov. 11, 1918, at 11 a.m. that World War I, the most destructive war in the world at the time, was over. The Germans, French, Austrian-Hungarians, Italians, Turks, British and Americans, among others, had stopped shooting at one another; the Russians had ceased the previous year.

At this single juncture, several empires had fallen: the Hohenzollern of Germany, the Romanov of Russia by internal Communist revolution, the Habsburg of Austria and the Ottoman of Turkey. Even the victors suffered. The British Empire was all but broke; France was gutted; and the United States was becoming aloof as it entered the Roaring Twenties with most people not knowing what the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 was all about. However, there were four more, known as the suburban treaties: St. Germain with Austria, Neuilly with Bulgaria, Trianon with Hungary and Sèvres with Ottoman Turkey. This last one had to be renegotiated at Lausanne in Switzerland in 1923.

Germany had to give up Alsace-Lorraine which it had taken from France in 1870. The Germans were limited to an army no larger than 100,000 men and a navy with manpower not exceeding 15,000, possessing only a limited fleet and absolutely no submarines. There was to be no air force.

Two countries were literally invented. Parts of the Habsburg Empire with Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia became Czecho-Slovakia. In the Balkans, the Paris peacemakers instituted the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, later mercifully shortened to Yugoslavia.

The famous T.E. Lawrence of Arabia had helped unify the various desert tribes in the Arab Revolt against the Turkish armies. King Faisal I of Iraq assumed he would be king of it all, but saw his plan nullified by the secret 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, which enabled France to take over Syria and Lebanon among other countries, while Britain established protectorates over Palestine and Transjordan. These were called mandates. Eventually, in 1932, a large piece of desert land would be called the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The viscous black fluid that soiled the camels’ hooves was to be the future of “the Middle East.”

Disarmament was the outcry, and it engendered a series of treaties the first of which was the Washington Naval Conference of 1921-22. The United States, Britain, Japan, France, Italy and others hammered out a treaty severely limiting construction of warships. It referred mainly to battleships, leaving little consideration of cruisers and aircraft carriers. In effect, this was the first arms-control conference in history. A small coterie of American and Japanese admirals held that aircraft carriers would be the strategic naval weapon of the future — a point disastrously proven Dec. 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor.

Then came Benito Mussolini. In 1922, he and his followers, called Fascisti, gathered in Rome, allowing King Victor Emmanuel III to remain on the throne, but with Mussolini as Il Duce. His navy was to dominate the Mediterranean, with its state-of-the-art battleships such as the Vittorio Veneto; the Condottieri-class cruisers with flowing names like Eugenio di Savoia; and speedy Soldati-class destroyers. Yet when the Italians clashed with the British Royal Navy as early as 1936 in the Spanish Civil War and later battles, they revealed a lack of leadership as did the land forces.

The fighting had not stopped. The 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which took Russia out of the war also ushered in communism. The Spartacists violently took over Bavaria, calling it the People’s State of Bavaria. Demobilized German soldiers made short work of this nascent Communist effort. At the same time, now-Communist Russia under Lenin sent the Red Army into Poland under Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky.

In 1920, the Russians pushed back the Poles all the way to the gates of Warsaw. But then came the “Miracle on the Vistula,” when Polish Marshal Józef Pilsudski sent the Reds reeling back to Russia. The Poles, therefore, became the first ever to defeat the Red Army in the field of battle. In 1919 Hungarian revolutionary Béla Kun fomented the Communist revolution in Budapest which was put down by the forces of Regent Miklós Horthy. By 1926, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in Turkey, who had abolished the caliphate, was making changes designed to convert the country into a secular republic, including taking fezzes and turbans off the men, and introducing the Latin alphabet.

On that November day in 1918 an Austrian corporal, recovering from wounds in a field hospital and sporting a sizable imperial handlebar mustache — later trimmed to a Chaplinesque toothbrush — as well as the Iron Cross 1st Class, was mulling over in the darkest recesses of his mind, a way to avenge Germany’s defeat brought about by the “November Criminals.” His name was Adolf Hitler.

Charles Morgan is a freelance writer from Stony Brook, and gives a personal view of the aftermath of World War I.

3 monarch butterflies at West Meadow Wetlands Reserve

By Teresa Dybvig

We almost missed the stunning sight — hundreds of monarch butterflies in one place at our very own West Meadow Beach, or to be more precise, the West Meadow Wetlands Reserve.

 If you have walked along the beach recently, you’ve probably noticed the field of seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) lighting up the edge of the dunes all the way down the beach. 

On Thursday, Oct. 4, my husband and I happened to turn away from the water to gaze at the goldenrod glowing in the late daylight. As we approached, we saw hundreds — probably thousands — of buzzing bees and wasps on the flowers. Then we saw a flash of orange, then another, and another. To our astonishment, everywhere we looked, we could see up to 10 monarch butterflies without turning our heads!

We returned on Sunday with a camera and more time. Walking steadily down about a third of the beach, we counted 144 monarchs! I’m sure there were many more; the field is so deep we couldn’t see every flower, and when monarchs fold their wings to eat, they are as thin as a blade of grass from the front. And we didn’t even get to two-thirds of the field. I’m not exaggerating when I say there were, literally, hundreds of monarchs on the beach that day.

 If you have ever seen a monarch butterfly, you know it is gorgeous. It also has a jaw-dropping multigenerational migratory life cycle. The monarchs feasting on the goldenrods at West Meadow are fueling up to fly 2,700 miles to Mexico, at an average rate of 25 to 30 miles per day. Some have already traveled great distances to get here. 

This generation of monarchs is sometimes called the “supermonarch” because it’s the only generation strong enough to make the trip, overwinter on a cool, damp Mexican mountaintop, and fly north again to lay eggs in the earliest-growing milkweed in the southern U.S. before its life comes to an end. The eggs laid by the supermonarchs will grow into monarchs who will fly north and repeat the process, living only two to five weeks. 

The next supermonarchs are the offspring of the offspring of the previous generation of supermonarchs. Sometimes they are the offspring of the offspring of the offspring. So no monarch flying to Mexico has ever made the trip before. Yet thousands of generations have made the journey. 

 Our eastern monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus is in a heartbreakingly steep and dangerous decline. For every 10 monarchs in the sky two decades ago, there are now only two. Researchers estimate that this species could be extinct within 20 years. If the monarch ceases to exist, we humans will have been the cause.  

Monarchs are in danger because of human activities. We have cut down the trees monarchs require to overwinter in Mexico, we have killed milkweed that is critical for monarch caterpillars by spraying fields and their peripheries with herbicides like Round-up, we have paved over land where monarchs used to fuel up on nectar for their spectacular fall migration to Mexico, and we have contributed to changes in weather that can render the monarch’s route dangerous.

 But we humans have also been working to help the monarch stay in the skies. People in Mexico are growing trees to replace the ones that were cut. Government agencies and ordinary citizens in the U.S. and Canada are planting milkweed in reserves and home gardens.  And we are planting more fall-blooming native plants to fuel the long migration to Mexico.

 This is where West Meadow Wetlands Reserve comes in! The seaside goldenrod there is one of the primary foods for monarchs migrating south. The wildflower’s blooming season is relatively short, so if you want to see the miracle in action, keep a lookout next fall in late September and early October. 

Walk past the left end of the swimming area until you see the shining field of yellow flowers. Stand facing it for about a minute, and you will see a flash of orange, then another, and another. “We did this,” you can say to yourself. Our community. We set aside land for these flowers to grow, and they are helping these amazing creatures stay in the sky.

The author is a resident of Stony Brook.

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