Your Turn

Community members and public officials gather in Smithtown for a public hearing on the development of the Flowerfield/Gyrodyne property in St. James. Photo by David Luces

By Cindy Smith

As a Smithtown native who mobilized my neighbors to study the Gyrodyne project and speak at the hearing, and having spoken myself, I am gratified at what was predominantly an open-minded reception. Clearly many residents had not been informed of the grossly negative impact that project might have, and why they should insist the Smithtown Planning Board ask more questions before rubber-stamping the proposal.

Cindy Smith. Photo by Jim Lennon

Based on research by dozens of concerned residents, including nationally known environmental advocates like Carl Safina, we testified to evident prior use of lead arsenate, methyl bromides and excessive nitrates at Flowerfield — a fact not mentioned in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). We documented how the Planning Board excluded data concerning traffic, provided evidence of potential harm to Stony Brook Harbor and surrounding waterways, and — disturbingly — rebuffed regional officials like Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) who sought to provide information about shared infrastructure and planned regional development.

We also presented economic evidence that many jobs potentially created by the development will produce low-paying, minimum-wage positions — and that the property might actually be removed from the tax base, causing it to shrink rather than grow.

Lastly, we shared our concern that the development will trigger more high-density use along historic 25A, creating more suburban sprawl.

As a descendant of Richard “Bull” Smith, I envision a shared North Shore future that values both our history and our tomorrows. I hope Smithtown residents will visit us online at www.UnitedCommunitiesAgainstGyrodune.com and at Facebook.com/UnitedCommunitiesAgainstGyrodyne.

The conversation is not over! The Planning Board will accept written comments through 5 p.m. Jan. 24. Residents should also communicate their concerns directly to Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R).

Thank you, Smithtown, for welcoming your neighbors into the planning process. 

Cindy Smith

United Communities Against Gyrodyne Development community group

View of Old Roe’s Tavern in Setauket, 1914, by Arthur W. Strong, gift of the Estate of Oscar T. Barck Sr. Photography ©New-York Historical Society at http://www.nyhistory.org

By Corey Geske

Now through Jan. 16, 2020, the New-York Historical Society is featuring an exhibition Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere, while in East Setauket there’s reason to celebrate a find related to the home of courier and spy Capt. Austin Roe, known as the “Paul Revere of Long Island.” 

Roe Tavern, Robert S. Feather Photo Postcard, c. 1916-1918. Photo courtesy of Three Village Historical Society

For the first time in a century, sketches of Old Roe’s Tavern in its original location in East Setauket have come to light courtesy of the New-York Historical Society (N-YHS) after an ongoing search, at my request, for catalogued entries that initially evaded art handlers. Gifted in 1954 to the N-YHS, the sketches remained unheralded for 65 years until brought to light this September on the eve of the recent fifth annual Culper Spy Day sponsored by the Three Village Historical Society, Tri-Spy Tours, The Long Island Museum and The Ward Melville Heritage Organization. 

Dating from 1911 to 1917, the sketches in graphite (pencil) with touches of white chalk on buff paper are by Arthur W. Strong, an interior designer and third-generation American sign painter. At my request, they have been photographically digitized for the first time. 

Spy Trail captured in Strong’s sketches

On his sketches, Strong inscribed a date of circa 1702 to the future tavern, a year before it’s now believed the first Selah Strong in Setauket built the one-story section seen to the right (east) in the top photo. The Strongs sold to the Woodhulls who, in turn, sold to the Roe family, who added the main section in 1735 and turned it into a tavern. Under cover of his livelihood as tavern-keeper, Roe acted as a courier for George Washington’s spy ring, carrying information between New York City and Setauket at great personal risk during the American Revolution, when Long Island was occupied by the British. 

Among the few known views of Roe Tavern in its original location (now marked by a sign), Strong’s sketches predate Route 25A road changes that necessitated the tavern’s move a mile away in 1936. Strong’s 1914 sketch of the tavern conveys the same basic undulations of land and roadway so familiar today on the Spy Trail, which extends from Port Jefferson to Great Neck along 25A, known as the King’s Highway during the Revolution. 

Today it’s known as the Culper Spy Trail after Washington’s chief spies on Long Island — Abraham Woodhull, alias Samuel Culper Sr., and Robert Townsend, Culper Jr., who provided key intelligence to Washington in 1780 that helped save West Point from Benedict Arnold’s treason. Also, thanks to the horsemanship of Roe that year, the French Navy was spared at Newport, Rhode Island, so it could sail south to assist Washington in achieving the ultimate Revolutionary War victory at Yorktown, Virginia, the following year. 

In 2017, the New York State Legislature recognized the contribution of the Culper Spy Ring, and commemorative Spy Trail signs were installed by the North Shore Promotion Alliance. 

Arthur Strong’s 1914 sketch provides the earliest known perspective of the Roe Tavern from the northeast looking west along the dirt road to New York City as it was likely laid out when traveled by Roe as he couriered coded messages for Washington. Riding horseback 110 miles round trip at least once a week, on roads patrolled by British soldiers and frequented by highwaymen and British spies and couriers, the danger persisted when Roe returned home where the enemy, drinking at his tavern, would hopefully drop an unguarded comment on military plans that warranted transmittal to Washington. 

Washington’s room at the tavern

Washington’s Bedroom (1790) in Old Roe’s
Tavern, 1917, by Arthur W. Strong,
gift of the Estate of Oscar T. Barck Sr.
Photography ©New-York Historical Society at http://www.nyhistory.org

Through Strong’s eyes, too, we see the tavern where it stood in 1790 when Washington saw it and recorded in his diary, “thence to Setakit . . . to the House of a Captn. Roe which is tolerably dect. [decent] with obliging people in it.” Washington slept there on the evening of April 22, 1790 during a post-war tour of Long Island to thank those, like Roe, who spied for the American cause. 

Out of a cache of six, five sketches are related to the tavern and a sixth (1915) is of the Setauket Presbyterian Church. Strong’s work features a previously stored-away view of the second-floor front southwest bedroom George Washington slept in when visiting Roe Tavern in 1790. 

The week of Washington’s birthday bicentennial, a Feb. 26, 1932 Long-Islander newspaper article reported that care had been taken to “preserve the original appearance” of the bedroom and that its central feature was the open fireplace “across the northern end of the room.” That is the focus of Strong’s 1917 sketch, made years earlier, showing the first president’s humble accommodations. 

From tavern to tea house

Arthur W. Strong, Front Façade of Old Roe’s Tavern in Setauket, 1911, by Arthur W. Strong, Gift of the Estate of Oscar T. Barck, Sr., Photography ©New-York Historical Society at http://www.nyhistory.org

According to census records, Arthur W. Strong was born about 1878. He may have moved from Brooklyn to Port Jefferson in November 1911 at about age 32, when he completed his first sketch, which was of the tavern. 

Strong’s sketches appear to have been done during his commissions as a sign painter, and he returned to the tavern on three occasions. The first sketch, drawn in 1911, included an inset of what was likely his proposed sign marking Washington’s visit (that Strong mistakenly recorded as occurring in 1782) and not a word about a tea house. Strong’s last three sketches in 1917 depict the front facade of the tavern without any sign; a proposed sign for the ‘Old Tavern Tea House’ with a full-face picture of George Washington and the correct date of his visit in 1790; and Washington’s bedroom. The latter indicates Strong’s interest in interior decorating that ultimately led to his becoming a partner in his own design business by 1930.  

Strong’s 1911 sketch is reminiscent of similarly composed views found in photo postcards of the tavern by English-born photographers Arthur S. Greene (1867-1955), who came to Port Jefferson in 1894, and Robert S. Feather (1861-1937) a jeweler and watchmaker who arrived in Smithtown after 1900. 

While Greene’s postcard shows a real estate sign on a post like that drawn in Strong’s sketches, Feather’s postcard circa 1916-1918 shows a boxy tea house sign, framing a view taken east of the signpost. Tea houses were a popular venue in 1917: the same year Strong drew Washington’s visage on his Old Tavern Tea House sign for Roe’s, a new tea house was established to the west on Route 25A, at the Roslyn Grist Mill, the oldest Dutch commercial building in the United States (now undergoing extensive restoration by the Roslyn Landmark Society).

Roe Tavern sketches reach N-YHS

Washington’s Bedroom (1790) in Old Roe’s
Tavern, 1917, by Arthur W. Strong,
gift of the Estate of Oscar T. Barck Sr.
Photography©New-York Historical Society at http://www.nyhistory.org

The N-YHS received Strong’s sketches as a Gift of the Estate of Oscar T. Barck Sr., historian to the Sons of the American Revolution, collector of documents signed by Washington and father of Syracuse University professor and noted historian and author Oscar Theodore Barck Jr. (1902-1993), whose papers and ephemera the N-YHS also houses. 

Barck Jr.’s book, “New York City During the War for Independence: With Special Reference to the Period of British Occupation” (1931), provides one of the early discussions of Washington’s spy ring, following Suffolk County historian Morton Pennypacker’s “Two Spies” (1930) identifying Robert Townsend of Oyster Bay as Culper Jr. in prelude to Pennypacker’s “George Washington’s Spies” (1939) establishing Abraham Woodhull of Setauket as Culper Sr. 

Pennypacker described how Anna Smith Strong hung laundry on a clothesline to signal Woodhull when and where Capt. Caleb Brewster’s whaleboats beached in various coves to receive messages he would relay across the Sound to Washington’s headquarters. Arthur Strong’s interest in Roe Tavern shows an appreciation for Strong family history in Setauket although his father’s family emigrated to the United States from England in 1851. As “Master Painters,” Arthur Strong’s family established their own business of paper hanging and painting in Manhattan and Brooklyn before Arthur moved to Port Jefferson.

Encoded art and architecture lead to rediscovered sketches

Roe Tavern’s two-story three-bay main section with a door to the right, considered a “half-house,” featured nine-over-six windows, a common yet potentially politically significant configuration, also found in the similar facade of a circa 1752 house once the home of Mary Woodhull Arthur and now owned by the Smithtown Central School District on West Main Street, Smithtown. That suggestive fenestration led me to discover Mary’s father was Abraham Woodhull, aka Culper Sr., one of the Culpers for whom the Spy Trail was named. After leaving Roe’s Tavern on April 23, 1790, Washington traveled to Smithtown past the Arthur House en route to Huntington and dined at Platt’s Tavern, no longer extant, making Mary’s home the only one of the three Washington passed that day still located where it stood in 1790.

The locating of Strong’s Setauket sketches comes in conjunction with my current research into the possibility that architectural features of Roe Tavern, the Arthur House in Smithtown and the wall paintings of the Sherwood-Jayne House in East Setauket could be highly political in nature. Owned by Preservation Long Island, the Sherwood-Jayne House is believed to have been built about 1730 with the east addition housing the paintings dated to circa 1780-1790. Without giving away details, I’ll say the Sherwood-Jayne House would not be the first American home documented with frescoes of a similar style said to have been painted to express loyalty to either a British or American political stance close to the end of the American Revolution. 

As a clue to understanding the political potential of the Sherwood-Jayne wall paintings, I’ll remind readers of Abigail Adams’ admonition, “Remember the ladies,” written to her husband, John, at a time when he was helping to frame the Declaration of Independence for the new American government in 1776. Abigail’s advice lends meaning to the ciphers that appear to be spelled out on the interior walls of the Sherwood-Jayne House and are repeated in the fenestration of its front facade as well as the windows of Mary Woodhull Arthur’s home and Roe Tavern.

North Shore arts flourish

The southeast parlor, Sherwood-Jayne House, East Setauket
Photo courtesy of Preservation Long Island

Within the 1911 to 1917 time frame that Arthur W. Strong sketched Roe Tavern, painter Emile Albert Gruppé was commissioned in 1916 by antiquarian Howard Sherwood, to restore the wall paintings in a downstairs parlor of his nearby East Setauket home (now the Sherwood-Jayne House). 

Sherwood discovered the paintings beneath the wallpaper shortly after purchasing the house in 1908. 

Strong and Gruppé were working in the East Setauket area while sculptor Charles Cary Rumsey’s early plaster cast of Whisper, the Smithtown Bull (now at the Smithtown Historical Society), was exhibited, beginning in 1913, at the new Smithtown Library (1912), to raise funds for the five-ton bronze Bull. 

Gruppé could have seen the model when he arrived in East Setauket and ironically, in 1919, Emile’s brother, sculptor Karl Gruppé, would become Rumsey’s assistant. After Rumsey’s death in 1922, Karl went to Paris for three years to supervise completion of Rumsey’s unfinished works, which included the Smithtown Bull (National Register Eligible 2018). 

It was cast in 1926, shortly after Emile Gruppé returned to the North Shore and recorded, in April 1925, that he restored “with much care,” the second-floor frescoes at Sherwood’s home. 

The Bull represents not only the time-honored folklore of Richard “Bull” Smith’s famous ride upon a bull circling the land that would become Smithtown but also stands as the secular symbol of the winged ox attribute of St. Luke, patron of painters and architects. 

Standing tall at the junction of Routes 25 and 25A, the bronze Bull installed in Smithtown in 1941 serves as a symbol of the arts along the North Shore from the township of Smithtown to Brookhaven. Little known, but locally significant, Arthur W. Strong, creator of the Roe Tavern Sketches, was a figure in that North Shore arts movement.

About the author: Independent Historian Corey Geske of Smithtown also compared sketches at the N-YHS to an Asher Brown Durand painting at the Grand Rapids Art Museum in Michigan, resulting in its correct re-titling as “View in the Valley of Oberhasle, Switzerland” (1842) in the Art Inventories Catalog of the Smithsonian American Art Museums. Geske proposed a National Register Historic District for downtown Smithtown in early 2017, prepared the report resulting in the Smithtown Bull being determined Eligible for the NR (2018) and wrote the successful nomination for recent listing on the National Register of Historic Places of the Byzantine Catholic Church of the Resurrection (1929) designed by Henry J. McGill and Talbot F. Hamlin, and its Rectory, the former Fred and Annie Wagner Residence (1912) designed by Gustav Stickley.

 

Photo by Luke Ormand

By John L. Turner

Like any avocation or hobby, nature study provides the opportunity to learn as much or as little as you like. For example, a natural place to start, and where many nature enthusiasts limit their level of learning, is to learn the name of a plant or animal − oh, that’s an eastern chipmunk, red-tailed hawk or “chicken-of-the-woods” mushroom. We feel we know something about the species if we know its name, right? 

But a person’s name − Heidi or John or Georgia or Carl or Patricia − provides you with the bare minimum about that person. Similarly, knowing what a plant or animal is called merely scratches the surface of what there is to know about it.

Photo by Luke Ormand

Many naturalists take a deeper dive, yearning to learn details of an organism’s “life history.” What does a red-tailed hawk’s nest look like and what is it made of? What types of animals does it prey upon? How many young are raised in a typical year? How many eggs does a female lay to make up a typical clutch and what do they look like? Does it migrate? If so, where to? Do male and female hawks look different? and so on.

These questions are straightforward and obvious, but the deepest dive for a naturalist is to explore much less obvious aspects of a plant or animal that reveal deeper, broader and more profound ideas, principles or phenomena. 

As an example let’s take the blue jay, a bird just about everybody knows since it’s a common species in suburbia, often frequenting backyard feeders and making jay! jay! sounds as pairs and packs fly about the neighborhood. Blue jays are wonderful examples in better understanding bird coloration and the character of the forests of eastern North America, especially after the last Ice Age ended approximately 20,000 years ago.

Let’s take bird coloration first. You may want to sit down for this since you’ll be shocked to know: Blue jay feathers aren’t blue! Bird feathers derive their colors in one of two basic ways − from pigments embedded in their feathers and from the microstructure in feathers that scatter certain color wavelengths. 

Most birds, those that are brown, black, yellow, orange and red (like a cardinal) owe their colors from the pigments embued in their feathers. In contrast, birds that are colored purple, and especially blue, appear the color they do because their feathers absorb all the other colors of the visible light spectrum except the color you’re seeing, which is reflected off the feathers to your eyes.

So what color is a blue jay feather? Actually a mousy grayish-brown that can be revealed by a simple experiment. If you find a blue jay feather (usually common in late summer after they have molted) hold it in your hand. 

At first hold it so you are between the feather and the sun with the sun illuminating it; the feather will look blue, as all the shorter wavelength blue light reflects back to you. Now, slowly move your arm in a half circle so the feather is between you and the sun. No blue will reflect at all given the angle, and the actual color of the blue jay’s feathers pigments is revealed: gray brown in color. If the blue in a blue jay were derived from pigments, holding it in that position would reveal a pale or washed out blue, but blue nonetheless.

(It should be mentioned that green-colored birds and iridescence like the male mallard’s head or the ruby-colored throat patch of the ruby-throated hummingbird are caused by more complex interactions between light reflection and feather pigments.)

Now on to the contribution blue jays have made to the forests of eastern North America. After the last Ice Age event, some 18,000-20,000 years ago, all of New York, New England and much of the Upper Midwest were devoid of trees; the forests that once existed there destroyed by the bulldozing activities of the advancing glaciers. Yet, today there are extensive oak forests many hundred miles north of the southernmost location to which the glaciers advanced.

Now, acorns are generally round and they’ll roll after falling from a tree but what’s the maximum distance − 25 feet? maybe 50 feet in extraordinary instances? Well, clearly mere gravity can’t explain the forests rebounding. Maybe we credit squirrels or chipmunks for dispersing the acorns? Given their modest home ranges of several acres each, they couldn’t be the agents of dispersal. So how to explain the reestablishment of these critically important forests? In large part we need to thank blue jays.

In the fall blue jays cache scores to hundreds of acorns, a staple of their diet through the winter, by carrying several at a time in their crop, a storage organ in the throat reminiscent of the pouches of a chipmunk. (We could discuss another fascinating aspect of blue jays and their relatives − crows, ravens and nutcrackers − their incomparable memory skills, being able to remember countless locations where they’ve cached seeds, acorns and pine nuts.) They’ll fly up to several miles to store their prized acorns so imagine the acorn that’s forgotten or never retrieved because a hawk killed the jay that stored it − it has the chance to become a mighty oak tree. And so miles at a time through nearly 200 centuries the oak forests returned.

Ever since I took the “deeper dive” and learned these two things − that blue jay looks are deceiving and their role as ecological engineers − I look at them with a new-found appreciation. 

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.

Plastic presents a difficult but necessary to address challenge for the world's oceans. Photo courtesy of United States Coast Guard

By Herb Herman

There appears to be no end to plastic. We use it, live with it, discard it and we can never rid ourselves of the stuff. It comes as food wrappers, bottles, toys, containers of all kinds, and is so pervasive that plastic is very much an omnipresent part of our world. 

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) along with other legislators propose plastic legislation. Photo by David Luces

The numbers are staggering. More than 400 million tons of plastic are produced globally every year. And when we finish with plastic, we throw it out, try to recycle it, hide it in landfills, incinerate it, but, by far, most of the plastic debris we no longer have use for ends up in lakes, waterways and in the ocean. Some 80 percent of this litter comes from land sources, while 60-to-90 percent of beach litter is comprised of plastic. It is not encouraging to learn that Americans use approximately 100 billion single-use plastic bags annually, and around a trillion are used globally. The persistence of plastic waste is legendary, a plastic water bottle lasting 450 years. Much has been written of the plastic floating islands in the Pacific Ocean, and the apparently futile means to get rid of them. The National Geographic pleadingly offers us the “Planet or Plastic?” initiative, but the seemingly endless mass of plastic waste continues to grow like a cancer on the Earth.

If one were to carry out a literature search on plastic waste scientific publications the number of citations would exceed 450,000. The tangible impact of plastic waste is well documented. Most of the articles cited address the problem of plastic distribution around the world, from India to countries in the west, even the Antarctic, and at depths of 6,000 meters in the world’s oceans. Much research concentrates on sea animals and birds the world over, either through ingesting plastic particles or becoming tangled in plastic nets and fishing gear. Many of these plastics break down to fine, toxic particles leaving numerous bird species and sea animals with a high percentage of toxins in their guts. 

Crustaceans and fish are well known to consume plastic particles. Since we eat these animals, we also eat plastics. The long-term health consequences of plastic ingestion on sea creatures and humans are still unknown. Enormous quantities of micro-sized particles of plastics from personal hygiene products get deposited in water systems and also float around the world as airborne pollutants. There appears to be no end of plastics in various forms proliferating the earth. 

Of course, scientists are constantly seeking solutions. Landfills reach enormous proportions, with no guarantee that the waste plastics thus disposed of will remain where they are placed. Incineration is also used, sometimes to supply energy as a spin-off from the heat produced, but this approach leaves pollutants escaping into the environment. Of course, recycling appears to be the panacea for ridding ourselves of plastic. Unfortunately many plastic materials do not readily lend themselves to this gratifying solution, and recycling depends to a large measure on citizens acting responsibly, collecting candidate plastic products and properly disposing of them. Furthermore, those recyclable plastics that can be conveniently collected and segregated need to be sent to appropriate facilities for processing, and there are far too few of these plants. There will probably never be sufficient numbers of such facilities for the recycling of the vast quantities of plastics, which are continually produced.

Microplastic scooped from the surf off Kamilo Beach, Hawaii, where there seems to be more plastic than sand. Photo by Erica Cirino

What then to do? One can clearly appreciate the great need that exists and the challenges faced by planners and engineers who are tasked with dealing with this overwhelming problem. Academies of sciences and governments the world over have met and discussed this global problem. Some plastic-producing industries have pledged to carry out manufacturing measures and use materials that would ensure plastics can indeed by readily recycled. Governmental organizations have outlawed the use of plastics bags, and even paper straw bans have been introduced. The use of single-use plastic bottles has been vigorously discouraged. Non-governmental organizations have made the public aware of the seriousness of the problem. The list goes on, but millions of tons of plastics continue to be produced annually, and beachgoers continue to use plastic utensils and fail to discard them responsibly. 

It is imperative to formulate policies and mechanisms through which plastic litter can be controlled. For starters, the production of biodegradable, nontoxic plastics must be encouraged. A ban on single-use plastic bags should be incorporated in any waste-controlling legislation. Government research funds should be allocated for developing cost-effective chemical and mechanical recycling technologies, and perhaps most important is the education of the public on the matter of plastic’s effect on the marine ecosystem. The time has come to act to save the planet from this scourge of plastic.

Herb Herman is a distinguished professor emeritus from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Stony Brook University.

This goose was found with netting on its face in Setauket on Nov. 9. Photo by Raina Angelier

By Patrice Domeischel

What could have been a plastic trash catastrophe for a Canada goose instead resulted in a happy ending, thanks to the efforts of Anita Jo Lago and Rob Trezza.  

Rob Trezza caught the goose on Lake Street. Photo by Anita Jo Lago

Birders on a Four Harbors Audubon Society walk at Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket on Nov. 9 encountered the goose in distress, actively attempting to free itself of plastic netting that had encircled its head and body. The goose managed to remove some netting but was unable to disentangle itself from the remainder encircling its neck and face. 

Lago, a park volunteer at Frank Melville, and Trezza, park security, were called in to assess the situation, and promptly went to work. The goose was captured, relieved of the netting and released. 

“We really did get it when necessary,” commented Lago. “Its flight was hindered as it was getting away from a cygnet going after it. It took flight but landed happenstance. It landed on the road, Lake Street, because flight was compromised due to the netting holding its jaw and head. When Rob got closer, he saw the goose desperately trying to free itself by banging its head, many times, on the ground. So we got there in time.”

A disaster averted, the goose was able to fly off, a bit stressed and tired from its efforts, but in good condition. 

All too often birds and animals suffer the consequences created by our use of single-use plastic. Wildlife can become entangled in discarded plastic, wire or string resulting in injury or death. Even plastic that is responsibly disposed of finds its way into our waters and litters our beaches. Be proactive, protect wildlife and the environment, and reduce or eliminate altogether your use of single-use plastic.

Patrice Domeischel is a member of the Four Harbors Audubon Society.

A roaring good time was had by all!

By Martina Matkovic

 Entering the door of the Bates House in Setauket on Oct. 20th was like stepping back in time to the year 1929 and the era affectionately referred to as “The Roaring Twenties.”  Before  you could pass through the door, however, you had to say the secret password,  a nod to the  prohibition  laws and “speakeasys” that marked the time.  “Iris sent me” was chosen for its reference to the club’s official flower.

The occasion  celebrated the 90th birthday of The Three Village Garden Club whose first meeting was documented  by member  Arlene Oliver as she assiduously  combed through a treasure trove of  archival material of the past 90 years.   An “ahah” moment came with  the  discovery of  the minutes of the very  first meeting!

An octet of string musicians from Ward Melville High School  offered a selection of lovely classical repertoire as  guests “whet their whistles” with a signature cocktail  called  “Buck’s Fizz” and  enjoyed passed  hors d’oeuvres  as they made their way to  a display of historic memorabilia and a printed   timeline  of  the club’s 90  year history,  complimented by events taking place simultaneously in the world.

Large, potted  palms, reminiscent of the times,  decorated the area and guests were able  to pose for a photo in front of a large, wall-sized, authentic 1920’s  mural of couples socializing  outside of a  speakeasy. 

A veritable fashion parade of various styles of  dress of  the  period was on display as women guests appeared in  low-waisted dresses,  Cloche style hats,  feathered headpieces, strappy shoes, elbow-length gloves and pearls, pearls and more pearls.

As guests took their seats at beautifully set tables, each with a color-coordinated centerpiece of flowers designed  by Pat Bany,  and Elegant Eating   catering a  variety  of light fare.   Remarks were delivered by Kathy  Walczak,  chairperson of the event;  current president, Karin Ryon,  highlighting  important events in the club’s history; and newly elected president of  Federated Garden Clubs of New York State,  our own Vikki Bellias.  

While dessert of  “Al Capone” cake was being served, guests enjoyed musical entertainment  by  The Algorhythms, a  barbershop quartet who sang  popular tunes of the day, followed by a  demonstration of  signature dances  by  Arthur Murray Dance Centers.

The celebration was a fine tribute to the members of a venerable organization who  have served the community well in a variety of ways for  ninety  years. Carry on 3VGC!!

Martina Matkovic is a member of  The Three Village Garden Club which welcomes new members. For more information, call 631-689-8484

All photos by Lynette Zappulla

 

Sharon Richmond poses with her son Vincent D'Antoni in Battery Park on Mother’s Day 2016. “One day society will look back at this time period and think what a terrible atrocity we allowed to happen to our most vulnerable children,“ Richmond said. Photo by Sharon Richmond

I am educator, an advocate and most importantly a parent who lost her only child to the disease of addiction. Unfortunately, I know I am not alone. The truth is: I stand with more than 72,000 other parents who grieve the loss of their child to an overdose. 

When I speak publicly about addiction issues and look out at people, I see a small piece of me. When I look at your child, I see the beautiful potential of what could have been my child. If only mental health and the disease of addiction had the same basic human right to health care as other illnesses. I hope that by sharing my son’s story, I can create a future where all people are treated equally, no matter their ability or disability. 

My son Vincent was sensitive, kind, funny and insightful. He was popular, played almost every sport, and his teachers always said he brought conversations to the next level and stood up for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves. I will always stand tall and be proud of the person my son was. 

The one thing that most people never knew was that, no matter how hard he tried, Vincent still battled with serious mental health issues: ADHD, trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder), anxiety and low self-esteem, which eventually led to a deep depression. Even though Vincent had a family that absolutely adored him and everyone he met thought he was handsome, smart and funny, Vincent … never saw himself that way. Children need to be taught how to communicate and be given a variety of strategies to cope in today’s world. We have to work together. It needs to be at the family, school and community level. 

Vincent started smoking marijuana in high school. Toward the end of my son’s life, he shared that “pot” had been his gateway drug to stronger drugs. After high school, he was hanging around with a different crowd. During college, his “A” grades started to falter. Then, he lost his job. Something wasn’t right. I searched his room and found what I feared most: Oxycodone had become Vincent’s drug of choice. We had heated discussions that oxycodone was extremely dangerous and addictive. He would show me research that denied it. As we all know, powerful companies can find ways around the law and can state just about anything they want and get away with it. 

The oxycodone amplified my son’s anxiety and depression. He began to isolate himself. He could hardly get himself to go to work or even out of the house. Vincent tried to self-detox and get drug free on his own, failing several times. 

Finally, Vincent agreed his addiction was out of his control. I had so much hope he was going to get the treatment he desperately needed. Over the course of just one year, prior to my son passing away, he would get denied by the insurance company over four times! 

The insurance company stated he didn’t fit “medical necessity.” First, he had supportive parents. Second, he was motivated to get better. By the third denial, I filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office. They were able to get my son 14 days. 14 days … is such a short time to physically and emotionally overcome addiction, and certainly not enough time for Vincent. My son came out and soon relapsed. This time to heroin. 

After battling with the insurance company for months, they finally approved my son. Regrettably, unbeknownst to us, insurance companies are allowed to back-deny services within 30 days of approval. After detox and 14 days, my son was back-denied, stating he had no other mental health illnesses, was highly motivated to get better, and had a supportive family. He was crying that he needed more time. He was extremely anxious and severely depressed. They placed Vincent on anti-anxiety and anti-depression medication, even though my son was denied treatment due to not having any mental health illnesses. 

My son was trying to get better. He went to out-patient almost every day, met weekly with his counselor, and attended meetings at night. 

In the next few weeks, Vincent stayed drug free … he was beginning to be himself again. However, without getting the services he desperately needed and deserved, my son relapsed and bought drugs unknowingly laced with the deadly drug fentanyl. My son Vincent had no chance. I lost my shiny star, my beautiful son, Vincent on Sept. 13, 2017. Last month would have been his 28th birthday. 

Vincent’s battle is one like too many others. In his honor, I advocate for change. He had so many barriers making it so difficult to get the help he needed: whether it be getting denied Suboxone for detox, incorrect information to determine appropriate services, or getting the Vivitrol shot to help prevent relapse. No one should ever have to fight so hard for the basic human right to health care. 

Insurance companies need to be held accountable. They need to cross reference information for accuracy prior to denying inpatient treatment. They need to comply with the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. Federal law states that anyone with a mental health illness or the disease of addiction should get the same basic human rights to healthcare as those who have regular medical conditions. 

I couldn’t imagine if my son or anyone’s child had a regular health disease such as diabetes, a heart condition or cancer that they would get denied the medical care they needed, if they had a supportive family and were motivated to get better.

Over 200 loved ones die from an overdose every single day. We don’t have the luxury of time. In order to create any meaningful change, we need you to be a part of making a difference in our community. Your voice needs to be heard. It is so powerful and very important. If you truly want to see change … Reach out to your local and state representatives, ask them what their action plan is, and hold them accountable. Let them know how important it is for you and your children to have a future where everyone has the same right to get the care they need to be healthy. 

It is my hope that by sharing my son’s story, I can raise awareness, encourage the importance of communication, education and most importantly equality for basic human right to healthcare. 

Sharon Richmond lives in Northport and is part of the Town of Huntington’s Opioid Task Force. She is also a member of the Northport-East Northport Drug and Alcohol Task Force. She works closely with F.I.S.T (Families In Support of Treatment), LICADD (Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence), FCA (Family and Children’s Association),  the North Shore CASA (Coalition Against Substance Abuse) and Nassau County Heroin Prevention Task Force. She is a teacher at North Shore Schools in Nassau County.

Two fiddler crabs battle it out at West Meadow Beach last year. Photo by Jay Gao

By John L. Turner

If you visit just about any salt marsh fringing Long Island’s interdigitated coastline, you’ll experience the fiddlers — they simply can’t be avoided. And while you won’t hear fiddle music, despite the fact there are many hundreds if not thousands of fiddler’s ceaselessly “rosining up their bows,” you will certainly be entertained and amused by male fiddler crabs waving their unusually large claws back and forth like a convention of fiddle players at a folk music festival.  

This prominent and highly distinctive abnormally large claw possessed by the male fiddler crab, which can weigh half as much as the rest of its body, isn’t used as a defense against predators. Rather, it’s used in combat with rival males and for attracting a mate; male crabs possessing larger claws generally having more success (yes, for this species size appears to matter!).  

A male fiddler crab. Photo by Jay Gao

As a female crab walks by a courting male, he vigorously waves the claw back and forth in an attempt to interest her in mating (this behavior also explains their other name — the calling crab). If his display proves successful, she follows him back to his burrow to take a closer look. If she accepts him, the male grabs material to seal the burrow and within it mates with her. He will later emerge, resealing the burrow within which she is incubating the eggs. In a week or two she’ll emerge to release her eggs, generally timing release to coincide with a high tide. They hatch and the larvae float in the water column before eventually settling out; this dispersal helps to maintain genetic diversity among crab populations.   

Three species of fiddler crabs inhabit Long Island’s coastal environments: the mud fiddler (Minuca pugnax) appears to be the most common, followed by the sand fiddler (Leptuca pugilator) with the red-jointed or brackish-water fiddler (Minuca minax) being the least common. They segregate habitat as their names suggest — mud fiddlers found in the mud-rich, organic areas of salt marshes, sand fiddlers utilizing sandy areas, and the red-jointed fiddlers occurring in areas where waters are more brackish, containing lower salt content. They can be a bit of a challenge to identify but with some practice it can be done. 

Worldwide, 105 species of fiddler crabs are currently recognized. They are found along the coastlines of every continent, thus having a global distribution, specifically occurring along the coastlines of southern Asia, Africa (especially the east coast), northern Australia, both coasts of Central America, South America and the southern half of North America. They are distributed within a band of about 40 degrees north and south of the equator; our fiddler populations are among the farthest from the equator, being able to occur this far north due to the provisioning warmth of the Gulf Stream current. The colder waters bathing the coast of Europe preclude their presence there. 

Fiddler crabs at Flax Pond. Photo by John Turner

One of my favorite places to observe fiddler crabs in the Three Village area is Flax Pond, the wonderful natural area owned by New York State (hence you!) located in Old Field, in the northwestern corner of Brookhaven Town. A newly reconstructed boardwalk bisects the marsh, passing over a tidal marsh and stream. About 100 yards north of its beginning the boardwalk offers an ideal vantage point to view these intertidal crabs feeding below in the salt marsh, the boardwalk itself effectively serving as a blind.  

If you time the tides right (low tide or falling tide is best), many hundreds of fiddlers will dot the marsh surface — many courting, waving their big claw to and fro while many more take advantage of the exposed mud to feed. If you stroll along one edge of the boardwalk where the crabs can see you, the marsh will appear in motion from the action of countless crabs moving away from you. Other local productive sites include West Meadow Creek and Stony Brook Harbor.  

The fiddler’s burrow, as much as 2 feet long, is critical to a crab’s survival. Here it finds protection from predators and shelter from the high tides which twice daily inundate the burrow (they’re safe in their plugged, air-filled chamber). Even if water enters, they can survive since fiddler crabs have both gills allowing them to breathe in water and a primitive lung which allows them to breathe when feeding in the air on the marsh surface. Studies document their burrow is the “hub of the wheel” from which they never move too far. 

One study, by an Australian researcher, documented that crabs tend to orient themselves to their burrow, not by facing it or having their back to it, but rather sideways with one half of their set of four legs facing the burrow in the event they have to rapidly scurry sideways to gain protection from a predator.   

If you pay closer attention to the crabs’ enlarged claws, you’ll notice that they’re about evenly split between left-handed and right-handed individuals, with some populations having slightly more of one or the other. If the large claw is lost to a predator or in battle, the smaller claw enlarges to become the “fiddler” claw while the regenerated claw remains small, becoming the feeding claw.     

Watching crabs feed is fun; the females with two normal size claws feed more efficiently than do the males who can utilize but one claw, since the larger one is useless as a feeding tool. Recently, I watched several females feeding and they brought food to their mouths about once a second for minutes on end. Fiddlers feed on decaying vegetation, bacteria, algae and other organic matter found in the sand or mud, efficiently sifting out with their mouthparts the sand particles which they cast aside in the form of little balls or pellets.     

A Yellow-crowned Night Heron snacks on a fiddler crab. Photo by Luke Ormand

Their distinctive stalked eyes provide an alien, other-world look to the species. They have compound eyes, like dragonflies, with up to 9,000 eye facets that can see into the ultraviolet range of the light spectrum! Being on stalks allows them to have slightly elevated, panoramic vision of the marsh around them, a good thing since they face numerous predators that frequent tidal wetlands. The visual sensors on top of their eyes enable them to see motion from overhead, a key adaptation since they are subject to predation by birds. 

Speaking of birds, several species routinely eat fiddlers. American bittern and clapper rails feed on them as do a variety of wading birds such as white and glossy ibis and American egret; yellow-crowned night herons, whose diet is largely restricted to crabs, especially focus on fiddler crabs. Diamondback terrapins eat them as do river otters. 

 Being a key part of the estuarine or coastal food chain is one of the important ecological benefits fiddlers provide; they also play a key role in recycling marsh nutrients through their feeding activities. Their burrows, which collectively can number in the many thousands in a large marsh, help to oxygenate the soil, helping marsh plants to grow such as cordgrass and salt hay. Their presence is also a “bio-indicator” — a general indication of a salt marsh’s high ecological health, generally occurring in tidal wetlands free of pollution and contamination.

Why not make their acquaintance before they retreat deeply into muddy burrows for their long winter slumber?

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.

Vivian-Viloria-Fisher. File photo by Kyle Barr

By Vivian Viloria-Fisher

I thought I had taken all the right steps to protect myself against tick borne diseases; avoided going onto tall grassy areas without gloves, long white pants and white socks, and I sprayed legs — and shoes — and arms with repellents. All that notwithstanding, I did find more than one tick on me this summer. Again, I followed the prescribed steps and collected the vermin, saved it and saw my doctor, who prescribed a prophylactic dose of doxycycline. After the requisite weeks, I had blood work done which showed no sign of disease.

So, when I was flying home from a visit with our two sons in California and was not able to eat my salad at my layover stop, I was surprised but not concerned. I’d had a very busy week enjoying time with my kids and grandson. I felt very achy but chalked that up to the long drive from Marc’s home in Sebastopol to Dan and Megan’s home in Thousand Oaks. That’s more than 400 miles.

I was very tired the next morning but pushed myself to get up and get ready for the funeral that caused me to shorten my trip. During the Mass, I swung from hot to shivering cold and began to feel lightheaded. I turned to my husband, Stu, and told him that I felt as if my head was exploding in a white flash before my eyes. He helped me to my feet, and we made our way out of the church, quickly hugging my cousins as we passed. We bought a thermometer at a drugstore across the street from the church. It read 103 degrees.

This was Friday, the beginning of a week of fevers rising and falling, no ability to eat, muscle aches, headaches, earache and fatigue. My search for answers included three visits to doctors’ offices and finally, on Thursday, Mather Hospital Emergency Department in Port Jefferson where Dr. Hirsch did not dismiss it as just a virus. I told him I thought I had meningitis. He shook his head and said, “I suspect Lyme.”

My father had meningitis when I was 5 years old. He had continued to work although he was sick with mumps, and the infection spread. I remember the grown ups’ conversations about the tube driven into his head to relieve pressure. That left me with a very vivid but equally inaccurate image of what he endured. I wished something could relieve what I knew was going on in my head.

Stu and I had just watched “Jeopardy!” on Friday evening, and my right eye hurt so much that I decided to go to bed, since I couldn’t read or watch TV. I looked in the mirror as I brought the toothbrush to my mouth and saw that only half my mouth was opening. Off we went to Mather ED.

Within a day it was determined from the spinal fluid that the Lyme disease did cause the meningitis — and the palsy that froze the right side of my face.

I refer to tick borne diseases as the Black Plague of our county. These diseases are not to be taken lightly either by the public who don’t believe it will happen to them or by health providers who don’t consider the possibility of Lyme as often as they should. One can be bitten and walk away free of any infection or one can be bitten, feel safe because blood work shows no infection and find oneself close to death. I was very lucky to have had excellent medical care, both in the hospital and at home. I was discharged with a midline for a 28-day course of intravenous antibiotics and a service that provided a nurse who came to our home once a week and instructed my devoted husband on how to administer the medication when she wasn’t there.

Nobody drilled a hole in my head. Instead, my family, my friends and my community surrounded me with love, care and prayers. I am so grateful.

Vivian Viloria-Fisher and her husband live in East Setauket. She is a former county legislator in the 5th District, and is now chair of the Jefferson’s Ferry board of directors.

Chris Pendergast celebrates his 70th birthday in April at 89 North Music Venue in Patchogue with family and friends. Photo by Elliot Perry

By Chris Pendergast

On a cold rainy Columbus Day, my life forever changed. Nothing would be the same. The life I knew ended. My wife, children and I embarked on a new road, one less traveled by. That has made all the difference.

During the Columbus Day weekend of 1993, I was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Most people now know it is an incurable and uniformly fatal disease. Average life expectancy still hovers near the two or three-year mark. Lucky ones can live longer. A rare few survive longer than 10 years.

Remarkably, l am entering my 27th year with my unwanted road companion. I am here today due in large part to my loving wife, Christine, and our wonderful kids, Melissa and Buddy. They keep me well cared for and motivated. They have, literally, gone the extra mile for me. My grandson Patrick is the most effective medicine I take. My son-in-law Rich and step-grandson Ryan round out my terrific family.

I am blessed with caring, competent and compassionate caregivers, Tiana, Amanda, Marquita and Lena. They are in the trenches every day and night battling right beside and fighting the good fight with me. I am fortunate to have an outstanding mental health therapist, Dr. Melnekoff. He has kept me balanced, focused and headed in the right direction. My life is extended through the phenomenal care provided by my incredible respiratory therapist, Monty Rivera from Millennium. I receive expert medical treatment at the ALSA Clinic, which bears my name at Stony Brook University Hospital. Marvelous friends surround me and help with so many things to make our life easier. My ALS Ride for Life charity has countless volunteers led by staffers Maureen and Marilyn. Because of all their collective work, we have raised more than $8.5 million.

Along the road with ALS, I witnessed amazing things and met incredible people. I was able to participate in wonderful experiences which otherwise would not have happened.

Do I wish I never got ALS? Honestly, I am not sure. I am certain that at some point in almost everyone’s life, a fatal disease will arise. The timing and circumstances vary but the ending does not. I have no corner on the market — everyone will get a turn. My turn came earlier than expected and became more public.

It has been a great life so far. I wonder what new adventures and joys lie around the bend. Besides the joys to come, there are also the challenges and corresponding sorrows. However, I have faith and optimism that everyone one in my life will collectively help me triumph.

To paraphrase Gehrig’s farewell speech at Yankee Stadium, as he did, I also say, “Look at these grand people. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his life just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky. Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.”

Chris Pendergast, 70, is a former Northport teacher, who lives in Miller Place. He is the founder of ALS Ride for Life, the Stony Brook University-based nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about ALS, funding research and providing patient services.