Your Turn

File photo by Elana Glowatz

This is an open letter to the members of the Port Jefferson board of education, Port Jefferson Teachers Association and Port Jefferson Administrators Association.

We hope this letter finds you well and healthy. On behalf of Port Jefferson PTA, PTSA and SEPTA we are reaching out to share our thoughts as the district prepares to re-open in the fall. First and foremost, we would like to thank each of you for your time and dedication to maintaining the excellence we enjoy at Port Jefferson School District. We also want to take this opportunity to express our support for the teachers and administrators as they have navigated distance learning during this unprecedented global pandemic. We feel it is important as the representative parent/teacher organizations in the district that we share with the board of education our, as well as many of our members, thoughts and concerns that have arisen regarding the education of our children under the constraints of this pandemic. We hope that by doing this we can come together to create solutions that will allow our district and children to shine as we face the monumental challenges of reopening and keeping everyone safe and healthy.

As you know, without a vaccine or a cure for COVID-19 there is a high likelihood that the next school year will be impacted by the pandemic as well. We are aware district administrators are currently planning for this new “normal” and are discussing the possibility of returning in the fall to a “hybrid” model that includes some component of distance learning. In the event this is the case and the district is forced to continue to employ some component of distance learning, we are urging the board of education to ensure that any model employed during the 2020-21 school year provides our students with consistent daily virtual interaction and live instruction. Our children need their teachers to teach them. We understand that some school districts on Long Island delivered “live” teaching district-wide and believe that going forward this would be the best way to maintain the excellence in education that Port Jefferson School District has always provided.

We understand that our teachers and administrators were faced with an enormous challenge to develop and provide a distance learning program on very little notice. We understand that it wouldn’t be as comparable to a regular school day. We have all done the best we could, given the circumstances. However, despite everyone’s efforts, the model employed by the district during the spring translated to an inconsistent educational standard/experience across the

district. Teachers were given the discretion to “host synchronous and/or asynchronous

instructional activities.” This primarily led to little live instruction and an uneven learning experience across the district. While some teachers offered live and/or pre-recorded instruction, many did not and instead only posted assignments to Google Classroom (or various other platforms) which then placed the burden of teaching those assignments on the parents. As parents, we of course want to educate our children, but we are not trained educators and many of us still have our own jobs to perform. Being forced to become a teacher and work at the same time becomes an impossible task. 

This scenario creates an inadequate educational experience for our children putting our kids further behind on the competitive world stage. In addition to the decreased educational standard that has occurred as a result of this crisis it is also concerning that some teachers had weekly “check in’s” and worse still some had no virtual live interaction with their students during the entire length of the school closure. For the few teachers who provided live instruction we applaud their dedication, creativity and adaptability in continuing to deliver excellence in education during these unprecedented times. We are now calling for all of our teachers to provide education at this level of excellence during the next school year in the event the district is forced to employ some sort of hybrid model that includes distance learning.

For many parents, the current mindset is that 2019-20 was a lost school year. Were it a limited event affecting the end of a single school year we understand the crisis of the situation and can accept a lower standard that emergencies demand. However, the reality of the situation is that this pandemic will sadly go on for longer than any of us hoped and we cannot completely let go of the standards our children deserve. This pandemic has forced many changes upon us. All industries have had to adapt. As we weathered the initial crisis, we must now begin to prepare so that the 2020-21 school year is not a lost educational year as well. Given the great educators the district employs coupled with the advances in technology we believe that Port Jefferson School District can excel at this challenge. Let us be the district that leads and that other districts strive to emulate.

We urge the board of education, the Teachers’ Association and the Administrator’s Association to approach the 2020-21 school year as an opportunity for Port Jefferson to become recognized as the gold standard in distance learning to the extent the school is not able to return to a traditional school day. As parents, we believe that any distance learning plan should include, at a minimum:

• Live virtual and/or pre-recorded teaching that matches the amount of active, teaching time provided during a regular school day.

• Daily/weekly “office hours” for any teacher not utilizing “live teaching” so that students can ask questions regarding content.

• Daily check ins for all classes — “attendance” including lists of what is due, when it is due and a way for students to check off that they read and understand.

• Support services such as speech, OT, PT and counseling offered in the amounts specified in IEPs through online platforms and teletherapy.

• A clear schedule for students to follow with time built in for outdoor time for exercise and play.

• Weekly emotional/educational phone call check ins with each student (use teachers, TAs, support staff).

Rethinking the way education is delivered is obviously a monumental task. We are confident, however, that our administrators and educators, working together and in consultation with our parents can come up with a plan that continues to deliver an excellent level of education to our students. We here at PTA, PTSA and SEPTA are eager to support the district in any way we can and would love to be involved in the process going forward, sitting on any committees that are convened of stakeholders. To quote high school Principal Dr. Robert Neidig, “[w]e will get through this and we will persevere, after all we are Royals.”

Sincerely,

Port Jefferson PTA, Port Jefferson PTSA, Port Jefferson SEPTA

Stock photo

The Suffolk County Volunteer Firefighters Burn Center at Stony Brook University Hospital has ten safety tips this July 4th Weekend as families continue to practice social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.

Many will spend the holiday in their backyards for barbecues, cookouts or build fire pits where there’s a greater risk to sustain a burn injury. To avoid injury, Dr. Steven Sandoval of SBU Hospital says “The best way to do this is to prevent the burn in the first place with safety tips and precautions to eliminate potential dangers.”

1. Fireworks are safe for viewing only when being used by professionals.

2. Sparklers are one of the most common ways children become burned this holiday, even with a parent’s supervision.

3. Do not have children around any fireworks, fire pits, barbecues or hot coals. Teach them not to grab objects or play with items that can be hot. Go through a lesson where they learn to ask permission.

4. Limit the use of flammable liquids to start your fire pits and barbecues. Use only approved lighter fluids that are meant for cooking purposes. No gasoline or kerosene.

5. Don’t leave hot coals from fire pits and barbecues laying on the ground for people to step in.

6. When cleaning grills, the use of wire bristle brushes can result in ingestion of sharp bristle pieces requiring surgery.

7. If you are overly tired, and consumed alcohol, do not use the stovetop, fire pit or a fireplace.

8. Stay protected from the sun. Use hats and sunblock, and realize that sunblock needs to be reapplied after swimming or after sweating.

9. Use the back burners of the stove to prevent children from reaching up and touching hot pots and pans.

10. Always use oven mitts or potholders to remove hot items from the stove or microwave. Assume pots, pans and dishware are hot. 

Sound Beach Civic Associaiton President Bea Ruberto speaks during the Veterans Day ceremony at Sound Beach Veterans Memorial Park. File photo by Desirée Keegan

How high is the hill we have yet to climb? For the last several months we followed the guidelines: We stayed home, we wore masks when we needed to go out and we maintained social distancing, and it worked — we flattened the curve. The economy is reopening, and we’re all looking forward to resuming our lives, but from a health perspective and economically, it may be a long road back.

Suffolk is a populous county and has been severely affected by this virus, and the region’s ability to recover from the costs incurred by the pandemic depends on what happens next. As I understand it, Suffolk County is requesting $1 billion in federal aid, a fraction of what we send to Washington in taxes. In addition, Long Island sends more dollars to Washington than it receives in return. According to the Suffolk County COVID-19 Fiscal Impact Force Final Report, for most years sales tax collections account for approximately half of county revenues while an additional quarter comes from property taxes. The task force is currently projecting a $329 million shortfall in sales tax collections and a 4.9 percent shortfall in property tax collections. And, although the county is budgeted to receive $314 million in state aid, the State of New York has announced that, without federal reimbursements for the COVID-19 expenses it has incurred, there will be potential cuts of 20 to 30 percent. According to this report, the full impact of the lockdown is expected to bring steeper decline in the economy, the GDP and sales tax revenues. Again, as I understand it, without federal aid, the recovery could be extended out for a decade if not longer.

We did what we were told — we shut down the economy — and we hope that now what we hear from the federal government isn’t, “Thank you for following the guidelines; now you pay the cost of the response.” The pandemic is no different than any other natural disaster, and the federal government must provide the relief it would provide during any natural disaster. The state and county budgets are hurting, yet the message we’re getting from Washington is that there’s nothing to worry about and local governments should solve “their own problems.” 

This is a pivotal moment for the region. We need to recover as soon as possible. The financial impact should not be borne primarily by taxpayers nor should we accept cuts to services provided by our first responders, police and other essential workers, but this is exactly what will happen: An already fragile economy will tank without help from the federal government.

To this end, the Sound Beach Civic Association is spearheading a letter-writing campaign reaching out to our federal representatives without whose support the taxpayers of Suffolk County will suffer — both financially and in reduction of services. We encourage everyone to join us and contact Representatives Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1), Thomas Suozzi (D-NY-3) and Peter King (R-NY-2) and U.S. Senators Charles Schumer (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D). If you don’t want to write your own letter, you can download one at www.soundbeachcivic.org.

Bea Ruberto is the president of the Sound Beach Civic Association.

Above, attendees at Juneteenth celebration, Eastwoods Park, Austin, Texas, June 19, 1900. Photo courtesy of The Austin History Center

This article originally appeared on the Three Village Historical Society website and is reprinted with permission. 

By Tara Ebrahimian

Juneteenth, first established by the Black community of Texas in 1866, is now getting in New York State the recognition it has long deserved. On June 17, 2020 Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that he would, by Executive Order, recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday, and put it before the New York legislature to make this mandate, law. Although Juneteenth began in the South, it is widely observed throughout the country. It is annually observed in New York, including on Long Island, through independent and collaborative celebrations. Juneteenth’s historic and cultural relevance impacts the entire nation and remains hugely significant for Black heritage and United States history. 

It commemorates June 19, 1865, when enslaved Blacks learned that they were legally free. Union Army General Gordon Granger arrived with his troops in Galveston, Texas, and made a profound announcement: the war and slavery were over. Technically the war ended when General Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865, and the Emancipation Proclamation, effective January 1, 1863, freed enslaved persons in Confederate states, but the news had not been shared in Texas. It was the last stronghold of slavery. Since 1862, when New Orleans was captured, slave owners from Mississippi, Louisiana, and other southern states had moved with their slaves to Texas. There were approximately 250,000 enslaved people residing in Texas when the declaration was made. 

Granger’s delivery of the news did not result in an immediate end of slavery.  Blacks in Galveston initially celebrated the revelation, but the mayor contradicted the law and forced them to go back to work. It was largely left to the slave owners’ discretion whether they informed individuals that they were no longer enslaved. Many did not initially share the information and instead waited for the arrival of a government agent to tell them. Blacks were frequently not informed until after the harvest. A number of newly emancipated individuals ignored the censure to stay put and left for Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. They did so at their own risk; there were numerous reports of Blacks being lynched as they tried to leave. 

In 1866 freed people in Texas, in conjunction with the Freedmen’s Bureau, organized formal celebrations for “Jubilee Day.” During the years immediately after the war, Jubilee Day was sometimes celebrated on January 1st, a reference to the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation. It also functioned as a rally for political and social advancement; Jubilee Day frequently offered instruction for voter registration and participation. The day became a mainstream event in Black communities and featured festivities, activities, and food. 

Segregation in cities prohibited Blacks from going to public parks. Church grounds were often used as sites for the events. And, freed individuals pooled money to purchase land on which to hold celebrations. For example, Black community leaders, led by Reverend Jack Yates, raised $1000 in 1872 to purchase land that is now Houston’s Emancipation Park. These annual celebrations began drawing thousands of participants throughout Texas and expanding beyond the state. By the end of the century, Jubilee Day was known primarily as Juneteenth.  

During this period, many southern states enacted punitive and punishing Jim Crow legislation that undermined or undid the economic and political progress Blacks had made during and after Reconstruction. These local and state laws were designed to subjugate and stymie Black social, economic, and political development. They disenfranchised Black people through segregation and policies such as the Grandfather Clause that limited or eliminated voting rights.

Many freed people left Texas and the South in search of greater opportunities in the North. Juneteenth was a still Southern celebration and attendance outside of Texas began to wane. Younger generations, more removed from the war and seeking to distance themselves from the legacy of slavery, also started to distance themselves from participating in the unofficial holiday. As the twentieth century progressed, and people moved from agricultural to industrial employment, it was increasingly unlikely that people would be granted time off work for Juneteenth. The Great Depression, in particular, caused a migration from the country to the cities. 

The Civil Rights movement caused a resurgence in awareness about Juneteenth. Black youth joined their elders in the fight for Civil Rights. There was increased interest in and engagement with history and how the past informs the present. The Poor People’s March to Washington, D.C. served as a catalyst for renewed interest in Juneteenth. Participants returned to their home states and initiated Juneteenth celebrations in locations that had never before experienced them. 

In 1980, Texas was the first state to formally recognize Juneteenth; it declared the date a “holiday of significance…” At the end of the decade, California, Illinois, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Washington, D.C., were among the places that presented major events for Juneteenth. Although Congress has remembered Juneteenth in different ways over the years, it is not yet a national holiday. In New York, “Juneteenth Freedom Day” was first identified as a commemorative holiday in 2004, per a state law signed by Governor George Pataki.

Long Island hosts a growing number of events and programs dedicated to this occasion. Frequently celebrated on the third Sunday in June, modern events share certain traits with their predecessors, including picnics, cookouts, historical reenactments, street fairs, parades, etc. This year’s festivities are scaled back due to COVID-19, but certain celebrations, such as the Long Island Unity March on June 19, were still scheduled.  

Author Tara Ebrahimian is the Education Coordinator at the Three Village Historical Society in Setauket — www.tvhs.org.

By John L. Turner

Insight as to the value placed on a wild plant by past generations can be gained by how many common names it’s been given. Typically, a plant with the minimum of just one name has it as a means by which to recognize it and to distinguish the plant from other species. A plant with a number of names, though, suggests a species of greater significance, value, and utility, and such is the case with Shadbush, a common understory shrub or small tree which grows in Long Island’s deciduous forests.

The Shadbush blooms in late April to early May (top photo) and produces edible fruit in late spring to early summer (above). Stock photos

This attractive tree goes by a few names: Shadbush, Shadblow, Serviceberry, and Juneberry. The reference to shad stems from more ancient knowledge of recognizing patterns of nature. Many years ago shad, a species of river herring, was significantly more abundant than today and the spring shad runs up major rivers to reach their spawning grounds was an important event for many people, providing an ample supply of cheap protein. 

Perhaps it was the shad fisherman, or maybe others, but they noticed this tree blossomed at the time the shad were on the move. The five-petaled white blossoms meant migrating shad, hence the connection made permanent by the common name of Shadbush.

The white blossoms of the Shadbush in late April through early May also provided another signal — that winter was done, the ground has thawed, and the dead could receive burial service with caskets sometimes adorned with sprigs of the Serviceberry blossoms.

If the flowers are pollinated, berries form in late spring to early summer, giving rise to the last of its common names — Juneberry. The berrylike fruit is delicious and relished by numerous wildlife, including many birds. Us humans like them too and often turn the fruit into pies, jellies and jams. Technically, the fruit is known as a pome, as are apples, and this isn’t surprising since both apples and Shadbush are members of the Rose family.

The genus name Amelanchier is a french word first used to describe the species.

Four species of Shadbush occur on Long Island, with three of the species found in rich but well drained soils  and one on the eastern end located on sandier, more droughty soils. They range from being a modest multi-stemmed shrub just a few feet tall to a tree 20 to 30 feet high. In forest settings, given its smaller stature, Shadbush grows under taller oaks, black birch, and hickories and, where common, produces scattered “blossom clouds” of white beneath these taller trees. It has attractive smooth grey bark and its leaves are small and oval with toothed margins. Come autumn the foliage turn orange/red, adding a nice splash of color to the forest.

Whatever you wish to call it Shadbush has so much going for it — from its rich folklore, to pretty flowers, attractive bark, and tasty fruit — that I hope you make its acquaintance and perhaps try a berry or two.

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.

A piping plover at West Meadow Beach in Stony Brook on May 26. Photo by Jay Gao
Mother Nature’s Wrath

   By Ellen Mason, Stony Brook

Mother Nature is angry

And she’s showing her wrath. 

We’ve destroyed her best efforts,

Walking down this wrong path. 

 

Our health is at stake,

And the health of our earth. 

But we’ve not done enough 

To make up for this dearth. 

 

Water pollution,

Severe climate change,

Endangered species,

There’s a whole range

 

Of needed improvements

For what we have wrought.  

We’ve squandered our riches,

And look what we’ve bought!

 

Yes we’ll get through this,

She’s stern but not cruel. 

But we must pay attention

And live by new rules.

Tom Caruso
Favorite quote: ‘Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.’ — Ansel Adams

FEATURED PHOTOGRAPHER: Tom Caruso

Hometown: Smithtown

Day job: Professional Software Engineer/Development Manager, Broadridge Financial Solutions

Photographer: I developed an interest in photography at an early age, influenced by greats like Ansel Adams. My parents gave me my first 35mm camera in 1972 and my life was forever changed.

Favorite camera: The Nikon D850. I purchased it in December, 2018, and it’s an amazing camera with an incredible sensor.

Favorite lenses: I presently own two lenses for the D850. My walking around lens is an AF-S Nikkor 24-120mm 1:4 G ED and I found this to be a great workhorse giving me the flexibility I need for most shots. When I need tack-sharp images for macros or in dark settings I switch to my AF-S Nikkor 50mm 1:1.4 G prime lens. Both lenses were refurbished by Nikon when I purchased them.

Favorite locations: I am fortunate to have several beautiful places near my Smithtown home and I visit them frequently to catch them at various times of day and different seasons. These places include Caleb Smith State Park Preserve, Long Beach, Short Beach, Blydenburgh County Park, The David Weld Sanctuary, Stony Brook Harbor, Stony Brook Duck Pond, Kings Park Psychiatric Center and Nissequogue River State Park.

Have you entered any photo contests? My first photo contest was the 2020 Friends of Caleb Smith State Park Preserve The Beauty of Caleb Smith State Park Preserve My image “Deer in Snowstorm” won Honorable Mention in the adult division. I also entered the 2020 Gurwin photo contest. The winners will be announced later this year.

Favorite aspect about taking photos: Landscape and nature photography gives me the opportunity to be outdoors. I love communing with nature and I am happiest when I am wandering in the woods with my camera in hand on a beautiful autumn day. Another aspect of photography I enjoy is knowing that my images bring happiness to others.

Best advice to get that perfect shot: There are a lot of photographic rules that we are told make a great photograph. I sometimes adhere to them but I shoot more on instinct. I know a great shot when I see it whether or not it follows the rules. Always keep your eyes wide open and moving when on a shoot. When in the wild with your camera you have to engage all your senses to find your next capture, not just sight. A faint sound of a crunching leaf turned out to be a snake which lead to one of the photos in this essay. The enormity of a forest can be intimidating but you have to see everything from the largest to the smallest subjects, from a mighty tree to a delicate spider web and all things in between. It is not enough to see the image for what it is but you have to visualize what it could become when post processing. If you do these things you don’t have to look for the perfect shot: it will find you. 

See more of Tom’s photos at www.tomcarusophotography.com.

Two friends on the staff of the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport are engaged in a poetry-photo challenge. Their goal is to lift the spirits of their quarantined colleagues.

Ed Clampitt has been a member of the Museum’s security staff for four years. He challenged Ellen Mason, a volunteer tour guide for 14 years, to write poems inspired by his photos. Clampitt, who also has written some of the poems, likes to record seasonal beauty at Eagle’s Nest, the spectacular 43-acre Vanderbilt Estate that is also home to the Vanderbilt Museum and Reichert Planetarium.

Ellen Mason

“During discussions about our upcoming children’s book, Ellen discovered her previously untapped talent for writing poetry,” Clampitt said. “I enjoy being her muse and inspiring that wonderful talent to blossom!”

Mason said, “Ed suggested that he take photographs at the Vanderbilt and challenged me to write poems to correspond to them. He surprises me with the photos and gives me no prior information. And I surprise him with the poems.”

Then the creative partners email the results to the Vanderbilt staff and members of the Board of Trustees. Their responses: delight and gratitude.

“It’s such a pleasure to receive their poems and photos,” said Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan, the Vanderbilt Museum’s interim executive director. “Ed and Ellen’s creations remind us of how lucky we are to work in such beautiful surroundings, especially now when we cannot physically be at Eagle’s Nest. Their pictures and words are inspiring.”

Ed Clamplitt

Clampitt, a Huntington resident who also has worked for Stop & Shop supermarkets for 40 years, is a front-line worker during the COVID-19 pandemic. He is also co-creator and author of Team Dawg, a character-education program and children’s book series that has been widely used in elementary schools throughout Long Island.

Mason, a Stony Brook resident and retired Centereach High School English teacher, leads tours of the Vanderbilt Mansion. She tells visitors stories about the Vanderbilt family and provides details on the Mansion’s architecture and centuries-old art and furnishings. During summer Living History tours, she and the guides dress in 1930s costumes to portray famous summer guests of Rosamond and William K. Vanderbilt II.

Here are two of Mason’s poems and one by Clampitt, with four of Clampitt’s photos taken on the Vanderbilt Estate:

Separation

By Ellen Mason

Wrought iron gates / Now closed to us;

No sound of car / Or van or bus.

 No children shout /Or laughter rings

Amid the trees /Where birds still sing.

The empty paths / And courtyard bare

Of visitors /A sight so rare.

A vista /Just around the bend,

Might give us hope / And chance to mend.

To breathe the air / At Eagle’s Nest,

Would lend our hearts / And souls some rest.

The day will come / When we’ll return,

To hug and share / Our lessons learned.

We’ll walk the paths / Blue sky above,

And celebrate / This place we love.

Night in the Museum

By Ellen Mason

The grounds are dark, /And silence reigns;

No traffic noise / On roads or lanes.

No human sounds /Disturb the night,

As paths are bathed /In pale starlight.

Within the hushed /Exhibit halls,

Some species stir /On floors and walls.

With restlessness, /They shift and shake,

And move their eyes, /And try to make

Some sense of what / Has come to pass:

No students here / With friends and class,

In lines of two, / With cell phones poised,

They used to laugh /And make loud noise

Where are the folks, / The steady band,

Who climb the stairs / With map in hand?

The whale shark swings / Both to and fro,

To catch the sight: / No one below.

The polar bear, / Now wide awake,

Believes there must be / Some mistake.

In the museum, / High on the hill,

In quiet rooms, / Alone and still,

The sharks, the eels, / The manatee,

Hang, waiting for /Humanity

Their vigil here, /Throughout the night,

Continues on / In morning light.

And so they wait, / And hope to learn,

Why we were gone, / When we return.

The Plan

By Ed Clampitt

 She’s still hard at work, / Preparing this place,

For the day coming soon, / When we meet face to face.

Each day brings new changes, /Some larger, some small,

She knows in her heart, /We feel blessed by them all.

Mother Nature the Wonder /Signs of hope that abound,

Just trust in her plan / What’s been lost will be found.

Photo by John Turner

By John L. Turner

This is the second of a two-part series.

In part one of “Curious Books Upon My Bookshelf” (March 26 issue of Arts & Lifestyles) I focused on items I’ve collected through the years on walks along Long Island’s shoreline. In this part we go “inland” to discuss a few of Mother Nature’s gifts I’ve found while exploring Long Island’s fields and forests.

I like to stray off paths to “bushwhack” through a forest (a habit that has led me to meet more ticks than I’ve ever desired!), walking quietly, slowly and carefully in search of wildflowers, bird nests, snakes, box turtles and other objects of interest. It’s a bit like the method people use when walking around an old store filled with interesting antiques and nicknacks. If you do this (in the forest and not the store) it’s just a matter of time before you find one or more of these objects.

On numerous occasions I’ve come across the remains of a white-tailed deer — ribs, a pelvic girdle, vertebrae, sometimes skulls, but most often their shed antlers, laying amidst the leaves, slowly melting back into the earth. Their final resting spots are a solemn place and I invariably wonder what caused their death. Predator? (not yet at least, not until coyotes become more fully established on Long Island) Starvation? An accident? Succumbing to wounds from a hunting slug?I almost always don’t know.

Deer antlers are a thing of beauty; while they are generally variations on a central theme of a main shaft with arms or “points” emanating from it, each antler is unique. Grown and shed each year (unlike horns on a bison or bighorn sheep which are not shed but grow continuously throughout an animal’s lifetime), antlers generally get larger as the animal matures so an eight year buck will have a larger set of antlers than a three-year-old.

On occasion I’ll find an antler that has been extensively gnawed upon — this is not surprising. Antlers are composed of bone and contain calcium and minerals and a number of animals will take advantage of this prized “dietary supplement.” A four-state study to learn which animals eat antlers determined that grey squirrels most often gnawed on them; eleven species were tallied in all including, not surprisingly, other gnawing animals — chipmunks, rabbits, mice and woodchucks. A little more surprising were raccoons, coyotes, opossum, river otter and one beaver.

I occasionally encounter other mammal skulls besides deer. I have a few raccoon skulls, a woodchuck skull, a red fox skull, and my prized skull — that of a grey fox. This secretive and beautiful mammal is less well known than the more common red fox (the first grey fox I ever saw had climbed a persimmon tree in Maryland and was chowing down on tree ripe persimmons).

On Long Island I’ve been fortunate to have seen live grey fox, the most recent experience in the autumn two years ago. Spying him before he saw me as I fortuitously was hidden behind a bushy, young Pitch Pine tree, this beautiful grizzled looking animal was patrolling along a sandy trail in the Dwarf Pine Plains of the Long Island Pine Barrens.

Speaking of pines, pine cones are one of my favorite objects to collect; they adorn my shelves. Their varied but unifying symmetry is always a visual delight. I have many Pitch Pine cones, a few from White Pine, a Lodgepole Pine, a Norway Spruce, and even a Stone Pine from the west coast of Italy.

The smallest, most inconspicuous cone I have is my favorite though. It is a cone from a Pitch Pine but it doesn’t look like the other Pitch Pine cones I have; this one is a “closed” or “serotinous” pine cone from a dwarf pitch pine growing in the Dwarf Pine Plains on Long Island.

On tree-sized pitch pines the cones look like normal cones — as they mature the scales open up and the winged seeds flutter to the ground. But the pine cones that grow on the dwarf pine trees don’t typically open upon maturing. Rather, they remain resolutely closed, sometimes for decades — unless and until burned in a wildfire.

That this closed cone trait evolved with the dwarf pines makes sense because in a wildfire all of the dwarf stature trees are likely to burn, unlike in a forest of fifty-foot tall pines. If the pygmy pines had “normal” cones it is very likely all of the seeds would perish in a wildfire. The closed cones, however, protect the sensitive pine seeds inside the cone. It is a finely tuned system — the resins that hold the scales together in a serotinous cone melt in fire, allowing the scales to spread open over the course of hours, thereby releasing the seeds onto a forest floor with lots of available ash, nutrients, and sunlight — great conditions to start a new generation of dwarf pines in this fire-dependent forest.

The Dwarf Pine Plains, a globally rare part of the Long Island Pine Barrens, are situated in Westhampton. A circular interpretive hiking trail leads into the forest from the southern end of the parking lot of the Suffolk County Water Authority building located on the east side of County Route 31 about 200 yards south of the Sunrise Highway x County Route 31 intersection. That is where I saw the grey fox. If you go maybe you too will be lucky enough to see a fox sniffing in the sand in search of food!

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.

SPREADING SUNSHINE A homemade sign in front of a home on Blue Point Road in Selden on May 2 thanks those on the frontlines. Photo by Heidi Sutton
2020 Heroes

Goodness may surround us,

In the least expected place,

Anonymously given

And left without a trace.

A favor from a neighbor,

Food left by the door,

A funny joke that’s sent

And leaves us hoping for some more.

Supermarket staff who are

Quick with ready smiles,

Who offer help and guidance,

Amid some empty aisles. 

Sanitation workers,

Those who bring the mail,

Instructors at computers

Teaching students to prevail. 

The nurses and the doctors,

Hidden by their masks,

Selflessly report each day

To undertake their tasks. 

Those who follow orders

To hunker in their homes,

And face their isolation

With humor and aplomb.

Leaders we rely on

Not to drop the ball.

These, the caring givers,

Are heroes to us all.

                                                       By Ellen Mason, Stony Brook