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New York City

In the Fort Pitt Tunnel. in Pittsburgh. Photo by Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

[email protected]

John Broven’s article on his Amtrak trip to and from Pittsburgh [Our turn: “In praise of Amtrak, LIRR not so much,” TBR News Media website, June 5] inspired me to write about my 31-hour bus trip from Kansas City, Missouri, to New York City in 2018. This took longer than our trip from Setauket to Sidney, Australia in 2002.

I attended the American Association for State and Local History Annual Meeting in Kansas City at the end of September. I flew out and to do something I’ve never done before — I took the Greyhound bus home.

The scheduled departure was 10:25 p.m., however the bus was behind schedule. I discovered the seats here and at every bus terminal were uncomfortable, metal and ribbed, so sitting on them was painful. I met fellow traveler Don in the terminal and we talked about history and architecture. The staff here were not sure of how the bus was doing until about 15 minutes before the bus arrived. We finally left Kansas City a little more than two hours late.

Just after sunrise between St. Louis and Indianapolis. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

The seats on the bus were very uncomfortable with little legroom, no place for my travel mug and no overhead reading light in any seat. In the rear of the bus people talked constantly and loudly. I was about in the middle. The bus was very noisy, rough riding and included a disturbing high-pitched squeal that became higher as we increased speed.

We had a rest stop in Columbia, Missouri, a nice clean place with good food and drink choices. We arrived in St. Louis at 4:45 a.m. and expected to be there about two hours. The small hot food place (pizza etc.) was not open, just snack food, water and sodas available, no juices. 

We changed buses and left St. Louis at 6:28 a.m. I got a much better seat with good legroom in the escape window aisle. There were no snack tables on any of the buses. I know I shouldn’t expect them, but they are normal on buses in Europe. No overhead individual lights and no Wi-Fi on this bus. The only electrical outlets that worked were on the right side of the bus, but otherwise this was a better bus. The last one had trouble with shocks, according to the driver who almost left the road at one point due to hitting a bad spot in the road. The new driver really laid down the law with respect to noise, cellphones, bathroom, courtesy, etc. He even said that we had to keep our shoes on, in case of emergencies. First time I heard that. We had a beautiful sunrise with fog across the open fields as we left St. Louis, very picturesque. My seatmate was on the phone for at least an hour after we departed.

We arrived in Indianapolis, Indiana, just before noon. It was Sunday, and the crowds were already coming into the Colts stadium next door. The weather was gorgeous We had just 20 minutes to get something for lunch or breakfast although the schedule called for 55 minutes. The only place close by was a White Castle across the road with a long line. The waiting room and restrooms were dark and dreary, not sparkling and scrubbed as they were in Columbia. We lined up to get back on our bus and were told to get our carry-ons from the bus and get on a new bus. 

Homeward bound

We left Indianapolis at 12:42 p.m. This bus was not well maintained. Most of the seats were threadbare and cracked which gave rough edges. Just like the first two buses, we felt every bump in the roadway. We paused in Dayton and Springfield, Ohio, to pick up local passengers and stopped for 45 minutes in Columbus, Ohio. There was nothing in the bus terminal except a few snack-and-drink machines. I hoped to get a meal in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I talked to a lady who embarked at Indianapolis and had to work this night in Pittsburgh. She said Greyhound was delayed in both directions and the worst part was that no one could tell her when the bus would arrive — they kept saying “15 minutes.”

We arrived in Pittsburgh about 8 p.m. We are told only 20 minutes here. The restaurant in the bus terminal was closed, so the only choice for supper was a pop tart and an iced tea from one of the machines. Just as we were leaving, they opened up again — too late. We thought they were closed for the night.

When we got back on the bus, we found out there were two wheelchair passengers to load so seats had to be removed. As a consequence, we had to move our stuff to a seat in front or at the rear. We hustled to get it done. I ended up sitting with a woman on her way to Philadelphia. We started a conversation just before the new passengers came onboard, including one couple who insisted on sitting together, but there were only single seats available. The woman insisted that they had assigned seats, which nobody gets. The agent said they would have to take available seats or leave.

Unfortunately, both the couple and the agent were yelling loudly, insistent and unmoving. Before it got to the point of throwing the couple off the bus, my seatmate whispered to me that she would move if I did. We got up and offered the couple our seats. Everything calmed down. Like so many of the people I met on this trip, my brief seatmate was a pleasure to talk to. The people I met, including the new bus driver we had from Pittsburgh to New York City, were the best part of the trip.

We left Pittsburgh an hour behind our new scheduled time. None of us on the bus from Indianapolis had any supper, but no one really complained. Sitting in the front for the first time the road ahead was mesmerizing.

At 10:35 p.m., we stopped at the Sideling Hill rest stop in Pennsylvania. Some of us got off the bus to use the restrooms and were surprised that the shop there was open with all kinds of drinks and sandwiches that we could microwave. It was a real treat and our driver gave us up to 45 minutes even though we were scheduled for 30. I treated myself to a green chili fajita and a pumpkin spice latte. We all hurried up as fast as we could and were back on the bus and on our way by 11:10 p.m.

We arrived in Philadelphia just after 3 a.m. I finally got some sleep on the way to Philly. I stayed on the bus so I didn’t have to go through the regular process of getting a return note or tag and wait until we were summoned to get back on the bus. This happened at every bus terminal stop. Interestingly, the two best rest stops we stopped at were along the PA Turnpike an hour and fifteen minutes out of the Pittsburgh bus station and Columbia. Neither is a bus terminal, but they are the cleanest places with the best choices of food.

We left Philadelphia for New York about 3:30 a.m. and I was able to sleep. We arrived at Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City at 5:15 a.m. I couldn’t believe how fast the trip was from Philadelphia.

I walked to Penn Station and made the 5:47 to Stony Brook. We had to change at Huntington, and I was glad to have my walking stick as we had to walk up and over the footbridge to get the train to Port Jeff. The walking stick really helped on the climb and descent. Barbara picked me up at the Stony Brook station at about 7:45 a.m. I was glad to be home at last..

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

Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis, left, shakes hands with New York City Mayor Eric Adams. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University

With a vision to turn parts of Governors Island into a world-class center that blends into the surrounding greenery, Stony Brook University won the highly competitive process to create a climate solutions center.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) and the Trust for Governors Island earlier this week named Stony Brook the lead in teaming up with other universities, nonprofits and businesses to create a $700 million facility that will start construction in 2025 and open in 2028.

Backed by a $100 million donation from the Simons Foundation, a $50 million gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies and $150 million from the City of New York, Stony Brook will create a unique 400,000 square-foot facility.

The center will house research laboratories and host community discussions, train 6,000 people to work in green energy jobs per year, provide educational opportunities and search for climate solutions, including those that affect low-income communities of color.

“Climate change is here and the danger is real,” Adams said at a press conference on Governors Island unveiling the winner of the competition. “I am proud to announce that we have selected a team led by Stony Brook University to deliver the New York Climate Exchange.”

Adams suggested the Stony Brook team, which includes local partners like Pace University, New York University and the City University of New York, will protect the city’s air and water.

The Trust for Governors Island also anticipates the site, which will include a “semester abroad” on-site, fellowships and internship programs, will host scientific symposiums that can bring together leaders in a range of fields.

In an email, Simons Foundation President David Spergel hopes the center will “nucleate new business that generates jobs in the region, invest in new technologies and advance solutions.”

The foundation is helping to recruit other benefactors to meet the financial needs for the site both by the example of its commitment and through personal interactions, Spergel said.

Stony Brook, meanwhile, which has a deep pool of researchers at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences investigating climate-related issues, doesn’t plan to wait until the buildings are refurbished and constructed to start the conceptual and educational work.

During phase zero, the university will “work with our partners immediately” on developing programs for kindergarten through grade 12 outreach, on scaling up green workforce development and on developing collaborative research projects across institutions, SBU President Maurie McInnis said in a town hall discussion with the campus community.

Left to right: Deputy Mayor Maria Torres-Springer, Simons Foundation president David Spergel, SBU President Maurie McInnis, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, Harbor School student Leanna Martin Peterson and Trust for Governors Island President Clare Newman. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University

Practice what it preaches

In addition to providing space that will generate and test out ideas for solutions to climate change, the New York Climate Exchange buildings will minimize the carbon footprint.

There will be 230,000 square feet of new space and 170,000 square feet of refurbished existing structures. The plans, which were created by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, involve creating the biggest mass-timber building in New York City. As an alternative to concrete and steel, mass timber has a lower carbon footprint and is lighter.

Mass timber uses “less material and in a more efficient way,” said Keith O’Connor, principal at SOM, who runs the city design practice in New York and Washington, D.C., in an interview.

SOM designed the tops of the buildings with 142,000 square feet of solar cells, which will generate more than enough power for the site, enabling the center to provide all of its electricity needs and to send some energy to the city.

“We wanted to work really hard to avoid having a field of solar panels sitting off to the side” or sticking solar panels on each roof, O’Connor said. Instead, the solar panels, which will be at slightly different angles from each other, track the topography of the structures without creating a glaring field of reflected light.

Guests who arrive at Governors Island will notice a solar canopy that is “front and center,” O’Connor said. “It’s about a message for everyone who is visiting — it says that energy generation is critical.”

SOM wanted to find a way to create a warm and welcoming aesthetic that provides energy, O’Connor added.

All of the nondrinking water will come from rainwater and treated wastewater.

The site anticipates diverting 95% of waste from landfills, making it one of the first in the country to achieve true zero-waste certification.

“The concept of the physical structure is astonishing,” David Manning, director of Stakeholder Relations at Brookhaven National Laboratory, which will serve as an adviser on the center, said in an interview. “You want to attract the best and the brightest. You do that with programming. It doesn’t hurt that [the design and the facilities] are also cool.”

An aerial rendering of the island after construction, which will also include 4.5 acres of new open space, looks more like a park than a typical research station.

Governors Island, which hosts about a million visitors each year who arrive on ferries that run every half hour, plans to double the ferry service, with trips traveling every 15 minutes during the day starting next year. Also in 2024, the city will start using a hybrid electric ferry to reduce emissions.

Considerable collaborative support

McInnis expressed her gratitude to the team at Stony Brook and to her partners for putting together the winning proposal.

McInnis suggested that the university’s commitment to studying, understanding and mitigating climate change, coupled with national and international collaborations, would unite numerous strengths in one place.

“We knew we had the right team to lead this effort,” said McInnis at the announcement on Governors Island. “We also knew we needed a diverse set of partners” in areas including environmental justice, in the business sector and in philanthropic communities.

Other partners include Georgia Tech, University of Washington, Duke University, Rochester Institute of Technology and University of Oxford, England.

BNL’s Manning appreciated the opportunity to attend the kickoff of the project on Governors Island. 

Near the tip of Manhattan amid a “stunning blue sky,” the gathering was the “perfect setting” to announce and create solutions that were “this future focused,” Manning said.

Help wanted sign in window

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Busloads of immigrants are arriving in New York City regularly, sent from the border by the Texas governor. He doesn’t know what to do with so many, but we do. We up here in the northeast can use a lot of help, to judge from the omnipresent “Help Wanted” signs.

Of course, the newcomers cannot fit into communities seamlessly, functioning in any and every job. First, they need food, housing and perhaps medical care. Their children need to be registered for school. The parents have to be interviewed to determine their skills and preferences for work. To us, it would seem there are a number of jobs that they might fill fairly quickly even if they come with no special training, and especially if they have the benefit of a translator on the work premises or on the phone.

Restaurants in particular seem to be in need of additional help. Some positions there need energy and elbow grease, like busing tables, washing dishes and keeping the rooms clean. The same might be said for other parts of the hospitality and entertainment industries, like hotels and theaters. Hospitals need additional hands for cleaning and helping patients. Businesses and offices must be kept clean and neat. The same for private homes. 

Of great need is childcare, which in effect is a universal job but one for which applicants would have to be carefully screened. There is $7 billion of public funding available for childcare from New York State, but only some 12% of those who might qualify are aware of the program. An intense information campaign has been proposed to get the word out, and once there is a greater response, more caretakers will need to be retained and trained. The money is there to pay them.

New York City has long been the gateway to America for immigrants. And America has long been the promised land for those fleeing persecution, political chaos or even war at home, or those hoping to better themselves and especially their children in a country that offers opportunity.

We are a nation peopled by immigrants. While some families can brag about their long lineage here in America, the point is that at some time, ancestors came here from somewhere else, unless they are Native Americans. And the striving of immigrants to succeed and fit in has helped our country to succeed. Imagine what it must take to pull up roots, leave behind everything you know and those you love, and travel, in some instances great distances along perhaps dangerous routes, to come to America. Many don’t speak English. Others never make it here.

To do so must take great courage, determination and ambition. These are skills we need. And we need people. In addition to the evidence of Help Wanted signs, we know that our birth rate is dropping. More and more couples are opting not to have children, whether because of the expense, (some $300,000 per child today), the challenge of climate change or any other reasons.

We have a checkered history at best when it comes to welcoming immigrants. When I was growing up in New York City, for example, Puerto Ricans were arriving in substantial numbers. They were generally disparaged, accused of taking “American” jobs and causing crime. Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story” is a fairly accurate depiction set to music. Newcomers have had to elbow their way into the country, largely because they start out being culturally different, and differences are often feared.

My neighborhood as I was growing up, Yorkville, was largely populated by Germans. Restaurants advertised various krauts and wiener schnitzel. Beer halls lined East 86th Street, with polka music spilling onto the sidewalk, luring in passersby. Some residents, who had arrived generations earlier, made fun of them and their accents. Then in my teen years, the Germans moved up and out to the suburbs and elsewhere and were replaced by Hungarians, and the restaurant “specials” signs now offered “veal paprikash.” Again the same cycle. 

New York City renews itself with its immigrants. So does America. We need them to remain us.

Central Park. Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

man I never met had a profound effect on my early life. Indeed, I could not have met him since his 200th birthday was this past Tuesday.

There are millions of others whose lives he has touched and continue to touch all over the country. His name is Frederick Law Olmsted, and along with a colleague, Calvert Vaux, he designed Central Park in the late 1850s. He went on to design many other parks and public spaces, but Central Park was his first. 

Olmsted was more than a landscape architect, and his philosophy and appreciation of community and human nature were built into his designs. Proving that I am not the only one who feels his importance, I was pleased to notice a special section about Olmsted published in Tuesday’s New York Times. All subsequent quotes are from that section, written by Audra D.S. Burch, with sayings from essays of Frederick Law Olmsted.

“In plots of earth and green, Olmsted saw something more: freedom, human connection, public health…Olmsted’s vision is as essential today as it was more than a century ago. His parks helped sustain Americans’ mental and physical health and social connections during the darkest days of the pandemic. As COVID-19 lockdowns unlaced nearly every familiar aspect of life, parks were reaffirmed as respite, an escape from quarantine.”

Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park. Pixabay photo

And this from Olmsted: “The park should, as far as possible, complement the town. Openness is the one thing you cannot get in buildings… The enjoyment of scenery employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it, tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus through the influence of the mind over the body, gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system… We want a ground to which people may easily go after their day’s work is done, and where they may stroll for an hour, seeing, hearing, and feeling nothing of the bustle and jar of the streets, where they shall, in effect, find the city put far away from them.” 

When people ask me where I grew up, I answer, “New York City,” but I should answer “Central Park.” 

Almost every Sunday without inclement weather, my dad would take us to the park for the day, giving my mom time for herself. It worked out splendidly for him because he grew up on a farm and never liked the urban surroundings in which we lived. It also gave him some uninterrupted time with us since we didn’t see much of him during the work week. And of course it was welcomed by my mother, who then had a chance to sleep in and tend to her own needs. 

Dad would awaken early, make us a creative breakfast that always involved eggs and braised onions plus whatever other ingredients happened to be in the fridge. Never were two Sunday breakfasts the same. Then we would go off, my younger sister and I with him, to “The Park.” 

There were many different destinations once we left the street and stepped into the greenery. We roamed along countless paved paths, over charming bridges and through tunnels (always yodeling for the echo effect), climbed rocks, crossed meadows, watched baseball games on several ballfields, played “21” on the basketball courts (if we had remembered to bring a basketball), watched older men competitively play quoits (pitching horseshoes) and munched on crackerjacks — my dad limiting the three of us to one box. I usually got the prize since my sister wasn’t interested. 

On beautiful days, when longer walks beckoned, we would visit the merry-go-round and ride until we were dizzy. Or we would spend the afternoon at the small zoo. My dad taught me to row on the Central Park lake. And always the air was fresh, the seasons would debut around us, the birds would sing and the squirrels would play tag through the trees.

By pre-arrangement, my mom would appear with a pot of supper, some paper plates, forks and a blanket, and we would eat in a copse or a thicket of brush. Then, as the sun was setting, we would walk home together.

People from as far as Manhattan and as close as Centereach have been taking their vacations on Long Island, such as at the Fox & Owl Inn in Port Jefferson, instead of other states/countries where travel restrictions make it difficult. Photo from Rebecca Kassay

Residents of both Suffolk County and New York City have turned to local hotels and bed and breakfasts to enjoy time away from home amid limited travel options during the pandemic.

With out-of-state guests from numerous states limited in their travel to the area, corporate travel down considerably, and sports teams either shut down or playing without any fans, area hotels have still attracted guests from nearby towns and villages and from city residents disappointed with ongoing urban closures and eager to enjoy a natural setting.

People from as far as Manhattan and as close as Centereach have been taking their vacations on Long Island, such as at the Stony Brook Holiday Inn Express, instead of other states/countries where travel restrictions make it difficult. File photo

“It’s very different now,” said Jamie Ladone, sales executive at the Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook. “We’re not getting as many out-of-state guests,” but the hotel is finding people who are eager for a staycation.

Indeed, Emilie Zaniello and her family recently spent a weekend at the Holiday Inn, just 20 minutes from her home in Centereach

“We needed to get out of our element, to take a break from everyday life and the stresses right now,” said Zaniello, who stayed during a weekend with her husband John and their two children, 8-year-old Abigail, and 6-year-old John Robert.

The family felt “cooped up in the house” as their children didn’t have as much of an opportunity to do “normal, everyday things,” Zaniello said.

Abigail and John Robert enjoyed playing on the baseball field and the basketball court, while the family also booked time to go swimming.

“It just felt like a mini-vacation, where we didn’t have to go too far,” said Zaniello, who drove back and forth to her home to take care of the family’s two miniature dachshunds.

At the Holiday Inn, Suffolk residents have also enjoyed the indoor pool, outdoor patio, and volleyball and basketball courts, which families can use while maintaining social distancing, Ladone said. The hotel also has a putting green, horseshoes, and a baseball field and basketball court.

“We have people looking to spend quality time together like a family outdoors,” Ladone said.

The Holiday Inn has a meeting space upstairs with a seating capacity, under non-pandemic conditions, of 100. The hotel is hosting baby showers and corporate events outdoors on their patio.

The Holiday Inn has booked about 30 percent more outdoor parties than usual, Ladone said.

The Stony Brook hotel has also partnered with Spa Exotique, which offers massages or facials, and kayak packages with Stony Brook Harbor Kayak and Paddleboard.

Bed and Breakfast 

Bed and breakfasts in the area are also attracting attention from residents of Suffolk County and New York City.

At the Fox and Owl Inn in Port Jefferson, people are booking their rooms one to three weeks before they need them, reflecting the uncertainty about plans that might need to change amid fluid infection rates.

For the past two months, the Fox and Owl has been booking about 90 to 95 percent of their capacity, with a majority of the guests coming from New York City and Long Island rather than the usual far-flung locations across the country and world.

The bed and breakfast derived its name from “The Lord of the Rings” book series, which husband and wife owners Andrew Thomas and Rebecca Kassay enjoys. They each picked an animal that was native to the area and hoped to create a place that was akin to the respite the main characters felt when they visited an inn.

Kassay said the Inn has “kept up to date as far as the recommendations for cleaning and the response to the COVID-19.”

“It just felt like a mini-vacation, where we didn’t have to go too far.”

— Emilie Zaniello

The Fox and Owl is located in an 1850 Victorian home, which has large windows that Kassay keeps open as often as she can. Kassay and Thomas also use Lysol on surfaces regularly and ask their guests to wear masks in public.

While guests sit on sofas that are six feet apart, they have shared stories about their quarantine experiences and make predictions about what will happen next.

The Fox and Owl has three guest suites. Some family groups have booked the entire bed and breakfast, which is “really nice for families that are coming to visit other family members,” Kassay said. Groups of friends with similar quarantine habits who feel comfortable interacting with each other have also booked the entire Inn.

The Fox and Owl offers guests the use of a jacuzzi, which is complimentary with any booking. For an additional fee, the Inn provides S’Mores near the fire pit.

Kassay said she and Thomas appreciate that they can offer people an “escape and relief from the stress that everyone is handling.”

As the owner of a bed and breakfast, she said she has reflected on the challenge of remaining personable to guests even while wearing a mask. The daughter of a Sicilian mother, Kassay was raised to speak by using body language and by communicating with her hands as well as her words.

She noticed how guests have become “more expressive,” she said. “If you stop and look at people talking, there is more physicality to American’s interaction with one another.”

A resident of midtown, Mey, who preferred to use only her first name, said she and her boyfriend came to Port Jefferson to escape from the city and enjoy nature amid all the urban closures.

They planned to visit Port Jefferson for the day and wound up spending the night at the Fox and Owl Inn when they weren’t ready to drive back to Manhattan. Mey and her boyfriend enjoyed sitting on the porch, visiting a nearby park and eating ice cream.

“Port Jefferson has a lot of nature and the feeling of a vacation,” Mey said. The experience was “very chill.”

The Manhattanite enjoys attending Broadway shows when she is in the city, which are still closed.

The urban couple traveled to Long Island because they were “looking for something peaceful” and they “found it. Seeing green is better than seeing buildings.”

Elevating the Nature of Modern Landscapes
By Piet Oudolf and Rick Darke

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“I feel very strongly in the sort of planning that I do, that you feel the changes all the time.  It is a changing beauty: from beauty into beauty.” Piet Oudolf

In the introduction of Gardens of the High Line, Richard Hammond, co-founder of Friends of the Highline, addresses the issues that confronted the creators of the gardens. Is the goal to preserve the natural wildness of the vegetation or to recreate entirely? The final decision was to find something in between, that both honors the desire to conserve but also understands the value of change. 

Matt Johnson’s Untitled (Swan) was crafted from one of the High Line’s original steel rails

What resulted was both native and introduced flora:  “[a] multi-season garden of perennials, where the skeletons of plants have as much a part in the landscape as new growth … the wilderness in the city, the art museum on a train track. Like the park itself, the gardens hover between beauty and decay.”  

The High Line gardens are a true reflection of New York City. It is a place of growth and loss, romance and introspection; elements that are fixed and others that are constantly transforming. And, amazingly, it is where these aspects can co-exist.

The book’s prose is as elegant and eloquent as its imagery. It gives multi-leveled insight to not only the creation of the space but the more esoteric motivations beneath. It takes the reader through the history of the High Line and its roots in industry. It discusses its changing identity and evolution and, finally, its reinvention. 

There is also a detailed exploration of wild gardens, citing historical sources, and how untamed growth often transforms ruins. It explains the art that inspires and the craft that designs — and, most importantly — the alchemy that joins the two. This is not your average gardening book.

“Though it’s unlikely there will ever be another place quite like the High Line, it offers a wealth of insights and approaches worthy of emulation in gardens large or small, public or private. Authentic in spirit and execution, the High Line’s gardens offer a journey that is intriguing, unpredictable, imperfect, and, above all, transformative.”

After the introductory analyses, the book begins at the southernmost end of the High Line, at the Gansevoort Woodland, the area that is Gansevoort Street through Little West 12th Street. The route continues north, each section highlighting a different area: Washington Grasslands, Hudson River Overlook, etc., going all the way up to the Rail Yards, ending at West 34th Street.  

Ultimately, the glory of this book is the hundreds of photos by Rick Darke to be seen and savored. The photography is vivid, an explosion of color and texture. The chapters offer dozens of photos that span a range of viewpoints, showing the change of seasons, both extreme and subtle. Each turn of the page reveals the gardens in some different perspective, no two alike, but allowing the viewer to see the similarities as well as the contrasts. The book shows both an unbridled and an organized environment through the prism of the world as nature’s art gallery.

A compass plant frames the view west across the Hudson River to New Jersey.

In the end, the authors see the book’s goal as one that will “serve as a beautiful memory of a great place, as guide to the infinite opportunities it presents to practice the art of observation and as an inspiration to all who, publicly or privately, seek to elevate the nature of modern landscapes.” They have succeeded in a work that honors artistry and insight with deep understanding, celebrated through hundreds of dazzling and breathtaking images.

Published by Timber Press, Gardens of the High Line: Elevating the Nature of Modern Landscapes is available online at www.timberpress.com, www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com.

Brookhaven Town officials, with Supervisor Ed Romaine at the microphone, join local representatives from the state and nearby townships to protest the LIRR’s planned fare hike. Photo from TOB

Local and state officials, along with citizen advocates voiced a collective message to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New York City during a press conference at Ronkonkoma train station on March 2: “Stop shortchanging Long Island.” 

The group called on the MTA to abandon its plan for a systemwide 4 percent fare increase in 2021 for Long Island Rail Road customers, including those in Nassau and Suffolk counties. The decision was a part of the NYC Outer Borough Rail Discount plan which offers an up to 20 percent discount for city riders. 

“Everything is being pushed out to Long Island in terms of expenses and it won’t be long until you’re expected to buy them a coffee and a bagel as well.”

— Ed Smyth

“Long Island is not the cash cow for New York City,” said Ed Romaine (R), Brookhaven Town supervisor. “This is unconscionable, this is a handout to the city at the expense of Long Island.”

Romaine said a typical Ronkonkoma LIRR commuter who purchases a monthly parking pass, monthly train ticket and unlimited ride Metrocard would have to pay $7,224 annually. 

“The MTA has not made the capital investments it should on Long island — what about our riders?” Romaine said. 

The supervisor added that Long Island has already been shortchanged regarding electrification, as there is no electrification east of Huntington and none past the Ronkonkoma station.

The discounts were mandated by the state Legislature as a condition of its approval of congestion pricing legislation, which would create new tolls for drivers in Manhattan to help fund the authority’s $51.5 billion capital program. The plan will go into effect in May of this year. 

Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) also took issue with the MTA’s decision. 

“We had the congestion pricing vote, which I voted against it,” he said. “This is completely counterintuitive to the folks using the trains. Congestion pricing was meant to get individuals to start using public transportation and not use their vehicles.”

He added that the MTA has billions of dollars of subsidies from the state and federal government. 

“This is a New York City problem — we should not bear the brunt of it,” he said. “Mayor [Bill] de Blasio [D] should pay for this — they are overwhelmingly serviced [by the MTA].”

The MTA board is made up of 21 stakeholders appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), including people recommended by unions and municipalities such as the city and surrounding counties. Kevin Law represents Suffolk County, and was nominated by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). The other Long Island representative, David Mack, represents Nassau.

Despite their differences, officials continued to agree with the planned change at a Feb. 26 board meeting, saying they expect the up to 20 percent discount to entice Queens and Brooklyn commuters to use the LIRR if they live far from a subway line.

MTA officials say this is a pilot program up to one year’s duration. 

However, on Long Island, other local officials voiced their displeasures. 

“This is unconscionable, this is a handout to the city at the expense of Long Island.”

— Ed Romaine

Ed Smyth (R), Huntington Town councilman, said commuters will essentially be paying for their ticket and for somebody in NYC. 

“Everything is being pushed out to Long Island in terms of expenses and it won’t be long until you’re expected to buy them a coffee and a bagel as well,” he said. 

Kevin LaValle (R-Selden), Brookhaven Town councilman, said the MTA plan would negatively affect the progress they’ve made to bring transit-oriented development to the area. 

“On a town level, this is something we’ve been working on for years,” he said. “The Tritec [Ronkonkoma Hub] development is an example of that. It will make it easier for Long islanders to get into the city. With these fee increases it will make it harder for them to afford to live here and ride here.”

Palumbo added he will be writing a letter to Cuomo in the coming days and will ask Long Island representatives from both political parties to sign it. The assemblyman is hopeful the plan can be changed before the NYS budget deadline next month. 

“Hopefully he can see it, and this can be fixed on April 1 — I’m just hoping that it doesn’t fall on deaf ears,” he said. 

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In the last few weeks we have been subjected to a constant bombardment of tragic news. The horrific mass killings in Las Vegas is just the latest. We have lived through reports of the sequential hurricanes that have killed, maimed and destroyed lives and property in Texas, Florida, the Caribbean and Puerto Rico. We have agonized for the men, women and children caught in the Mexican earthquakes. And this latest horror of crowd homicide is the worst because it is not a paroxysm of the natural world, something we have to accept, but the act of a crazed human against hundreds of other innocent humans. Imagine the concertgoers’ happy anticipation for an evening of music under the stars with lovers or family only to be killed by a sniper’s bullets. And why?

We ran away from news of the carnage the other night and took refuge in art. The glorious embrace of Giacomo Puccini and his soaring arias of “La Bohème,” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, welcomed us.

Puccini, you may well know, is considered one of the two most famous Italian opera composers of the 19th century, the other being Giuseppe Verdi. What I didn’t know is that he was the offspring of a musical dynasty in Lucca that included his father and the fathers preceding them as far back as his great-great-grandfather. All of these ancestors studied music at Bologna, wrote music for the church and, aided by their genes and family connections, were distinguished in their time.

Puccini’s first opera, “Le Villi,” premiering in 1884, when he was 26, was well enough received, and his subsequent “Manon Lescaut” was a triumph. His personal life, however, was as riveting as his librettos. He eloped with his married, former piano student at the risk of being shunned. They did eventually marry, after another husband killed her womanizing husband. By coincidence, Puccini’s opera premiered the same week as Verdi’s last opera, “Falstaff,” and talk began of Puccini being the natural heir to Verdi. At least that was what George Bernard Shaw is reported to have said.

Puccini’s next three operas are among the most popular and most often produced: “La Bohème,” “Tosca” and “Madama Butterfly.”

When “La Bohème” premiered in Turin in 1896, Arturo Toscanini conducted it, and it was immediately popular. The story is of four young artists, all starving and freezing as they work in a garret in Paris and experience the pleasures and pains of young love. The opera is at turns joyful with the energy of youth and tragic with the premature death from tuberculosis of Mimi, the seamstress, and Rodolfo’s love. As a young man in Milan, Puccini lived the life he wrote about, once sharing a single herring with three others, as portrayed in the opera.

Puccini almost died in a car accident before finishing “Madama Butterfly” but then went on to complete what is now one of the most loved operas in the world. “Tosca” followed; then “La Fanciulla del West,” a plot set in America; “La Rondine;” and a three-act opera, including “Gianni Schicchi,” which contains my favorite aria, “O mio babbino caro.” “Turandot” was his final opera, finished after his death by his associates from his sketches, and offering the memorable, “Nessun dorma.”

Publicity about his personal life continued when his wife accused their maid of having an affair with Puccini, who was known to wander off the reservation. The maid then committed suicide, and an autopsy revealed that she had died a virgin. Puccini’s wife was accused of slander, found guilty and sentenced to five months in jail; but a payment by Puccini spared her that experience.

Ultimately 11 of Puccini’s operas are among the 200 most performed operas in the world, and the abovementioned three are in the top 10. Only Verdi and Mozart have had more operas performed. By his death in 1924, Puccini had earned $4 million from his works.

I hope this excursion in art has helped you, as it did me, to escape at least briefly from the omnipresent bad news.

Owl Hill estate is located south of Sunken Meadow State Park in Fort Salonga. Photo from Douglas Elliman Real Estate

Standing for decades as the hamlet’s best-kept secret, an old, secluded manor nestled within a sprawling stretch of property in Fort Salonga has come out of hiding — with a price tag of $6.45 million.

The Owl Hill estate, located at 99 Sunken Meadow Road, spans 27.63 acres and is the largest parcel of 1-acre residential-zoned land in Suffolk County. It is up for sale for the first time in more than six decades. It’s now the most expensive property in Fort Salonga.

Owl Hill estate, a 6,500-square-foot home in Fort Salonga, was built at the turn of the 19th century and includes features such as a library. Photo from Douglas Elliman Real Estate

The 6,500-square-foot home, whose construction began in 1897 and doors opened in 1903, sits surrounded by a serene haven of wooded forest and towering oak trees. The house has been occupied, and maintained, by the same Manhattan-based family for more than half a century as a summer and weekend residence. Maya Ryan, the current owner, who was unable to be reached for comment, recently decided it was time to pass the property onto another family or developer — according to Owl Hill’s listing agent Kelley
Taylor, of Douglas Elliman Real Estate.

Taylor said she’s lived around the corner from the property for more than 20 years and never heard of it until recently.

“That’s where the ‘hidden’ comes from in hidden gem,” Taylor said, calling the Owl Hills house one of a kind. “It’s pretty remarkable — like nothing you’d expect to see in Suffolk County or on Long Island. It’s never been developed on.”

The palatial estate, which the listing agent compared to Theodore Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill home in Oyster Bay, is only 50 miles from New York City and contains more than 20 acres of completely untouched land. There hasn’t been a single renovation to the property since the 1940s when its
occupants expanded the kitchen.

The interior of the home speaks to the architectural elegance of a bygone era with original tiger oak and mahogany hardwood floors. There are five en suite master bedrooms and three staff bedrooms, with a soaring fireplace in each, as well as an expansive music/living room, a wood-paneled dining room and a massive basement. Outside, there’s a wrap-around porch and a two-car garage, all within what Taylor calls a magical forest.

It’s pretty remarkable — like nothing you’d expect to see in Suffolk County or on Long Island. It’s never been developed on.”

—Kelley Taylor

As for potential buyers, she said she’s seen a majority of interest from developers, including one evaluating the property as the site of a 55 and better community. But, she said, the owner has preserved  3.75 acres of the property under New York State’s Transfer of Development Rights.

“A big family would certainly love the generousness of the estate, as would anyone who appreciates the particular beauties of well-made historic homes,” said Dawn Watson, public relations manager at Douglas Elliman Real Estate. “It’s quite extraordinary and the parklike property is expansive and lush.”

In March, the Town of Smithtown and the county raised a $1 million grant to be used to preserve a portion of the Owl Hill property for open space.

Smithtown scholar Corey Victoria Geske said although the property has been around so long, there still isn’t a lot of information in regards to its historical details.

“Owl Hill is another example of beautiful architecture in Smithtown for which the architect, to my knowledge, is as yet unknown,” Geske said. “This is the kind of house that deserves that kind of research attention because it’s so special with regards to interior detail and its location, built high on the hills of Fort Salonga.”

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have hundreds of new friends I’ve never met, and a profound appreciation for the people who created them or shared their lives.

I recently attended my first BookExpo at the Javits Center in New York City, where I was surrounded by booksellers, librarians, agents, book publishers and authors including Stephen King, James Patterson and John Grisham, with numerous budding luminaries in the mix.

A highlight for me was a panel of children’s book authors, which included actress Isla Fisher, who has starred in movies including “Wedding Crashers” and “Definitely, Maybe.” While I was intrigued to see Ms. Fisher in person, the other authors owned the stage, as Fisher readily admitted that she wasn’t a writing peer to her fellow panelists.

Jason Reynolds, an African-American writer for middle-grade and young adult novels, electrified the audience.

He talked about how he used to visit his great Aunt Blanche in South Carolina, where the sun was so scorching it burned his neck. His aunt, who was 85, sat on her hot porch, smoking cigarettes and watching the children.

Aunt Blanche planted a pecan tree — as he said, a “pea can” — when she was 4. The tree had become enormous by the time Reynolds was a child, providing shade for the younger crowd.

Reynolds, a 2016 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature with “Ghost,” suggested that books offered the kind of shade he desperately needed, providing relief from the heat.

Reynolds asked himself, “What if I get to be the pecan tree?”

Jennifer Weiner, meanwhile, has ventured from the world of adult fiction and “Good in Bed” to writing for a younger audience, which includes her recent book, “The Littlest Bigfoot.”

Weiner said she does much of her writing in the equivalent of a large closet in her home, although she completed “half of a book waiting in a carpool line.”

Dutch author Marieke Nijkamp shared some insights into her latest book “Before I Let Go,” which is about a girl named Corey who loses her best friend Kyra.

Nijkamp, with fans waiting in a long line for the blue-haired author’s signature, said she “definitely goes for a walk right after I kill a character.”

While circling the Javits Center exhibits, I bumped into Owen King. He is the son of acclaimed author Stephen King, and is promoting a book he wrote with his father called “Sleeping Beauties,” in which all the women but one in a small Appalachian town become wrapped in a cocoon when they go to sleep. If someone awakens them, they become violent. That leaves the men without the civilizing and calming influence of women. It sounded to me like an adult version of William Golding’s classic “Lord of the Flies.”

In describing the novel, Owen King said he enjoyed the time writing and editing the book with his father. He described how a King dinner time activity includes coming up with story ideas, many of which never see the light of day.

I asked Owen, who was clad in an untucked plaid shirt and looks remarkably like his father, what caught his eye at the Expo. He highlighted a book by Steve Steinberg about a Yankees pitcher named Urban Shocker. King said he loved the name and found the story compelling, about a pitcher who went 18-6 in the Yankees’ famous 1927 season despite battling heart disease. I picked up a copy, which was autographed for my son, and I look forward to learning about Shocker’s world.