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Your Turn

By Barbara Anne Kirshner

“My only hesitation about visiting the exhibit hall on July 3rd to write the article on your motorcycle exhibit is that my dachshund Park’s birthday is that day. I know it must sound silly, but I don’t want to leave him at home on his birthday. He’s a perfect little gentleman when he travels, so could I possibly bring him with me?”

The cheerful voice of the curator replied, “I love dogs. I don’t mind at all. In fact, I think it’s sweet you don’t want to leave him home on his birthday. Anyway, we’re very dog friendly.”

I assured her, “We have a stroller that he loves, so he won’t be just walking around the exhibit hall.” “No problem. I’m looking forward to meeting him,” she responded cheerily.

We arrived at the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational and Cultural Center, an impressive white colonial style building with black shutters anchoring Stony Brook Village, at the appointed time. We must have been a sight indeed with a long-haired dachshund in a stroller heading into the lobby.

A smiling woman with a bubbly voice met us. “Nice to meet you,” she extended her hand in greeting then looked in the stroller. “And this must be Park, the birthday boy.” Park’s head cocked to one side at the sound of his name. In addition to Park and his stroller, I was laden by my shoulder bag filled with writing pads and pens, my cell phone to record if necessary and my camera; all of which had to be juggled to accept the hand extended in greeting.

She led us into her office where I got a run-down of the fifty different bikes on display. Then she escorted us into the exhibition hall where a guided tour was provided.

As we strolled our way around each cycle with me snapping pictures and scribbling notes, the curator, a font of knowledge, filled in the historic facts connected to some of the cycles. My boy sat with his head leaning on the front bar of his stroller just taking in the sights and listening attentively to her explanations as if he understood and appreciated the information. I wrote feverishly trying to latch on to every word she spoke with back up of my cell phone recorder for anything missed.

Our tour lasted over two hours and at the end the curator marveled at how well-behaved Park was the entire time.

“Well, you must do something special for this very good boy,” she said.

“I intend to,” I agreed.

She suggested, “If you go back toward the main road, you will come to a fork, make the right, that will bring you up a hill toward the stores on the right and a big lawn, a park, on the left. He might enjoy the park.”

“Perfect,” I exclaimed. “Park does enjoy going to parks!”

We giggled at that, then Park and I took off in the direction of the lawn and quaint shops. We came upon a restaurant named Latitude 121 then but has since changed management and is now called Sweet Mama’s. This restaurant has an ice cream parlor in the front where Park and I stopped for a few scoops of vanilla. He licked the cup clean, then followed it up with a water chaser. Once satiated, we explored the great lawn fronting the Stony Brook Village shopping area.

An inviting bench seemed to call to us so we took up brief residence there. A slight breeze played with Park’s luxurious long ears as we sat immersed in this picturesque setting. In the distance, boats and kayaks glided leisurely over the tranquil waters of Long Island Sound. People on blankets or beach chairs dotted the lawn. Some passed by, smiled at my little man who seemed perfectly content to take in the summer day sitting by my side on that bench. A peacefulness embraced us. We were two friends who took a break from life’s hectic activity to cherish this moment in time on my boy’s birthday. We were happy, content, carefree, and undisturbed by the bustle of life.

A few weeks later, Park and I were back at Park’s bench, this time to celebrate my birthday. And every July 3rd and again on July 16th Park and I return to our Stony Brook bench that I nicknamed Park’s bench to celebrate our birthdays. We enjoy stepping out of our busy lives to luxuriate in the serenity of these pastoral surroundings.

Park is 14 years old now, but still healthy and strong. I don’t know how many future birthdays we will be blessed to share together, but even after he is no longer in this world, I will visit Park’s bench and give thanks for the times we spent here together. And I’m sure my boy will look down at me from his place in heaven and find some way to let me know he is still sitting next to me on Park’s bench.

Miller Place resident Barbara Anne Kirshner  is a freelance journalist, playwright and author of ‘Madison Weatherbee —The Different Dachshund.’

Stock photo

By Sapphire Perera

People of low-income, and especially minorities, constantly struggle with the financial and social hardships that arise from racism. While the financial disparities and social injustices are well known, many are still unaware of the environmental racism that many people and communities endure, and how deadly it actually is. Currently, the COVID-19 pandemic is making this issue more apparent and is increasing the need for awareness about environmental justice. 

Sapphire Perera

Environmental racism is a form of systemic racism where people of color are disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards through policies and practices. It has existed in America ever since the Europeans made contact with the Native Americans, and it has progressively worsened with the Industrial Revolution and the increasing amount of toxic waste and new technology that is being created.

The working populations that lives in low-income communities aren’t given the power to have their voices heard regarding environmental laws. Moreover, the land in these areas is cheaper for industrial actors to acquire. This is why about 70% of contaminated waste sites are located in low income communities. With such a great imbalance of political power between the upper class, less diverse neighborhoods and the low-income African American neighborhoods, the latter’s communities are being subjected to the greater amounts of air pollution, toxic waste sites, landfills, lead poisoning and flooding. 

The health effects from environmental racism are extremely harmful and lethal. Most often, people of low income communities who are subjected to environmental racism will see increases in obesity, asthma, diabetes and many different cancers because they are living amongst industrial toxic chemicals and toxic waste. 

One example that demonstrates the harmful effects of environmental racism is the so-called Cancer Alley in Louisiana along the Mississippi River. In 1987, African Americans of low-income neighborhoods started noticing an abundance of cancer cases within their community. People began making the connection between cancer cases and the 85-mile-long stretch of oil refineries and petrochemical plants. The petrochemical plants are extremely harmful to human health because petrochemicals can be absorbed through the skin or ingested and will accumulate in tissues and organs. They can then cause brain, nerve and liver damage, birth defects, cancer and asthma. This is why living in Cancer Alley increases one’s chance of getting cancer by 50%. Currently, Cancer Alley is also experiencing a highest rate of coronavirus deaths. 

Another community that is a target of environmental racism is the African American community of Uniontown, Alabama. On Dec. 22, 2008, an impoundment burst and spilled more than a billion gallons of highly toxic coal ash into the Emory River. The coal ash contained various pollutants such as arsenic, mercury, and lead, which can penetrate deeply into the lungs. Two years after the spill, the Tennessee Valley Authority moved four million cubic yards of coal ash from the Kingston spill to Arrowhead Landfill in Uniontown Alabama. The workers who were sent to clean up the coal ash suffered from brain cancer, lung cancer and leukemia due to exposure. The people of Uniontown Alabama, a low-income African American community, saw similar health effects to that of the workers. Unfortunately, the people of Uniontown did not have any recourse because the Resource Conservation Recovery Act classified the ash as non-hazardous in Uniontown. 

‘Environmental racism is a form of systemic racism where people of color are disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards through policies and practices.’

There are hundreds of examples of environmental racism, but we are currently witnessing one of the largest impacts of environmental racism. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing that African American and other minority communities are being hit hardest by the pandemic all across the country. With a lack of available resources and preexisting conditions that already arise from environmental racism, people of these communities are more susceptible to catching COVID-19. African Americans not only have environmental racism to worry about during this pandemic, but also mass incarcerations for minor misdemeanors, overcrowded housing, and under-funded public transport, which all have been increasing the COVID-19 infection rates. Unfortunately, this connection between pandemics and low-income neighborhoods isn’t new because in the 1990s there were higher mortality rates among communities of color for the HIV pandemic as well. 

Different policies and laws set forth by our government have placed African Americans and minorities in these neighborhoods which are subjected to environmental racism. We need to stop hearing news stories of the unbreathable South Bronx air, the North Carolina hog farm raw sewage lakes enveloping African American farmland and lead in the Flint river in Michigan. The environmental justice movement is one way to achieve equity for the African American and disadvantaged neighborhoods because it focuses on fair distribution of environmental benefits and burdens.  

Sapphire Perera is a rising senior at Port Jefferson high school. The “Turtle Island,” as the name for this ongoing column refers to the Native American mythology about North America existing on the back of a great turtle that bears every living being on its spine.

Max Jamdar

By Reyva Jamdar

Next to me on the couch, my dog lies. His foot twitches and whiskers tremble as he silently sleeps. A small “humph” escapes his mouth and he wakes up, suspiciously glancing around for the source of the noise. “You woke yourself up, dummy,” I mutter. I spend most of my days observing my dog. His fur, his small tongue, and of course, his previously mentioned puppy noises.

During this time, this is all I’ve been able to accomplish. Observing each and every toe and paw have helped me get through such a transition. As I sit here, writing this piece, I chuckle at the thought of how I even got this dog. I think I owe it all to my sister.

My dear sister of eighteen years, a proud member of the graduating class of 2020, is now heading off to college. Soon she’ll become a unique member of society, writing her own story filled with her own journeys. But before she even decided to spread her wings, she wanted a dog. A dog to play with, to cry with, and most importantly, to love.

Even as a toddler, I understood the importance of such a relationship. I grew up thinking that having a dog was a given, so it was a stab in the gut when I realized that this wasn’t true … at all. My mother. My mother was the face of this terrible feeling. She was, in her own words, “brutally attacked by a large dog” at the age of 12. This untimely event affected my family for years. This alone caused many “doggy disputes” in our household. It got to the point where my sister and I lost hope. It was already 2020. It was already the start of a fresh, lucky year, right? Or so we thought.

The coronavirus slowly took over New York. And my life. Getting a dog wasn’t even up for discussion once school closed. Days turned into months. Months felt like years. Endless, pointless days were all I could recall as I finally considered myself a sophomore. It was a sticky June day when I was startled by a shriek and a faint thump. My sister’s familiar clunks down the stairs halted as she approached me. It was an immediate surprise when she revealed that we were, in fact, getting a puppy during a global pandemic.

There was absolutely no way that my mother would accept yet another baby into her house during such a time. But I was wrong. She actually agreed. Maybe it was the fact that my sister was leaving for college (the new dog was an even better replacement) or because of how unexpectedly horrible 2020 was. To be quite honest, I still don’t know why she suddenly changed her mind. But I’m glad she did.

The first night with my mini golden-doodle puppy, Max, was dream-like. If a fluffy ball of fur was cuddled up next to you, wouldn’t you be ecstatic too? But the next morning was anything but this. Pee was everywhere. Chewed up pieces of furniture (and the couch) were destroyed. Our sleep schedules were completely skewed.

But it was worth it.

All those nights spent worrying about what other curveball 2020 would throw at us next wasn’t a problem anymore. All those nights spent worrying about what tomorrow would bring wasn’t a problem anymore. All those long, suspenseful nights spent worrying about something that I couldn’t control wasn’t a problem anymore. Having a dog, whether he peed on the couch or not, was completely worth it. Getting a dog in my house was always frowned upon, so that really just proves that everything and anything is possible even during a global pandemic.

Remember, when life gives you lemons, always make lemonade. 2020 was horrible. But we decided to make something out of it and as a result received puppy love!

A resident of E. Setauket, author Reyva Jamdar recently graduated from P.J. Gelinas Middle School and will be attending Ward Melville High School as a sophomore in the fall.

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.

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

A marker indicating the spot where the Roe Tavern once stood in Setauket.

By Corey Geske

Two hundred thirty years ago, George Washington planned a tour of Long Island during the third week of April 1790 to thank the members of the Culper Spy Ring of Setauket, whose courage and resourcefulness played a significant role in helping to win the American Revolution. 

The First President chose to begin his tour on April 19, the 15th anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord, the first military encounters of that war, when thirteen colonies fought to become independent from the British empire. Washington’s Long Island tour marked that day, which since 1894 has been known as Patriots’ Day. More recently, in 2017, the work of the Culper Spy Ring was recognized by the New York State Legislature and commemorative Spy Trail signs were installed by the North Shore Promotion Alliance and the Ward Melville Heritage Organization. 

Washington planned to set out from New York City, then the capital of the young American nation, on Monday April 19, 1790, but weather delayed him for a day. After touring the South Shore, he headed north to the Coram area and then west to Setauket, arriving on April 22, nearly nine years to the day (April 23, 1781) when his chief spy Abraham Woodhull, code name Samuel Culper, Sr., of Setauket, wrote to him that his spy ring faced imminent danger. 

Washington’s itinerary demonstrates a keen sense of place timed to show his personal appreciation for how important the intelligence from Setauket was to the winning of the war, information that helped save West Point in 1780 and the French navy at Newport, RI, so it could sail south for the ultimate American victory at Yorktown, VA. 

A marker indicating the spot where the Roe Tavern once stood in Setauket.

On April 22, 1790, Washington recorded in his diary “. . . thence to Setakit . . . to the House of a Captn. Roe which is tolerably dect.[decent] with obliging people in it.” He arrived at Roe Tavern with an entourage led by Selah Strong, a Patriot imprisoned by the British during the Revolution, the grandson of the builder of the 1703 home that became part of the tavern; and husband of Anna (Nancy) Smith Strong, a key member of the Culper Ring. 

The President slept at Roe Tavern run by Captain Austin Roe, a critical courier and messenger for the ring, who frequently rode from Setauket to New York City to deliver information vital to Washington. It is a tribute to Roe and the Setauket-based ring, that Washington mapped his Long Island tour from the South to North Shore to travel from Setauket west to New York, as Roe had done.

On Friday morning, April 23, 1790, Washington “left Roes, and baited the horses at Smiths Town, at a Widow Blydenbergs – a decent House 10 Miles from Setalket . . .” The stone doorstep, which still exists, of the long-gone Widow Blydenburgh’s Tavern, may well have supported Washington’s footsteps and serves as a reminder of Jonathan Harrington of Lexington, who, fatally shot by the British, crawled back to the doorstep of his home fronting the common to die at the feet of his wife.

The Arthur House in Smithtown

Washington’s carriage passed by what is now known as the Arthur House, circa 1752, on West Main Street, Smithtown, the future home of Mary Woodhull Arthur, daughter of Abraham Woodhull, the critical correspondent in the spy network set up by Major Benjamin Tallmadge. Born in Setauket, Tallmadge relied upon his boyhood friends to supply intelligence at great risk and was Washington’s spymaster and director of military intelligence.

In 1781, Robert Townsend of Oyster Bay and New York City, code name Culper Junior, could not trust to writing the news of the ring’s probable discovery by the British and risked the journey from New York City to personally inform Woodhull in Setauket. Immediately thereafter, Woodhull wrote Washington on April 23, 1781: “I had a visit from C. Junr. and am sorry to inform you that he will not write any more on any account whatever.” 

In this darkest of moments, the Culper Spy Ring faced the ultimate challenge of surviving and finding another way to convey information to Washington knowing that  British spy William Heron, code name ‘Hiram the Spy,’ had already reported to British General Sir Henry Clinton that “Private dispatches are frequently sent from New York to the Chieftain here (George Washington) by some traitors. They come by the way of Setalket, where a certain Brewster receives them at, or near, a certain womans,” that is to say Anna Strong signaled Woodhull, via the arrangement of clothes on her clothesline, when Captain Caleb Brewster arrived in his whaleboat to carry messages across Long Island Sound.

The stone doorstep of the long-gone Widow Blydenburgh’s Inn in Smithtown

In 1789 during his first year as the unanimously elected First President, Washington decided he would visit each state to determine their feelings about the new United States as a nation; and traveled to New England from New York City through Connecticut to New Hampshire. He completed his mission with a Southern Tour in 1791. 

During a pandemic, as we mark the 245th anniversary of Patriots’ Day and the 230th anniversary of Washington’s 1790 tour of Long Island, let us remember the future First President was said to have been seen on his knees at Valley Forge praying as the American army, outnumbered by the enemy, starved, froze and faced the scourge of smallpox, a devastating virus that thinned the ranks of his army and put Boston into lockdown.

Facing a situation akin to what we face today, Washington established isolation hospitals in New York to control the epidemic – while the ‘cordon sanitaire’ that worked in Europe against the plague was reinstated in North America to control the smallpox virus. 

During the British occupation of New York, nearly 11,000 American patriots died on British prison ships in Wallabout Bay near the present Brooklyn Navy Yard, many succumbing to the disease. These ‘martyrs’ included the woman who historian Morton Pennypacker believed to be the mother of Robert Townsend’s son. It is a staggering number brought home by this past month’s coronavirus losses. 

Historic preservation is important: it reminds us that others, too, have faced crises, and that there were many challenges to overcome to win the American Revolution.

About the author: Independent Historian Corey Geske of Smithtown 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.

Photos courtesy of Corey Geske

 

Photo by John Turner

By John L. Turner

This is the first of a two-part series.

Like most people I’ve always liked to collect things. Some objects were mainstream — baseball cards and comic books as a kid, for example, but some were decidedly not. As an adult I’ve had a prolonged passion for old bird books dating from the end of the nineteenth century through the beginning of the twentieth.

Looking around my study from where I write this, I realize I have a lot of objects that fit the latter “non-mainstream” category — deer antlers, assorted shells and other marine objects, mammal skulls, numerous pine cones, and a bird nest or two lying scattered along the leading edge of the shelves that hold the beloved bird books.

I also realize these objects, collected from countless outdoor explorations, represent a window to the world of nature that lays accessible on the other side of each of our front doors.

I’ve especially liked to collect items found along the shore, of which we have a lot. I have a favorite piece of driftwood, its edges rounded and softened from years in the elements. In it sits two species of whelk shells — Knobbed and Channeled Whelk, both species of sea snails native to Long Island’s marine waters.

Knobbed Whelk gets its name from knobs or projections that lay along the coil situated on the top of the shell; the Channeled Whelk’s name comes from a coiled channel or suture that runs along the inside edge of the spiral. These two species are closely related, belonging to the same genus; sometimes referred to as conch, they are the source of scungilli, the Italian dish especially popular around the holidays.

If you spend anytime strolling along the shoreline of Long Island Sound you’ve probably seen further evidence of whelk — their tan-colored egg cases washed up in the wrack line. Complex objects they are, consisting of upwards of a dozen or more quarter-sized compartments, connected by a thread, reminiscent of a broken Hawaiian lei.

If you find an egg case shake it vigorously; if it sounds like a baby’s rattle you’ll be rewarded by opening up one of the leathery compartments, because the objects causing the sound are many perfectly formed, tiny whelks. 

As I recently found out, you can identify the whelk species by the shape of the egg case compartments — Channeled have a pinched margin like what a chef does to a dumpling while the margins of Knobbed have an edge like a coin. How an adult whelk makes this highly complex structure with several dozen baby whelks in each unit is a complete mystery to me.

On the shelf next to the driftwood is another egg case ­— this one from a skate and, as with whelk egg cases, it’s often found as an item deposited in the beach’s wrack line. Black, with a shine on its surface, it is rectangular with four parentheses-like projections sticking out from the four corners. Skates, related to sharks, are distinctive shaped fish with “wings” and several species are found in the marine waters around Long Island including Winter, Barndoor, and Little Skates. 

The cases are sometimes called “mermaids purses,” a wonderfully colorful name, although I’ve never seen any items a mermaid would carry inside one. If you look closely you can see the broken seam, along one of the shorter edges, where the baby skate emerged.

The distinctive shell of Northern Moon Snails are another common item found by beachcombers and a common item on my shelf — with four prized specimens, including the largest I’ve ever seen, they are the second-most common item I have. (Various pinecones are the most common but that’s for a future column).

Moon snails are shellfish predators, possessing a massive foot that’s 3x to 4x the size of the shell when it spreads out that it uses to push through sand. If you’ve ever picked up a clam or mussel shell with a round little hole through it you’ve just picked up a Moon Snail victim. They use a specialized “tongue” called a radula to rasp their way into the shell of a bivalve. Once through the shell, the snail secretes a weak acid that helps dissolve the tissue of the clam or mussel which the snail slurps up.

Twice while beach combing I’ve found other evidence of a Moon Snail — a sandy, semi-circular collar made of sand grains held together by gluelike mucus the snail secretes. These are egg masses, an intact one shaped like a nearly closed letter “C” (the two I found were half of that as they are fragile and easily broken). Each collar contains scores of snail eggs which develop and hatch if not predated by smaller snails like oyster drills and periwinkles.

Rounding out the discussion of my study’s marine objects are two other shells: Jingle Shells and Slipper Shells — the first a bivalve, the second a species of snail. Jingle shells, get their name from the jingling sound they make if you shake a few together in your hand and are used to make wind chimes you’ll sometimes see hanging from beach houses. They are beautiful and iridescent, coming in several different colors — orange, yellow, white, and grey. Jingle shells are also known as “mermaid’s toenails.”

Slipper shells are also fascinating animals. All slipper shells start off as male but as they mature they become female. They often stack with the larger females on bottom and the smaller males on top, making the species a “sequential hermaphrodite.” Occasionally you’ll see a slipper shell attached to a horseshoe crab. These gifts and others await you on a stroll along Long Island’s hundreds of miles of shoreline.

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.

Metro photo

By Linda Kolakowski

Linda Kolakowski

While the concept of social capital is not new, more recently it’s become a buzz phrase of sorts. Social capital is defined as the personal links, shared values and understandings in a community that enable individuals and groups to trust each other and therefore, help each other. 

People require a sense of belonging to thrive. Whether the community we belong to is our family, our work, our place of worship, where we live, or all of these places, community is where we find comfort in difficult times. In addition to providing companionship, the social capital we earn through our relationships often replaces money which people would use to buy the same help. 

We use social capital throughout our lives, from our schoolyard days to assistance with raising our children, or seeking the help from someone physically stronger.  For older adults, the value of social capital increases as there are things that we can’t or don’t wish to do for ourselves.  For this reason, it’s important to keep community ties robust. 

There’s no question that the digital age has changed the way we relate to one another and satisfy our need for connection.  Many of us have strong communities of Facebook friends and stay connected through emails, texts and other social media platforms.  Though these friends can be great when it comes to sharing everyday joys and challenges, at times there is no substitute for being in the same room with a trusted friend or group of friends. 

Significant others are the first people we turn to when we’re having a hard time. Support from a loved one helps us to cope better, reducing stress and benefitting our mental and physical health.  Depending too much upon a significant other, however, carries the risk of creating disconnection from other parts of our social life. No matter how much we love our significant others, it’s unlikely that they alone can meet all of our social needs.

Expanding our friend group by just one person has the power to introduce us to a whole new social network.  When we develop a new friendship or romantic partnership, our networks double through these new connections.  At Jefferson’s Ferry, we get to observe the benefits of new friendships on a regular basis as new residents form bonds within the community and try new activities.  New friends are energizing!

Metro photo

Jefferson’s Ferry residents have been participating in a five- year Age Well Study conducted by the Mather Institute and Northwestern University that analyzes the impact of living in a Life Plan Community.  Now in its second year, the study has focused on investigating factors that may be associated with healthy behaviors and health outcomes among residents. Researchers found that:

• Residents with higher scores of the personality trait of openness to experience and extroversion reported the highest levels of healthy behaviors and more positive health outcomes.

• Residents who form strong bonds within their community tend to engage in more healthy behaviors and have better overall health.

Those living in areas with greater social capital, such as a community setting like Jefferson’s Ferry, demonstrate significantly higher physical mobility scores than those living a more isolated existence.

The results support what we do here. Living in a place where there is a built in community, where there  is trust and like-minded neighbors encourages our residents to get up, get out and socialize.  The activities that we offer through our Health and Wellness Program provide a variety of opportunities that may appeal to residents with different personalities and interests which lead to better life balance and health overall for everyone.

Another study looked at older adults without dementia at the onset of a 12-year period. Over the course of the study, the participants were measured on their social activity levels and then tested periodically on their cognitive functioning. The rate of cognitive decline was 70 percent less in people with frequent social contact than those with low social activity.

In another study, the social activity level of older people free of dementia was measured and looked at in terms of their ability to care for themselves. Findings showed that those with more frequent social activity maintained lower levels of disability in several areas, suggesting that they would be able to live independently longer than their less social counterparts.

Whatever our age or living situation, the message is clear.  We are at heart social beings who are at our very best when we make community a priority in our lives.  We’ve heard it in song, in advertising, in memes.  Reach out and touch someone today!

Linda Kolakowski is Vice President of Resident Life at Jefferson’s Ferry Life Plan Community in South Setauket.