Tom Stock

Poet, Essayist, Photographer, Naturalist

One Century Ago Today: August 25, 1916 – August 25, 2016

Our National Parks were founded one hundred years ago today. Teddy Roosevelt signed into law what has become “our Nations greatest idea.” Parkland, open space, remarkable beauty, cliffs, mountains, prairies, rivers, and wonders all around for all of us to enjoy.

In 1964, Linden Johnson added National Seashores to the growing list of places. In the summer of 1987, I signed on as a NPS Seasonal Ranger at Fire Island National Seashore. I was in a funk – midlife crisis at the time. Fire Island got my out of that real fast.

When I started, my uniform had yet to arrive. Allison broke me in. I quickly learned that there was a form for practically anything. The visitors center is two stories high. The building was moved from a private home owned by the owners of Budweiser Beer Corporation. They donated the building to the National Park Service. It was set on a barge and floated east in the Intercoastal Waterway. The balcony offered 360 degree views.  My role was to present the image of the National Parks.  I assumed this image the day my uniform arrived.

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Jam

Nancy, the wife, likes to make jam. I go along with this because of step one…collecting the fruit. This means going to our favorite, secret place.

We arrive with buckets and find bushes of beach plums on a sandy beach swale. Beach plum shrubs here have some of the largest fruit I’ve ever seen.

The shrub blooms in May at the same time that spring warblers arrive. The shrubs look like they are covered in white, dense foam. The warblers are feasting on ants that crawl up the trunk and branches to feed on the nectar. The small numerous flowers follow one of the laws of nature – over production. Many flowers are never pollinated. Sometimes a heavy rainfall just at blooming time results in less beach plums in the fall. The warblers in turn, feed on the ants. Having migrated thousands of miles from their winter quarters, they are famished. Presto, they find beach plum shrubs as their rest stop and feeding trough.

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Good Vibes

A single vibrating string is echoed in a movie. A slow stroke on a cello’s base string  created sound vibrations to accompany a movie scene. That resonance stayed with me long after the movie ended. Notes such as that suggested a foreboding event about unfold. Particular frequencies of piano, cello, and bassoon evoke emotions for me. These vibrations bring up feelings that quickly rise in my chest. I gasp to try to hold back tears. Why do musical vibration create this uncontrollable upwelling?

I have always been interested in how the background affects the foreground. Many collage pieces prove this. ( a sample accompanies this). I take away the busyness of a background to focus the viewer to the subject. The same holds true for photography. Choosing the background is as important as the subject. The background enhances the subject. That cello note vibrates right into my brain and releases a powerful feeling. I felt overwhelmed for a moment. It was a perfect communion of movie subject and music, combined to create a strong reaction.

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soil-head

Soil on Long Island

Long Islands’ soil started with glaciations. Two moraines were deposited (the hills that go ‘round the world) by a huge continental glacier some 20,000 years ago. Geologists call these hills terminal end moraines. As a glacier retreats, all the rock material it carries is deposited by melt water that flows south of the ice front. When the glacier is stationary, it acts like an escalator bringing rock material (with particle sizes anywhere from clay to huge boulders) to the ice front. It is dumped there and piles up creating mounds called moraines. The moraines act as dams for melt water creating areas where sediments have time to sort themselves out which create distinct layers of sand and clay . The moraines are deposited rather quickly and because of this, rock matter doesn’t have enough time to be sorted out. Sorting is the process whereby particles of similar size and density “condense” in layers.  Out wash plains are the flat, gently sloping areas south of the moraines.

There are two major out wash plains on Long Island, the Hempstead and Terryville Out wash Plain. These are delta-like formations that form slowly as melt water carries rock material southward. Glacial drift is term used for the unsorted mixture of rock matter in the moraines. It is unsorted with a large spectrum of particle sizes. This is not so in the out wash plains where particles have a chance to layer and be sorted out by sheets of slowly moving water that eventually formed into streams that have coursed along for centuries creating dentritic drainage patterns all across Long Island.

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basket

How To Make a Basket

The tuck is the secret to making a strong rattan basket. Tuck is the verb which means pushing the end of a rattan strip under another. This takes care of loose ends, and tightens the basket.

  1. Wet rattan strips for a half hour for flexibility
  2. Plan the basket by selecting a small oblong wood box
  3. Use this wood box form to set up strips that criss cross on the bottom
  4. Staple each strip and leave about 6 inches spare over the box edge
  5. These will become the tuck strips
  6. Weave strips criss-cross on the bottom
  7. Firm the bottom edge with a strip weaving in and out horizontally
  8. Weave the sides until you come to the edge.
  9. Create a rim using strips outside and in
  10. Cut off inside vertical strips and leave the outside strips
  11. Point the outside strips with scissor cut
  12. Bend outside strips over the rim and tuck using an awl
  13. Place rattan inside and outside the rim and use thin rattan

The last operation is to”sow” the in and out strips to the vertical

  1. The rim holds the whole basket together and provides a decorative edge
  2. Tools are a staple, awl and scissors and a wood box
  3. Making a basket strengthens fingers and prevents arthritis.

Each finger slowly learns until all fingers develop brains. See photos to accompany this instruction sheet. Contact me if you need help.

 

Hedge Bindweed – Boots-On-The-Ground Research

Hedge bindweed flowers attract me with pink-white light against a green privet hedge.. Its five fused petals look like   the horn of a trumpet. On a whim, I decided to have a closer look. First off, it was mid-morning and very warm. A haze of insects from large to small hovered above dozens of flowers. Hedge bindweed is a twisty vine that takes advantage of the strong straight privet branches. Here I had a perfect laboratory for observing. I decided to pretend I was a bumble bee.

The flowers face the sun. A bumble bee landed on the edge of a flower. The flat shape of the flower made a perfect runway. The bee quickly dove into the throat as deep as it could go. I assume it was sipping nectar. For many plants, August is the apex of nectar production. Insects can smell molecules of nectar that flourish above the flowers. I quickly concluded why this bee is called “bumble”. To use another word, it clamored, wings still, but abdomen vibrating, legs moving. Its exit was bumbling as well, it backs out, then turns, alights, on to another flower. As it flew, I saw a yellow lump on its leg. This is a pollen sack. The bee gives and takes pollen in exchange for nectar a win-win situation. Seeing this, I extrapolated. All nature relationships are win-win. It isn’t just take, it isn’t just give. It’s both. That’s why ecologists use to term food chain and food web. I was seeing this first hand.

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ragweed

The Drought

A rain gauge attached to a pole at Homecoming Farm has been empty for months. “Without our drip irrigation, our share holders would have practically no produce.” Farmer Don said. I’ve seen beech tree leaves that are brown around the edges. This is a sure sign that we are in a drought.

“With a slow drip through pinholes in plastic tape-hose, our produce is fine.” Don turns the water on and off in a regular pattern to protect and conserve. The soil gets wet deep down with the drip system. Not only do the tomatoes benefit, but weeds do as well.

Many weeds, however, do just fine during a drought. Ragweed, crab grass, pig weed, mile-a-minute, foxtail grass, evening primrose, pokeweed, and spreading  purslane thrive. Weeds know about drip irrigation. They are thriving right next to  growing produce. They are stealing water. Many weed seeds can lay dormant for years until the right conditions prevail. They move in between the good guys and grow extra fast.

By August, weeds are winning. At the beginning of the season, most work-share members are weeding. This is cheap meditation. The task requires is boring which allows room for a brain to wander, imagine, and  create. Many weeders like to have a companion or two to socialize.

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Homecoming Farm – Mid August, 2016

Nancy and I are work-share members of the Homecoming farm in North Amityville. Tuesday mornings we arrive to fulfill our two hours of work in exchange for a bag of produce.

Harvesting was in full swing as we arrive. We were asked to pick beans. Don the farmer explained how. “Don’t pull weeds near the beans. Their roots are sensitive and will curtail bean production. Don’t yank the pods off. Instead cut them off gently.” We too shears and plastic buckets into the field. Although it was hot, a strong breeze cooled things off.

Harvesting beans is tedious with Don’s suggestions. I’d rather yank them off. Instead of cutting I found a way to extract the bean without cutting. I nipped it off with thumb and index finger. Many of the beds are choked with weeds. Other workers weeded. With the drought, weeds are difficult to pull. I tried kneeling and stooping and sitting. All three positions were difficult. After 45 minutes, I quit. Sore back, sore knees, thirsty, bathroom break, and frustration did me in.

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onions

Notes From My Garden

Roger, a neighbor, gave me large bags of wood shavings and mulched grass. I poured this on a long raised bed, added lots of compost, and let the soil amendments meld over the winter. Next spring, I planted, spinach, Swiss chard, onions, and tomatoes. This soil became the best growing matrix I ever imagined. The bed sloped slightly. Water slowly worked its way to the south edge of the bed.

On a whim, I grabbed a box of 100 onion sets at Best Market. I knew that onions require lots of water so I set the tiny bulbs in a long row on the wettest edge of the bed. I pushed them down so just the tip of each onion showed. The box of sets weighed about a ½ pound. They have hollow leaves which are fragile. I broke off a few large ones and served them in a salad. The leaves and bulbs grew steadily for two months. Each time I watered, I enjoyed hearing the hollow sounds of droplets of water hitting the leaves.

As the summer unfolded, I began seeing browned tips of the leaves. Then the leaves began to droop and fall over. I took this to mean that the plants had stopped growing and it was time to harvest. What a thrill I had pulling the bulbs. They were all sizes. I counted 90 onions in all. So far the cost was $4 plus time spent watering. I layed the plants on screens in the garage to cure. Two weeks later it was time to braid. I’d select 7 similar-sized bulbs, lay them down, and proceed to braid them so I could hang them in the kitchen. I estimate the total weight at 18 pounds. I made 21 braids and hung them in the garage. In short, onion growing is fun!

My Sad Goodby To Quiet

I can’t find my quiet. I lost it someplace. It’s not hearing loss I’m hoping for. It’s not “go away noise” I want. I only want a place where it’s quiet.

I’m asking for the impossible in a county with onepointfivemillion people and eighthundredthousand cars. There is no hope from the descent of our lawn care crew on Wednesday mornings.

I want to hide under a boulder where where is no sound, no noise (I will not mention the “N” word again). Wearing ear protectors is uncomfortable. One small moment of quiet peace is too much to ask for. “Go someplace quiet” you suggest. I have no reason to complain. I chose an unquiet place.

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