Tom Stock

Poet, Essayist, Photographer, Naturalist

Category: Medium Length Essays (Page 1 of 3)


March madness brings together 64 of the best college basketball teams in the nation. The competition starts with a bracket plan of team match ups and ends with a national champion.

I love ball. I love the the players; how they defend, shoot, twist, fowl, fly off the court into the seats, look weird and shrug their shoulders in disbelief when the ref calls a foul on them. I love the instant replays; the cheerleaders, the bands, the refs, the coaches. With no cable TV and four games to watch on a Saturday, I get saturated after two games. But what games they are. These are superb athletes at the peak of top of their game. Bow outs, no; close games, yes; and I always root for the underdog. The desperation last second fling of a 3/4 length floor length shot with the hope for a miracle. I even like those absurd interviews with players and coaches, (“we’re gonna get in there, play our game, and see what happens”). I appreciate the camera men for their  close-ups of a spectator biting their nails on and on and on. You never know what is going to happen.

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My World View


The four venitian blinds in my study have not been cleaned for six years. There are fifty slats per blind. The plastic slats are close together. It’s time

Using a damp cloth, I begin to swipe. The topmost slats are the dirtiest. It takes an hour to clean just one blind. I need a break and decide this process will take four days. Just being in my study doing this means something, so here goes.

My shades have collected dust that comes from everywhere including the far corners of Earth. Dust can stay aloft so long as to circle the planet. Dust can enter the house. It is so light that only sunlight can reveal it’s presence in the air.I think it’s safe to assume that the dust in my study has settled there after long journeys. I think it is also safe to say that I have particles from every continent and from fabric from every culture all across the four corners our our “spaceship”

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Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show – A Special Treat

Nancy and I attended on Pier 54 in Manhattan. “This is a one-time event for us.” The $35 entrance fee suggested to me that THIS BETTER BE GOOD! “Just once to get an idea.” Nancy added. Up to this point, I haven’t paid much attention to dogs. In fact, I have tried to avoid them after the day I toured the Babylon Animal Shelter to consider becoming a volunteer. It only took an hour to decide that being in the same building with 24 of the fiercest looking pit bulls I’ve ever seen that I’d pass. Taking nature walks in Gardiners County Park close by was another reason. It is a popular dog walker’s park. As I pass leashed dogs or they pass me, I gave wide birth…pretending to be afraid. I was trying to tell adult humans that I wanted this park for nature, not dogs, forgetting that yes, dogs too are part of nature.

It did not take too long to see dogs in a new light. Here, they are the center of attention. The show layout was L-shaped. One leg was the bench area, the other the ring area. There’s also a gift shop and exhibition area, and food court.

The bench isles are the staging area where dogs, owners, and handlers get the dogs ready for competition. Dogs are groomed by teasing and combing, blow drying, cutting, talking to, patting, and penning. Some dogs are sleeping. Many are on small platforms with leashed necks so they can be attended to. The bench area is organized by breed. There are over 200 breeds and 3000 dogs. Each bench contains the paraphernalia necessary to make their dogs glamorous.

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Quogue Wildlife Refuge Walk

I hike not so much for the exercise, but for the friendship I have with Mark, and to  use my curiosity of the natural world to discover new things. After 40 years of doing this (now 77) I still find plenty to take note of, learn more from, and write about.

Mark and I explored the trails at Quogue Wildlife Refuge, in Southampton New York, for a few hours. It is a long, narrow area whose boundaries are determined by a fresh water creek that flows through the center and three ponds. We were surrounded by Pine Barrens. When looking beyond the fences of this place, I did’nt see any houses. The fresh water portion of the Quantuck Creek watershed may be one of the cleanest on the south shore. There only three crossings, the Long Island Railroad, South Country Road, and Montauk Highway which spans the estuary on the Great South Bay. Here, the name “country” really means that. Middle and North Country were in country, but not so much today.

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Nature In A Cemetery

What was it about that cemetery that drew me to visit? A killdeer calls from above. In the unkempt section, sweet vernal grass sports its tassels.  Lots of clumps of Star of Bethlehem wildflowers bloomed were scattered around the perimeter. Along with the commemorations of the lives of people, there are signs of life. I recently explored Lakeside Cemetery in Patchogue.

Gravestones so weathered from a century of wear that many of the epitaphs are unreadable. Some marble stones are covered with black splotchy lichens. I find pieces of white marble from broken head stones scattered around. A sprawling yucca plant obscures a stone. Many are toppled, pushed over by vandals, perhaps even natural forces of gravity.

I am scouting the place looking for interesting engravings to make rubbings. There are trees, they seem sad and stately, noble sentries for the spirits in this burial place. I carry my kit in a backpack…newsprint and black crayons. I am looking for texture engravings that are neither positive or negative, meaning lettering either elevated above the background, or letters carved into the rock.

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Tuesday Pickup – Homecoming Farm

We arrived at Homecoming farm for our weekly Tuesday visit for our work/share commitment. Our two hours of work usually involves weeding. Although there’s been a drought all summer, Don had laid out irrigation tape at the end of our work assignments, we gather at the pickup tent to take our share. This week it was big.

Strong northeasterly winds, a sprinkle and clouds covered the 50 beds and building area. I joined Mitch and Don at the raspberry bushes. “This isn’t the proper soil for raspberries.” Said Don. “I’ve seen blueberries in the pine barrens sandy soils that are loaded.” I chimed in.

Don asked me to weed the artichoke bed after I pointed out horseweed. It can grow as high as a horse, is long and skinny, and is one of two major weeds who have taken advantage of the irrigation tape. The other is rag weed. I got to work.” Having grown artichokes in Manorville, I knew that the later you harvest, the tastier the tubers are.

“Wait till the last pickup at the end of November.” I suggested.

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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, Lyndon 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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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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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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We passed through security, and finally boarded the ferry with about 200 others. We disembarked on Ellis Island, entered the immigration building and found our way to the docent who would lead us on a 90 minute “backstage” tour.

We were led through a gate and into a hall, a very long hall, a hall that connected 30 hospital buildings the purpose of connecting all the buildings was to contain any contagious diseases. We were about to tour the hospital complex, and complex it is. Dave, our docent, conducted the tour walking slowly backwards. We donned hard hats while he showed us a four-foot high water mark from Hurricane Sandy.

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