Tom Stock

Poet, Essayist, Photographer, Naturalist

Category: Medium Length Essays (Page 1 of 3)

FIELD and Track; World Championships – London 2017

I love the ten athletic field events. Track events are exciting, but their sport is competition with others. Field athletes compete to improve their best result  and to try to break a world record, and win the gold.Track runners run. Field athletes have to master several skills.

I thrill over the high jump and pole vault.  Although it only takes a few seconds to complete the event, I obsess over seeing an athlete fly through the air, arch their back, then flip their legs and pass over the bar. It’s like gravity weakens slightly for their ascent. They chose their event based on strength and skill. They practice, train, and enter events all to reach the pinnacle at the World Championships. It is inspirational to watch the results of sacrifice and determination.

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Manorville Hills Spring Hike

To describe our most recent hike in Manorville Hills County Park, a single word will suffice. FRESH.  Moments after we exited the parking lot and headed toward Trail #5.

Early June, no one in the park but Mark and me. Along with sunshine, we entered the renewal of this Pine Barrens Forest. Fresh new ferns, grasses , mosses, blueberry shrubs,  and the oaks. Gypsy moths were at work. There was evidence on the trails. I found pieces of partially chewed leaves, as well as caterpillars because leaves are fresh and tender.

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A Festival For A Weed – A Spring Tonic

The second annual dandelion festival comes at a time when dandelions are popping. The KK Farm in Southold elevated the lowly dandelion to adoration level. Booths, lectures, music, and signs, and lots of yellow were on hand. The 8 acre farm is only a few miles from Orient Point, a 90 minute drive for me from Babylon.

The farm is 100 years old and 8 acres, not what I’d call agribusiness. It is enclosed by deer fencing and grows on raised beds. Huge piles of leaves in various states of decomposition lay on the eastern edge. The barn is the centerpiece structure surrounded by a scattering of outbuildings. One outbuilding held large equipment, another small. There are greenhouses, a farm house, and a processing building. I found a charming “office” with small wood burning stove attached to a greenhouse. The farm has character and a small world feel. This is the second festival. I was invited by Suzanne Ruggles, who calls herself The Barefoot Gardiner.

I arrived early to set up my booth – dandelion flipping Olympics.

Informative signs were placed near the barn. Two signs had the following words: “Plants (like dandelions) that you need for your physical, emotional, and spiritual healing to gravitate to you”

“ leaves are loaded with omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins A B C and D, potassium, iron, calcium, and phosphorous. They are an exceptional spring tonic.”

At one booth, a woman served samples of dandelion juice. “First I roasted the taproot, blended it with water, let leaves soak then filter. Here, try some.” It tasted like dandelions! I had my “spring tonic” in a small paper cup…wonderful!

Children were plentiful, in fact the festival was intergenerational and full of energy. Kids played with hula hoops,  dipped dandelion heads into paint and onto paper, and bounced around free to investigate on their own.

I hosted the dandelion flipping booth. I had a sign DANDELION FLIPPING OLYMPICS, set out a flipping court, and had little flags to mark were flipped dandelions landed. I didn’t promote my event and chose a poor location out of the mainstream. Nevertheless, four women came by to ask “What is dandelion flipping all about”.  I asked them to find a dandelion, and demonstrated to move. All four women flipped. The farthest flipper was invited back for the “finals.” While I had no other interested parties, I did have three wonderful adults who came by and sat down for conversation.

I attended three of the six lectures in the old post and beam barn.  Susan Ruggles gave a power point presentation of gardening with native wild flowers as a substitute for maintaining a lawn.  Her Westhampton home is a certified wildlife habitat.  She loves what she does. I called her an “apostle of the plants she loves.” She brought a display of photographs of many of the plants she uses. She helps people change their lawns into flower meadows.

Louise Harrison was there representing the SAVE PLUM ISLAND organization. Two booths featured native bees and their conservation. The seed-saving group promoted saving heritage and heirloom seeds native to Long Island including the Cheese Pumpkin

One of the most unusual displays were quail eggs. This couple raises quails and harvests their eggs for sale. I sketched and egg and breast feather.

I liked the whole affair because it wasn’t high tech and crowded. Here. Practically on the tip of the north fork, I found a great many of people whom I’d label out of the box.  This experience was refreshing. I’ll be back with a bigger and better dandelion flipping event next year.

Walking The Tongues

Sand tongues from two strong nor’easters have encroached on the thicket all along the Jones Beach barrier island. I parked at the Overlook Beach with the intention of a beach walk to the “sore thumb, an isthmus 1 ½ miles east. It pokes out into Fire Island Inlet, and offers great views of the Great South Bay.

The fog was burning off as I started out. The forecast called for sunshine in the 60’s.I wanted to take advantage of the beach because Babylon Town just opened the gate for beach buggies. Soon the beach will become a giant parking lot.  Week days are less crowded. I only encountered two buggies.

Sand tongues are the result of over wash during strong storms with tidal surges. Upper beach sand becomes liquid a suspension mixture of salt water and sand. It pours through openings in dunes, flows landward, and engulfs plants. I walked as close to the thicket as I could. I encountered one sand tongue after another, clean of footprints, rounded lobes as clean and smooth as a baby’s ass. The water receded and left sculptures, one after another.

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Two Walks Up In The Hills

I carried a bench frame on my back up the Paumanok Path in order to set up another place for visitors to sit. Manorville Hills County Park is “primitive.” There are no refuse cans, bathrooms, or places to sit. There is a parking lot, signage, and a bulletin board. There are ticks. With places to sit, walkers can avoid sitting where there may be ticks.

I managed another good weather day. The past three hikes have been sandwiched by cold, rainy, windy weather. Somehow, I have avoided that. My destination was twofold: place the bench on Sperry Hill, and photograph the boulder vandalism.

From the parking lot, I hiked into what I call the “epicenter” of the park.  It is a departure from the rest of the area which is hilly Pine Barrens. There is a small charming, sun

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Abandoned Lot Connections

Young praying mantises have hatched. I found them holding on to a wall in my office and decided to catch them and bring them outdoors. The stiff, foam, gray egg case was taped to a large piece of paper that I put in a folder. I managed to catch and release dozens of these miniatures. A couple of questions arose.  What do these perfect imitations of adults prey on? Will the released ones survive?

The egg case was attached near the top of a dead mugwort stalk in an abandoned lot, a fenced in area in the heart of the Village of Babylon within a short walk. I happened upon this area and decided to explore through a breach in the chain link fence. You say “Mr Stock, you’re trespassing”. You are correct. But…I have a worthy, noble, friendly, environmental cause. Curiosity drew me into an opportunity to trespass, to survey nature raging in the face of thwarted human “progress”. I am contributing to science…the ecology of abandoned lots. Earth herself has a built- in mechanism to restore herself. Look at an abandoned parking lot. You’ll find cracks with weeds coming up.

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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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