Tom Stock

Poet, Essayist, Photographer, Naturalist

Category: Short Essays (Page 1 of 10)

Calm Through My Lens

A sense of peace and serenity comes twice when I photograph a landscape that evokes these feelings. First are the simple landscapes I’ve seen and captured with my camera, and second, viewing the photos thereafter.

I look for scenes that have practically no information. There is no clutter. The following ten photographs pull me in as a way of leaving the busy world and entering the calm world:

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North Shore Beach

Petite wavelets sweep a north shore beach. I have come to Long Beach on Stony Brook Harbor, to experience early morning calmness in summer;  to listen to the cadence of tiny breakers that curl and fall onto wet sand at the edge of a placid Long Island Sound.

The surface of the Sound is glass. High tide has me walking right along this edge because the upper beach consists of pebbles. Walking on pebbles is hard. It might be compared to walking on millions upon millions of solid, metal pin balls. I want solid footing. Only the strip of wet sand at the very edges allows me to do this.

The slush part of the beach goes right up to the bluff. Tidal surge eats at the base of north shore bluffs and erodes it. The pebbles stay, the silt and clay are carried off into the sound.

I wasn’t expecting such astounding beauty. The scene is sky, water, and a thin strip of Connecticut on the north horizon. I wanted nothing to change. I stood quietly knowing that everything changes. The sun’s ascent changes the light and washes out what find textured details I am now seeing. I am thoughtless because this place has emptied me. I have lost the manic pace of Long Island life. The tacit lap of wavelets are like the second clicks on the stopwatch on the TV show 60 Minutes. This is Earth meditating. I feel my pulse. My heartbeat and wavelets are in tune. I am reminded that all of us  are part of a much bigger picture.

The sky is clear. There are no boats, no gulls, and no other people. Thousands of slipper shells lay at my feet. There is a boulder about 50 feet off shore whose tip is just above water with just enough space for a gull to perch. I slowly see the tide ebb as the wet edge of the boulder grows. It has its own world. Periwinkles, rock weed, mussels, and small crabs live in community on its surface. It boulder looks like a surfacing gray whale. The bluff is bare. Up top, a tree trunk is perched having fallen curing a strong hide tidal eroding event that took away just enough topsoil to undermine the tree so it fell. Beach grass grows at the base of the bluff. Every scene I see flows. And all during the time I’ve spent so far, wavelets rise, curl, fall, and sweep.

There is no need to walk. Instead, I sit on a log and run my hands through sand. It is getting brighter. I have lost track of time. I am not waiting. I am completely absorbed. A ring-billed gull has landed on the boulder. The wind has picked up. At once, the Sound takes on a different tone. A patch of wind comes in contact with the water. The surface becomes a chameleon. The water surface whirls and moves with textural changes every minute.  All the while I hear louder lap, lap, wish, wish. The sound of the sound speaks to me. The sun has overexposed everything. It’s getting hot. I walk back to the car, out of a church, having had a spiritual connection with…

A sacred place.




Everything Goes Some Place

Where is it? In your ditty drawer, closet, attic, garage, trash? Aha. The garbage truck swings by because you hear it’s growl, a guy in an orange vest jumps off, grabs the can, dumps it, and crashes the can back on the curb of your house. The truck drives down the street until it turns left and it’s gone. So is your garbage. Wait, I see that truck way up there on top of that hill. I see it dumping, my garbage is on top of the hill. Is that the end of the line?

I flush and everything goes someplace; down the pipe under the toilet; makes a right turn down a larger pipe; connects up with a concrete pipe under the street; into a bigger pipe, then an even bigger pipe until…yes. It ends up at the sewage treatment plant. Then where? Or in a cesspool. Then where?

At the edge of a parking lot at the train station, someone rushes to catch their train. Oops, an empty cigarette pack falls on the ground. Don’t want to miss the train, runs, cigarette pack sits there hoping that person will not forget and will pick it up on his way to the car.

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Tag Sale

There were no tags. We met the man in charge at the garage door. “Make your pile and come to me. I’ll give you a bargain.”  With only a narrow alley way to pass through and into the house, we had come to browse, and perhaps to find a treasure. The cold day-long rain urged us out of our house. So here we are – a tag sale.

There was so much stuff it looked like avalanches pouring out of the walls. So much was covered up that we had to pull stuff off to see the stuff underneath. I was discouraged. This was stressing me out. Nothing was organized except bottles of alcohol. A woman pulled bottles from a cabinet and lined them up on the top. We were looking at the accumulation of a lifetime. We spent two hours looking to “make our pile.” We started to accumulate biographical information. I spotted a man leaving with his pile. He carried some vintage stuff. My spirits rose.

The owners must have saved everything, took many vacation trips, played an organ and piano. I found a bookshelf, four tiers high filled with bibles, music books, and “whatnot” In one corner, mice had chewed into two books and made a nest. This was the empire of stuff. In the music room, a man sat in a rocker looking befuddled. He was waiting for his wife. I pulled on old book from a stack to start my pile. I followed with large tin Italian cookie box which I filled with books. I always try to find some small item for my grand kids. Bingo…a tiny imitation alligator skin change purse only 1 ½ inches across for Maggie.

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Manorville Journal – Part 1

I bought a house on Mill Road in Manorville in 2000 having divorced after family life in Smithtown. Before I bought the house, I dreamed of creating a place where friends and other could visit and feel peaceful, and hospitality. I was looking for a synapse  –  the space between two nerve endings. I moved in on my 60th birthday with the help of some friends. Thus began a decade of life in the core area of the New York State Pine Barrens Preserve. As a naturalist, my acre of land turned out to be perfect. About 2/3 rds of the property is open meadow. I had a neighbor to the west, and several hundreds of acres on the east and north, the Peconic River runs east west within a 15 minute walk to the north. The LIRR tracks are just east of the house. Four times a day, the warning bell and gate lower as a train passes. Aside from this sound, motorcycles  roared by mostly on the weekends.  Mill road is 7 miles long to the east. My house was 7 miles from four settlements Riverhead to the east; Center Moriches to the South; Yaphank to the West; and Wading River to the North.

I kept a journal during the time I lived there. After 17 years, I’ve begun to read the almost day by day life I lived there. I wrote poems and essays. I had many guests. I hired Dave, a former student, to help me renovate the house. It was built in 1958.  Covered with asbestos shingles, very old insulation, roof needs replacement; a kitchen and bathroom that needed renovation; and floors, and windows and on and on.

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Mid-Spring at Homecoming Farm

There are weeds in the garlic plot. Twelve rows of garlic, each bed with four rows, in beds 240 feet long. 20,000 garlic plants that have their own soil.

Don is the farmer. The garlic bed is one of the newest. Starting from grass turf, the ground was turned over, and disked twice. It was planted with sorghum last fall to increase organic content. Later last fall, an expensive cover of good strong compost was laid down to start the 12 beds.

I have a strong interest in garlic. I grew garlic on my small farm I called Sow Love Reap Joy Farm located in Manorville. I held a garlic festival. I attended a garlic festival in Saugerties upstate. I inspired the Garden of Eve to start growing garlic. I became the Garlic Queen at my garlic festival. Julie, my daughter, made me a garlic hat. I made a garlic queen bra, and conducted a garlic teach in. I researched garlic. Finally, I passed the garlic festival idea on to the Garden of Eve in Northville and served as Mr. Garlic Man and sold braids of garlic at their first festival.

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The Creation – The Old Story and The New Story

In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth. There was great darkness that covered the waters of earth. And god’s spirit stood over the waters of earth.

God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that light was good, and God divided light from darkness. God called light ‘day’, and darkness he called ‘night.’ Evening came and morning came; The first day…

God said, ‘Let there be heaven to divide the waters.’ And so it was. God made Heaven, it divided the waters above heaven from the waters below heaven, evening came and morning came; The second day…

God said, ‘Let dry land appear.’ And so it was. God called the dry land ‘earth’ and the mass of waters ‘seas’ And God saw that it was good.

God said, ‘Let the earth produce plants and fruit trees.’ And so it was. God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came; The third day…

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Boy Becomes Man

Cross-legged inside a “lodge”, in this case it is a twelve foot circular dome five feet high. Tree saplings lashed together make a strong framework. This framework has many colorful cloth strips tied to it. Keith says “to honor someone no longer with us.” I tie a purple strip over the door to remember my brother Martin.

Keith’s youngest son, Liam, is on center stage for the “lodge” ritual, short for sweat lodge.  Liam is 17 years old. The lodge is to mark the entrance into “manhood.”  Ted and Keith invited 11 males to help celebrate the passage. The age span is 10 for Stephan to me – 77. Ted has offered his location, planned, and acquired the necessary materials. We are in Northampton in the Pine Barrens Woods just north of Wildwood Lake. We are isolated. Most of the neighbors have summer cottages and are still away.

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Think Outside

I bought a t-shirt to support the Center for Environmental Education and Discovery. A naturalist friend of mine, Eric Powers, is raising money to restore a building in Bellport. Since I too am a naturalist, I find it absolutely necessary to spend a few minutes fleshing out the brief but spontaneous mission statement THINK OUTSIDE:

I agree with thinking outside. Me and thinking outside go way back. Ias a child, I played outside practically all the time. I had no computer back then. And Television was so new I only had three stations to look at. There were no cell phone interruptions when I played solt ball with my buddies.

I made forts and camps outside, played tennis, basketball, ran around playing tag, mowed my grandfathers lawn, played at the edge of his pond. I did almost all of my thinking outside. How glorious a boyhood can one have?

What did I think about outside? Here’s an incomplete list:

  1. felt good not being enclosed by four walls, floor and ceiling.
  2. felt dam good being free to shout, scream, bicycle as fast as possible
  3. feel the weather – wind mussing my hair and sunshine on my face.
  4. feel scared by wasps, marvel at carpenter bees with mysterious flight patterns.
  5. feel the shadows of tree branches and leaves in summer, the coolness of those shadows, the bark, the trunk, the branches, and the bird nests.
  6. feel the mystery of the night sky, the moon, stars, planets, meteors, dawn and dusk.
  7. feel the strange motion of big puffy clouds passing overhead.
  8. feel the earth beneath my feel while walking, running, standing still hearing sounds that come     from nature.
  9. feel the torture of those incarcerated, bedridden in hospitals, housebound, sitting in front of a      computer screen for hours
  10. feel the excitement when making discoveries, my discoveries, how they satisfy.
  11. feel the companionship of friends when I go hiking, play sports, go to the beach.


Thing outside. You bet. Today, more than at any time, I see people not engaged with nature, not enjoying nature, not discovering or observing, or relishing time outside.

Tom Stock                                       life member of the New York State Outdoor Education Association


Farmers order seeds in January. This is startup for the growing season. By late February, the action begins. Planning for what goes in each bed and bed location has already been done. Starter mix, organic manure, and other supplies have been delivered. Serious startup is unfolding.

Tractor repairs, and other chores where taken care of over the winter. Interns have been hired as well as full time workers. Seed planting in greenhouses, also called hoop houses or tunnel houses is underway.

Manure is mixed with starter mix. This combination plus water and seeds provides a good matrix. Plastic cells of all sizes are filled with the growing medium and leveled off. Don is the farmer at Homecoming Farm in North Amityville. He likes to work along starting his seeds. It is quiet, and with tropical warmth he and his seeds await germination. Don labels every tray and waters at least twice a day. Seeds must be constantly wet and warm to germinate.

Startup work at CC Farm in Southold is the same. Workers fill seed trays, plant, water, check, water. Eventually sprouted trays are strong enough to be set outside. The average daytime temperature hovers around 60 degrees. Night time temperature has to be above 50 degrees. Many hoop houses have heaters that kick on at night to keep the temperature steady enough so there is continuous growth. During daytime, fans blow out hot air As soon as plant out starts, drip irrigation is laid down. Onions go in early. Trays of onion sprouts are put on tables and workers gather around to separate the roots of the onion plants. Other workers are on their knees setting the sprouts along a string line on down the row. For me, personally, there’s nothing better than working with others to create food.

There is an air of excitement as workers reunite. The start of the season can be described in single word…hope. Watching the weather, insects, Canada geese, all play a factor. Farmers are aware of all these factors. They are making decisions constantly like a conductor of a symphony adjusts the tempo, and sound levels of an orchestra.  A poet friend of mine sent me a poem titled FARMERS ARE RICH. Indeed they are. Atheir are outdoors, hands in the soil, planning, assigning tasks, checking crops, and on and on. Their satisfaction not only comes at harvest time. It comes every day as the huge task of keeping things going. Another big factor in the greenhouse is the various maturity times when the plants are strong enough to tolerate “hardening off”

Startup happens all summer and well into the fall. Garlic cloves are planted traditionally around Halloween. Mulching, weeding, culling, taking water breaks, observing progress of plants, harvesting, distributing. Although there are many steps,  in the process of farming, there is nothing that can beat the fresh produce on pickup day.

Once the farm and farmer shut down for the winter, it’s time to change gears. This doesn’t last very long.  For about two months farm soil rests. But still, farmers are thinking about what new variety to grow, what failures need to be addressed, what workshop or conference to attend. Start up, in reality, is every day of the year.

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