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.

Overhead, many beach plum shrubs are wind sheared. Salt air is constantly blown inward from sea breezes. The salt air wets tender new growth, dries it, and kills it. Although they shaped like an anvil, they are fascinating. Inland shrubs are not  shaped this way.

The tongues bury anything in their path. I saw tips of bayberry,, poison ivy, phragmites, beach plum, and beach grass. I came across a dead gull tangled in fishing line. A survey of the empty beer cans strewn about at the edges of the tongues helped me to conclude that fishermen drink Bud. The advancing sand carries any flotsam it picked up on its way inward. This garbage seems to accumulate in hollows.There are many bayberry shrubs full of light gray berries. Many have cracks with missing wax. Their dried, curled leaves huddle beneath the bushes assuring them that will have nutrients and mulch in mid-summer. This place becomes unbearably hot because on shore breezes are wafted upward as hot air rises. In one cove, I noticed tiny white flakes of Styrofoam strewn over soggy phragmites stalks. Styrofoam is very common. The power of the ocean chews up stryofoam and litters the landscape. The pulverized pellets will become fish food. When will the humans love our planet more?

I came upon the largest beach plum I’ve ever seen. It was 20 feet high and 40 feet wide, more a tree than a shrub. It had black bark and thick branches and its root system held a large chunk of soil. I’m thinking that a tidal surge eroded sand around its root ball because it was too big to move. The new branch tips are about 1 ½ inch long, last year growth. Its buds are fattening and will leaf out soon. This plant will offer a shady leeward respite this summer. I took a sample to sketch.

I never made it to the sore thumb. Three people were hanging out by their buggy. As I approached, one fellow called to me. I found a toppled red cedar tree whose roots were exposed. I tore off many small strands to use to make a basket. He asked “What’s that in your bucket?” This morphed into an hour of conversation and I was offered two cans of Montauk Lager beer. They were there to be one of the first to take advantage of the opportunity to drive right up to the shore. The father took a picture of his son who dove into the 42 degree water, a sort of baptism. He didn’t stay in long…maybe a minute.

I said good by and started back along the wet pavement just above the swash zone. The scene here is totally different. The offshore breakers form a white line from a bar of sand that comes from Democrat Point. The crashing waves become curtains of foamy swash, and purple sand are in contrast to the tongues just over the dunes.

 

 

Tom Stock

Tom Stock has been involved in the Long Island environmental and outdoor education community for decades.

He has published two books; THE NISSEQUOGUE RIVER: A JOURNEY and HIDDEN AGENDA; A POETRY JOURNEY.He has also published many essays and poems in such journals as the Long Island Forum and The Long Islander.

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