Tom Stock

Poet, Essayist, Photographer, Naturalist

Month: January 2017


Since 2009, I have been placing benches in the Manorville Hills County Park. The objective is to build safe rustic-style benches and place them in appropriate spaces within this primitive setting. There are no benches, bathrooms, or security at the present..
John Burnley suggested the location for another bench. Mark Harrington and I met John in the parking lot off route 111. Mark and I unloaded the bench parts after driving east on Hot Water Street. We carried a plank, two legs, shovel, hammer and nails to the location. We used emergency access route #5 and hiked about 45 minutes to the site. John knew about this because he’d already visited it. He set up a beach chair and used the bucolic scene to do some writing. It is a hill with a bald and steep slope. A bald is an open place with few pitch pines no shrub layer, and a nice smooth carpet of pine needles. It is one of the many magical places that are quiet, peaceful, and beautiful in this park. The park is located in the core area of the NYS Pine Barrens Preserve. There are no structures at all.
We selected a spot to put the bench, dug two holes, set the legs in, back filled, lined up the seat, and nailed it to the posts. I brought a map of the trails and a contour map of the area. I thought I knew where this place was. I showed John on the Eastport USGS topographic map. I concluded that the steep valley was right next to a deep kettle hole. “No” said John. He pointed to an area north of my prediction. I agreed with John because while were there because I heard Long Island Expressway passing traffic. It was farther north from Hot Water Street than I thought.
As we left, Mark tied a blue hanker chief to a tree trunk to mark the place. We will call this place Burnley Hill and Burnley Bench. Since John hikes in this park very often, he is a valuable resource for other locations.
These rustic benches are meant to allow hikers to take a break and rest. Undeveloped County Parks need help. The park does some maintenance. It is used by mountain bikers, horseback riders, and hikers. The current program is there is no accurate map and none available for first-time visitors. The more hikers, the more eyes to see illegal ATV’s, dumping, excessive erosion, vandalism, and even fire.

A long Island Sierra Club Service Project – Litter

Diane Ives invited me to help her pick up litter along the edge of a parking lot fence at the Copaigue LIRR station.

It’s pretty easy to dump garbage here because the location doesn’t have security cameras and the fence makes it easy to go undetected. Commuters are on the go to the extent that come of them eat meals in their car. Take out meals means junk in station cars. Some are careful and clean out the accumulation of paper and Styrofoam cups, foil wrap, paper plates, plastic and aluminum cans, straws, cigarette packs, candy wrappers, glass bottles, on and on and on. Dining room cars don’t have waiters to clear the table. It is too easy to just open the door, shuffle the garbage out and let the wind carry to the chain link fence.

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Long yellow necks
Reach high above
Rooftops and skyscrapers
They are cranes, not birds
Lifting buckets of concrete,
Iron, and building materials
They eat the sky
Dominating the cityscape
They roost and puff their chests
Saying “No space left down there”
Up in the operaters box
A tiny figure in a yellow cab
Pulls levers to hoist tons
To add floors to the sky
To build the bones
Of superstructures
Cells for corporate dealings
White men sitting behind empty
Shiny, reflective desks
With no way to expand horizontal
It’s now vertical
Tourists chant “look how tall!”
More square footage
To create shadows even at noon
They puncture clouds
Aim for the stratosphere
Their mating call …lift lift, lift
Until every square inch is filled

Tom Stock January 24, 2017


I love spinach and grow it. A pile of steamed spinach with pat of butter sends me into convulsions.

I never seem to be able to plant enough spinach seeds. Once harvested, a huge number of leaves are necessary for a good sized portion.
I plant spinach twice a year, spring and fall. Spinach bolts in hot weather. It is a cold weather crop. But, I can carry this to the extreme and grow and harvest in winter as well.

The spring crop is slow to start. This is because it puts most of its energy into growing deep taproots. It relies on a water supply below the ground surface.
I like the Cookabura variety because it is savoyed. Savoy means crinkly leaves. The spinach leaves have texture which is gone after ten minutes of steaming. IRThis is because spinach is 85% water. It takes a lot of plants to supply enough for my wife and I. each plant has a rosette of leaves. I always clip (don’t pluck) the two biggest leaves which allows for more growth. I can harvest leaves for two months in spring, and again two months in fall.

I start in spring when the soil is loose and cold. As the seeds sprout and growth starts, the progress slowly speeds up. Being impatient, I inspect my spinach every day and water and weed. I like Johnny’s Seed Company. There are ten varieties to choose from.

I protect the plants in winter by putting mini-greenhouses over the plants. Any clear plastic container works. I cut the bottoms off quart seltzer bottles and pop them over the plants.

Today, January 15th 2017, I harvested enough leaves for two small portions. Growth is slow but none of the plants have died despite sub freezing temperatures. Although it is considered a tender leaf crop, my spinach, with their life-saving bubble green houses will produce all winter long. Although considered an annual, my spinach keeps on going. It is my vitamin A and C. it is loaded with minerals. The best way to absorb its minerals is by juicing. Once I’ve harvested, I have lots of recipes to choose from. But, for me, steaming for ten minutes and boom on the plate, over my taste buds and into Tom’s tummy.



In one of the glass cases at Dublin’s Natural History Museum, I saw a  bird with a red breast labeled “Robin.” It is half the size of our American Robin I saw this bird on a shrub in the ancient cemetery in Glendalough. The stuffed magpie and jackdaw were new to me. At Rock of Cashel ruins, we heard the calls of jackdaws who flew about and nested in small square openings in the rock wall. The jackdaw is in the crow family.

The first floor of the museum is a long 70 foot hall filled with taxidermy. Most animals had no connected habitat. A huge skeleton of a Right Whale hung from the ceiling. The stuffed rhino’s glass eyes stared like security camera. One tiny specimen, the least shrew, could fit into a teaspoon, “the smallest mammal” on the label. The wood floors creaked and on the walls, many antlers from the Giant Red Irish Deer. On both ends of the hall, iron grill work and mosaic tiles caught my eye. I made a rubbing and captured three different designs.


I imagined two things I wanted to do in Ireland…see flocks of sheep on broad, green pastures; and listen to Irish music in a pub. We did both.  Driving along the Irish Sea coast, a flock of huge black-headed sheep grazed along the roadside. Hedgerows prevent drivers from pulling over out of traffic. We found a pullout, and had a rare opportunity to linger and photograph. These sheep were the largest I’ve seen. Some looked the size of a pony. The sheep are raised for meat, not wool.  We had lamb stew in the restaurant in the Hunt Museum and loved it. We had great views of the Shannon River in this charming café during our first whole day in Ireland. The castles, the museums, and the cathedrals were astounding.

Our last night was spent in the Old Ground Hotel in Ennis near where we would depart next morning. I asked the clerk at the registration desk if there was pub that featured Irish music. “Cruise’s,” she said. We had dinner in a small room with a fire blazing. Its fuel was peat, which doesn’t crackle like wood. I wanted to visit a peat bog. This desire in and of itself will require another visit to Ireland. Nancy and I decided that Ennis was the town we’d stay in to tour the west coast on our next trip. Ennis is a portal for tourists that visit the scenic towns and cliffs. We walked the town and decided this was the next destination.

Three musicians set up in front of a fireplace, a bagpiper, banjo, and flute players. After sipping pints of tangy Irish brew, then began to play in 4/4 time, a foot-stomping pace that quickly penetrates everybody. Nancy started to dance a reel. The musicians blended with shrill pipe notes, the sharp plunks of the banjo, and whistle tones from the flute. The waitress said “Come in August for the festival. There are 400,000 people here!” Nancy and I chose January for our trip for the lower overnight rates and in between time as Nancy returns to her MFA writing program soon after we return.

Nancy has an Irish passport and is ¾ Irish. One of her goals was to return to her grandfather’s farm in Rosenallis which is in the midlands. The other goal was to reconnect with her second cousins, Betty and Polly in Dublin and Wicklow. She thinks she recognizes the place after several trips up and down narrow roads with hedgerows that block peripheral viewing. But a new stockade fence blocks the courtyard. Later we learn the old house has passed out of the family.

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