Tom Stock

Poet, Essayist, Photographer, Naturalist

Month: April 2017 (Page 1 of 2)


A proper lawn requires an army

this is war

to look like artificial turf

mow them down

with machine gun rat ta tat

merciless fury

give them brush cuts

all the same height

to be soldiers in turf

a large swath of pure, refreshing green

this is the army

every blade in its proper place

right face right, attention

always at attention, you’re army soldiers

be proud, be strong, stand up and be counted

do your job

make the owner proud

he wants to look wealthy

wants to have the perfect lawn

landscapers are here to help create his image

total control,  in charge

just like the neighbors

keep up with the Jones’s

the work doesn’t take long

quick, in and out

we have other landscapes to trim

we scape the land, scrape the land

we rape the land

mow it, mow  mow it, mowt

blow away stray leaves

Suck up grass clippings

in large white canvas bags

tossed into the big truck

a landscapers stock in trade

which drags a big aluminum trailer

loaded with mowers, trimmers, blowers

shovels, rakes, extra gas

all customized to make noise

eardrum shattering, decibel breaking

music of power mowers, grinding, growling

blowing, sweeping without brooms

it’s drill time

up and at ‘em, fall in

each blade a private in a suburban army

to stand at attention,

no slouching

we will cut you down to size

landscapers are the generals, five star

men with colorful bars on chests

boasting their great lawn battles they’ve won

tiny, thin blades of green

humbled, unnoticed, following their leader

the owner man shops at Home Depot

in the gardening isle

big bags of fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides

to feed his lawn, he cares about his lawn

he feels a sense of accomplishment

a satisfaction that he has applied his will

my lawn will be the best lawn

this is his slice of nature

he’s out to kick the face of ecology

his war against diversity, against bald spots

no dandelions – those little yellow spots

dotting his green empire

dig them out, spot spray with poison

finally, his little paradise

looks like a sod farm

look neighbors

look how much I care

this is my castle

i have bent each blade

trained them all to make me proud

this is just about the only thing

I can control. I won the war

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

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.

Niagara Falls On His Chin

White whiskered words

Long strands, on and on

Leaves and lawns

Farms rolling to the horizon

A beard full of crumbs

Lyrical crumbs. Musical crumbs

Poetry sea to sea

Ocean to Ocean

Fresh, seaming, artisanal breat

The gravity of falling water

The rumble, the mist


Whitman’s cascade of phrases, stanzas

I am multitudes. Take my photo

One image of me is an image of us all

Read me

Every whisker of my poetry

Are your whiskers as well

My songs of praise, of love

My songs of history, or working people

Visit my birthplace

Visit Camden

Come and see me


Peek inside my bedroom

We are all horn here

Splayed across his chest

The wide scope of his beard

A white tumble of chants and lists

Whisker upon whisker

“Whoever you are, come forth.”

His chin hairs grew as his verse

He pleads, he instructs, he howls

His barbaric yalp

Don’t every shave, Walt

Your beard covers our nation

Let is grow, it is our forests, our grasslands,

Our lakes and creeks

Stroke your beard alt, release those crumbs

Your beard is out bible

Literature falls from your chin

Your hair crosses on Brooklyn Ferry

Across the Delaware

Into print shops in Brooklyn, school houses on Long Island

Into hospital hallways in Washington

Into a loft in Huntington

Where you print The Long Islander

Out of your Niagara Falls, Leaves of Grass


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.

“Earth, a speck between the icy rings of Saturn as it was seen from the spacecraft Cassini

The 47th Earth Day shows readers a tiny white spot not readily seen on a black background. On my first view, I didn’t see it. A moment later, there it is…Earth. The newspaper chose Earth Day to show Earth as a speck. From our perspective, a speck doesn’t mean much. However, this image precipitated some thoughts. Why present Earth as a speck on Earth Day?

I’ve always been struck by the Earth population statistic, probably off by perhaps a few million, it hovers around 7 billion. As a collage artist, I challenged myself to represent this visually. From space, we never see human life. I doubt we see it if all 7 billion of us were brought together – then Cassini might detect us. I wonder how many species other than human out number us? I found it necessary to create a fictional story based on the “speck theme.”

It’s impossible to live on this speck. There’s no room. We are elbow to elbow. Our speck metaphor is like a jam-packed elevator with not a single square inch for another human. Same comparison can be made for a subway at rush hour. Once I was two inches from the ear of the man next to me. This is way past the survival of the fittest. We are all going to die. No such thing as carrying capacity. We passed that a century ago.

Our home, an insignificant speck of rock, water, and air is covered with us. We are so tight we can’t even push people away from us because our arms are pressed against our bodies. We all know that the end is near. People are dying and they don’t even fall down. A while back, we crawled over each other like ants. There was shoving and fighting – all useless because the winners were instant losers. We’re all losers. Who will live? Maybe a small group of people are hiding in cave some place and they will be the only survivors. But no, the cave is jam packed; the mountain where the cave is located is covered with humans – no water, no food, dying by the millions. The stench of decaying human flesh doesn’t have chance to start because a dead human is stripped of muscle in minutes.

The catastrophe is well under way. Masses of people are swimming into the ocean, only to drown. As more and more die, space opens up and they fall. The ground is completely covered.

I feel my feet becoming numb. Now I can’t feel my legs. I am wobbling and bouncing off people near me. I’ve lost my sight, hearing, touch. I am dead.

The Boulder: Part 2

I’m through with the grieving; through with the anger; have passed the point of forgiveness to the person who sprayed blue paint on that rock. Up to the time the rock was clean, I pretended I owned it. It was my spiritual place. I concluded that it is no longer my spiritual place. The rock has been violated. I have been violated. That’s all over now. However, I would not lament if a forest fire burned past this sacred boulder and burned off the paint.

I forgive the rock and the glacier and the Connecticut hillside from which the rock was plucked.  And lastly, I forgive myself for acting way over the top like a crying baby. It is time for me to return to the rock and get on with it and to reestablish my connection with the rock as my spiritual place.

It is nonsense to continue carrying on this complaint.  It has become a burden. In one sense, the rock invited the vandel as defenseless inorganic matter.

I will visit the rock and pray.  Pray for the vandel; pray for myself; pray for all those who come past this rock. I will use the rock as my teacher. It has taught me that even rocks change very slowly, sometimes change happens quickly. The rock also teaches me that it is still sacred no matter what happens to it.

I apologize to myself for such an impulsive response to this defacement. It was childish.  My tantrum is over and I’m ready to move on to the next one.

Bethpage State Park – Hike, April 12, 2017

I parked just outside Bethpage State Park and walked the Nassau  -Suffolk trail north. I came to an entrance road to the polo field and was able to view a lot of green. Cutting left to stay along the edge of the fairways, I viewed the red course with light green greens and darker green fairways, sand traps and the dead stalks of little blue stem grass. Over the forest to the east, a huge hump that looked like a gray whale surfacing. No, it is the Farmingville Landfill. V-shaped water spouts added some drama. Along the hike, I picked up a few balls that had “smiles” from iron shots whose golfers made swings that didn’t make square contact with the ball. One such ball, embedded in dirt attracted my attention. I edged it out. It had a root coming out from the smile. This was a keeper for sure. I saw the clubhouse and headed up hill in between the boundary of red and black course. I asked for the pro shop in order to get a map. “You’re not allowed anywhere on the golf course.” I was holding my walking staffs, a dead giveaway. I headed along the edge of the yellow course looking for an exit. I stepped through an opening in the chain link fence and found myself back on the white blazed trail that I started on. I marveled at the abundance of acorns along the edges.

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Natural History For Travelors Heading East or West on Sunrise Highway

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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