April 4, 2008

Sheltered Harbor


My home town of is located on the south shore of Long Island, New York. The Merrick Indians named the area "Copiague" which literally means “sheltered harbor." Early settlers adopted the name for their village and today Copiague is a hamlet within the town of Babylon. South of Merrick Road, which severs Deauville Estates (where I was raised) from the rest of the town, is the Great South Bay. The homes down there sit along canals which lead to this majestic body of water, which afforded a living to generations of hardy baymen who harvested it’s depths for clams, crabs, eels, and other sea life. The dwindling bounty culled from the bay still feeds Long Island and New York City; but, that lifestyle is dying. So too are folks like me who’s life is inexorably tied to the waters around Long Island

There is a saying: “You know you’re from Long Island when you’ve gone clamming at least once in your life.” That is certainly true for me. Many of my friends owned clam boats. These are long, flat vessels with a mini-cabin and ample space for a person to squeeze into and operate the steering wheel. Long clam rakes are tethered to the deck, and the bay becomes your home for a day. There’s something supernatural about breathing in sea air, sipping a can of Coca-Cola fished from the bottom of an ice-filled, Styrofoam cooler, and enjoying the view of the looming Robert Moses Causeway Bridge. A powerful spell cast by the briny bay water draws one back to its shores during the course of one’s life to relive those quiet memories.

From my childhood home, one can hear the braying of motorboats racing along the coastline during the summer. The salty bay breeze wafts gently into the neighborhood and teases the olfactory nerves of bored school children yearning for the beach. The beaches of Long Island, stretches of sandy Heaven along the south shore, remain burned, like sun on skin, with affection, in my memory. In my formative years, I was accustomed to this existence of carefree days swimming in the surf. My skin was tan, my hair bleach blond, and my muscles tone from swimming for day long stretches amongst the seaweed and horseshoe crabs.

My home now is on the opposite end of the Island’s spectrum. My children are being raised in a rocky, hilly, terrain alien from my oceanic origins on the south side. The Long Island Sound's whisper is too gentle to compel many more than a handful of seafarers to its banks in comparison to the mighty Atlantic; and, its beauty demands a harsher aesthetic adapted to stony ridges and sloping seaboards.

Long Island is, by geological definition, a terminal moraine; leftover scraps from a glacier in the shape of a fish. Topmost is the heavier portion, boulders and sloughed off bits of mountains. What’s left at the bottom is pulverized, softer earth and sand, pushed ahead as if swept by a broom. There is much more to the differences between the north and south shores of Long Island. There’s a class difference unique to the separate and unequal suburban towns on different sides of the Long Island Expressway.

The north is wealthier; the towns rich from higher taxes and a falsely perceived elite class of citizens. My original home on the south shore is composed of mostly blue collar working families; the school systems straining under the weight of too many students and not enough revenue. So many families, with the mother and father both working, have to rent rooms in their homes or create apartments within their dwellings to take on renters to help pay the mortgage and taxes. My roots are there. The return visits I make to my father’s home rile my senses and cause my skin to prickle with the residual anticipation of a return to the shoreline.

My wife grew up as I did. Summers at the seaside with her family provided her with parallel memories to mine. We often share stories driving around the omnipotent water towers both at Robert Moses State Park and Jones Beach, our respective awe at riding over the extended Robert Moses bridge, and the joy of body surfing in the foamy waves with sand in our bathing suits. Our own children are denied such a life. We bring them to the beach and their enjoyment is not the same. It’s as if we took them to an amusement park; its rides being the waves, the games being the sand and sea shells, and they lose luster and allure to abandoned video games and computers back at home.

There is no kinship between my children and the water. The Great South Bay and the sparkling Atlantic have no secrets to tell these outsiders. One has to reside along the edges, the sinewy strips of sand and shells, and listen from birth; there is a promise, a covenant between those who are enchanted and the ocean. It is a code, a lifestyle, and its bond exists forever.

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28 comments:

Bob Johnson said...

Hey Mike good to see you back, nice to read a little more of your background and I would love someday to go clamming.

The picture is beautiful, can smell the salty bay breeze from Saskatoon, such a foreign land to someone like me from the prairies

Lynda Lehmann said...

"One has to reside along the edges, the sinewy strips of sand and shells, and listen from birth; there is a promise, a covenant between those who are enchanted and the ocean. It is a code, a lifestyle, and its bond exists forever."

Mr. Grudge, I love your closing lines, and the rest is also well written! Believe it or not, I live on Long Island on the North Shore, so we have something in common besides the writing.

I want to point out to you that I see a lot of poverty here too, even in my neighborhood and in the next village over. And there is at this very moment, a house being autioned by the bank who held its mortgage. The couple who owned it fell into some bad luck: the husband's business failed a few years back and the wife could not carry the house on her teacher's salary.

Yet I know that the demographics you describe do exist, albeit with many exceptions.

My husband grew up fixing and building boats and boating out of Freeport! He grew up in Valley Stream.

As for me, I was a tomboy exploring the woods and streams and cornfields of the Lehigh Valley in PA.

I enjoyed your post and learning that you are in the same area as we are!

Swubird said...

Mike:

Glad you're back in the saddle. I always enjoyed reading your personal articles that revealed so much as to who you are. Now this new one gives a peek into who you were.

Welcome back, and have a very nice day.

footiam said...

Things just changed. There is nothing one can do about it, I suppose.

Poetikat said...

Mike this is a lovely post. You have some great poetic lines in here like:
"The beaches of Long Island, stretches of sandy Heaven along the south shore, remain burned, like sun on skin, with affection, in my memory."

Your description of clamming puts me right on the boat with you.

Although not raised by the sea, I do have a strong affinity for it. My mother comes from the east coast of Canada, the island of Cape Breton, and I spent many summers there as a kid. The call of the ocean is a strong pull that once it grasps you in its salty, seaweed strands, never lets go. I haven't been back for a number of years, but I can revive the smell, feel and taste of the sea if I just close my eyes.

My uncle is a lobster fisherman and I've seen the traps hauled out of the boats and been party to massive outdoor feasts. You have brought it all back.

Kat

By the way, have you read Michael Capuzzo's "Close to Shore" about the turn of the Century shark attacks off the Jersey shore?

Winter said...

Welcome back, Mike! I've been clamming but on the opposite side of the states, in Washington. But you really bring Long Island alive. I can smell the salt water from here... Well, that's prolly the Pacific, since I'm not far from the beach. LOL But you know what I mean. Great post!

Paul Burman said...

This is lovely writing, Mike. One of your best posts in my book. I really enjoyed it. Thanks.

The Supplicant said...

Hi Mike
I'm back! Everything was wonderful.. . I'll email you later.

Excellent post. Great story. I hear you about the kids. The same here. With the beautiful ocean here, the sound of the surf, the smell ... all of which conjure up wonderful emotions in my wife and I :-) ...but not the kids. They could care less about going to the beach, digging for clams etc. Maybe you do have to be born into it.

As for this following line:
In my formative years, I was accustomed to this existence of carefree days swimming in the surf. My skin was tan, my hair bleach blond, and my muscles tone from swimming for day long stretches amongst the seaweed and horseshoe crabs.
Man, it would have been great to retain that physical youth and acquire age and wisdom mentally.
Great imagery! Every young girl's dream eh?
Take care my friend.
~JD

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Bob,
"The picture is beautiful, can smell the salty bay breeze from Saskatoon, such a foreign land to someone like me from the prairies..."

The prairies sound beautiful, windswept, and solmen. One could find peace there, as my beloved Island is becoming cramped by urban spread. New York City is creeping in, and once bountiful farms are no longer tilled by generations of potato farmers, but the land is used for condominiums, housing developments, malls, and other shopping centers. there are still tranquil and serene spots to visit here; but, they are much sought after and impossible to reach during summer. Canada is a beautiful country, and i want to visit there soon. Thanks, Bob. I appreciate your comments and visits.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Lynda,
"Believe it or not, I live on Long Island on the North Shore, so we have something in common besides the writing."

Hey, a fellow Long Islander! Nice to meet you again neighbor. That's something. To think that the blogging world has brought me clser to folks all around the world and i have to go online to meet a fellow writer right here, a few towns away. Thanks for the kind words, Lynda, about my post here. I appreciate it. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi swubird,
I am back, and I will be visiting all of my friends blogs soon too. Not as quickly as I used too, but I won't be in hiding anymore. Thnaks, Swubird. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Poetikat,
I am thrilled to have so many blogging frirnds from canada. The country is so beautiful, and I just have to visit, and soon. I am trying to talk my wife into taking a short ride to Toronto with the kiddies this sumer. Your memories of the sea sound like mine. I will check out Michael Capuzzo's book on the shark attacks on the Jersey Shore, definitely. I just finished "Into the wild" by Jon Krakauer. This is now a movie with Emile Hirsh, the true story of Chris McCandless who journeyed to Alaska to find himself there. The book was enthralling, and the movie, directed by Sean Penn, was an accurate portrayal of the book. Thanks for the book suggestion, and your kind words about my writing. I will check out ht e book. Thanks. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Winter,
I am so glad to hear from you as you have been so loyal to my little blog, and I have been to yours maybe twice. I am so sorry, but things have been awful in my personal life and I am finally climbing back to a place where I have some free time. Thank you so much for coming back, and Washington state is another place on this great map of a country we live in where I must travel before I die. Thanks again, Winter. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Paul,
Thank you so very much for your kind words. Your compliment means a lot to me Paul. You are an accomplished writer, and your visits here give me hope that I might be doing something right. Thanks again. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi JD,
Thanks so much for the kind words.

"Man, it would have been great to retain that physical youth and acquire age and wisdom mentally."

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi footiam,
Thanks for the comment, footiam. I appreciate it. -Mike.

Mike French said...

I am cornish and the sea is in my blood. I love it. I'm land locked now where I live but maybe one day I'll move back to the coast. Maybe when I'm old and grey and in my little writing shack overlooking the beach!

Now M2 - one of these days I'm going to have to come over and you can take me clamming and we can talk about the sea together and drink coca cola!

Kathy said...

Mike, glad you're back! I've never been a water person, but reading this, I want to be! It made me feel like I missed something. Your writing always puts me in another place. Thanks for the trip!

p.s. to Lynda, I'm from the Lehigh Valley, PA. Fancy meeting you here.

Poetikat said...

Hey Mike! We watched Into the Wild a couple of weeks ago. We were blown away by it. We read and own the Krakauer book, Into Thin air about a Mount Everest Climb that ended in tragedy. Have you read that one? I think I will have to read Into the Wild now - my husband has already done so.
Kat

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Mike (M1),
We have something in common, a childhood by the sea. I too, am attached to the waters, as you can see by this blog post. I am sorry you're landlocked now, but you're welcome to visit Long Island, Mate!

"Now M2 - one of these days I'm going to have to come over and you can take me clamming and we can talk about the sea together and drink coca cola!"
I think we can make it a couple of Beck's beers, or Heinekins. I mentioned CocaCola because when I was a kid I obviously wasn't gulping down beers while on the water, lol. Come on out across the pond mate! -Mike

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Kathy,
Pennsylvania is a beautiful state, and I've been there often; mostly to the Poconos, though. I would love to retire there. Funny that both you and Lynda are from the Lehigh Valley. What a coincidence? Thanks for commenting, kathy. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Poetikat,
I am going to get "Into Thin Air" from the Library. Jon Krakauer is an amazing writer and I love his style. I love getting suggestions for books, thanks!
-Mike.

Nature Nut /JJ Loch said...

I've read about clam boats and find the image of them on the water romantic.

Beautiful post and photo!!!

Hugs, JJ

1st Lady said...

Sounds like you have fond memories of your childhood which is wonderful. I do too, and I'm so thankful for that. I never lived near the sea but I did go fly fishing with my dad on Scottish Lochs, something I'd like my children to try so I can bore them out of their minds!

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi JJ Loch,
"I've read about clam boats and find the image of them on the water romantic."

Yes, and it is hard work too! Getting all of that muck from the bottom of the bay is touch, but a few bushels of clams for the effort is worth it. And, the day on the water is unforgettable. I only clammed on a baot once or twice. Mostly we stood on the sandy beaches and used our feet to find them (there's a name for that and it escapes me at the moment) and then dug them out with a small shovel. Those were the days. Thanks for the comment, I appreciate it.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi 1st Lady,
"I never lived near the sea but I did go fly fishing with my dad on Scottish Lochs..." I wish I was able to fish on the Scottish Lochs. I have a friend I work with who visited Scotland las t year and absolutely loved your country. My nephew also spent a semester of college at the The University of Edinburgh to complete his Liberal Arts course there. he said he had the time of his life, though there was such a terribel storm that they cancelled Hogmanay! Thanks for your comments, I appreciate it. -Mike.

Peter said...

Hi! I have read this post quite a few times and I couldn’t help but visualise and reminisce about my days as a boy. You have a great way with words and as a result of reading your posts I've learnt a great deal. What more can I say but thank you.

Take Care,
Peter

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Peter,

"You have a great way with words and as a result of reading your posts I've learnt a great deal."

Thank you very much for your kind words; I am only happy if someone learns anything from what I am able to produce here. I am humbled. In additon, welcome to the MW Society, Peter! -Mike.