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Charity’s column: Does Shelter Island need a sister?

When the going gets tough, it’s good to have sisters. Peconic Bay is heating up like a bathtub, avian flu is threatening the chickens and we’re running out of drinking water, but if you’ve got sisters, they’ve got your back.

There’s data to back it up. A 2015 study found lower rates of guilt, loneliness and feelings of fear in people with one or more sister, and concluded that having a sister makes people feel fewer negative emotions.

Does the power of sisterhood apply to places as well as people?  Would having a sister city help Shelter Island navigate turbulent waters?

A sister city is a partnership between two places, often in two countries. Towns become sisters when their mayors (in our case, supervisor) reach out to officially recognize a relationship of respect and cooperation with the head of another town. There’s usually a proclamation, and maybe even a celebration or plaque commemorating the partnership.

Twenty years ago, the former mayor of Greenport, David Kapell, found that Mangalia, a town on the Black Sea in Romania, was willing to be Greenport’s sister. Mangalia traded some attractive stones for one of Greenport’s retired ambulances, agreed to provide expertise in cognac-making to local wineries and sponsored a student exchange.

Greenport discovered that although you can’t pick your siblings, you can select a sister city with assets, such as cobblestones.

What should Shelter Island look for in a sister city? Are there places with resources that match up with our most pressing needs?  For example, we need volunteer firefighters and fresh water. Is Homosassa Springs, Fla. spoken for? It’s been named one of the top 10 best small cities for firefighters in the U.S. It’s also blessed with abundant fresh water springs and manatees.

Some cities have a sister with a kindred spirit, which may be how Boring, Ore. found its sister-city, Dull, Scotland.

Shelter Island’s doppelganger would be an island that is a pain to get to with a lot of osprey; a place like Sanibel Island on the West Coast of Florida. Residents of Sanibel can be counted on not to express shock when a half-eaten fish appears on their lawn, and as island-dwellers they are used to the delay and inconvenience of trying to get on or off by car when a long line of tourists is trying to do the same thing.

I have two sisters, but neither lives nearby. Both of them live in fascinating and lively places, and I get to see those great places when I visit, a lesson in the geography of sisterhood. 

One of my sisters lives in the small city of Conway, near the Arkansas River, not far from Little Rock. My visit during the annual Toad Suck Festival one May, was an eye-opening cultural exchange.

From the toad round-up that kicks off the festival, to the fried mudbugs (a kind of crawfish that emerges from a volcano-like cone of mud on the lawn in spring) to the toad races that ended the festivities, it was an exotic and fascinating place.

I’m not sure what we have to offer Conway that would encourage them to give us some fried mudbugs, or at least share the recipe, but it would be worth asking.

High-tone places on the Atlantic Coast (like Shelter Island) may choose a French sister, such as Nantucket, whose sister-city is Beaune, Côte-d’Or, and Bellport, Long Island whose partner is Sainte-Maxime, on the French Riviera. Undoubtedly we could find a nice French village willing to send us mineral water in exchange for oysters.

Having a sister city establishes a social exchange, that could give Islanders a leg up on the cultural differences that make life so complex. While driving recently on a state road in dry conditions with light traffic during a visit to Central Florida, we executed a maneuver that on Long Island would be called a “lane change” and were immediately stopped by Clearwater PD.

No ticket, but we got a stern lecture on driving in Florida. I later discovered that Irving, Tex. and St. Petersburg, Fla. are sister cities. Perhaps an exchange of driving instructors is part of their partnership.

Surely there are towns grappling with similar issues to the ones we face; water, ticks, development — places that would welcome the chance to share ideas about how to cope. 

A place that might like something we have lots of, like pebbles and tourists.