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Susan’s Shorelines: Storming and stomping

I used to love hurricanes.

Not the storms themselves, but the urgency of preparing for their arrival, and the need to activate our emergency response. The approach of a powerful storm meant stocking up on supplies: flashlights, batteries, a generator? Food, beer, ice. Employees at the hardware and grocery stores responded to a rush of customers clearing the shelves to survive for the duration.

One strong storm several years ago, Hurricane Bob, stands out in my memory. My brother Chris, attired in foul-weather gear, was pushing a cart through what was then George’s Supermarket, when the owner, George Walsh, came on the store speaker with something like a two-minute warning that shoppers would have to complete their purchases shortly.

“We want to get our people out alive!” George declared, upping the anxiety level a notch.

When the storm came, we were all hunkered down, feeling the house shake a bit but safe from its fury. The day after, we took a ride around the Island to check the damage. The most dramatic impact was seen around Dering Harbor, where a ghost sailboat, its sail left up, had torn free from its mooring and careened around the harbor, slashing the lines of other boats.

Their hulls were now strewn around the edge of the harbor, like so many broken, discarded toys.

As almost always happened, we lost power, setting us up for the second emergency response. What to do with all the food that we’d stocked up on, very soon to go bad. Line it all up on the kitchen counter, and let the triage begin. Fire up the barbecue and cook as much as we can. With the danger past, the challenge was to improvise.

It was fun for a while, until the third phase kicked in. The large family sharing a house began to notice the reality of life without running water, for showers and other hygienic necessities. After a couple of days, my sister-in-law Bonnie riffed on a song that was popular at the time: “Shiny, happy people we are not.” 

The memories are recalled with a few laughs, but the storms have become undeniably more severe and powerful. A hurricane can mean death and destruction, sometimes for entire communities, as Florida suffered last year.

Here on our island-sheltered-by-islands, our experiences have been less dire, but we treat storms with respect. Last weekend, Greenport’s Maritime Festival had to be canceled at the last minute as Ophelia approached, a tough hit for restaurants and merchants that had stocked up in anticipation of crowds.

Mashomack’s Coastal Cleanup was called off two weekends in a row, in the face of two successive hurricane hits. Cindy Belt, education and outreach coordinator at the Preserve, called on volunteers instead to “Once the storm passes, please find a local beach, bring a bag and make an impact — one piece of marine debris at a time.”

It’s a good reminder that, although confronted with storms of massive size, power and frequency, individual efforts can still make a difference. On the Island, we’re so close to nature that we have a front-row view of changes to our environment — and our individual or collective actions have value, whether cleaning up the beaches or collecting food scraps for composting at Sylvester Manor Farm.

Just a few weeks ago, Tim Purtell, president of Shelter Island Friends of Trees, advised Islanders in a Reporter column of the threat to vegetation posed by the Spotted Lanternfly. An example of nature’s balance being out of whack, the species has invaded vineyards and farms as it moved north and east. It’s not yet found on the Island, but residents are cautioned to be on the lookout. The official advice: if you see one, stomp one.

When not on the Island, my home base is in Manhattan, where I’ve noticed one or two on nearby sidewalks. The other day, not relishing the prospect of a dreary, rainy weekend in the city, I was amazed to find them every few feet on the sidewalk outside my grandson’s middle school. I have to say it did wonders for my gloomy mood to take out my frustration on these little targets.

Stomp, stomp — take that, you pest — ah, that feels good. Doing my part to stop their advance toward the Island.

I alerted my grandson, Will, that he should mobilize his fellow students and get after the ones hanging around their school. “They’re outside our apartment building, too,” he told me.

“Well, what are you waiting for, man?! Get out there and stomp!”

Don’t worry, Islanders, we’ve got this. The bug stops here.