11/22/12 8:01am

What is the truth about Thanksgiving and what is the myth?

Of course, there’s nothing more true than the truth, but the myth is also true, if you take the old, and, well, true meaning of the word.

This parsing of language is appropriate as we celebrate the one national holiday that has nothing to do with war or soldiers — like the Glorious Fourth celebrating our independence won in blood from Britain, or Veterans Day. It’s also not about individuals, like the birthdays of Lincoln and Washington, or remembering Martin Luther King and Columbus. Or a day associated with religion, like Christmas.

This is where the power of myth surfaces. The stories handed down from generation to generation – whether facts have been lost, obscured or tempered by time — reinforce what families and nations believe about the best part of themselves. And that best part of America is being grateful for what we have, and sharing. This is the story every school child learns from the story from long ago about the Native Americans, who besides teaching the Pilgrims to catch eels, also taught them to grow corn, and both communities sat down in peace and broke bread together.

We’re taught that we’re free, and we’re all equal, and so have a duty to give thanks.

The myth did grow out of actual facts, but it’s fairly certain the Pilgrims of Massachusetts didn’t just up and decide to hold the first Thanksgiving in 1621 and invite the Native Americans to dinner to thank them for their help in keeping the colonists’ community alive. Early winter feasts giving thanks for bringing in a harvest that would guarantee survival and even comfort through the coldest months were common in Europe and colonial America long before the Plymouth colony.

There might have been a roasted wild turkey or two at the Pilgrims’ dinner, but it wouldn’t have been the centerpiece. Venison and those eels would have taken that mouthwatering pride of place, and pumpkin pie was probably not served. Cranberries would have been on the  menu, but not as a relish.

What is certainly true about Thanksgiving is it’s a day every American knows is set aside to count blessings and remember an important element in the founding of our country.

People take what they will from the day. Arlo Guthrie hitched the holiday to the anti-war movement of the 1960s with “Alice’s Restaurant,” and Rush Limbaugh has his own tradition of retelling a story he dubs, “The Real Story of Thanksgiving,” something about the battle between communism and the free enterprise system.

But some facts: In 1863, Abraham Lincoln codified our national day of Thanksgiving to be celebrated annually on the final Thursday of November.

About a month after that proclamation, Lincoln spoke at the cemetery at Gettysburg, beginning his address by saying, that we were a new nation, “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

More than enough to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving.

11/15/12 6:06am

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO | A view above Shelter Island in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

How many Libertarians does it take to change a light bulb?

That’s easy. None. If the bulb needed changing, the invisible hand of the free market would have done it.

That punch line has an extra sting considering the cruel drumbeat of day-after-day darkness many in the region have endured in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. If LIPA was a private company, would power have been restored sooner to Long Island? Probably not. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s justifiable (and politically adroit) outrage at the LIPA suits notwithstanding, hellacious winds, full moon-tides and an historic storm surge against communities at sea level produced a nightmare scenario any organization, public or private, would have been hard pressed to get a handle on quicker.

Another question about invisible hands as opposed to rhetoric about Nanny Government turning us all into spoiled children: If there was no Federal Emergency Management Agency, who would pick up the $325,000 tab the storm left the Island in its wake?

That figure comes from Police Chief Jim Read, the town’s emergency management director, reporting to the Town Board on the bill he’ll present to FEMA for reimbursement for storm damages. (See story, page 12.)  Twice the amount FEMA signed off on for damages done here by Tropical Storm Irene a year ago, the lion’s share this time will go to the Highway Department, to pay for its stellar job clearing debris. That work, by the way, allowed LIPA crews to restore power relatively quickly here.

It brings to mind a campaign slogan from the past election: We’re all in this together. This is anathema to Libertarianism, which hijacked the Republican Party in the form of the Tea Party tail wagging the GOP dog. How Libertarian ideology moved from keeping company with anti-fluoradationists and other Flat Earthers to a central position in the party of Lincoln and Eisenhower is a story for another place. But President Obama’s victory, and the defeat of Tea Party darlings such as Randy Altschuler, have shifted the ground away from those, like Mitt Romney, who would dismantle FEMA.

Governor Romney, in his contortions to appeal to a “I-got-mine” donor base, said during a primary debate, “Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.”

Maybe he was thinking of hapless Michael “Heckuva Job Brownie” Brown, former FEMA director in charge of the catastrophic federal response to Hurricane Katrina. A lesson learned there was not appointing a political hack to a job charged with saving lives and communities. FEMA’s response this time has been praised across the board, including Republican Governor Chis Christie and by Ed Gillespie, one of Governor Romney’s top aides.

We’ll take FEMA’s assistance, and thank a policy that believes that just as all of us helped Louisiana seven years ago, so the country again said we’re all in this together.

10/14/12 2:30pm

Shelter Islanders have embraced the Sylvester Manor Educational Farm as a vital community organization. That’s a conclusion any observer would be likely to reach after last Saturday’s fifth annual Plant & Sing festival.

More than 120 people volunteered to help the Educational Farm manage the event, thanks to the recruiting efforts of volunteer coordinator Wendy Clark. Ten local non-profit organizations accepted the farm’s invitation to become “community partners,” setting up booths to spread the word about their missions.

Close to 1,000 people attended. That’s about the same number that showed up last year — but that was when Plant & Sing spanned three days. This year, its events were concentrated on Saturday and the admission price was lower.

If you missed Plant & Sing, put it on your calendar for next year’s Columbus Day weekend. It was a great way for folks and families to spend a whole day in a beautiful, historic setting, with great music and interesting things to do on land as well as on sea — Jay Damuck brought his rental kayak fleet over for those who wanted to cruise Gardiners Creek, where once Nathaniel Sylvester’s flatboats carried cargo to and from his ships at anchor in Dering Harbor.

Kayakers came and went in the background as musicians performed all day on the portable stage borrowed from the Shelter Island School.

Visitors got a good taste of the entire Shelter Island community scene as well as the Sylvester Manor Educational Farm. Among the groups with booths on the grounds were the Mashomack Preserve, the Lions Club, the Friends of the Library, the Shelter Island Educational Foundation, the League of Women Voters, the Taylor’s Island Foundation, the Shelter Island Historical Society, the Garden Club of Shelter Island and the Chamber of Commerce. Slow Food East End, the Peconic Land Trust and the Peconic Harvest Food Circle were also there.

Terrific food added great taste to the sights and sounds. The restaurant SALT came with its award-winning chowder; Vine Street Cafe and its Blue Canoe outpost in Greenport served up BBQ; and Stars Cafe made burritos and quesadillas. The restaurant 18 Bay sold cupcakes and Martine Abitbol of the Wandering Palate offered a menu of locally based foods prepared with a French bent. Beverages were poured by the Greenport Harbor Brewing Company and Old Field Vineyards.

Canio’s bookstore in Sag Harbor and the Shelter Island Library’s Director Denise DiPaolo offered programs and the Peconic Land Trust conducted a nature walk on manor grounds. Goat on a Boat offered puppet shows and the Children’s Museum of the East End and the Little Red Barn sponsored activities in the kids tent.

For centuries, Shelter Island was Sylvester Manor because every acre belonged to its proprietor. Its remaining 240 or so acres lie at the geographic heart of the Island, just north of the town Center on Gardiners Creek. It should also occupy a central place in the hearts and minds of all Shelter Islanders who want to see some of the best rural and historic traditions of the community honored and preserved. This year’s Plant & Sing festival proved that the manor, in its new role as a non-profit educational farm, is achieving that goal.