04/23/13 12:00pm

JASON SHIELDS

It began with a child’s imagination triggered by naturally occurring recognizable shapes – no sculptor’s chisel necessary – inspiring awe and imbedded in the picture book of his mind.

I should thank cartoon creators for using iconic figures of classic literature as premises for their productions. If not for them, Whale Rock in Southold may have been just another giant boulder instead of a life-sized replica of Moby Dick. Back then this magnificent geological monument became fodder for fantasy, serving to distract me from the tedium of a long car ride.

The rock is west of Town Beach in Southold and is so massive its proportionate details can be detected from the public beach a third of a mile away. Just as we humans consider the waterfront to be prime real estate, terns, gulls and cormorants maneuver for prized spots on the broad, gently sloping “head” of this monlith. As seabirds are wont to do, they indiscriminately relieve themselves there, giving the whale’s head a white mottled appearance. Think of it as a collaboration of natural forces to produce a painted sculpture.

Whale Rock is only one of many notable rocks dispensed by erosion along the north shore. According to Garvies Point Museum, the glacier that formed the northeastern seaboard more than 10,000 years ago collected and pushed these massive stones along its path. The glacier halted, forming the terminal moraines that are Long Island, and then receded, leaving these boulders, or “glacial erratics” as they are called, along the Harbor Hill terminal moraine of the Long Island’s north shore. Over millennia these large pieces of glacial till have been exposed and relocated along the shoreline due to erosion of the banks. To achieve their current placement, three forces worked in concert – glacial, atmospheric and oceanic.

Like waypoints along a geological footprint, siblings of Whale Rock can be found up and down the north shore. East Marion and Orient are home to some amazing clusters of glacial erratics. A trip down Land’s End Road in Orient will yield a stellar view of Plum Gut and the eastern sound. Directly in front of the parking area is a moderately-sized rock, and five hundred feet to the right and just off the beach is a true monster. Boulders rest at various elevations on both sides of the access point.

East Marion holds the area’s most extraordinary shoreline cluster of large rocks, which reside at the end of aptly named Rocky Point Road. Heading east on Route 25, the turnoff is just past Sep’s farm stand. Like many of these beachside parking areas, a Southold Town parking permit is required and can be obtained at the town clerk’s office.

Access to the beach is provided by the origin of the spot’s other moniker – “67 Steps” – which lead you safely down the steep bluff, itself pocked by the tops of boulders protruding from the embankment like icebergs.

The top of the steps affords a breathtaking view of the beach on either side and the sound beyond. From there the collection of boulders on the western point brings to mind Stonehenge; although the arrangement is devoid of pattern and geometric uniformity, it has the eerie feel of an intelligent configuration. As you descend the steps, reaching each of the several landings along the way, your viewpoints change and you are presented with alternate perspectives. Little by little, more of the huge rocks on the eastern shore are revealed until you touch beach and realize the formation in that direction was assembled with equal genius.

Adding to the mystique of the place, I found hundreds of tons of smooth ping pong-ball-sized pebbles from the point on my left to the seemingly impenetrable collection of rocks to the east. The pebbles were tiered in bands a few yards wide, forming paths of progressively higher elevations the farther they spread from the water’s edge. Perhaps this was an effect of Sandy and subsequent storms. The pebbles and a huge tree half buried with its lower trunk and roots jutting from the beach at a gentle plain – reminiscent of the decrepit Statue of Liberty in Planet of the Apes – was a significant addition to the place’s preternatural feel.

As you would expect, Rocky Point attracts both rock climbers and divers. I could only imagine what it would be like to scale one of the behemoths or snorkel around its base. Individually, each rock has unique qualities from the readily apparent such as shape and size to more subtle qualities like the types of organisms living on and around them. And field observation of a rock’s composition can provide clues to the rock’s origin, a discipline which appeals to amateur geologists.

There is something visceral about boulders. Down the road from my house is one of Shelter Island’s rocky outcroppings (there are several around the island), eponymously dubbed Cornelius Point. Perhaps the subject of a future column, I mention it now because it is most familiar to me as glacial erratics go.

I have fished and hunted among this widespread and dense smattering of rocks and when doing so have felt distanced from the present. There is an energy in these rocks that renders time valueless and serves to clear the head, if only until my foot hits pavement again.

04/19/13 12:19pm

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | SWAT officers at the exit of the Cross Island Ferry in Orient Friday afternoon.

UPDATE (1:15 p.m.):

Local authorities say a walk-on passenger to a Cross Sound Ferry boat heading to Orient Friday morning “fit the description” of a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings and set off a scare that drew dozens of police officers to Orient and New London, Conn.

“It was not him,” said Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley said from the scene. “It was someone who looked like him.”

Suffolk Police did apprehend the passenger, but determined he was not the suspect. As of 1:15 p.m., the man was being transported to Southold Town police headquarters to further check his status with county investigators — as a precaution, he said.

Police were going to run the man’s fingerprints electronically through what’s called a “live scan,” to run the prints through state and federal databases. The live scan has replaced ink and roller as a means of taking prints, Chief Flatley said.

But, he added, “they have no reason to believe it is him at this point. He was fully cooperative. He definitely fit the description.”

Police at the scene also X-rayed the man’s bag, he said.

“We received a call after 11 a.m. from crew aboard the Cross Sound Ferry,” Chief Flatley said. “There were concerns about someone that had a resemblance to the man from Boston. After the crew contacted them, they notified the Suffolk County Police Department, who sent an emergency services unit, a bomb team. There was no arrests.”

A utility worker at the Orient ferry yard who did not give a name, told a reporter he saw police swarm the passenger and force him down on his stomach near the ferry’s snackbar.

The worker said he thought at the time the man was being arrested.

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Police were blocking traffic at the Orient Causeway on Route 25 just before 12:30 p.m. Friday.

PRIOR COVERAGE:

At least a half dozen Suffolk County police cars — their lights and sirens blaring — were spotted heading east on Route 25 in Mattituck about 11:40 a.m. Friday, for what could be shaping up to be a false alarm.

Police have shut Route 25 west of Orient, at the Orient Causeway, officials said, though some cars were being allowed to pass through as of just before 12:30 p.m.

Boston Bomber suspect called in Orient

CYNDI MURRAY PHOTO | Police vehicles heading east on Route 25 in Mattituck about noon Friday.

The Day of New London newspaper reported before noon that police tactical teams also reported to the waterfront in New London for reports of “a possible suspect” in the Boston Marathon bombings Monday and subsequent shootings Thursday night in Cambridge.

But The Day updated the site a few minutes later after reporting passengers were boarding the ferries as normal. Ferries at the New London terminal go to Block Island, although seasonally, Orient and Fishers Island.

Meanwhile, schoolchildren have been told by police to remain indoors.

Oysterponds School District Superintendent Richard Malone said he received a call from the police shortly before noon.

“I spoke directly with the police and they told me to keep the kids inside and not to let anybody in or out,” he said.

[Video from New London, via theday.com]

The Oysterponds school on Route 25 is not on lockdown, he said, but the district has staffers at the doors.

Classes are continuing, Mr. Malone said, but he is awaiting word from the police on how to handle dismissal, which is at 2:45 p.m.

“The children are in the classrooms and we’re using the gym for recess,” he said.

Police gave the same order to the neighboring Greenport School District, but the district’s school already had a half-day scheduled due to parent/teacher conferences.

The children were dismissed at 10:52 a.m.

“We’re all secure here,” said district superintendent Michael Comanda, adding that though children were gone, staffers were still in the building.

“We’ve got a person at every door and we’re monitoring the situation and waiting for the green light from the police,” he said.

“It’s unexpected, but we’ve been practicing our lockdown and evacuation procedures regularly now we’re putting them to use,” he said.

A Suffolk County police spokeswoman could not comment on the matter.

Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley was not immediately available.

[email protected]

with Tim Kelly, Michael White and Joe Werkmeister

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04/19/13 12:19pm

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | SWAT officers at the exit of the Cross Island Ferry in Orient Friday afternoon.

UPDATE (1:15 p.m.):

Local authorities say a walk-on passenger to a Cross Sound Ferry boat heading to Orient Friday morning “fit the description” of a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings and set off a scare that drew dozens of police officers to Orient and New London, Conn.

“It was not him,” said Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley said from the scene. “It was someone who looked like him.”

Suffolk Police did apprehend the passenger, but determined he was not the suspect. As of 1:15 p.m., the man was being transported to Southold Town police headquarters to further check his status with county investigators — as a precaution, he said.

Police were going to run the man’s fingerprints electronically through what’s called a “live scan,” to run the prints through state and federal databases. The live scan has replaced ink and roller as a means of taking prints, Chief Flatley said.

But, he added, “they have no reason to believe it is him at this point. He was fully cooperative. He definitely fit the description.”

Police at the scene also X-rayed the man’s bag, he said.

“We received a call after 11 a.m. from crew aboard the Cross Sound Ferry,” Chief Flatley said. “There were concerns about someone that had a resemblance to the man from Boston. After the crew contacted them, they notified the Suffolk County Police Department, who sent an emergency services unit, a bomb team. There was no arrests.”

A utility worker at the Orient ferry yard who did not give a name, told a reporter he saw police swarm the passenger and force him down on his stomach near the ferry’s snackbar.

The worker said he thought at the time the man was being arrested.

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Police were blocking traffic at the Orient Causeway on Route 25 just before 12:30 p.m. Friday.

PRIOR COVERAGE:

At least a half dozen Suffolk County police cars — their lights and sirens blaring — were spotted heading east on Route 25 in Mattituck about 11:40 a.m. Friday, for what could be shaping up to be a false alarm.

Police have shut Route 25 west of Orient, at the Orient Causeway, officials said, though some cars were being allowed to pass through as of just before 12:30 p.m.

Boston Bomber suspect called in Orient

CYNDI MURRAY PHOTO | Police vehicles heading east on Route 25 in Mattituck about noon Friday.

The Day of New London newspaper reported before noon that police tactical teams also reported to the waterfront in New London for reports of “a possible suspect” in the Boston Marathon bombings Monday and subsequent shootings Thursday night in Cambridge.

But The Day updated the site a few minutes later after reporting passengers were boarding the ferries as normal. Ferries at the New London terminal go to Block Island, although seasonally, Orient and Fishers Island.

Meanwhile, schoolchildren have been told by police to remain indoors.

Oysterponds School District Superintendent Richard Malone said he received a call from the police shortly before noon.

“I spoke directly with the police and they told me to keep the kids inside and not to let anybody in or out,” he said.

[Video from New London, via theday.com]

The Oysterponds school on Route 25 is not on lockdown, he said, but the district has staffers at the doors.

Classes are continuing, Mr. Malone said, but he is awaiting word from the police on how to handle dismissal, which is at 2:45 p.m.

“The children are in the classrooms and we’re using the gym for recess,” he said.

Police gave the same order to the neighboring Greenport School District, but the district’s school already had a half-day scheduled due to parent/teacher conferences.

The children were dismissed at 10:52 a.m.

“We’re all secure here,” said district superintendent Michael Comanda, adding that though children were gone, staffers were still in the building.

“We’ve got a person at every door and we’re monitoring the situation and waiting for the green light from the police,” he said.

“It’s unexpected, but we’ve been practicing our lockdown and evacuation procedures regularly now we’re putting them to use,” he said.

A Suffolk County police spokeswoman could not comment on the matter.

Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley was not immediately available.

[email protected]

with Tim Kelly, Michael White and Joe Werkmeister

View Larger Map

03/10/13 12:00pm

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Linda Burke of Mattituck (left) and Sheila Thomes of Southold browse through items on a table in the basement during a tag sale held this weekend at the Orient home of the late Gertrude Vail Rich.

The estate sale at the home of the late Gertrude Vail Rich, a longtime Orient resident whose mother was a founder of the Oysterponds Historical Society, opened last weekend, giving buyers the chance to own a piece of North Fork history.

Ms. Rich had the Youngs Road estate built in 1972, according to family. She acquired a vast collection of valuables over her lifetime. Items on sale, some of which had belonged to her mother, born Alma Jane Miller, dated back to the 18th century.

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | The most notable painting in the collection, painted by an unknown artist around 1848, shows Daniel Shotweil Vail and his dog.

Robert Barker and Sherron Francis of the Long Island Tag Sale Company spent seven days preparing and pricing items, Within the first 90 minutes of the sale, which ran Friday through Sunday, over 250 people combed through the collection.

“It’s like a wonderfully full treasure chest,” said Linda Burke of Mattituck. “There is such a history of people’s lives here.”

That history connects back to the 17th century, when the Vail family helped settle Orient, which was then known as Oysterponds.

Vail family heirlooms were sprinkled throughout the three-story home; even Ms. Rich’s school report cards from East Marion and Friends Academy were for sale.

“This is the best thing in the whole house,” said Mr. Barker, pointing to a large portrait prominently displayed over a sofa in the living room. The painting, of young Daniel Shotwell Vail playing with his dog, dates back to approximately 1848. A view of boats sailing the Hudson River at sunset is seen off to his right. The boy was born in 1843 and is about 5 years old in the painting, Mr. Barker said. The artist is unknown. It sold within the first hour of the sale.

“I saw it online, but I didn’t know it was a Vail,” said Jeff Hoffman, who bought the painting with his wife, Sue. “When we turned it around and saw it was of a Vail, we got excited.” The couple is from the mid-Hudson Valley but also has a home in Greenport. They found out about the estate sale through a Suffolk Times classified ad.

“Sales like this are rare,” Ms. Hoffman said. “It is interesting to find Hudson Valley stuff out here.”

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | An array of family photos.

Mr. Hoffman said the Vails also spent a lot of time in the Hudson Valley. They declined to say how much they paid for the painting.

A 1930s Charak-brand secretary desk, priced at $895, stood in the corner of the living room. It was filled with books; titles like “Napoleon’s Letters to Josephine” and “Shakespeare’s Works” were held up by brass bookends of former U.S. presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Book collectors like Dennis Massa of Peconic took their time perusing the collection. Mr. Massa said he also sells books, and decided to purchase a few for resale.

A marble bust, dating to 1910 and priced at $950, sat in another living room corner. It was signed by its Italian sculptor. The family had purchased it while on a tour of Europe, Mr. Barker said.

A seascape by local Orient artist William Steeple Davis hung in the dining room, while multiple smaller seascapes by local artist Elliot A. Brooks hung elsewhere around the house.

Fine china filled cabinets in the dining room, with dishes and crystal displayed across the dining room table. Silver cutlery, cut glass candleholders and lace tablecloths were abundant.

Hung above the front door was an antique mirror with a cornucopia inlay, circa 1800. It was priced at $750.

“It certainly is a beautiful collection,” said Janet Zenk of West Islip, standing next to several boxes filled with items. “I’d like to stay longer, but I ran out of money,” she joked.

Members of the Oysterponds and Southold historical societies visited the house prior to the public sale and acquired a number of paintings and photographs for their collections, ensuring that some Vail family history will remain on the North Fork.

[email protected]

09/08/12 9:04pm

TIM KELLY PHOTO | The Orient Point Lighthouse in Plum Gut is being auctioned off by the federal General Services Administration, but local lighthouse preservation organizations don’t have the money to buy it.

The federal General Services Administration is still looking for a buyer for the Orient Point Lighthouse, the black and white striped, cast iron-plated tower that warns mariners of the underwater rocks on the western side of Plum Gut.

The GSA first announced its plan to sell the lighthouse, which stands on a tiny, rocky island less than half a nautical mile from Orient Point, last summer.

At the time, members of the East End Seaport Museum and Marine Foundation, which had just merged with East End Lighthouses, said they were interested, but the project has since proven financially untenable for them.

“We looked at it, we visited it and met with the GSA, but it’s just too much for our budget,” said East End Seaport president Ron Breuer,

The GSA has received five bids on the property. The most recent, for $30,000, came in Aug. 27.

GSA spokesman Patrick Sciafani confirmed this week that the auction of the property is still open and not yet scheduled to close.

The 45-foot-tall lighthouse was built in 1899 on a concrete-filled cast iron caisson, according to the bid specifications on the GSA’s auction website, realestatesales.gov. It has six levels, including two watch decks and three stories of living quarters.

The eventual owner will need to allow the U.S. Coast Guard access to maintain the light and fog signals, as well as solar panels and batteries.

GSA is also looking to sell the one-acre Little Gull Island, seven miles east of Orient Point and directly east of Plum Island.

The light station at Little Gull Island, established in 1869, contains a sound signal that blasts every 15 seconds.

There have been two bids on Little Gull Island, the most recent for $60,000.

Prospective owners can place their bids on the GSA’s website.

[email protected]