Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Bluffs

A short pictorial this week about one of my favorite places, which I actually hope few people read. At least, few in New York. Given my all but invisible regular readership, I'm thinking I will get my wish.
The need to keep this place - The Bluffs - a secret is not just my own thought. I am pretty sure it crosses the mind of most people who find themselves there.  I've been bringing some friends to it lately. One of them who normally has an aversion to the beach announced his intention to come back soon and actually asked me not to bring anyone else there. I don't think he was kidding. A few days earlier I had come with another couple and ran into yet another friend who I had taken there to run and also to kayak. He brought his new girlfriend to show her.

I am not sure it will get too crowded as it is not on the route to anywhere else and not really a swimming beach - we just use it for that. If it does become more popular, I just hope it takes a while. I prefer relative solitude to throngs of people. More important, just for the few people who come there some poor snook has to pick up the garbage that PIGS! leave there. Unfortunately, that poor snook is usually me.

Once a week I pick up between 1 and 5 bags of garbage left over from the weekend and it really makes me mad.  It is a town park, but it does not appear anyone is assigned the job of cleaning it. I suspect it is usually the young people I see hanging out on the bluffs leaving their beer bottles, cigarettes and the like, but it could be from anyone. I just know I resent them deeply and the way I get through my chore is by cursing them out as I stoop to pick up their litter. It would make me much happier if someone else would pick it up. Usually every week, someone walking the rocky strand early on a Sunday or Monday morning thanks me for doing it. I probably should just bask in the fleeting attention, but when I am doing it I am not feeling particularly gracious and always tell them it is purely a selfish act. And I mean it. I have succeeded in not saying to them, why don't you help? I want my little paradise clean. I certainly don't walk down the parkway or other places picking up the garbage.

I first came to The Bluffs around 20 years ago. I moved to the area in 1992, so that is the outside date. I remember taking my older brother there, when, way ahead of the masses, he had his first cell phone (even then it seemed like more a burden than a benefit - he had to keep calling his wife and then as now, couldn't get service there). As he was the first person I knew who had a phone, that had to be some time in the mid-90s and I know I had been coming there for years already when I took him. Mostly on my visits I would hike the end of what is called The Greenbelt Trail, which transverses the island north and south, crossing even busy streets. The hills at The Bluffs are the most beautiful part of it by far.  Before I moved to Virginia in 2008, I would sometimes go there daily to satisfy my craving for nature. Back then, it really was pretty much just me and an occasional solitary fisherman in the water below.

Then, when Hurricane Sandy hit, it led to some general improvements. My evalovin' gf and I went down there in the the midst of the hurricane to see what was happening. There were waves rolling in and the dock and a small building was being submerged in water. It appears they replaced the pier or at least polished it up and added a dock dedicated to fishing.  Also, where the water initially ran between the smallish beach beneath the bluffs and a long sandbar, there is now, except in highest tide, dry land, so that you can walk onto a beach with the pebble, shell and sand combination typical of the north shore of Long Island. But, it is less rocky than many beaches in the area, has wonderfully clear water, particularly on the Long Island Sound side, and best, still relatively few visitors. It is not technically a beach, really being a boating and fishing area. There is no lifeguard. But nevertheless it is a great place to swim (though you have to be careful with little kids because the tide can be powerful if you go out too far). Generally, on a weekend, when we are sitting on this strand only a couple of hundred yards long, there are maybe 20 other beach goers, often with their dogs - which are not allowed, but ubiquitous. It is just right.

So, enough of an introduction. Let me get to some pretty pictures.

If you drive up to the highest parking level there is a small stairs leading up into the woods. In spring, the buds fall off the trees, like everywhere else, but left this dazzling display for me one day. I suspect if you do not come just at the right time it washes away quickly, but I come enough that I managed to catch it. Like most photos, it is even more spectacular in person. I felt as if I were entering a wonderland.

Step over a railing in the parking lot onto a different little trail, walk 50 feet and you are standing here on top of one of a few bluffs (for which the area is named) that overlooks the Long Island Sound. The Connecticut shore is often visible, but not in this picture. To the right just out of view is the mouth of the Nissequogue River, one of the few small rivers on Long Island, which flows in and out of the Sound. It runs north and south and you can paddle it about four miles right up into the midst of Smithtown in suburban Long Island. There are some beautiful houses dotting the shore along the way, but most of the time it is just you and tall reeds,birds and some sizeable fish.

If you look straight down from the bluff in this picture you can see a long strand of sand leading up into the Sound. That's the beach area most people, including myself, sit on, though often you find someone in a chair right under that shady tree on the bottom right.  In the distance you can also see some sand bars. The one to the left leads, after a longish walk, to Sunken Meadow State Park, which has a boardwalk and amenities, but is far more crowded and LOUD - nowhere near as nice to my way of thinking.

On the top right of the picture you can just make out a splash of sand. This is one of a couple of sand bars you can only visit in low tide. In high tide they disappear completely under the water. The Nissequogue is a tidal estuary and when the tide goes either way, it almost roars. You can swim or kayak against it when it is at full power and not move at all. The slightest rest and it just carries you away. A few weeks ago my daughter and I were in the small stream I will discuss below. We were coming back towards the beach and came upon a spot where the stream dips down a few inches. Those few inches combined with the power of the tide were enough to creat whirlpools and a force we could not surmount. We both took a shot at it and made it to the very top of the area where it looked like we were clear. But, no matter how hard we paddled, we just couldn't do it. Eventually, we both muscularly collapsed and shot backwards. We had to pull our boats through the woods and pass by the area.

The picture right above is from below the bluffs, which you can see in the background. Obviously, they are not that high. But, I run the one on the right for exercise, and it is no picnic as you slide back in the sand every step you take. It is physically draining for even people I've seen try who are in great shape to do it even once and when I try, I am so physically exhausted after a few trips up and down that sometimes I have to rest for up to a half hour before I go home. One time I thought I might have killed myself. But, the one on the left is also the quickest way to the parking lot and the easiest way down with my kayaks.

In the middle of the picture you see people crossing the small stream I was talking about above. To the left is the mouth of the Nissequoque. To the right is the small stream you can see on the left of the picture from the top of the bluffs. They connect in high tide here and it is just deep enough so I can kayak through. The small stream is not so small as you can see from the picture below.

To get this shot I was just walking along the stream as the sun was beginning to set. It has become my favorite part of the area. You can walk along it on a small and barely developed trail for quite a while. The whole stream is only about six tenths of a mile long (unless you consider it part of the Nissequogue), but what a six tenths of a mile it is. There live snowy egrets and ospreys and herons and swallows and comorants and terns and plovers and other birds I do not recognize. Sea gulls do not go down there, although they do visit the beach, but I do not know why.

At the end is what I would call a wide water meadow, bulbous like the top of thermometer. They have built a few osprey nests there and they are occupied. I have never seen anyone paddling to the end of it other than myself and whoever I happen to bring with me. I just think people don't realize its there. The first time I went alone I got to close to an osprey nest and he or she came right at me. I lifted my paddle and waved it away. She veered off but I got the message. I really did not want to disturb them anyway.

In this picture I am sitting on the long strand across the mouth of the river which is back side of what is called Short Beach. On the other side of that little peninsula is an actual lifeguard protected beach with all the amenities. Too crowded for me, though I have visited it a few times. Some people have figured out that they can walk around to this back side facing the river and have at least relative privacy. Mostly you see fisherman out here, casting their lines. The land you can see in the distant on in the middle left stretching into the Sound is called Old Field, a fairly woodsy and wealthy area north of Stony Brook. I have visited there only briefly when a friend was living in a mansion owned by the university which her husband was fixing up for the school. When we were leaving that day a red fox ran in front of our car. I have seen one in Virginia, darting through my yard to head up into the mountains, but that day was the only time I have ever seen one on Long Island. They do not go where there are lots of people. I know how they feel.

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .