Sunday was a perfect day for a late afternoon walk. There was no wind, unlike most of the past two weeks, and the temperature was in the high 40s. Somehow, after a leisurely Sunday brunch and a few chores, we didn’t leave the house until 4:30.
My daughter and I set out for one of our favorite strolls, along the shore of the Long Island Sound in Huntington. We were hoping to find some Old Squaw ducks hanging out close to shore. They are my daughter’s favorite and she hasn’t seen any yet this year. She loves the way they constantly squawk, like chickens in a hen house. In the bird book we use one of their identifying characteristics is how vocal they are. She also loves their common name: Old Squaw. Some people refer to them as Long-tailed ducks.
Eureka! We spotted them almost immediately…a few dozen. And they were squawking away! My daughter was thrilled, so we stood and watched them through our binoculars for about fifteen minutes. Mixed amongst them were a few Buffleheads, Mergansers and lots of sea gulls.
We continued our walk along the Lloyd Neck Causeway, a narrow stretch of land, which is being reconstructed and repaved since a destructive storm that removed part of the walkway last year. We were literally walking on a 1/2 mile road that connects our community to a nearby community over a vast wetland. I am sure it will be entirely gone within the next 10 years at the rate the seas are rising. Something else will have to be built to connect the two communities since there is nothing but wetlands on one side of the road and the LI Sound on the other.
Next we came upon another group of Old Squaw, but there was a type of duck we had never before seen mixed in with this group. We did our best to memorize its features and when we got home we checked the bird book and learned that they were Scaup, another common sea bird in these parts. The sun was setting; it was getting colder. Time to leave.
Not bad to see four species of ducks in a half hour of walking. There were no other people outdoors besides us. Then we suddenly realized: It was Super Bowl Sunday. While most of America was watching the Super Bowl, we were outside quietly enjoying watching our own halftime show…ducks bobbing in the rough seas of winter.
Yesterday my husband and I had spring fever. I took a walk in the nearby park to see what the ducks and turtles were up to while he pruned the rhododendron bushes which lost some branches in the last big snowstorm a couple of weeks ago.
When I returned from my walk I stepped into the backyard and began to examine the very old, large azalea bushes which border the wall of my garden. They were planted by the previous owner and are probably 50 years old at least. As I picked leaves out of their branches leftover from the fall, I came upon my mother’s seashells sitting atop the garden wall. They are beautiful, old conch shells from a Florida beach (probably in Jacksonville where one of my aunts lived) brought back to LI by my family over 50 years ago.
For most of those fifty years the shells (there were maybe 20 of them originally) sat on the ground along the concrete foundation of our house in Bayville. They always drew a passerby’s attention because we, of course, do not have any shells even remotely as big or beautiful in our local waters. These still have such a beautiful pink glow I can’t even imagine how beautiful they must have been when we first found them on the beach as children.
During the past fifty years there have been two times our old neighborhood has been completely flooded with sea water. Actually three times if you count 1953 when Hurricane Gloria devastated much of LI. My father was building our new home and much of his lumber floated away! My parents tried to sell the house, but no one would buy it because everyone had been so traumatized by the hurricane. The second time occurred when we had an unusual nor’wester in 1993 which led to my parents being evacuated by rowboat by local fire department volunteers. The third time took place during Hurricane Sandy when Oyster Bay Harbor and the LI sound both breached the narrow peninsula on which we lived.
Amazingly, all three times our house was not flooded like those of most of our neighbors. Before building our house, my father had been warned by a relative who lived nearby of the possibility of flooding, and so he built a higher than usual foundation to avert the floods. It worked. The really amazing thing is that the conch shells bordering the foundation of the house did not move an inch, even though they were submerged for a week each time.
Now both my parents are deceased and the house was sold. At the last minute, as we were preparing to leave the house for the final time, my daughter said, “Mom, why don’t you take some of the seashells with you?” I thought it was a good idea and picked out the 8 best ones I could find. They now sit in my garden atop my brick garden wall looking amazingly beautiful and out of place. I love that about them, and the fact that every day for almost 20 years as I gaze out my kitchen window they are a daily reminder to me of my childhood in Bayville, my family home…and my parents.