Thursday, May 27, 2010

It is time.

St. Marher wrote, so it is said in 1225: "And te tide and te time ├żat tu iboren were, schal beon iblescet." Roughly translated - "the tide abides for, tarrieth for no man, stays no man, tide nor time tarrieth no man." Or as the simpler Latin on the face of my mother's grandfather clock announces, "Tempus Fugit."

It certainly does, and I, for one, find it hard to believe that Memorial Day weekend is upon us once more. Rooted in the late 1880s it is a poignant holiday in the United States of America, recalling those who have died in the service of their country. Sadly the majority of Americans now fail to acknowledge this day, interpreting it instead as an opportunity to do nothing. And many U.S. corporate organizations don't even give it a nod in their calendar.

But yes, time flies, and even in the face of another "opportunity to do nothing" (which is what the vast majority of those traveling out to the Hamptons this very hour intend to do) certain observations have to be made. And I will not repeat my previous years' comments about traffic! Three points mark this passing into a new season, which, as it is also the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, is rather appropriate.

First yesterday, Wednesday, was Tradesman Day. A surge of frenetic activity on the part of landscapers, pool companies, house and estate managers, air-conditioning companies (and remember that air conditioning is traditionally turned on this weekend for three and a half months regardless of temperature) and various sundry interests.

Today, Thursday (incidentally the anniversary of the Book of Common Prayer, but most of this shower would not give such a day a glancing thought...) is Staff Day. Witness the housekeepers and nannies, with the occasional cook thrown in. All inflating, and angrily annoying the lines in the local supermarkets, and most struggling with their mastery of English, because their lords, ladies and other masters are arriving within a sunset and sunrise. It's a great spectator sport, and a perfect illustration of 13th century feudalism in a 21st century culture.

And tomorrow? Well, to quote Psalm 24:

Lift up your gates, O princes, and be lifted up, O eternal gates: and the King of Glory shall enter in.

Except those who arrive are not royalty. In fact they do not even know their kingdoms. And some even rent their crowns.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Going for a Song!

It wasn’t the easiest of afternoons, driving my daughter to the New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA) exam. Not only was she uncertain about her mastery of the set piece of music but she was also suffering from allergies and all that that entails. Plus, it was in Centereach, which is about an hour’s drive from here in late afternoon traffic – a part of Long Island which I rarely visit on account of it being near nowhere of interest. But we had to go.

Centereach High School is a quite unremarkable modern building, like so many schools in this part of the world, but on entering I learned the salutary lesson that a school is about its people, not its bricks and mortar. We were met by a “monitor,” a High School junior who had volunteered to stay on and help with the NYSSMA tests. There were over fifty such enthusiastic volunteers, I learned, as there were some four hundred students attending the exams, each in their own musical discipline: strings, brass, woodwind, percussion and, in Kate’s case, voice. It was quite wonderful, with young musicians hanging out in every space, and enough violin cases to make you think long and hard about upsetting the Italian population! There was a tangible buzz in the air, and notes, warbles and fanfares coming through every closed door as judges put students through their paces. And everyone, from the NYSSMA Director, through the staff to the young volunteers, was so helpful. Nothing was too much trouble and all ran like clockwork. The only negative expressions were on the faces of some of the parents – those who push, and push, if you get my drift.

Of course we had a problem. The CD-ROM which held Kate’s piano accompaniment would not play on a standard player, so the staff held a conference and within about twenty minutes a lap-top with speakers was procured. Fingers were snapped and it was all made to work.

And Kate took one last sniff, cleared her throat, and sang her heart out!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Going with the flow...

There’s no getting around the fact that Shinnecock bay is a big body of water, the largest tidal bay on the East End of Long Island. Viewed on a warm day from the top of Ponquogue bridge, or from the shallow mussel beds at low tide over the road from the public beach, it looks like a welcoming, benign pleasure spot where boaters, anglers and swimmers can happily co-exist. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.

Given its size, shape and contour, Shinnecock Bay is in many places a very dangerous water, in particular during the bottom half of the tide. There the west to east flow in the boating channel under the bridge can reach fifteen knots, and the rips run all the way to the Inlet where… but that is a later story.

So if you are a novice on the water, keep to the northern shores. Stay away from the bridge altogether, don’t venture near the fishing port or marina, and don’t even think about approaching the Inlet. Better still, stay on the beach and read a magazine. OK, safety brief over. Let’s start at the launch slip under the bridge.

Launching at mid-tide is easy, and having taken a few shots under the arch of the bridge (which really is a very imposing structure) I was out past the boat channel in no time at all, and heading towards the un-named island some 800 meters to the west.

Low laying, with narrow beaches which in places were home to hundreds of seagulls, I pulled up on the western edge and sat on the sand to eat lunch. Despite the noise of the birds it was an incredibly peaceful spot, and on a warmer day after a longer paddle the ideal place to take a brief nap! But not this day. It was time to paddle around the southern edge of the island and head back towards the bridge. (It was during these moments when about a dozen or more large striped bass swam under my boat!)

My luck was in, as I had the main channel to myself for a few moments. Plus the tidal flow had started to pick up, so it was a simple matter of picking my line and keeping the boat straight. A word to the wise: If you do turn against the current at this point it will either try to push you against one of the huge concrete pillars where you will capsize, or else it will simple capsize your boat anyway. So keep straight, and don’t be tempted to take artsy photos of the underside of the bridge. Like this one…

Next stop: Warner’s Island some 800 meters east. (No, I don’t know where the name comes from.) It’s another place where countless seabirds, in particular dark cormorants gather and cry.

The Inlet was 1.6 kilometers to the south and so it was time for a good steady paddle. Winds were light, but the tidal flow from the west (on my right shoulder) increased steadily as I got nearer to the Inlet and the market buoy.

Then, having paddled in, the rip was behind me. Hello, Atlantic Ocean!

By the time I had taken that shot and quickly stowed the camera the kayak had literally passed the point of no return. There was no need to paddle as the flow behind me was pushing over ten knots. The secret of Shinnecock Inlet is to literally “go with the flow.” Paddle out through the waves and only then turn around (and not before. The chances of capsize are near 100%) surf back in using the paddle as a stabilizer. Then, having reached the last of the swell it’s time to paddle like “________!” (Insert a word of your choosing here) against the flow until you’ve reached the bay once more – a distance of 200 meters. Then relax! It’s time for the long paddle back!