Monthly Archives: January 2013
Back in December we started a project, while going through chainsaw training with the Cape Cod National Seashore, thinning the forest in front of our house. Ostensibly the reason behind the exercise was to thin the trees to the point where there wasn’t much canopy contact between pines. Doing that reduces the threat of a wildfire moving through the canopy of the forest.
Well, we’ve kept at it — on and off — for the past month and now we’re (unsurprisingly) running out of forest to thin. Each tree we felled we bucked into logs (unfortunately, Pitch Pine makes for poor fireplace wood) and limbed. Half of us stacked the resulting logs and branches into neat piles to burn later. I’ve tried to figure out how many trees we’ve cut down over the past few weeks (mostly while doing my shift hauling branches across the forest floor) but I’m not entirely happy with the accuracy of my guesses. At the very least, I can personally account for somewhere north of forty Pitch Pines. I’m not sure if my numbers are consistant with the rest of the crew, though.
If they are, then we’ve taken down upwards of three hundred trees. We’ve certainly cut down a lot, but that seems absurd.
If the weather holds, we’ll start burning those piles tomorrow. I’m not exactly sure the methods we’ll use to burn the (almost) innumerable enormous branch piles that are strewn around the forest floor, but I know that the process involves using leaf blowers to fan the flames and that those of us with beards have been told that its entirely possible they’ll be singed off by the heat involved.
I’m not really a beard person, but I’m mildly concerned that my hair might suffer the same fate. We’ll see.
It’s been painfully cold lately. Cold enough that I really don’t have much of an urge to leave the safety of my house when I’m not actually working. However, I did get out a bit this weekend, long enough at least to see that the bay side of the Cape has begun to freeze. Apparently the persistent wind from the North has been pushing all the frozen and slushy saltwater into the mouth’s of the bays and inlets that dot the bay side of the Cape. Choking them with layers of ice.
Its pretty amazing looking, although I’ve been told its also really unfortunate for the oyster farmers who hadn’t removed their stock from the bay yet. It’s been years (apparently) since there was this much ice around, and it might have taken some unlucky folks by surprise.
Over the course of the week I was serving around Staten Island, I put in somewhere in the neighborhood of 110 hours (including travel time). Needless to say, we got a tremendous amount accomplished in that time, but a relatively small amount compared to the scale of the problem. After the first day on Liberty Island the weather took a quick turn for the worst (New York City residents might recall the Northeaster that slammed into the city just a few days after the ocean calmed down). The snow kept us from returning to Liberty Island for a few days, and during that time we turned our attentions to Ellis Island.
Ellis hadn’t been spared during the Hurricane, far from it in fact, and as another american icon its cleanup was also a priority for the park service. There were two major tasks that needed to be addressed on Ellis (that we were able to deal with at least). First, the storm surge had entered many of the main administrative buildings on Ellis, and had destroyed literal tons of educational materials (mostly pamphlets).
Additionally, the storm had also totaled the trailers that normally served as the base of operations for the Park Police. The area around the trailers was festooned with scrap metal that had been torn off nearby buildings, as well as pretty much everything that the police hadn’t been able to remove from their dwellings before the storm hit. We spent days sifting through the rubble surrounding those buildings alone, sorting trash from salvageable material and eventually finishing what the storm started by demolishing the remnants of the trailers so new ones could be brought in from the mainland.
The main buildings were a different matter entirely. We pointedly ignored the tourist centers on Ellis, there was another team dealing with addressing the mold that had begun to flourish in the historical buildings and we had more than enough to do outside the buildings.
We left Ellis Island considerably cleaner than we found it, there was still a ton of work to do, but we were among the first to be sent to respond there, hopefully our presence helped to get the ball rolling. Ellis Island is an amazing place (the main buildings are gorgeous) and hopefully it will be reopened to the public soon.
As much as I generally find complaining about the weather to be cathartic, I can’t really find a reason to groan about the unseasonably warm weather we’ve had on the Cape lately. Oh sure it’s intermittent at best, but every 50 degree day in January is a cause for mild celebration in my book. A reason to shed layers and play in what passes for the sunshine, if only for a few hours.
This past Sunday the mercury reached a scalding 54 degrees and I took the opportunity to explore Great Island in Wellfleet. Not actually an island, Great Island was apparently (among other things) the site of the Great Island Tavern way back when, and now is the home to a few great trails, some beautiful views of Wellfleet harbor, and acres of ‘wild’ oyster-beds. Due to the nice weather, there were a few other people out enjoying the sunshine, but the area is large enough, and the forest dense enough, that it felt as if we had the place all to ourselves.
The forest on Great Island is almost completely mature Pitch Pine, not particularly novel around Cape Cod, but the lack of undergrowth (specifically the absence of obvious Poison Ivy or Cat Brier) meant that I came home from the hike without having to bath in technu.
Since exploring I’ve looked online to see what other people thought about the place (something I try not to do before visiting on my own) and it seems like my pleasant visit is far from unusual. I’m looking forward to going again during the summer and getting pictures of the Seals that apparently adore the area. As t happened, the only wildlife I saw in any abundance were Oysters, Wellfleet harbor is a premier place for aquaculture on the Cape, but I was still a little surprised to see so many growing wild and out in the open. I’ll admit they aren’t nearly as exciting as a family of Seals would be, but interesting Wildlife seems thin on the ground these days. I should really get my hands on a wildlife camera before Summer. Maybe I’ll have better luck that way.
I actually don’t have much else to say about the hike, even in the strangely warm weather I wasn’t actually there for very long. I’ll have to make another trip the next time the sun rears its head so aggressively. Until then, here are some more pictures from Sunday.
As I mentioned in a previous entry, the Americorps group I serve with was sent to assist with the relief efforts in New York after Hurricane Sandy made such a mess of the city. Specifically, we were sent to Staten Island, which took the brunt of the storms force and had suffered the most damage. On Staten Island we took shelter in a building on Fort Wadsworth with a few hundred other Park Service employees (Mostly Law Enforcement officers at first) who had been assigned there.
On our first morning, after finding breakfast in the base’s mess hall, we were sent to Liberty Island to being cleaning up the damage from Sandy. Unsurprisingly, the Statue of Liberty herself was completely fine, it will take more than a measly hurricane to even scuff her paint. The rest of the island was considerably less fortunate. The other structures had taken the full force of the storm surge, windows were blown out, doors smashed open, and the contents of entire houses looked like they’d been put through a soggy blender.
That first day we restricted our activities to felling and disposing of all the damaged trees on the island. Moving a chipper across the water ended up taking the majority of the morning, and we ended up leaving it on the island for the duration of our stay in NYC. We spent our spare moments (the few of them we found) digging through and disposing of the trash that had been washed ashore by the storm surge. That chore ended up being equal parts disgusting and fascinating. All sorts of things float around in New York Harbor, and a strange selection of objects had found their way into nooks and crannies on liberty island. We found cases of soda that had been liberated from smashed vending machines, hats, gloves, more vile plastic bags than you could shake a stick at… you get the idea.
Liberty Island was eerie without its normal crowds. I visited the statue once when I was in elementary school, and remember it being absolutely packed. We had the place to ourselves while we cleared the debris from the main plazas, an experience I’m not likely to forget any time soon.
I’ve mentioned before that I prefer to write updates here with the benefit of hindsight. If nothing else, waiting a few weeks (or a month or two) gives me time to collect pictures and learn more about whatever job I was assigned. This is especially true with the Fire Crew’s experience being deployed to assist with the post-Sandy recovery efforts in and around Staten Island New York.
We weathered the storm itself on the Cape, which was miraculously spared much in the way of damage. I believe that during the storm itself, another Americorps group on Cape Cod did help the Red Cross set up a shelter, but the storm was mild enough around here that they didn’t end up being needed for very long. We spent that week working our way through S-130 and S-190 — the two courses required for a Red Card — online, going slowly insane from an overabundance of energy while the wind whipped through the trees outside. (Ok, actually we lasted about an hour before we went out to experience the storm first hand)
Other parts of the east coast were considerably less lucky than we were, and when we finally finished our coursework on Friday November 2nd and were given the option to sign up to join the remainder of the Cape Cod Fire Crew in their deployment to Staten Island. We jumped at the chance, got our Tetanus booster shots, and spent the entirety of the next day packing for the trip.
We took nearly everything that wasn’t bolted down. We’d already heard how hard it was to get fuel in New York city, and took no chances on finding other equipment once we arrived.
We traveled all day on Sunday and arrived well after dark to collapse in the space that had been allotted to the responders at Fort Wadsworth. The next day we got our assignment, and headed to Liberty Island to start cleaning up the wreckage the storm had left behind.
I wake up monstrously early, especially compared to my housemates, but I’m still finding limits on what I’m actually capable of in life. Last Winter I worked briefly as a loader for UPS, a job that required me to be at the depot floor before 5, and I thought that after that I’d be able to handle anything morning-related. Certainly waking up early for work has never been an issue in other jobs. Unfortunately, It turns out I was wrong, or at least I overestimated my abilities, which gives me a new hurdle to overcome in life. I need to make a concerted effort to be awake and active when the sun rises more often. That shouldn’t be too hard a goal, especially this time of year.
Dawn patrol is a surfer thing I guess. I don’t really surf, not with any particular regularity or skill at any rate, so when I was invited along for the ride a few weeks back I didn’t exactly jump at the chance to get up before the sun. What changed my mind was the promise of coffee and a chance to explore some beaches I hadn’t visited yet while my friend braved the biggest ‘ride-able’ waves she’d seen in a few weeks. I took that bait. If only for the coffee.
It ended up actually being a really relaxing morning, driving from beach to beach and hearing how the surf at each was lacking in some small but crucial way. I’m beginning to suspect that the greater part of surfing (especially during the winter) is actually griping about how bad the surf is. Getting wet seems to be largely optional. I could probably handle that.
I did manage to eventually goad my native guide into the water by implying loudly that maybe she didn’t actually know how to surf at all, that it was all just some strange empty boast. Motivated, she paddled out to a distant sand bar and left me on the beach to my own devices.
I ended up spending the better part of an hour watching Gannet’s make their suicide plunges into the ocean, scanning the ocean for the plumes of mist made by passing whales, and cursing myself for not bringing along a tripod. Not a bad morning. I should do it again sometime.
This past week’s snowstorm is the first I’ve experienced in two years that left snow on the ground for more than a day afterwards. I completely missed the storm that decimated much of the East Coast in October of 2011 (I was on Catalina Island at the time, I believe) and because of where I was working, the snow from the Northeaster that hit New York City in the wake of Sandy didn’t stick around long enough for a second snowball fight.
From what I’ve been hearing Cape Cod hasn’t had much snow in the past few years, that changed on the 29th when the heavens opened up over much of New England, and left the Cape coated in a white glaze. Having spent the holidays visiting family in Philadelphia I decided to barrel back north early to avoid having to travel in the storm itself, and so I was back in the Wells House on the Cape Cod National Seashore before the first flakes started to stick.
On the 30th, already suffering from Cabin fever despite only having been back for 12 hours or so, I went for a hike with a couple friends and happily remembered to bring my camera along.
We started by cutting through the woods (which I don’t really recommend to people not already familiar with the park) to reach the Atlantic White Cedar Trail, a beautiful hike on an ugly day, we were pretty sure it would be fantastic looking in the early morning snow. We weren’t disappointed.
We were the first to explore the path, and honestly might have been the only people to visit that day, Cape Cod not being particularly crowded at the moment. The trail always feels close, winding as it does through the thickest parts of the Cedar grove it takes its name from, but the addition of a blanket of snow and ice seemed to seal everything together.
In some cases, quite literally. The effect wasn’t as suffocating as it might look, and the closeness of the trees sheltered us nicely from the wind.
We eventually emerged from the grove — unfortunately, while it is a beautiful trail it isn’t very long — and decided to continue onward to the beach. The wind picked up noticeably as we left the trees, and by the time we reached the dunes (read: cliffs, I’m still not really used to the extreme topography of Cape Cod’s beaches) was howling past us and blasting the bits of skin we’d foolishly left exposed with ice-crystals and salt.
We stayed as long as we could bear, each crashing wave sent up a spray of frozen rainbows (an effect I spent way too long try to capture for one measly picture) but the frigid wind eventually sent us packing.
Its somehow easy to forget I have such a beautiful park quite literally in my backyard. For someone who spends almost every waking moment outdoors I’ve sure missed a lot. I look forward to watching for the arrival of Spring.