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.
And Cape Cod is still a ghost town. I really do like this place, especially as empty as it is these days. From what I’ve been told, we have another four or five months of quiet before the vacation season really kicks off properly.
This week was spent completing our chainsaw training with the Cape Cod National Seashore. We started S-212 (Wildland Fire Chainnsaws) over a month ago, but Hurricane Sandy interrupted our training and we weren’t able to finish it before we split off from working primarily with the Park Service. I’m planning on writing a more in depth account of what S-212 contained for us over the next few days. For now, I’ll just share a few pictures from the week.
In brief, we spent the entire week cutting down Pitch Pines in the forested lot across the street from our house. The idea was to kill two birds with one stone, we needed chainsaw training so that our bosses within the Park Service could trust us not to cut off our own legs using their chainsaws and the Park Service needed the Pitch Pines near our house thinned out so they’d be less of a fire-hazard.
Mission Accomplished, I guess. We cut down somewhere in the neighborhood of sixty trees over the course of three days, which opened up the canopy and gave us plenty of firewood. We don’t actually have a fireplace to burn it in (its just as well, since Pitch Pine isn’t really the best ‘indoor’ firewood), but had the world actually ended on the 21st we’d have been set.
The other big project this week was turning our garage from a place that looked like a tornado made of power tools had touched down to an actual shop.
Working right by home was nice I guess. I’m just happy we finally got that training finished up. We’ll be using chainsaws alot over the next few months.
Our third prescribed burn this year was scheduled for October 18th. The goal was to burn a several acre cranberry bog at the behest of the owners of the Dry Swamp Bog organic farm in Orleans. They seemed to be of the opinion that burning the bog would clear out a variety of undesirable species that they didn’t want to control using herbicides while also reinvigorating the soil.
Never having done something like this before, and having a minimum of terrestrial farming experience, I was initially skeptical that we’d even be able to get the fire started (Bogs aren’t exactly on my top 10 list for ‘most flammable places’). On the other hand, I’m all in favor of reducing herbicide use (especially in wetlands areas) when possible, and was completely willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.
At any rate, after loading three trucks and a fire engine with all the gear we’d need to light a bog on fire, we set out and arrived on the property before noon. The first thing we noticed (as we should have) was that the entire bog area sat only a few inches above the waterline.
Ok, that shouldn’t have been a surprise. The area we were to burn was surrounded on three of four sides with trenches that were full of water. Those trenches formed natural control line, although as we found out, they weren’t perfect.
Sizing up the property our boss found one place in particular, a corner where there were nearby structures, that deserved extra protection and parked out one fire engine there on the off chance a few unlucky firebrands crossed water filled trenches.
Due to the nature of the cranberry bog: the wet, the shade covering half of it, the sparse/low vegetation. We were to use fusees (effectively longer lasting road flares used to ignite material by hand) and a handheld torch fueled by a backpack mounted propane canister We also had four backpack pumps that we were to use for control and mop-up after the burn.
As we’d feared/expected, the bog didn’t burn particularly well. The bearers of the two torches walked back and forth across the burn area using the long-handled flamethrowers to place dots of flame every 10 feet or so, creating a tight grid of small burning patches. The rest of us helped fill in the remaining space by using the fusees to light particularly promising patches of dried plants and by physically moving flaming material into green (unburned) territory.
The only snag came when, as the burn boss had predicted, a few firebrands made the jump across the trench near the lone structure adjacent to the bog. There they burned merrily for nearly a minute before they were drowned by a fast acting firefighter standing by the engine’s internal pump. I wish I’d been nearby to get pictures of that sequence of events, but I was busy carrying burning grass around on the other side of the bog at the time and only heard about it over the radio.
Mop up was minimal after such a low intensity blaze, but we still spent the better part of half an hour at the end of the day extinguishing every last whisper of smoke that had been rising from the field.
As I mentioned above, the only fuels in the burn area that consistently ignited were the tall brown stalks. The cranberry plants themselves were pretty much immune to the attentions of the propane torches. While this made for a somewhat low-key experience from my perspective, I can’t help but think that the end result of the prescribed burn was fairly close to what the farmers that had asked for our help had hoped would happen. It will be interesting to see how this property recovers in the spring.
Let me preface this by saying I know pretty much nothing about the mechanics of oyster-farming. Aquaculture in general is something that interests me, but there’s only so many hours in a day to split between work, my daily ablutions, and trying to learn new things.
However, because I’m interested in the process, I was happy to get a chance to help the town of Brewster maintain their oyster grant this past week. The oysters grown in the cages we were fixing are used during the recreational oyster catching (collecting?) season. During the warmer months, the town of Brewster takes the oysters they grow and scatters them in areas designated for recreational collecting (harvesting?) The result is something like a cross between an easter-egg hunt, going apple picking, and a day at the beach. The oysters, which in the wild grow attached to a hard substrate, are simply plopped down in the water in the collection area to await their gristly demise. The plus side of the whole equation is that by providing people interested in collecting shellfish with a place to do so, the town is able to justifiably restrict access to other potential oyster habitats in the area. Again, I don’t know much about the mechanics of fishery maintenance. But on the surface, that seems like a good idea.
Our job was to help repair some of the cages that the oysters mature in. Salt water corrodes everything, and the nails that helped keep the cages together were – in some cases – more rust than substance. I got to put on waders for the first time in almost a year and splash around for a few hours. An unexpected rainstorm put a little bit of a damper on the afternoon, but I’ve long since past the point where getting wet at work bothers me.
The entire process only took about two hours, which makes sense since we were limited by the tides. At high tide the cages are covered completely and our job would have been considerably less pleasant.
Hopefully I’ll have another chance to learn more about the process by which these (arguably) delicious suckers are grown and distributed. The rain, and the nature of the work kept me from being able to ask all of the questions I had at the time.