Bathsheba: A Long Island Oyster

To define nature as the wild things apart from cities is one of the great fantastic American stories. ~Jenny Price

When I pulled up a barstool at the Grand Central Oyster Bar in New York City on a recent Monday I was famished.  The lunch hour was long past and I wanted something quick and local.  I selected the Lazy Mermaid oysters from Long Island to go with my Mermaid pilsner, brewed in Brooklyn.  But my mermaid-themed lunch was not to be—that particular oyster was sold out.  My second choice, Bathsheba (misspelled on the menu as Bathseba), another local oyster, was available.

Photo by: Paula Nixon

Photo by: Paula Nixon

It took me a good long time, but once I learned to appreciate oysters they reminded me—in a way that no other fish or shellfish does—of the ocean.  The best ones, like the Bathsheba, taste fresh and clean and briny.

Back at a home, a few days after savoring those oysters, I reread Jenny Price’s essay Thirteen Ways of Seeing Nature in L.A. and thought about my stop at the oyster bar. Grand Central Station sits in the heart of Manhattan and seems about as far removed from the natural world as one can get, but Price challenges us to consider nature in a new way—as a part of life no matter where we are.

So, I wondered, where exactly did those oysters come from. After all, Long Island is just a short train ride away from midtown Manhattan.

A Google search turned up a 2008 map of Long Island and some of its oysters, but a lot has changed since then.  This 2014 New York Times story describes the resurgence in more recent years of oyster farming on the island.  Overfishing, pollution, and Hurricane Sandy (2012) had all taken their toll, but Crassotrea virginica, the eastern oyster, was, and still is, making a comeback.

It was Friday afternoon and not thinking I would  reach anyone I called and left a message at the Long Island Oyster Company.  Steve, the proprietor and ‘oyster guy’, called me right back, but was also stumped by the Bathsheba.   He promised to see what he could find out and by Monday I had my answer.  The Bathsheba comes from the Great South Bay, a long narrow body of water bordered on the north by Long Island and the south by Fire Island, the original home of the famous Blue Point oyster, known for its mild, but salty flavor.

So now I know a little bit more about my lunch, but find I have a lot more questions.  What role does the oyster play in the health of the bay?   How much risk is there of another hurricane destroying the new oyster beds?  How exactly does a Bathsheba oyster make the journey from the floor of the bay to the ice-filled trays at the Grand Central Oyster Bar?

Those questions will have to wait for another day, another afternoon at the oyster bar, maybe even a trip out to the Great South Bay of Long Island.

Weekly Roundup – Kids Rule!

Monty_EleanorW

Note:  If the links to Facebook do not open automatically below, click on the date and you will be directed to the post.

Earlier this year I was a judge for the third annual Mexican wolf pup naming contestThe drawings and essays submitted by kids from around the country amazed me with their knowledge and thoughtfulness.  Pictured above is one of the winning entries.  Eleanor’s name, Monty, was given to male pup (mp)1386 (his official identification) a member of the Prieto Pack, a family of wolves that runs and hunts in the mountains of New Mexico.

A former winner in the naming contest, Turner Burns, started a Facebook page, Kids for Wolves,  several years ago after meeting Atka, one of the ambassador wolves at the Wolf Conservation Center (WCC).  Today, he has over 4000 followers and uses his page to educate both kids and adults about wolves in the United States and Canada.  In a post earlier this week, he reminded me that I needed to make a call to my representative in Congress about a pending bill that would remove protections for  endangered wolves.

Atka is also an inspiration to Peyton, seen howling in this video with the Arctic wolf.

Run Like A Wolf

11 year-old Peyton is helping to save the wolves by running 13.1 miles this October to support the Wolf Conservation Center and raise awareness for the importance and plight of the wild predators. Please check out Peyton’s CrowdRise page and support his effort here: http://bit.ly/1FIrv2bWith kiddos like Peyton, the world is looking a little brighter, Thank you, Peyton!

Posted by Wolf Conservation Center on Sunday, June 28, 2015

 

But it’s not just wolves.  Every few days I see stories about kids finding creative ways to help wildlife, trees, homeless pets.

Best friends, Caroline and Claire, raised money with a bake sale and donated the money to Friends of the Urban Forest in San Francisco.

Caroline (a sixth-grader) and Claire (a fifth-grader) sent us a donation accompanied by this adorable note. Thank you!Inspired? We appreciate donations of any amount: http://fuf.net/donate

Posted by Friends of the Urban Forest on Tuesday, May 26, 2015

In New Mexico Dezirae saves her money from chores to give to the Santa Fe Animal Shelter.

We are so thankful for Dezirae! This 15-year-old amazing teen saves her money from chores and donates incredible treats,…

Posted by Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society on Friday, July 3, 2015

It starts with field trips and camp outs: kids learning about  bats and butterflies, sunflowers and saguaros. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this little guy doing something great in the next few years!

Here’s a cute video of a kid telling us all about what he learned about bats with us here during Pollinator Week!

Posted by Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge on Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Thanks to each one of these kids for being an inspiration to us all!

Weekly Roundup – April 13th – For the Birds

 Photo Credit: nosha via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: nosha via Compfight cc

Watching nesting ospreys in Colorado or eagles in Iowa via a live camera feed is  Better than ‘Survivor’  according to recent a National Public Radio story.   So, it seems I am not alone in my fascination with the birds. Last week when a a line of thunderstorms threatened the Midwest, I kept an eye on the Decorah nest and the weather forecast, picturing baby eagles being tossed from the nest or worse,  but they came through unscathed.

The skies cleared over the weekend and  a viewer who lives much closer than I, drove to the maple tree and spent a few hours watching the nest from her lawn chair.  Her report with pictures is posted on the Raptor Resource Facebook page.

Back at my house I suspect that there is a nest or two nearby, but haven’t walked through the trees to investigate.  From my desk I’ve watched two ladder-backs pecking at the seed cake and two robins sipping at the bath.  They’re regulars, in both cases a male and a female visit daily, but I only see one of each pair at a time.  Last night just before dark the robin with the bright yellow beak and showy red breast (the male)  took a long bath.  Splish, Spash: Why do Birds Take Baths? a post on The Nature Conservancy’s blog attempts to answer the question.

The lovely thing about birds is that we can observe them from almost anywhere, the country, the suburbs, even the middle of the city.  This poem, Eye to Eye with a Hawk, about housework and a raptor on the fire escape, was posted on The New York TImes‘ City Room blog.

Enjoy your week and go outside!

Weekly Roundup – March 31st – April 6th

I’ve never been a big fan of reality television, but I’m hooked on this 24-hour feed from a camera trained on an eagle’s nest in northeast Iowa.  The female laid three eggs in February and by the time I started watching two had hatched.  The eaglets are tiny (much smaller than the one pictured below) and the parents take turns sitting on the remaining egg that has yet to hatch and the two babies.  Once every hour or so, the adult on duty gets up and tears small bites off a dead fish that they have stashed nearby to feed the little ones. What patience.

Photo Credit: nikonlarry via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: nikonlarry via Compfight cc

Today is the final day of women’s history month. The US Fish and Wildlife Southwest Region did  a series of “science woman” profiles on their Facebook page, focusing at the end of last week on nine women who work in the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program. Not only do they work with the endangered wolves, but also with the community—it may take a few days, but I can always count on them to answer my questions about wolves and the reintroduction program.

In all, USFWS interviewed over 200 women doing a wide variety of jobs across the country and each of their profiles is posted here.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, dubbed the rock star astrophysicist, will soon have his own late-night talk show.   Hemispheres recently interviewed Tyson about “Star Talk” and he discussed how he plans to use a blend of comedy and science to engage the public.

And finally, this mini-documentary,The Journey of a 9/11 Tree, tells the story of the tree that survived the devastation at the World Trade Center.  If it sounds familiar, I wrote a post about it after a trip to the memorial.  Spring may not have made it to Manhattan yet, but when it does the hardy pear tree will once again bloom.

Have a great week and enjoy some time outdoors!

 

 

 

 

 

 

NYC–The High Line Phase Three

Friday afternoon, sunny and seventy degrees, no better time to check out the final phase of New York’s elevated park.   This time I remembered to wear comfortable shoes.

Photo Credit: P. Nixon

Photo Credit: P. Nixon

The newest section, between 30th and 34th Streets, was opened in September on the first day of autumn.  It curves around the rail yards heading west towards the Hudson River.  The New York Times captures the beauty and allure of the urban park in this story.

Photo Credit: P. Nixon

Photo Credit: P. Nixon

Dave and I spent an hour or so admiring the views, checking out the flowers and grasses, trying to get the perfect photo.

Photo Credit: P. Nixon

Photo Credit: P. Nixon

The sun was low in the sky when we descended to street level looking for an uptown train to take us to the theater.

NYC Circa 1609

So what did the island of Manhattan look like 400 years ago when Henry Hudson arrived?

West Houston and La Guardia Place Photo Credit:  P. Nixon

West Houston and La Guardia Place
Photo Credit: P. Nixon

It’s hard to imagine.  Yesterday I spotted a brass plaque on a brick wall a couple of doors down from my hotel.   Site of John Seale’s Farm Circa 1638.  A farm–and  before that?  Streams, hills, forests.  It must have been so quiet.

A construction fence blocked my view of the old farm site, but I caught a glimpse of the huge bucket and heard the creak and groan of the crane.  Soon John Seale’s farm will see another transformation (how many has it already witnessed?).  By the time I make my next trip to the city, a sleek new apartment building will fill the space.

Time Landscape by Alan Sonfist Photo Credit:  P Nixon

Photo Credit: P Nixon

Just a few blocks northeast of the old farm at a busy street corner in Greenwich Village the artist Alan Sonfist envisioned and created that earlier landscape. Conceived in 1965 Time Landscape became a reality in 1978.  One thousand square feet filled with beech trees, hazelnut shrubs, mugwort, milkweed, and asters, to name just a few.  I didn’t recognize most of the plants and trees and had to rely on my guidebook, Secret New York: An Unusual Guide, and the City of New York’s website to learn the names of the profusion of shrubs, trees, wildflowers, and ground covers that fill the twenty-five by forty-foot plot.

Time Landscape by Alan Sonfist Photo Credit: P. Nixon

Time Landscape by Alan Sonfist
Photo Credit: P. Nixon

New Yorkers and visitors alike must enjoy this re-creation of an earlier time from outside the iron fence.  It is a work of art, not a park.

I visited on a warm fall day and walked around the perimeter a few times, trying to take it all in.  Outside the fence yellow leaves littered the sidewalk creating new patterns each time the breeze stirred.  Inside a squirrel scampered under the trees and unearthed an acorn, sparrows splashed in an improvised birdbath created out of a shallow pan, and bees buzzed the still-blooming wildflowers.  All of them seemed oblivious to the hustle bustle just outside the fence.

 

 

 

Return to NYC: a glass of water

New York City’s water is number 31 on Time Out’s recent list of 50 reasons why it’s the greatest city in the world.    Tap water?  According to the list it’s because the water flows from reservoirs upstate and is almost lead-free, making it one of the country’s best-tasting waters.

Photo Credit: P. Nixon

Photo Credit: P. Nixon

Jeffrey Steingarten, the food writer, in his 1991 essay “Water” concurs, claiming that if the water did not have to be treated with chlorine, “it would taste as delicious as anything from a bottle . . .”

In Steingarten’s story of his quest to find the perfect glass of water–one that  tastes like it was just drawn from a clear alpine stream–he describes his local tap water:

“My water is piped four miles down Fifth Avenue from Central Park, and after I’ve drunk my fill, it continues all the way downtown.  Chlorine is introduced at Ninetieth Street, and because it dissipates as the water travels, enough chlorine must be added uptown so that some is left to disinfect the people on Wall Street, who are probably drinking Perrier anyway.  In order that Wall Street may thrive, I must put up with water that tastes less perfect than it should.”

Yesterday afternoon I arrived in New York City with reservations for dinner at an Italian restaurant on East Twentieth. The first thing I ordered was water–not a bottle of the fancy sparkling stuff, but a glass of New York’s finest. Cold, clear, and refreshing with no taste of chlorine, and at a price that can’t be beat– the perfect start to a few days of vacation in the city.

Hitchhiker on the High Line

I planned to write just a quick line or two updating my original post about the High Line after my friend Robin sent me an article about a new breed of cockroach discovered  at the elevated park in lower Manhattan. But then I got a little obsessed thinking about the bugs.

 Photo Credit: Hickatee via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Hickatee via Compfight cc

Cockroaches–during my college years I became way too familiar with the small German ones (Blattella germanica) that thrive in cheap apartments and love honey lemon cough drops and book bindings.  Years later when  I moved to Houston, I met my first American cockroach (Periplaneta americana), big and winged.  Luckily. they usually keep a low profile, preferring to hang out in  warm moist places like basements and sewers–the same cockroaches that New Yorkers are familiar with.

News of the Japanese cockroach (Periplaneta japonica) discovered by an exterminator on the High Line broke in early December.  The kicker to the story about the bug, which probably hitchhiked in on an imported plant, was that it could survive ice and snow, maybe even a New York winter.  Experts were quick to assure the public that the Japanese bug would not physically  be able to mate with its American cousin, which is not cold tolerant, to create a “super” cockroach.

The whole thing made me glad I live in New Mexico.  Never in sixteen years have I seen a cockroach, outside or inside.  Why, I wondered.  Is it too cold, too dry, too high?

Chuck at New Mexico Pest Control was happy to answer my questions and assured me that we do have cockroaches, The one he identified in Santa Fe is the Oriental (Blatta orientalis).  It can survive temperatures down to about thirty degrees and takes refuge in garages and storm sewers, but our cold winters don’t give it a chance to gain much of a foothold.

Photo Credit gigi_nyc

Photo Credit gigi_nyc

Last week the High Line was closed after a snowfall until crews had a chance to clear the walkways.  I still like the idea of a winter evening at the park taking in the city lights, but now I would be on the lookout for small six-legged creatures also making their way through the snow.

NYC – Walking the High Line

Note:  My final post about visiting NYC, slightly out of order.

High heels, even sensible ones, are not the shoes to wear on the High Line.  Late on Friday afternoon, our first day in New York City, Dave and I took the subway  up  Seventh Avenue to a stop a few blocks east of the elevated park that runs along Tenth Avenue.  The heels might have been fine if we hadn’t gotten turned around in Greenwich Village where the  north/south grid suddenly angles and not all of the streets have number names.

Eventually we found Gansevoort Street and the stairway going up to the High Line at its southernmost point.  The park is a recent addition, opening in phases, the first in 2009, the second in 2011, and the third under construction.   It sits on top of a rail line built in the 1930s to haul freight along Manhattan’s west side.

Photo Credit:  D. Betzler

Photo Credit: D. Betzler

In 1999 the long-abandoned railway, slowly being reclaimed by nature, was slated for demolition when Joshua David and Robert Hammond met at a community meeting.  Two average citizens who wanted to save the structure, each one promised to help if the other would spearhead the effort.  Within months of that meeting they co-founded The Friends of the High Line and spent the next ten years, first, saving the rail line from destruction and, then, coordinating the creation of the park.  I read their inspiring book, High Line:  The Inside Story of New York City’s Park in the Sky, during my trip to the city.

Photo credit: P. Nixon

Photo credit: P. Nixon

On the warm October day of our visit lots of people were enjoying the park, strolling the narrow path, admiring the view of the Empire State Building, and taking photos of a few lingering  blossoms.  My pinched toes forced me to abandon the walk at 23rd Street.  

We returned on Sunday after our trip to New Jersey and walked the park from the north end to the south—in sneakers.

If I lived in New York City, the High Line would be my park.  I imagine early morning walks in the spring savoring each new bloom, lazy summer afternoons lounging on a bench watching the world go by, and snowy winter evenings strolling the quiet path, pausing to watch the city lights blink on.

NYC – The Survivor Tree

I didn’t set out to write about visiting the 911 Memorial at the World Trade Center (WTC) site.  My feet were sore and my camera battery was dead by the time I finally cleared security.  Peering over the edge of the reflecting pools, I contemplated a single white rose placed on one of the engraved names and remembered the horror of that day.

After leaving the memorial I kept thinking about the tree, one of the last things I noticed.  The  elaborate web of guide wires trussing it up and holding it in place was what caught my eye.  It wasn’t until later that I learned the tree’s story, a lone pear tree in a grove of swamp white oaks.

Photo Credit: jev55 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: jev55 via Compfight cc

The Survivor Tree, as it came to be known, was rescued from the WTC site a month after the 2001 attacks, a charred eight-foot stump with one living branch.  It was taken to the Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx where park staff nursed it back to health, not knowing at first if it could be saved.

The tree, a Callery pear (Pyrux calleryana), is a common one and was planted at the WTC in the 1970s.  Originally imported from Asia in the 1800s, the trees are now found throughout most of the United States.  We had a similar tree in our backyard when I was growing up in western Kansas.  It was was the most exotic tree in our yard, especially beautiful in the spring when it was transformed into a cloud of white blossoms.

The Survivor Tree was moved back to the 911 Memorial site in December 2010.  It still bears scars and always will, but has grown tall and strong, a resilient survivor.  Its legacy will continue to grow through the Survivor Tree Seedling Program. During its rehabilitation tree experts propagated several hundred seedlings and over time they will be shared with other communities that have suffered tragedy and loss.