A Lesson from My Grandfather

Feb 22, 2022 | The Sandpiper

spent my growing up years living next door to my grandparent’s farm in Terryville, Port Jefferson Station. My grandparents were “truck farmers.”

I tell people that they planted axels and harvested trucks. Some people believed me. A truck farmer grew crops and then trucked them – to the train; to New York City. During the war, my grandfather took his crops into the city where the government purchased them, picked through what they wanted and sent the rest back. Those little potatoes that everyone pays so much money for now, were rejected by the army.

My grandfather brought the crops back home and put them out for anyone who needed to take. He felt that he had been paid for them once and that was good. My grandfather, a poor Polish immigrant who never learned to read or write anything but his name, was a man of integrity. He wasn’t just a man of integrity when it came to business, he was a man of integrity in the way he treated the land. One of the greatest lessons I learned from Pa was his huge respect for and love of trees. This is where I get it and I don’t think a Sandpiper issue goes by without my comments on the value of trees.

There was no garbage pickup then. Everything that could be recycled or reused was. There were no plastic containers. Glass jars were reused for buttons or screws or marbles and coffee cans were invaluable. The rest went to the dumps. It was stored in an area we called “the junks” until there was a big enough load to go. We kids set up imaginary homes and shops in this area. My grandfather also has a series of young cedars planted there. He used cedar and white pine for wind breaks. These cedars were spaced just perfectly to form the rooms of our house, including a hallway.

We were forever in there sweeping the dirt. Pa would chase us out and yell at us for undermining the roots of the trees by removing the dirt. Somewhere in my teens, when I was privileged to learn about proper tree pruning (a course that PSEG needs), I began to have an appreciation for what Pa was trying to teach us.

In the last several months there has been some really severe weather in our nation and indeed, on our little island. Where did such terrible flooding come from – and tornados! My first experience with scary strong wind was when I went to Stony Brook University with its poorly thought-out quadrangles that trapped wind in certain areas to the point where you couldn’t open the building doors.

So, here we are in 2022, still environmentally ignorant as to what causes weather changes – and I can tell you, it’s not carbon emissions. It’s the cutting of our mighty 80-foot oaks in order to replace them with 25-foot non-native ornamentals, imperviable parking lots and apartment complexes. Perhaps as people argue about whether or not children should have to wear masks, they should have a few history lessons on “The Dust Bowl” period of severe dust storms that greatly damaged the ecology and agriculture of the American and Canadian prairies during the 1930’s. One of the methods the government used to stop the damage was to plant 220 million trees. And, yes, children wore masks to school. We hail the Islip Town Board for their decision to not allow rezoning of the Island Hills Golf Course for an apartment complex.

I have read way too many reports with the coined phrase of “no significant environmental impact.” Perhaps no significant environmental impact to the purse of the developer, but plenty of impact to the birds, pollinators, insects, trees – and our own children. Please – when you can – prune, do not remove.

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“Come gather round people where you roam, and admit that the waters around you have grown And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone If your time to you is worth savin’ and you better start swimmin’ Or you’ll sink like a stone for the times they are a-changin.”

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