What more can we say about Hurricane/Super-Storm Sandy? Stunned silence at the images of destruction, shock and concern for loved ones who can’t be reached — apart from that, I share with everyone the sense of bewilderment that clings like seaweed to the hard rock of the unexpected. A seaside image to be sure, which may hint at the depth of my attachment to this place.
Almost a decade ago, I came across an article in the New York Times which included a map of Long Island Sound. I saved the map of this ancient channel and its stretch of coastal cities, suburbs and beaches, the region I come from and still think of as home. As Hurricane Sandy struck the area, I’ve felt both dismay and the strength of my connection to the geography of my birth and my youth, its wooded oaks, beeches and sycamores (so many uprooted), its stretches of sand and ocean surf (now in flood), its overlay of Dutch settlement and cosmopolitan verve (no lights, no phones, no subways). As I thought about its woes and looked at the map, I saw that in its breadth, Long Island Sound encompasses — and somehow resolves — the paradoxes I love and that have formed me: the passionate urbanity of New York City so close to the leafy ambiance of Westchester’s towns, the summer beaches on the Sound’s north shore and the powerful beauty of oceanfront Long Island to the south.
As it does elsewhere, nature and ancient geologic time underscore everything on the Sound. New York City is an archipelago, entangled in the tidal estuaries of the East River and the Hudson; the Taconic Parkway that ambles south through Westchester County echoes the Cambrian era, the earth’s eruption into primeval mountains of the same name. The ocean’s beaches evolve and change and the tides form a relentless, underlying rhythm that became all too apparent during the storm surges in New York City earlier this week.
In light of this, the hurricane has made me reflect on the fact that nature itself has a claim on my existence. It’s a mystery, that my beloved place has, in nature’s inarticulate way, loved me also, has given solace and comfort, beauty and inspiration. Yet the roots of blessing and catastrophe are tangled up in knots I can’t begin to untie. Consider the circumstances of life in Long Island Sound. Here, millions of people cluster at sea level, home (along with skyscrapers and outdated infrastructure) to an abundant wealth of wildlife, vegetation, and aquatic activity. Do we humans belong there? Moot point. Devastated now, the area remains dense with human vitality and rich in natural beauty, and I hope it will always remain so. Paradox is the gift that my home place has given me, the home I carry within.