Hello all.

It’s been a while since I posted. As of January 1st, I’d stepped down as Executive Director after 7 years. I’d turned 60, had my childhood home to renovate and Susie, my autistic / artist sister to attend to, and had some really exciting work to do with my now colleague Frank Piccinnini at SMPIL Consulting working in large scale habitat restoration.

I knew too that the organization would continue to flourish, that we had, after a lot of hard work, the talent and the critical mass.     Robyn Silvestri, who over this past year has done such a magnificent job planning events, creating marketing campaigns, developing our programs, and building partnerships, is the new Executive Director. She has been integral to this organization’s growth, and has already taken us up a couple of levels.  With so much to plan now and so many moving parts, Robyn somehow just keeps excelling.

Under the leadership of Todd Shaw, Chair of the Board and The Creek Defender Program, and with Robyn Silvestri with her organizational and logistical skills,  our Creek Defenders Tom Dempsey (Massapequa), Todd Brice (Amityville), Dave Schrader (Lindenhurst), Todd Shaw (Babylon), Andrew Mirchel  (West Islip) Tom Kain (Bayshore), James Bertsch (Sayville), Bob Draffin (Bayport), and Jason Borowski (Blue Point) have been doing a magnificent job organizing clean ups and native plantings with local schools, businesses, local, town, county and state government, and with other civic and environmental groups, and we’ve been working to establish Creek Defenders for those remaining communities that don’t have them.

This last year saw us garner some wonderful sponsors:  led by York Analytical Laboratories and Lessings Hospitality Group, along with Blue Point Brewery, UL Labs, Cornucopia Natural Foods, Blue Island Oysters, The Gino Macchio Foundation, and Coldwell Banker, along with our restaurant friends Tres Palms and Swell Taco   We also launched a membership program to support our efforts.

As I was beginning this new chapter, I was grateful that someone as capable as Robyn had taken the reins, that we’d established our three key programs —  Creek Defender, Bay Friendly Yards, and Habitat Restoration —  and that the board had continued to grow and  draw in new and complementary talent.

From the beginning,  Save The Great South Bay has been ruled by a twin passion for science, and for the bay.  We knew from the outset we that must understand The Great South Bay’s problems if we were to have any hope of healing it.   Over the past three years, thanks to a large extent to fellow board member and now business partner Frank Piccininni’s guidance, the org has been increasingly been placing its emphasis on the importance of protecting and restoring native habitat as a strategy for healing the bay,    We’d come to realize that it is the mainland that is sick.    The bay is a symptom of that.   By replanting what was there before we arrived with our suburban lawns and non-native plants, both in our yards and along our creeks, we can create enough native habitat to improve water quality in the bay.

Looking ahead….

Between the clean ups, festivals, oysterfests, lectures, gatherings, etc, we’re reckoning with around 70 events cancelled.   Beyond that, we are all waiting this out.  We are housebound for now, with an occasional walk, in nature preferably.   Every routine / habit we ever had has been disrupted.  Each day we seek new ways to connect with each other, for we must.  What we are going through is changing us profoundly on both an individual and collective level.  Forced to stay home, what can home become?

I’ve been mostly organizing and tossing things.   It helps.

Lots of time for reading and introspection.

Beyond that, I would strongly recommend helping the bay while we all wait this out.   How?   After you and your family are done with spring cleaning, get 0utside.   No longer housebound, but “yardbound,” creating native habitats instead of lawn, helping the local creatures, improving water quality (in part by NOT using pesticides, fertilizers.   We also need to stop planting non-natives.   It is destroying local habitats wholesale, and contributing mightily to a global wave of extinction that will in turn threaten us.

Buy this book: Nature’s Best Hope  by Douglas Tallamy.   It’s a Number #1 seller on Amazon in Environmental Economics, and a NYT bestseller.  When we can travel again, we will be briefing Congressional Legislative Aides in DC.  Tallamy offers a playbook for how we can begin healing the planet, starting with our own yards.

Red Maple Swamp Forest Bundle

I will be creating a “Bay Friendly Yard,” tearing out the English Ivy, the Wisteria, The Chinese Tree of Heaven, the Norway Maples, the Japanese Multiflora, and the Japanese Honeysuckle that all invaded this .4 acre lot over the decades, then building local habitat with local native plantings, putting in my yard what would be there if I weren’t.   I am sure some of my neighbors will look at me funny at first, but it’ll be my yard filled with birds and butterflies.   It’s already fairly lively compared to the lifeless moonscape of suburban lawn around me.    If I am going to be cooped up for a while, the yard is going to have to get lively.

A garden would be important too — it’d give the local insects — and me! — some fresh vegetables to eat, and I’ll get some exercise until the gyms can open again.

To the group, to the members of Save The Great South Bay I’d say this:

Our org got as strong as it did because there is this basic solidarity.   We are all from here.   We start where we stand.   There will be all the time in the world for a post mortem.   Right now our main focus has to be on survival, on staying away from each other while having our basic needs met.  We will emerge from this profoundly different than we were before.  But what should be become?    Less focussed on the material, on the noise, more compassionate, better friends and neighbors, more aware how fragile the world in fact is.    We are scared, angry, sad, but also kinder, braver, more loving than we knew.

Our future is in our hearts.   Be kind to each other.   We are in fact all in this together.

Here’s a poem that’s been making the rounds.  Beauty persists.

Fr. Richard Hendrick, OFM
March 2020

Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.

They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To Love.

So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,

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