Call them what you will — aits, isles, atolls, cays, keys, islands, reefs, shoals, even continents — there are millions of them across the globe. The name that I particularly like to describe the smallest of these patches of raised land surrounded by water, very wet marshes, and in some cases even by sand, is hammock, from the Spanish hamaca. We have a lot of them right here in our own backyard.
It’s fall, and pleasant, but dry. It’s another round of the good, the bad, and the ugly. The good? The white and purple asters in the yard that are flowering at a great rate — white wood aster, smooth aster, stiff aster, panicled aster, calico aster, wavy-leaved aster, and heath aster in the order of flowering — with the white wood asters beginning in mid-August. Some goldenrods are chiming in as well, and the bees are going crazy gathering pollen, but as is the state of things in the past several years, none of them are honeybees.
Have we escaped a superstorm? In 2011 we had Irene at the end of August, in 2012, it was Sandy at the end of October. We missed the bullet last year, but the tropical storm season is not over, and when it is, the northeaster season will be right at its heals.
The glaciers are melting, the seas are rising, the globe is warming. Yet, the Farmers Almanac, which is right most of the time, says we are going to have a hard winter. I have yet to see a wooly bear to measure the brown against the black, and have no idea what the winter will be like.
Most of September is summer, but in my eyes all of September is fall. Lots of wonderful things start happening at the end of August. The rich and the rowdy leave for the city. There is less traffic on the roads and highways. The days are cooler and the air less humid. Striped bass and neotropical warblers begin their fall migration southward. Snowy tree crickets and katydids sing the loudest. Asters and goldenrods break out in whites, blues, purples, and yellows. Beach plums ripen. Cranberries begin to ripen.
I live across the street from Noyac’s Long Beach, a barely more than 100-foot-wide isthmus between Noyac Road and Route 114. The isthmus, with its county road, Long Beach Road, separates the inner Sag Harbor Cove from the outer Noyac Bay, part of the Peconic Estuary.
North American “life zones” as defined by Clinton Hart Merriam in the early 1900s are equivalent to the world’s biomes. They are deserts, northern coniferous forests, or taigas, temperate deciduous forests such as those occupying Appalachia, alpine forests, evergreen tropical forests, and rain forests, and the tundras of Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia, and Siberia, and grasslands. Biomes tend to keep their identity for millennia.
The author Thomas Berger died recently. After “Little Big Man” one of his titles was “Sneaky People.” It portrayed a kind of negative utopia where women dominated in the business world and elsewhere, and their rise to eminence was based on deception and craftiness. Farcical as his novel was, many would say that’s how men came to rule the corporate and political spheres, and in many cases they would be right.
I was sitting with one of the world’s most noted algologists and marine phycologists in the world having lunch in a restaurant in Amagansett with him and three women. We had just listened to the address by the National Audubon Society’s president at the Nature Conservancy’s headquarters in East Hampton.
While we humans are fighting all over the world, killing children, women, and men, as well as doing in all kinds of rare beasts such as elephants, rhinoceroses, scaled anteaters, and whales for keepsakes, the local fauna are raising families. And I imagine, except in the war-torn and poached parts of the globe, they are doing the same the world over. It is a pity that the most intelligent animal of all lags behind the others even though this very same animal is a reader, polyglot, writer, emailer, and maker and user of all tools ever devised.
Biogeography is the study of flora and fauna and how they got where they are today. It also applies to humans. We are pretty sure that Asians began to settle North America not quite 20,000 years ago when glaciers covered half of the northern hemisphere and sea level was 100 feet or so lower than today. Many, if not all, came by way of the “land bridge,” now submerged, between Siberia and Alaska. Many mammals and other vertebrates came to the Americas by the same route.