This weekend marks the first weekend of Spring here on our island. This year, Long Island has experienced a seemingly protracted winter season, with a nor’easter that had arrived just in time for the Spring equinox. Although the snow has nearly disappeared this weekend, with the strong March sun, finding warmth on the south shore seemed elusive, with temperatures below normal for this time of year. Yet, a morning walk at Jones Beach revealed that Spring has ever so quietly visited our shores, once again. Walking onto the dark beach at the earliest moments of dusk on this Spring weekend, was an experience of stillness and solitude. In the moments before sunrise on Sunday morning, the wind was calm, the waves tranquil, the air cold, and the wildlife sparse. No matter the conditions, seeing the sun rise over the water is always a welcome and refreshing experience.
As I stood in the quietness and solitude by the water’s edge, waiting for the first sliver of sunlight to emerge on the horizon, a small silhouette of a bird appeared near me, looking in the direction of where the sun would soon rise. The tiny size and movement of the bird revealed the unmistakable characteristics of the endangered piping plover. The solitary plover broke the silence of the moment, with its minute little squeaks. It was an affirmation that even in the coldest of Spring mornings, the season will inevitably become more apparent, with each and every passing hour and day. With hope, we will see piping plover chicks appear in late Spring or early Summer. As I looked for the plover, after it seemingly vanished into the barely lit sandy beach, the light of early dawn illuminated the wooden posts that have recently been placed throughout the West End of Jones Beach. Ropes will soon be added, to protect the nesting area of this vulnerable species. With a glance in another direction, I noticed the plover quickly disappearing into the shadows of the sandy area near the dunes. A few short moments later, the sun arrived, beautifully and brilliantly over the water.
The sunlight seemed to bring with it a stronger and cooler wind. In the distance, I could now hear the cries of the newly arrived Oystercatchers. Following those cries, toward the Jetty, the brilliant light of the sunrise on this clear morning made visible a distant Merlin, sitting atop one of those recently planted posts, meant to protect the plovers. Behind the still Merlin was the background of the Manhattan skyline, lit with rising sun. On this cold and quiet Spring weekend, remnants of winter remained too, an indication of the sometimes gradual, yet inevitable, nature of change and transition. Along the jetty rocks, the gorgeous Harlequin ducks were still present. Sitting on the rocks alongside several Brant, the Harlequins looked out toward the water, seemingly waiting, and minute now, for the perfect moment to begin migrating north. A very small group of Dunlin also sat on the jetty rocks, still and unmoved by the splashes of cold water. They, too, will leave our shores in due time.
The philosopher Albert Camus famously wrote: “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” Walking along the West End of Jones Beach throughout this winter, and last, has taught me not just about the changes of seasons and migration patterns of wildlife here on Long Island, but also of the strength that braving our winters can offer. There is undoubtedly a harshness and, at times, much unpleasantness, that often draws us inside during our Long Island winters. Yet, there is beauty, too. As with most things in life, our willingness to walk through adversity, and to face challenges, tend to make us stronger, sometimes physically, or sometimes with a more courageous mindset. It’s an inner strength that insists, rebelliously, on seeing beauty alongside adversity. This creates a truly warm and trusted placed within, and shapes the way we see ourselves and the world. Inevitably, soon enough, we’ll relish the opportunity to walk barefoot along the hot sand of our shores.
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