Monday, December 17, 2012

A Prayer for Newtown

This was the first petition in the Prayers of the People at North Church Queens this past Sunday, December 16, 2012.  I wrote it Sunday morning, just before worship.

God of comfort and consolation,
     our hearts are heavy this morning,
     as are the hearts of our nation and the world.
As Rachel weeps for her children in Ramah,
we bitterly weep and wail for the twenty children
of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut,
            and also for the six teachers and school administrators there
tragically and senselessly gunned down this past Friday.
As we raise our lamentations to you,
we also pray that you will comfort and console the Newtown community,
            the parents, family and friends of those slain,
            the first responders who faced an unimaginable and unspeakable scene,
            and all those seeking to make sense of the senseless.
Never let our prayers serve as an excuse for inaction,
            so motivate and empower us as individuals and as a nation
            to address our culture of gun violence,
violence in the media,
and violent video games,
            which desensitize us and our youth to absurd and inexcusable violence.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Homage to a Hobbit

Roads go ever ever on,
     Upon the lands new and green,
Clearing obstacles hither and yon,
     Until they shine upon silver screen;
Electrons, photons, binary bytes,
     Images no eye has ever seen,
At last its tale will be told in lights,
     Opening in theaters December fourteen.

by John Edward Harris
with apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien

The cover of Tolkien’s The Hobbit first caught my eye in the spring of 1974. I was a sophomore in high school and attending a planning meeting for a regional week long youth conference. One of the other youth on the planning task force, an older youth, was carrying around and reading a copy of The Hobbit. The paperback’s cover fascinated me. I asked its bearer about it and either his reply, or the fact that I thought that he was really cool, convinced me that I needed to read The Hobbit.

I searched for, soon purchased, and read the Hobbit. The Hobbit led me to Tolkien’s classic The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Tolkien eventually led me to C.S. Lewis and his Christian Fantasy Chronicles of Narnia and Space Trilogy.

Tolkien and Lewis kindled within my adolescent heart and mind a new love of and respect for the Jewish Scriptures, what we Christians refer to as the Old Testament. They enabled me to read the Jewish Scriptures with new eyes and ears as well as a new awareness—to read the thirty-nine books of Genesis through Malachi not only as Holy writ but also as heavily layered, finely textured, highly mythic, and metaphorical literature filled with poetry and song which included stories of personal struggles and epic battles as well as genealogies and accounts of great kings and kingdoms—not unlike the fantasy works of Lewis and Tolkien, including The Hobbit.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

We Demanded Sand--But This Is Riciculous

I live several miles from the devastation Hurricane Sandy wrought on the Rockaways, but the Rockaways are the southern boundary of my Jamaica Bay playground.  I have kayaked and sailed to more restaurants on the Rockaways than I have driven to.  I have sailed and paddled numerous times past bayside homes and establishments, from the Cross Bay Bridge to the east out past Breezy Point to the West.  I have friends and co-workers who live (or used to live) on the Rockaways. 
Here is a link to blog post, We Demanded Sand—But thisis Ridiculous, by one of my Rockaway friends.  Her first person account of Sandy and its aftermath, accompanied by her own photos, say more than any of my own secondary posts have, or could.  I highly recommend you read it.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, November 18, 2012, the Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year B)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references may be linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.) 

1:4 Were Peninnah’s sons and daughters not also Elkanah’s sons and daughters?

 1:5 Was Hannah related to Elkanah?

 1:6 Who was Hannah’s rival?

 1:8 How many wives did Elkanah have?  So much for family values!  If they were honest, how would most wives answer the Question Elkanah asked Hannah?

 1:9 Who is “they” and why are “they” at Shiloh?

 1:11 What is Hannah’s misery?

1:13 When you pray silently, do your lips move?

1:14 Read this in light of the First Christian Pentecost.

1:15 What does it mean to pour out one’s soul before the LORD?

1:17 How could Ely say this when he did not know Hannah’s petition?  Who or what gave Ely the right—the power—to answer prayer?

1:19 What do you know about Ramah?  Ya gotta love these Biblical euphemisms.

1:20 Who do we no longer give children names with personal, existential meaning?

1:1 Did Hannah pray, or did Hannah sing?  Who said , paraphrasing, “the person who sings their prayer prays twice”?

1:2 What, or who, do you think of when you hear the phrase “holy one”?

1:3-5 Is this the 99% speaking of the 1%, or maybe the 47% speaking of the 53%?

1:6-7 So what?

1:8 What does the second half of this verse have to do with the first half?

1:9 This verse seems to echo 1:4-5.

1:10 How does this verse relate to the verses preceding it?

10:11 How are you like a priest?

 10:12 What single sacrifice did Christ offer?

10:12-13 What source, if any, is being quoted?

 10:15-18 Where did the Holy Spirit say this?

 10:19 What sanctuary?  Does the blood of Jesus give us confidence or is it a ticket of entry?

 10:20 What curtain might this be alluding to?  How was Christ’s flesh like a curtain?  Think about that one long and hard!

 10:22 How can hearts be sprinkled clean from an evil conscience?  Note that while hearts are sprinkled clean, our bodies are washed.

 10:23 What is the confession of our hope?  What is our hope?  How do we confess it?

 10:25  to what does this “meeting toghether” refer?

13:1 Who came out of the temple and what had he been doing in there?  This sounds like something a tourist to New York says on their first visit.  Those of us who have lived in the Bifg Apple hardly notice.  Was this a particular disciple’s first visit to Jerusalem and the temple?

 13:2 Is this prescient or a post AD 70 author reading back into a supposedly earlier event?

 13:3 It was usually Peter, James and John who were privy to special moments with Jesus.  What is Andrew doing here?  Why two sets of brothers?

 13:4 Think again about the question I raised in relation to 13:2.

 13:6 To whom was Jesus, or the writer of the Gospel, referring?

 13:8 Whew!  At least there is no mention of hurricanes or nor’easters.  After both within eight day, I was beginning to expect a plague of locusts.  What do birth pangs signify?  Is this describing the end of things as they are, or the birth of something new?

In addition to serving as the half time Pastor of North Church Queens and writing Lectionary Ruminations, I also tutor part time.  If you or someone you know needs a tutor, or if you would like to be a tutor, check out my WyzAnt page and follow the appropriate links.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

An Open Letter to Conservative Pundits and Pols

An Open Letter to Conservative Pundits and Pols

Glenn Beck
Citizens United
John Boenher
Eric Cantor
Ann Coulter
Fox News
Sean Hannity
Koch Brothers
Rush Limbaugh
Mitch McConnell
Grover Norquist
Bill O’Reilly
Karl Rove
Rick Scot
Donald Trump
Tea Party Republicans

Elections have consequences.  In spite of your lies, your millions of dollars spent on attack ads, your attempts to suppress likely Democratic voters, your abuse of the filibuster to gridlock the Senate, and your laughable claims that Obama and the Democrats engaged in class warfare in a class war you initiated, Barak Obama has won reelection to a second term. He won an overwhelming Electorial College victory as well as the majority of the popular vote.

In the next four years, I do not want to hear any more about your highest priority being making Obama a one term president, his not being born in the United States, his being a socialist, or any other rich, white, racist, misogynist, homophobic  garbage.  I want you to act like Americans instead of acting like you come from another planet.  I want you to responsibly report and govern.  And tell Donald Trump that the world is laughing at him.

John Edward Harris

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Week After Sandy

New York City Bus service is back to normal and the city’s subway service is nearly fully restored, thus my morning commute was a little more normal than it was last Friday.  School was back in session for the first time in a week, which meant that I had students preparing to take the GED.  Fortunately, the classroom I teach in had been thoroughly cleaned and repaired after Sandy damaged it.

A new employee reported to work today, her first day of work postponed a few days because of Sandy.  She lives in Far Rockaway, except now she is staying with friends near Jamaica, Queens because her home is still without power.  Other members of her family are living in two other places other than home. She spoke of having flood water in her basement, the water now pumped out, and the contents of the basement thrown out.  She described the eeriness of dark, quiet nights associated with her neighborhood being powerless, and planning to go home tomorrow to vote, although she is not sure where she will have to vote.  She described the presence of the American Red Cross, FEMA, the National Guard, and other relief and emergency responders, grateful for their presence.
Local media (a New Yorker never really knows what is local and national when it comes to media) makes it clear that there are still sections of the New York City without power.  At least one subway tunnel under the East River is still partially flooded.  People are still lining up for gasoline but we are promised that the situation will ease within a couple days. I still have half a tank in the car, filled up the Saturday night before the hurricane.  The mayor’s office estimates that twenty to forty thousand New Yorkers have been left homeless due to Sandy and FEMA knows that in our urban environment, mobile homes will not even be a temporary solution.  My wife and I have offered to share our warm home with two different people whose homes are cold and without power, but both have chosen to remain where they are.

Meanwhile, a Nor’easter has the disaster zone in its sight, threatening winds up to fifty miles per hour, heavy rain, and snow inland and perhaps even near the coast as early as Wednesday and no later than Thursday. 
I am tempted to write that life in New York City will eventually return to normal, maybe in a few weeks or months, at least for some if not many, but I think New York City and Normal is an oxymoron when used in the same sentence.

Sunday Post-Sandy

Heading into worship, I wrestled with somehow focusing worship on Sandy and its aftermath or maintaining a tried and true routine.  As the Pastor of a small church in the New York City borough of Queens, but a part of Queens that had not been heavily impacted by the storm, I had the sense that it was too early to focus on our shared experience as we were still in its midst, that we needed some psychological and temporal distance to gain perspective.  I also knew that when in a crisis and time of anomie, maintaining a routine can provide spiritual and psychological grounding, bring comfort, and provide meaning.
At the last minute I opted to spend the first ten to fifteen minutes of the worship hour processing our experience of Sandy.  I shared some personal hurricane stories and talked about what I knew about how some church members and friends faired the storm.  I also invited others in worship to share their experiences and tell their stories.  At least four worshipers did so.

About a quarter hour later than usual, I began worship proper with the Call to Worship.  Our second liturgical act was a Prayer of Adoration that recognized that our worship was in the context of a post-Sandy world.  The sermon, with Psalm 146, especially the third verse as its text, focused primarily on the upcoming Presidential election, but also, to a lesser extent, our experience of Sandy.  The Prayers of the People included a petition for first responders, rescue workers and those providing hurricane relief as well as the victims of Sandy, including those who had lost possessions and homes, were displaced and homeless, had been injured, or lost neighbors, friends, loved ones and family to the storm.

Later in the afternoon I finally was able to make phone contact with a friend who lives Belle Habor in the Rockaways, not far from Breezy Point.  Belle Harbor is the site of the fatal 2001 crash of American Airlines Flight 587.  Breezy point is where over one hundred homes burned to the ground during the height of Sandy.  My friend talked about choosing to stay in her home rather than evacuating, having lost her car to the rising tide and still having, five days later, six feet of water in her basement and no electricity or heat in her home.
She reflected on watching her neighbor’s homes in Breezy Point burn to the ground, wondering if the fire would continue to spread and engulf her home.  She said she thought her children, rather young when Flight 587 crashed in their neighborhood, were experiencing PTSD as the sights, sounds and images of Sandy’s destruction were conjuring up repressed memories of that crash eleven years ago.

She talked about the generosity of others who were bringing relief supplies to her neighborhood, but how those supplies were often being left along the side of the street next to debris cleaned out from people’s basements becoming co-mingled and perhaps contaminated.
She was thankful bus service had been restored to her neighborhood, but lamented that many basements still needed to be pumped out, that debris still needed to be picked up, and that power had yet to be restored by Sunday Afternoon, more than five full days after Sandy struck.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Saturday at Sebago after Sandy

It was a cool, crisp Saturday morning after the sun rose. The sky was a clear sea blue with barely a cloud. It was hard to believe that four days earlier we were just starting to discover the devastating effects of hurricane Sandy, which dealt its deadliest blow under the cover of night.  It was also time to start help cleaning up after Sandy.

People waiting in line to fill their empty gas comtainers
As we drove south toward and through the Canarsie section of Brooklyn, we saw firsthand, for the first time, the long lines of cars and people we had been hearing and reading about.  Cars were lined up two, three, even four long blocks waiting for gas.  I estimate between fifty and a hundred people holding empty red gas containers and clear milk and water jugs standing in line at the same gas station, also waiting for gas.  This was repeated two or three times as we drove.  Other gas stations seemed deserted, yellow caution tape strung around the pumps with no gas to pump.

Overturned boat being pulled out of basin
Our first stop was Kings Plaza Marina on Mill Basin, where we were hoping to remove the ripped and tattered jib sail from our nearly thirty year old twenty-four foot sailboat “Mischief”.  After about an hour’s labor and some challenging rope work, we finally removed the only visible damage Sandy inflicted on the boat.

While we were working on Mischief, we noticed others in the marina working near the boat ramp.  They were attempting to bring ashore a capsized boat of some sort, probably a power boat, but I could not be sure.  The only thing visible above the water was the keel.

Our second stop was the Sebago Canoe Club on Paerdegat Basin, where we are members and have four kayaks stored on outside racks.  We had come to the club to help clean up and begin repairing and rebuilding after Sandy.

Sebago main walkway after Sandy, before repair
Club members of all ages and races, recent members and long-time members, were already helping out, but much work remained to be done.  With various tasks needing attention, my wife and I began by helping to rake up debris left behind by the tidal surge, placing kayaks back on outside racks, and tying down our own boats for the winter.

After that task was completed, we assisted with replacing the board walk walkway which, lifted off its foundation by the tide, was scattered in several pieces around the club yard.  Even after the walkway was sawed into smaller pieces, it took ten to twenty people to lift and replace the sections.  One crew had started near the dock and was replacing the walk from west to east.  Another crew had started at the sidewalk gate and was replacing the walk east to west.

We all took a lunch break before finishing the walkway work.  Many volunteers had made soups and stews or brought store made lunch items for a group lunch.  Scattered around the club grounds, members ate lunch and told of their own hurricane experiences as well as sharing other news and stories they had heard from others.

Last walkway segment being dropped into place
Refreshed by a hearty lunch and rest, the final sections of the walkway were cut and carried into place until the last piece of the sidewalk puzzle was put into place, only an inch or two  having to be cut off to make it fit into place.  It was like the joining of the transcontinental Sebago railroad sans the golden spike.
Throughout the morning and afternoon others had been hard at work cleaning out the storage containers, cleaning and re-positing sailboats, pulling water logged material out of the club house, and other odds and ends.  It was a true group effort involving forty to fifty people and a testament to the dedication many Sebago members have to the volunteer run, 501C3 nonprofit, membership organization that operates as a concessioner on New York City Park land.

Sebago main walkway after repair
A lot of work still needs done around the club, inside the clubhouse and containers and out on the grounds, but the grunt work which demanded many hands is finished.  With walkway, kayaks, and sailboats back into position, it is now much easier and safer to move around on club property and the grounds look almost normal.

The work accomplished Saturday at Sebago after Sandy was but a drop in the bucket of the massive recovery effort underway in the area.  Many are homeless and living in shelters, having lost everything but their lives.  Some lost even their lives, as bodies are still being recovered, especially on Staten Island., and the death toll is now above one hundred.  Tens of thousands are still without power and the temperatures are dropping.  A nor-easter could bring rain or snow as well as higher than normal tides as soon as Thursday.  Some of the devastated neighborhoods on the Rockaways and on Staten Island are still waiting for relief efforts.  Some residents of the Jersey Shore may not be allowed to return to their homes, if they still have homes, for up to six months.

Friday, November 2, 2012

First Friday after Sandy

I commuted to work this Friday morning, the first Friday and my first morning commute after hurricane Sandy turned the New York/New Jersey area into a disaster area. 

A gas station without gas in Brooklyn, New York
This morning’s travels were less problematic than I expected. Busess are running, but not all subways are yet operating. After missing my bus by less than a minute, I walked to the closest Subway, only to discover that it was not running this far west.  The gas station across the street from the subway station was out of gas, yellow tape blocking access to the pumps.  Gas stations that used to have gas have run dry because resupplies are not flowing. Stations with gad cannot pump it because they do not have electricity to power the pumps. 

Empty New York Subway Station
After an initial delay, I finally caught another bus and surprisingly made up for lost time, arriving at work only 15 minutes late. The two buses I rode were not overly crowded, less crowded than some normal commutes. The streets seemed to be less congested with traffic than usual, probably because there still was no school and gas is in short supply.

What I discovered once I arrived at work brought Sandy’s impact a little closer to home, or rather work.

In addition to serving as the half-time Pastor of a small Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregation in Flushing, Queens, I also work part time as a GED Instructor for a Social Service agency in Jamaica, Queens.  The agency serves 16-21 year olds, most high school dropouts, providing them with vocational services.

a New York bus finally arrives
The GED classroom in which I teach is a corner room on the seventh (top) floor of one of the highest buildings in the neighborhood. One wall faces south, looking out toward JFK Airport. The other wall faces east, looking out toward Aqueduct Race Track and Long Island. At some point during the height of Sandy's fiercest winds, a south facing window blew in, covering the floor with glass.  With an entry to the building, hurricane force winds blew into the classroom, blowing out ceiling tiles, distributing old paint chips, and scattering papers throughout the room. One of two black boards was ripped from the wall. The room I walked into this morning obviously was not able to be used as instructional space.  I hope it can be cleaned and repaired by next Monday.

I think the window that blew in and broke bore the brunt of Sandy's hurricane force winds, as the fiercest winds would have blown from the south-east and east during the height of the storm. There are no neighboring buildings more than two stories high to act as windbreaks. With an 85 mph wind gust officially recorded at nearby JFK during the height of the storm, I am surprised only one of the classroom windows blew in.

Doorway view of hurricane's aftermath
Once my co-workers starting arriving, they too surveyed the damage.  Then we started talking about our recent experiences.  We shared personal storm stories, cell phone photos of flooding and downed trees, and tales of death and survival we had learned about from various media outlets.  I learned that two of my coworkers were still without power.  My supervisor had her power restored just the night before. Another co-worker was unable to make it to work because the Subway is only partially operating.

Because of my experiences this first Friday after Sandy, I have come to realize, or admit to myself, that even though my family’s health and property were not adversely impacted by Sandy, we are living in the midst of a disaster area.  I was beginning to sense this reality as early as yesterday.

Both local and national media have been filled with stories and images of death and destruction.  For example, an entire neighborhood of Queens, over 110 homes in Breezy Point, a geographical point I have sailed past numerous times, lie in smoldering rubble.  The devastation on Staten Island, New York City’s southernmost borough, through which we drive on our way to the Jersey Shore, is only now coming to light, four days after Sandy struck. More people died on Staten Island, 22, than any state other than New York. 

The devastation along the Jersey shore, where we have family and friends and have often enjoyed the beaches, just an hour or two (depending on the traffic) south from New York City, is catastrophic.  Some residents who remained behind on barrier islands along the coast of New Jersey are just now being forced to evacuate and may not be allowed to return home for up to six months.  Those that evacuated before the storm hit are being allowed to return.

While power has been restored to most of lower Manhattan, some people who lost power because of Sandy’s wind, tidal surge, and snow may not have power restored for up to a week to ten days.  Roads, tunnels, and bridges are impassable, if they still exist.  Gasoline is almost impossible to come by cell phone service has just recently returned to near normal.

A little over eleven years ago, New York City and the area surrounding it suffered the loss of over a thousand lives when the World Trade Towers tumbled to the ground.  As massive as that disaster was and as many families and communities it affected, the physical destruction and impairment of infrastructure was limited to Lower Manhattan.

While Sandy has (so far) claimed a little over ninety lives, more lives have been adversely affected, more people left without power, more people left homeless, cold, and hungry, than on 9-11.  While Sandy toppled no skyscrapers, the damage to and loss of infrastructure over a vast geographic area has been much more disruptive than the collapse of the Twin Towers.

Yep, I now live in a disaster area.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Dawn Has Broken the Third Day

Dawn has broken the third day after hurricane Sandy made landfall along the central Jersey shore. New York City, the city that never sleeps, is starting to emerge from its nap in the tomb carved by Sandy.

Bus service has sort of resumed.  Limited subway service is available but not running into lower Manhattan, or from Brooklyn and Queens into Manhattan. I will be using mass transit for the first time after Sandy tomorrow, when I take the Q55 and J train as I commute from Ridgewood, Queens to Jamaica, Queens.  To commute back home I will take the J and L trains, I hope.

Mayor Bloomberg has ordered that all private vehicles crossing bridges into Manhattan must have at least three occupants.  I am not planning to head into Manhattan anytime soon, but my wife must head there Sunday afternoon.

I am glad I filled up our car with Gas before the storm hit because gas stations are starting to run out.  Their supply lines have been interrupted by flooding and their storage tanks are running dry just as more people than usual are driving because of lack of Mass transit or need gas to keep portable generators running.

Damaged Gazebo at North Church Queens
Yesterday afternoon I drove from Ridgewood to North Church Queens in Flushing, just south of Whitestone.  The drive was without incident but I saw several downed trees and some side streets still blocked by downed trees.  There was power at the church but I learned that at least three members did not have power in their homes.  Several branches came down near the church.  The sanctuary lost a few shingles but did not suffer any extensive damage.  The wooden Gazebo south of the church did not fare as well, however.  A large tree fell on it, a branch piercing the wooden shingled roof.

Live wire arcing and burning in street south of NCQ

The block south of the church was closed to traffic as a downed live wire, humming, arcing, and burning was still lying in the street.  Yellow caution tape had been stung around the area and a utility worker was monitoring the situation, but no work crew could be seen.

Storms sometimes have a way of bringing strangers and neighbors together, and last night was an example. My wife and I attended our first Ridgewood Meet Up,  gathered at the nearby Cozy Corner Bar and Grill. We hung out from before 9 PM last night to after 2 AM this morning.  We met neighbors who have moved here from Kansas, Texas, California, Denmark, Finland, Korea and places in between. Some were gay, some straight, some in relationships, some not.  Some lived in a six person, three apartment common home. Some were Christian, some Jew, some secularists or non-professing. At least two held PhDs and one of then taught at Princeton University. One had attended West Point for a while. Many were artists. I discovered during the evening's conversation that one of them and I had a mutual friend who moved here from Maryland, an example of one degree of separation.  There was a total of a dozen or more of us that met up.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Dawn Has Broken a Second Day

Dawn has broken a second day on a crippled, post super storm Sandy New York City.  The extent of the damage is much more evident this morning than it was twenty-our hours ago, a mere twelve hours after Sandy rampaged across the area.  Adjectives such as “epic”, “monumental proportions”, “unprecedented”, and “devastating” are being used by officials, newscasters, and the common person to describe the aftermath.  Some areas of destruction have been compared to areas bombed out during World War II.

Most of lower Manhattan is still without power, and may be for several days.  New York City buses are starting to run but with all eight subway tunnels under the East River and some lower Manhattan subway stations flooded, it will take at least four to five days until subway service is restored.  The New York Subway is the heart of the city and without it our economic and cultural life is severely limited.

The hardest hit areas of the city are definitely the lowest lying areas in “Zone A” as the flooding caused by the storm surge was more damaging than wind or rain.  Especially hard hit are lower Manhattan, Coney Island, and the Rockaway peninsula. Public access to the Rockaways is still restricted as New York Fire and Police personnel go door to door looking for trapped and stranded residents.  The count of homes in the Rockaway community of Breezy Point that were lost to fire now stands at one hundred and ten.  Yesterday at this time, the estimate was fifty.

To the east, on Long Island, the barrier island of Fire Island was perhaps hardest hit.  Residents who chose to stay behind on Fire Island are still being rescued.

What Long Island and New York City has experienced, however, pales in comparison to what New Jersey has been asked to endure.  The city of Hoboken, across from New York, is apparently still isolated and cut off after suffering severe flooding, and as many as 20,000 residents await rescue.  The barrier island communities further south, including points from Sandy Point south to Cape May, communities such as Point Pleasant, Seaside, and Atlantic City, are devastated.

Throughout the NY-NJ-CN Metro region, mass transit is essentially non-existent.  If roads in the stricken areas are open, traffic lights might not be working.  Officials are using helicopters to survey the damage.
Kudos to New York City Mayor Bloomberg, New York State Governor Cuomo, and New Jersey Governor Christie who have not only been touring affected areas but also holding routine broadcast news conferences full of updates.  Local NPR (WNYC), NY 1 (our local cable news station) and the New York Times as well as various other media outlets have been doing a great job providing information.

Living in New York City, it is sometimes difficult to determine what news is local and what is national.  It sometimes seems that the eyes of the nation, if not the world, are focused on New York City, or New Yorkers at least expect them to be so.  Now those eyes are, and will be for a while, until the next natural disaster or war or famine points those eyes elsewhere.

Compared to the adversity faced by others, I have little to complain about.  I not only have a roof over my head, I have power, water, heat, cable and internet service.  Since yesterday afternoon, however, I have been experiencing Verizon cell phone service loss as the infrastructure, with 25% of towers not working, seems unable to support the network.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Sun Has Set on New York City

Power boats tossed on rocks at Mill Basin

The sun has set on New York City, but before it did, my wife and I finally ventured out of the neighborhood to check on our sailboat in Mill Basin and our kayaks in Paerdegat Basin in Brooklyn.  This is what we experienced in the aftermath of  Hurricane Sandy.

Along the way, we encountered several traffic lights along Flatlands and Flatbush that were not working and therefore causing some traffic congestion.   As we waited to turn south on Flatbush, a convoy of about a dozen ambulances, escorted by police cars, screamed south, perhaps on their way to assist with the evacuation of a hospital in Coney Island.

Our spirits were lifted as soon as we saw masts rising from behind the Kings Plaza Marina fence.

Mischief with a shredded jib flapping
Even though it appeared that the high water was several feet about normal, we found our C&C 24 more or less intact.  The only damage was a partially ripped and shredded jib sail still on its furler. Some floating debris, mostly wood and Styrofoam from docks, was floating nearby.  One of the dock cleats had partially pulled out and was missing one of its two bolts.  It was apparent that the boat’s bow had been rubbing or banging against the dock, but the dock was more damaged than the boat.  The dock across from us was ripped up and tied to the rest of the dock.  Several slip docks appeared to be bent at an angle.  At least three beach power boats were visible up on rocky banks.  A neighboring sailboat had a ripped and torn mainsail still on its boom.

The King’s Plaza Marina office and show room still had some water on the floor after about two feet of water filled it during the storm surge.  Some merchandise inside appeared tossed about.

Downed tree obstructing street near Sebago Canoe Club
After exploring Mill Basin, we drove back across Flatlands to Mill Basin, where a large downed tree across the street forced us to make a small detour.

The Sebago Canoe Club did not fare as well as our sailboat.  Most of the walkway had floated up and out of its position.  Apparently several feet of water had entered the clubhouse, causing the cabinetry to dislodge from the walls, the refrigerator to topple, and tossing about most of the other furnishings.

Kayaks in racks strewn about
A few kayaks and small sailboats were strewn about the property but most kayaks were still in their racks, though the racks had been moved by the water.  My wife’s Current Designs Sirocco and my Ocean Kayak Drifter were in different racks and both wedged into and against a fence.  My Necky Chatham 17 and her Ocean Kayak Drifter, on two other racks, were still in place.  It will take a lot of work to clean up the grounds and clubhouse.  At An odor of petroleum filled the air, reminders of the spill a couple weeks ago. 

Tomorrow?  After Sandy day two. Schools will be closed again.  Buses will be running, but the subway probably will not.

Dawn Has Broken

Dawn has broken and it is time for the greatest city in the world to assess the damage. Most of my information is coming from local news reports, Facebook and Twitter.

We are fine here in Ridgewood, Queens, but other parts of the city are not.  Our lights flickered last night but we never lost power, or cable, or internet, or cell service.  The worst of the wind seemed to be between 8-10 PM.  At 7:30 PM, JFK recorded sustained winds over 50 MPH with a gust of 90 MPH.  The wind started diminishing by 10-11 PM, but this morning we were still experiencing gusts of 40 MPH.  What rain we had was minimal.
Apparently Manhattan is isolated as all bridges and tunnels are closed, but recently re-opened to emergency personnel.  As soon as engineers check for structural damage on the bridges, they will re-open to the public, except those leading out to the Rockaways, which will remain closed. Six to seven subway tunnels under the East River are flooded and the subway will be down for a while.  I am, however, starting to see MTA buses, empty, passing by our house, but they will not be picking up passengers until after noon, operating on a Sunday schedule for free.

At least fifty homes in Breezy Point, Queens, at the eastern tip of the Rockaways, were destroyed last night or early this morning in a six alarm fire.  Photos of the fire while it was burning look like they are from a Western US wildfire.  Photos after the fire look like they are from a bombed out city from WW II.  Part of the Rockaways, NYC’s southern barrier island across Jamaica Bay from Coney Island, is still flooded as high tide has just passed.  Only emergency responders are being permitted to enter the area.

Lower Manhattan, below about 30th street, is without power and may be so for another day or two.

New York City schools are closed today and tomorrow.  JFK and LGA will open as soon as possible but both experienced flooded runways.

Winds at JFK are now 23 mph, gusting to 31. Last night around 7:30 PM they were clocked at sustained 52-53 mph with a recorded gust of 90 mph.
Walking our dog around our neighborhood in Ridgewood, Queens, we saw very little damage.   We saw many smaller branches, leaves, paper, plastic, and styrofoam strewn about, and a couple flower pots and newspaper stands knocked over, as these pictures indicate.

Later this afternoon, road conditions permitting, we will drive south to check on our sailboat in Mill Basin, but I fear the worst.  We saw a photo on NY1 TV of a flooded parking lot at Kings Plaza Mall, where we dock our sailboat.  The parking lot is at least 10-15 feet above the docks.  The dock float, but I doubt they float that high.

There was about two feet of water at the Sebago Canoe Club on Paerdegat Basin and we have been told that it appears all the kayaks are still on their rack, although the racks were moved by the floodwater.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pre-Sandy Saturday Sail

Looking north toward Coney Island
We enjoyed a fine sail yesterday, Saturday, 12/27/2012, in the advent of Sandy’s arrival here in the New York City area.  Accompanied by Tony and Walter, two of our kayaking friends from the Sebago Canoe Club, we motored out of the dock around 10:15 AM and were under sail by 10:35. With a steady 10-12 mph wind, just a few tacks took us south through Jamaica Bay and under the Marine Parkway Bridge. Sailing west, two more tacks took us out past Breezy Point at the western end of the Rockaways and south through the channel into the open ocean. 
Once out of the channel, where there was a little chop, there were very few waves in the ocean.  The swells were maybe two feet with several seconds of separation.  We have encountered heavier weather and rougher water well within Bay on previous sails.  Even in the open ocean, it was hard to believe that there was a hurricane several hundred miles south.
Even though this was not our longest sail, it was our farthest south, and our first into the open Atlantic.  It was a sail I have wanted to take for several months but never had the time or the wind.  Saturday’s conditions were almost perfect.  All I could have asked for was warmer temps, a blue rather than an overcast sky, and sunshine.

With dropping temperatures and four chilled sailors on board, we sailed only about 7/10 of a mile from Breezy Point before heading back to our home marina.  Just a few tacks brought us back under the Marine Parkway Bridge and up to the entrance to Mill Basin.  With the wind in our favor, we sailed under the Belt Parkway Bridge over Mill Basin, a rarity, before starting the outboard and dropping sail.  We were back in our dock by 3:15 PM, concluding a five hour sail, all but less than thirty minutes of it under sail without power.

Back at the dock, sails reefed, flaked, and covered; we enjoyed a rum toast and a bottle of wine with crackers.  Before leaving the boat, I tied three extra lines, including one around the mast at one end and a telephone pole sized vertical poll at the other end.  I brought home my tool box and first aid kit as well as a few sentimental items and left the rest to nature.
Along with most of the other power and sail boats in our marina, we kept the boat in the dock when hurricane Irene passed through last year.   While I expect Irene to be bringing a higher storm surge, our marina is one of the most protected in Jamaica Bay, with several live-a-boards there permanently.

After dinner at nearby Nick’s Lobster, we stopped by the Sebago Canoe Club on our way home so that we could tie down our kayaks.  We are not concerned so much about the wind blowing the kayaks of the outdoor racks as we are worried about them floating away during the storm surge.  After tying down our kayaks, we filled the car with gas, saving the rest of our pre-Sandy preparations for the following day.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

My Holy Trinity of Climbing Instruction Books

A REALLY old photo I took,  probably  from the late 70's. 
While recently sorting through some books in my library, I pulled three off the shelf that and I consider my Holy Trinity of Climbing Instruction Books; Basic Rockcraft (1971) and Advanced Rockcraft ( 1973) by Royal Robbins and Walt Wheelock’s Ropes, Knots and Slings for Climbers (1961).  Yes, I am that old!

I caught the climbing bug the summer of 1974, when I was 16, after being introduced to ropes, slings, carabiners and brake bars while rappelling sixty feet off a water tower, and overhearing the people who taught me how to rappel talking about their climbing adventures at Seneca Rocks, WV.  Soon after that first rappel, I somehow managed to acquire these three books, and along with some Goldline Rope, nylon webbing which I tied into diaper slings, carabiners and break bars, taught myself and some friends how to climb and rappel.

Basic Rockcraft and Advanced Rockcraft taught me theory as well as ethics.  While Robbins wrote about pitoncraft as well as nutcraft in Basic Rockcraft, I have never placed a piton. I came to climbing after the advent of the clean climbing movement, and Basic Rockcraft and Advanced Rockcraft gave me all the theory I needed to learn about placing clean protection.  The practice I gained from following other clean climbers and eventually leading.  Ropes Knots and Slings for Climbers rounded out my early climbing education, filling in any gaps not covered by Robbins.

My copies of these three classics are not originals.  I wore those out years ago and eventually replaced them.  Nearly forty years later, I have read many other climbing instruction books, but these three still stand out as holy writ, sacred works of climbing.  As I flipped through their pages, looking at the photos, diagrams and drawings, I was reminded of younger days when I dreamed of Yosemite and Everest, climbing heaven.

I learned how to lead scaling the walls of Seneca Rocks, WV, and have since climbed in New York’s Shawangunks and West Virginia’s New River Gorge as well as other smaller cliffs and crags.  I even free rappelled off West Virginia’s New River Bridge, through over 700 feet of thin air.

I never made it to Yosemite or Everest, although I still dream . . . someday. I never put up a new route.  But I have enjoyed rock.  I have loved rock.  I have worshiped rock, thanks to this Holy Trinity of Climbing Instruction Books.  Flipping through their pages, I could almost feel the rock under my hands and feet, feel the sun warming me and rock, feel the wind rustling trees and hair, smell the nearby pine trees, and the rock and lichens just inches from my nose.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


It seems that every time my wife and I take out a friend for a first time sail aboard Mischief that we experience something new.   Today, we took our friend Laurie, and wouldn't you know it, we enjoyed two new sailing experiences.  This is a post about one of them.
Checking NOAA's National Weather Service Marine Forecast for New York Harbor earlier in the morning, I knew there was coastal fog but that it was predicted to burn off by 9 AM.  Laurie, who lives closer to Jamaica Bay than we do, texted a little later to say that it was very foggy there and to ask if we were still going sailing.  Since there was no fog in our neighborhood and the NWS was predicting that the early morn fog would burn off, we texted to Laurie that we were still planning to sail and that we would meet he near the boat around 9 AM.

We met Laurie a little after 9 AM and were on the boat by 9:15, motoring out of the dock by 9:30.  As we were motoring out of Mill Basin, heading out toward Jamaica Bay, a power boater heading back in passed nearby and yelled to us that the fog out in the bay was like pea soup.  As we passed the transition between Mill Basin and Jamaica Bay around 9:50 AM, we started seeing more behind us than before us.  I throttled down the outboard and asked my wife to turn on the navigation lights and hand me the compressed air fog horn.  I asked her and Laurie to focus ahead and let me know immediately if they saw anything in front of us.

Eventually we lost almost all visibility.  Had it not been for my Garmin GPSMAP 78sc preloaded with U.S. coastal charts, I would not have been able to as safely navigate through the fog.  I could not see any of the usual navigational buoys, buoys I had passed numerous times in daylight as well as dusk, until I was a mere 30-40 yards away.  We also encountered several anchored fishing boats about 30-40 yards distant, none with engines running, lights burning, or bells ringing, but safely avoided them.  None of the usual land-forms were anywhere near visible.

Jamaica Bay after the morning fog cleared
Barely moving under power in a light wind, we raised the mainsail and turned off the outboard.  Still close enough to a buoy to see that there was not enough wind to overcome an incoming tide, I restated the motor and headed further down the bay.  Within 5-10 minutes we were completely out of the fog with nearly unlimited visibility.  With a change in course I turned off and raised the motor and headed south on a close reach.

Even though we were in the early morning pea soup fog only a few minutes, I can now understand how easy it would be to lose one’s bearings, become disoriented,  run aground, or  run into another boat under foggy conditions.