Sunday we bundled up and walked the 2 or so miles from Smith Point to the inlet. The barrier island has certainly changed since I last walked the beach and I am once again awestruck by the power of nature and the Atlantic Ocean.
The Pacific Ocean is “my” ocean. Humbled by the waves at an early age, I learned to survive and ride them by body, raft and boogie board in the ocean off Torrance, Newport, and Corona Beaches. I learned about reproduction on the sand of Torrance Beach, under the full moon on a warm summer night…as my parents took us to watch the grunion run. The power and immensity of the oceans of the world became very clear to me when I traveled from Los Angeles, around the world to Miami 1978. As 1 person in a relatively small vessel in the midst of the mighty south Pacific, one tends to learn perspective; particularly when a huge storm hits just off the coast of South Africa, causing the ship to shudder and quake with each wave cresting over its bow.
Until Super Storm Sandy, I had not experienced the power nature of the Atlantic. Nearly 5 months later, I am still learning. A resident of Bellport Village, from the safety of my non-waterfront home, I endured Super Storm Sandy as the raw power of nature hit our bayside Village. The damage and destruction was incredible. Considering what other communities along the south shore of Long Island endured, we were very fortunate to be in Bellport Village with Fire Island as our barrier beach.
As we walked west from the Fire Island National Seashore ranger station at Smith Point, the change to our barrier beach was obvious. As we neared the inlet, the landscape revealed in greater detail just how powerful the storm had been. In earlier visits to the FINS station and to the Sunken Forest on Fire Island, I learned of the two sets of dunes; the primary (nearest the ocean) and the secondary (nearest the bay.) In between the two sets of dunes is the swale with a rather uncommon ecosystem. As we headed west, I began to realize that the barrier island system I had learned about was severely altered.
Beaches change with the season; this I have experienced and enjoyed for many years. Summer beaches are comfortable old friends, winter beaches less so, but truly intriguing. This is now a beach I never imagined. Inlets and streams, pools and marshes appeared in places I did not expect. Tree trunks and remnants of structures were exposed like ancient ruins.
We moved along the ocean side to the inlet, navigating tide pools and streams as we walked. Arriving at the inlet, we wondered if this was the site of the original inlet. Or had, perhaps, the barrier island changed over the past 100+ years causing this inlet to shift. The forceful movement of the water in and out of the inlet was mesmerizing. The rumor of seals in the inlet was confirmed as we watched a lone seal seemed to frolic through the inlet. Birds flew above and dove into the waters around the inlet indicating to us that there must be fish beneath the dynamic flow of water. It was truly magnificent to watch.
To get a better view of the remains of the old inlet dock , we decided to walk along the north shore of the island to better. It now stands surprisingly strong in the middle of the new old inlet, in spite of the powerful force flowing in and out of the Great South Bay. The Patersquash Gun Club building is currently stranded on Pelican Island. It is pretty remarkable that it is still stands in a recognizable form, holding its ground…wherever that may be today.
We continued along the lesser traveled north side of the island for awhile, just to see what we could see. This is where I realized how grateful our Village should be for this barrier island. It survived well the violent side of nature. Holding its ground, protecting the mainland, taking a beating and complying with the changes forced upon it, this island is remarkable. On the north side of the island, much debris remains; natural and manmade alike. Pieces of the marina are entangled with the root system of the vegetation; marshes have emerged, as have pools and ponds. The bay side of the island is not as welcoming as the cleaner, sandy, ocean beach. But it is definitely interesting to explore.
Exposed by the storm, I saw and learned of the intricate network of a root system that sustains the vegetation on the island. The particular root system I saw is rather impressive, if not chaotic ,and, for me, very unlike the rather orderly, less complex plant it sustains. I am told that it is a non-indigenous plant, the name of which I have not learned. To me, its non-indigenous root system seems to be the heart this barrier island. As a California transplant, I felt a connection with this plant. Not native, not always welcome, but strong and steadfast just the same, ready to serve its environment as it is able. (Okay…I unjustly flatter myself.) Seeing this root system helped me to better understand the power and strength of this barrier island. Walking through the marshy side of the island, I saw how the powerful ocean has tried over and again to insist the island give in to its power. The island is strong, resilient and though it has suffered definite causality, it has persevered and continues to protect our shoreline.
Fire Island gave in to the sea and allowed the inlet to reopen. It was a natural area of “weakness” which was never intended to be closed. Seeing just how strong the island is has caused me to believe that the new old inlet is truly nature reclaiming what should be. I have often wished I could experience Bellport in the days of the Old Inlet. I have wondered how different our Village would be today if the inlet had never closed. This is a magnificent time to be in Bellport, to watch nature take its course, purging the bay, rebuilding Fire Island and bringing new opportunities and a chance to experience the marvels of nature.