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A Morning Rankle Through The Massapequa Preserve

June 23rd, 2014 by Magdalena Tabor

As I’ve oftentimes mentioned, I cannot stress enough the healing powers of nature. It seems that whenever I’m out of sorts, I seek some quiet wooded glen for solace and comfort. It never fails to bring me to myself. Ideally, the best places for this are not always within easy access of suburban Long Island, at least not within walking or biking distance and so we utilize what we have. Trouble is, so does the rest of the populace which defeats the whole purpose.
I set out at 9:40 am on a Monday morning but to my utter dismay, it still wasn’t early enough. Already, there was the usual gamut of characters that should have been at work today but, like me, decided otherwise.
The Massapequa Preserve is a stunningly beautiful natural habitat placed smack dab in the middle of a densely populated neighborhood, but you wouldn’t know it once ensconced inside its wild array of canopied overgrowth, streams, ponds, bogs and wetlands, hidden pockets of abundant wildlife with only a narrow 2 lane bike path separating you from it. There are dirt trails that lace through it as well,massapequa preserve but for the most part, it seems people take to the black top.
My morning began with a sweet little duck family at the fishing bridge. Up a little further, 3 pairs of lovely snow white swans were grooming themselves at the creek’s edge, close enough to reach out and touch. One of them executed a very nice backwards leg stretch. (I must remember to ask the name of his Yoga instructor on my way back when he’s not so busy.) Not long into my trip, a duo of loud mouth New Yawkahs broke the silence with aimless chatter in their brisk walk to tight buns. It was apparent that this was their ultimate goal in life, oblivious to all else with specially devised outfits to heighten the effect. Thankfully, they soon dissolved into a bend in the road and left me to examine the inhabitants of the pond; another stark white swan and a red winged blackbird that darted into the bushes. It might have been at the strange appearance of a man jogging with a baby stroller while yelling “Bam, da Bam, Bam! Bam da Bam Bam!” I had to crane my neck to make sure there was actually a baby in the stroller to assess the mental stability of the one producing this most unusual sound. There was. Poor kid.
I spied a small brown bunny hopping alongside the path and watched as he (she?) darted into the brush. At a certain distance I about-faced for my return trip and opted to walk with the bike for a change of pace. (Actually my butt hurt.) Apparently, this was considered odd behavior for some, as I was asked by a kindly fellow if I didn’t need asistance with the bike. I politely refused and thanked him. I don’t know why this rankled me, but is there no where in this suburban conglomerate one can disappear and not have to interact with anyone and everyone? I just want to be invisible sometimes. God bless them, Long Islanders are extremely friendly, but must one always feel obligated to greet each passer by with “hello. hi. good morning. hey” or a smile? Then if you don’t look at them you get the feeling they may be offended, snubbed, or slighted and spoil the rest of their day. All right, already…… “Hi.”
I glimpsed the same little brown bunny coming back, although I can’t be entirely certain it wasn’t a different one this time. It wasn’t wearing a name tag, but then again, neither was the other one. It did, however, possess the same spirited hop. Of the same grouping of swans I was absolutely sure; they made slow progress up the creek without a paddle. (They didn’t have one last time.) Strangely, there were no chipmunks in sight. I’m convinced they all took to the mountains some 200 miles away as there were thousands of them frolicking during our last visit there. I can’t say that I blame them…….Bam, da Bam, Bam!

So……….whadayathink? Where do you go to seek solace and seclusion when you want to get close to nature without rubbing elbows with the human species?

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A Candlelight Christmas Stroll

December 22nd, 2013 by Magdalena Tabor

We are fortunate to live here on Long Island, a place rooted in history. These roots are yet very much alive, nurtured by unique individuals who still take the time to learn ways long since forgotten. There’s no doubt in my mind, I was born in the wrong century and because of it I often times grab Michael by the hand where it’s off to another 19th century adventure, a kind of time travel using the Jeep as our vehicle to get there. Michael always complies even though I can tell he’s not really into it……at first. But he ultimately ends up saying, “Wow! That was great!”
Last night we visited a place very dear to both of us. Old Bethpage Village Restoration is comprised of over 50 structures on 209 acres depicting life in the 1800’s. Best of all, it’s less than 15 minutes away. It’s a place that draws you to her, not as spectator, but as participant to life foreign yet oddly familiar. There are no guides, only roads with old homes and buildings spaced comfortably apart, much as a real village might have been back in the day. Here and there are folks dressed of the period going about their daily business. But if you enter one of the homes, they’ll tell you all about it. Each of the structures was rescued somewhere on Long Island and brought here for safekeeping. Fascinating by day, but come nightfall, the last two weekends before Christmas are transformed into something that can only be described as magical.
We enter the village from a road placed quite a distance from it. That road is lined with gaslit lamp posts until we draw close enough to the village itself. There are no lights other than the houses and shops lit with candles, so one would be advised to bring his own battery operated lantern to traverse the terrain between them. Trust me, it doesn’t detract from the overall effect. You’re so busy looking around, you quite forget yourself and the modern day world.
We first came upon some Civil War soldiers taking a respite with some humble Christmas offerings sent from “home”. I must say, they looked very impressive in their uniforms, and with just the candle burning and a small campfire nearby, it was rather like you were transported to their era. They spoke of their longing for Christmas at home and joked good naturedly.
A little further up the road we came upon some carollers authentically attired and in perfect tune. Behind them near the Noon Inn a cozy bonfire blazed invitingly with rustic benches on either side where one could sit and stare at the embers flicking away like fireflies into the night. The inn offers homemade cookies and apple cider for a modern day price.
Ambling further up the road, musicians at the schoolhouse played to a packed house so we peered in through the window and marvelled at the old bubbly glass. Somehow, you just haven’t lived until you see life as it was through old window panes. The muffled strains of fiddle and guitar could be heard from within.
There are broom makers, story tellers, parlor music, contra dancers, crafts and events too numerous to mention. For a mere ten dollars, you can travel backwards in time to your heart’s content and come away wishing you could stay in one of those candle lit homes for the night. As the Jeep pulls into the driveway and we unlock the door, I flick on a light and bask in the warm glow of the 21st century. Let’s have one of those muffins I made earlier that didn’t get scorched on an open hearth somewhere back in time. I’m betting they taste as sweet.Candlelight Evening

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Cold Comfort

November 4th, 2012 by Magdalena Tabor
The effects of Hurricane Sandy hit our shores on Monday, October 30th, when at 5:38 pm the power that thrice taunted me with the tampering of electrical devices suddenly made good on its threat. Five days later, I write this by candlelight on a placid November night accompanied by the steady hum of neighboring generators providing access to heat and hair dryers for a fortunate few. Nearly a half million Long Islanders still without power curse them in their envy.
The harrowing winds that bent and uprooted tress and utilty poles too numerous to count, are stacked up like firewood here and there but in the forested preserve across the way they lie like gentle giants gone to sleep. There they will stay, their remains to either decompose or petrify, barring a favorite path to serve as a place to bench instead. Perhaps to reflect on these unsettling circumstances years from now.
I wonder that I don’t feel angry at the slow progress of the 21st century in restoring us back to the modern world. I am at home with book and candle, bulky sweaters to ward off the chill. Grateful for the hot water with which to shower which has been my sole comfort, yet why and how it functions is beyond me.  Food is prepared on the BBQ grill powered by propane, thanks to Jetmore for taking our last $7.00 between us for a $20.00 tank with a $13.00 IOU to be mailed off tomorrow. There were no ATM machines to serve us without power, likewise no gas to fill up the Jeep without the aid of electricity. Therefore trips to the supermarket for essential canned goods and non perishables are carefully planned to include trips to the pharmacy and petco enroute.
My patience is unwavering only because I know it’s just a matter of time before everything returns to normal. Meanwhile the battery operated radio reports of a drop in overnight temperatures with a Nor’easter in the wings to deal with next week; cold wet rain with wind and possibly some snow. On Monday my battery operated alarm clock will wake me at 5 am for the 20 minute walk to the train station, flashlight in hand (skirting any downed wires) to wait for the hourly service into New York City. Or with any luck, trains will be back on schedule. I can charge my cell phone and sip hot tea at my desk while perusing the news via internet. Ahhhh…….. Simple pleaures.
In case you’ve been wondering how I happen to have posted this, we have been graciously catapulted into the land of the living by our next door neighbors who have just returned from their week long stay in Ireland. They connected us to their generator for heat and computer access only. At 9 pm the service will be cut. So until LIPA (Long Island Power Authority) does their job (or lack thereof, which is being hotly debated on both sides of the party line), it’s Roger, Over and Out.
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The Most Haunted House On Long Island

October 7th, 2012 by Magdalena Tabor

Having just received our invitation to Raynham Hall’s Halloween Masquerade Dance, (the theme being the Culper Spy Ring) to be held on Saturday, October 27th, I thought I might fill you in on last year’s event written as follows:
The snow that began earlier in the day was still peltering in horizontal sheets, too wet and slushy to be anything but a hindrance. I almost backed out, relishing the thought of a cozy night indoors with freshly baked banana bread and a bowl of hot soup made from scratch. That, and a scary movie to kick off the Halloween festivities. But Raynham Hall beckoned. Its ghostly garden where I’d sat waiting for Michael a year ago was still fresh on my mind. It spoke to me then as it does now. We would go.
Upon arriving, the house was still. Not a flicker of light glowed from a single window.  No doubt the event was cancelled because of the weather. Maybe we should have called first. But the door opened into a dimly lit corridor already filled with waiting people; prospective ghost hunters, thrill seekers, ordinary folk. One small lamp from somewhere cast shadowy expectance into the darkened recessed corners. Some gloomy music added to the atmosphere. The last few stragglers arrived ushering in the wind and wet.
We were ready to begin our annual ghost hunting expedition. Assembled in the main hall before the fireplace, (the vortex, it was said), where souls enter and exit from the spirit world  into the the house, we stared in anticipation of its next spectral inhabitant to make its grand entrance. But it remained as it was. A fireplace.
Following in single file through an unlit passageway, we found ourselves in the colonial kitchen, a faint redolence of something spicy still lingering. A local paranormal group offered their expertise on the hows and whats used to track our spiritual counterparts. An ordinary flashlight flicked itself on and off intermittently throughout the session much to everyone’s amusement. We were soberly reminded this was a sure indication that the spirits were present and wished to establish contact.
Afterwards, we were extended free reign of the house, the still darkened rooms roped off but allowing us to peer into its depths. After some adjustment to the lack of light, a movement was detected and with prolonged consideration determined that the would be “ghost” was a person in period guise staged to give us a fright. It might have worked but we wondered how the lady in the dark could possibly read her book as she gently turned the pages.
Upstairs in the nursery, the ghosts of children past played with antique dolls in utter silence. Two were playing patty cake in slow motion as though immersed  in a murky sea while chanting in such a low tone as to render the rhyme inaudible. Very creepy. Small black hooded figures sat perfectly still alongside the more distinguishable human (?) forms.
In another bedroom, a woman sat rocking in the dark contemplating her non existence, while a front bedchamber was apparently empty of anyone but for a breath of wind moving the canopy that draped to the floor. I checked but no window was open, yet the motion repeated itself every few seconds like clockwork. Aha! I found the fan I was looking for off to one corner of the room. Nice prop. But later, upon complimenting this act of deception, I was assured they had simply forgotten to turn it off. Very effective nonetheless.
We ended our night with a reading by a kindly gentleman in an exotic version of a Dixie Cup hat embellished with a tassel who saw me as a gardener in his crystal ball. I hate gardening but didn’t have the heart to let on. I do love gardens though, so maybe he was half right. Perhaps next year he’ll see me for the writer I like to believe I am, or at the very least, writing in a garden.
Thanks to everyone at Raynham Hall for another imaginative Halloween event. The black hooded boy was spied by Michael through a crack in the door eating a cookie in a brightly lit back room. It’s comforting to know that even in the netherworld they take time out for a cookie now and again.
So……….whadayathink? Raynham Hall is reputed to be The Most Haunted House On Long Island, beginning with its illustrious connection to the Revolutionary War. With everyone attending this year’s event in period dress, who’s to say who’s real and who is not. Before you answer….May I have this dance?

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All American Anglophile

June 29th, 2012 by Magdalena Tabor
As any red blooded American should know, July 4th 1776 marks our very first Fourth of July celebration with the signing of the Declaration of Independence – our official break with Great Britain. (Do I hear an audible gasp from all you Anglophiles?) If you’ve ever had the chance to see the film “The Madness of King George” (highly entertaining, at the expense of poor George), you can imagine his utter distress at having lost “the Colonies”. While this is not attributed to what drove him stark raving mad, I surmise it didn’t much help matters. In actuality, he suffered from a blood disease that had gone undetected by the quacks in those days, known as physicians. As a result, history unfairly dubs him “The Mad King” as well as “The King Who Lost America”, as if one dishonorable title were not enough.
There’s an interesting bit of Long Island history known as the  Setauket Spy Ring (sometimes known as the  Culper Spy Ring) which took place during the American Revolution that centered around Nancy’s  “clothesline”, of all things. Talk about American ingenuity. Nancy lived with her husband, Judge Selah Strong, and their eight children on Setaukets Little Bay. Directly across the bay was Abraham Woodhull’s farm. Abe shuttled messages back and forth from his farm to New York City as part of a spy ring for General George Washington to be used against the British. There were many components of this spy ring, but one particular man was chosen for his adeptness in navigating  Long Island’s waters; Caleb Brewster. It was learned that Brewster wasn’t safe landing his boat in the same spot to get his messages to Woodhull for fear of being found out by the British, so they created six different spots for him. But as Woodhull pondered as to how he would know when and where Brewster would arrive, he glimpsed Nancy’s clothesline from across the water. Woodhull and Nancy devised a secret code based on what she hung on her clothesline. If a black petticoat was hanging on the line, it meant  Brewster was in town. The number of handkerchiefs would indicate which location Brewster’s boat could be found. So with guys like Woodhull and his trusty spyglass aimed at Nancy’s clothesline, poor King George didn’t stand a chance.
As “the Colonies” went their merry way (leaving England less so), Congress agreed on an official date to commemorate our new found independence and thus began the festivites. John Adams wrote to his wife: “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations….with pomp and parade, shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires….from this time forward, forever more”. So right, Jack. So right. BBQ’s, picnics, parades, fireworks, and for some…..birthdays. Happy Birthday, Michael, born on the Fourth of July. My idea of fun is a bit more subdued…. Oh, to swing in a hammock on a lazy summer afternoon, book in hand. Which brings me to a bit of a dilemma.  What to get Michael for his birthday? I’d really like to get him that hammock – there are two perfectly spaced trees at our woodsy retreat but his phobia of getting mauled by a bear is not wholly unfounded. I could get him that book instead. Let’s see….”How Not To Arouse The Interest Of A Bear”. Number One – Do not allow yourself to laze idly in a hammock in the midst of bear country. Or if you do, forego that turkey and cheese sandwich smothered with tantalizing condiments. Number Two – Allow your wife to buy you that hammock and let HER swing in it if you promise to keep an eye out for old Sasquatch. She’ll never be able to yell at you if you don’t. Ha! Ha! Wait, what am I saying? That’s ME with my foot dangling from a horribly painful toothy vice! No hammock. And no book for you, birthday boy. We’ll go out to eat. Or shall I say, we’ll dine out?
And so, this July 4th, while you’re grilling those burgers, give a nod to our Founding Fathers, and a wink to good old King George. Had things turned out any other way, we’d be associated with Beef Eaters of another kind. As it is, I rather like mine charbroiled, with the accent on “well done”. BBQ or BBC? Why not both?
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Raynham Hall – A Haunted Walk Through History

October 25th, 2011 by Magdalena Tabor

To experience Raynham Hall (located in Oyster Bay, Long Island) is to transport yourself  back to the days of the Revolutionary War. Built in 1738, it played a center role in General George Washington’s spy ring. Focus your eyes on the house itself, letting the neighboring buildings blur. Imagine it in its original setting situated in lush fields and meadows, an apple orchard that once lay just beyond its front door. Succumb to the lazy drone of summer. The scent off the bay. Smell the hay drying in the sun. Submit to the changing season for it is now October. Shadows fall. A swish of petticoats is heard on the stairs and fades down the hallway with the lingering scent of roses. It mingles with the wood smoke and an apple pie spiced with cinnamon. The stomp of boots. Men in uniform enter, exit. The air pulsates with excitement for what is overheard is a plot to pay Benedict Arnold to surrender his troops to the British. The Townsend family are Patriots forced to house Loyalist troops. In exchange for their hospitality, they will ferry this information to George Washington who will foil the plan and expose Benedict Arnold for the traitor he is.
Meanwhile romance permeates the air; the pipe smoke wreathing a British soldier and young Sally Townsend in a first ever Valentine he presents to her. She will cherish it into her eighties, he having left her behind in the end. The page is creased in sorrow, the words taint the air. The very coldness of it affecting the temperature in her room. The remains of sweet nothings etched onto windowpanes for the love of Sally Townsend are still visible. Is it she who wanders the upper floors at night, candle in hand? Is it he, Lieutenant Colonel John Simcoe, parading his white horse outside her bedroom window? Or is it Major Andre who was captured and hanged for his involvement with Benedict Arnold?
The house is literally alive with history. Every creak, sigh, and shuffle lays claim to what happened in the Townsend household. The smell of wood smoke when there is no fire burning. Apple pies baking when there’s none to be had. The whisper of secrets in love and war, all telltale signs of an ongoing venture. Time does not stand still here. It moves for all eternity. Don’t believe Raynham Hall is haunted? You don’t have to – the spirits will speak for themselves. But don’t ask the elderly gentleman cascading down the stairway. He’s looking for his lower half. Perhaps in life he was told he was only half the man he should have been !
So……………whadayathink? Is a ghost “nothing more than a piece of undigested beef”, as spoken by Scrooge to Marley? You decide. On Saturday, October 29th a live web-cam will be installed at Raynham Hall after 10 pm until the wee hours of the morning. Remember, the museum will be closed…log on to raynhamhallmuseum.org. Happy Halloween!

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Grave Lessons

August 20th, 2011 by Magdalena Tabor
Some may think it rather strange or morose but I enjoy visiting local graveyards; the family plots that stem back to the time of the Revolution. They speak to me in the language of the day, not in the audible sense but in parting words inscribed on the stones themselves. I always begin by picking out the oldest headstones first, working my way up to the late 1800’s. Unfortunately, many of the oldest ones are so time worn by the elements that the writing has been completely obliterated – not even the identity of the person is revealed. Rather sad but reflective of the passing of time and the certainty that nothing lasts forever – not man, not stone. Some stones are so broken that they have been laid flat on the ground where they will weather even further. I’ve seen gravestones on Cape Cod that have been wrapped in a coil of iron to hold them together upright, a form of ingenuity our forefathers would appreciate. Material such as marble, while beautiful, wears away over the years but the reddish looking ones made of sandstone have stood the test of time, its durability made legible even as far back as the 1700’s. Thus, today’s oldest find dates from 1713 – a Major Thomas Jones from the “Kingdom of Ireland” – “From distant lands to the wild waste he came”. One must ponder how suburban Massapequa must have been in those days. Major Jones lies buried behind the Old Grace Church founded in 1844. Various members of the Floyd-Jones family lay claim  to this land as their final place of rest just within sight of the circa 1870 family servants cottage; a small narrow 2 story structure painted an earthy red, its eyes shut tight with thick white boards as if it can’t bear to see what’s happened 141 years later. Sadly, the earlier brick built family home the Major had erected fell into disrepair and was later destroyed by fire.  It was situated on the banks of the Massapequa Creek next to an old Indian path known today as Merrick Rd.
But who was Major Thomas Jones? I decided to look him up and found to my amazement that he was none other than the namesake for Jones Beach and responsible for the phrase “Keeping up with the Joneses”. Born in 1665 and descended from a noble Irish family, he served in battle under William III in England and under James II of Ireland. He gained a reputation for privateering under King James II (aka piracy made respectable under royal command) but upon the dethroning of the monarch, the Major was among those asked to leave the country. He set his sights on Jamaica (more piracy and looting) before landing in Rhode Island where he became acquainted with his future father-in-law, Captain Thomas Townsend, a wealthy Long Island landowner. He was introduced to daughter Freelove (sounds like a 1960’s name) who must have put her foot down on the piracy business  for there was no more talk of that. They married in 1692 and he in turn kept her busy with 7 children.  Freelove was of a prominent Quaker family from Norwich, England having acquired land grants from William the Conqueror. Upon their marriage in the New World, a large tract of land was gifted by the father of the bride – land formerly belonging to the Massapequa Indians making Thomas and Freelove the first recorded non-Indian Massapequa settlers. The amount of land Major Jones amassed upon his marriage must have been considerable judging from his resting place in Massapequa to Jones Beach in Wantagh several miles apart, as that portion of land officially became known as Jones Beach State Park, the nautical vision of Robert Moses in 1929. The Floyd-Jones name alone traces back to the time of King James II, 628 years to date. What a lineage.  Are you “keeping up?” To add further interest, Freelove was a Townsend whose family was related to the Townsends of Oyster Bay, which held an important role in George Washington’s spy ring.
So you see, a visit to the local graveyard is a lesson in history, a kind of time travel backwards. I would love to experience the progression of time from 1700 Long Island (or even earlier) and witness its gradual change to present day. What was once a vast “wild waste” has been chiseled away to just an acre or so, its surrounding countryside parceled off and hemmed in by modern day homes. A car crunches on the graveled semi-circular drive. A young woman emerges dressed conspicuously in black leggings and a black tank top bearing deep red flowers for one of the newer gravesites. The Floyd-Joneses forgotten and remembered. The graveyard is a lesson in life – not death. A place where the living can contemplate what life might have been like all those years ago. It’s all part of the journey. Two young girls inspect the stones in present day Massapequa. For them, the journey is just beginning. I walk away conscious of my own breathing, my senses sharpened in the salty air. History beneath the soles of my feet.
So……………whadayathink? Are you as fascinated as I am about early American history? Do you slow down every time you see a family owned graveyard and wonder about its inhabitants?
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