I do not know why he, a baseball cap beneath
his hard hat, silver-white beard, easy smile,
and wearing the lime-glow vest of construction,
stopped to tell me her story. I was lost in the fragrance
of the beach rose, savoring a sweet smell strong enough
to overpower the salty air of the ocean; a Japanese beauty
once treasured, now declared invasive. An outlaw.
Not on the top of the list, like the common reed
so integral to her plan to tilt the scales in the battle
between sea and land—which is what she was trying to do--
designing, patenting, constructing a simple terrace
to save their cottage. Standing 4’10” and nearing sixty,
the woman he called “sassy” hauled cedar boards down
a cliff of glacial moraine to create a structure for reeds
collected while scouring the beaches off Montauk Point.
When it held, she offered to terrace the beacon of light
perched on the point; a piece of history commissioned
by the first president to bring trade to the New World.
Tough of mind and strong of heart, she would not
take no for an answer. A town clambake netted money.
So did the musician renting a cottage for the summer.
And the senator’s son. And the reeds held. Until they did not.
Then he, a landscaper who volunteered alongside the woman,
enhanced the design with rocks, grasses, cloth strong enough
to withstand 100-knot winds. And the structure held.
Until it did not. Now he and the Army Corps are stacking
65,000 tons of boulders on the shore; $30,000,000
in rocks often so heavy only two can be loaded per truck
and hauled from a quarry upstate across crumbling bridges.
As the Arctic Sea ice disappears, the rocks are to repel
the inbound urge of the waves—warmer, wilder, higher--
seeking forever the changing shore; like the beach rose
sending rhizomes further and deeper into the sand.
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