Monday, May 4, 2015

Tugboat In The Trees

Tugboats like the water, it seems kinda elementary that most boats like water, not forests. But not on Long Island. It seems that, again, life on Long Island is a bit different, changed somehow by ripples in time that pull the rug out from under forward progress, returning the place back in time 50 years at a time. So it was in a place here, called Diamond Crystal. If that name sounds familiar, it probably rings a bell as the producer of table salt, the favorite seasoning of generations of Americans hell-bent on hypertension and water-retention. Well, that salt has to come from somewhere, and it most likely came from seawater ponds designed to evaporate in the sun, just like the huge, and I mean HUGE system of saltwater ponds developed here on Long Island over 60 years ago. These drying ponds are measured in square miles, and compromise a huge portion of the island. A network of canals feed these drying ponds, and it is all man-made, completed in a day and age before the advent of hyper sensitivity to Naturalism and Preservation. Before these ponds were dug out of the muddy mangrove forest, the shallow water was so hot and muddy, that little if anything could survive here. After the completion of these feeder canals, and shallow evaporative ponds, fish and birds were everywhere, and the many square miles of ponds supported a variety of fish and birds. As it turns out, our friend Kathy spent a good portion of her youth right here, at Diamond Crystal, a childhood dream for many of us, in a tropical wonderland of crystal clear water and pristine ocean waters teeming with fish. What I would have given to live here then, but the blessing of childhood is such that the young mind is not allowed to know it's pitiful plight, and therefore never realizes until adulthood how bad things really were at times, or or good for that matter either. We took a road trip to the more southern areas here in Long Island, and visited the expanse that was Diamond Crystal, and now is an abandoned wasteland. It seems that the government here kept demanding more and more of the profits from Diamond Crystal, and finally, at some point, it became too much. One too many ultimatum, one too many demand for more money to feed a government that spent the money on who-knows-what. Diamond Crystal finally said no, and closed down the entire operation, crippling the entire half of the islands economy and the livelihood of hundreds of families in the process. What they could take with them when they left, was loaded on barges meant to haul the massive amount of salt they produced, and was shipped away. The remainder, was left to rot, rusting away in a sad, slow decline, marking yet again, another slip backward for this beautiful island.
Our tour-guide for the day was our friend Kathy, intimately familiar with these cast away ruins, as any child would be if put back in their childhood home. For most of us though, the march of progress has meant the changing of things, new development, roads moved, forests gone in the name of progress. It is hard to recognize my hometown in Florida these days, the pieces rearranged like a surreal puzzle not meant to be solved. Here, at Diamond Crystal, the only rearrangement around here, has been by mother-nature herself, slowly erasing the mark that mankind has tried to leave on the landscape for sixty years.
Kathy and her family lived here, in a huge expanse of island now completely taken over by mangroves and sand. What once was a gigantic commercial enterprise, full of electric lights, power poles and generators, a place working 24 hours a day, with air conditioning and refrigeration, is now all gone, an estuary of sorts thanks to the salt ponds dug out so long ago. The airstrip, that allowed quick access to Miami and the states, is overgrown and in total disrepair. The main road in to the complex, a pothole stricken mess, the only real bridge rusted out and gone. What remains is amazing though, a testament to the ability of man to carve out a living here. There were buildings and pumping stations, power houses and power poles and relays. Everything here was electrified on a power grid, amazing in itself for and island that had no power at all until 1994! Imagine living in these hot humid conditions, and just getting something as basic as power 20 years ago. Before that, it was small generators to power your house, before that, kerosene lamps rules the night, heralding a time that goes back thousands of years. Kathy and her family lived here, her father a strict man, a seagoing captain operating a tugboat named Carmen. He had strict rules, and expected them to be obeyed. The poor bastard had six girls and no boys, payback for some unknown transgression no doubt. The six girls were a blessing in the end, wonderful children, but no boys were to be in his fate. He ran the tug here, in a man-made harbor that was carved from the rock a full twenty feet deep. The barges would be loaded with salt for places like Panama, and Louisiana, and he would haul them there, facing all the dangers and mysteries that the ocean was, in a day without precision navigation and forecasting tools. He always returned, and brought the tugboat home to the harbor here at Diamond Crystal, no doubt celebrating a safe return and successful trip. He always was welcoming to newcomers and newfound friends, and his home was always open to anyone in need. This harbor is gone now, taken back by the shifting tides and sands of the sea. What was once an active harbor full of fish, is now a forest of trees, growing in the blowing sands that were once the harbor.
The tugboat is still tied to the dock, aimed at the opening to the sea that once was. To say that this is it's final port, is a sure bet.


  1. omg. that's depressing.

  2. It is , kinda. To us, it was more interesting and amazing in it's gigantic scale. The place was beautiful, right along an aqua blue beach. There was a perimeter road along the beach, but hurricane Sandy ( the same hurricane that whacked the Jersey shore ) washed some of it away. The hurricane also filled in the harbor!