The Fire Island Breach

An op-ed in the New York Times last week really hit home my thoughts on the post-Sandy recovery projects in the New York area especially in regards to the situation on Fire Island, a place that I hold dear.  The plan in place now pumps millions of tons of sand and places it in locations along the beaches of Fire Island.

The piece correctly argues that this project is a massively expensive waste of money, time and sand.  As the author says, “Natural reformation of the sand dunes will take longer, but nature is already repairing the island. Free of charge.” 

This is in line with my long-standing opinion that the shifting of Fire Island is not a problem that needs to be fixed, rather it’s how we build on these ever-shifting barrier beaches that needs to be fixed. 

The government however seems determined to spend millions of dollars in the effort to actively alter the environment so they can appear to be proactive.  This is unfortunate for the environment and for taxpayers.

The author of the Times piece is Robert Young, director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University (located in the heart of Appalachia).  Their website has a lot of great information and descriptions of projects and research about shorelines on the East Coast.




Fire Island Breach

One of the things I was really keen on following during Hurricane Sandy was the status of Fire Island, one of my favorite places in the world.

After the storm had passed and proved to be historically powerful, I tried to get information about how the island had fared during the storm and whether Sandy had poked a hole through the island like what happened during a nor’easter in 1931 (Moriches) and during the hurricane of 1938 (Shinnecock).  Sure enough there were several breaches in the coasts of the area, including two on Fire Island.  One breach was by Smiths Point State Park and was filled in soon after but since the Old Inlet breach is in a designated wilderness area, it has been left open.

Picture of the Old Inlet breach – photo by the National Park Service


The Army Corps of Engineers is slated to fill in the breach but there’s a lot of evidence that the breach has been helping the Great South Bay flush itself more regularly and is becoming cleaner.  At the same time, there’s little evidence that the breach is contributing to higher water levels or greater incidence of flooding along the south shore of Long Island.

One thing that might be a great boon if the breach is left open is the return of hard-shell clams to the Great South Bay.  Clams thrive in water with high salinity and as the bay cleans itself, they will be able to thrive.  When the clam population thrives, they will filter a greater percentage of the bay’s waters.  This would benefit everyone who lives near the bay.

For more on this:


Korea Gets Cold in the Winter

Nothing too surprising here really.  It’s winter and it’s cold.  Before I came here I knew that the winters in Korea got cold.One thing that’s been interesting to see in Korea is how consistent the weather within each season.  Once spring hit, it was warm and sunny every single day.  In the summer it was 85 with a 25% chance of rain everyday.  In the fall, it seemed like for two months it was 60 degrees and sunny.Now it’s the winter.  It’s snowed maybe  10 times since winter began but it never snows a lot.  Just a light sprinkling of snow that goes on the snow that’s already on the ground.  Once it’s on the ground it will never get shovelled.  People on the sidewalks will pound it down with their feet until it’s solid ice.  It seem inexplicable that heavily trafficked areas are solid ice like that but they are.People do slip and fall.  I have to go to the hospital regularly to see a doctor, and on the latest visit I noticed a huge uptick in the number of people with broken bones.  Like I said – it’s pretty inexplicable.  When you do see someone with a shovel, it’s some sad looking thing that could barely cut the dirt in an herb garden much less clear a sidewalk of heavy snow.The best thing about Korea in the winter is the heating systems in the apartments.  They use a floor heating system called ondol.  The floors get really warm.  Lots of the restaurants here make you take your shoes off and sit on the floor.  I never really liked this until the temperature started to fall below freezing and I was able to sit with my butt on the hot floor.  It’s really not bad.

Korean Christmases

December 25, 1950.  Somewhere above the 38th parallel. One month earlier things had seemed up for UN forces fighting in the Korean peninsula.   Pyongyang had been captured and American and South Korean soldiers were almost at the border with China.  But then everything turned real terrible.  It was the worst Thanksgiving ever for a lot of those guys as an unbelievable number of Chinese volunteers charged through the cold of the rugged northern Korean hills.The Chinese came in with such energy and in such volume that in a few weeks the UN was forced to evacuate Pyongyang and most of Korea north of the 38th parallel.The only good news for the UN was the spectacular breakout of surrounded US Marines from the Chosin Resevoir which had been capped by the even more miraculous evacuation of all UN forces and thousands of Korean refugees from the city of Hungnam.Christmas for most soldiers on both sides was spent literally freezing in the cold.  Many troops on both sides suffered frostbite, hypothermia and other ill effects of the cold.  UN and South Korean troops spent their Christmas walking their way back towards the 38th parallel, even though inflicting terrible casualties on the Chinese and North Koreans it was a sudden, humiliating and cold reversal of fortune.December 25, 2010.  Somewhere below the 38th parallel.  It’s Christmas day in Gunsan.  For as Christian as this town is, there is not too much of a festive spirit to be found.  (If you want to hear some of my theories why there’s no Christmas spirit, feel free to message me.)   Recent provocations have made the divided peninsula appear to the outside world as a scary and tense place.    But the reality is that the everyday lives of people here haven’t changed and although there’s definitely a lot of worry about what’s happening by the border, there’s no real sense of panic.Immediately after getting out of a Christmas lunch with my friends, snow began falling in such a perfect gentle way.  I met up with them again later and we all headed through the snow to a nice restaurant to have a good proper sit-down meal with knives and forks.  The world outside did seem like that fantasy image of a winter wonderland.  So peaceful and far from any of those real-world worries.  The weather was really cold but the atmosphere was warm.As the cold settles in for who knows how long and the wind whips at the windows of my apartment, I try to think of the poor guys who fought in this same country in this same cold 60 years ago.  Their suffering kept this half of the country free from the rule of the Kim family.   I’ve also been thinking of my friends and family back home.

Fall in Korea

Since I returned from China, I’ve been very active.  Every weekend I’ve journeyed outside of Gunsan to visit new places and to get in as much of Korea as possible before the weather turns sour.  In the past few weeks I’ve explored two relatively close cities that I hadn’t visited before, I made it to the highest peak on the Korean mainland and seen the beauty of the country side in the middle of harvest season.The weather has been remarkably stable – Almost every single day has had a high of 70 degrees and a low of 50 with puffy clouds inching across the sky.  I don’t need a jacket.  I barely even need a hoodie.I definitely felt a chill on my way up to Jirisan, the tallest mountain on the Korean mainland.   It’s not terribly high but it is steep.  The journey down was slow and painful.  I fell down a staircase and dislocated both my shoulders.  I had to sit and battle the nausea that rushed over me after the fall.  I popped my shoulders back in to their sockets and struggled to maintain my footing for the rest of the way.  It took so long to come down from the top that we had to do the last kilometer and a half in pitch darkness.  It was terrible.  My muscles ached so bad but I had to keep going.  My climbing buddies and I ended up on the wrong side of the mountain to get back to little Gunsan so we stayed at a minbak – a very basic korean inn – and waited for morning.   Even though I was in pain (or maybe because) I think I’ll look fondly back on that trip as one of the best weekends I’ve had here.Now – as the end of October approaches, I have to prepare for my next two grand undertakings.  The first is a half marathon race in Seoul on December 4th.  I have had trouble getting in to shape with various hurdles – knee pain, the Jirisan soreness,  and the standard things that get in the way – but I’m on a roll now and hope to make the cut on race day.  The second thing is a trip to Thailand.  I’m going for a week right after the race.  Right now my plan is to make no plan till much closer to my departure but that hasn’t stopped me from looking at pictures online of all the beautiful islands that dot the Thai coastline.

JANGMA! the okhotsk high

It’s August now.  It’s been while since I wrote about the weather and I’m sure everyone’s dying to know what it’s been like here.  East Asia has a summer monsoon.  I know that sounds awesome but it’s not as insane as I imagine the Indian monsoon season to be.Since late June it’s just been very humid and rainy.  And since the middle of July, heat has been added to that mix.  It rains several times a week but never all day.  The rain is often torrential.Many of my students say they don’t like the summer because it’s too hot, but it’s really not that much hotter or more humid than the Northeast of the U.S.   What I think is more the issue is the general aversion to the sun.  When I go for my runs through the local park, I pass mostly women who are wearing pants, long sleeves, face-masks, hats and sunglasses.  It’s hard to find sunblock less powerful than SPF 40 or 50.   The sun is very intense but as someone whose ancestors worshipped the Sun, it seems very strange.With the onset of the heat, the rain does offer some temporary relief (but in the end it usually just adds to the humidity).  A few times, I’ve gone for my job with bright blue skies only to have dark looking clouds blot out the sun followed by five minutes of buckets.  As a sweaty guy, I sort of appreciate the cool-off.

Seawall Race

I just got back from the Saemangeum Seawall, the home of the Gunsan Marathon. I ran in the 10km race.  I found out about the race a couple of weeks after I arrived in Korea and running and getting in shape for the race has been really good in giving me something to focus on and some purpose in my first weeks here.So even before I arrived, it was a positive experience.  I drove there with my coworker Ray and my Korean friend Saint.  We found out  that there would be 14,000 runners doing the marathon, half-marathon, 10k, and 5k races.The Saemangeum Seawall  is the world’s largest dyke.  It’s a part of a massive land reclamation project to add hundreds of square kilometers to the Korean landmass to provide space for industry, agriculture, commerce and a brand new city.  It’s of course controversial for its cost and its impact to the environment – this area is proud of if its migratory birds and there’s worry that the project will affect the birds.  That said  it’s beautiful and today was a picture-perfect day.  Sunny and around 70 degrees with a light breeze.  The scenery was gorgeous – islands off in the distance shrouded by a silky layer of haze, fishing boats hard at work and massive white wind mills.The meeting area was a carnival atmosphere.  The highlight of the pre-race was a group stretch with a gorgeous woman leading the assembled runners through a basic routine.  They then played the theme from Star Wars and shot off a bunch of fire works and flares.  After the marathon and half marathon runners started, the 10km runners were on our way.  There was a lot of weaving around walkers – it was obvious that some high percentage of the 14000 had no intention of running.  I ran with Ray and a 53 year-old man who decided to run with us – Kim Jeon.  He kept a pretty good pace and I didn’t mind chatting with him till we got towards the end and I needed every breath just to go on.I finished the race in one hour which was exactly my goal.  As a prize I was given a medal, a glass of beer, a kilo sack of rice, and some gatorade.   If I had come in the top ten, I would have won 10 kilos of rice.  Maybe at the next race, maybe in some other city….