Stumped, and a Trip to an Island

MontaukmorningMonday morning:

I’m having a tough time trying to figure out how to save the world today.

It’s not because I’m in Montauk at the moment, sitting out on the deck with my coffee and oatmeal, a warm breeze on my skin, a kitty in the shade next to me, and a nice, new copy of Moby Dick at the ready. Which should make me feel pretty content.

Also, I’m thrilled with the response to my post on becoming a vegan — I’m actually having a positive impact! YEAH!

But then there’s all this:

I just took a look at to see for myself where Donald Trump’s frightening ideas are coming from.

Once our first female President takes office (please, god), I’m afraid she will be so tainted that any forward movement of our fair sex will be negligible.

Sea levels are rising NOW due to melting polar caps caused by manmade climate change, wreaking havoc on our coasts. (More than just the recent Louisiana floods.)

And my Dad told me this weekend that he was diagnosed with bladder cancer. 😦

No wonder my head hurts and I want to cry.

So what waste-tastic things should I write about today? I have loads of ideas in the bin (no pun intended). . .

MRF conveyor

Each worker sifts out a particular kind of plastic on the conveyor belt after it’s been mechanically sorted from the other materials. I bow to them.

My awesome friend and professional recycler Clare took me on a tour of the Vermont “Merf” — that’s short for Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), or as you and I might call it, a Recycling Center, which was super-cool. Those guys are doing the Lord’s work, as far as I’m concerned. My awesome friend and Clare’s soon-to-be-wife Rebecca is currently piecing together my hack video now, to air on Vermont Public Access TV. (That’s right!! I’m gonna be on public access, baby!) Stay tuned.

Also on my agenda is taking the ferry from Montauk to Block Island, to go see America’s first off-shore wind farm, i.e., five GIANT wind turbines ready to collect sustainable power  — wahooooo!!!

I’d also like to hunt down the Montauk dump, and see what’s going on there. My share-housemates say you just throw everything — water bottles, banana peels, cat food cans, coffee grounds — into the garbage, and they sort it at the dump, but seriously? The kitchen garbage in this house makes me nuttier than a chipmunk in a peanut factory, given the amount of recyclables, compostables and whatnot that’s in there.

whale-printOr I could just sit here and clean out my emails, taking a load off whatever server is using up energy to hold all my old crap. But that might not be as interesting to read about.

I’m gonna ride down to the beach with Herman Melville to figure this out. I’ll be back later to tell you guys what I’ve decided . . .


So I decided to do all of the above. Yesterday I gave Rebecca notes on her first pass of the MeRF video. I will be really impressed if she’s able to make something of the unscripted mess of footage that I gave her. And today I went to Block Island to see the wind turbines (and ride my bike around). My 15-mile self-guided tour covered most of the lovely little island. But guess where I spontaneously pulled off first??

The Block Island Transfer Station, baby!! I didn’t plan it — the sign was just there on the road that meandered between lovely little brown shingled homes, pastures and protected wildlife areas, beckoning me toward a haven of waste management. I pulled down the dirt road toward the sea, turning in at a huge pile of rusty bicycles and washing machines.

Two surfer dudes were parked at the recycling area, dumping their beer bottles and what-have-you. They were on the island for two days to surf . . . and they’d taken their waste to the Transfer Station. Civic duty at work!!

Across the dirt parking lot, I saw a wee structure manned by a sturdy Yankee woman who calculated what people had to “pay-to-transfer” (as opposed to “pay-as-you-throw“) their trash. Several cars pulled up in the few minutes I was there, their drivers getting out and placing their garbage bags on the scale, paying the woman 12 cents a pound to ship their waste to the mainland. “That’ll be $6.30, Jim.” “Thanks, Trudy.*” (*Not her real name. “I don’t give interviews,” she told me.)

Isn’t it the prettiest waste facility you’ve ever seen? (Sorry, Clare!) It’s spotless!

I continued my ride four miles up to the North Lighthouse, parked my bike, and then trudged the final half-mile in soft, unforgiving sand in the midday heat. When I made it to the lighthouse, did I care that it was closed on Wednesdays? No! Because I discovered that it’s powered by its own personal solar panels and single wind generator. Thanks, Windy!* (*Not the wind generator’s real name. “I’d prefer to stay anonymous,” it told me.)


I headed back south. After pausing to walk a meditative rock labyrinth while still at the north end of the island, dip my dusty feet into the ocean on the east shore, and take a tour of the gorgeous South Lighthouse given by a local attorney named Elliot, I saw the wind turbines. They are still locked down — their giant rotor blades not turning until they’ve been thoroughly tested.


The South Lighthouse

When I asked Elliot how the islanders feel about the turbines, he said people had agreed to it partly because they were told their power bills would go down by 30%. But alas, this is not to be. Because the island delivery fuel surcharges they’ve been subject to for the last several years have since been lowered, the new savings will be a wash. I told Elliot that I hope the locals can find some comfort knowing they’re doing a good thing for everyone on the planet, and paving the way for more sustainable energy in the U.S.

I had to catch the ferry back to Montauk at 5:00; it was now 4:15, and I still had to take a selfie with the turbines and get back to the New Harbor at the middle of the island. I had a ways to ride. When I was almost at the harbor, I got lost, not knowing which way to turn. Thankfully a vacationing family picked me up, threw my bike in their minivan, and dropped me at the dock in the nick of time. I felt bad that the kids had to be unceremoniously shoved to the back of the car, but the dad said with a smile, “It’s okay, we’re sick of ’em.”


There they are. Look close.
(The Eastern Seaboard has shallow waters, allowing turbine placement pretty far out.)

Once safely on the ferry home, I struck up a conversation with an affluent Italian-American couple from New Jersey, telling them why I’d taken my little trip to Block Island. The man, Joe, asked me what I thought of the wind turbines. “I think it’s awesome,” I said. “It’s a step in the right direction.” I asked him what he thought. Well, it turns out Joe from New Jersey is an environmental attorney. “They’re problematic,” he said. “They push warm air downward toward the ocean, heating up the area at the base of the turbine.” Which I suppose has some impact on its ecosystem. Not that he was against the concept of off-shore energy. “They should use tidal energy, though. Less intrusive.” He explained that pistons are pushed up and down by the tides (or was it the waves?), and energy is collected from that.


Marcus Aurelius (aka Alec Guinness)

Our conversation turned philosophical. I said I’d like to invest in sustainable energy, and that for me investment isn’t purely about financial return, but to support industries/companies that are doing important work. I also told him that while I was riding around the island, seeing how everything worked, the concept of “owning” land started sounding insane to me. We talked about the Native Americans supposedly “selling” their land to the Colonists, and the whole idea of people owning land because somebody at some point claimed it, saying, “Up to this rock. This is mine.”

Joe from New Jersey asked if I’d read Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. Apparently Aurelius, a Stoic, had a few things to say about co-existing with nature, in addition to being a real smartypants in general. I’ve added it to the to-do list.

By the way, Block Island (owned by Rhode Island, which is not an island) was once a hill on the mainland, before the climate warmed and melting glaciers caused sea levels to rise around it. Interesting, eh?

recycling-bagBack in Montauk, I rode home from the ferry as my housemates arrived from the beach, their surfboards and beach chairs in tow. I saw that they’d added some recyclables to the bag I’d put next to the kitchen trash bin. Next stop: The Montauk Transfer Station, to find out what’s up . . . in my next post.

Oh, and I’m on page 88 of Moby Dick. OMG, now I know what all the talk is about.


p.s. Did you recycle on your summer vacation? Tell me in the comments! 🙂

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3 thoughts on “Stumped, and a Trip to an Island

  1. Pingback: What an enviro-dork does on her summer vacation (pt. 2) | waste management: the blog

  2. Wow, you sure pack a LOT into these blogs — part of their (and your) charm, you free-range muse, you! Two things spark this comment:
    First and foremost: I’m so sorry to hear about your dad. I wish you and your family mountains of grace to help you all through this challenge.
    A distant second: I have never heard that wind turbines push warm air down to the base of the thing. Sounds like speculation or over-inflated effect to me, and I’m not even spectacularly pro-wind (there are so many other technologies that cause less ripping up of our ridge lines, noise and visual intrusion on neighbors, and killing of birds). I’d rather see solar wrung out of every space possible before sending up turbines. And, contrarian that I am, I want to see every means possible to combat climate change. Any confirmation available on the warm-air effect of turbines?


    1. Deb

      Thanks, Clare!! For the mountains of grace, and for challenging that rumor about the turbines! I will look into it (maybe after class tonight…OMG, it never ends…this schedule…)
      FYI, I’ll be doing a post on solar in the near future. (But I’m not revealing my angle yet–don’t wanna ruin the surprise!!)


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