I saw that same generosity after Sandy, when surfers from all over showed up in Rockaway with shovels to help dig out basements — including mine, which had been completely submerged — and clear rubble from the flood. And I’ve seen it since, in the regular beach cleanups, mutual pandemic aid networks and still-too-frequent rescues of swimmers drowning in our treacherous waters.
I’ve also come to anticipate the seasonal rhythms of a part of the city that’s particularly vulnerable to weather. Spring and summer bring not only lush greenery and flowers to neighborhood streets and yards, and vegetables to plots in the community gardens, but also new inhabitants to the marine wilderness surrounding the peninsula.
I still marvel at the giant osprey nests and flocks of egrets and multicolored ducks along the waterways of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. On the Atlantic side, it’s seals resting in the sand, dolphins playing in the waves, seabirds divebombing the ocean and humpback whales erupting from the surface.
Fall often brings the big, powerful swells surfers more adept than I look forward to all year, the product of hurricane-season storms. I can’t see the water from my house, but I can smell and hear it on those days as the waves heave up off the sandbars and rumble onto the shore, the briny scent of their spray wafting down my block.
The whole neighborhood seems to crackle with excitement. Streets fill with surfers running toward the ocean, boards under their arms. Local hangouts ring with amped-up chatter about waves made or lost — “Dude, did you see that barrel? It was sick!” — or what the delicate interplay of pressure systems, wind, tides and daylight will bring the next day.
Winter, at least when I first arrived, brought a raw peacefulness with the summer visitors gone, wind sweeping sand off the beach and the ocean turning a foreboding charcoal gray. Long commutes on the A train in darkness also heightened the sense of isolation from the convenience and bustle of more heavily populated districts closer to the center of the city.