11/09/14 8:00am
11/09/2014 8:00 AM
Paul Stoutenburgh was honored on Saturday during a memorial service titled 'Focus on Paul.' (Cyndi Murray photo)

Paul Stoutenburgh was honored on Saturday during a memorial service titled ‘Focus on Paul.’ (Credit: Cyndi Murray)

Paul Stoutenburgh wore lots of hats.

Perhaps best known for his work pioneering conservationism on the North Fork, the celebrated environmentalist most valued his role as a husband, father and friend, his son, Roger Stoutenburgh, said during a memorial service held for his father Saturday.    (more…)

07/17/14 3:00pm
07/17/2014 3:00 PM
Paul Stoutenburgh once wrote in his 'Focus on Nature' column that standing beneath the Great Arches of Utah made him feel 'humble and proud of this great country of ours.'

Paul Stoutenburgh once wrote in his ‘Focus on Nature’ column that standing beneath the Great Arches of Utah made him feel ‘humble and proud of this great country of ours.’

For those who never visited the East End of Long Island half a century ago, imagine two arms of verdant rolling hills jutting into the Atlantic, embracing islands, inlets and marshes teeming with crabs, clams, fish and birds. At least that’s the East End local wildlife expert Paul Stoutenburgh described when he began writing his weekly newspaper column, “Focus on Nature,” for The Suffolk Times and Riverhead News-Review.  (more…)

07/14/14 2:28pm
07/14/2014 2:28 PM
Paul and Barbara Stoutenburgh being interviewed in their Cutchogue home in 2011. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

Paul and Barbara Stoutenburgh being interviewed in their Cutchogue home in 2011. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

When Paul Stoutenburgh was a boy roaming the fields of Cutchogue and fishing in its creeks, it would have been impossible to imagine the impact he’d one day have on the region’s precious natural resources.

But given the gift of hindsight last year, at a ceremony renaming Arshamomaque Pond Preserve in Mr. Stoutenburgh’s honor, county Legislator Al Krupski did his part to put it in perspective.

“He helped change the culture of the town,” Mr. Krupski said of the longtime environmentalist. “He really had a vision of the town going into the future.”

Mr. Stoutenburgh, a longtime Cutchogue resident, died at his home Sunday surrounded by family members. He was 92.


01/05/12 2:59pm
01/05/2012 2:59 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Paul and Barbara Stoutenburgh being interviewed by Troy Gustavson in their Cutchogue home.

It is, by all accounts, one of the longest running acts on Long Island’s North Fork.

For 50 years — since 1961, when John F. Kennedy occupied the White House — renowned environmentalist Paul Stoutenburgh and his wife, Barbara, have been writing their weekly column, “Focus on Nature,” first in the Riverhead News-Review and then, beginning in the early 1970s, in its sister publication, The Suffolk Times.

Up until now, that is. With the Dec. 22-29, 2011, edition of The Times, the Stoutenburghs have written their last regular column.

It is their decision, and their decision alone, based on considerations detailed in the interview that follows.

But first, some biographical details to help put the Stoutenburghs’ environmental activism and community service in perspective.

They both attended Southold High School, although not at the same time, and Barbara Stoutenburgh remembers reading a wartime newsletter article about a local sailor’s ship blowing up in the Philippines. The sailor was Paul Stoutenburgh.

They met for the first time in 1949, when they both worked at L.I. Produce in Riverhead. They had their first date (at a cranberry bog in Riverhead) in March 1950 and were married on Thanksgiving Day that same year. Their first child, Peter, was born in 1952. He was followed by a sister, Peggy, in 1954, and a brother, Roger, in 1956. (Today, 89-year-old Paul and 82-year-old Barbara also have four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.)


The Stoutenburghs purchased their seven-acre homestead off Skunk Lane in Cutchogue in 1955, and today it still supports two beef cattle and enough free-roaming wildlife to provide ample copy for a weekly nature column.

Mr. Stoutenburgh’s primary vocation was as a shop teacher at Greenport High School, from which he retired in 1978 at the relatively young age of 55. But his avocation was and is nature, which evolved from his childhood days roaming the fields and forests of Depression-era Cutchogue, and fishing, clamming and scalloping in its creeks. Later in life, that same interest in the natural world led to their six-year stint as summertime rangers/naturalists at the Fire Island National Seashore.

Barbara Stoutenburgh first worked in the guidance office at Southold High School and, later was a copy editor and proofreader at The Suffolk Times in Greenport, from which she retired, also in the late ’70s.

Mr. Stoutenburgh’s résumé of environmental activism is extensive. He was president of the Eastern Long Island Wetlands Preservation Association, which later joined several other groups to form the North Fork Environmental Council, which he served as vice president in its formative years. Other environmental affiliations include, but are not limited to, The Nature Conservancy and the Peconic Land Trust, which he served as trustee and director, respectively.

Among the many environmental awards Mr. Stoutenburgh has received over the years is The Nature Conservancy’s highest honor for volunteer service, the National Oak Leaf Award.

Then there was public service. Mr. Stoutenburgh served as president of Cutchogue Free Library and completed three terms as a Southold Town Trustee, including one year as board president, and four years as a Southold Town councilman. (A complete résumé of his public service is too extensive to detail in this limited space.)

Finally, readers of “Focus on Nature” will be reassured to know that even though they will no longer write their weekly column, the Stoutenburghs anticipate accepting The Suffolk Times’ open invitation to submit, when inspiration strikes and circumstances allow, periodic articles and photographs on the natural world.

The Stoutenburghs were interviewed in their Cutchogue home the week before Christmas by Times/Review Newsgroup president Troy Gustavson.


Troy Gustavson: Thanks for inviting me into your home today. I’d like to begin by asking if you have any columns that stand out over the years, anything that you wrote that you’re particularly proud of, or that might have caused a stir. I know when there are literally hundreds and hundreds or, I guess, maybe thousands, it might be hard to single out, but I’m just wondering if there’s anything you wrote that you’re particularly proud of.

Paul Stoutenburgh: Well, I thought the one we did on our horse … I had a little pony which all the kids enjoyed. It was part of the family, really. I can remember there was a big snowy day and we decided to go for a walk in the snow, which is our kind of thing to do. And, by gosh, a couple of kids from school, my kids that I taught, happened to stop in that night and they said, “What are you doing? I said, “We’re going for a walk. Do you want to go?” And they said, “Sure.” So here we went with the horse all through the property — something the kids have never done. And they said, “This is great!” And it’s part of what I try to do — to get people to do things, see things that they never thought were there. And being a teacher, I wanted to do that with the whole community …

TG: Did you ever imagine that you’d be doing the column for as many years as you have?

PS:  Oh, no.

Barbara Stoutenburgh: He has written in journals his whole life and we are now binding all that up now. And we’ll spend more time doing it now. But he did say in his early years, when he was in high school, he hoped some day he could write. He wrote a lot then, and even his grandson now, who’s Paul Stoutenburgh, has said to him, “You know, you told me to write and even if I only put my name down, I write every night.” And he’s tried to start all the kids to keep journals … So now we are putting it together. We’ve got three of them started.

TG: The decision to stop writing the column. Tell me how you arrived at that, and how difficult is that for you to do?

BS: I think it’s good to know your limitations. It had been easy for him to write, and for us to do it …

PS: I can’t write with my hands anymore. I have problems with my writing. Physically, I can’t do it. Dictating to Barbara, she’s so good at it with the computer. We can do it that way, but it’s lost something because when you write [by hand], as you well know, you go back over it …

TG: And you wrote it out longhand?


BS: And we kept all that writing for years. He would write and then I would type it and we would go back over it and we’d retype it, and he’d go over it again.

TG: Tell me a little bit more about that collaborative process because I get a sense that Barbara has been a very important partner in this column.

PS: The most important.

TG: Is she your editor?

PS: She’s my everything. I mean that.

TG: Well, having worked with her I know how good she is with that sort of thing. She’s meticulous and she knows local lore as well as anybody I know. Whenever I had a question about a local family or a local place, Barbara was the one to go to. No question about that.

BS: It worked very well. And you could say that he was the writer and I edited it. But he would write it longhand … And we have a hay shack up back or on the boat — wherever we were — sit on the bow of the boat and write or he’d sit up in the hay shack and write, and then I would take that and I would put it on the computer. When computers first came around, I bought [former Suffolk Times cooking columnist] Jules Bond’s first computer … Prior to that we used an old typewriter that he had taken to college, an old portable Royal that we used …

PS: I think we still have it.

BS: But then I would do it and I gave it back to him and he would edit it. And, of course, as long as before it had to get to the deadline, we would keep going over it. And once it went, it went. Truthfully, he would say he’s not one to write and spell and that was my part of it. It’s always been that way. But I think it’s good to realize our limitations. I think what he will find, and people have said it to us in the last week or two, maybe snow will come, and they said, “And then we’ll read about it in ‘Focus.’ ” And since we’ve haven’t told too many people, we’re beginning to get that kind of thing: “And you’ll tell about that when you write.” And he’ll have that feeling, I’m sure. He’ll have something he’ll want to sit and write about, or talk about, or dictate.

TG: Well, I think you know there’ll always be a place for that in the paper … I want to talk a little bit about your osprey project. For a number of years, you had a crew that went around and put up osprey poles. Was that at your instigation? Was that your idea or did somebody sort of rope you into doing it? How many years did you do that? Do you know?

PS: We must have done it for 20 or 30 years. We had records up to about 30 nests.

TG: Did you do that in the time period when they ospreys started to come back? Because there was a time in the ’50s and ’60s when the [osprey] population really dropped.

PS: Dramatically. So much so that when we were on Gardiners Island, they had a multitude of osprey platforms all vacant, no birds around.

TG: It must have been very gratifying to see them come back.

PS: Working with Dennis Puleston and people like that we really did a great job helping them come back.

BS: And before they came back, we were involved and watched when they came down to … the beach and they would take an osprey and then they would ship it off. And we’d go over to the airport and they had these CEOs’ planes that were donated and they would put the ospreys in that and they would fly them to Ohio. And they brought eggs here to put in our nests. And that was interesting, before our ospreys came back.

TG: I also wanted to ask you a little bit about how you got into politics. I like to tell the story to all my friends — something that you told me, which was when you first got involved [in politics] — there was a time when the Traveler-Watchman used to take group photographs and they would put you at the far end of the photograph so they could crop you out. Did you start in politics as a Democrat, or were you a Republican?


PS: I was a Republican. What started me was the wetlands. There were so many crooked deals going on right in our own town. The wetlands were being filled with the cheap idea that there was no other place to put the dredge material. And so, my gosh, I couldn’t stand that so we started an organization called Eastern Long Island Wetlands Preservation Association. And we had probably 200 members. But every time we went to a meeting, we were voted down. We never got anywhere. So I said I’m going to change my political affiliation from Republican to Democrat. And that’s when I started.

BS: And the [Wetlands] Preservation became part of the North Fork Environmental Council eventually when the groups got together. A little bit more about the Traveler. Our son, who won an award with another boy in town. He was cut out, and the other boy wasn’t. In high school.

PS: Troy, I have photographs, slides, of town trucks going to the old dump, being filled up with sand and gravel, being brought up here and dumped on Leslie Road.

TG: Filling a wetland?

PS: Filling the wetlands. And I asked why they were doing it, and they said it was to keep  the mosquitoes under control. And there are two houses on that [site] now …

BS: And those are the two houses you see over there.

PS: And I have pictures of all of it. Didn’t mean a thing to them.

TG: So, you were first elected as a town Trustee?

PS: Yes.

TG: Was that in the ’70s or ’80s? Do you remember?


BS: I think we have a picture up in the hay shack and it says, “He also ran.” And I think that’s about ’77. And he ran a couple of times before he got in. And then when he got in they were having a big debate. One of the men got up after he spoke and said, “And, Paul, you’re not the only conservationist. We are all conservationists on this board.”

TG: That must be something that is also gratifying — to know how the thinking changed out here over time. Because when you first started you were a voice in the wilderness and eventually, I think, everybody, both political parties, were all claiming to be preservationists.

PS: Let me tell you about a situation. We had a meeting on dredging. And I invited Robert Cushman Murphy, head of the Museum of Natural History in New York. He came out and told how important [the creeks] were and how these groins that people were putting in were destroying the waterfront. And I tried to explain with a map. I happened to have a red pencil going there. And somebody in the audience said, “Yeah, red, red. And this was the time of the Soviets being very powerful. They laughed this man right out of the … Right here at the East Cutchogue School. Couldn’t believe it.

BS: That was at the time we were trying to stop the dredging of the creeks. And the creeks had all been dredged, and there was one left — Goose Creek. And so they got the right to dredge that because they’d never done a study before. So they were going to use Goose Creek to do a study, and dredge it.

PS: The only ones that weren’t dredged were the ones like West Creek in New Suffolk, where they have bridges that boats can’t get under. That’s what saved it.

TG: Still, over time, there seemed to be a developing environmental awareness and a need to preserve this place. Do you take any satisfaction in knowing that your column was part of that educational process?

PS: Being a teacher I used the idea that teaching the community … The people that read your paper, hopefully they support me … Support not me but the idea of conservation. That does give me some gratification. That’s what it’s all about, I guess.


BS: There’s great satisfaction in that we have files and files of people who have written. There’s been a great following in that kind of thing. I think he says what people feel they can’t say. I have a letter from a woman in New York and she’s a writer and goes and does her birding out of the Museum of Natural History. But she carries copies of his articles around when she wants something to read. She gives the paper credit, and I’ve got a copy of it for you.

TG: That’s nice … Back to the question of deer. Do you see any answer to the problem?

PS: I think what the town is doing is exactly right — expanding the hunting season and keeping the herd down. Where there are no natural predators, man has to step in. And by letting them shoot the deer I think they’re on the right track. It’s about the only way you can do it. This idea of trying to round them up and moving them doesn’t work.

TG: Looking back over the years, do you see anything in particular that has led to the successful effort to preserve this place? I’m thinking now of two-acre zoning, the farmland preservation [program], also the Community Preservation Fund. Are they all part of the process or do you pick out one of those as being the most important?

PS: I think the one with the tax of 2 percent is a very, very important one. It’s just too bad our economy went down because we were reaping quite a harvest from that.

TG: I would have to agree. If I had to point to one single thing, it would be that. Also the evolution of the grape-growing industry has been pretty important, too, I think, helping to keep open space here.

PS: Yes, I think you’re right there.

TG: How do you think the North Fork has changed during your time here, for the better or for the worse? Do you think we’re better off than we were back in the ’70s and ’60s, when you started writing your column, or are we worse off because of population growth and that sort of thing?

PS: I think population growth is our biggest problem. When I was a kid, we could walk down to our creeks, walk anywhere in our creeks, because there was always shallow water. And it wasn’t very pleasant; you couldn’t get your boat out. You had to wait for high tide to get your boat out. Now they dredge the creeks. Soon as they did that, the whole waterfront on our creeks built up. And you build up with pollution and all those problems that development brings with it: congestion. But you can’t blame people. They wanted what we had. Only trouble is … I always said that they dredged with too big equipment … instead of small, little, skimpy dredges. And the county came in and just ruined every one of our creeks.
When we were kids we could walk out and dig soft clams, hard clams, oysters. All these things were available. I remember when I was a kid in high school I sold 25 soft clams for 25 cents apiece. A bushel of scallops for 50 cents. It was just unbelievable, the wealth of things …

TG: To back up to something you just said, you consider population growth basically the greatest threat to this area?

PS: Absolutely. The resources are just so much … If you go to see Duck Pond [in Cutchogue]. Are you familiar where Duck Pond is? Drive down there the next time you have a chance. You go down to the end where it goes to the Sound and you look off to the right and it will blow your mind. There’s some big motel-hotel … We used to go down there and I’d dive for lobsters and we’d bring them in and eat them on the beach. There were sand dunes there, and all that has been wiped out. They’re using every parcel. When you go down, you see these banks that were held with trees and bushes and grasses. And now it’s all cleared off, all the grass. Houses, right on the [dunes] … You have to see it to believe it …

TG: What are your hopes for the future for the North Fork? If you could basically plan the next 25 years for this place, what would your hopes be for this area?


PS: That we have people in our town government that look out for the trees, look out for the water, look out for the wetlands, look out for the things that make this place so great. And if we don’t have the people on the Town Board, the planning department, the building department all working with that in the back of their minds, we’re lost. We can do it if we get good enough people in town government. I don’t know if we can do that. Man has a way of twisting things.

TG: I pose this last question to both of you. And you can answer it in any order. What do you hope your legacy will be from your time here on the North Fork? Fifty years from now, 100 years from now, what do you hope people will say about your contributions?

PS: I’m not sure I can answer that.

TG: Maybe Barbara can.

BS: This is typical. When the ospreys came back, and he had written this big, long article … This is typical of the ends of his articles, where one of his sons said, “Talk about your philosophy when you talk to Troy.” And [Paul] said, “I don’t have any philosophy.” And [daughter] Peggy [Dickerson] said, “There’s always something at the end [of the column] that is to the people, and that’s the little bit he adds.” He tells them a story, but he ends with something like this [quoting directly from an earlier “Focus on Nature” column]: “Years ago we lived in ignorance. Today we’re informed. With knowledge and the will to do what’s right, our world will blossom and keep on returning to us the delicate fragrance of may pinks in the woods, a spring run of flounder for dinner and ospreys to delight our heart and spirit.” And [Paul] said, “Who wrote that? It’s pretty good.”

[email protected]

01/04/12 12:28pm
01/04/2012 12:28 PM
Suffolk Times

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Paul and Barbara Stoutenburgh recently sat down for an interview with Times/Review Newsgroup president Troy Gustavson. After five decades of penning their 'Focus on Nature' column for The Suffolk Times the couple wrote their final piece Dec. 22.

Five decades after penning their first “Focus on Nature” column for The Suffolk Times, Paul and Barbara Stoutenburgh are calling it a career.

Times/Review Newsgroup president Troy Gustavson sat down with the Cutchogue couple for a Q&A that will be published in Thursday’s issue of The Suffolk Times. In the interview, they answer questions about their 61 years of marriage and five decades of collaboration on the column.

A complete transcript of the interview will appear Thursday afternoon on suffolktimes.com.

Here’s a brief video of the couple discussing the process of writing the column — they once did everything by hand — and how difficult a task it became in recent years.

12/16/11 1:47pm
12/16/2011 1:47 PM

Last week Squeaky was surprised in his quiet little nest by some boys picking up wood for the family stove. The last we saw of Squeaky, he was enjoying some peanut butter the boys had taken out to him when they realized they had disturbed his nest. Let’s get back to our story.

It was now getting to be late afternoon and soon to be Christmas Eve, so the father went out to the wood shed to get the tree. He didn’t know Squeaky was there enjoying the peanut butter, so he picked up the tree, Squeaky and all. “What’s happening now?” the mouse wondered. The tree rocked and swayed as the father carried it into the house through the swirling snow.

Inside it was warm, and Squeaky had never seen anything quite like it. There were special smells in the house and candles burning. It was like a dream world. The tree was set down for a minute and it was then that Squeaky thought it would be a good time to get out and hide. He ran under the big sofa against the side wall. He could see out, but no one could see him. He was lucky to be able to hide before anyone noticed him.

The tree was put up and the children decorated it as high as they could reach. The mother and father would have to take care of the rest. Over in the big kitchen, the mother had been preparing all kinds of good things to eat and drink for Christmas Eve because lots of people would be stopping in.

All this was kind of scary to Squeaky, who had never seen anything like it before. He was very tired from his busy day and climbed up inside one of the arms of the sofa and fell fast asleep.

In the big room the fire crackled in the old wood stove. The children, excited about Christmas, whispered and giggled. The smells — oh, the smells: apple cider, baked pies, fruit and nuts. Nuts — like Squeaky had never seen before — were in beautiful crystal bowls. People came in with packages, walked around, talked, ate and drank. The kids hung their stockings by the fireplace and went to bed, while grownups still came in and out of the house.

Then, most of the folks left to go to church at midnight. This was the first time it was quiet. Now Squeaky could explore. It was like a fairy world. The Christmas tree sparkled with lights all over it. Big balls and tinsel glittered, and around the tree were packages, big and small. He ran here and there. He jumped from box to box. He ran along the top of the table to where there was a dish with some cookies and a note alongside it. “Dear Santa: Hope you had a safe trip. Thank you for whatever you leave, especially if it is a new doll, an airplane and a baseball, bat and mitt,” signed, Peter, Peggy and Roger.

“Well, that was pretty nice for the kids to leave a note for Santa,” Squeaky thought, “but who is this Santa anyway? I’ve never heard of Santa”. He nibbled half of one of the cookies, for he hadn’t eaten since his peanut butter snack.
About that time he heard the folks returning from church so he scurried down the table, across the room and under the couch. Things were quieter now with the company gone. The mother and father brought out extra boxes, put them around the tree and turned out all the lights except those on one little tree on the side table. Then off to bed they went and it was quiet again. Snow had been falling for a long time now and the world outside was blanketed in white. Everywhere the snow glistened.

Never before had Squeaky been as scared as when his nest was destroyed and never before had he been so happy as in this nice warm house. This had been a big day for him, so being very tired, he went back to his little spot under the couch where he curled up inside the arm and fell fast asleep.

Squeaky was awakened in the middle of the night by some strange sounds outside. Then he could smell something different — someone smoking a pipe. Someone else was in the room with him.

When he peeked out from under the couch he could hardly believe what he saw. He just caught sight of a boot going up the chimney. Soot fell down and there was a lot of movement up on the roof. He heard what he thought were tiny hooves and he was sure he heard sleigh bells. Then down through the chimney there came a muffled voice calling, “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!”

What could it mean? Things had changed a bit in the big living room. The empty stockings were now stuffed with goodies. A candy cane stuck out of each one. Who could have done that? And look! A new doll lay propped up against the Christmas tree, and there on the floor were a ball, a bat and glove. And sure enough, a beautiful silvery airplane! How did they get there?

Squeaky looked around. He had to get up higher to see what was going on so he climbed up to the table where the cookies had been. Lo and behold, the cookies and the milk were all gone! Squeaky couldn’t figure it out.

He climbed back down to his warm spot on the couch, twitched his little whiskers, cleaned himself off and settled down for a nice sleep. Just as he was about to doze off he remembered something he had heard the boys talking about when they loaded their wagon with wood. So this is what they were talking about! They told of food, gifts, friends, a visitor in the night. “Now I remember” Squeaky said, “They were talking about Christmas — that’s what it’s all about.” Squeaky was so happy he could hardly contain himself.

The old wood stove crackled away across the room and everything seemed so nice and warm and snuggly. The smell of evergreens drifted through the air from the beautiful Christmas tree that glistened above. He had an extra-special feeling that he just couldn’t explain. As he looked out the window, he noticed the snow had stopped and there was a special stillness that made him think the whole world had gone fast asleep. Squeaky was just about to curl up in the arm of the sofa when he jumped up and shouted in the loudest mouse voice he could muster, ‘Merry Christmas, everybody, and to all a good night!” Then he flopped back into the soft fluffiness of the big couch and fell fast asleep.

12/13/11 7:44am
12/13/2011 7:44 AM


Focus on Nature has written Christmas stories for the young and young at heart since 1985. This year I thought it would be fun to bring that very first children’s Christmas story about Squeaky the mouse back.

Once upon a time there was a little wood mouse named Squeaky who made his home in an old wood shed. The animal book calls him a deer mouse because his soft brown fur and white undersides are the colors of the white-tailed deer. He is a handsome mouse with big black eyes, unusually large ears, big long whiskers and a nose that is always sniffing.

Months ago he spent a lot of time building his winter nest, where he’ll spend most of his days curled up in a tight ball, fast asleep. After all, mice do most of their scurrying about at night. I guess that’s why they need those big, beady eyes to see in the dark, those large ears to hear every little sound and that nose to sniff every smell in the air.

Anyway, Squeaky thought he had things pretty well set, for, like a squirrel, he had gathered a winter supply of seeds and nuts to hold him over during the real cold and snowy days of winter. After all, a warm nest and lots of food for winter are just about all a mouse could ask for.

Two boys and a girl lived with their parents in a small house in the woods next to the wood shed. They were like other boys and girls — they had tree huts, they played in the woods and the girl always carried around an old doll that was growing shabby.

The big black stove in the kitchen never seemed to be satisfied and every day more wood had to be brought in. It was quite a job for the two boys, and on cold days it wasn’t much fun going outside to keep the wood box full.

The weatherman was talking about a snowstorm coming and the family hadn’t gotten their Christmas tree yet. With only a few days left before Christmas, the kids were pestering their parents to get one. After all, it would be awful if it snowed and they couldn’t get a tree. Well, as most good parents would, they got everyone together and headed out east to get their tree.

It was a long drive but a worthwhile one. When they got to the tree farm, there was a long line of trees to choose from. They had just been cut and smelled so good. But it’s not easy to pick out a tree, particularly when it’s cold and windy out. One of the children wanted a tall tree, another wanted a full tree; back and forth they went until finally they found it — the perfect tree. It was soon tied on top of the car and they all headed back home in great anticipation. They put the tree in the wood shed to protect it if it snowed. It surely looked like it would, for it was blustery and overcast — real Christmas weather.

The next day everyone was excited about Christmas, which was just a day away. Getting wood in the big red wagon was almost fun, since a little work might just help when it came to getting presents. The boys would have to fill the wood box to overflowing so they wouldn’t have to be bothered getting wood on Christmas day.

Just as they started their task, it started to snow. Oh, boy! Snow for Christmas! Santa surely would come in his sleigh this year. The wood seemed to fly from the big dry wood pile. Inside, Squeaky had been curled up in his usual way, sleeping the day away. Often he had heard movements outside when the boys got wood but had felt perfectly safe in his little nest. But now the noise and movement of wood were getting closer and closer! It even shook his nest a bit and woke him right up.

“What’s going on out there?” he wondered.

The wood pile was getting lower and lower and nearer and nearer to Squeaky’s nest. As a matter of fact, it was only two logs away when Squeaky jumped up and took a peek. It was bright outside, and he blinked his big eyes because he was not used to the daylight. What he saw scared him half to death.

There were two boys filling a big red wagon with logs, logs that were part of his house. He darted back into the safety of the pile. The boys filling the wagon didn’t see Squeaky peeking out at them and kept on working. Then a log moved and Squeaky’s whole nest, with all of his food supply, tumbled down. The boys noticed this and felt bad, but it was too late now, the damage was done. The nest lay in a loose pile of grass and bark on the dirt floor. The boys knew they had broken up a mouse’s nest but didn’t know what they could do about it.

They thought of picking up the pieces and trying to put them back together, but that was impossible. “What could we do to make it right with the mouse?” they wondered. After all, it was getting nearer to Christmas and they had the Christmas spirit that filled the air.

“Well, we could at least bring him something to eat,” they decided. So back to the house one of the boys went and he brought back some of the peanut butter they knew mice loved. But where should they put it?

“If we put it in the open,” they said, “a squirrel might get it.” They found a place deep inside the Christmas tree and smeared the peanut butter on a limb. This would be Squeaky’s Christmas present from them.

With that, the boys went into the house and forgot about their mouse because Christmas excitement was everywhere. After they were gone, Squeaky came out to look around for his nest. It was gone, but a certain twitching came to his nose. He smelled something special. He smelled peanut butter. A few short hops and jumps and there it was. What a surprise!

“This will hold me for a time,” he thought, as he sat there nibbling away.

P.S. Watch for Focus on Nature next week to find out how Squeaky’s Christmas adventure turns out.

11/02/11 4:00am
11/02/2011 4:00 AM

These past few weeks we have reviewed our travels together in many parts of the world. This week finishes up those travels and next week we will return to fall on the North Fork.

In 1997 we traveled to Germany, Russia, the Scandinavian countries and London; so much in so short a time. We traveled across Germany in a train and saw fields of yellow rape grown for use in canola oil. We touched the Berlin Wall in East Germany and saw Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburg Gate.

In Russia we got to see the magnificent Hermitage, one of the world’s largest and oldest museums, founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and open to the public since 1852. A museum of art and culture in St. Petersburg, it has a collection of 3 million items. We also went to see colorful country dancers while there.

Then we stopped to visit the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway with their colorfully painted homes and busy waterfronts. In Norway we visited the Viking ships and the Kon-Tiki that Thor Heyerdahl built in 1947. It was a primitive balsa raft he built in Peru and sailed to Polynesia to show that ancient South Americans could have contributed to the culture of Pacific peoples. Then it was on to Heathrow Airport to spend a few wonderful days in London before flying back home.

In 2000 we traveled on a cruise ship through the Panama Canal, where I’d taken the helm of a ship while in the service years before. Passing through the canal on Easter Sunday, we joined other couples married 50 years and renewed our wedding vows.

I went skin diving in Jamaica, then on to Cartagena on our trip to Colombia, South America. We traveled to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest in Costa Rica, where we saw magnificent bird life. In Mexico we watched the high divers at Acapulco. We took a catamaran tour in Puerta Vallarta, where we saw dolphins, sea turtles and whales and later watched whales along the Baja Peninsula in California, eventually ending up at the great San Diego Zoo and on to San Francisco to fly back home.

In 2001 we cruised the Seine and went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, built in 1889. We saw the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral, the religious center of the city of Paris. We drove down the Champs-Elysées, the prestigious avenue in Paris, and saw the Arch of Triumph. We were lucky to have a special guide at the Louvre where we got up close to the Mona Lisa. During that trip, which our children gave us for our 50th anniversary, good friends loaned us their lovely home there. We were driven up to Claude Monet’s home in Giverny and sat for a while to relax in his water gardens. During our stay in Paris we met up with friends from home who joined us for a lovely dinner at the home where we were staying.

In August of that same year we were invited to go salmon fishing in Canada and we took you along with us. We caught no fish but had a wonderful time trying. Every day we would be taken in canoes up and down the river not only fishing but enjoying the fabulous evergreen forests that surrounded this magnificent area. You may remember the little hummingbird we saw tumble down from the porch ceiling all tangled up in spider webs; we were able with the people in the kitchen there to cut it free and send it off, hopefully to look for something besides spider webs for its nesting material.

In 2002 we traveled by train with its magnificent sky dome across Canada. We started by first stopping at Niagara Falls and going on the Maid of the Mist, then we boarded our train to travel across the country of Canada; across the great prairie lands of wheat and corn, etc. Our room aboard the train was set up so we had chairs during the day to sit in and look out a full window at all we could see of Canada. At nighttime the room converted into a bedroom and we had a pleasant sleep aboard the moving train.

Across Canada we went out to Alberta Province, where views became spectacular. We visited Jasper National Park, the gentle giant of the Rockies, the ice fields of the Columbia Glacier and Banff National Park, where we ate in a beautiful hotel overlooking Lake Louise. We couldn’t resist the gondola rides in these parks, up high for sights in all directions of this magnificent area. We ended our trip on Vancouver Island, where we visited the well-known beautiful Butchart Gardens and had tea in a gorgeous hotel where the Queen stopped when visiting the island.

10/05/11 5:03am
10/05/2011 5:03 AM


Let’s pick up where we left off last time after traveling around our country and continue with the writings and travels of Focus on Nature.

When we were married in 1950 we borrowed a tent from the Goldsmith family for a trip to Montauk to see if we’d like camping. Later we purchased a large, heavy Army-like tent with one side all screened. I remember one time we spent three rainy days in it in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, where we ran into Southold schoolteacher Bea Payne and her husband, Bill, from Shelter Island.

The last time we used the tent — on a camping trip to Maine when the kids were older — we went to pick it up in the morning and found a snake coiled up underneath it! That night I remember, too, the mosquitoes were so bad, inside and out, that we all got in the car and drove around to try to get away from them. With no air conditioning and the windows open, the mosquitoes got in the car with us anyway so we headed back to the tent and fought them there.

We then graduated to an 18-foot Holly trailer, which we used to travel around the Great Lakes in 1962, the year after the road opened north of Wawa. We visited the big Fond du Lac Indian Reservation and stopped at huge grain elevators, where we watched grain being dumped from freight cars into waiting ships at the docks. They shook the cars as if they were empty egg cartons to get every piece of grain out.

We were so far north that it stayed light late and the kids could swim until 10 p.m. We had two flat tires 50 miles apart and had to cross the border twice from Canada to the U.S. to get to a Montgomery Ward store to replace them. We found out later the company had bought up tires that were sitting in storage for a long time for that particular camper.

With these added expenses, money was getting tight as we traveled on our summer school vacation. We called to say we would be heading home and not complete our trip all the way around the Great Lakes, but we were told, “Don’t come home. Your house is rented.” Actually, Barbara’s mother had rented our house to Douglas Moore’s protégés, John Kander and Fred Ebb, who together wrote the music and words for “Cabaret” on our piano while spending that summer in our home.

One year, we headed to Newfoundland, where Peter and I figured we could get to see and photograph the famous Atlantic puffins and razor-billed auks that nested in burrows there. When we stopped on our way to camp along the coast of Maine we went on a lobster boat out to Machias Seal Island, where we spent a night in the lighthouse with fresh fish chowder for supper and a place to sleep on the floor. At first light, we found our puffins and auks and spent the morning photographing them.

While we spent our time on the island, Barbara, Roger and Peggy spent their time camping at Cobs Cook State Park. Once we were able to get the pictures we were after, we didn’t need to travel farther north, so it gave us time to spend camping and exploring Acadia National Park, where I got to see my first moose.

Over the years Focus has received many letters. One lady moved away from our area and when reading a Focus article about picking and making beach plum jam said she could “just smell the beach plums cooking.” At the time, Barbara’s Aunt Libby was picking and making beach plum jam for her church to sell, so I talked her into sending a jar to the lady.

Once, when camping down south, I wrote about yellow pine kindling known as firewood. A classmate of mine living in Texas read my article and on a trip back home he brought me a can of it.

Fran Woodward never got to Hawaii but told us when we returned from our tenting tour of four of the islands there that she had been able to travel along with us via Focus. She said they had always planned to make the trip when they retired but her husband died before they got there so she was able to enjoy it through our eyes. This is just a sample of some of the many comments we’ve received from our readers over the years.

Focus got mixed up in politics once. Our opponents asked Troy to stop Focus while I ran for public office — first for town trustee and later for councilman. They felt it was an advertisement for me. Troy said as long as the article didn’t get political, he wouldn’t stop it. Once we mentioned the name of a candidate from Fishers Island while sailing out that way and Troy cut his name out.

Another time there was a half-page vertical ad of our grandson fishing from a dock and the Focus on Nature story was about fishing with him. Troy said I could run one or the other but not both. I chose to run the ad — and I won. The ad showed our then 3-year-old grandson Robby sitting on a dock with a fishing pole in his hand saying, “Vote for my Pa and there’ll still be fish around when I grow up.”

09/20/11 1:54pm
09/20/2011 1:54 PM

BARBARA STOUTENBURGH PHOTO | Standing beneath the Great Arches of Utah made me feel humble and proud of this great country of ours.

Looking through some old files we came across notes written in 1996 about the beginning of Focus on Nature. These notes never saw the light of day; they were written and filed away. Interesting to us how, over the years, things seem to fade in our minds, but once on paper they are there forever. It sharpened our memories and we thought you might be interested in going back to the beginnings of Focus with us.

1996: In checking Focus on Nature articles written 35 years ago when Herb Blais was working for The Sunday Review in Riverhead, then run by the Forbes family in the old Studebaker building, he paid me a visit one evening.

He was staying with Barbara’s stepbrother Malcolm in Norwold on Mud Creek, just a ways up Skunk Lane [in Cutchogue] from where we live. He came to ask if I would write a nature column for the paper and if I would, he wondered what we would call it. That night was the beginning of Focus on Nature as you know it today.

Dennis Puleston, the great naturalist/artist from Bellport and a longtime friend of mine, offered to do sketches for each week’s article. I would call him at the beginning of the week and tell him what I was going to write about and he would make a sketch to go with it. In those days his sketches were done in black and white and we still have the originals.

This article [1996] is being typed on a very small laptop computer and sent by a modem to the paper, or email or even a fax (as was done many times when we were out of town), and could be in print soon after it was written. In 1961, when Focus was first born, we used an old Royal portable typewriter that had taken me through college. We would carry it with us and type on beaches, in campgrounds, wherever we happened to be.

One time when we forgot it, Barbara had to go into a hotel lobby on Prince Edward Island and borrow their typewriter in order to get Focus in on time. The articles written from Sable Island, the graveyard of the Atlantic off the coast of Canada, when I was a naturalist on the Lindblad cruise ship, were written in longhand and probably not appreciated very much by those back at the paper.

We sometimes had guest writers back in those days when we went for extended trips with the kids in the summertime. After I went back to college at the age of 35 to become a teacher, it gave us summers to spend traveling. Dennis Puleston wrote, as did his daughter Jen. Judd Bennett, a great friend and naturalist from East Marion, wrote many times. Harold Evans, a farmer, teacher and friend from Riverhead, wrote a particular one I can still recall on “birding from a tractor” and Larry Penny wrote a guest column just after he graduated from Cornell.

In those days, Larry and I often went skin diving and birding together. Today he heads up the natural resource department for the Town of East Hampton and has had his own column in The East Hampton Star for many years.

Celebrating our first 35 years together, Focus traveled around the world to Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Lichtenstein, where we saw many plants similar to ones we have here at home, like the daisy, dandelion and the blue-flowered chicory. Then Focus traveled to Mexico, Iceland, Alaska, Hawaii, New Zealand and Australia to see many of the things we’d always heard about and finally got to see first-hand. We tented through many of these countries, with one backpack holding our clothes and another our camping equipment.

In Australia we watched fairy penguins come up out of the water at night headed for their burrows and young after feeding all day; at Homer, Alaska, we saw great huge halibut caught where bald eagles were as common as ospreys on Long Island. In Australia we enjoyed a lunch with our friends the Finkles, who traveled with us when a kangaroo decided to join the party.

When I had spent 100 days on my back after surgery I thought my traveling days were over. What I decided I really wanted to see once I was up and around again was more of this great country of ours, particularly the great plains of the West. So our next trip took us in a popup camper (on top of our pickup), along with our traveling cat, 14,000 miles around the U.S. visiting family, friends and places we’d only read of before: Big Bend in Texas, Yosemite, the Redwoods, the Great Arches of Utah, the rain forest in the Olympic Peninsula and much, much more.

We finally got to visit with the Bill Christopher family in the state of Washington. He was once a science teacher at Southold High School and his wife, Judy, is my niece. We made stops in Minneapolis and Chicago to see Barbara’s nieces JoAnne and Mary Jane and their families. We also got to see the beautiful campuses in Tempe, Ariz., and Ogden, Utah. where our sons had gone to college.

We’ll continue follow more Focus on Nature through the years in the next few columns. We enjoy having you along.