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We knew it was going to be interesting.  We heard that it was  beautiful.  But we were still not prepared for what we found. Hole in the Wall is a jaw dropping beautiful slice of wild, raw nature. 

There isn’t much man-made entertainment there.  In fact there are no coffee shops, no restaurants, no stores, no shops, no tourists, no roads.  We didn’t see another person on the entire trip, other then ourselves.  When we arrived, we looked up the two-track dirt path and saw an abandoned light house, three ruined buildings and an old sidewalk ambling to the beach.  Yet we were completely entertained by the natural site, it’s beauty, its solace, its grace, its  solitude, its immensity.

Our trip to Hole in the Wall started when six of us were picked up at 8:30 in the morning by Abaco Nature Tours.  Ricky Johnson, our tour guide, had previously taken us on a kayaking tour and now we were headed out with him for an all day excursion of a part of South Abaco that is  largely inaccessible without a jeep or other off-road vehicle.

Four of us had never been to Hole in the Wall. Two had visited there many times over the past 30 years.  We were all excited to be going.

It was a beautiful sunny day, actually a great day for swimming and fishing, but we had other plans.  We were picked up right on time, we piled into the car with our packed lunches, sunscreen, bug repellant, walking shoes and long pants, which is unusual down here.  We are more likely to be found in t-shirts and shorts or swim suits, but this was going to be a hike and we were all dressed for the occasion.

We started our trip by taking a paved road going south until we hit the big fork in the road.  To the right, one headed to Sandy Point continuing on the paved road.  To the left, we headed off the highway onto a two track dirt road for the next 14 miles.  It took us almost an hour and a half to traverse those 14 miles as the car turned right and left, bouncing and bumping while missing big ditches, potholes, scrub brush and some muddy waters.  Then, finally, we arrived.  We hiked the last half-mile as it was too difficult for the car to go any further.  We were all happy to start walking. It felt good after all those bumps.

Mahogany Tree (Swietenia Mahagoni)

Ricky shows us the browned mahogany tree fruit with seeds ready to scatter.

While heading toward the lighthouse, we identified some very pretty mahogany trees by looking at their fruit, looking like tennis balls attached to the branches.  Eventually the fruit turns brown, then splits at the bottom sending out numerous one-winged seeds to scatter.

Hairy Wild Coffee (Psychotria Pubescens)

We also found some wild coffee bushes sitting along the edge of the road.   

We turned off the dirt road after a bit and headed on a footpath through the bush to find a bat cave with a ladder stuck in it.  We saw footpaths surrounding the cave and realized that it was a system of caves.  My husband remarked that he saw no evidence of Batman living there.  But we could smell evidence of bats living there!  After checking out the cave a bit, we returned back to the dirt road and headed for the abandoned lighthouse.

Looking back
Looking toward the Hole in the Wall
Photo by Beth Stevens

Periodically we looked back at the vast expanse, then headed on until we reached the foot of the lighthouse.  It really didn’t matter which way we looked.  The view was unbelievable.  We were overpowered by the immensity and color of the ocean.

Hiking down to the Hole in the Wall

Far off in the distance we could see the beautiful birds called  White-Tailed Tropic Bird  or “Long Tail” soaring above us with their exceptionally beautiful tails. Out in ocean, in the distance, we saw huge cargo ships.

“Where is the Hole in the Wall?” I asked.  Ricky suggested that we hike down to see it, so four of us took off with him down toward the ocean. Two stayed behind and rested in the shade of the massive lighthouse.  For those of you who are interested, additional information about historical maps of Hole in the Wall, look here .

Arriving at the beach

At first the hike was easy as we followed a cement path through a maze of sea grapes and then hiked further down until we reached the beach.  We took a left at the beach and started hiking across limestone that was full of potholes and sharp edges.  We walked carefully through the maze until we reached a point where we could finally see the Hole in the Wall.  

Hole in the Wall

The sea was calm that day, so there was no frenzy of water shooting through the hole.  However, it was still magnificent and awesome.  One could feel a sense of power emanating from the place even  when the ocean is calm.  Looking down at the ocean, we saw an incredible aqua blue that is hard to describe, even with photos.

Tough walking, but the view is worth it

We then headed back across the limestone craters and up the hill to the lighthouse. 
One suggestion I have to any beach comber who takes this hike.  Wear your walking shoes! 

Returning to the lighthouse

The meadows were also beautiful on the way back and the hike through the sea grapes was special. Without their fragile shade, we would have been wilting from the sun. The views of the lighthouse throughout were stunning.

The lesson that I learned  from this tour is that the Hole in the Wall is a place where one could spend many a day, just appreciating the sense of nature’s power and enormity.  I can’t wait to return.

  

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She is now officially Little Miss Irene and is downgraded to a tropical storm and is no longer “Hurricane Irene”.

Ironically, the minute the announcement went out that she was downgraded, the wind picked up at our place and two big trees came down on our property.  The first big drop was our neighbor’s tree and a huge branch dropped on our fence.  The second big tree was on our property and fell across the road, stopping traffic until our village emergency trucks came and removed it.

The winds whipped for quite some time.  In fact, these were the first really bad gusts of wind that we encountered from her of any significance.  Fancy that.

TROPICAL STORM IRENE SHOWS HER STUFF

Let me entertain you.  Sit back and relax.  Put on Willy Nelson, and listen to his song while you scroll down through the rest of the photos showing our transition through Little Miss Irene’s visit to Hastings on Hudson.

Our story

We patiently waited for her  tantrum to subside so we could take a walk or get out of the house without worrying about a tree falling on us.  Below, is the transition that I photographed from humid, wet Irene, to dry cranky Irene, to bye bye, Irene.

HUMID,WET

SHE OFFERED US DRY, PROMISING, BUT CRANKY WINDS

BYE, BYE, IRENE

This morning, the 29th of August 2011, the morning after Irene, there were a few “hangovers” to take care of.  Take a look at our Saw Mill Parkway, that is now the “Saw Mill Canal”.  Our neighbor photographed people kayaking on it yesterday.  This morning I got shots of it just languishing in the beauty of our sunny, bright, windless early autumn morning.

Anyone want to go kayaking with me? Here is a photo that our neighbor Ron Hollander took of the Saw Mill Canal yesterday. 

Just for the record, we are aware that this is not a happy story for everybody.  They are saying on the news that there were 20 deaths from her, and most of it sounds like people injured and killed from high waters.  We are sorry for what happened.

We have relatives in Connecticut who have no electricity and probably won’t have any for days. We have friends in Vermont who are this morning, trying to find their way through a lot of damaged trees.

Before we moved to Hastings on Hudson, we lived on Roosevelt Island on the East River of Manhattan and their tree damage and flooding is considerable. Take a look at their Roosevelt Island Blog. to see the tree damage.    

We have friends in the Bahamas who are wishing for some light in the evening, phone service and some running water.

We are sorry for the damage and injuries that did occur.

These storms appear to be increasing in magnitude.  I hope all of us will start taking note of the scientific evidence we have that these storms, these environmental disasters, are partly caused by human activity over which we have some control.

It was impressive to see the way that a strong mayor and city management affects urban behavior.  Our New Yorkers proved yet again, that  they move quickly when they have to. They efficiently evacuate their homes when deemed dangerous.  They use public transport a lot and walk when they cannot ride.  They may be famously cranky like Irene, from time to time, but they are efficient and quick and full of good spirit.

No doubt, part of this story is just plain mother nature overwhelming us, as she is prone to do.

Bye, Bye, Irene

By the way,  a friend of mine in Australia recommends that we move from Willy Nelson to Leadbelly to get a really good orchestration for the storm. I have to admit.  It really does sound good.  You can listen to it here:  FRANMART BLOGSPOT
 

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It is now one hour into the time when we are supposed to feel the presence of Little Miss Irene.  What we experience thus far is lots of water, lots of rain,.  It has been raining steady for at least five hours now.  Every once in awhile a big gust of wind goes by, but I think wind storms are not going to necessarily be our problem.  Our problem is WATER!  Everything already looks pretty waterlogged. 

Thus far, our house is both high and dry.  We are up on some cliffs, high above the Hudson River.  Here is what it looks like out our window.

From our attic window, the skyline looks like this with  LOTS OF RAIN, LOW VISIBILITY..

Our deck is truly wet now, and the flowers are bowing from the weight of the rain.

That’s all for now. 

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We Plan for Irene

Just south of us, some 7 miles from here, is the northern border of New York City.  We hear through the news that New York City is evacuating some 300,000 people who reside in areas where flooding might occur from the storm  This is what their evacuation zones looks like that they have put into place:

NEW YORK CITY EVACUATION ZONES

We are up the Hudson River some seven miles beyond the map at Hastings on Hudson. Up here, we do not have evacuation plans,  But many of us work in New York City in areas that are zoned for evacuation, like our son who works near Battery Park, or our friend who owns a business down near the water on the East Side of Manhattan.. 

The Hudson River could flood here in Hastings on Hudson.  But our home is up on the cliffs overlooking the river and facing the Palisades. We do not expect to have problem with flooding like the lowlands might.

It is possible that we might get strong gusts of hurricane winds that topple trees because the tree roots have lost their hold owing to heavy rains. It is also possible that we could have wind damage, considering our height above the river.  But as of now, this is all speculation.

In any case, most of us are hunkered down and are following instructions to get to safe quarters and stay there until the hurricane passes by.

We can forget about public transport in NYC this afternoon because they are shutting down the subway system, stopping the buses and also the Metro rail lines.  That is really amazing.  New Yorkers are big public transport users. I cannot imagine what people will do if they want to get around.  New Yorkers are also good walkers and bikers, which they might do as a last resort.

When all transportation pretty much stopped on September 11, 2001, many of us put on our shoes and walked out of the city.  So it wouldn’t be the first time that walking would become the “transport of choice”.  However, given the size of the storm expected, I imagine that people won’t walk around much either.

I just went up to our attic and took a video of how our skyline looks this afternoon.  When the film starts, we are looking Northwest toward Nyack and the Tappanzee Bridge on the Hudson River.  when the film ends, it is aimed south toward New York City, almost to the George Washington Bridge.Tomorrow, I will try to photograph this same scene again to see how it changes.  Here is a video of our skyline at 3:30pm today taken from our attic..

 
SKY LINE AT HASTINGS ON HUDSON

 Our public library is on the river, next to our train station into the city, a 32 minute train ride from here. One looks down at the Hudson River.  I noticed that big ships had come down the Hudson River to get away from the potential violence of the ocean these next few days. 

Big ships were coasting into the river, and just hanging out there, for the moment.  You can see them through the trees from the Hastings Library.

Hastings Train Station with New York City in the Background
The sign says SERVICES SUSPENDED at the train station.

Although not deserted, our village is almost completely empty of people.  Few cars are in the area.

And the library is closed on Saturday, which is most unusual.

Photo of library taken through the window.

This is how we look today, the day before Hurricane Irene is supposed to hit us.  She is due here in our backyard at 8am.  So when we get up in the morning, I will try to re photograph a number of these places so that you can see the difference.  Until then, pleasant evening!

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Here we are, waiting for cranky Little Miss Irene, our uninvited guest, to arrive.  We have been watching her roll along for quite some time now.

We were most worried and concerned when she rolled over our settlement in the Bahamas and held her eye to the Abacos for most of Wednesday. We heard stories of surges, whipping winds, pouring rain. We were so relieved to find out yesterday that our neighbors are all safe and sound, and that no homes are seriously injured in our area of Bahama Palm Shores and Casurina on the Great Abaco Island.  We are grateful for that.  Its satellite cays also appear to have made it through without too much trouble.  We now hear mainly about brush and downed trees on the road, no electricity and water, no phones.  Hardships, but manageable.  I should point out in case some are wondering, the most recent news from down there says that there is now electricity and internet in Marsh Harbour.

The entire time that the hurricane whirled over the Bahamas, spitting rain and shoving sand and water around, the only news we could get from here in New York was an enormous amount of scary hype indicating that the hurricane Irene was headed toward us, on the East Coast.  Now, I do not feel that it is unimportant that the hurricane is coming our way, mind you.  But it saddened me that so little time could be found by our national reporters to tell the story of these very brave island families, hunkered down, and reporting out to the rest of us mainly through Facebook (when the electricity was on) and through satellite phone (when it was not) as to how they were faring.  We are so grateful for their safety through this terrible storm.

The Abaco Islands is an area where people from Canada and the United States and from countries of Central America have second homes, in addition to the many first homes of Bahamians  Without these brave local Bahamian reporters, mostly reporting on Facebook, we would have no idea how our settlements fared and would still be wondering what happened. 

Irene actually is headed here today ( I am saying this just in case someone managed to never turn on the TV or the radio or speak to anybody for the last 5 days), and I thought that just for the record, I will put up some photos as we go along, of what is happening in our backyard.

I doubt that it will have any of the extreme shaking and blowing that we saw in the photos of our neighbors in the Bahamas putting up with a Category 3, but one never knows.  But since I am here in New York, I thought that it might be “pay back” time and that I should photograph for others what we are getting here in the NY area, actually, reporting from Hastings on Hudson, New York, a rivertown, just 7 miles north of New York City.

For all you Bahamians who have second  homes, children, brothers and sisters, parents and friends in this area, and to all our friends who do not live in the New York City area, here is how it looks, thus far.

 It is not actually a sunny day.  The grey fog covers us so heavily that we cannot see the Hudson River in the distance.  It has not yet started to rain.  The light is such that it is good for photographing flowers.  Our side yard looks very peaceful, like this:

As of 12 noon, it has started to drizzle.  Outside it is quiet.  Few cars go by.  Perhaps one or two per hour, at most.  I think everybody is at the grocery store and at the hardware store getting supplies.  We stayed home today and just filled up our canteens, buckets and extra pails with water in case we lose electricity later.  We have cleared off our decks, checked all the windows to make sure they are properly closed.

Here is how it looks at 1:36pm. Our deck shows a touch of rain.  And you can see from the photo below that the clouds are becoming more dense.  Signing off for now.  More to follow.

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We went to the Caribbean Garden Show at the New York Botanical Garden this last Saturday.  I wanted to see whether I could identify some of the plants that we have in our yard in the Abacos.  The Show had a lot of the plants that we have, for example, cocoplum, banana and papaya trees, a variety of palms including the sago, coconut palm, royal palm, the thatch palm and the common Palmetto (a type of Sabal palm).  However, the plants that I wanted to identify were not in the show.  Alas, back to work on identifying them.

One person suggested that we stop in Miami and visit the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden and that we might have a better chance of getting into the details and nuances of tropical plant life down there.  It is now a new item on my Bucket List.  

Our friend the staghorn was highlighted at the show.

Even though we didn’t identify our plants this time around, the garden show was wonderful and we had a great time except for the part of walking between the car and the show.  The winds were blowing hard and it was unusually cold.  Ah well.  I think I am still missing the warmth of our Abacos.

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As of February 13, we returned to New York.
Our scenes out the window in the morning, shifted accordingly.

The temperatures were chilly  when we got here but have been warming up ever since.

Probably the most complicated part of shifting back and forth between the Bahamas and here is remembering which side of the road to drive on, and to remember where the spatulas are in the kitchen.

The snow is still piled high in many places.

But there is much evidence that spring is on the way.  
There is not much one can do outside yet, other than take daily walks.  Because of the constant melting during the day, black ice is a consideration and one must walk cautiously across it to keep from slipping.

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In one of his garden projects,  Joe is designing a grassy circle of small trees, surrounded by hydrangea, rhododendron, and native grasses, at the top of the hill as a location especially for children, so they may take “hikes” and sit on blankets in the side yard and look at the big view across the river and through the trees.

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First School Photo

Our eldest grandchild sent us her school photo from kindergarten.  Just like the other garden, things keep rejuvenating.   This time around, we just get to enjoy the photos and leave all the “making of the lunches” to our adult children.   Thank you Lila for the picture.  We are very proud of you.

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Autumn reflections

 We are at the height of color.  There is no freeze yet, which explains the bright hues.  This is my favorite place to read.

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