Right at the start of the year, I went to Red Hook to help with the clean-up in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Eight months on and some communities are still getting back on their feet. Today I headed back to another Sandy-ravaged area to help out again, but in a very different way.
Ryan, Meghan and I went to the Rockaways – an expanse of beach in Queens that was hardest hit in the hurricane last October. Nearly a year later, and the place is slowly putting itself back together. When we arrived, we headed to the boardwalk – and while parts of it have been rebuilt, others are entirely missing, reminding us that things aren’t back to normal just yet.
Our role – along with swarms of other volunteers – was to make sure that the area is a little better prepared if it’s ever hit by such a force of nature again. When Sandy struck, the beach towns with sand dunes suffered less damage, so today we got to work building some.
We’d envisioned shoveling sand to create the dunes so we were surprised to discover we’d be tackling it in a much more inventive way. After Christmas last year, the city’s sanitation department picked up Christmas trees dumped on the streets. Rather than throwing them in a landfill or leaving them to rot, the city saved them to put back into the repair effort.
Our job was to line these dried-out trees along the beaches. In time, the surf and wind will move the sand on top of the trees in order to create the dunes naturally. If we come back in a year, we’ll see the sand dunes well underway.
We donned our volunteer tees and got to work piling up the trees and branches. It was so satisfying being outside, using our hands, doing good – and all with the sea just feet away. The day was beautiful and it didn’t feel like work at all but with so many of us, we soon had rows of trees reaching down the beach towards the water.
As well as dune making, we also helped with clean-up activities. One group picked up rubbish and debris from the beach, while my team de-weeded an area so it could be used as public space again. While I enjoyed the physical work, I had no idea what I was doing – and kept worrying that I was pulling up plants instead of weeds. Thankfully Rhett (remember Rhett – who taught me how to make fire?) was there with his usual enthusiasm to show us what to keep and what to throw away.
The day was hosted by the Surfrider Foundation, which helps protect and rebuild beaches affected by environmental issues across the country. It was also sponsored by Barefoot Wine, who have their own beach rescue project – and who threw us a party nearby afterwards. Covered in sand, dirt and scratches, we drank in celebration of our efforts.
It was interesting to visit an area which I’d heard so much about in the aftermath of the storm, and while I have no doubt that many homes and families are still struggling, it was so heartwarming to see a great-looking neighborhood with people milling about, apparently getting back to normal life. I hope our work today can protect them in the future.