Ecology is a subject with which I have been consciously engaged for almost fifty years on the most elevated, and most banal, planes. The lesson that I learned about the interrelatedness and interdependence [does this sound like Yin/Yang] of all existing phenomena, living and dead, began in the town hall of the Springs Ladies Village Improvement Society in 1961. There I met a ‘bayman’ – a fisherman by the name of Milt Miller – and an older blind farmer named Ferris Talmage. Their subject was a harbor, Accabonac, around which both men had been raised: a cornucopia of sea life that thrived during much of their lives, and for thousands of years before.

It was in the process of being destroyed as I appeared on the scene. I had recently-acquired two small cottages on that harbor and, until educated by my bayman and farmer teachers, I was chagrined that the plans to dredge the harbor to eight feet deep and twelve feet wide did not reach to my property, and to the sailboat conveniently moored outside of my house.

I did not know that eighty percent of the fish in the ocean spawn in the wetlands that border harbors like these. I was unaware of the relationship of these spawning fish to the nutrients provided by these wetlands, and had unwarily already begun to plant my own section of wetland with zoisha grass. I knew nothing of how the insects, the birds, the fish, the plankton all depended on each other for their life-cycle, and how only man could and was breaking that cycle and the richness of life in the harbor and others like it around the world for only one purpose, profit. I did not know that the wetlands protected the mainland from hurricanes, by absorbing the water and the force of the waves.

The East Hampton organizations – especially the Springs Ladies Village Improvement Society –opposing the destruction of our harbors and bays were essentially impotent to challenge the powerful interests and the political structure involved. It was at this point that I launched the Civic Association of the Springs, and became its President. The Association was begun with the assistance of Betty Franey, who lived with her husband, Pierre, the famous French chef  (Four Seasons), across the way. Pierre used the lobsters and scallops in Gardiner’s Bay and the clams, soft shell crabs and snappers in Accabonac Harbor for his extraordinary recipes and dishes.

Gradually, a group of ten people stood against the tide of destruction already unleashed against this harbor and against Eastern Long Island. However, beginning in 1961, I was the leader, speaking out at the Town Board, Zoning and Planning Board and at other meetings called to address the issues. I drove from my Child Guidance clinic in the Five Towns two hours up the island after work to speak before a board and drive back to NYC the same evening. I wrote hundreds of letters to the editor and spoke constantly to various audiences.

Eventually I helped launch the East Hampton Nature Conservancy, served on its board and was the liaison to the Long Island Board that met monthly in Cold Spring Harbor. I discovered that in 1960 the town had closed the original channel between the Gardiner’s Bay and Accobonac Harbor and dredged a new one with the rationale that it would improve water flow through the harbor. However, according to local fishermen, the original channel had served this purpose quite well since the end of the ice age and the formation of Long Island, ten thousand years ago.

I subsequently learned that the local yacht club, which did not have a true sanctuary on the bay for its members, was advertising in the yearly guide to Yachting that Accabonac Harbor was the place where large boats could anchor, and where there would be two marinas and a night club. This was arranged with the collusion of the local Easthampton town government, and that the shift in the channel and the proposed dredging mentioned above were part of the plan. After ten years of struggle, we saved Accabonac Harbor and excluded any further marinas in the Town of East Hampton at the expense of seven of the original ten members dead, one in a mental hospital and only two survivors: Milt Miller and myself.

I ran for office unsuccessfully three times during those ten years. I participated in many conservation movements across the country, and wrote my monograph, “The Best Buy is Open Space”. This eventually saved, as a park, the 1400 beautiful acres along the bay and ocean in an area scheduled for heavy development. My monograph analyzed statistically the cost to the town of development in relation to the cost of keeping space open, and was done during the year 1968-69 from midnight to four AM every night because I could not interest any economist in the project. Apparently this was because they earned much of their income as consultants to developers, although three college professors and the county commissioner of development, Lee Kopplemen (after whom the park alluded to above was named) approved of my methodology. They saw it as a prerequisite to publication by what Ferris Talmage called  a “rich man’s conservation” society: The Preservation Society of East Hampton, mostly concerned with development on the ocean.

(“The Best Buy is Open Space” is available to any who would like to read it. Please contact us for more information.)

I was involved with an ongoing struggle with the Suffolk County Mosquito Control Commission that sprayed all of the wetlands excessively on Accabonac Harbor and elsewhere. They had an annual budget of one million dollars, and conducted research regarding the number of mosquito larvae at any one time on a small stream that ran along the bar that served the local golf club (frequented by the commissioner). Every now and then, he would take out a small net, abandon his post at the bar and scoop for us what he could from the stream. On those findings he based his request for funds from the legislature and ordered spraying. We had informants within the commission who secretly opposed the commissioner’s policies.

Part of his personal vendetta against me, as his most vocal opponent, was the routine spraying of my house by truck with DDT and rotenone when I was away. One day a helicopter appeared that sprayed the entire harbor and then turned on my house. We were home. Outside of our bedroom on the second floor we had a deck, and I gave my gun to my wife (she was raised with guns) to fire on the helicopter, which she did. The helicopter pilot panicked, and informed the commissioner, with whom he was in radio contact, that he was getting out of there and left against the admonishments of his boss who urged him to stay and spray. The expletives expressed between the two were heard and reported later by ham radio operators in the area as being exceedingly graphic.

That day one and one-half million fish died in the harbor, an old lady was paralyzed and one of my cats partially paralyzed. Milt Miller, the bayman,  took some of the fish to the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, where they discovered massive amounts of rotenone. I decided to take the Mosquito Control Commission to court and discovered a lawyer, Victor Yannacone. He was interested in the case because his wife had been raised on a similar harbor in Eastern Long Island, and she insisted that he pursue it. He brought together environmental scientific experts, professors, from all of the great universities in the East and perhaps beyond to testify. The most damaging testimony was given by Milt Miller who, much to the chagrin of the district attorney defending the county, was able to run off statistics on the declining number of osprey, eagles, and fish in the bay area and local harbors for many years. Milt did this all from memory.

As anticipated, we lost the case, since the judge was a crony of the commissioner. However, the latter lost his elevated status, as the legislature immediately reduced his budget to one third of its previous amount.

The assembled scientists and Yannacone immediately formed the Environmental Defense Fund, and have successfully carried environmental cases since that time. These include, in their next case, the termination of DDT use in this country. During the testimony in that case, a psychologist brought by the chemical companies testified for three days, until he was thrown out of court by the judge, that the plaintiffs in the case were all homosexuals afraid of the power of these chemicals. Somewhere I have the transcript in which he referred to the plaintiffs, primarily me, in our rotenone case.

In 1971 the democratic party asked me to run for supervisor of Easthampton during the following year, after, I am told, a large number of preferred candidates refused. I also refused, and instead went to England where unbeknownst to me, Chinese medicine awaited.

The woman who ran won, becoming the first Democrat to do so for a very long time.

I dedicated ten years of my life to saving Accabonac Harbor and others like it, in collaboration with a few, very few, others. Amongst other victories, we succeeded in saving that harbor against very strong commercial interests. Perhaps one of those victories was my newfound awareness of the wisdom of nature, combined with both an awe and respect that have extended to my understanding and practice of Chinese medicine, and to this paper.

Though I was deeply engaged in the conservation movement for ten years in the 1960s, presided over the Civic Association of the Springs, ran for political office on a conservation ticket three times, wrote “The Best Buy is Open Space” and helped begin the East Hampton Chapter of the Nature Conservancy and The Environmental Defense Fund, I did not take an interest in any particular species except fish and birds in general. I, and others, managed to save the wetlands of Accabonac Harbor and limit boating in the waters around East Hampton. Having watched `Nature’ on PBS and subscribed to National Geographic almost forever, I should know more about primates. The only ones I have studied, and been committed to healing, are homo-sapiens, and they are difficult at best.


Victor Yannacone

Betty and Pierre Franey: Pierre was Chef at the French Pavilion in the 1939 NY Worlds Fair, and also of the Four Seasons, a famous restaurant in NYC

Craig Claiborne: Food editor of the New York Times for about 25 years, and close friend of, and collaborator with, Pierre Franey

The interdependence of species

Ecology in the larger sense.

The interrelatedness of all things

Nature has achieved a balance that only man gradually, and cosmic forces suddenly, have reversed (die-off)

That natural intelligence operates in all animals.

Only humans believe that they are more intelligent

Francis Bacon and Cartesian (Descarte) thinking- enslave nature

Homeostasis –Bernard-Cannon

A great deal has been said about the inter-relatedness of all things especially by environmentalists recently, and by philosophers in the past (Blake). Medicine should have something to say as well.