Father, Son And Cockenoe Island

The other day, Scott Smith enjoyed the glorious Indian Native American weather to kayak out to Cockenoe Island.  It was his 2nd trip in recent months.  Here’s his report:

I was following up on a discovery I had made with my young son early this summer.  Traipsing along the shore, we spotted a narrow footpath leading up a small slope into the island’s hinterlands.  Sidestepping the ubiquitous poison ivy vines we ducked under a tangled canopy of small trees, raising a ruckus among the herons, egrets and cormorants that roost among the branches.

It was cool – like being embedded in an episode of “Survivorman.”  There were a dozen boats anchored in the shallow waters of the bay still within earshot. But just into the shadows of the poop-flecked trees, we had the island to ourselves.  Who knew that so close to Compo you could feel like Robinson Crusoe?

As the birds above us took flight, my little man Friday looked to the ground.  Littered among the bits of broken eggshells, musty bird droppings and stray feathers were scores of rusty cans and broken bottles.  The sight of so much human detritus mystified and slightly spooked my son, but I recognized it right away as a scene out of my own now-distant past – a secret place for what looked like generations of underage partying.

As we gingerly poked among the evidence, I tried to answer as best I could the innocent and inevitable questions:  Where did all these beer cans come from?  Who drank them?  When?  Why?  And why did they just leave them here?  I knew but wasn’t saying — at least not too much.

No, there were no hobos living on Cockenoe Island.  Yes, people drink lots of beer, and have for a long time.  I don’t know – maybe they didn’t have enough room on their boats…

We left the hidden campsite on Cockenoe as we found it, me bemused by a blast from the past, my boy a bit closer to reaching that time in his teens when adventure is less about paddling around on a kayak with your old man and more about discovering where best to go with the booze smuggled out of the convenience store or parents’ liquor cabinets.

He declined my invite to paddle back out to the island for garbage detail the other day.  Too much like work, I suppose, so I had the island all to myself.  The nesting birds were long gone, though the goldenrod blooming across the island’s rocky shoals were lit up with scads of monarch butterflies.  (That solves a puzzle that probably goes unnoticed by power boaters but not  kayakers – the curious sight of butterflies flitting across the open Sound).

But my son was on my mind as I dutifully filled up a large black plastic bag with the remains of all those years of partying.  For every can of freshly chucked Coors Light on top of the leaves was a rusted old pull-tab can, half-buried.  When did anyone last pop open one of those?  The ‘70s?

There were tall green wine bottles of the Boone’s Farm variety, cans of Budweiser faded bright red to mellow yellow, glass jugs of Gallo half-filled with scum, and squat brown bottles of some obscure brew long gone from local shelves.

My plastic bag already tearing from the glass shards and cans with muck, I left many of the more rusty hulks behind.  I felt like I was disturbing a kind of archeology site — our disposable era’s equivalent of an ancient shell mound.  I set a few of the more curious finds on a rock and took a photo. I didn’t come of age around here, but some local reader might recognize their provenance.

I dallied long enough to contribute a fresh empty to the Hefty bag, then heaved it all into the front seat of the kayak.  On the voyage back home to Compo, it rode better that way.  Just like when my son is in the bow, up in front of me.

16 responses to “Father, Son And Cockenoe Island

  1. Westport Expat

    Maybe it’s time to reinstitute The Great Race – isn’t that the one where you had to bring a bag of garbage back from Cockenoe?

    • YES! The Great Race was a phenomenal piece of Westport that is sadly missed. Sportsmen (and women) navigated the Saugatuck river and all the way out to the island, then had to scamper around the island to fill a bag of garbage and then paddle back to the finish line. The last few years of the Great Race you only had to stay at the island long enough to collect an acklnowledgement that you had been all the way out there.

      It’s sad that those days are gone.

    • My dad was in The Great Race … my mom still has a t-shirt from The Great Race too (she also has a t-shirt from The Gold Rush, anyone remember where that store was?)

      Have a great day!!

    • Ah, memories…One year, we actually won $100 for having the “Best Trash Boat” – the best boat built out of trash. And I remember several times when we got to the island, there was no trash left to pick up. Unfortunately, the Great Race started going down hill sometime after the Town took it over.

  2. A simple note of gratitude for taking the time and making the effort to clean up the disposables people carelessly leave behind!
    What you did is inspiring!
    More like you WOULD make a difference in our every day.

  3. Mr. Smith, on a poignantly written piece…of “father & son,” as well as on doing something worthwhile: Keeping America – and Westport beautiful 🙂

  4. I second Kira’s comment. Thanks!

  5. We too enjoy Cockenoe for it’s bird and plant life. Thank you for taking away the bottles, cans and debris, we will bring a garbage bag next time and do likewise. I think some of it may wash up from other locations too?
    Great photos too.
    The Great Race sounds like a great idea, – so garbage picking up on Cockenoe is a tradition!

  6. Could be time to reinstate the Great Race. What is did for the island was super.
    …….and, thank you for a beautiful review of your day. It was precious.

  7. Read this wonderful piece and raced over to eBay — only to find there wasn’t a single “Save Cockenoe” poster available. Remember? Early Miggs Burroughs, and beautiful. Those were the days.

  8. The Dude Abides

    I must confess that the Boone’s Farm may have been my own (circa 1966) but certainly none of the “human detritus.” A very well-written essay on a subject that is recurring on this blog: liter and neglect. I applaud the efforts of Mr. Smith and would certainly entertain a communal effort to rally the troops for a Sunday garbage pickup and/or a revival of the Great Race. On a sidenote: does the town of Westport actually own the island???

  9. Linda Gramatky Smith

    I also ditto the thanks to Scott Smith! A wonderful father-son essay and he really did some good in picking up the garbage on Cockenoe. My mom (Doppy Gramatky, whose 102nd birthday would have been this week) was so proud of having gone on the bus up to Hartford to protest the State wanting to put a nuclear power plant on our precious little island.

  10. the town of westport ownes the island and if you want to spend the night you need to reserve a camp site and get a permit ($20.00 i think) thru the town hall. There is a group of mostly children 1 to 14 and there parents that venture for a camp out once sometime twice a season- they stay for sometime 2 nights- amazing for these kids to have a lord of the flies (sort of) experience to close to the westport shores- It is one of the highlights of my childrens summer.

  11. lovely piece . . . thank you

  12. i know it’s totally outside the point of this entry but next time you are going for p.c. by not saying Indian Summer would you please consider using North American Indian (treaty of ghent, jay treaty, couple of recent federal court cases acknowledging the term…)?

  13. what an adventure on an idyllic island so close to home to create wonderful memories for a father and son and maybe even to teach a lesson . lucky guys.