In a gentle curve where North Plandome Road meets Rock Hollow Road in Plandome Manor, amid grasses and plantings and weeds, rests a rough-surfaced boulder etched with the names of three area residents who perished on 9/11: Robert Eaton, Christopher Quackenbush, Frank Salvaterra.
I never met these men, but over the past 18 months, as the pandemic forced social isolation and my daily walks past their commemorative stone became increasingly important to maintain calm, I have come to think of these names as mentors. Their spirits walk with me as I approach the Science Museum of Long Island vegetable garden, a little up a hill behind, or pace the 150 steps farther along Manhasset Bay to a plaque with the Frank Muir maxim: "In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks."
How true Muir’s words are in this little patch of the world. Across the road on the beach, protective osprey parents warm their clutch of eggs for weeks, then swoop precipitously into the water, seizing fish for their hungry nestlings. Soon enough the fledglings attempt short flights overhead, making ever larger circles over the boulder as they grow in strength and confidence. Waves lapping the shore are quiet compared to the roar of human-made waterfalls cascading like never-ending tears into the footprints of the original towers at Ground Zero some 20 miles west.
Nearby chittering raccoons scurry to or from the nearby golf course, wary of the occasional red fox. Wild rabbits quiver, alert to all predators. A weeping Norway spruce bends over the boulder. A magnolia tree, splendid in the spring, stands guard on one side. Miscanthus grass grows, covers, is cut back and dies over the names. Later in the fall, daisies will appear.
In the sharp cold of an early December morning, I have gazed at the beacon moon and felt the men’s spirits twinkling in the distant stars. Sometimes I sit on the bench next to the rock and imagine what these men might have done with the years that were snatched from their lives. Sailed on Manhasset Bay? Worked in nature? Become discoverers? Led their communities? Their families know with profound grief what has been missing as well as what has been accomplished over the years in acts of remembrance and good deeds. Their names remind me that tomorrow offers no guarantees; today is what must be treasured; that whether we choose bravery, service or simply to go to work on an ordinary, sunstruck day, fate has an immutable plan for each of us. On that day, shellshocked, I walked from my downtown office uptown through the ash and dust and late in the evening took the Long Island Rail Road safely home.
Only recently did I look up the men’s obituaries. All three worked in finance. They were memorialized as good, human, generous, talented, loving people. Not knowing them, I have been involved with what the brevity and decency of their lives can teach me and what the stone’s beautiful surroundings can inspire.
On last week’s 20th anniversary of the attacks, a white petunia was the sole flower left of the profusion of purple, pink and white blooms from earlier in the year. Soggy little paper American flags from July Fourth — and recently battered by Hurricane Ida — lay as if at half-staff. I placed three flowers on the grass, saying out loud their names, Robert Eaton, Christopher Quackenbush, Frank Salvaterra, and thinking: You whom I never knew are my wise companions. May your names be for a blessing to all who pause here to honor you and remember what we lost.
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