So now, what alternatives do we have as artists? Where, if not within the market, can we invest our energy in pursuit of some kind of stability? Outside of the window of my visitor center, at the mouth of the Fire Island wilderness, there is a model I would like to propose.
American Beach Grass, Ammophila breviligulata, is native to Fire Island. It is perhaps the most ubiquitous, and most easily overlooked organism you’ll find growing within the park. On tours, I tell my visitors that American Beach Grass, though boring, is the most important thing growing on the island, period. Ammophila breviligulata is remarkable for a few reasons. First, it is flexible and hardy, able to survive the torrential force of storms and ocean, as well as the long and otherwise devastating exposure to salt which leaves most other plants here unwell. It is also a hyper cooperative plant. Ammophila breviligulata spreads rhizomatically, by way of long tendrils which grow beneath the sand. The roots of the plant are covered with a symbiotic fungus which both anchors and feeds the grass in exchange for moisture and nutrients. Those roots stretch out and interconnect so that each stalk of beach grass can trade water when necessary. If it has been a dry summer, plants lower to the ground and thus closer to the water table can channel water up towards those growing at the peak of the dune. If it is wet, those upon the dunes can drain the water which pools at their base. All of these roots together form the skeletal structure of the dunes which protect the beach, and all of the other plants and animals which call Fire Island home.