Beth R. Barth
The Sag Harbor Express is spread over my dining room table. I’m reading every word as if in the paper I will find clues to my new world. It has been all of three months since July when I moved to Sag Harbor. Here I reconnect with family and am closer to my youngest daughter who has recently moved to the city.
My oldest daughter gave me permission.
“Mom, you can move now,” Joanna said, sticking her head back into the kitchen before returning to Chicago. “Carrie and I are out of here. The house is old; it makes me sneeze.” She refers to our home in Newton, Massachusetts that I keep after the collapse of a long marriage, so that she and her sister, Carolyn, have a place to come to or leave from as they adjust to our reconfigured family.
I have considered it for a long while so, I do. I move. After three harrying months of pack, throw, give, finally I’m here.
September is shattered by the assault on the New York City’s twin trade towers. Ripples continue to disturb our presumed sheltered lives out here on the eastern tip of Long Island, now only a long finger away. Today, October 7th’s bright blue sky, like all recent flawless blue-skied mimics of September 11, brings vague anxiety along with hope of enjoying this balmy fall day.
Packing boxes still untouched stand like sentinels around the room.
In the paper is a tiny announcement, “…a hike in the greenbelt…” I notice that it is today. I glance up at the clock. Actually, it is now. ‘The greenbelt’, that’s right behind my house. I hear the prior owner’s voice mentioning, “That’s where my wife likes to walk.”I’m clear that I’m not going into those woods by myself unless I know where I am. I look at the paper again. “Starts at Mashashimuet Park.” I know where that is. The park sign with its tongue twister name is arched over a corner opposite Otter Pond. I pass it as I drive in and out of town. I run to get my sneakers and flee the boxes.
Panting, I make it to the park hoping I haven’t missed anything. An official with a clipboard takes my name and the check I pull from my pocket. I’m handed a map of where we will walk. I look around and count about thirty people. A number have binoculars.
“Oh, this is great,” I venture as I move toward them. “I am a birder too, but I didn’t bring my binoculars. I would like to know how birding works out here. I just moved and I don’t know anything about the birding scene.
A bit flustered, I hope that anyone who is a birder will know what I’m trying to say.
A fellow steps out from the group and comes over.
“I’ll show you,” he says. “Oh, good. Thanks,”
I reply and introduce myself. “I’m Beth.
“I’m Bob, “ he offers.
“ I didn’t bring binoculars because I’m not too good at walking and birding at the same time. I’d soon be left behind,” I explain.
“I know what you mean,” he says.
I don’t know how he knows because he has his binoculars, but it is very nice to have someone concur rather than argue or lecture about how it is possible to do two things at once. The voice of my ex-husband is easily recaptured.
We wait for the group to gather then start across the park and into the woods. It isn’t far before I hear a bird call and turn towards the sound.
“Where?” Bob asks.
I point and he swings his glasses over adroitly picking up the rustling leaves.
“A black-throated blue,” he states without hesitation. T
here are not many times when you feel a shock run through your body; it’s like hair rising at the back of your neck or goose bumps on your arm, but much nicer. It takes one second. I think it is recognition, anticipation. A path opens in front of you and you know to step forward.
‘Oh, he’s a real birder,’ is what reaches my mind.
He hands me his binoculars and I can see the small blue-grey warbler, the white notch on its wing, the black throat.
“Thanks,” I say.
As we walk other birdcalls invite attention. I offer good hearing, which he no longer has. He follows with a quick eye rarely missing a twitch or rustle. The path winds through woods, brushy wetlands, and opens to intermittent vistas of a large expanse of water we learn is Long Pond. We pass a bench around which someone has fastidiously woven an enclosure made of vines.
Although I am intent on the birds, part of me takes in more than the fluttering branches and anonymous trills as we meander around Little Long Pond where the trails do indeed bend close to my new home. I learn that Bob is also a recent transplant. It is a bit more than a year since he left Michigan after the death of his wife to be near his son in Brooklyn. In that short time the geography of the east end has become a private map in his head of where during each season different birds can be seen. My own sense of the trail we are walking is indelible. I find it familiar and welcoming as though I have been here many times.
Perhaps Bob and I are somewhat less insular than is my memory because toward the end of the morning a woman who discovers I am her neighbor suggests that she and I leave the group and take a short cut back. Although I welcome learning the loop to my house, I hesitate. Bob stops as he realizes that we are about to go in separate directions. “
Wait! I can’t find a pencil.” His self-possession abandoned, he is frazzled.
“I always have a pencil.” But, he doesn’t and it has never occurred to me to carry one. Someone produces a scrap of paper and a pen and we exchange phone numbers.
“I never would have found you again,” he moans regularly after that. It is true. I’ve never known Bob, an artist and meticulous list maker, not to have a pen and notebook with him, always.
Perhaps, the moment of near miss propels us.
A few days later the phone rings. He suggests a trip to Montauk Point. I may not be an accomplished birder, but I know to pack a lunch, finger food you can eat without looking, because when you go birding you never know when you’ll get back and food is not an excuse for a picnic, but sustenance on the go. A few times I get to see, behind Bob’s distinctive round glasses, his laughing blue eyes, as, occasionally, they do look my way.
The East End becomes our playground. I imagine that in East Hampton owners of the meticulously groomed lawns on Further Lane would be surprised to know that people staring with binoculars at their homes from the road are searching for the orange legs of a white-fronted goose. Or, that on Hook Pond, hidden right next to main beach on Ocean Avenue, also in East Hampton, can be found three species of merganser. Lazy Point, a protected spit on the edge of Napeague Harbor in Amagansett, occasionally awards with flashes of white distinguishing a roseate tern from a common tern. Our Hamptons wears wings.
Many conversations later when the shock wears off and comfort with one another creeps in, we share a little of the roads that have led us to one another. Of course, I hear of the churchwomen who cooked casseroles for him in Michigan.
“Flattering,” I suggest.
“Overwhelming,” he muses.
“Well, what were you looking for,” I wonder aloud?
“I was looking for a blond woman who liked to go birding.”
“Oh,” I say. You were looking for me.”
“Yes,” he says. “And, I found you.”