Swans and Butterflies
By Talia Carner
It is a late summer day. Outside my window, the wetland is dotted with blooming pink flowers as large as saucers and lush shrubs and low-growing trees that have adapted to the brackish water. Six-hundred feet away, under cloudless blue skies, the waters ofMecoxBaysparkle in azure. Three dozen swans glide over the mirror-like surface, carving gentle wakes. Half-way between the house and the bay, a fawn shows up on a deer path cut into the phragmites. It stands still, brown eyes filled with wonder, the white spots on its back like a sprinkle of freckles across a child’s nose. The fawn’s gaze follows two large Monarch butterflies flying over its head, their large orange-colored wings flapping in a balletic circle.
This could be a scene from the Disney-animated movie Bambi, but it is real, and it is mine. I catch the sight through almost every window of my otherwise modest house.
Our life changed when, in 1995 our four young-adult children ganged up on us and staged a coup d’état. They had called one another from their respective colleges and universities to gather in ourFire Islandhome, where we had been spending summer weekends for seventeen years.
“Enough ofFire Island. Get a place in theHamptons,” they announced.
“TheHamptons?” My husband, Ron, vaulted over his ongoing tirade about getting dressed up Saturday night to wait for an hour at one of theHamptons’ notoriously crowded and expensive restaurants—only to be denied a decent meal. “No way.”
“But you love it here,” I reminded the children. They grew here, each held his or her first job here, sometimes returning to it the following summer. Each became a part of the fabric of life inFire Island. We all enjoyed the ferry ride with groceries across the bay, the insulation from the world in the quiet, shaded lanes that only saw the wheels of wagons and bicycles.
But after the coup d’état weekend ended, the warmth of our hours of laughter, shared cooking, and games lingered. I sat Ron down for a talk. “Look how the children make the effort to be together. It’s a gift that all four enjoy each other’s company. Let’s spend their inheritance now—on them.”
He looked past the sparse row of summer cottages toward the stretch of white sand lining the ocean. “Only if we can stay close to the ocean.”
Summer weekends onFire Islandhad been an oasis from my high-powered corporate career during an era when women broke the glass ceiling—and cracking our skulls in the process. However, I had just left that world to write fiction full time. I could settle anywhere. Yes, a view of the ocean would be lovely for my new occupation, I agreed, but since we had witnessed in Fire Island enough storms and houses tumbling into the water, we should buy not right on the ocean, but across the street from it.
Finding such a place in theHamptonsturned out to be a daunting task. A home in walking distance to the beach? Brokers showed us houses a mile away. We distilled our request: “Barefoot walk to the beach.”
But a home across the street from the ocean required an easement through ocean-front properties, all private, thus further narrowing our options. “How about near a public beach?” we asked.
Driving around to look at available homes, I eyedMecoxBayand became greedy. I wanted water in the back, too.
With this added requirement, the offerings of both front and back water views were almost nil, and the few houses we saw were suburban homes. We wanted a beach house; our sprawling residence inNassauCountywith its professional landscape required maintenance. We envisioned raw dunes dotted with beach grass, reeds and wild roses—not another manicured lawn. We only wanted to upgrade the house ourFire Island’s beachy feeling, whose kitchen cabinets had been made of lumber the contractor had slapped together.
Instead of a house, we found a land onDune Roadin Bridgehampton with a handkerchief-size footprint permitted to build on the wetland. Yet merely “a barefoot walk” from Cameron public beach, it faced the ocean from a safe distance in the front while hugging the bay in the back. Most enticing, the two bodies of water met right past us, creating yet another water front and giving the house-to-be stunning 330-degree water views.