The East End~The Land I Love Written by Michelle Cioffi In 1990, I left Farmingdale, Long Island with a sparkling diamond ring on my left hand and a suitcase in my right. My parents, brother and sisters were leaving too, packing up the car and heading south not by choice, but rather due to the rising real estate taxes on the island. We took the for sale sign off the front lawn. Our 1920’s three, bedroom colonial that we loved dearly was sold. We were moving on, granted in different directions. I said goodbye to my family, but I never gave much thought to leaving Long Island. I guess I had been swept up in a whirlwind of romance, too busy to notice what I would be leaving behind. I never thought about how much I would miss the farmland, or the breathtaking beaches where, as a child, I played tag with the tide. Every weekend in the summer, my family had spent endless hours parked on a beach blanket beside a cooler of deli sandwiches and cold drinks. Leaving only when our skin was completely sun kissed, our swimsuits drenched and wet sand stuck between our toes. After every trip we flip-flopped our way back to the car, rolled down the windows and let the ocean breezes guide us back home. My parents reminded me that Florida was known for its beaches too. “The beaches are just as beautiful in Florida.” they said. “You’ll see, when you come and visit.” Years passed, as I settled into a new life in Westchester, NY. I missed my family and I soon discovered that I also missed Long Island. Occasionally, in the summer we would travel to Jones or Tobay Beach for the day with the kids. I traveled to other lands, and other beaches outside the state, but they weren’t the same. Then one April, my husband Phillip suggested that since we liked to ride bikes, we might enjoy participating in the Ride to Montauk. It was to be held in May. It wasn’t a race, but more of a leisurely 30 mile bike ride on flat land from Watermill to Montauk Point. Having grown up in Nassau County, I was not as familiar with the east end but, I had heard great things and figured I’d give it a try. So, we drove to Mastic Shirley and had our bikes transported by bus to Watermill. I gazed out the window of the bus as we rode to the starting line. We passed Duck Walk Vineyard and the grapevines along the side of the rode seemed to tug at my heartstrings. We were entering the Hamptons and soon arrived at a lovely town called Watermill. Time seemed to slow instantaneously. “What is this magical place?” I asked my husband. “It’s the East End,” he said. “We’re in Watermill.” “Be still, my heart.” I said. “It’s beautiful here.” A fellow rider took a photograph of my husband and I, as we posed in front of the windmill in the square. Rectangular folding tables stretched like the arms of a grandmother welcoming her grandchild into her home for a visit. Paper plates, each with a slice of cherry or blueberry pie from Briermere Farms in Riverhead were scattered across the tables. There were baskets of berries, bananas, and plums. There were also cups of coffee for the weary riders that had ridden all the way from Manhattan. We were just beginning our journey and could barely contain our excitement. “Let’s go!” I said. We hopped on our bicycles gliding along the back roads of each town. The secret pathways of the locals who wanted to take a short cut from one village to the next. We passed the Milk Pail farm stand known for it’s homemade cheeses, farm fresh vegetables and mason jars filled with popcorn. Bouquets of Amy’s sunflowers seemed to blow a giant kiss hello. Ocean breezes whispered to us as if to say welcome back, old friend. We rode past charming shaker farmhouses and mansions fit for a king or a Hollywood movie star. What was it about this wondrous place that attracted people from countries far and wide across the globe? Why here? What made them come? Why had I come here? Then I realized as I looked around, this is the land I love. With its visions of the past, old windmills, watermills, towns that almost looked the same as when they were first established long ago by courageous settlers. Simpler times, like the ones I experienced throughout my childhood. The landscape was painted with picturesque views of white swans gliding along waterways, beige beaches that stretched for miles and organically grown farm stands with hand painted signs that read, “Pick your own berries”. We could feel the gentle breezes off the ocean as we rode past the grass covered sand dunes. Acres and acres of farmland with rows of new vegetable sprouts and the farmers on their tractors working the fields were a sight to behold. We rode thru quaint villages that seemed to echo a call from the past, of a time gone by, complete with hardware stores, movie theatres, and old fashioned toy stores. Park benches invited us to sit and stay awhile, to rest our feet, but we rode on. We were too curious about what we’d find around the bend. The wheels on my bicycle slowed as I approached one breathtaking vista after another. I wanted to stop and soak it all into my memory. I closed my eyes. Memories of my childhood came rushing back to me, the Long Island Fair where I dressed as a farm girl and volunteered my time to make a fabric styrofoam wreath, with the hope that I might win my very first New York state fair ribbon. I remembered pulling back the husk of a roasted ear of Long Island corn for the first time and sinking my teeth into the succulent treat. Weathered barns bulging at the hinges of the barnyard doors filled with young livestock such as chickens, roasters, sheep and pigs. I remembered country baskets overflowing with vegetables in every color of the rainbow and every size. Pumpkin patches brimming with the fall squash and some so plump, they could hardly fit on the scale. I remembered waking to the cooing of the morning dove in the spring, frolicking on the beach and scooping up shells in the summer, and the harvest festivals with a splendor of fruits and vegetables. Suddenly, a feeling swept over me. I recognize this place. This place felt familiar to me. It felt right. It felt like home. It had everything that I loved about Long Island. It was the land that I loved as a child. We rolled thru the town of Montauk and wearily climbed the hill to the Montauk Point Lighthouse on foot. Finally reaching our destination, I drew in a deep breath and marveled at the majestic view of the Montauk Point Lighthouse, the American Flag, and behind it the Atlantic Ocean. “Honey,” I said, as I took a few sips from a bottle of blueberry ale from the Blue Point Brewing Company on the North Fork. “Yes, Michelle?” said Phil. “Can we come back here again, sometime?” I asked. “I love it here. It feels like home.” “Sure,” he said. “We’ll come back.” Later that day, we took the bus back to our car at the station in Mastic Shirley only to discover that our bicycles had not arrived. After waiting an hour, my husband said, “We may have to come back tomorrow.” “No worries!” I said. It didn’t bother me one bit. In fact, it gave me an excuse, to return the following day…back to the east end~the land I love!