Where’s Walden?

There are incredibly beautiful views here on the East End that seem to have remained unchanged for, well, forever. The rocky shores of Montauk, sunsets over any body of water or stretch of woodland, the coastline surrounding Shelter Island’s South Ferry and North Haven, the woods on the way down to the Big Duck, and the ponds and marshlands along the entrance to Orient State Park are all among them. These vistas have to be very similar, if not identical, to what the Shinnecocks saw when they first laid eyes on them. They all serve to remind me how strongly I’ve longed to have lived in one of our small villages hundreds of years ago. The house would look like one of the old, small Capes or Salt Boxes in Sag Harbor with wide wooden plank floors, a wood-burning stove inside, and not much else. Outside, there would be small pens for livestock and vegetable gardens with neat rows surrounded by rectangular fencing. The year would follow the soothing, cyclical pattern of the seasons. Months would be marked by the waxing and waning of the moon rather than deadlines or sales quotas. The week would be structured by six days of essential hard work, followed by a seventh day of worship, rest, and family time. Life’s purpose would be a certainty, as would what happened when that life ended. Imagine a place and time with little concern for war, terrorism, mass shootings, violent crime, or pollution. Think of a life without the specter of high blood pressure and an aching back due to the stress of an emotionally-draining commute to the responsibilities of a demanding, thankless job. There wouldn’t be any urgency to juggle a busy schedule in order to balance the demands of family and career. Nor would there be any self-imposed pressure to squeeze a spin class into a hectic day of work spent sitting at a desk. One’s daily routines would involve vigorous physical activity. Consider the additional health benefits attributable to the unavailability of processed food. And talk about being a locovore! It would be conceivable to eat a turkey club on whole wheat whose contents never traveled more than fifty yards-before, during, or after the sandwich’s consumption. What about the abundance of fresh seafood, nuts, berries, and organic vegetables? If cholesterol could be measured, there’d be not a trace left to find. Of course, there’d be no access to modern medical care, electric appliances, indoor plumbing, or central heating and air conditioning. Say goodbye to the convenience of automobiles, supermarkets, pharmacies, cellphones, and the Internet. So long to recorded music and radio broadcasts of good music from WPPB and great reverb from WLNG. Farewell to informative network news featuring the familiar faces of many of our fair-weather neighbors. Likewise, there would be no sporting events to watch on T.V., no chance to follow the PGA Tour as it moved northward along with the warm weather, culminating with the azaleas of Augusta. So much for the pageantry of the Kentucky Derby and the renewed hope of opening day of the baseball season. Forget about Memorial Day’s promise of summer leisure time to come as well as fireworks of the Fourth of July and the mixed emotions of Labor Day’s melancholy. I’d easily trade all of these things for a chance to simplify and life in that pristine, bucolic agrarian utopia that was once ours here on the eastern tip of Long Island. Then along came Hurricane Sandy. Coastlines were flooded, trees were toppled, electricity was lost, and gasoline became unavailable, and these views changed for, well, they changed forever.