Where We Go Wading

WHERE WE GO WADING By B. C. Mazlin “I’ve seen the best of this place,” he said. My friend and I were blazing a trail through the woods behind my neighborhood and discussing the subdivision of a landmark piece of property we referred to as ‘White’s’. Famous for having one of every tree grown on the island, the estate had supposedly passed from the wealthy owner to his dutiful maid upon his demise. The maid had grown fond of our group allowing us to ‘trespass’ as long as we were respectful of the property. This privilege would surely be rescinded upon the arrival of the many new homeowners. It was a long walk following a path that only the deer were apt to find. Headed for a special spot that day, we were on what was a chataqua of sorts. Once stopping to punctuate a point, I suddenly caught a strange sight in my peripheral view. Upon focusing in I realized it was a hunter, clad in camo from head to toe, perched in a tree about 10 yards away. “Wow! I didn’t see you there” I said as we made eye contact. “Good thing you weren’t dressed like a deer,” he replied. Hunting is just part of the great scheme of things here, living close to the earth and preserving the natural balance of things. Today the deer are everywhere or so it seems. Really, it is just the loss of their forest to a cul-de-sac of McMansions that makes it seem like they are in our backyard. The rock was so big you couldn’t miss it even though it was in the middle of a large section of forest. We called it the ‘Indian rock’ as it seemed sacred and when you climbed upon its mammoth back the view stretched out over the treetops for miles. It wasn’t difficult to imagine the Native Americans that lived here camped out around the base while the scouts sat atop as the lookout. And so we did the same that day, lingering for hours and marveling at our great fortune. Perhaps we should have returned again sooner as the Indian rock is now a local golf course named “Great Rock” after our beloved outpost. There’s another one of these rocks in the Wading River area (Wading River is derived from the Indian name for the place “Where We Go Wading for Clams”). “Split Rock” was a teen hangout but with a caveat. Those who knew about it honored the unuttered creed. Bring only those who will respect the forest. Alas, more accessible since the power plant went up, this spot now has more visitors and so, more graffiti and litter. The nuclear power plant, now since defunct, shadows the mighty Split Rock and, if not for the lack of foresight and empathy, perhaps a reconsideration might have been granted the lush marsh and glistening creek upon which the hideous behemoth now sleeps. When the local tree huggers (some my own kin) were flinging their bodies against the chain link fence, a deal was being cut for a high school track and swimming pool. Nothing beats the bottom line. The third and most important rock is “located on sunny “Big Rock Beach” and an apt namesake for the spot due to its enormous size and convenient placing at the edge of the shore, where the strand glistens with golden sunlight over the rocks and sand scattered about. It is the treasure of our community as the high tide brings with it the ability to leap from its giant shoulders into the liquid crystal pool below. A big name insurance company tried to film a commercial with the sun setting behind a couple walking by the rock, which was a part of their shtick. Unfortunately, the director neglected to acquire permission from the deeded beach owners and had great difficulty getting the locals out of the picture. They were asking for a bigger “piece” than we were willing to give. All the catering trays in the world couldn’t replace one less sunset, one less cliff dive, one less magic moment. The beach had everything to offer our group of friends because there was not much else to do. Three generations would share a trip to Clay Mountain then have a cannonball contest to get the caked soil out of our suits. Sixty + years of tradition beginning in a bungalow and graduating to permanent residence provided the unspoken tenets of our little enclave. “Take nothing, leave nothing.” Since we were raised on the beach, by people that were raised on the beach we have a Zen appreciation for our surroundings. We are ‘Defenders of the Sea’. Woe to those who would dump a baby diaper into the surf when we are present. This is the place where we come to jump off. To swim out and attempt to escape the traffic laden, billboard addled, litter strewn streets of ever encroaching suburbia. Nowadays the residents struggle to keep the sprawl of the overcrowded state park from turning our bathing area and beloved rock into a fishing pier (sans DEC regulations), the bulkheads into a graffiti wall and our seashell studded sunset into a thruway (sans traffic control). With our deeded beach rights comes the responsibility to self-patrol. No trespassing signs, chains on posts stretching into the surf; this is what it has come to. “They paved paradise and they put up a parking lot” was the song lyrics she chose to recite. The woman, like so many of my fellow residents, was attending the town board meeting regarding the 25A corridor study. She read the entire song. They had no choice but to sit and listen. Anyone concerned for open spaces got the point before she even finished the first refrain. Among the concerns from the residents of our tiny hamlet were issues of traffic congestion; light/noise pollution and I’d like to add, billboard pollution. EPCAL as a ski resort getaway and Knightland as wedding destination will benefit our job situation very little just to provide a pseudo luxury experience to anyone with money to burn. The landowner may argue that he is bringing jobs to our area; however, retail and restaurant positions are exactly what keep the local population from paying their ever-burgeoning taxes. Those at the meeting with an alternate perspective included a resident from the new condos at the Great Rock golf course who felt it would be beneficial to have another supermarket built. Apparently the one two doors down was too expensive and twelve miles was too far a drive to reach the ones east or west along ‘the Corridor’. It took me a matter of minutes to realize that this was the problem with multi family housing in a rural environment. Condos are about convenience, not open spaces. Concrete is synonymous with progress when progress means milk and lotto are right on the corner. But what if progress means something different for many of us? What if it’s the ability to see the forest through the trees rather than to mow them down and ask questions later? So now the plan is for a bustling shopping experience called The Riverside Project because the currently “depressed” locale as “Gateway to the Hamptons” will be a haven for travelers seeking last minute staples like some swim wings or a variety rag. I can just see the bumper sticker now. “My son is employee of the week at Dippin’ Dots!” With a process that values revenue over quality of life it’s no wonder the high school graduation rate here in the county seat is a paltry 70.3%. Forget brain drain, our young people are being served up on a silver platter. And what of the taxpayers? We’re looking at some folks who are seriously not being served at all. A long time south fork resident once said to me “…get off of Long Island. It is being taken over by the wealthy and there will be nothing left but to be in service to them. But this Island has nurtured my spirit, the wind and water has carved my soul. Still or stormy, I will always land on my feet here in Wading River. To the natives of this place, brain drain is something that happens to people who don’t get enough fresh air and sunshine. We are hunters, gatherers and farmers. Local artisans, if you will. It might be all blue tarps and work trucks where I live and not ‘everyman’ is a potential college graduate. But there is still hope for the Island and her local people. When life gives us dirt we grow hops.