Me and Georgia O’Keefe
by Nanci E. LaGarenne
I discovered theEast Endof this beautifulIsland, not in summer, but one beautiful crisp fall, circa 1972, via a city school bus on an all girls’ Catholic high school retreat toShelterIsland. St. Gabriel’s Retreat House. The ferry ride across cool blue water fromSag Harborwas amazing to me at the time. “I like this magical place,” I remember thinking, marking it on my mind’s sketchpad of places to return to. I am a mermaid by nature, so I was very at home in a house on the water, even if it was too cold for swimming. There was praying, there were nuns, but not a lot of either. There was friendship and free time to wander (not very far on the grounds) and be ourselves and prepare skits for the night’s entertainment. Sea air sparks creativity, I would later realize.
I would return to theEast End, via my boyfriend’s grandparent’s bungalow on Napeague, a few years later. I then decided this place out here so near the sea, would someday be my home. Montauk was my workplace for the following few summers untilEast Hamptonrevealed itself to me as my permanent home. I resided in the beautiful woods ofFreetownuntil most recently, when my life plan took a strong detour. My new journey, the next chapter of my life, will take me to the “Place of Good Water,” Amagansett. Another charming hamlet. How could that be wrong?
I am leaving one life behind and starting a new one. Not for the faint of heart, trust me. Fairytales don’t get the “choose your own adventure” ending. Goethe said, “Beware of what you wish for in youth, you will get it in middle life.” What was it we yearned for in the early days? Freedom. Peace. A simple life. Is there a statute of limitations on those things? If we take one road early on, are we destined to stay on that road for all of our days, I wonder? What are the rules? Who am I to take such a bold step into the unknown at this late date? I am about to find out.
I glean courage from the ancestral women who came before me, and I dare to stand tall like the sunflowers I have always admired onTown Lane. They lean towards the sun to be nourished and thrive with the soft rainfall. I will remember it is okay to smile and remember tears are healing and as necessary as the rain. If happiness is a right of all human beings, than sadness is its cousin who might show up unannounced. Give her a drink and remember the three-day guest rule.
I am going to the desert as Georgia O’Keefe did. Mine will not have skulls but the discarded membranes of sea life scattered on a beach. Therosarugosa are my poppies. I will not go across the country to the West, but instead travel thousands of miles in emotional time, to my own Ghost Ranch. I can feel the growing pains of this “middle life” experience. With it comes a degree of sadness, grief and an excitement I cannot allow myself to fully acknowledge yet.
Summer on theEast Endof my favorite island is ripe with promise and possibility. Local peaches are ripening, corn is not far behind, and the garden is in all its glory bursting with phlox and hydrangeas. O’Keefe could have painted here, I think to myself, admiring the garden I will leave behind. Where did she get her courage? Did the light and landscape speak to her as life and stories speak to me? Her scenery had to be painted. Stories must be written. Nothing is permanent. Life is like the sea, always moving, ebbing, flowing, and sometimes crashing. It has less to do with what the heart wants and more with what the soul needs for its very survival.
Clarity comes when we are still. We are not still very much in this life. I am no different. I broke my foot after a good spell of hiking, in Montauk, in May. The beginning of summer to be exact. Council Rock up on Fort Hill was a favorite walking destination with a friend. That huge boulder of quartz is special to those of us who revere the original locals, the Montaukett Indians. We feel its energy. It is very peaceful at this sacred place. There is no chatter there. No judgment. Just good ancestral energy. A place to be grateful. Even for a broken foot. It forces stillness whether one likes it or not.