The North Fork and Dreams of Glory

The North Fork and Dreams of Glory By: Gordon Miller I recall that I was eight years old in 1948 when I taught myself to swim in a small pond at Camp Coindre Hall in Huntington, Long Islan, not far from our home in Northport. Eight years later, in 1956, I made my first acquaintance with Long Island’s North Fork and Peconic Bay. My parents had rented a cottage in Cutchogue. The water in the bay did not even get chest deep until I walked a quarter mile from the shore. It was the very definition of a safe place to swim. In 1969 my wife and I bought a place in Cutchogue on the water with a wide view of Peconic Bay and a view of an inlet. On a sunny day this was heaven itself with dark green grass merging with the blue waters. Time, as it will, went by and in 1974, brought change. Five years and three children later, we had outgrown our paradise. Luckily, we found a large home with a 165 foot beach in Greenport, once again, on Peconic Bay. The North Fork is a latter-day Garden of Eden, both visually and agriculturally. Farmers grow nearly every temperate kind of crop; corn, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, celery, lettuce, peaches, apples, pears, peas, lima beans, cauliflower, pumpkins, peppers, cucumbers, onions, asparagus, eggplant and more. From the sea come fish of all kinds: eel, blue claw crabs, clams, mussels, oysters, lobster, striped bass, and snappers. Flowers, trees, bushes, Christmas trees, amazingly for a private owner are bison steaks from a good sized herd. There is an 8- mile long river, the Peconic, which is a joy to canoe. You should not forget Riverhead’s abundant shopping only a few miles away. Boating marinas and commercial fishing boats, horseback riding, museums, historical society exhibits, and lectures. All of this within a few hours traveling distance to New York, Providence, Newport, Hartford, Boston, and New Haven. With all of this, restaurants, art galleries and shops of all kinds, free tennis courts, athletic fields; the sense of freedom is everywhere and lifts the spirits and makes many things possible. Even a few that may look more possible than they are. The Peconic washes our beach and I swam in it for short distances to cool off. One day from our dock I saw a fit young man execute a dive from the nearby railroad dock. He then used the Australian Crawl to swim toward shore. His stroke was methodical, well-paced and beautiful to watch. It looked easy. I felt I could do it easily too, even though I was heavier and older than my model. That afternoon, I decided to swim from the railroad dock as he had. The wind was a little crisper and the water was less smooth than that morning. The sun was bright and the day beautiful as the season moved toward Fall. I was as hooked as any greedy snapper I had hooked from my dock earlier that month. Diving in, I felt energized and the dive melded easily into the Australian Crawl. I felt vigorous after 50 yards and continued to sprint. But then the fantasy dissolved as my arms tired, my pace slowed, and my breaths came in gasps. My second 50 yards was labored. My energy output was four or five times that of the first 50. I felt drained and tired and breathless all at once. Spurred by adrenaline, my mind cleared and I knew I was in trouble. I was barely moving. I couldn’t shout to those on the railroad dock for help; the wind was going the wrong way. No one was on my dock or that shore, or even at the house. I was alone. Any remedy was mine alone. My thoughts raced quickly now and as a plan of action, I decided to be as calm as I could and try to save energy. I would float, use a slow side stroke, float again some more, than use the backstroke, once again float some more, then use a very relaxed breast stroke, and float some more. I calmed down and then in about 10 minutes, I reached my standing depth and was fine.