by Joanne Pateman
It was a late summer morning as I sat facing the bay in an Adirondack chair, drinking a cup of Barry’s Irish tea. I was at our summer rental cottage. It was the beginning of the hurricane season. The temperature ominously dropped 10 degrees and the wind picked up, predicting an approaching storm. I could see what looked like a tornado enveloping me in its dark fury, its funnel shape passed directly overhead. The weather channel said there might be a hurricane coming up from Florida. The charcoal mass of menacing clouds blocked the scorching sun. The wind blew the umbrella into the bay. Raindrops fell on my head, like sharp exclamation points.
It turned out to be a summer storm, not a tornado or hurricane but I was scared by its intensity. It roared over and around me. It was different to be in the weather, surrounded by it and not just watching it from a window. But hurricanes are a very real danger to this narrow peninsula of land. Last year the water rose six feet above normal, stopping inches from the back door. The cottage could easily be flooded.
One morning in bed I thought we were under attack, but it turned out to be seagulls dropping shells on the roof to break them so they could eat the succulent clams inside. The seagulls make a racket with their “Aawk, aawk, aawk” announcing their arrival or departure and the geese at the end of the summer honk loudly in unison.
The cottage doesn’t have air conditioning and doesn’t need it with lively cross breezes from North Sea Harbor and Davis Creek. The antithesis to the hermetically sealed McMansions air-conditioned to arctic chill.
Sometimes small is better. The Latin phrase “multum in parvo,” a lot in a little, tells the story. This cottage is what the Hamptons used to be: a little paradise. The rustic hunting and fishing shacks were used only in the summer during the 1920’s and 30’s to hunt wild turkey, Long Island duck and to fish the plentiful waters and harvest oysters, clams, scallops and crabs. The basic cottages were passed down from generation to generation.
I keep a large black inner tube with a rope that I tether to the steps so I won’t float away. I sit in the water and read in my bikini, rear end in the water, legs draped over the edge. I wear a big straw hat for protection as I bob in the water. The rhythmic sound of the bay lapping against the dock lulls me and I doze.
The front yard of the summer cottage is beach grass, so no lawn to mow. A rabbit family lives in the tall warren of spiky leaves. A baby bunny poses like a garden statue and then flicks his ears and wriggles his nose as if to receive a satellite signal. The soil is too sandy to grow much so I fill pots with thyme, rosemary, basil, chives, oregano and mint and use them as my kitchen-cutting garden. Pots of red geraniums on either side of the front door add color.
Off the back of the little house is a weathered deck bleached by sun and wind to silver grey. Wooden steps to the bay. The backyard is fenced so my dogs won’t steal steaks off neighbors’ barbecues. Clammers appear in small boats every Tuesday, and we buy right from the baymen to throw the clams on the barbecue and watch them hiss open. This year blue-clawed crabs were back in force.
A swan family comes every day. I give them multi-grain pita and leftover scones. The huge father hisses at the dogs and fluffs himself up to an imposing height. The mother is more sedate and hisses delicately. There are five cygnets, three white and two gray. Swans mate for life, an appealing thought, being a long married person myself.
Another afternoon I was watching the tide go out and people wander in, playing on the sandbar. I could see a golden retriever sloshing through the water shaking off a stream of wetness, creating a water rainbow. A sea gull’s footprints in the sand looked like scratchy Egyptian hieroglyphics. Small motorboats and little children were anchored to the shore, people clamming with strenuous strokes to find the bi-valves for a dinner of linguini with clams. Bodies walking in and out of view like a William Merritt Chase painting come alive. Then I looked up and the tide was in and the people were out. Gone.