South Fork in the Raw
By Mark Potter
We live on a narrow strip of sand which is thrust like a finger into the eye of the ocean, yet at the first sign of a hurricane we gather in the breaks of the dunes to watch. You’d think it would be more logical to wait out the storm behind a warm television, but somehow our tidy homes and workplaces seem anemic when wild doings are afoot.
It didn’t take me long after we had moved here to discover that the South Fork’s posh veneer hides many places to brush up against nature’s rough surface. The first place we discovered was behind the county golf club on Barcelona Neck. A trail leads through long bush blueberries past a long abandoned house to Cuffee’s Landing at the edge of a shallow bay enclosed in a marsh. There is a giant white cedar here which the wind and salt have pruned so perfectly it could be a model for the garden in a Shinto shrine. This is Northwest Creek. There are few places west of Montauk where you can look out on such a large expanse of undeveloped waterfront, a half mile wide and two miles from end to end. It is easy to imagine three or four dories on a dark night rowing down to Cuffee’s landing on an incoming tide to unload their cargo of whiskey into a waiting Buick.
On the other side of Barcelona Neck are walking dunes, a recurring geographical feature of our South Fork. The sandy bluff which feeds these dunes can be seen from as far as Orient Point. They tower70 feetaboveSag HarborBay, and although the Bay is busy, you will most often be alone on these dunes, except for the occasional turkeys and deer in the oaks behind you.
If you wish to escape the sound of traffic, another magical walk is in the Mulvhill Preserve. Enter it on the trail a few feet south of the junction of Brick Kiln and Stony Hill roads. The treasures here are the overgrown ponds busy with ducks, muskrat, frogs, salamanders and early in the year a chorus of peepers. Nature has written over the traces of human activity, a forgotten brick kiln, a stitch of barbed wire, a field gone to birch and brush. Continuing south up the hill under the power lines, we enter a forest of ancient beech and oak which somehow escaped the ax of the 19th century builders. The dense canopy high above our heads, the stately trunks of the trees, and a forest floor clear of undergrowth reminds us that nature is not a random force, the chemical structures that hold things together have an artist’s sense of symmetry and drama.
It is appropriate that the daughter of a whaling captain left us another untouched woodland. Emma Rose was born at sea, somewhere off the coast ofHawaii. Her husband inherited her family’s property and left much of it in her honor to the town ofSouthampton. The Emma Rose Elliston park is located offMillstone RoadinNorth Sea. For me the most exciting portion of it abuts the park north of the fork created where Millstone meets Scott’s Road. There you will find a woods road, another whiskey runner’s road, which skirts the marsh and leads you through a mature beech forest. Ignore the empty 1960’s era hunting camp which the Nature Conservancy now owns and instead follow the road directly out into the Sebonac Creek marsh. The first time I entered this marsh I felt as though I had stepped into the 18th century or perhaps another country which somehow had never learned of the land prices inLong Island.
I once sat here for an hour on a perch in a tumbledown duck blind at the edge of the woods watching the sun set beside the dairy farm a mile off in the haze while an osprey somewhere above me called his mate with that ventriloquist whistle. I couldn’t help but wonder if that osprey noticed the wild ocean waves only four miles off? Or like the human watching from below, did he see only his responsibilities, his mate, their chicks and the fish he set out to catch in the creek?