Sylvan Summers

Written By:  Alexandra Jordan

My parents bought our summer home here in the Springs in 1997, when I was two. They bought the cozy cottage from my father’s aunt while they were still renting a teeny one bedroom in Murray Hill. My great-aunt Pat had lived out here all-year round and worked as a substitute teacher at the Springs School. While my father and his younger sister and three younger brothers were growing up up-island, they visited their Aunt Pat every summer, the five of them piled onto a creaky pullout couch in the garage-converted-into-a-family room. While the Springs is no longer solely inhabited by the starving artists of my father’s summers in the seventies, and while the town and village of East Hampton have only gotten ritzier, certain aspects of unadulterated summer fun in the Hamptons have never changed.

Those five Jordan siblings partook in all the timeless activities of a glorious summer in the Hamptons: spending all day at the beach, swimming, body surfing and boogie boarding until fingertips resembled raisins and noses, tomatoes.

This may all sound quaint and lovely, but my purpose is not to tell a boring, nostalgic memoir of a “better” time when the Hamptons were still but sleepy beach towns. The true story here lies in the history of The Fort.

 

My dad and his younger brothers liked to play in one of the many wooded nature preserves on Waterhole Road, some hundred yards from our house. During one of the countless hours they spent acquiring ticks—I mean, playing in the woods, they came up with the brilliant idea to build the ultimate Boy Scout’s dream, a fort.

Collecting discarded bits of wood and filching nails from the dinky backyard shed crammed with bicycles and beach chairs and squirrel-sized Daddy Longlegs, they began to erect The Fort. 100 little fingers spent hours hauling wood to a clearing in the preserve and hammering nails, until voila! It had four walls, an opening for a door, one front window and no roof or floor. A large white sign of an owl was nailed to the front, providing the finishing touch. Leftover wood was eventually nailed together to form a small “porch”, which came out a bit uneven, but that didn’t matter, it was still perfect.

Once construction was complete, then came transportation, and what a sight. Five little kids marching up Waterhole Road proudly brandishing a 12 square foot wooden contraption above their heads.

But now, at last, The Fort had finally come home; placed in Aunt Pat’s wooded backyard, just out of company’s sight. Only a child’s keen and knowing eye, when earnestly probing the leaves for a hint of that owl sign would know of The Fort’s existence.

 

The years of children’s feet running into the woods to play in The Fort had beaten a soft path from the last step of the back deck into the mysteriously forbidding woods. I curiously followed the path one summers day, and discovered what I thought was something out of my favorite chapter books. Running back and forth for the next couple of days I excitedly told my parents that I had found a magical castle in the woods! My dad immediately replied, “Oh, so you found my old fort?!”

Initially, I was crushed. The Fort hadn’t been a secretive hideout built by woodland princes for woodland princesses, it was just built by my regular ol’ Dad. Sooner or later however, I decided that despite its lowly origins, it was still a pretty cool new play place, a complete upgrade from my Fisher-Price plastic playhouse perpetually invaded by those damn Daddy Longlegs.

My longtime childhood friend, Andrew and I soon began the tough work of cleaning out and improving The Fort. Every morning he faithfully rushed over with his little sister Diana in tow, and he and she and I, along with my two little sisters, Mackenzie and Stephanie, would set out on our day’s labor. We raked a better path, cleared cobwebs and leaves, and spent hours sweeping away dirt and twigs. We even managed to find more wood to outline the path from my deck to The Fort and then from The Fort to Andrew and Diana’s backyard, and then even another path to the other side of my backyard. It was hard work and rather strenuous labor for ten year olds. We were dedicated. Andrew stole a chair from his backyard and brought it over for our little house among the trees (clarification: house among, not in, since actual tree houses were much too conventional). Andrew’s parents were very supportive of The Fort and even donated an outdoor rug to be used as a floor, because what respectable East Hampton tree house doesn’t have a carpeted floor?

I was in charge of all daily Fort activities, since it was my backyard, and I was the oldest and it was I who had discovered The Fort. I pretended that I was Laura Ingalls Wilder and that Andrew was Almanzo and our little sisters were our children and that we were farmers toughing it out on our homestead in the great American Wild Wild West. We herded imaginary cows as we traipsed through the woods of the Springs. Sometimes we were pirates, and sometimes we were the early American colonists. Whatever version we played, whatever weather, it was always fun- some of my best memories are of clearing up debris deposited in the Fort by a summer storm.

 

As we grew up, and puberty told me that playing in the woods was no longer fun, our days herding imaginary cows were numbered. All too soon for my parents, I was eventually too old and too cool to play make-believe in the backyard. The woods were no longer the fantastical setting of a beloved children’s real life fairytale, but the icky brown, insect-infested trees that they are. And most amazingly, now at 21, I see all too clearly that The “hidden” Fort is but a mere 10 feet from our backdoor. The Fort is as visible to my watching mother as the audacious deer munching away at my father’s fruitless attempt at a flower garden. The five of us kids are still best friends, and although our summer activities no longer consist of acquiring ticks—I mean playing in the woods, none of us will ever forget The Fort.

Maybe someday, my kids will stumble upon the path my sisters and I forged and find the carpet Diana’s mom donated and sit in the chair Andrew stole and love the white owl sign made by my dad and aunt and uncles, and hopefully they will play and traipse through the woods as I and many before have done, as Aunt Pat smiles down from Heaven. Maybe they will run breathlessly into the house and describe a wooden fortress protected by a huge white warrior owl that they found in the woods, and I’ll smile and disappoint them by responding, “Oh, so you found my old fort?!”

My parents bought our summer home here in the Springs in 1997, when I was two. They bought the cozy cottage from my father’s aunt while they were still renting a teeny one bedroom in Murray Hill. My great-aunt Pat had lived out here all-year round and worked as a substitute teacher at the Springs School. While my father and his younger sister and three younger brothers were growing up up-island, they visited their Aunt Pat every summer, the five of them piled onto a creaky pullout couch in the garage-converted-into-a-family room. While the Springs is no longer solely inhabited by the starving artists of my father’s summers in the seventies, and while the town and village of East Hampton have only gotten ritzier, certain aspects of unadulterated summer fun in the Hamptons have never changed.

Those five Jordan siblings partook in all the timeless activities of a glorious summer in the Hamptons: spending all day at the beach, swimming, body surfing and boogie boarding until fingertips resembled raisins and noses, tomatoes.

This may all sound quaint and lovely, but my purpose is not to tell a boring, nostalgic memoir of a “better” time when the Hamptons were still but sleepy beach towns. The true story here lies in the history of The Fort.

 

My dad and his younger brothers liked to play in one of the many wooded nature preserves on Waterhole Road, some hundred yards from our house. During one of the countless hours they spent acquiring ticks—I mean, playing in the woods, they came up with the brilliant idea to build the ultimate Boy Scout’s dream, a fort.

Collecting discarded bits of wood and filching nails from the dinky backyard shed crammed with bicycles and beach chairs and squirrel-sized Daddy Longlegs, they began to erect The Fort. 100 little fingers spent hours hauling wood to a clearing in the preserve and hammering nails, until voila! It had four walls, an opening for a door, one front window and no roof or floor. A large white sign of an owl was nailed to the front, providing the finishing touch. Leftover wood was eventually nailed together to form a small “porch”, which came out a bit uneven, but that didn’t matter, it was still perfect.

Once construction was complete, then came transportation, and what a sight. Five little kids marching up Waterhole Road proudly brandishing a 12 square foot wooden contraption above their heads.

But now, at last, The Fort had finally come home; placed in Aunt Pat’s wooded backyard, just out of company’s sight. Only a child’s keen and knowing eye, when earnestly probing the leaves for a hint of that owl sign would know of The Fort’s existence.

 

The years of children’s feet running into the woods to play in The Fort had beaten a soft path from the last step of the back deck into the mysteriously forbidding woods. I curiously followed the path one summers day, and discovered what I thought was something out of my favorite chapter books. Running back and forth for the next couple of days I excitedly told my parents that I had found a magical castle in the woods! My dad immediately replied, “Oh, so you found my old fort?!”

Initially, I was crushed. The Fort hadn’t been a secretive hideout built by woodland princes for woodland princesses, it was just built by my regular ol’ Dad. Sooner or later however, I decided that despite its lowly origins, it was still a pretty cool new play place, a complete upgrade from my Fisher-Price plastic playhouse perpetually invaded by those damn Daddy Longlegs.

My longtime childhood friend, Andrew and I soon began the tough work of cleaning out and improving The Fort. Every morning he faithfully rushed over with his little sister Diana in tow, and he and she and I, along with my two little sisters, Mackenzie and Stephanie, would set out on our day’s labor. We raked a better path, cleared cobwebs and leaves, and spent hours sweeping away dirt and twigs. We even managed to find more wood to outline the path from my deck to The Fort and then from The Fort to Andrew and Diana’s backyard, and then even another path to the other side of my backyard. It was hard work and rather strenuous labor for ten year olds. We were dedicated. Andrew stole a chair from his backyard and brought it over for our little house among the trees (clarification: house among, not in, since actual tree houses were much too conventional). Andrew’s parents were very supportive of The Fort and even donated an outdoor rug to be used as a floor, because what respectable East Hampton tree house doesn’t have a carpeted floor?

I was in charge of all daily Fort activities, since it was my backyard, and I was the oldest and it was I who had discovered The Fort. I pretended that I was Laura Ingalls Wilder and that Andrew was Almanzo and our little sisters were our children and that we were farmers toughing it out on our homestead in the great American Wild Wild West. We herded imaginary cows as we traipsed through the woods of the Springs. Sometimes we were pirates, and sometimes we were the early American colonists. Whatever version we played, whatever weather, it was always fun- some of my best memories are of clearing up debris deposited in the Fort by a summer storm.

 

As we grew up, and puberty told me that playing in the woods was no longer fun, our days herding imaginary cows were numbered. All too soon for my parents, I was eventually too old and too cool to play make-believe in the backyard. The woods were no longer the fantastical setting of a beloved children’s real life fairytale, but the icky brown, insect-infested trees that they are. And most amazingly, now at 21, I see all too clearly that The “hidden” Fort is but a mere 10 feet from our backdoor. The Fort is as visible to my watching mother as the audacious deer munching away at my father’s fruitless attempt at a flower garden. The five of us kids are still best friends, and although our summer activities no longer consist of acquiring ticks—I mean playing in the woods, none of us will ever forget The Fort.

Maybe someday, my kids will stumble upon the path my sisters and I forged and find the carpet Diana’s mom donated and sit in the chair Andrew stole and love the white owl sign made by my dad and aunt and uncles, and hopefully they will play and traipse through the woods as I and many before have done, as Aunt Pat smiles down from Heaven. Maybe they will run breathlessly into the house and describe a wooden fortress protected by a huge white warrior owl that they found in the woods, and I’ll smile and disappoint them by responding, “Oh, so you found my old fort?!”