A Walk Around Cold Spring Pond
The first time I ever saw Annie, the sun was in my eyes.
I’d just started my morning jog and had turned down Lynton Lane toward the shimmering Peconic Bay. It was a particularly beautiful and bright August morning here in Southampton with just enough crispness in the air to remind me that Labor Day and the fall were approaching.
I fell in love with this part of the Hamptons a couple of years ago while renting a small place about a mile from here. It was on one of my morning runs around Cold Spring Pond that I spotted the for-sale sign and met the Mauros- the people who owned the leaky cottage before me. It had been in their family for two generations but the upkeep and constant barrage from Mother Nature became too much for the aging couple.
Cold Spring Pond is a beautiful little inlet south of the Peconic Bay – the water that separates the north and south forks of eastern Long Island. The pond is only about a half mile across and almost perfectly round. It empties into the Peconic through a narrow inlet less than a mile east of the Shinnecock Canal. In years gone by, it was a safe haven for boaters because of its tranquility even when the winds kick up on the open bay. Today, because it’s so shallow, only clammers and wind-surfers come into the pond. And that’s why I love it. There’s just about no one here.
The pond is ringed by no more than fifty modest cottages, each with their aging wooden docks. It’s fed by several cold underground springs, hence its name and clear brackish water. It’s home to a variety of shellfish but not many year-round people. Its adjacent marshes provide a safe environment for dozens of species of fish and birds, protected from man’s reach. It’s about as close to “untouched” as any place can be on Long Island.
So this morning, as I began my jog around the pond, the sun glistened on the still water. As I approached the end of Lynton Lane, I looked left and saw a couple of kids jumping rope in the street. Their golden retriever, Gustoff, who I’d encountered once before, sat near one of the young girls twirling the rope. Rather than deal with Gustoff’s joyous, but slobbering greeting, I decided to turn right onto Cold Spring Point Road.
That’s when I saw Annie. She was bent over and tying her Nikes in preparation for a run of her own. She had come out of one of the driveways leading to a bay-front home. These are the real houses- the genuine Southampton “waterfront” homes that line the sandy beaches of the Peconic Bay and start at seven million. The “bay-people” as they are known, tend to take a dim view of the diminutive cottages like mine; not because they leak, but simply because they’re on the pond and not the bay. Hence, we’re known as the “pond-people”, and need to understand our subordinate position in Southampton society.
Annie was fifty yards ahead of me and had begun to run in the same direction; towards the golf club and parallel to the bay. I had a great view of the back of her powder blue running shorts and all they contained. She had great legs. I decided to maintain my distance and enjoy the scenery for a while.
If I’d known then what I know now, I would have gone left and dealt with Gustoff. It would have saved me a lot of pain and we’d all still be alive.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Cold Spring Point Road is a narrow one-lane path, only recently paved, and usually covered with blowing sand. It’s a private road, owned by the Cold Spring Point Association, of which I am now a member. Because so few members live out here year-round, the road is often impassable in winter, either due to drifting sand or floods from the adjacent bay.
Today it’s dry and relatively free of sand and there’s a shapely young woman jogging about fifty yards in front of me. We’re both running towards the east so the sun is hitting us directly in the eyes. But even with the glare I can tell she’s in great shape; long thin legs and a narrow waist. From this distance and without seeing her face I guess she’s one of the teenagers who summer in the big houses along the bay. I noticed several of them a few days before when I went down to the beach to take some shots of the sunset.
The long thin legs ended their run at the golf course and turned to walk back towards her beach house. The sun was still in my eyes but as she approached me I could see she hadn’t been a teenager for at least thirty years, which could make us about the same age. Well, close anyway. I was still jogging and as she walked past me she lowered her water bottle to say, “Beautiful day, huh?” Her voice was soft and she sounded genuinely happy. Much happier than I usually am after a three mile run.
I finished my run with a fifty yard sprint and felt pretty good about it, so I decided to walk back to the cottage the long way- along the beach. As I said, the beach is lined with some very nice homes and I never tire of admiring them as I trespass along the shore. Actually, as long as I stay down by the waterline I’m not really trespassing because technically, those fortunate enough to own waterfront property in Southampton only own the sand down to the high tide line. That allows pond-people like me, and, I suppose even the poor land-locked, to walk along the shore whenever they want. And it drives the bay-people crazy. I can only imagine how the Southampton royalty, those who have inherited oceanfront property, must feel. But I find it hard to feel sorry for anyone with oceanfront property in Southampton.
That morning, the beach was completely empty. As it usually does at low tide, the retreating water left behind a colorful assortment of shells and ancient stones. They were still wet and glistened as the sun climbed higher on the eastern horizon. I like walking this section of the beach in the morning because with the sun on my back I can see forever. To my right lay the great Peconic Bay and across the way I could clearly make out the towns of Mattituck and Southold on the north fork. In front of me the beach stretchs for miles in a prolonged arch that ends at the horizon. Along the way are huge cliffs of snow-white sand. On top of the cliffs sit some of the Hampton’s finest and newest Mc-mansions. The young Wall Street types who summer in those starter-castles on the sand can see across to Connecticut from their kitchen windows.
I found a horseshoe crab at the waters edge that had been turned on his back by the waves and was now struggling to right herself before the birds noticed her dilemma or the strengthening sun baked her dry. Perhaps, because of the slope of the beach, this seems to happen a lot and I often wonder if I am disturbing the delicate balance of nature by flipping the crabs back in the water. I just can’t walk by a struggling creature and not do something to help. They look so helpless with their many legs kicking in the air, trying desperately to grab hold of something- anything that will get them off their backs and back in the cool water. So Mother Nature will have to adjust because that morning I rescued three crabs.
I decided to sit on the beach for a few minutes and watch the sailboats. It appeared three of them were racing. They were about a mile off shore and I could tell they were beautiful vessels although they all struggled to catch a healthy breeze. At this time of the morning the bay is usually calm. The winds kick up later in the morning, when the wind-surfers come out in full force. Dozens of them will appear on a weekend afternoon. Windsurfing is one of my regrets in life. I regret that I never tried it and know that my 55 year old back probably couldn’t take the strain of trying to learn now. It’s just one of those things I needed to discover when I was younger.
Back when I knew who I was.