Written By: Whitney  Ellis

Become accustom to a new climate
or new conditions. As taken from the Oxford English Dictionary.

We came in February to find a house. It was cold and windy. I said it didn’t feel so cold as up north. We were shown two places on Shelter Island. They would each rent for gobs of money in the summer, but if we wanted to stay through Memorial Day the prices were fair. Or so I thought; my partner said they were cheap.

We had a whiskey at a bar in the Heights to shoo the chill. The houses had been vacant since the fall, the power was then off. Not light nor heat to warm their interiors. The cold climbing into me like a spirit of the place.

It was warm in the bar, and my partner beside me and I was happy. I could live here, I thought. On the television spectators in tee-shirts watched the Olympics in Russia. Winter seemed it would end soon.

We made a deal through June 1st. The saltbox it was. The other house had a woodstove, but this one was on the water. We moved in, and moved in, and moved their stuff out. And moved in. After two days, the place was unrecognizable. Beautiful; comfortable; our own. The owners things, the undesirables, we relegated to the shed. Candles abounding, lamps assigned to the shadowy corners, and the place glowing wholly anew. Warm and kind and something we could share.

But it wouldn’t last. The summer would appear before long, I feared. Not knowing what I feared.

In the second week of March a cold snap came and almost snapped us to our senses. Our island home was no more a home than it was our own. It was a short-term rental, and it was a drafty hovel, permeable as a tiki hut. We froze. The boiler cranked and whistled as I turned the thermostat passed dollar signs and passed gold bullion and towards raw diamonds. We huddled on the sofa, wrapped in blankets, very much in love.


A month later and the worst of it had passed, we hoped. I told her it was mostly gone, but I couldn’t know. The light stretched longer into the evenings, and the gunmetal colors on the water hinted distant blues and fading red. But the wind kept up and another month would pass before the first creamy buds appeared on the dogwood branches out the window.

In that first month we had learned to live on the island: we had taken the ferry to Greenport for dinner, only to miss the return and sleep on a stranger’s guest bed. He was biblically kind, and had seen our likes before.

We had learned dinner needed to be planned with an American obstinacy, having carelessly missed the market on other nights. Laughing at ourselves over dismal repasts of sardines or whatever there was. And there usually was wine.

We had learned our landlord was not the groovy flower child he desperately portrayed. The place was his baby, and we had put our mark on it. He came regularly, peering through the windows. Each time he appeared, I would push myself back from my desk, step outside, and converse easily with him. Each of us so friendly. And he’d leave and I’d watch him go and I’d wave.

I wonder if he knew that I knew… that he was angry.

We would bike or walk to the beach, and looking across to the South Fork I could see somewhere on the water that summer was coming. But without whisper of it upon the air we would retreat to the warmth of our freshly minted life together.

In late May I mistakenly took the Sunset Beach road home. Unknowing of the real change afoot. It was a lovely spring afternoon. That first truly warm day when the air feels soft. Passing the chic hotel on the end of the beach I admired some girls in 6-inch heels waiting behind the red rope to gain access above. I looked up and the place was spilling over with fancy people, grimacing out to the evening. The cabanas stuffed into the drab corner of marshland behind.

Here it was. That force, the energy, it had arrived; wealth, or cosmopolitanism.

We call it what it is: money.


It is challenging to discuss a place where everyone knows each other, or knows of each other; or wants to. Until you are an outsider. And in this very special case, even the outsiders would in. Who in the world has not heard of The Hamptons?

At a party in Soho I said I was living on Shelter Island. ‘Oh my god, I love Shelter Island.’ The response seemed compulsive, and I keep hearing it everywhere I go. Do people think this island is in the vanguard of the broad cultural trend of The Hamptons? Or do they think it is situated in the cool/sexy margins just outside the brilliant and brutal limelight of the South Fork? I can’t help but wonder if they do.

I think it’s an island.

The summer came and we moved up the street. To a nicer place at that. We moved out and moved in and we haven’t gone anywhere. But in that time the whole world showed up.

The trees budded too. And hidden within the verdure the houses became private. It must be a beautiful place they come and see with summertime eyes. Maybe it’s beautiful in the winter too, but something is lost in the transformation.

The change from neighborhood to destination is quite a metamorphosis to witness. A butterfly metaphor may seem prudent here, but a facelift is actually more befitting. Amid the scars and amid the swaying trees, see if you can peer through and spot where the houses dot the land.


On a walk in Mashomack Preserve I watch an osprey take a fish from the sound. The perfection of the moment staggers me – it could have been rehearsed. A yacht is now anchored in that exact cove, and why not.

I muss accept too the roads where they have been cut through and into the island; and the people who navigate them to and from their dream weekend. Their cherished time on beautiful Shelter Island.

Nothing should change on the island, and it will only grow. Location location location. Who wouldn’t want to eat opulence and drink decadence on the beach?

A small bit of water separates Shelter Island from Long Island. The little island cradled in the grasp of the larger. Forever held back from drifting out to sea.

Held to the place it inhabits. A morsel of tenderloin slid down into the tongs of the North and South Fork.

I hitchhiked home from the South Ferry in June. The sun reflecting on the world entire. A welder from East Hampton picked me up. He was in his seventies, and had lived in East Hampton his entire life. He works in Greenport, takes two ferries twice each day. Could not have been a lovelier man.

What other island is a cut through road?


It is something we share. Our first home together. And the memory will be forever sweet. Even in a wise and worldly way, we gave ourselves so innocently to something not quite real. Something that maybe we couldn’t quite comprehend.

In our second home, we seem to be settling into a groove. We know the characters. The familiar faces. We have some spots. A semblance of a routine.

Before long we’ll likely move. Who really knows, but deracination will not be a problem from this fertile ground.

I’ll always know of Shelter Island as that place. We loved each other and lived on an island. An island with barely even tides.