Dreamer’s Cove We had decided to raise our children on the North Fork because it reminded my husband and I of our own childhoods by bays and the ocean, his on Great South Bay farther up Long Island and mine on Narragansett Bay by Cape Cod. The North Fork is a place that seems to be caught between two worlds; the calm agricultural seaside life of hundred years ago, and yet it’s just an hour (without traffic) from the hustle, bustle, and high culture of New York City. Who could ask for a better place to put down roots- Church Chicken Dinners, the Jamesport Fire Department Parade and Carnival, our very own ghost house down the block now Jedediah Hawkins Inn), and farm fresh produce for 8 months a year. Coincidentally, our moving day was 9-11-2001. It was strange to see emergency apparatus moving past us on the highway… not realizing how the world had just changed.
Even in the face of terrorism, death, destruction, and cataclysmic change this place harkened back to a simpler time and, thankfully, it’s still a place that exists as it always has and gives us and anyone who visits a bucolic hug that only a rich history could provide. I’d like to think it’s almost better today, more than a decade later, as there is an ongoing legacy of historic, architectural, environmental, and community cultural preservation taking place by groups like Peconic Land Trust, Group for the East End, North Fork Environmental Council, and Riverhead’s Landmarks and Preservation Commission along with many other civic groups. The meetings, workshops, educational forums, and fundraisers for these organizations have helped me to understand what has become my mantra, written by Aldo Leopold 66 years ago; “When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. There is no other way for land to survive.” This has become so important to me that it inspired me to start a small group, Save Main Road, with this as our central belief. My husband Bob and I have filled our South Jamesport life with moments that teach this very philosophy to our two girls with the hope that their generation will carry it forward.
I often sit on the beach, close my eyes, and breathe deep and become refreshed as that old familiar salty aroma fills my lungs- this natural environment never fails to restore me, every time I do, my mind races through memories of this bay. How lucky we are that the grandparents retired to this waterside haven. Providing a bayside life to raise two bright, beautiful, blonde-ringlet headed girls.
One memory is imprinted in my soul of a warm summer day on Dreamer’s Cove, with my dolphin babies…….
What a beautiful afternoon, the warm sun streaming through the clouds- golden rays slanting diagonally across the sky and dancing on the surface of the water. This magical place has a mystical beauty and an ability to wash away the rest of the world. As I open my eyes, I can see the whole memory replay like a private movie. The sun glinting on the edges of the small waves rippling across the cove, my very own mermaids, Grace and Nina swimming and exploring Flanders Bay at Grandma and Googie’s beach. It’s strange and comforting how the mind can soothe you with a remembrance. My girls are almost grown now, yet the recollection of that afternoon on the beach fills my being with the knowing comfort that these beaches- these bays and coves and creeks- these hamlets- this town was the right place to set down roots and give the girls wings to change the world.
That day had the same familiar warm salty breezes and splashing water as the girls kicked themselves around in circles searching for marine life on the bay floor. All I could see were fluttering feet and bobbing bathing-suit bottoms. Grace would pop up with the first gem of the day. They usually found razor clams, hermit crabs, periwinkles, or chowders. Today’s treasure was a rare jewel sadly not found here for many, many years. We had not yet learned well how we needed to respect the earth and protect its future for upcoming generations, and that ignorance nearly cost us this loveliness forever.
Nina extolled the beauty of its rough and ruffled shell, its bluish-gray color alternating with a peachy-wheat hue. Grace, the fearless leader of their quests, presented it in dripping open hands to us for examination and identification. A bay scallop! The discovery quickly turned to a discussion of the shellfish’s history in our bays. We told our budding marine biologists and local historians about the rich scalloping industry of South Jamesport and of the Scallop Houses on the beach where they were shucked after being harvested.
Of course, we had to show them the history. We only needed to venture a short boat ride around Simmons Point into a cove known as Miamogue Lagoon. The salt and spray was a refreshing accompaniment to our journey back in time. There they were, the long narrow bay-front homes with steep rooflines all in a row; survivors from another era like the returning bay scallops themselves. This lagoon and the adjoining Dreamer’s Cove were on their way back to health- the new scallops being found are proof. This and other area soft muddy shallow-bottomed coves and shoals with their rich beds are and always have been the ideal nurseries for bay scallops.
We told the girls about Rosie Hartigan, then in her eighties, whose father worked on the boats and in the shucking houses. She could shuck faster than anyone alive- even as a octogenarian. After that day, we would meet Rosie every once in a while at the post-office, she always had a fishing pole in hand, and would confirm all our stories about the scallops. Rosie would even tell them how local farmers and summer residents alike would come down and collect old scallop shells by the truckload and trunk-load to line their driveways, most driveways in the area had crushed shells as their paving material at one time or another. I guess we could still learn a thing or two about recycling from the old folks if we look and listen close enough!
We celebrated that first scallop find and each of the many that followed in ensuing years, gently placing them in a summer salt-water tank for observation over the summer breakfast table, and then at summer’s end carefully releasing them back to the wild. Now we have the delight to annually recall the bay scallop’s re-emergence from near local extinction as we celebrate its glorious return with feasting at least once during every scallop season. Practical living by the seasons, teaching our children how to care for and love our environment, lessons filled with respect for the sand we wiggle our toes in, to learn and live that each other’s survival and ability to thrive are intertwined.
And so another generation has the lessons to pass down. The true treasure of the North Fork is a rich and preserved history for the children and grand-children of all locals and visitors alike to explore, commune, and vacation in. The Paumanok of Walt Whitman’s time preserved before it is too late, and gone forever. My heart is glad to have lived and loved in it, and inspired my children to protect it. Hopefully they will teach their children the same values, ensuring this beautiful place will continue to thrive and nourish future generations.