East End Home

Written By: Claudia  Ward

Discovering the East End was a happy accident back in 1979. My new husband and I lived in Manhattan and on a foolish whim bought a 26’ sail boat at the New York Boat Show and then had to find a place to keep it. We checked out some locations along the Jersey shore, but nothing seemed to fit, so we drove east, neither of us knowing much about Long Island except its suburbs and malls.

Originally from Cape Cod, I was accustomed to a community with lots of water around it and lots of history in it, so when we drove across the causeway that skirts Long Beach in North Haven and spotted Sag Harbor in the distance beyond Bay Point and the cove my heart began to race. This charming, historic village with its beautiful harbor and new marina along Long Wharf was exactly what we wanted and we signed up for a boat slip that very day. Thus my thirty-five year love affair with the East End began.

Living on a boat in the marina on weekends and vacations in the summer was so much fun. We’d walk in to town to buy groceries for the weekend and the streets were empty, at least by today’s crowd-standards. After sailing all day, we’d cook fresh fish on the grills in Marine Park and then enjoy our simple supper and the sunset listening to the rhythmic sounds of the halyards clanging against the masts. Sag Harbor was a small, unpretentious and undiscovered town and we loved it for being just that.

Well marriages don’t always last and several years later our sailboat made its final voyage out of Sag Harbor (without me), heading to Rhode Island and its new home. Without a toehold outside of Manhattan, I felt a drift so I bought a whaling captain’s house just over the bridge in Sag Harbor’s suburb, North Haven. For the next 17 years, this would be my oasis away from Wall Street. Commuting most weekends was a labor of love as I cleared away all of the trees and shrubs that threatened to smother this 130 year old house and envelop it in darkness. The Corwin House was a classic and I was very proud to be preserving it for generations to come.

When I left my job in New York, Sag Harbor, this northern “Hampton”, became my home. That whaling captain’s house hosted many happy holidays, family gatherings, and the party where I met the love of my life. He’s a local who has family roots here that go back to the 1700s and a house in the village of Bridgehampton that we moved in to soon after we married twenty years ago.

It was now, as a year-round local, that I came to know the true character of the East End and its seasons, of which there are five by the way.

Summer, the season I’d come to know and love as a partying New York City weekender, became the season in which to be quiet. Rising early to arrive at the beach before the crowds, visiting favorite farm stands in early afternoon when everyone else was at the beach, sitting in the shade in late afternoon sipping ice tea listening to the cicadas’ song, and cooking a light supper at home – venturing forth only when necessary because of the crowds. Labor day became a day of liberation, one celebrated by every year-round resident – confirming our surviving another season, and the return of the land and its roads to its primary residents.

Fall became my favorite season, as the air becomes dry and cool, the waters are still warm enough for swimming, the leaves begin to crunch under your feet, and you can smell smoke rising from chimneys all around. The light, which is always beautiful here, owing to the waters surrounding this long island and its slightly hilly farmland, is especially brilliant in the fall making the latent artist in me immensely happy.

Now that extra-season on the East End is Hurricane Season which begins in early June and ends near the end of November and is six months long. Noteworthy names for the East End have been Gloria, Bob, Irene, and, of course, Sandy. These storms ripped apart our coastline and tore down trees, but, at the end of the day, Mother Nature is fair (whether she means to be or not) and she’s always brought our beaches back and those downed trees … became firewood to heat the house all winter.

I have come to love winter here. It’s a time for indoor projects and visiting friends that you just can’t reach during the other busy months. Sitting around warm fireplaces, in cozy living rooms, sharing stories, laughter and a good meal has become part of winter’s rituals. In contrast to the City, the villages of the East End dress up fairly simply for the holidays – small evergreen trees lining Main Streets twinkling multi-colored lights at night, white lights outlining the blades of the windmills, and a solitary well-lit tiny tree floating in the middle of a pond. The simplicity is its magic. We’ve had a number of white Christmases in my time here but some of the most memorable storms have been in the New Year. Snow brings a serene quiet to the village and walking along the covered streets soon after the snow ends has always made me feel like I was in a Currier and Ives lithograph. The feeling of entering a warm house, after a hike in the snow –well there’s nothing like that.

After a long, very quiet winter, hearing the song birds return in the Spring is a welcome harbinger of things to come. The East End blossoms in the Spring with farm fields filling with the greens of growing potatoes, corn and hay, and the waters once again returning to that picturesque, pristine cobalt blue. Now an entrenched full time resident, this is the time I savor watching everything come back to life again, seeing doors closed since last fall open again, walking the beaches for hours in uninterrupted bliss, and catching the smiles of neighbors as they enjoy the warmth of the sun on their faces once again. Summer, and its abundant sunshine and crowds, is once again around the corner – all part of the rhythm of life on the East End, a rhythm I have come to love.