We are married now—although last year at this time, we weren’t. We have a picnic too, consisting of North Fork smoked salmon pate, wheat crackers, a jar of pickles, and a container of pasta salad with yellow peppers, grape tomatoes, and a marinade of oil, vinegar, and crushed herbs.
We sit at a wooden table, overlooking the vineyard. A guitarist plays songs by request. Two summers ago, Derek and I did not even live together. We’d been to Hawaii though, on vacation, and to Kansas, his home state, for the winter holidays. We’d been seeing one another for a year when, on a July afternoon, we drove to Cooper’s Beach in Southampton.
Before I knew Derek, I would often go to Brighton Beach in Brooklyn on summer afternoons, after writing in the morning. Walking from the train, I’d pass older women in starched white capri pants and patent leather pumps with fashionably bright orange lipstick gathered around folding card tables. When the light would shift to signal the approach of evening, I would turn toward the boardwalk, climb the stairs to the elevated platform for the Q train, and return to the city.
After our first visit to Cooper’s Beach, we drove to a hotel in Fire Island. I recall being disappointed that we’d not committed to a weekend in one place. I bristled at the return, the roads near Fire Island more familiar, and the roads east more pastoral. The unrest was symbolic of something greater, some nagging distrust in our ability to plan something slightly extraordinary.
We moved in together a few months later, in October. The following summer, on the Fourth of July weekend, we drove to a hotel in Riverhead, deep in the junction of the two forks. The outdoor patio was clustered with wicker chairs with plush cushions. We once again returned to Cooper’s Beach, and, at about three o’clock in the afternoon, decided to explore the wineries on the south fork, stopping at Channing Daughter’s. We discovered the winemaker and his wife were former affiliates of a theater company with which we were well acquainted, Derek working as a lighting designer for many years in Manhattan.
We joined the wine club at Channing Daughters, because, Derek said, if we bought even one bottle of wine, with the cost of tasting, we were on top, plus, it might be nice to be in a wine club together.
Even moving in with one another had seemed such a big choice, one that Derek had stalled ever so slightly, more inclined to delay change rather than pursue it. The wine had its own character, a manifestation of experimentation with proportions and temperatures and timings—a product born of prolonged investigation.
The next day, our plan was to take to the North Fork. This was uncharted territory for us, and a surprising landscape; lush fields with long grass that is brown at the tips and deeply green close to the earth; parked pickup trucks and tractors; broad irrigation systems akin to those in Kansas. We pulled first into the driveway of the Dilberto Winery, and made our way around the back, after tasting and selecting a glass of Merlot to share. It was a time with pronounced unknowns but many joys, a time where it is possible to give way to uncertainty, and find pleasure in immediacy.
Our shipments began to arrive, two bottles every other month. We took pleasure in the labels, both the constancy and variation in the aesthetic, and the substantial descriptions of each wine that reflected the pleasure born in experimentation.
Shortly after we became engaged, we drove out to the winery on an August day. The process of planning our wedding was at its most fraught, with limitations in our finances pressurizing the situation intensely, our desire to please our families immense, and our reliance upon them and love for them evenly wreaking havoc; in that time, we ceased to be able to communicate.
We’d purchased our wedding bands from a shop in Riverhead that morning. I was able to see all of the stages of fear darken Derek’s features the way that a light might dim during a play to convey a meaningful turn, toward a point of conflict, and then again, toward a resolution. I remained quiet, my fears and questions momentarily stilled.
At the winery, we tasted the Meditazione, orange hued and precise, its roots in northern Italy. We sat side by side on a wooden bench and passed the glass back and forth, comparing it to the Ramato, which we had tasted on our very first visit to the winery. We bought a bottle of the Ramato that afternoon, but still have not opened it; perhaps it seemed too rare to drink casually, or perhaps we silently agreed it should be held, out of nostalgia for our initial exploration, which occurred with a kind of ease and patience that came to us unbidden. Perhaps we will never open it. Derek still has in our refrigerator a bottle of Ommegang Abbey Ale that I purchased for him before I knew him as well as I do now, when I’d just wanted to give him a gift, for no reason. I have since stopped suggesting that we toss it, and realized that it will always be in our fridge, holding that moment in time when we were new.
We once traveled from Kansas to New Mexico on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, on a historic railroad route that follows the Santa Fe Trail. The trip was to commemorate the seventieth birthday of my father-in-law, a train aficionado. We gathered with Derek’s parents and brother in the observation car, as the train trekked slowly into the Rocky Mountains.
Another time, we journeyed to Sonoma with my father and stepmother, an excursion that we organized to thank them for their help with our wedding, a warm affair held at a loft in Brooklyn.
We have never brought anyone with us on our journeys to the East End; every visit has belonged to us. On our own, we distill precisely the elements of our union that intersect and spring to life. We know how to push one another forward without pain.
Yesterday, on Route 25, we passed farm stand markets selling corn, tomatoes, peaches, eggs, milk, and blackberry pies. At our picnic table at Corey Creek Vineyards, a family makes its way through a series of toasts. Several metal buckets containing half empty white wine bottles are on the table, frosty with condensation.
Now, we note our preferences for wine in terms of years, not in terms of summers. We mark our movement through time. We burgeon repeatedly.