Life on the bay

Written By: Jay  Murray

In many not insignificant ways, I don’t live a very happy life, though I’m a happy person with an unwavering optimistic outlook. The prevalent issue is my marriage and by extension, my wife’s and my lifestyle which results in a lonely existence for me as well as my spending so very much of my time alone. Coupled together, alone and lonely is not a good combination. It’s not easy. Even with my hopeful approach, (thank God for that), it’s hard to be alone and lonely. Thankfully, I’m blessed to live on Shinnecock Bay, which provides me with continual joy, peace, contentment, and in many ways is the salvation of my sanity. I love everything, every thing about living on the water. Its constancy as well as its constant change fulfills me, and more importantly humbles me with its grandeur and its life.


My melancholy dissolves as I wake to the magic of another sunrise over the bay. Even this morning, after another lousy, lousy day and night with my wife, who just drove off moments ago, without a word exchanged, as I eat my breakfast and look out at the bay, in all its glory, it nurtures me with the possibilities of another day on the water. Just thinking about what lies ahead gives me strength and most importantly, hope. I think that I will walk on the bay with probably my best friend, my dog, Dudley. We walk on the bay about two hundred fifty to three hundred days a year and we both thoroughly enjoy it. He’s a wonderful companion, a ‘rescue’ from the Southampton Animal Shelter here in Hampton Bays, who is sweet, extraordinarily friendly and happy every single day. In the off season months, he roams, leash not held by me, but attached ‘just in case’, meandering in my general vicinity, as he sniffs, digs a bit here or there and tries to eat much, if not all of what he happens upon. This is the main impetus for the ‘just in case’, for as well behaved as he might be, when he wants to eat something, he cares much less about what I might say to the contrary. I learned this for the first time when Dud, sans leash, just a short distance in front of me, picked up a very sizeable portion, close to half, actually, of a freshly dead seagull and off he went. I, so-called master and commander, emphatically and sternly told him ‘No’ and ‘drop it’ to no avail and ended up chasing him until, after consuming a couple of bites, he dropped the gull. It was then that I realized that as well trained as I had thought Dudley was, in reality…he wasn’t. During the summer months, I walk with Dud, holding his leash as we go, due to the myriad temptations along the way, especially fish skeletons, which are amongst his favorites and abound along the shore. Even on the leash, he sneaks a tidbit past me now and again, deftly scooping up a morsel here or there, turning his head away from me and surreptitiously chewing away at his prize, which gives me a kick, as I admire his stealthy skills. Where I live, when the tide is out, we are fortunate to get a nice swath of beach, which affords us the opportunity to walk along the bay. When Dud and I walk, it’s mostly just us and we rarely come upon other people or dogs, especially in the eight or nine month ‘off season’, though we come upon much life, the teeming, abundant life of the bay, be it the fiddler crabs scampering along, ospreys circling overhead, herons and egrets pecking away along the shore and so graceful in flight, the swans with their brood of cygnets passing by, the cormorants swimming along then disappearing under the water’s surface to feed, deer, barely visible through the phragmite and scrub brush, terns dive-bombing for bait fish. Even on my worst of days, when I have done absolutely nothing of value nor consequence, if I come upon an upside down horseshoe crab washed up on the beach, with the tide out, I pick up the magnificent being, (I’m sure like you would), and carry it to where the water meets the shore, turn it over, gently place it down and watch it ever so slowly march back out into the bay, until the water deepens, allowing more fluid, effortless travel. This small occurrence renews me and gives me a sense that even if a meritless day in other aspects, I did something, this small thing, that was of value and redeems me. The bay’s ecosystem is a microcosm and reveals all, both predator and prey, death on display, be it the result of the hunt itself, or the myriad fish, sea birds, crabs, jellyfish, or a rare seal washed ashore; life and death both are bared along the bays shoreline.


Probably my favorite pastime, along with my constitutionals with Dud, is the serenity of swimming in the bay. When late April arrives, I’m considering and almost impatiently craving my first day in the water, and each year it comes. Yes, the water is cold, sometimes jarringly so those first days, but the daily regiment begins anew and lasts though October, about six months of bliss. You might say I ‘brave’ the water those early days in May and the latter ones in October, and I’m not one with an abundance of courage in other aspects of my life, I assure you, so I kind of like the term. Maybe, I’m a little brave at something? Actually, it takes a bit more intestinal fortitude I think, to swim, as I do, with the jellyfish, (for me and for others as well, the ‘dreaded’ jellyfish). But, as with all the other cycles of life on the bay, the jellyfish find their way into Shinnecock Bay when the water temperature starts warming up, and they stay for weeks, if not longer. Nonetheless, I am undeterred, and steadfast in my daily ritual. About seven years ago, the jellyfish situation led to a very positive development, which I have adhered to ever since, swimming with goggles. Wow, why hadn’t I been doing this for the previous fifteen years; what took me so long to come up with this absolutely marvelous idea? Now, I can see the jellyfish, many of them anyway, before I swim into them, allowing me to immediately change course, as I abruptly swim off in a different direction. Even wearing the goggles, plus a long-sleeved t-shirt when I believe it’s warranted, I am stung, plenty, yesterday, as example, three times, and one smack in the face, (which for me, is the worst); it’s an inevitability and just part of the daily experience when sharing the water with so many that simply sting you upon contact, it can’t be avoided, though the goggles do routinely spare me during jellyfish season. The added benefit, much to my wonder, was and is that by wearing goggles, I can see in the water-how fantastic! Mind you, Shinnecock Bay is not the Caribbean, of course, but it is otherworldy, there is so much to see in our waters; eelgrass and plant life along the bay bottom, the extraordinary volume and the different types of crabs, schools of tiny fish angularly darting in amazing unison and formation, jumping fish, mud snails and on and on it goes. Another wonderful feature of swimming, kayaking too, as it turns out, is that you can get so much closer to sea birds than you can, while on land. I have swum upon cormorants, (the namesake of my habitat, Cormorant Point), and gotten so close I could almost reach out and touch them. I’ve swum, many a time, adjacent to the swans in our bay, which do not fear me right next to them and swim along on a parallel course for a while before veering off on their way. I’ve happened upon piping plovers on the day that the newborns hatched from their eggs. For me, it’s spiritual, giving me a sense of the wonders of life and my place in it, both humbling and life reaffirming.


The vitality of the bay, its essence and energy, of course, extends to and includes us, people. A special treat in the summer months is chatting with all the happy neighbors along the bayfront, be it when swimming, walking or kayaking by; just as landlubbers would when moseying around their communities, we have that very same neighborhood camaraderie along the shoreline-how wonderful! Whether boating, fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding, swimming, walking or just looking, it’s joyful to partake in the bay’s bounty, to observe all the activity and life on the water and revel in seeing everyone with a smile, having fun, happily and completely immersed, appreciating the bay in their own way. I’m blessed to live on Shinnecock Bay, my sanctuary, for which I am so ever thankful.