Amongst the mosaic of miscellaneous clothing, antique furnishings and bric-a-brac arranged on the bleached gravel drive, I was drawn to a crudely framed, 1950’s Hagstrom highway map of Long Island leaning against the bluestone wall. The yellowing paper revealed a by-gone era of unfinished expressways, redeveloped landmarks and most visibly, a pre-Sandy coastline. As the glass glinted in the sun for a moment, I reflected back upon my early undergraduate studies of geology and recalled how this island came into existence.
Two and a half million years ago, the entire Northeast was consumed by nearly five thousand feet of opalescent, Pleistocene ice. At the terminus of this glacial event, the remains of its southern migration created the rocky northern coastline, kettle lakes and brackish bays we now know as Long Island. As the melt waters drained, the moraine it left behind was a conglomerate of erratic sediment; foreign anomalies that had been dragged hundreds of miles from their northern origins.
I smiled and quickly came to realize that in fact I, too, was a “northern deposit”. Originally from New England, I first visited the East End well over twenty years ago as many young aspiring New York City professionals still do…to seek sun, relaxation, and a respite from the daily grind of urban life. While my intentions were seemingly pure, I suppose I could have also been contributing to the rapid changes and culture shift of the on-going development overtaking the forks. The older traditions of a quieter, simpler time seemed to be changing and yielding to prospective investors in search of new ventures and savvy real estate opportunities.
How many of us end up in the places we come to call home, to admire and enjoy, is oftentimes more a privilege than a choice. But this is not always the case. Much like the striated boulders dragged here thousands of years ago by a frozen force, many people too, have been involuntarily placed into new surroundings not necessarily of their choosing. Historians tell us today we are in a time of minimal conflict in the realm of our human evolution. Yet we live in a time where the places we ultimately live and experience may not be by choice at all. People find themselves in places out of necessity, by force, or by circumstances that afforded them no other desirable alternatives. The fabric of this area has evolved over the last 300 centuries, from indigenous local tribes, New World seekers and industrious entrepreneurs. Many residents, from countless diverse cultures, originated from those before them, who took every risk imaginable to find a new place where they could feel safe, welcome and included. They moved to escape struggles and limitations from places they once called home and sought to create a new sense of purpose and belonging. These “strangers” became the new community of this ocean-faring landscape known as the North and South Forks. Assimilating and staking a claim to that which preceded them, each wave of new settlers could be described as impediments, disruptors or infiltrators standing in the way of creating a more homogenous landscape. But many see beyond the differences and seek to understand and learn how each newcomer has contributed to the beauty and wonder of the present-day landscape.
A mix of chance and choice ultimately delivered me to these eastern. Over the past twenty plus years, I have come to respect the history and serenity “north of the highway”, particularly in Sag Harbor, and have easily surrendered to its charm and beauty. I cannot truly call myself a “resident”, yet I have come to deeply appreciate the smaller, more intimate moments this special place has to offer. I have learned the back roads, discovered the quiet, less populated beaches, plucked mussels for dinner from the Montauk crags, picked delicious, crisp apples in the fall and stretched out under many silent, star-filled night skies, watching fireflies and bonfire embers flit about in the cool evening air.
I was drawn back to the present as another interested treasure-seeker asked if I was going to buy the piece. I smiled, nodded, and headed over to the young girl at the folding table with my bounty. As I walked back to my car with this new-found treasure, I found it fitting; like the glaciers that came before us, we find ourselves taking something from one place, to another, bringing an object filled with history and stories to a new place of rest. This weathered old map will hang in our home in Sag Harbor for years to come, decades maybe. I will forever appreciate the history frozen within its symbols and lines. It is a representation of past eras and on-going change, yet still, it remains a timeless reminder of the natural beauty and history this area carries with it to this day. A place that we have come to respect and cherish, and for me, a place to call home…away from home.