Reflections of Hog Creek
The drive east to the house in Clearwater Beach always felt so long despite the fact that it never took longer than an hour and a half to get there. If my three sisters didn’t manage to fall asleep, the back seat of the family van would inevitably dissolve into disorder. This was before the time when every car came with a DVD player installed, before kids evaded boredom with mp3 players and portable gaming devices. The only entertainment we had for the drive was whichever book we intended to finish during our visit and wistfully looking out the window. Our collective anticipation of a week in bliss ensured that Sunrise Highway extended indefinitely.
My grandfather began searching for property in the Hamptons in the 70s. He made a living and raised a family of three by building houses throughout Long Island. In 1979 he incorporated the Em Scott Construction Company Inc. and shortly after, he bought a few acres of land on Hog Creek just off Gardiners Bay. His hands have that distinct feel of leather familiar among many tradesmen. His most distinct quality is that while he certainly takes pride in the results of his labor, he allows everything that he has created to testify for his accomplishments on their own. I have not once heard him boast. My grandfather’s placid modesty is astonishing considering how many of his children and their children sleep under a roof he built. The house in Clearwater serves as a gathering point for our family every summer.
This house was the ideal escape from the rush of life back home. For many years the most sophisticated piece of technology in the house was a tube television with a combination VHS and DVD player. On rainy days we would break out a crate of Legos, a deck of cards, and a chessboard for entertainment while binge watching Disney movies. The house was entirely furnished with antiquated pieces of furniture moved from my great-grandmother’s house after her passing. Hanging off the back deck were numerous walls of buoys found from years of scanning the shores of islands that encapsulate Gardiners Bay. This was one of those places you visited to feel comfortably frozen in time. To experience and share the ultimate satisfaction within a moment entirely devoid of want.
The caravan for this trip east consisted of my father, stepmother, three sisters and myself, the older brother. When we arrived at the house, my grandparents would already be there often with sandwiches and iced tea prepared to help us settle in. While the adults unpacked the car, prepared bait to fish, my sisters and I all got changed into our bathing suits and impatiently applied sunscreen. From the back deck you could see Hog Creek glittering, just over 100 feet away.
My sisters, Callie, Emma and Jilly, were three, five and nine. Needless to say, they were in constant competition. As the older brother it was my duty to do everything they did, except better. My oldest sister, Jilly, was finally getting to the age where she could almost keep up with me. Almost. The moment the sunscreen had soaked in, the race began.
My feet hit the dirt stretch leading to the dock as I heard my sisters yelling at me to wait for them. I snatched a paddle with one hand and a casting rod with the other before starting to sprint for the sailing dinghy we used as a paddle boat. For a moment the stomp and crunch of their small feet crushing sticks and leaves behind me made me fear that they would overcome me and reach the boat first. This would have resulted in tremendous damage to my brotherly ego, but fortunately the distance between us grew as I approached the water. I tossed the paddle and rod into the dinghy, lifted the anchor off of the shore, pushed the boat into the water and lunged onto it just as they reached the edge of the creek. My sisters piled into the water, shouting and desperately wading toward me. I only had moments to slide the daggerboard into the center slot and begin paddling out of their reach. It was there in the center of the creek, far away from their frustrated splashing, that I would toss the anchor into the water with unrestrained fulfillment.
It was my job to keep my sisters busy while everyone unpacked and prepared for the weekend back at the house. I did so with unintentional precision. The desperation to control the boat was not entirely to trump my sisters. Paddling out in Hog Creek and casting off for hours filled me with a sense of satisfaction they were too young to understand. If the snappers were biting I would spend all day catching and releasing them. Stopping only to cool off in the water, eat, or go out into Gardiners Bay to fish for something bigger. On the boat I felt a second, personal kind of vacation. I felt as if I were paddling away from expectation, away from responsibility. The decision to return to shore was my decision to make. I was free to take the boat anywhere that pleased me. This was the first time I felt truly uninhibited. The adults trusted me to be on my own and make these decisions, and that felt significant. Hog Creek provided the opportunity to take a vacation from being a child, and I whole-heartedly embraced that sense of independance.
For the first time since I left for college, I made the trip from the Hudson Valley to East Hampton. Seven years after racing for the boat, I am reflecting on the shore once again. On my last night there, the tide is so low that half of the floating dock my grandfather built is sitting on on the muddy bottom. The setting sun projects a glittering arrangement of vermillion stars onto the water. The red sky is considered a good omen for sailors. We anticipate a sunny day for island hopping, beachcombing and swimming in the bay.
My youngest sister, Callie, asks me if I will take her out on the boat, now a kayak that my grandfather found washed up after a storm. I am apprehensive at first; now that I have experienced legitimate independance, there is little to escape from. The sense of satisfaction I found on that boat is less enticing now. After a moment of pleading, it dawns on me that she is offering a chance for me to vicariously share what I learned from the boat with her. I begin paddling out farther than she has ever been without parental supervision.
As we round the corner leading into the main channel, she nervously tries to convince me to go back. I tell her to trust me and point to the island that appears at low tide in between the two channels leading to the bay. That irresistible sense of adventure compels her, a virtue common in our family. She must walk on that island. Once we arrive, it isn’t easy convincing her to return home.
Throughout the murky water and embedded in the muddy bottom of Hog Creek there is a treasure that cannot be shared but among my family. Our time there has created a reflection of our heritage. Playing in the water provides a lens with which we witness the sum of our collective parts. The creek is a conduit by which my grandparents passed their love and knowledge of the water through generations, and the shore is a catalyst for self discovery. Furthermore, it is an opportunity for us to discover each other. The only imperfection we endure each visit is that we cannot remain there forever. However, I truly doubt we ever really leave.