Talisman As we drove off the John Henry at Orient Point, the moist salt-scented, twilight air flew in the windows and my fourteen-year-old son sighed loudly and said, “Okay, that’s good. I’m good now.” “What do you mean?” I asked a little worriedly – teenagers are worrisome creatures. “You weren’t good?” “No, it’s just – I feel better when I get back on the island. I hate being landlocked. Connecticut is nice and all but – It’s just – I don’t know – if I’m away from the water for too long I don’t feel right. I need to be near water.” I smiled. This was more words strung together than he’d uttered in a while – at least to any adults. “Yeah, I know what you mean.” As we followed the string of taillights over the causeway through Orient Harbor in the pink-edged, darkening sky with that magical, healing air rushing in the windows I realized something else. This is a gift we’ve given them, my husband and I – A childhood growing up here. Both of my children. It will help them someday, maybe even save them. “Yes, it is good to be home.” I said. Childhood memories are vivid beyond any others, save perhaps near-death experiences and a few life-changing moments. There is clarity, a vivid, visceral quality to the scents and images and textures and sounds of childhood that penetrates to a cellular, spiritual level. And we’re stuck with them, good or bad, happy or painful. These moments show up in how we live, what we do, what we care about. They can drain us or feed us. When my son said, “I need to be near water.” I knew it wasn’t just any old water –pool – lake – ocean. No. It was the waters of Long Island Sound, Peconic Bay, and The Atlantic Ocean that he meant. I like the water, but I grew up landlocked in Connecticut, up on a mountain, surrounded by orchards and looking down on a valley of low green hills and cornfields. For me, that is where I breathe a sigh and feel that all is right in the world – that I’m, “good now.” Also what I know is my childhood home saved me. One early morning after many early mornings sitting on someone’s floor in someone’s apartment still awake after waitressing all night and then drinking and smoking and partaking of other illegal substances (it was the eighties) I looked at everyone around me and felt sick. Sick and sad. I got up, went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror at my bloodshot eyes, red, blotchy skin and smeared mascara. Wishing myself somewhere else, someone else, I closed my eyes and found myself standing barefoot and poised on my mountain. A barefoot-Peter Pan-Queen of the world. Cool mountain air and delicate apple blossoms enrobed me. I stayed in the bathroom a long time and cried. When I had finished I left where I was and never went back. The natural world of my childhood had appeared suddenly like a fairy godmother and pointed her wand toward the Emerald City. Nature is powerful, subtle, and sneaky – it gets into your bones. Although my daughter complains dramatically that, “it is so boring here!” and longs for New York City, I know, like my son, she’ll carry this place with her too. The sound of the Long Island Railroad blowing its discordant chord as it rolls slowly into Greenport will come to her one day. His racing heart as he bolted out the door each night to watch the “ding-ding gate” go down and the thrilling sight of the two car train going by will remind him, just when he needs it. Perhaps climbing the shady, twisted branches of the old rhododendron in the back yard, the most challenging jungle gym ever, or squatting underneath it, making squishy mud pies in little tin pans dotted with pebbles and nuts will do the trick. They will carry with them the colors of summer: Blue hydrangea and orange daylily, scrub pine, sandy beach and hazy afternoon sky. The scents and tastes: Perhaps the sweet smell of beach rose mixed with decaying shellfish and soursalt seaweed or sucking the nectar of honeysuckle flowers as they walk down the street to the beach. Maybe my children will recall the incongruously high little peeps of the formidable ospreys as they patrol the ground with their raptors eyes or the dark gunmetal water glinting like old diamonds in the morning sun as we take the North Ferry to Shelter Island. The thrill of catching a blowfish and dropping it in surprise as it pops into a puffball. The rush of bracing against the cold waters of Ponquogue as it sucks them deeper into the sand and water. The moment of decision as a 10 foot wave thunders toward them, to jump or dive under into quiet, cold as it rolls overhead. They will feel the sand so hot underfoot they must run over the long stretch toward the boardwalk passing the many flip-flops lined up on the ramp to the snack bar. The high of whizzing along the frozen inlet at a terrifying speed in a tiny iceboat. They will remember walking almost horizontal through Hurricane Sandy to help a neighbor shore up windows as whole docks and trees rushed by in the bay and were thrown up on the lawn. One day when they close their eyes and need help, they’ll feel the cool, dry wind coming off Widows Hole in the early evening and maybe the absolute stillness that inexplicably woke them at 4 in the morning. Whatever images or scents or textures live in their hearts and minds let the East End be a spirit guide. A talisman. Something invisible and powerful to take with them into their adulthood to help guide them and protect them against the many obstacles and hardships I know they’ll encounter. A place of healing waters, sparkling mornings and gray misty ones too, of fog horns and wild winds and whitecaps, of long rolling waves and frozen bays and snow encrusted trees, of awe-inspiring sunsets and always, always the salty-soft air – a mother’s hand caressing a child’s cheek and pointing at the white sail on the horizon.