The East End of Long Island: a Still Point Between Two Worlds
East End of Long Island: a Still Point Between Two Worlds By Alexandra Newton Rios After Hannah Arendt, Jorge Luis Borges If you say East End of Long Island the smell of orange and yellow flowers I will learn soon to call honeysuckle, growing unexpectedly from the hedges of Little Plains Road, spills over with abundance, the rich, deep smell of innocence and beauty, of the past into the future. A hummingbird alights to drink nectar, drinks the past to blossom the future with beginnings. It is 1970. I am fourteen. We have moved to a turn-of-the-century home with an attic and a basement, whose shingles, white shutters and wide porch on the corner of Meetinghouse Lane and Little Plains Road guards the crossing of four directions. I walk south each morning towards the ocean. How is it that each thing I encounter, each direction taken, is a sign that shapes my future, predicting choices I will later make when I move to Argentina? I turn left and walk along Old Town Crossing to Old Town Road where I turn right. I pass potato fields. I wrap around my neck and head my mother’s red plaid wool scarf she wore after she won an English scholarship to leave Córdoba, Argentina for Allegheny College. I walk into the wind. A formation of geese fly south above the old pond. I love their sounds. I love the smell of the potato fields. My parents named me Alexandra, but they call me Alita. It means little wing. I treasure my name. I wonder if the geese are comforting each other on their long trek. Have they prepared? I have no idea yet that I will leave my country. I am bilingual. I stake a fierce innocence at fourteen. I believe in the innate goodness of people. I take the time to think alone. At fifty four when I run my first 10 K race across tall sand dunes in Pinamar, Argentina the sun glances off the ocean sparkling the waters. We race across the ridges of the dunes. I think it is the ocean in Amagansett again when my brother Nicholas and I raced each other down sand dunes tumbling, laughing, laughing on our birthdays with the pure beauty of movement. I can answer Aristotle now. The First Mover created the universe from the pure joy of movement. The honeysuckle looks like tiny chalices. Abuela Paula, my mother’s mother, flies from Argentina each summer. She loves to steal honeysuckle and a few wild roses growing along the ocean to place in a glass with water on our kitchen table. We walk together. The sand is soft. Seagulls accompany us. The ocean gives me its fierceness to use to raise five children in Argentina. When I turn sixteen my brother and I bike ride along Wickapogue Road past Mecox Landing to Toppings Farm in Bridgehampton three times a week for our sister Christina’s horseback riding classes. She is eight. She wears her black riding hat. We leave an hour early to get her there on time. We hear the ducks in the early morning from a farm we pass. We love the wind. We love our bicycles. We love each other. In the burial place on Little Plains Road from 1649 enclosed with a white picket fence I enter through a small door. I lie on the grass with Edward Howell 1584-1655, Thomas Stephens who died in 1701 at 51, Thomas Sayre who died in 1715, Daniel Foplar who died at 61 in 1744, Judge Thurston dead at 1667. I remember only one woman Phebe who entered at 61. I feel calm, unafraid of the dead. I learn to bake bread in 1972 from Uncle John’s Original Bread Book. I work with yeast. I insist that my family tiptoe around our home while I wait for the bread to rise. We eat hot bread with butter. I form a day school during the summer. The children leave their mothers for three hours. They are very little. I lead them on Little Plains Road seated in my red wagon to hear seagulls at the beach. We make necklaces from noodles we decorate with sea shells. We draw with magic markers and crayons. In Argentina I give my five small children a space to make passports for their Barbie dolls and to draw their desires. I listen to the sounds of Spanish and English time. I live in northwestern San Miguel de Tucumán for twenty-one years. For eight of those years we live in a casa antigua, a brick home with history like our home in Southampton, also one block from a cemetery. A gomero with enormous roots and branches protects statues of angels and marble mausoleums for over two hundred years in the plaza facing it. The gomero witnesses the Diaguita, Spanish Colonists, even later Carlos O’Gorman Meade, a relative on my father’s side of Englishmen who bought a silver mine in Mexico. Carlos O’Gorman Meade escaped his family in Texas. He died for love in a duel in the late 1800’s in the sugar cane factory outside of San Miguel de Tucumán. My brother says he lies buried here. I look for love. I believe in miracles. I watch moving clouds. They look like angels. The sea grass sways as do my thoughts. Larry Rivers lives across the street. Gussy G. watches over our home during the week. I walk past Sip and Soda. I browse in Robert Keene’s Bookshop. My brother and I walk along the aisles of Rogers Memorial Library waiting for titles to summon us. The stop light at the corner of Little Plains Road and Meetinghouse Lane flashes persistence, order. I read sitting on the cushions of our alcove. I watch the changing of lights. I watch the full moon at Halloween rise over the tops of our two hundred year old white birch when I bring our first daughter with my Argentine husband to live for a time as wife and daughter in the rooms of my mother’s home. When I turned 33 a young doctor attending a medical congress in California entered my life. He fathered our five children. I buy a used book the following year called Hannah Arendt: The Recovery of the Public World, a series of essays edited by Melvin A. Hill. I write May 1990 Southampton on the first page. I must have bought the book from a used book store on Hampton Road going towards Bridgehampton. Hannah Arendt writes that memory instigates beginnings. The East End gives me a foundation. Walking strengthens it. The way I dive fearlessly down into each incoming wave is the way I spring into the world. I leave my country. I don’t question what living in a third world country may do to me. The geese going south don’t question. They just go. I follow love. I meet obstacles relentlessly every step of the way. When I return to visit I walk the wooden landing in the woods behind Willow Ponds to long stairs leading down to the rocky beach. I feel the strong wind against me on the promontory looking across Long Island Sound. Distance vanishes. Time stills. Hannah Arendt gives me a way back north through the making of writing. One day flocks of pirpintos appear suddenly as I train in Parque 9 de Julio. They fly south each January searching for Vitamin B. We move effortlessly together. I laugh as I run with hundreds of white butterfly wings fluttering around me. I feel younger than ever. Borges knew the connections of eternity. I met him at Sarah Lawrence College in the mid 70’s when he travelled from Buenos Aires to give a talk. He was gracious, not arrogant as many Argentine men are. In my imagination Hannah Arendt takes the train to the East End while writing Life of the Mind. She watches the presence of the ocean, the strength of the present. She thinks of the still point between the past and the future. In Sag Harbor she smells the leaves fallen in the village. I scuff through fallen leaves along Calle Asunción. I smell the layers of the East End’s autumn beneath our black walnut tree as my brother and I rake leaves into piles. Returning north, I think, will be as simple as butterfly wings, the monarch butterfly wings of the East End of Long Island, the white wings of the pirpintos flying south from Jujuy, unwavering as my name. My mother sends Dan’s Papers to San Miguel de Tucumán from time to time. It is how I discover this contest that calls me to reach you.