The Essence of the East
The Essence of the East By Diane Strecker Today, it is mid-summer at daybreak on the brink of the beach at Ditch when the fog is soup and the beach smells like seaweed. Invisible gulls cry from somewhere inside, muted by the pounding surf, navigating on what could only be some kind of innate radar. A single jogger plods by then disappears into the veiled abyss. The tide is low making the cove beach stretch long and wide. Memories sealed safely inside the heavy clouds drift out to me as if they have been waiting for my return. I know soon, the mist will begin to burn off and the sand will dry in deep purple sheets. The crowds will press in and a long line of surfboards will clutter the jetty. The heads of a hundred surfers bob like corks out in the water, all waiting for that perfect wave. Beach chairs and umbrellas will cram the cove and all of town beach, till the sand is barely visible. Beach etiquette will be ignored. Throngs of visitors will arrive in droves, all seeking a dose of Montauk cool. By midday, the line for the Ditch Witch runs the length of the East Deck parking lot. Cell circuits jam, alerting everyone in satellite distance that the surf is up. But, before the misty curtain rises and the show begins, I will absorb the early morning light and the perfect peace of this beautifully desolate beach and let myself remember one hot summer day, nearly 50 years ago. It was the kind of heat that you see in the air, the kind that waves through a haze and plays games with your vision. I walk the narrow dry, dusty, dirt path that runs along the cliff, turning my white Keds to clay. Wild berries, dense greenery and beach plums cook in the hot summer sun, their scents permeating through the thick brush. It is so very quiet. The sounds of silence are almost dizzying. Bees buzzing; the air humming. Out on the pond, one splash and plop breaks the stagnant surface dense with Lilies. Lilies so lush, the stems have turned a deep red hue, creating an almost shocking contrast to the pure, white petals. And from everywhere and all around is the ocean. I arrive at my favorite spot. It is dangerously close to the edge of the already eroding cliff, right before the steep reed forest path that leads down to what surfcasters then called , “The Bowl “. The four cement monuments that show themselves through the overgrowth are remnants of an old coast guard tower that once provided an ideal spot for a lookout. From here an expansive panorama opens up in both directions. All of Ditch Plains spreads out wide down below to the west and in the distance, I spot the windmill on Sandpiper Hill. To the east, the view seems to go on forever, only the Seven Sisters poke their heads up through the hollows but otherwise it is completely and unabashedly undisturbed. The grass below me is a mesh of fine green blades, I sit. It is just the Atlantic and me and know at this moment, I am in love with it. All of it. I feel my heart rise and swell. I close my eyes and put my face to the sun and I take in its energy. I listen to the quiet. The air seems alive. I have never felt a sensation more beautiful. I see every detail in the grass beneath my fingers. I watch as an ant travels over my hand and I let it go its way. The ocean’s surface is faceted in diamonds a million fold that spark and jump in the sun. I can feel the ocean rumbling in the air, in the ground below and inside my chest. I take in each sight, sound, and smell; every nuance is amplified. I let nature overtake me. The beauty, is almost too much to bare. Oh the Moorlands… one of the most spectacular spots on the East End. It is a place where the wind arrives in a sweeping ocean breadth and takes yours away and, from where the heart of the East End beats in a timeless rhythm. Hundreds of acres of unspoiled rambling hills thriving with wildlife and vegetation, stretch out over the Eastern most part of Montauks craggy coast. It is rich with history, tales of war and shipwrecks. It whispers secrets in soft sea breezes of famed hidden hideaways and pretty people. Music once made, hums through the hills and floats out to sea. But, I will always know it as the place I let its beauty in, on that searing mid-summer day in 1965, when I was just thirteen. When nature opened its doors and granted me a glimpse of what’s inside. Where I learned to see beyond vision, to feel life in stillness and hear a symphony in silence. To see what will always remain there, forever unchanged. In that solitary experience, in all its simplicity, is where I found true the essence of the East End. I know far past the crowds and commotion, its core is quite common place. An odd mix of things really. A concoction of fish tales and folklore, Bonackers and blue bloods, surfers and socialites. Beach days and bonfires. Solace and serenity. I know that its beauty, is its most precious commodity. Beyond the noise and the hype, I hear the sound of a lobster pot rattling in an old pick up as it makes its way up Tuthill Road, dog in tow and the grind of sand as it comes under the tires on the Napeague Stretch. I see the first sight of the draggers as they haul their catch into the harbor with a frenzy of birds working around them. The tide rises and falls. The ocean thunders. I taste the salt in the air. These things, are constant. Each time I round the bend into town from the old highway, an unmatched ocean vista prevails. I hear my siblings and me shrieking with joy as we go up and down over the hills. I see my Dad casting his pole into the surf. I hear the gulls behind the clouds. Each fall, I always venture out. I head to Ditch to sit in the tired sand and affirm that the wonders of my childhood are still intact. At the beachhead I find the snow fences half buried in the dunes, a lone flip flop left behind, and sandpipers scurrying for bits along the shore, as if the carnival has just left town. Out over the sea I hear a swan song singing the survival of one more season. I am reminded of an anecdote I recently heard about the final ferry leaving Block Island weighted with the last group of tourists on Labor Day. I was told that the summer help all stand on the decks of the inns and applaud. I can relate to that. Next time I rise to go, I will ponder that thought, and take my leave in a standing ovation.