Like the Statue of Liberty, the Bunny Castle welcomes me to the land that I love. Used for aircraft navigation and officially called the Omni, the Bunny Castle earned its informal name due to the throng of rabbits living happily at its base. Serving as a guide for weary travelers returning to the New York City airports, the Bunny Castle’s unofficial job is even more important. This landmark signals arrival to my sanctuary: an expanse of beautiful open meadow. For my entire life, I have cherished her to my core: the nurturing smell of hard work and promises to come, the cocoa brown softness of tender protection, the whispered thoughts of hope and rebirth, the sun-kissed taste of determined perseverance and the simple beauty of life well-lived. She is my compass in an unpredictable world, my true north in times of angst, my ever-ready flashlight. She is classic refinement. She is dirt.
The Field. A straightforward and uncomplicated name for a magical place and peaceful kingdom of mornings spent driving a tractor in a bathing suit with two dogs as co-pilots and evenings dedicated to gathering dinner while wearing a hat the size of Montana to act as a defensive shield against the setting sun and ever-present dive-bombing sparrows. It is the design of land and water that I know by heart, fertile farmland that is bordered by the thundering surf of the Atlantic Ocean in Bridgehampton, NY. It is the Field that Jack built.
In a more perfect world all children would have a field to teach them to treasure the earth and love the land. My friend Jack, a no-nonsense descendent of Polish potato farmers, taught me those things, even though I was not paying full attention at the time. There is nothing glamorous about days spent in the Field searching for tomatoes or pumpkins with dirt in your hair, bugs in your face and sunburned shoulders that foreshadow a sleepless night. And yet there is a special reverence in coaxing a small seedling from infancy to full harvest and an invaluable humility learned in the presence of something bigger than oneself. Nestled amidst the McMansions and mega-rich of the Hamptons is the Field, thirteen acres on the south shore of Long Island, owned and cultivated by Jack and his family for generations, and the antithesis of all that is flashy and vulgar.
“Digging in the Dirt,” with the Field as my classroom and Jack as my teacher, is the most meaningful course I have ever taken. Summer days trimming hedges and digging holes taught me that there is no replacement for hard physical work or the ability to think pro-actively because if you wait to be told what to do, you are already behind. The monotony of weeding and watering became a gratifying celebration of the Field’s productivity and a lesson in patience during the growing season. Watching the rows of heavy-headed sunflowers dancing in the ocean breeze, I discovered that lightheartedness is empowering and laughing at oneself is important. When a hurricane ripped apart the land leaving behind only the stoic silhouettes of shredded trees, I learned to embrace second chances and never whine.
The Field is a sanctuary, a school and a playground. She is the continuum of life that feeds the soul and toughens the body, a place where I relax into being myself and learn what it is surprisingly easy to live without. The Field is where the babies in our family learn to walk by grasping the sturdy stems of the sunflowers; where brides come to be married with a dog serving loyally as best man; where grandfathers gather their extended families every October for the Harvest Dinner and a reliable John Deere tractor is the guest-of-honor; where the American flag waves proudly over the tomato plants. The Field is living proof that a little dirt never hurt anyone.