The Waters of Long Island
Long Island’s East End is like any other body of land surrounded by water. Yes? Well, not really. We can look at navigational issues, indigenous marine life, hydrodynamics and you still won’t lay hands on what makes this land so, different. But it’s a difference that lures people, making them endure, albeit not happily, hours of bumper to bumper on the hot and sweaty Long Island Express. And so the water flows.
Summer, 1967 when Twiggy reigned Carnaby Street in London, “The Graduate” made Dustin Hoffman and “plastics” stars, rioting over Viet Nam stunned TV watchers, hippies smelled of strawberry incense, sported body painted peace signs and grooved to the new Beatles LP “Sgt Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band”, that was the summer we sailed into Greenport on a sloop. I was thirteen, just finished a month at riding camp and had the saddle sores to prove it! Now we took our dinghy into Greenport to shop at the Arcade for supplies and eat at Claudio’s. I still remember the rough hewed wooden floors at the Arcade; one of the few relics that have remained to this day.
Years later as an adult, I worked as a Psychiatric RN in the Mile High State of Colorado. The majestic Rockies, profusion of wildlife and down-to-earth hearts of many under those open skies made me call it home for over twenty years. But there was always something missing. Never noticed it until I suddenly realized all my watercolor paintings were ocean scenes: tranquil, tempestuous, or traveled, they all pointed to my condition: landlocked. No water. Trips home were tantalizing but never enough; apparently once an east coast gal, always an east coast gal! We need the water.
When 9/11 happened, I believed we would go to war. Young nurses would be commissioned and we older ones would hold down the forts at home. As well, my heart went out to Manhattan’s gaping wound and a friend traumatized by being in a cab racing away from a collapsing tower. The shocking injury to the city’s soul screamed for soothing balm, kind hearts and strong hands. I sold my condo and arrived in Orient that January on a mission. Well, nurses weren’t commissioned so I worked at a local hospital that too was surrounded by water.
Over the years Greenport’s still inundated by a wave of humanity coming out during summer, pumpkin picking time or Christmas. Claudio’s is still here, the Arcade, while it’s changed hands, is still here and now we have Mitchell Park and the Carousel. Monday nights the Park rocks with local bands and picnickers while Aldo’s coffee scents the town with his fresh roasted beans. Next to the park, water flows past the boats moored in the harbor.
I love little kids riding the Carousel for the first time. It’s unmistakable, that first time expression of fear mixed with accomplishment and ultimate joy of riding the big painted horse. You see it mirrored in parents’ eyes that are blessed to see all the “first time” expressions. What else can you do but mirror it back yourself with a smile.
Sunfishes herald the beginning of summer in Orient Harbor. A rite of passage for many, the Sunfish is a flat dinghy with small sail. This is the sailboat on which you learn the basics. And every year when driving along the causeway to Orient, you see the latest pack of students struggling to master the water and wind in their little boats. First days are always tough as they careen and crash into each other causing mini-catastrophes at sea in the shallow, well supervised waters of Orient Harbor. Nobody ever really gets hurt except maybe students’ tender feelings. But as the sun swelters our days, that little flotilla of bashed hulls and tangled sails becomes a streaking regatta sailing out beyond the harbor; masters of the wind, these are not only launched Sunfishes but launched mariners all for the rest of their lives. They are captains of their ships, their lives and yet it is the water that proves captain over all.
Water is a powerful presence. You see that every time a visitor rounds the corner from East Marion onto the causeway and is slapped in the face by the spectacle of water on both sides. For locals, this can be a bit of a pain because this presence demands attention causing tourists to suddenly stop or slow down to a crawl with mouth’s open taking it all in. When there’s a long-awaited package from Ebay waiting at Orient post office, and you’re forced to drive 10 miles per hour, it can result in unkind remarks, to put it mildly. But we locals need to remember the first time we felt that pulsing presence and extend grace to our visitors, after all it is their first time.
And that’s a big part of what goes on in this neck of the East End: rites of passage, launchings, beginnings that become a living part of your soul. No matter where you go, it’s there, tugging, showing you the way home like a good lighthouse. It sets up a quiet beachhead and slowly calls through paintings or a New England clam chowder. It’s that intense yearning when some film capturing a blustery day at sea and you’re suddenly shocked finding yourself seated in a movie theater instead of standing at the wind-swept helm. What’s launched here in these waters lasts a lifetime.
Another pull of the current is time that flows as fluid as the waves. It doesn’t take much to bring a hard driving city executive to his knees picking lavender, or fast paced Type A professional stopped in her tracks by a sparkling light show of fireflies extending hundreds of feet up trees surrounding Old School House Park in East Marion. Adults flow back to a time of amazed childhood wonderment. You see it when they kick off their Gucci Jordaan crocodile loafers and lay down in Armani Jacquard trousers on the grass outside Custer Observatory to watch, and hear, the Persied meteor shower. There may not be observable water there but the current is as palpable as night time dew as they strip off citified jaded vision and drift off to long-forgotten memories of youthful astonishment.
Summer 2016 finds me an ole bat with a limp pining for horses and the freedom of adolescent joints! Today Greenport hangs onto its’ antiquity like a miser while courting the cyber world. All over I see people glued to their devices passing by living history breathing on tall ships. But kids still run out of Ralph’s Italian Ice, dripping Rocky Road ice cream all over their shark tee shirts as parents race after them napkin in hand. Some things, like waves, never change.
Ocean waters still collide with Long Island Sound off Orient Point at Plum Gut creating a formidable turbulence and velocity. Maybe it’s the water that makes this land so different, such a needed destination. I don’t know. I only know there’s a draw here that’s inescapable; like a riptide or undertow. Thousands of young families looking to inscribe memories, the casual sailboat in need of harbor or world-wearied souls needing to forget, they’re all drawn here. The East End catches you, knocks you off your feet and before you know it; you’re pulled out in a tide heading for deep soothing waters of memory, amazement and childlike wonder that will never let you go.