My brother and I catapulted ourselves out of the car as it came to a rumbling halt on the river rock driveway of my cousin’s cottage. We flew through every nook and cranny of the place, sure that we were missing out on the world’s best adventure already underway. In the last place we looked, the place we least expected, there it was. A mammoth tail was hanging out over the bathtub through the shower curtain. We leaned over the tub edge, feet in the air, stretching out to touch the giant striped bass on ice. My uncle came in winking, “What do you think of that monster?” Without waiting for our answer, his hands began telling his latest fish story even faster than his words. “We got him right off The Point. I thought I hit a rock and I yelled to your dad to back up the boat, but the line kept going out (he motioned wildly hanging onto his rod and reel). That’s when it hit me. It’s not a rock, but a FISH! ” Our exuberance actually paled in comparison to his. So began our memories in this place, teaming with life, at the end ofLong Island.
We always stayed near the docks, by the sound. Just as the tidal marshes harbor and nurture young marine life, so did we grow and explore in this protected rich environment. Between all twelve of us cousins, there was always someone doing something interesting, or willing to start on a wonderful new quest. First thing in the morning, surf poles in hand, we were off to catch breakfast. As long as weather permitted, the lion’s share of the day went to swimming, whether it was in the quiet little bay by the cottage or on the ocean with its magnificent waves. After woofing down sandwiches, we’d race to the wharf in time to see the fishing charter boats coming in. All in a day’s catch could be anything and everything, from fluke to monster sharks. After that, we meandered up and down the docks, reading the clever names of boats and the exotic places from which they hailed. No trip to the harbor was complete without a life embracing romp out on the jetty by Gosman’s Dock. Climbing and jumping from rock to rock, with the waves crashing and splashing, cooling my sun-kissed skin, I was a blithe spirit freed between sea and sky.
There was another way to fly over the water, but not without a catch. My father salvaged from his first boat an old wooden pair of water skis. The diplomatic solution to the dilemma of having only one pair of skis and twelve people who wanted to ski was somewhat skewed by the principles of Darwinian natural selection. We devised the rule that one could ski for as long as one could remain on the skis. The remedy was benign enough until the concept of fairness became distorted, increasingly dependent on whether you were on the skis in the water alone, or you were one of the eleven others in the boat, who wanted his turn to ski sooner, rather than later. A competitive creativity in the art of manipulating variables emerged, and from it I gleaned a few lessons of physics and human nature, that I shall never forget.
But the most important wisdom came from my aunt. At the end of each vacation she assigned everyone a task to help clean the cottage. It would have been easier to just pack up and leave. But my aunt, like an army general, rallied the troops until we had the place sparkling, “We are going to leave this place better than it was when we came.” In doing so, Montauk returned the favor, for we left better than we were when we had arrived. Now already a next new generation of Dozen Cousins is flourishing, for whom this redefined Siren call is more important than ever before. The lure of the ocean may be irresistible, but for just that reason, we treasure and protect her for both now and the future. Isn’t that our ultimate purpose, to leave things better than they were when we found them? That is not just The End, but the Point at the End.
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