Further on, as Rocky Point turns into Shoreham, another memory comes up, though this one will prove harder to forget. It is my first memory. The image is fleeting, but unalterably clear: I’m sitting on my father’s shoulders in the middle of the street, surrounded by other families as we march east to protest theShorehamWadingRiverpower plant. He then lifts me off his shoulders and sets me down to walk beside him. After that, once my feet hit the pavement, the moment disappears. It became a mystical juncture, a first moment of life, in protest, in the care of my father, and then it twists and turns and the next memory I have might be from months later. Where did the time go? Might there be new memories to delve into, lost until I walk the street once more? Would repetition strengthen my grip on the past?
Past Shoreham, the island becomes bigger and more slender at the same time. Bigger in that there are open spaces now. Towns become smaller, and the space between town, house and farm lengthens. There is Calverton, where my father once worked. He once told me about the vast area owned by Grumman, fenced in and guarded. Deer thrived behind the fencing, and the open fields near the woods provided them with abundant fuel. Though I am unsure if this is a true memory, an image always plays across my mind: we drive past at dusk, and see a deer standing where the woods and field meet. Silently chewing as it watches us, it fades into the darkness of the woods, the tree shadows cloaking its body, and within a blink, there is no proof that it was actually there. We drive on.
And beyond Riverhead, the island becomes more slender, where it splits into appendages as if it had two legs to walk on. Once arriving there, the water of the sound, ocean and bay is never that far from your mind or nose. The scent of it pervades, and there are moments when you come close to the water, and see an egret stealthily hunting in the shallows, waiting for a fish to swim near its legs. Or the clouds trap the sun, marbling the beach and the waves’ white foam. Moments like these, where the island becomes both big and small, current and timeless wrapped together, can mystify.
On towards Southold, towards Orient Point and the limits of theIsland, I become void of memories. It’s not that we didn’t head “out east” enough to elicit them, or that theIslanddidn’t enthrall me enough for recollection. The vastness of the land allowed my mind to wander away from those limitations, to not attach any unnecessary weight to what I saw. What I see out my window brings about a hyperawareness; memory isn’t clouding my vision. I simply experience. I can choose between the blurred stretches of farmland and bay, or lay back and watch the telephone wires slink from pole to pole, tightening for a moment before bellying towards the road again. A flock of birds could dart and swoop in silhouette, their figures moving from tree line to open sky before being lost in the distance. These images become bigger than memory for me. They’re malleable and comforting in their vastness. Memory cannot be written on this land because the land seems to predate memory itself.
Without markers, memory has less a chance to ingrain itself on the mind. Did this unmooring allow Jackson Pollock to paint the way he did? Did it affect Walt Whitman’s poetry? Can where you live change the way you think and remember? There’s an openness here that can unlock tracts in your mind, granting you a freedom from the chaotic order of memory. While Port Jefferson is a palimpsest, a book to return to time and time again for interpretation,Eastern Long Islandserves another purpose. It allows me to forget. It creates a moment where memory isn’t as important as experience. And when we get to that point where we begin our return, when we reach that invisible limit where we agree it’s time, the travel back becomes easier. Memory fades and unpacks itself, replaced by open spaces, and going back home becomes transcendent.
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