The wide cove of Ditch at daybreak reveals just one lone beachcomber. I survey the expanse of the ocean from atop the deck of a deteriorating Coast Guard tower, shrouded in mist, as my friend and I puff on soggy cigarettes with the wet wind slapping our hair. We are invincible as only teenagers can be.
In a flickering mind clip, the years pass by. The gray jetty is now lined with a rainbow of surfboards. I see the windmill on Sandpiper Hill and then it is gone. I am sitting with my Dad not long before he passed, in the damp night air sharing a beer, listening as he tells his fish tales with a half cocked smile. I can see he is happiest here and my heart aches a bit. I hear the waves pound the shore in succession reminding me how much stronger they are then me, letting me know they have been here long before we came and will remain long after we’ve gone.
It has been many years since I slept with my face pressed on that screen. By the mid 70s my Mom would pass, my siblings would spread across the country, and my Dad would trade Ditch Plains for Shagwong Point, till lung cancer took him in 1989.
Some 20 years later as I anticipated a move to California, I would feel his presence during the 10-minute ferry crossing to Shelter Island. As I looked out over those waters I could hear him telling me about he tiny island when I was a girl. I remembered how much he loved the East End, how much I loved it, how much I was my fathers daughter and how by example, he taught me to.
I will always live on an East End shore. I am a writer who can never say enough about it. It is a continual source of inspiration and no coincidence that I would later describe all the same estates and historic points my Dad once pointed out to me. From the hundreds of back-road journeys east, I obtained an education I could never get in school.
Long past is my silly struggle with my up island roots. I see that the East End offered much more than a shelter from childhood shame. It has linked me to the natural world in a way I may never have known. Most of all it has helped me to know my father, away from his stoic reserve. He was a hard workingman rewarded with one joy; to stand in waiters, knee deep in Montauk waters, casting his pole. Now, I understand that. This small spit of land will always be my first true love just as it was his. We will always share that common thread and I thank him for that.
In essence, the East End is more than a point of geography. I know now that it is a way of life and a distinctive cultural anomaly, to all that seek the same. I have watched many leave their conventional life behind, abandon or begin careers just to become closer to it. Some come for a weekend or a summer and never leave. It whispers its charms straight to your soul.
Currently I live on the North Fork nearby the bay, where I cross easily between the forks. My cottage was once part of a historic campground; go figure. People often ask why I make the 100-mile commute each weekday and I try to explain to their bewilderment that where I live is not an address but a lifestyle. The shores, farms and fields are my sweet addiction and my fix to all that ails me.
Like so many that are bitten by the East End bug, I feel it belongs to me but know deep down, it belongs to no one. As I watch the crowds converge, I try to remember that it has been here long before us and will be here long after we’ve gone.
Now, when I head east on 27 I feel my internal gears begin to shift as I pass through the villages. A grateful smile spreads across my face when I realize most of my teenage tour is yet in tact. When I reach the stretch, I feel the sand start to mix under my tires and the soft sea breeze rolls out to greet me. I veer off on the old highway and as the ocean vista opens just before town I see what is still one of the most magnificent views I have ever seen. I turn up the stereo like a kid and let myself sense the east. I hear my Dad condescendingly say to one of the few outsiders we were permitted to bring along, ” Now that, is the Atlantic Ocean.”