Visitors from away would not have recognized the affront for what it was. Nor, earlier in the day on the bay side, would they have seen the world that was disappearing, just as fast, from beneath the booted feet of a lone trap fisherman as he pulled his stakes for the winter. To the tourist, the ocean’s feast and the lone bayman would have appeared scenic.
The fact is, people can be eroded down past their foundations the same as the land on, and from, which their parents toiled. Maybe this place was never meant to last, a glacial dump, a beautiful pile of continental scraps left behind to placate the hungry sea. Maybe. But in the vast meantime, our bays and ocean shallows have been home to a cornucopia of fish and marine mammals. When the shad bush blossoms, the herring show. The lilac’s purple bloom announces the lavender iridescence of arriving weakfish.
In these parts, the rhythms of summer migrations became Indian rhythms, and then became the synchronicities that ruled the days of the early settlers. The same tempos drew Stewart Lester into Gardiner’s Bay after porgies on the Fourth of July, 2005 never to return.
He was the son of Theodore Roosevelt Lester, and the grandson of Nathan Lester who, the story goes, was wearing in a buttonhole of his jacket the flower his sweetheart had given him on the day his boat capsized in the surf. Nathan was still wearing it when he struggled ashore. For this he was called Cap’n Posey, and his Amaganett community of fishermen Poseyville, as a nod to fate, to survival, to what was meant to be.
Stewart, who had done it all – trapped, clammed, scalloped, hauled seine, lobstered inshore and off as far as the slope of the Continental Shelf – fell into the bay from his boat, throttle wide open. The boat roared around him in an ever-tightening circle until it ran him down. The image was not lost on the descendents of the Havens, Bennett, Lester, Edwards, Miller, and otherEast Hamptonfishing families that attended his funeral.
The old melody is sometimes heard in the “foinest koind” and “boi Jesus” of patched and mended, handed-down speech, but these days nature’s pulse is rarely taken and barely felt, like a heart forgotten. An ever-rising sea explains the disappearance of beaches, and now the headlands they once protected.
It’s another sort of tide, a flood of urban folk with their leisure pastimes and unnatural economies that have swamped the local inshore fishing community down to its 300-year-old roots.
There remains a stubborn few born with waves of fish and the seasons’ rhythms in their blood, men and women who feel the incessant pounding of the alien advance on their headland, but who nevertheless refuse to give up the ghost. Backlit by a proud past, they possess the rare perspective of knowing they are most likely among the last of their finest kind.”
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