Hamptons Glitterati: The Trees of Southampton Sparkle Brightly Every Night

Earlier this summer, I wrote a tribute to the hundreds of magnificent trees that line both sides of Main Street in East Hampton. Many of them are 60 feet tall. As a group, they overarch the road, meeting high up above the center of it to create a graceful mile-long leafy tunnel to walk or drive through. Many say this experience is the reason that East Hampton has often been described as the most beautiful village in America.

This week, I would like to talk about the trees that line both sides of the Main Street of Southampton. These trees, maples, are not nearly as tall the great elms of East Hampton. And the street they define is not nearly as broad or long. Up until about a year ago, the best you could say about them was that they did soften the feeling of this very busy commercial main street, with its angled parking, traffic control officers at the entrances to every side street, upscale street furniture and very fashionably dressed summer residents strolling along the brick-lined walkways. [expand]

About a year ago, however, something very remarkable happened to the trees of Southampton’s Main Street. I imagine this was accomplished by a decision made by Mayor Mark Epley and his Board, since they have responsibility for all the public spaces in the village. In the early spring of last year, when the weather was warm enough for workmen to work in the trees, yet not late enough for the trees to be in bloom, a firm came in and carefully affixed thousands of little tiny white Christmas tree lights to each of the trees—to the trunks, boughs, limbs and branches—so that when night came, at the pulling of a switch somewhere in Village Hall, not only would all the streetlights come on, but all the trees would light up too in a festive display of twinkly glory never before seen in these parts.

The sight of this on the first night they were turned on was an astonishing thing indeed. They transformed the town. They said let’s party, let’s shop and let’s celebrate. It was impossible in Southampton, once night settled in, to feel anything but wonderful about strolling Main Street. And it has been thus every night since.

There was, for a long time, one oddity about the arrangement. On the east side of the street, from Mixology at the north end to the Chrysalis Gallery at the south end, all the trees were dressed with the same twinkly white little bulbs. The same was true on the west side, between Golden Pear on the north and the Village Cheese Shop on the south, except for one thing. About three quarters of the way down, closer to the Golden Pear than Village Cheese however, there was one tree that was NOT dressed in white. It was in a kind of brassy yellow. It was as if the company that did this work had begun at the tree just to the south of this one, had gone down to Village Cheese doing tree after tree, had crossed over to the Chrysalis Gallery and gone north to Mixology, then crossed over again to Golden Pear and headed along toward finishing the job and then, well, ran out of white!

Since none of the trees were turned on in any kind of test run during this period, instead being delayed until Mayor Epley could have one grand event where he cut the ribbon—that’s probably the wrong metaphor—and the whole thing lit up and everybody oooed and ahhhed—I don’t know whether or not the company simply stopped there with one tree unclad for awhile, or that they held a meeting with the Mayor on the day they ran out and asked what to do.

Apparently, they had misjudged the job. They had underestimated the number of twinkly white lights. They would have to order more, but because of an earthquake in China where they were made, or a flood or something, it might be months or even years before they could get the additional twinkly lights they would need for that final tree. On the other hand, they had these brassy yellow twinkly lights on hand. They were in the back of the office. They were from the same Chinese manufacturer so they were the same size, shape and wattage. They could finish with those. And as a matter of fact, they had these yellow lights kicking around there left over from another job for a number of years with nobody wanting them so Southampton was welcome to them at no charge. It was their mistake. This is how they would make it up to them.

Even in Southampton, the Queen of America’s Watering Places, as the saying goes, the grand summer resort right up there with Palm Beach and the Riviera and Palm Springs, this was too much for the Mayor to resist, what with these being hard times and such, and so, given the alternatives, he must have given them the go-ahead.

And that’s how they apparently finished the job—on time and under budget.

I don’t know. I have been to towns and cities in the world where twinkly lights like this adorn the trees of one street or another. There were lights like this on Tsim Sha Tsui on Kowloon Island in Hong Kong when I was there some years ago. Last year, I was on the Main Street of Palo Alto, California, and witnessed all the trees there light up like this at dusk. The trees of Tavern on the Green lit up like this in Central Park for years and years. And sometimes Mayor Bloomberg would order Park Avenue lined for several miles with twinkly evergreens during Christmastime.

But somehow, here in Southampton, having this one tree was sort of jarring. And it made you think. Was this one tree the winner of a prize? Was it that they found out this particular tree was very sensitive and allergic to white? Was the town trying to say something that was unclear about the spot where this tree sits? Or was it just a botched job that the contractor tried in the end to make right, as I have suggested?

About four weeks ago, however, the situation sort of resolved itself. Maybe this one tree became too much of a distraction. In any case, one night, the yellow-lighted tree did not light up anymore. It has not lighted up since. You don’t really notice that it is not lighted up because in the dark who sees things that are still in the dark? Well, there will some day be an end to this story and I do hope the end will be that this one tree gets its act together and gets lit up like all the others.

After all, in a town that has signs on Main Street reading PLEASE OBSERVE OUR SOUTHAMPTON VILLAGE DRESS CODE, and that has some of the most beautiful and fashionable women in the Hamptons, you just can’t have things around you that clash. And that applies to trees as well as anybody else. [/expand]

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