Autumn on the East End

Like many people, I watched on TV in early September as fire destroyed much of the Boardwalk at Seaside Heights and Seaside Park in New Jersey. Beyond the tragedy of this, the fire happening so soon after the rebuild from Sandy, it did cause me to think of my youth. I grew up in suburban New Jersey, in Millburn, and until I was 16 and moved to eastern Long Island, that was all I knew about summer resorts. My high school buddies and I would go down “the shore” looking for a good time during those years. But that was only in the summer. We’d never go down there in the offseason.

It was, way back then, why I so fell in love with the eastern end of Long Island when we moved here. The East End was indeed a summer resort. But when the summer people left, it was not only that we had the place to ourselves, but that we had a place of extraordinary beauty to ourselves. In all the offseasons, but particularly in the fall, when the memories were still strong about all those who had left after Labor Day, there was this wonderful exhilaration you felt, not from the departure of the summer people, but from what they left behind.

Here were ospreys with five-foot wingspans swooping over the wetlands and ponds of this community every day, here were clams in the bays to be harvested by the bushelful, here were striped bass and bluefish in the ocean and along its shoreline to be caught by surfcasting, and here were woods and forests and rolling hills and cliffs to walk along, rumrunner trails through the dunes in back of the beaches to hike on, grand potato farms you could look out upon to watch the mist from the sea on a rough day billow over the dunes.

Furthermore, humans had not been unkind to this place. We’ve built fishing villages—one is even an old whaling village—and we’ve built old New England downtowns that date back to the 1600s that boast wooden windmills and town greens and town ponds. Around them we’ve created farms that grow all manner of vegetables to be sold at farm stands along the sides of the road.

We’ve created parks and playgrounds and barbecue grills and picnic tables along the bays, and we’ve created great ocean beach pavilions, and downtown cultural centers such as Guild Hall in East Hampton, the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor and the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center. Furthermore, we are only a hop, skip and jump from New York City, and much that starts here ends up in galleries or theaters there.

How could I not be overwhelmed when my dad moved our family here to live all those years ago? I marveled not only at the beauty of the landscape, not only at the great architecture and layout of our villages and beaches, but also at the diversity of its people—separated from one another as they were back then, and still so in many ways today. There were the local Bonackers (fishermen and baymen), there were farmers and lobstermen, there were the service industry people, the local merchants and professional people, there were those who served the summer people, those who were artists and writers and sculptors and designers off in homes built in the woods tucked away.

In some ways, this was New York City’s sixth borough, the rural borough where everything beautiful and wonderful resided.

And then there were the summer people, largely from the world of finance, Broadway, fashion, television, advertising and retail. And the tourists. But in September, the tourists and the summer people went away for the
offseason.

And then, all of this, particularly in September and October, is in full dress as far as foliage and landscaping and weather are concerned, and just for us. How lucky we are.

The ocean is at its warmest in September. The surf is at its grandest. It’s harvest time for the wine industry and for the potato industry. Offshore, the fish are at their most abundant. The beaches are at their broadest.

And besides everything else, particularly on the weekends when the summer people come out for Saturday and Sunday, there’s a cornucopia of festivals—Old Whaling Festivals, Seafood Festivals, Surfing Contests, Music Festivals, Film Festivals.

There’s even, in the autumn, before the leaves turn, a rush of Hollywood filmmakers who come here to make their movies—in this wonderful, natural stage set while
nobody is here.

But us.

And then again, there are some summer people who know what we know, and they are here, too. And we all share this
secret.

Welcome to the East End in autumn.

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