There was a time when I thought I could never bear to live anywhere but the East End of Long Island.
Struck early in life with an addiction for catching striped bass from the beach and stalking ducks in the marsh, but also not wanting to stray from the cultural mecca of my native Manhattan, I had decided by the time I was in my early 20s that this is where I would live my life. The balance of rural beauty and outdoors adventure with the rush of excitement surrounding the annual return of the chic summer set in those days was perfect for me.
Then things changed, a lot. The fields we used to hunt pheasants in vanished beneath homes and driveways. The creatures of our bays and ponds died as swimming pools and ChemLawn drained into the water. Worst of all, the summer crowd got bigger, louder, ruder, more self-absorbed and never seemed to go away in the off-season like they used to.
I’ll admit, I started to have doubts about living here. I wouldn’t say I was one snarling Bagel Buoy customer away from moving out, but I couldn’t take too many more.
Some friends have said they feel the same way. One couple packed up and shipped off to Northern California, purely on the basis that they just couldn’t take the whining, egotistic part-timers anymore, and for three years have regaled me with tales of paradise. Warm winters, smiling faces, towns oriented to families rather than fortunes.
I finally visited last week and it was all they had promised. Bike and foot paths that snaked throughout towns and vineyards so everyone could get anywhere without getting in a car. Friendly folks everywhere and no one was yelling at the girl behind the bagel store counter. The ocean one direction, the mountains the other.
I found myself wondering: I could rent my house here, coming back to see my parents wouldn’t be that hard, more biking instead of driving.
I started actually thinking that perhaps they were right. Maybe I should be open to living elsewhere.
Everywhere we went in California I got the same feeling. People were nice, the towns were clean and friendly, natural beauty was everywhere.
On the last night we were there, we went to San Francisco and met some of my girlfriend’s family. True to form, they were supremely happy, gregarious, intellectual and completely in love with California. A curious uncle and I soon got to chatting about New York and my love for fishing. I told him of nights on the rocks in Montauk, big bass caught on the way to work in the morning and during lunch hour, days of trolling the canyons. The uncle swooned with adoration. He turned to me with wide eyes, completely unsolicited and with no inkling of my thoughts of leaving, and said: “don’t ever move away from a place like that.”
Not that it wasn’t a thought I’d had myself a million times, but hearing someone else say it carried a lot of weight. There’s nowhere else quite like where we live. The roads may be crowded, but the beaches at 5 a.m. never are. I stopped thinking about a move for the rest of the trip.
A few nights later, sick as a dog, I drove down Montauk Highway through Sagaponack. A southwest breeze was breaking the cold and the smell of salt was strong. I knew it would be a few months before the striped bass would be back in the suds a mile to the south, but I knew when they returned, this year and every year for many to come, I will be waiting for them.
See you out there.