My friend “L,” a New Yorker through and through, has always been a model second-home owner. We’ve been friends for about 40 years.
I married into a family that had been here since colonial times, a family that cherished its roots and wrote about them. In a sense, L followed suit. At first, I thought New Yorkers who summered here were like her: smart, educated, and fun. Even though I wasn’t long out of the city myself, I didn’t consider myself one of them; I thought of myself as having become local, even if locals thought of me as “from away.”
My friend and her husband bought a little old house near a pasture and, although they eventually built a big open adjoining room where family and friends could stay in summer, they did not alter the house’s traditional aspect.
My immersion in life and lore here was inevitable. L, however, engaged herself in the community purposefully; she found out what the folks were like who had lived here forever, and she admired those among them who were extraordinary. Stuart Vorpahl, for example, a fisherman, local historian, and stalwart advocate of the rights bestowed upon the East Hampton and Southampton Town Trustees. She got to know what the South Fork has to offer almost as well as she knows the cultural life of New York.
Over the years, L was often up and away. She spent lots of time in France, walked in India and Japan, and went on pilgrimages to this country’s national parks. Last week, she introduced me to a natural wonder right here that had eluded me all these years.
The mountain laurel, she said, was in full bloom, as it was supposed to be during the second week of June. She and another friend had taken a walk in the woods the day before and she teased me by offering to go back again so I could see it.
Mountain laurel is a true native species. According to Andrea Wulf’s book “Founding Gardeners,” our founding fathers introduced it to England. I had lived for almost six months at the edge of Northwest Woods when I first came to East Hampton, and, over the years, had come to know where to look for such miraculous flora as trailing arbutus and princess pine. (I’ll have to take L to those places next spring.) I had seen mountain laurel in bloom here and there along the roadsides, but never in profusion.
L took me and another friend to a loop trail near the Noyac Golf Club that connects with the east-west Paumanok Path. Someone, apparently members of the Southampton Trails Preservation Society, had traced the trail with sand to keep wanderers on track. Straying would have been easy because, as we walked along, the mountain laurel bushes appeared not only in front of us but on rises to either side in greater and greater numbers. We walked through bowers and under canopies.
I remembered mountain laurel’s petals as pinkish, which apparently is characteristic when they first unfold. Now, in the Noyac woods, the flowers were an almost sheer ivory white. The woodland nymphs could not have found more magnificent places to dance, or sing, or marry, if they were so inclined. Thank you, L.
In the introduction to his book “The South Fork: The Land and the People of Eastern Long Island,” Everett Rattray wrote about new residents: “The South Fork is native now to a relative handful; it could be native to thousands more if they would undertake the necessary naturalization exercises, which include some long looks beneath the surface of things.”