Connections: The Promised Land

Being out in the wild landscape — and the blustering wind — of Napeague lifts my spirits

   It may seem funny, but I sometimes think the nicest part of my day, at least on those days when I have to work, is the walk between the house and the office. The few moments it takes to stroll the 250 feet to or from The Star, absorbing whatever the weather is and looking at the sky, keep me happy.
    A similar feeling of joy in the outdoors occurred on Christmas Day when we went to spend time with my son David and his family in the house on Gardiner’s Bay where he and my other children grew up. Being out in the wild landscape — and the blustering wind — of Napeague lifts my spirits and, this week, reinforced the daydream I indulge in that someday much of the sandy and exotic land that surrounds the house will become a park.
    Perhaps we all were meant to live in the outdoors. Or maybe it’s just that being outdoors reminds me, personally, of the well-being I felt as a child on my grandparents’ 108-acre farm in the Catskills or as a college student during the summers I was a counselor at a summer camp, where we slept in lean-tos or teepees or under the shelter of a covered wagon. In any case, when our house on Napeague was finished in 1963, I embraced the rare landscape that surrounded it. The house was not just isolated, it was, in fact, one of the only houses in sight and the only one on our empty road that was lived in year-round.
    These days there are plenty of houses along Cranberry Hole Road, but, as far as I am concerned, it is still one of eastern Long Island’s last great places.
    I have saved part of a column that Larry Penny, The Star’s nature columnist, wrote in these pages some time ago about why Napeague is to be treasured. I am not sure that those who make decisions about how the Town of East Hampton uses its community preservation fund think often about Napeague, or the part of it called Promised Land, but here is some of what Mr. Penny had to say:
    “The water table is only a few feet below, and fresh groundwater continually wicks up to supply the bearberry and heather with enough water to keep them thriving. Trees don’t stand a chance, except for the pitch pines in little hollows, as the winds sweeping across from south to north in the summer and vice versa in the winter keep any from getting a toehold. This close-knit dune plain as far as I can tell is the only one of its kind in New York State, maybe in all of America.”
    Edible wild mushrooms and prickly pear cactus grow on Napeague. There are other rare plants, including lady slippers; cranberry bogs can be found off the road to the south, and wildlife, from toads to snakes to foxes. We have found huge old whale bones, over the years, in the dune craters between Cranberry Hole and Montauk Highway; it is easy to dig up arrowheads, too (although I won’t tell you where).
    If I could, I would gather botanists and zoologists, birders and expert environmentalists and ask them to draw a heavy line around the part of the landscape that remains, in Larry’s words, “very much intact” and, as Larry suggested, preserve it “for future centuries.”