The Mast-Head: Peering at the Brink

Sandy was not the end of the world, but it sure came close

   One of the more frequent questions I get these days when talking to someone whom I have not been in touch with for some time is how the beach in front of our house survived the winter. Hurricane Sandy set the table, as it were, for the ordinary winter storms that followed, so it is reasonable for friends to wonder whether we, too, suffered badly.
    The answer is mixed, as it is along the whole South Fork shoreline. Sandy was not the end of the world, but it sure came close. 
    That October day, my friend Jameson Ellis and I headed down to the house as the wind and seas of Gardiner’s Bay were rising. My wife and our children and pets had already fled to her parents’ house off the Sag Harbor Road. Jameson and I wanted one last look.
     When we reached the top of the dune, we saw that the bay, turned a yellow color from all the suspended silt, was rushing east to west, like a river about to overflow its banks. We stayed for a while, took a few pictures, then left, taking a few things out of the basement in case of flooding. Though neither of us said anything to the other, we confessed later that it seemed as if the house itself could be threatened this time.
    Well, everything more or less turned out fine. We were cut off from electricity for about a week, but the dune held. Even our stairs down to the beach remained in place. By spring, however, the sand had been scraped down about three feet, leaving a considerable jump from the bottom-most step. When taking the dogs for a walk, I have had to give a hand to Yum Yum, the aged, three-legged pug, and Lulu, the diminutive mutt, in both directions. All in all, though, it is not so bad.
    Some of our neighbors did not fare as well. One property, all but one bad storm away from having its foundation exposed, is supposedly going to be on the market soon. I heard this from a Chicago friend who had been phoned by a local broker, who, one hopes, was not prospecting for a sucker from the Midwest. In the other direction, a cottage is maybe two storms away from the brink.
    For me, Sandy’s legacy, and that of the storm season that followed, is that moving our house back toward the road or putting it up on stilts is going to be our problem, not our children’s. We are lucky that when my parents built the house more than 50 years ago, they chose a site well away from the water. That has bought us some time — not as much as we would like, perhaps, but time enough.