Relay: The Long Road Home

I live on an island on an island off an island
A meadow along the driveway into the Mashomack Preserve Carissa Katz

As of two months ago, I live on an island on an island off an island. Deep in the Mashomack Preserve, our house is separated from the rest of Shelter Island by a two-and-a-half-mile driveway, making it one of the most remote spots you could live in these parts. The quiet is quieter than anything I’m used to, the nights darker, the sunrises and sunsets more remarkable.

When my husband took the job as director of the Nature Conservancy’s Ma­sho­mack Preserve, an unspoiled haven of woods, meadows, and rocky coastline that makes up nearly a third of Shelter Island, it was that unpaved driveway that had me most worried. Two months after the move I’m still timing every trip back and forth, in part to prove to myself that I’m not really that far from East Hampton after all. 

At first it was eight minutes from one end of the driveway to the other, now it can be six, depending on the time of day. The trick is to finesse the smooth spots, slow down on the rockier bits and where the trails cross the road, and be ready to brake for the hikers during the day, the wildlife in the evening, and the neighbor who walks his dogs in the morning when I’m driving my kids to school. And the real trick — one I haven’t quite mastered yet — is to slow down, stop looking at the clock, and just enjoy the ride. 

Traveling a road like that every day you quickly develop a relationship to it and the habitats it passes through, even when you are in a hurry to get from one end to the other. It becomes a character in its own right, ever-changing. A meadow that you can spot from the South Ferry is my favorite part of the drive, and as fall sets in, its colors have made it even better. 

My 9-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son have named the three foxes we often see at the edge of the meadow, which we call the Fox Zone. They are Hunter, Jaden, and Jay. The kids swear they can tell them apart, and who am I to question that? 

Now I look out for our three fox friends and maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but I usually say hello if I see them. It’s a thrill to catch the glint of their eyes in the dark at the edge of the road. 

We’ve noticed that the rabbits are plentiful near the spot where dirt meets pavement. That’s the Bunny Zone. In the beginning, the kids were naming the rabbits near our house, too, starting with Kevin, but there are just so many.

Most impressive of our animal neighbors so far are the bald eagles, which can usually be found farther into the preserve but will occasionally circle and dive over the big lawn near Masho­mack’s large manor house. One morning while loading up the car for the drive, a juvenile bald eagle swooped down not 50 feet from me, riding the wind and probably looking for food. 

Every day, Jade and Jasper come to me with some new discovery. Jade is busy making friends with everyone who works or lives at the preserve or teaching herself the piano at the manor house. Jasper chases down tiny frogs, tries to catch minnows in a net at Bass Creek, or tracks the progress of egglike mushrooms as they emerge from the ground and then shrivel. 

There is a lot to explore and so much more to discover as we settle in.

The sun is setting in a different spot than it was nine weeks ago when we first made the move. The leaves have thinned just enough that, sitting on our porch, we can see the South Ferries passing each other all day and into the night. And the driveway, so dreaded in the beginning, has become less of a barrier separating me from the broader world and more of an introduction to the wonders of this new little world where we find ourselves, eight and a half minutes from the South Ferry, 30 minutes from East Hampton, 35 from the ocean on a good day. But who’s counting?

Carissa Katz is The Star’s managing editor.