The Mast-Head: Alone in the Woods

Walks like this often leave me with a sense of melancholy

Late on Sunday afternoon, only a few people were left on the trail down to Amsterdam Beach. 

It had been unusually warm on the East End, with the air temperature getting close to 60, even near the water. I had a photograph to take for the news section, and, as the shadows of the day got long, I pulled into the parking lot off Montauk Highway.

The trail was well traveled. Footprints through the muddy places suggested that a score or two of people had been through earlier. Where there was no mud, the ground was slick and hard from innumerable boot soles. 

Even on a winter day the way though this Montauk preserve was tunnel-like. At one point the trail fell from a low hill through a Sistine Chapel of green-leafed hollies. Fallen shadbush trunks lay here and there. High-bush blueberries posed ready for warmer days ahead.

Walks like this often leave me with a sense of melancholy. Amid the trees or dunes it is easy to forget the present, then, rounding a bend, a too-big house comes into view, and I remember. I think about the native people who came here first, then about what Montauk must have been like 100, or even 50 years ago. It is hard not to be a little sad. The people who came before us must have always known the raw, open experiences I can recall dimly from childhood, but that now are only to be found in small moments in the parks and preserved spaces. We are lucky to have them, but still.

Turning to the left and onto a trail that wound down to the beach, I came upon three young men in shorts, sunglasses, and T-shirts. One carried a football. Talking among themselves, none replied when I said hello.

I walked to the east a bit to take a photograph of the old Warhol place, where a new owner has asked the town for permission to build a swimming pool. It had been awhile since I had been out that way, and it seemed tidier than I remembered. I stood on a tall rock out front of the main house and looked at the ocean.

On the way back up to the road, I took a left fork, the second part of a loop trail that I had not been on before. Judging from the lack of footprints, far fewer people had taken this route that day, and I wondered if they had just been more comfortable going back the way they had come. And I thought about making my own way through the woods.