“There’s a tree in the meadow with a stream drifting by.” Some of you may remember that song from the 1940s. It’s old, but the message is still good. The tree stands for constancy, the stream for the passage of time. It’s important to many of us to see that same tree over and over. We may even take it for granted, but when it’s cut down or blown down, we grieve its passing.
Such is the importance of the familiar view or, in modern planning parlance, the familiar viewshed. When I was still in the crib, I would look out the second story window of our house on Westphalia Road in Mattituck, across the field of raspberries and other fruit bearers to the neighbor’s house 200 yards away. Except for the change of seasons, the view was always the same month after month. The field, the brown house, the red barn. The fact that it was always there, an unchanging picture, was pleasing to my developing mind and reassuring to my young psyche.
When I took my grandsons from San Francisco to see the old homestead last summer, there was a new blacktopped road installed where the fruit bushes once grew and there was a new house smack in the middle of the field between the two old houses. Fortunately, my family had moved from that spot to another one in Mattituck when I was 13 years old. We left with that same view very much intact. I wasn’t there to see it changed dramatically.
A favorite view is a very personal thing. For some it is a tree that grew up so slowly the change from year to year was hardly noticeable. It could be a church steeple, a salt marsh, a crick, a bay, a potato field, the treed moraine to the north, the ocean to the south. To many of us, such a view is part of our zeitgeist. Without it our psyche would be troubled. The same view day in, day out, or after a long absence, is very satisfying and important to our well-being.
In my last year working for East Hampton Town, I and two East Hampton Garden Club-sponsored interns compiled a list of notable viewsheds in East Hampton, from the tip of Montauk to the Southampton Town line in Wainscott, from the Peconic Estuary to the Atlantic Ocean. In many respects I had taken those viewsheds for granted during my 28 years of town service.
Some of the vistas on the list are probably familiar to many of the readers. Some of the vistas have been degraded by human acts, storms, or weedy growth. One of my favorites is the shot of the Atlantic Ocean as you go around a bend on Route 27 and down a hill near the east end of Hither Woods. It always leaps out at you, even if you’ve approached it in the same way hundreds of times. Accabonac Harbor from the end of Landing Lane is another favorite, the treed hummock in the middle, the lush green building-less marsh between the hummock and the dirt parking circle. It’s always peaceful and enchanting, be the day cloudy or bright.
A view that I used to covet was the farm field expanse between Long Lane and Route 114, on the outskirts of East Hampton Village. The latest defect in this two-dimensional rectangular canvas is a partially-dug recharge basin on the 114 side. Before that, the “preserved” farmlands once devoted to vegetable crops slowly became treed over with nursery stock, then deer-fenced on the outside. The small area to the northwest just south Stephen Hand’s Path is still unmarred, save the recharge basin, and still not fenced in on three sides. One used to be able to look across from Long Lane to 114 without a hair in the way. Now it’s a clutter of this and that.
Past Two Mile Hollow Road going east on Further Lane, the farm fields have largely been developed or fenced from view, or built on and surrounded with a forest of foreign evergreens as has the parcel immediately east of Two Mile Hollow Road.
The Rock Foundation field across from the fenced-from-view former de Menil property is still a welcome relief —and the deer and turkeys seem to enjoy it as much as I do.
Georgica Pond viewed from Route 27 just east of Wainscott Stone Road is another magical spot, Town Pond, when the swans are swimming side by side or tending cygnets, is very peaceful. I love the ocean from Bluff Road, Hither Woods. Chatfields’s Hole peeking out between the highbush blueberries and swamp azaleas is pretty and the hills east of Lake Montauk, seen from West Lake Drive, are always a sight to behold.
The open spaces that lie between village downtowns and hamlet centers are always precious. Southampton Town has lost a good many of them, some of East Hampton’s are up for sale. West of Southampton they are few and hard to find. Amagansett, to the east of the shops and restaurants, has one of the finest of all on Long Island. One can see across the fields all the way up to Abrahams’s Landing Road and the morainal hills beyond. Should this view be obstructed by some developer’s folly, Amagansett’s north side will have lost all of its vistas and open space west of Napeague.
I am one of those who doesn’t need to see the ocean from an upstairs deck or second-story window in a panoramic sweep from east to west. A little bit of water view suits me fine. My residence is 200 feet from Noyac Bay, and the view hasn’t changed much since I bought it in 1979. In the summer, I still see flecks of blue water here and there through small lenses between the leaves of densely foliated trees and a hedge. I see just enough to know that the water is there, just enough to keep me going.