The North Fork of Long Island was once easier to get to via boat from Boston than from New York City, yet I’ve made it here through the machinations of city to suburb immigration and road-building. I have nothing to do with this place by rights, by origins, yet somehow it reminds me of home, a child’s dream of a simple past, a proto-place that exists in some blueprint in my brain concocted from a jumble of children’s novels, paintings I once saw, the way the sun sets when it’s freed of rooftops and power lines.
The North Fork is a sandy spit, the top fin on Long Island’s fish on the map, thirty miles in length by seven miles of width. There’s water in view. There are small friendly woods, farms that are picturesque but not too industrial, clustered hamlets of white clapboard with vistas to bay, and a history of deposited layers that haven’t totally obscured the reality of a glacier-deposited island in the sea. When the Puritans came south from New England, dropping off steeples and graveyards, they saw what I see today, with only watercolor-like washes of anything that came after. I squint my eyes looking across a harbor, visually harvesting under the sediments. First I erase the artist shops and gourmet cafes, the preservation. Then I peel away a postwar strip of motels and miniature golf, faded hand-painted signs in red and blue swirl. Before that the only interruptions visible in the ceaseless farming-church-autumn fair-plowing-shipbuilding centuries were the wars and the memorials placed among the farmhouses.
Now this is the most open, the most decadently spaced out, the last to be subdivided time capsule on a metropolitan island that if it were a US state would be the 13th most populated. How long can the fallout of time keep pressing so lightly on a place only one hundred miles from Manhattan? Yet it keeps staying a sandy island in the sea, offering a light and skyscape fantastical enough to attract artists, poets and the rich, but somehow still recognizable to geological time.