Friday, October 5, 2012

Way Out East

 The lighthouse at the end of Montauk Point, Long Island, a cliff-side site selected by George Washington.

You just can't get any further east in New York than my husband and I went this past week: to Montauk, way out on the very end of Long Island.  Montauk is a real working town and harbor, where commercial fishermen head out to sea each day before dawn in work-worn trawlers, not the sleek sailing yachts that dock in the fancier Hamptons we passed right by to reach our destination.  Most of the land surrounding the town is dedicated to parks and preserves that gave us free access to miles of shoreline and dunes, where I found lots of seaside plants I never get to see back in Saratoga County, some of them found nowhere else in New York but on Long Island.   Our motel was right on the ocean, affording us sights and sounds and smells of the sea through our balcony window, which we kept wide open each balmy night.  We saw such remarkable sights as a feeding frenzy of hundreds of Striped Bass and dozens of surf casters out to catch them, and just west of town, we explored some wind-driven "Walking Dunes" that each year swallow another few feet of oak/pine forest.  Later,  in the neighboring village of Amagansett, we happened upon some hobby boat-builders dedicated to keeping the art of building wooden boats alive, and these friendly fellows told us about a remarkable sculpture garden in nearby East Hampton, an amazing destination we would never have found without their careful directions.  I took close to 300 photos, but I've picked out only a few to show what a wonderful coastal destination was ours.

Here's the view from our balcony on the day we arrived, the last blue-sky day of our brief vacation.  We were also blessed with a view of a large moon shining on the sea that night.

Our First Full Day at Montauk

Our Local Beach, Montauk Point, and Montauk Harbor
I was up a dawn the next day and down to the beach to catch a glimpse of the rising sun before it disappeared behind a general cloud cover.

Of course, I had to feel the pull of the surf on my bare feet.

The dunes that lay between our motel and the shore were fragrant with Rugosa Rose and the brown-sugar scent of Sweet Everlasting.

Seaside Goldenrod was at the height of its glory everywhere.

I loved the vertical array of the Beach Grass's fruiting stalks.  Since Beach Grass spreads by underground rhizomes, it doesn't depend on its seeds for propagation, but it sends up these feathery wands anyway.

After breakfast we drove the six miles out to Montauk Point, where Block Island Sound meets the Atlantic Ocean, a point that's called the "surf-casting capital of the world."  There sure were a lot of surf casters there on the morning we arrived.

There sure were a lot of fishing boats out on the water as well, for the word had gone forth that a school of Striped Bass were massed just off shore in a feeding frenzy that roiled the surface of the sea.  I'll bet you could have just reached out and grabbed one of those fish, they were clustered so tightly together so close to shore, but what sport would that be for these serious fisherfolk in all their fancy gear? 

I was glad to see this happy family land a big one.   We also watched as the bald fellow in the photo above hauled a huge bass to shore, then cut loose the hook and returned it to the sea.  He said he had already caught his keeper quota and offered the fish to us, explaining that the Chinese restaurant in town would clean and cook it for us.  We gratefully declined, but we did visit that restaurant that night and watched as a number of families brought in their day's catch to be cooked and served.  We too enjoyed a wonderful dinner of Striped Bass in ginger and black bean sauces, which for once was truly "The Catch of the Day."

As for lunch, I was hoping to find some fried oysters, since oysters are farmed right here in Montauk's harbor.  We couldn't find them offered by any of the local restaurants, but we did enjoy walking around on the docks where the fishing trawlers were docked.  And I did get some fine fried scallops in a funky little local dive called The Dock.

By mid-afternoon, most of the trawlers were back in their berths, their colorful trawl nets coiled and ready for another day's work on the water.

We had to pick our way carefully across the docks, where dozens of crabs were strewn about the boards.  I wonder if these had been culled from the nets, or if they had climbed up on the dock to forage for fish scraps?

Second Full Day

Shadmoor Park and Nature Preserve
The second full day of our seaside vacation turned out to be a very full day indeed, starting out in the morning with a visit to nearby Shadmoor Park and Nature Preserve, just east of the village center.  This 99-acre preserve takes its name from dense stands of Shadblow shrubs that line the trails, which lead through thickets of maritime heath to spectacular views from cliffs overlooking the sea.

The morning was foggy, which allowed for only limited views across the sea, but added an interesting atmospheric effect as we wandered the heath along the top of the cliffs.

The cliffs were jagged and precipitate, requiring a bit of bravery to creep to the edge to observe the pounding surf and wide sandy beach below.

My dear husband was very patient with me as I stopped every few yards to exclaim over finding some plant I had never laid eyes on before.   One of these was this Maryland Golden Aster (Chrysopsis mariana), a flower that the New York Flora Association asserts grows nowhere else in New York but out here on Long Island's sandy shores. No wonder I'd never seen it.

The same could be said for this Hyssop-leaved Boneset (Eupatorium hyssopifolium), another never-before-seen-by-me plant that grows on Long Island and nowhere else in the state.   I was lucky to see it, since there were only two or three plants along the trail, unlike the Golden Aster, which was ubiquitous.

I puzzled and pondered over this tiny white creeping aster and decided it could be our common Heath Aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides) forced into this creeping habit by the harsh conditions of a seaside, clifftop exposure.

 Walking Dunes at Hither Hills State Park
Our afternoon excursion took us a few miles west of the village to a site called the "Walking Dunes" in Hither Hills State Park on the shores of Napeague Harbor off of Block Island Sound.

Strong prevailing winter winds cause these dunes to move in a southeasterly direction by about three and a half feet each year, swallowing the surrounding oak/pine forest in its inexorable path.  I was surprised to see how sharp was the leading edge of the dune.

On the windward slopes, where once-engulfed trees are once again being uncovered, the remains of the now dead forest can clearly be seen in these wizened treetops.

There remains much living forest on portions of the dunes, as this stand of Bear Oak and Bearberry indicates.  I found whole slopes of the dunes covered with the glossy-leaved Bearberry, including many plants that were holding its bright-red berries.

Another plant that covered wide swaths of sand in the dunes was this creeping evergreen that I believe might be a kind of Juniper.   The day continued slightly foggy, depositing drops of water on all the webs that were arrayed on many dune plants.

An abundant bloomer among the dunes was this Sickle-leaved Golden Aster (Pityopsis falcata), another one of those plants I will never find in Saratoga County, nor anywhere else in New York except out here on Long Island.

I expected to find unusual (for me) seaside plants on this vacation, but I sure did not expect to find such bog-loving plants as these Large Cranberries right in in the middle of dry sandy dunes.  But apparently the same wind that pushes the dunes along also scours out hollows right down to groundwater, creating islands of boggy spots surrounded by desert.

Classic Boat Shop and LongHouse Sculpture Gardens
 Since the Walking Dunes were most of the way to Amagansett,  we continued on to that old whaling village, hoping to visit the town's Maritime History Museum.  Sadly, we found the place closed during weekdays, but that didn't stop us from walking around the old building and peering in all the windows.   When we came around behind the museum, we saw this barn with some men on the porch, and I ventured down to ask these fellows if there were other sights we shouldn't miss as long as we were in town.

Turned out, there sure were, including the very barn we were standing in, home to The East End Classic Boat Society, a group of volunteers dedicated to preserving the skills and traditions of small classic wooden boat construction.  On the main floor of the building, we were able to observe one group of men laying out plans to construct a new boat according to traditional design, while downstairs we chatted with another man involved in restoring an old sailing craft that had been donated to the group.

As luck would have it, these gentlemen also knew of another nearby attraction we shouldn't miss, the LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton, a remarkable sculpture garden founded by noted textile designer Jack Lenor Larsen.  They even drew us a map to help us find our way, and I'm awfully glad they did.  This was truly an amazing place, nearly 16 acres of landscapes carefully designed to serve as exhibit space for an astounding collection of modern sculptures, as well as being a beautiful botanical garden incorporating both exotic and native plants and treating the earth itself as a sculptural medium.  Here are just a few of the notable features.

A series of bronze stacks by sculptor Peter Voulkos surrounding a grassy dome.

"Fly's Eye Dome,"  a 33-foot diameter fiberglass structure designed by Buckminster Fuller and produced by John Kuhtik.

"Reclining Figure" by Willem DeKooning

A dune landscape designed to showcase the three sculptural figures set in the sand.  (Sorry, I did not get the name of the sculptor.) 

"Cobalt Reeds" by Dale Chihuly, created from blown glass

"Black Mirror," a water feature produced by Ray Smith and Associates.   I don't know who sculpted the legless standing figure beyond.

Nor do I know who sculpted this amusing piece, an elephant standing on a stiff trunk.

 "Sunstone," a travertine sculpture by Isamu Noguchi, stands at the end of a line of shrubs that in summer produce the red flowers that match the red poles in this section called The Red Garden.

 Some of the shrubs were adorned with brilliant red berries, set off by a stand of green-and-white striped exotic grass.  Since most of the ornamental plants in this garden were exotic species, I didn't attempt to learn what they were, just enjoyed their extraordinary beauty and the creative way the plants were used to enhance the aesthetic experience of viewing the sculptures.

As I said before, a very full day.   We certainly made many happy memories to take home with us from our visit to Montauk, including a final beach walk on Thursday morning before loading our car for the long drive home to Saratoga Springs.

 Now I'm off on Saturday to Pyramid Lake, where the autumn foliage is reported to be at peak intensity.  Hope I get some pretty photos.


Caroline said...

Thanks for the trip to the Atlantic shore and the dunes, very different from the snow dusted landscape we woke up to this morning here in SD.

Jens said...

Jackie --- thanks for this memoir of the far end of Long Island; I particularly appreciated your views of the sculpture garden. Did you describe your Kevlar canoe to the men in the boathouse?

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Caroline, I wonder if your snowy morning might have been a welcome change from the summer's terrible heat. Indeed, the Atlantic shore is also very different from the Adirondack mountain forests I inhabit here in Saratoga County. It's great to travel, then great to come home again.

Jens, I thought you would enjoy the sculpture, you being a marvelous sculptor yourself. Your own pieces would fit beautifully in that amazing garden. I did tell the boat builders about my carbon-fiber canoe, but they were frankly committed to old-fashioned wooden boat-building techniques. Their barn, with its scents of sawdust and varnish remover, reminded me of my dad's marina building, where owners of mahogany Chris-Crafts would gather each spring to sand and refinish their inboard boats.