I’ve always lived a couple of miles from the sea, but for most of those years, my gaze was the only part of me that travelled to it. My view visited the water but my feet remained in the sand. Tides and swells were observed with fascination but rarely experienced with the pleasure that one can only feel from a boat.
My earliest years in New York City were a stone’s throw from crowded Brooklyn beaches, but by the time I was five, I’d already been transplanted to the west coast of Florida. There, my father would drive us in the family station wagon to the Gulf of Mexico where I learned to swim and hunted for Coquina shells. Years later I spent my teen-aged summers at a place called Crab Meadow- a leeward beach found between tall bluffs in Northport NY where the Connecticut coastline glimmered in the heat and the waters of Long Island Sound provided an excellent place to cool off.
In my twenties I lived for two years on Fire Island employed as a ranger for the National Park Service. In midwinter I’d walk the steep-scarped ocean beach savoring it’s desolation. In spring, I saddled up a government horse named Bandit, and we patrolled together in the shadow of the lighthouse. Nearby, the dunes were crowded with budding beach peas and blooming roses.
In the 1980’s I moved to East Hampton on eastern Long Island where sandy ocean hikes became rocky ocean hikes near Montauk. My wife and I walked these places hundreds of times and later we walked them with my son.
It wasn’t until ten years ago that I finally left the land behind. In the spring of 2000 I purchased a 17 foot sea kayak – a British-made boat named for Capella, the vivid star in the east on winter evenings in this part of the world. My father had just died and I needed a change.
The swells, rips and breakers which I’d been merely looking at for decades were now open for exploration. In the subsequent years, my boat has taken on the distinct look of well-worn fiberglass that has seen serious use.
She has taken me offshore to nearly every place you can get to from where I live, and I’ve often found myself in places that rival anywhere I’ve ever been for solitude. This fast yellow boat also took me to an unending array of new places to photograph.
Among these is the 2000 acre Nature Conservancy Mashomack Preserve on Shelter Island. A paddle over to it from Northwest Harbor is generally conducted with no one but gulls along for company and is within view of several thousand additional acres of preserved land in East Hampton. I’ve made many trips along Mashomack’s ten miles of undeveloped shoreline and also many photographs. It is one of the quietest places I know.
The Algonquin word Mashomack means “where they go by water” a place name (which for obvious reasons) is at the top of my list of favorites.