“Live each season as it passes: breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit…”
Henry David Thoreau
The year’s events have made us feel vulnerable, more conscious of the precariousness of our human lives.
Maybe that’s why the passing days seem all the more precious, but lately I can’t bear to spend a sunny day indoors. I want to get fresh air into my lungs, even if I have to surreptitiously pull down my mask to do it, and drink the drink — that would be wine, usually. I want to make beach fires, take walks, visit parks and see sunsets — especially the sunsets, in their infinite variation. They are the closest thing I’ve had lately to a religious experience.
Though the existential dread of climate change is ever-present and the intractability of this pandemic has taken us by surprise — yes, I know we were warned there would be a fall/winter surge, but who really believed it would last this long? — the sun goes about its business.
For the moment, we are still heirs to a glimmering world. Seize each day, consciously and gratefully. Evenings, too.
(Top) Where I find myself now and for the next few months: Brooklyn, N.Y.
(Below) Where I found myself in September and October: Long Island, N.Y.
OCTOBER HAS BEEN A MONTH for remembering my love of old houses, which is why I started this blog in the first place, and for being blown away once again by the beauty of Long Island’s South Fork. That includes my own humble half-acre, above and below, whose fall colors are more brilliant than at any time in the decade I’ve been here.
They say it’s because of all the rain we had this season (which continues). Usually, the oak trees that dominate this region turn dull brown in fall, while the red maples and golden hickories are fewer. This year, it seems, the oaks haven’t turned yet and so remain green, while the others have colored up in timely fashion. It’s so blazingly beautiful that for once, I’m not suffering FOMO over not being in New England or the Hudson Valley.
Meanwhile, an article in the East Hampton Star about some local historic preservation awards for two recently restored Colonial-era houses caught my eye, and I trotted over to check them out. One is the early-18th century Hiram Sanford House on Egypt Lane, below, a plain and modest structure behind which new owners are building some kind of modernist bunker out of shipping containers (don’t ask).
Around the corner from it, un-awarded, is an even cuter house of similar vintage, below, which I only noticed because I parked in front of it.
The more outstanding preservation project is the Gardiner Mill CottageGallery,below, a 1750 saltbox with leaded windows. It sits on an open 3-1/2 acre lot that has remained intact in East Hampton Village since 1638, and also contains an 1804 windmill. The building is now a new art museum, open weekends only, with rotating exhibits of historical landscape paintings.
Nearby are two more of the oldest English Colonial houses in the country, Mulford Farm and the so-called “Home Sweet Home” museum, below, plus another fine windmill. I’ve been to these numerous times, and to the lovingly maintained kitchen garden that sits between them.
From there I spotted a house across the main road, below, that appears to have equal historic integrity, with asymmetrical windows and a steeply pitched roof (for shedding snow?) Certainly more than two centuries old, it just sits there with no awards, plaques or fanfare.
Maybe it’s because I haven’t been to Europe in a while so I’m not jaded, or maybe it’s because I’m about to go back to NYC for the winter, but suddenly, the architectural heritage of this pretty town looks especially rich to me.
I can’t say I’m ready to go back to the city, exactly, but it’s been a good long season and things are winding down. The coleus in my window boxes are only a frost away from turning black and falling over.
I’ve planted about 1,000 early bulbs — tarzetta daffodils, crocus, glory of the snow, winter aconite — here and there throughout the property, to welcome me back next spring.
The city has its charms, and I’m determined to rediscover those, too, this winter. But it doesn’t have this:
EAST HAMPTON, N.Y. – Among the things that are NOT bogus about this area’s reputation is its importance in the history of modern art. What is even more remarkable is that it continues — not with the physical presence of famous figures like Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Willem deKooning, Robert Motherwell and dozens of other Abstract Expressionists who had strong Hamptons connections in the mid-20th century — but in the ongoing abundance of art fairs, art shows, art galleries anda unique waterfront studio where members of the public can take classes and set up at easels on a drop-in basis: The Art Barge in Napeague, moored halfway between Amagansett and Montauk.
It’s a former World War II naval vessel, towed to this spot in 1960, an inspiration of Victor d’Amico, then education director at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. With the later addition of a second level, there’s a downstairs painting studio ($50 for three hours of camaraderie, though it’s usually a bunch of silent, focused individuals getting walk-around instruction and encouragement from the Barge’s teachers), and an upstairs library and multi-media workspace, where a long wide table with stools on either side runs the length of the space, meadow views to the south, harbor views to the north.
That’s where, in June, I took a one-week workshop called the Bauhaus Preliminary Course, five 3-hour morning sessions exploring the teaching methods of the German art institute, whose short existence (from 1919 until shuttered by the Nazis in 1933) belies its enormous influence on world art and design in the decades since.
Fortunately, I have no ego investment in being an artist, because I soon discovered that among the 12 students in the class, I was the only one not already a visual artist of some sort, and way out of my league. Still, it was fun, messing around with materials from the block-long window ledges (the “junk buffet,” including such things as pieces of netting, foam insulation, feathers, astroturf and on and on) to make collages; cutting, arranging and squinting at pieces of colored paper as we learned principles of color; making rubber stamp textile designs and then trying our hand at weaving; and finally working with tempera paints in a way I hadn’t since 3rd grade.
I’ve since gone back to visit and walk along the deck watching sea birds and water snakes and dogs in the meadow, and have checked out the nearby modernist home of Victor D’Amico and his wife Mabel, also an art educator and prolific sculptor and assemblage artist, many of her works made with driftwood and found beach objects. Now known as the Mabel and Victor D’Amico Studio and Archive, it offers free public tourson Wednesdays and Saturdays by appointment.
The house itself, a humble affair built in the 1940s with recycled materials and the D’Amicos own labor, was one of the first modernist beach homes in the area. With concrete and linoleum floors, glass walls, pegboard cabinets, open shelving and Eames chairs, it has a mid-century modern aesthetic, as well as a look of having been constructed on a shoestring. Yet it stands, artful and atmospheric, and is being considered for local landmarks designation, which would offer it some protection from demolition. It seems the least the community can do.
The morning after I got back from my Italian vacation — April 3rd, I think it was — I called my plumber out on the East End of Long Island and said, “Charles, would it be jumping the gun to turn the water on now?” It would be, he said. “There was ice in the bucket this morning.” I don’t know what bucket he was referring to, but never mind that.
Point being, I had to wait another week before heading out to my mostly-unwinterized glorified bungalow. When I did arrive, car full of bags and boxes, the water was on and the toilet flushing, but the landscape was decidedly wintery. I hunkered down in my only insulated room, known as the great room, where I kept my new wood stove cranking, and slept there on an air mattress for a month, venturing into the rest of the house only for quick trips to the bathroom or kitchen to heat up a bowl of soup.
April’s delights, including a new rustic cedar gate (or arch or trellis), separating the lower garden from the upper garden, two kinds of epimedium, solomon’s sealand those very satisfying purple muscari along my impromptu wood-chip path
But I wanted to be out there, rather than in my city apartment, to catch the unfolding of the garden from the season’s beginning. It was the first spring I could expect some early bulbs, like muscari (grape hyacinth) and tiny hybrid tulips planted the fall before, and I didn’t want to miss anything.
May’s offerings, including the annual azalea and rhodie shows, plus rodgersia, the big-leaved brownish thing everyone always asks about, enkianthus, broom, flag iris
In the past, I’d never been able to start my season before mid-May, so the sunniness of my wooded half-acre in early spring, absent its dense canopy of leaves, was a revelation, as was the speed with which things came out of the ground.
The greening happened visibly day by day, almost hour by hour, once it got started, helped by the extra-abundant rains of May and June, said to be 50% more than normal for the period.
June’s white alliums, rose campion, astilbe, ladies mantel, and my instant cottage garden. One impulsive day I decided to do something with the four raised beds in the sunny center of the property, which up till then had been filled with catmint from years past, aggressive evening primrose, and some cottage favorites from upstate (rudbekia, obedient plant, coneflower). In two trips to the nursery, I added yarrow, delphinium, mallow, coreopsis, nicotiana and more — mostly perennialspurchased in bloom. I’ll keep adding to it.
Yes, I worked, but not like a demon. Not like in the old days, when I was first clearing the property and establishing the garden. An hour here, two hours there, which leaves plenty of time to appreciate what Nature, with a bit of help from me, has wrought.
Lilies, day and otherwise, lead the way into July, along with hydrangea, drumstick alliums and later-blooming native rhododendrons
Up for a beachy idyll of two weeks, eight weeks or something in between? Contact me for more info: caramia447 [at] gmail [dot] com
I can’t fault you for not having made summer plans yet, because I’m kind of a last-minute type myself. In fact, I’ve just finished setting up my house in East Hampton/Springs, N.Y., for July and/or August rental ($3,000/week, minimum two weeks).
The main attraction: it’s a five-minute walk from what still seems to be the Hamptons’ best-kept secret: the wide, sandy crescent of Maidstone Beach on eminently swimmable Gardiner’s Bay.
Swim in Gardiner’s Bay, at unspoiled, never-crowded Maidstone Beach, a 5 minute stroll from the house, or in the ocean at Amagansett (10 minutes drive)
Walk the scenic ‘loop’ through Maidstone Park, or along nearby Gerard Drive with Gardiner’s Bay to one side and Accabonac Harbor to the other
See egrets and ospreys, wild turkey and deer (not on my property, however; I’m fenced:-)
Nap on the deck, watch the sun set over the jetty, picnic at Louse Point, make bonfires on the beach or in my fire pit
Check out the new arts center at Duck Creek, which has an ambitious program of outdoor jazz concerts (a mile away!)
Restaurants and bars galore
Explore historic Sag Harbor (20 minutes), Shelter Island (30), the North Fork, Block Island (day trip by ferry from Montauk)
The 1,400 square foot house, begun in the 1940s as a fishing cabin and expanded and renovated over the years, sleeps 6 in three bedrooms (one a separate cabin/studio) with one full bath, a huge outdoor shower, spacious decks for sunning and dining and half an acre of landscaped gardens.
There’s a master bedroom with comfortable queen bed; 2nd bedroom with two twins; as well as a separate studio with double bed and space for additional cot or crib (bathroom is in main house). There’s also a queen-size air mattress for overnight guests.
Quirkily enough, there are two main living areas: a sitting/dining room adjacent to the kitchen with sofa, chairs and fireplace, as well as a high-ceilinged great room with comfy seating and another large table for dining or working.
Like Jackson Pollack and Lee Krasner (whose home and studio is a mile away) and the other artists who flocked to this region in the postwar years, there’s no dishwasher and no air conditioning, but there are ceiling fans and room fans (and, unlike back in the day, Wi-Fi).
If I can help make your last-minute summer vacation plans happen, please email me at caramia447 [at] gmail [dot] com