What I’ve learned about Shelter Island

Shelter Island South Ferry

The South Ferry at dusk. (Credit: Eleanor P. Labrozzi, file photo)

I should start with an admission right off the bat … I’m not an Islander.

There, I’ve said it.

But of course, that’s not something you need to tell Islanders. They all know. They’re also quite eager to educate newcomers in their midst, and despite my short tenure as a day player here, I’m happy to say there are an awful lot of really nice people who are convinced I’ll figure it out in no time.

As a matter of fact, I’ve already learned quite a few facts, thank you very much. For example, I know now that “Islander” is capitalized,  nobody here calls it “The Rock,” and, “Yes, it may be quiet now, but summer’s coming so just you wait.”

It’s a lot to absorb and quite frankly, far more than I imagined I’d need to know given the ridiculously short distance that separates Shelter Island from where I live in East Hampton.

As the crow flies (and the Subaru drives), it’s just eight miles from my front door to the ferry ramp in North Haven where each day I board the Clark-owned boat that brings me across the water to the offices of the Shelter Island Reporter. Summer’s coming, and once my husband gets our boat in the water, that commute could theoretically be even shorter, as the beach-to-beach distance between Northwest Creek, where we keep the 21-foot Parker, to the tip of Mashomack is only a mile.

But then I’d have to hoof it quite a ways through the preserve to get to work. Not a bad commute when one considers the poor souls who sit in traffic on the BQE every day, but something to consider for sure.

Though I’ve been on the East End for 20 years, I still find the concept of an island existence intriguing and one that’s full of literal and metaphorical potential. I live on a long island and commute to a sheltered one. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about what it all means.

Personally, I’m not sure yet, except to say that for someone like me who hails from Ohio, where unending expanses of farmland have a way of tempering expectations, island life opens up a world of possibility.

There’s a reason Saul Steinberg’s famous 1976 New Yorker cover “View of the World from 9th Avenue” continues to resonate 40 years after it was created. Take a look at it again if you haven’t in a while and you’ll see where the Midwest fits in. It’s a flat bit of brown colored pencil in the middle. When you grow up in a place like that, you can easily develop the belief that no matter what direction you travel in, you’ll soon find there’s not much out there you haven’t already encountered.

That’s probably why so many of us flatlanders take our chances when we’re young and push toward the edges. Life at (and on) the edges is where things get interesting. For my money, there’s nothing more edgy than islands — though admittedly perhaps not in winter.

Yes, it was still winter when I started my new job as the Community News Editor. April may be the cruelest month, but March is no picnic and certainly not the ideal time to start a new job on an island in the Northeast. In those early weeks, the cold north wind brought a series of endlessly miserable gray days, leading to pitchy ferry rides, a salt-sprayed windshield and, on the Island side, a barren landscape with naked trees, few people and no birds to speak of, except turkeys. I’m thinking the Pilgrims must have felt the same way when they got off their boat.

It felt a lot like the first day at a new school with me trying to figure out where to sit in the cafeteria. I soon began meeting people and worked to connect names with new faces and new places, and admit it felt odd to be going through these emotions at this stage in my life. As adults, we like to think we’re beyond the upheaval and emotions of adolescence. But are we?

Settling in is about finding a comfort level, no matter your age, and getting to the point where you’re engaged and feel you’re exactly where you belong. A couple weekends ago, I was fortunate to find that sweet spot. It was a warm Saturday night in Shelter Island and after a nice dinner with friends at The Chequit’s Red Maple, my husband and I found ourselves in the parlor room at Sylvester Manor.

We were there to hear “Cricket Tell the Weather,” an awesome four piece string band from Brooklyn, play their unique brand of Americana music. The parlor was fairly packed when we arrived, except for a couple empty rows of chairs on the west side of the room where a wall of windows looks out over the side yard and Gardiners Creek beyond. My guess is those seats were empty because of the intensity of the setting sun, but by the time we arrived for the 8 p.m. show, only the last glimmer of daylight remained and it was shooting colorful shafts of light onto the creek and into the manor house.

It was in an amazingly idyllic scene and I got the sense that everyone there knew we were witnessing something special. In a room that spoke of another time, we were listening to music that spoke of another place and at that moment, I felt surrounded by friends (both current and future). It was one of those moments that made me realize, yes, this is the place to be, and I was more than happy to have arrived on this particular island.

One Comment

  • I love your rendering,my grandfarther was caretaker,there,having grown up on the island,I love the way you see it.