Change in the Hamptons
Late last Thursday, as Esau and I walked toward the ocean, we spotted a herd of nine deer.
Almost fifty years ago, my family first started coming to this house on Flying Point Road.
The house backed onto a large potato field that stretched low towards the ocean dunes. After harvesting, we’d glean potatoes from the field, and delicious they were. Flocks of migrating Canada geese grazed and picked up insects in the fields, lured by hunters’ decoys of geese resting and eating. Eastern Long Island then was a place of open vistas. The front of the house faced little Mecox Bay, which was then sludgy and polluted from the waste of hundreds of Long Island ducklings reared at the duck farm on the other side of the bay. Long Island was famous for its Pekin ducklings until rising property values, anti-pollution regulations, and increased cost of grain shrank the industry.
Families of pheasants came to call and foxes lived nearby in the low wild tangles of overgrown brush. Deer, though? Not so much.
Well, times have changed. Today, Long Island’s potato fields are largely gone, Mcmansions rule, and open spaces are few and far between.
The duck farms are also mostly gone, and the ones that remain are indoor operations now. Mecox Bay is sparklingly clean,
and is home to herons and egrets,
terns and gulls,
ospreys, kingfishers, skimmers, and a changing host of waterfowl, including coots, grebes, sea ducks, Canada geese, and Mute swans.
Wild turkeys have returned to the area, and despite the dwindling wild areas, my sister-in law recently saw a fox and her kits.
And white-tailed deer, after being driven nearly to extermination in New York State at the end of the nineteenth century, are back in force in Suffolk County, as throughout the state.
Deer formed one battalion of the Nature Army that my flower garden-loving father battled ceaselessly. (Other enemy battalions were made up of digging creatures like voles and moles as well as invasive plants, like bittersweet and phragmites.) Deer ate the tops off my father’s beloved day lilies, nibbled on his roses and helped themselves to my stepmother’s vegetable garden. My father netted his gardens for a while, before deciding to put up deer fencing around virtually the entire property – which the deer simply leapt over.
Thus began a fierce, if one-sided, game of oneupmanship. My father raised the fence. The deer crashed right through it. My father strengthened the netting. The deer again leapt over. At its highest, the fence (mostly) worked, until a notice from the town informed us fences higher than 6 feet are not permitted; the fence has been cut back down.
I have mixed feelings about the fence. I’m happy to protect the flowers from deer depredation. I’m happy that Esau can run free, safe from the road.
But I’m sorry that any remaining pheasant families will no longer visit us, since pheasants do their visiting on foot. Turkeys, too, like to travel on foot. In fact, a couple of summers ago, my father and I watched one walk back and forth on the far side of the fence, gazing longingly through the mesh at our bird feeders. It didn’t seem to occur to the big bird that it had wings and could fly.
As for the deer, they may be spotted nightly in one of the two open spaces that still remain between our house and the ocean.
The deer field is actually a large lot and is for sale. Some time ago a tower was built in the middle of the field to show prospective buyers what an incredible view their new house could command from its second floor.
I’m happy to report that the field has grown up around the tower, and the animals have moved in. It even seems to me that the deer are leaving our flowers alone, now that they have a beautiful yard of their own.
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