Turn, turn, turn

It happens every time. Kevin and I actually leave our home and take a trip somewhere. We visit friends, or stay in a hotel. We eat at unfamiliar restaurants and check out the local attractions. We have a good time. We like this place!

And then, inevitably, we start looking at real estate. Not because we’re planning to pull up stakes, fold our tent, close up shop, and leave Cape Cod. At least not today. It’s just that we can imagine a future somewhere else.

A couple weeks back, we spent a night and a day on Long Island’s North Fork, on our way home from Kevin’s family’s annual Christmas party. We’d been to the North Fork before; we have friends in Jamesport. In our hazy distant New York past, we’d visited a winery or two, and Kevin played the worst round of golf of his life at Island’s End, in Greenport. (He had a life-threatening case of the shanks.)

This visit, we had a leisurely breakfast at the Greenporter, with little pastries and the Sunday New York Times, and then went off to see what was to be seen. On the recommendation of the waitress, we stopped at a vineyard called The Old Field, in Southold.

We thought it would be the first of several stops, but it was not to be. Instead, we ended up talking to the owner, Chris Baiz, and his daughter, Perry Weiss, about winemaking, deer hunting, and oyster farming until we had to leave to catch the ferry. Other patrons came to the tasting room, tasted, and left again, and we were still there, tasting and talking.  

We were utterly charmed by these people, by the place, by the possibilities (and by Old Field wine, which we bought a lot of). You can grow things on Long Island – good things like grapes and oysters. There’s water all around for fishing and for looking at. There are more deer than you can shake a stick at. It’s beautiful and it feels remote, but it’s only two hours to Manhattan.

When we came home, Kevin started looking online and came up with the perfect property for us. Waterfront, along a stretch that looked perfect for growing oysters. Acreage, so we could plant things. The house needed work, but we could live with that. If we’d had three million in spare cash lying around, we might have bought it.

We could see a future on the North Fork, and we’ve also looked at houses and envisioned futures in Arizona, south Florida, Montreal, the Hudson Valley, New Hampshire, Sonoma county, and, in a real flight of fancy, Provence. There are lots of places we could live.

But I’m ruling out anything on the equator. Granted, there are lots of places along the equator that I probably wouldn’t be so keen on even if they weren’t equatorial. The part of Congo that Joseph Conrad made famous, for example. I don’t want to live in anyplace that has “darkness” in its nickname, thank you very much. And then there are Colombia’s drug-lord stomping grounds. If I need a bodyguard, it’s out. All in all, the equator runs through some pretty dicey neighborhoods.

But that’s not my objection.

It’s the weather I object to. Not the warmth, or the sun, but the year-round sameness of it. If you live on the equator, every day is pretty much like every other. Oh sure, there are some rainy seasons and some windy spells, but nothing like an actual winter. Or a fall, or a spring. I want seasons.

I launched this site almost two years ago, in February. February is not an auspicious time to launch a site about harvesting your own food, and many of my early posts were about one of the few viable food-gathering activities available on Cape Cod in the dead of winter – shellfishing.

I raked quahogs, I dug steamers, I gathered mussels. My friend Linda showed me the ropes, and often went with me in sub-freezing temperatures to break through the ice and harvest some clams.

Aside from some entry-level gardening, this was my very first experience procuring food from the world around me. The first time I raked through the sand on the sea floor and came up with an actual, genuine clam, I felt a kind of excitement that you don’t normally associate with shellfish. The very idea that you could go outside and get your own dinner!

Since then, that idea has kept us very busy. We’ve raised animals for eggs, for meat, and for honey. We’ve grown, and foraged, and fished, and hunted. We’ve procured food every which way from Sunday. But it had been a while since I’d been clamming.

Yesterday was beautiful. Bright sun, not too cold. Low tide was around noon, and I tossed my waders in the truck and headed down to Osterville. The parking lot was full of other people with the same idea, and I had to park a ways up the street.

Amy, from Natural Resources, checking my clams (they were all legal)

I suited up, plugged in my audiobook (A Dance to the Music of Time, by Anthony Powell, whose talent should dissuade just about all of us from attempting fiction), and waded out. After getting a half-peck of oysters (the limit) in about ten minutes, I went down the beach for clams. After a few exploratory rakings came up empty, I found the quahogs.

I’m better at clamming than I used to be. I also have a better rake (a Ribb Rakes Snappin’ Turtle that Kevin gave me for my birthday two years ago). But the feeling of raking food up from out of the sand is still the same.

When I did it every week, for weeks on end, that first winter, it inevitably lost some of its attraction. And that first winter, we ate a lot of clams.

This year, though, I haven’t done much clamming. I did some bullraking, to clear the clams off our oyster grant, but summer and fall kept me so busy that I don’t think I’ve been out with my peck basket and Snappin’ Turtle since about April.

Seasonality gives everything a chance, once a year, to be new again. It’s a joy that Colombian drug lords will never know.

17 people are having a conversation about “Turn, turn, turn

  1. Ah, yes, the North Fork is gorgeous….and we share your penchant for imagining other places to live (we have in fact lived in quite a few different places ourselves). We hope you don’t leave us…but if it’s ever for Long Island, double-check the residential property tax rate. This kept us from settling there ourselves.

  2. Tamar – loved this posting, and your conclusion just brought it all home :-):

    Seasonality gives everything a chance, one a year, to be new again. It’s a joy that Colombian drug lords will never know.

  3. Don’t come to Northern California! The weather here isn’t the “sameness” that East Coast people tend to think it is. But real estate IS really affordable here at the moment… Heh heh heh…

    • I lived in San Francisco for many years, and although there is some variability in the weather I did miss the proper seasons. Fall, especially. Now, as I sit in my 53-degree house waiting for the wood stove to warm it up, California’s looking awfully good.

  4. I don’t think it’s the change of location that accounts for the great people and interesting sights, I think it’s your personalities. Wherever you two lived, you would end up having great conversation and finding good eateries because you bring it with you. I suspect you could even sway that Columbian drug lord.

    I’m a big fan of four seasons too, and not tempted by tropical climes. I have too many recipes that require apples and maple syrup, and not enough to make good use of mangoes or coconuts. Although I could rock the wool sweater / grass skirt combo…

    • Mangoes! Coconuts! Those tempt me very much, despite the sameness of the weather. What would make it all worthwhile, though, would be to see you in a wool sweater and grass skirt.

  5. Yep … the grass is always greener.

    I’d move to the French side of the Alsace. Maybe somewhere between Mulhouse and Colmar. IMMHO it’s the best parts of both France and Germany. Not very good for growing clams I expect.

    We don’t have snow here, probably the average winter low would be around 8°C – it’s enough for seasonality, but a big Summer. The thing I really hate about living in the Southern Hemisphere is the ridiculous conflux of Summer + XMas + School holidays. There’s all the end-of-year stuff mixed up with the end of school stuff. Life becomes so hectic, that by new-year’s eve, you just want to goto bed. We don’t have halloween or thanksgiving (despite the former becoming marketed more and more heavily), so once it’s spring, over-eager shops are already dragging out the hoary old xmas decorations… ♪It’s the season to be spending, tra-la-la-la-la, lah-la-la-la…♪

    If you can make it to the new year without a breakdown, it’s fairly quiet then. You heave a big sigh, and wonder if summer will ever end.

  6. I do the same thing too- imagine myself living in other, ‘better’ places. But then I remember that I only had one more bookcase in me, and I built it in this house, so I’d better stay here. I’m not sure I’d ever be able to talk my husband into a country living anyway, him being the city mouse that he is. North Fork sounds like a nice dream, and you’re lucky to be able to get your own shellfish. We moved to Oregon because you can get all kinds of good stuff here- salmon and mushrooms, among other things. Too bad they’re as expensive to buy here as in Florida! But- I have plans for learning how to find mushrooms, and maybe someday I’ll talk my city mouse into taking me for fly fishing lessons.

    Dreams are pretty cheap entertainment…..

    • I don’t think of those other places as better, necessarily (I am lucky enough to live in one of the most beautiful places around). Just different.

      There’s absolutely nothing that stands between you and mushroom foraging. Get David Arora’s book about Northwest mushrooms, and get out there. Once you bring home a few boletes, and cook them up with some sausage and spaetzle, I’m betting you’ll get your city mouse out there with you.

    • a fellow oregonite to hook up w when i make it out there later this year. perhaps we can go experimental foraging together.

  7. The excitement of finding a clam when you dig up yourself still hasn’t left me. I have been clamming a couple of months less then you, but it is still a joy every time I find one of those suckers in the mud. I call dubbed it the “Easter egg hunt, Cape Cod style” effect. Maybe its the inner child in me, but the excitement of finding them is as fresh as day one. Oh and the joy of eating them, that’s still there too.

      • Rick, you’re exactly right about the clams. Although my Jewish upbringing didn’t afford me many Easter egg hunts, I can extrapolate from finding the afikomen at our Passover seder.

        Happy New Year right back to you, and here’s to a clamful 2011.

  8. Here in south Mississippi it is currently 70 degrees and storming–last weekend it was very cold with snow flurries. We enjoy seasonal changes without changing seasons.

    A rake for your birthday? I was thinking how terrible that was, then remembered I asked for and received a new laying hen for mine. (Diamond earrings next year.)

    Happy New Year

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