It is always disconcerting to realize that there are sociopaths in our midst. You know they’re statistically impossible to avoid: hopefully your encounters with them will remain brief and uneventful. But the painful truth is that there are people walking amongst us who spent their childhoods wetting the bed and torturing small animals. It seems that one of those people has recently visited Montauk’s once-pristine beaches, taking their trademark chainsaw along for the ride.
A few years ago, one of several wonderful pieces of public art surfaced on our shores. Using one of the scarce and beautiful driftwood logs conditioned by the sea as a canvas, a humble artist took the time to etch carvings of footprints, Celtic symbols, and a calligraphy rendition of the word “Montauk” into it for all to enjoy. It was a warm and giving act of kindness that countless beach goers stopped in their travels to smile upon—a true example of the beauty that so rarely occurs when humanity and nature collide.
For years, the log, which was located on the beach near the IGA, was revered by locals and tourists alike. It was climbed upon and prodded at by children, rested upon by lovers and dreamers and other people who are drawn to the curious stretch of sand that marks where the land ends and the ocean begins. The log was the site of countless photo shoots, so that anyone could easily take away an image of our beloved Montauk to cherish for years to come.
Just last year, I took a lovely set of pictures of my pregnant sister and her little family crawling all over the log. And guess what? I managed to do it without screwing it up for everyone else by defiling the log and the beach and the people who live here by cutting out the pretty parts with a chainsaw.
I will be the first to admit that I was a terrible girl scout. I was asked not to come back to Brownies after a few meetings because I thought scouting was supposed to be about learning how to tie knots and playing in the woods, and all they seemed to want to do was make dolls out of ice cream sticks and stay as far away from the woods as possible.
I did come away with something though—the old scouting mantra, “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.” And while I’ve been known to scoop my share of beach glass and driftwood, I’ve kept the phrase close enough to my heart in my adult life to remember that you don’t take the footprints, particularly if they were carved in driftwood by an artist for all to enjoy.
Public art by its nature disappears in time. Sand mandalas take to the wind and chalk drawings are washed away by the rain. But there was a certain permanence to this particular treasure, and a certain pride we took in its existence. It said something about who we are as a people, the Montaukett tribe.
And now, sadly, it says something about what is happening to said tribe, and how our fears of extinction are realized daily, in subtle and not -so-subtle ways. Because some vile person—and I use the term “person” loosely, mind you—had the gall and nerve to hack those beautiful carvings straight out of the driftwood. Now we are left with a bold and ugly scar—evidence of a rape that we thirst to avenge.
“It’s actually a metaphor for the general change in attitude toward our beautiful town—instead of cherish and respect—it’s exploit and destroy,” said one Montauk resident, in a stream of outrage expressed through Facebook.
The selfishness and wanton disregard displayed by the individual responsible for this crime is a sad indicator of the way things are going in this town. It just seems like all anyone wants to do is take, take, take, and keep for themselves. These are the types of people who spend tens of thousands of dollars on non-indigenous landscaping for the specific purpose of blocking their neighbor’s views. It’s a me-first society that has slowly trickled eastward and begun to infect our happy little town.
I can’t say if this has anything to do with being from the city, or if it’s simply a representation of the vile side of human nature. One would like to believe that the “person” responsible for ruining the beach party for everyone else was decked out in a pair of madras shorts and a fedora —but reasonably speaking, what is the likelihood that such a person would be capable of operating a chainsaw? Perhaps they sent one of their minions out to do their bidding. Or perhaps there is a horrible hollow person living among us. With. A. Chainsaw.
And what does this empty-souled individual tell his friends when they inquire about the chiseled log he had the help so neatly display over the mantel of the summer home he probably occupies only two months out of the year?
“Oh, Buffy, where did you get that beautiful driftwood carving? You must have commissioned someone to create it, it is just divine.”
“Actually I ripped it off from the people of Montauk, and now it’s MINE. Best part is it was free! Aren’t I a swell guy?”
The bottom line is there was only one entity that could have taken that log without pissing anyone off. It was just light enough to be slowly rolled and shuffled along the shore by years of storm surge. If the sea had reclaimed it, it would have been her absolute right, but she kept it safe through her own divine benevolence.
Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that the sociopath responsible for this unthinkable act has directly violated the ocean. Do you hear that, crazy pants? The ocean is pissed at you. So if a great big storm surge knocks your big ol’ beach house right into the water, or perhaps one day you find yourself drowning, know you this as you sink towards the bottom: Don’t piss off the ocean. And don’t mess with Montauk.