Dan Rattiner's Stories

The Hamptons Fights Against Global Warming

Many years ago, for several summers, I’d drive to work from East Hampton to Bridgehampton on my motor scooter. The scooter, which I had bought in Cambridge, where I went to college, topped out at only 48 miles an hour, so it was okay skittering slowly through the traffic in downtown East Hampton. It was not, however, okay on the long stretch of Route 27 to Bridgehampton. The scooter’s top speed was not enough. Cars would whizz by. So, instead, when I’d get just past Georgica Pond, I’d turn left and duck down into Sagaponack for the long straight haul through the potato fields. I could open the scooter up as fast as it could go. I was really cooking, thundering along at 48 and loving every minute of it. The wind blew through my hair. I could see for miles. Going down the long straight road of Hedges Lane, I could smell the salt spray from the ocean beyond the dunes to the south mixing with the warm Bridgehampton loam. Sometimes when the surf was especially loud, I could even see the mist of that sea spray so far away billowing over the dunes. What a wonderful experience that was.
One day, seeing a dog sitting on the white line in the middle of the street way down the road, I was inspired to write a story for the paper. It was called “City Dogs, Country Dogs,” and it promised to explain the difference between the two from the perspective of riding on a motor scooter.
In the city, I wrote, a city dog will go after you by running silently along the sidewalk unseen, then at a certain point begin to drift out into the street to, quite suddenly, begin biting at your pants leg. You’d have to weave back and forth and give him a kick to get him off.
In the country, and this was my experience in Sagaponack heading down Hedges Lane, a big farm dog would hear you coming from far off, walk out into the road and sit on the white line to wait for your arrival.
There was no surprise involved. He’d see that you were looking at him. But he was gonna get you. I’d get closer and closer. He’d get to his feet. And then in an instant, I’d whiz by him and be gone. What happened? he’d wonder. Then he would amble back to the front lawn and wait for the next intruder to appear at the other end of the road.
I tell this story because back then, in Sagaponack, as in much of the Hamptons, you could see almost forever. This place was barren. It was Big Sky country. It was an exhilarating feeling to be here then. We had rolling hills leading down to the ponds and harbors and bays and seas. We had vistas that you might see out west. But now they are gone. What happened?
I have often wondered about this. See it for yourself. Just look at old photographs from that time, back in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, you see a few trees, vast fields, narrow roads and grand vistas, not only in Sagaponack, but just about everywhere. The land was raw and new, like someplace up north, say in Scotland or northern Canada or, closer to home, in Nova Scotia, Nantucket or Block Island. It isn’t anymore.
Hedges Lane in Sagaponack was named after the Hedges family, whose name goes back to the original Bridgehampton settlers in 1656. Today, when you drive down Hedges Lane, all you see is hedges. There’s no view at all. Hedgerows are everywhere, bespeaking privacy, keep out and don’t bother us please. You would have every right to think Hedges Lane was named for the hedges. But it wasn’t.
How could this have happened? I do understand that it has passed almost everybody’s notice that it has. It’s been a slow transformation. You’d have had to have seen it years ago.
I used to think that this might have been about the Hurricane of ’38 sweeping through and knocking down all the trees and killing all the vegetation. But if you look at photos from before that time, you still see this vast barrenness. So it wasn’t the Hurricane of ’38.
What I really think it was about was landscaping. Beginning around 1980, the wealthy in these parts began planting vegetation under the direction of landscape architects in vast amounts. What they ordered came from all over the world. Still today it does, and sometimes you see a huge flatbed truck with a tree on its side roped in place, on its way from, say, Japan to Mecox. We can afford it and do.
The arrival of incoming vegetation has been subtle but it’s been huge, and all of it, absolutely all of it, sends out pollen in the springtime, then settles in for the summer flowering magnificently and beautifully to be featured in such magazines as House Beautiful and Architectural Digest. And it’s everywhere.
In one sense, this is very good for the environment. We are causing global warming by stripping the earth of its vegetation. The lumber companies are destroying the forests in Oregon, the jungles in the Amazon. The oxygen that vegetation emits simply can no longer keep up with the carbon dioxide that we humans and our machinery emit. The atmosphere goes out of balance. The temperature rises.
Well, so we here in the Hamptons are doing our part to reverse this. We’ve created vast jungles of flowers, plants, bushes, trees, underbrush, ferns, even bamboo in great abundance. We now look, for 60 miles, like something out of a Disney movie, so filled are we with frogs, hawks, bugs, butterflies, rabbits and bumblebees.
And it just keeps going and going. I called one of our local landscapers—actually I called OUR landscaper—and asked what the average upscale homeowner plows into landscaping in a year. The answer is about $15,000. If you multiply that times the number of people who are doing this, which is probably 20,000 or so in this 60 mile stretch, and you multiply that times the 30 or 40 years this has been going on, you come up with a number in the tens of billions of dollars. This cannot help but have an enormous impact on this place. Hooray. Maybe.

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