Fork: Can the South Fork Become the Southeast Fork?

Long Island compass
Graphic: Yurii Samarets/123RF

When people come out to the Hamptons from New York City, they often say they are heading out east. It’s a natural thing to say. Then, at Riverhead, the island separates into two peninsulas and continues on to two ends. One we call the North Fork and the other the South Fork.

However, as anybody who’s worth their salt knows, the island does not go exactly east to west. If it did, the sun would rise over the ocean in the east and set over the ocean in the west. In fact, the island heads out from the city not east but almost exactly northeast. So the sun does rise over the ocean. But for nearly all the year, it sets over the land.

Because of this, I have come to think we ought to call a spade a spade, and for the sake of accuracy consider changing the names of the two forks to Northwest Fork and Southeast Fork.

As for coming out from the city, we should say we are going out northeast. And coming back in southwest. It is indeed true that the East End, er, the Northeast End, is in fact three to four degrees cooler than the city, all year around. And though that’s largely because the East End is hard by the sea, it’s also true that as you head north of wherever it was you were before, you enter a colder climate. There’s lots of good that comes from being a vacation spot that’s a bit to the north. Now you’d think of it every day.

There’s a lot of complications that might come of acknowledging the truth of this place, though. For example, East Hampton would have to change its name to Northeast Hampton. And Westhampton Beach would have to change its name to Southwest Hampton.

Another problem is what should be done with the community of Northwest, which is between East Hampton and Sag Harbor. It is called that because, if you think of the island on an exact bearing of east-west, which it is not, the community of Northwest is gotten to by driving northwest from the center of downtown East Hampton. In fact, you drive nearly dead north. That’s the truth. And you can’t just change its name to North. A place named North just cries out to have something after it. It just cries out to be called North Hampton.

Another issue, which I don’t think anyone has thought about before, is the fact that the biggest town on the, er, South Fork, is Southampton, which is, in fact, right in the middle between East Hampton and Westhampton. It should, whether you consider the angle of Long Island or not, be called Middlehampton, because, let’s be honest, that would be right.

Another serious issue would be what to do with Sunrise Highway. If we were to accept the old east-west bearing that we all now see is inaccurate, it would indeed be a highway that, driving east early in the morning, would be going right into the sunrise. You’d have to shade your eyes.

Fact is, however, that because the island is tipped as we described, the sunrise is mostly well off to the southeast of this road. You really don’t have to shade your eyes, often.

Perhaps worst of all is what would happen if a ship at sea, due east off Montauk, headed due west in keeping with this fiction that the island is east-west. If the ship were far enough out, a dead westerly bearing would take the ship into Long Island Sound and thence to a landing at Bridgeport, Connecticut.

What a surprise that would be to the believer of an east-west-north-south Long Island. Fortunately, boat captains are not that foolish. The bearing is, in fact, nearly due northwest to get to the Montauk Lighthouse from way off Long Island.

You know, psychologists say that if a person’s handwriting rises as it moves left to right, it shows confidence and optimism. If it declines, it’s an indication of gloomy and troubled. This might explain why Long Island gave birth to great scientific discoveries and uplifting works of art. Now we’ll think of that every time we drive out.

Oh, never mind.

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