You pass modest homes on either side and a greenhouse alive with flowers set near a field of potatoes sprouting greenish-white buds. Close to a bridge over wetlands, a swan is nesting while her mate gallantly rises at the approach of a stranger, displaying enormous wings in warning. Under a sky scoured bright from last night's rain, straight vines seem to be in motion as they dip and flow, and at the next turn of the road, the view opens out to more wetlands and Peconic Bay.
A salt creek runs with a cross tide between marsh grass. Working the grass are red-winged blackbirds, each darting wing revealing a sudden patch of yellow in the scarlet. Half a mile out in the bay, sand cliffs on the private Robins Island gleam in the bright day. A cloud covers the sun, turning the creek black, and a snowy egret stops his jerky feeding in a tide pool, looks around, goes stone-still, posing.
The next Napa? Long Island's North Fork has 23 vineyards and wineries.
(Photo by Kirk Condyles)
The road ends at the boatyard in the village of New Suffolk. Up along an inlet, New England becomes a maritime Appalachia, as a barefoot man in jeans and no shirt takes apart a 75-horse Evinrude in his front yard. Down at a gray ramshackle dock, another sunburned man guts a bucket of porgies, throwing offal to a mob of wheeling, shrieking gulls.
Out of town, in Wickham's peach orchard, sturdy squat trees stand in rows on grass speckled with daffodils, the same land the family has owned since the middle of the 17th century. The orchard extends all the way to their farm stand on the Main Road at Cutchogue. Bees float in the warmth of midday as the pink blossoms barely move in the salty breeze.
There is a sharp thin call made by an osprey beating upwind over the orchard. The hawk flashes in a turn and rides down the wind. Watching it glide off toward the bay, you realize there is nothing more important to do than stand here, eyes and ears open.
Ambrose Clancy last wrote for Travel about the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice.
DETAILS: The North Fork
GETTING THERE: The Long Island Rail Road has service from Manhattan's Penn Station to Riverhead, Mattituck, Southold and Greenport, but it's like taking an early 19th-century train from the capital down to the provinces: endless, and sometimes the train's windows are so dirty a sunny day looks stormy.
To avoid La Guardia or the chaos of JFK International Airport, fly Southwest to Islip for about $100 and rent a car. It's less than an hour's drive to Riverhead.
WHERE TO STAY: Motels on the North Fork range from places with desk clerks like Anthony Perkins to plush lodgings. Best bet is a B&B. The North Fork Bed & Breakfast Association (www.northfork.com/nfbba) is a good place to start. A couple of choices: