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The Mast-Head: Signs of Hope

Wed, 07/21/2021 - 16:33

“Knowing the town code is a curse,” an old friend and former colleague said the other day. We had been talking about how difficult it was to drive almost anywhere in East Hampton Town and not become rapidly incensed at the blatant, or perhaps, intentional ignorance.

I said that I had thought the better of counting all the violations I passed on the way to work lest my head explode, “Like the new Pepsi signs up at Luz’s Deli or whatever it’s called,” I said.

“Yeah, what’s up with those,” my friend said.

The call had come in reaction to news that a Cooper Lane, East Hampton, resident’s valet parking staff had parked party guests’ vehicles in Cedar Lawn Cemetery. I was told that overflow cars from an end-of-June wedding in Amagansett had also been left near or on top of graves in Oak Grove Cemetery. Toss in a shark or two, and we’d have the story of the summer, hands down.

Sharks have arrived here, and not just the sort able to think that parking among the dead is okay. Staggering millions of menhaden have been dining on plankton off the ocean beaches and in the bay, and these are followed by the Men in the Gray Suits, as the late Russell Drumm liked to call them. A thresher shark a good eight feet long was observed just past the breakers in Montauk, and a drone videographer has been tracking the mesmerizing patterns made as black-tipped sharks feed their way through the schooling fish. No reports of injuries to swimmers or surfers have been confirmed.

Amity, the fictional setting of Peter Benchley’s novel “Jaws” was based in part on this area and drew inspiration from the exploits of Frank Mundus, a Montauk charter boat captain who brought shark fishing up out of nothing and made a local industry of it. Benchley died in 2006 but by then had become an important advocate for marine conservation, building on a book that made the sea a source of fascination for millions of Americans.

Those menhaden massing off the ocean shore — and the sharks, striped bass, whales, seabirds, and what all — had once been fished nearly to elimination. There is a certain irony that while life on land here seems to be going to hell in a handbasket, there are signs of hope not all that far beyond the waves.

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