The signs of change are all around us.

I was driving to Greenport on the North Road looking forward  to a much-needed meditation class. I had plenty of time to  spare—or so I thought. Halfway there, an unexpected traffic backup disrupted my morning plans.

I groaned when I looked at the time and the speedometer. I saw a line of cars in front of me with their brake lights blinking; a look in the rear view mirror wasn’t much better. I craned my neck out the window, and my heart sank:  Up ahead was a  truck towing an extremely large boat. Needless to say, my meditation consciousness had run amuck.

That thing must belong to “nouveau arrivals,” I grumbled to myself, thinking of the folks who emigrated to the North Fork during the COVID crisis. For some who live on the North Fork, “tourist” and, of late, “city people” can be frightening words.  

Winery  traffic is dense on any summer weekend. Coupled with the new arrivals,  who are enjoying the same pleasures we experience,  bona fide traffic jams are commonplace. In the past, we endured  summer traffic from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Then, after a short breather, the pumpkin pickers and corn stalkers arrive. Lordy! Lordy! It’s like no one has seen a pumpkin before.

Lest you think I am against tourism or the new arrivals, think again. We live in a beautiful environment that I dubbed “paradise found.” Naturally, folks flock here to enjoy what locals may  take for granted. Wineries and agritourism helped save the North Fork from the kind of suburban sprawl so many of these visitors come here to escape — the overpopulation, the strip malls — and the traffic. But wait…the farms and wineries may have saved us then, but what about now? Other problems have arisen.

We have seen small frame houses transformed into McMansions. We have witnessed a population boom and now we hear locals complain about what it’s like and reminisce about the good old days—  before the city folks arrived and, they say, changed the local way of life.

I was a nouveau arrival some 19 years ago. I immediately fell in love with the quality of  life the North Fork offered — and therein lies the rub. I assimilated easily into a calmer way of life, adopting the attitudes and values of the local community. 

The word on the street is that increased tourism and the city folks have changed the character of the North Fork. Hmm. Yes and no. I have many new friends who,  like me, adopted  the culture of the community. Some even brought a better standard of living to our communities. Ok, I can almost hear some of my readers  groaning. Hear me out. 

We have better medical facilities, new restaurants, stores  and theater. Isn’t that a good thing? Sure, during the summer months, my sacred spot on the beach is not that sacred. At one time,  I felt that  outsiders were squatting on my beach. My beach? No! We all pay taxes to live here. Once I realized the city folk do not have two heads,  easy friendships formed. 

Albeit there have been some head-turning moments:  A guy driving a new Jaguar convertible zig-zagged on Sound Avenue cutting me and the car in front of me off. I immediately felt my stomach tighten and grumbled about tourists and city folks. Funny, I never said  “locals.” 

I was dining out with my date at  a lovely restaurant. Two other couples at the next table were conversing loudly. One  guy was complaining that he had to pay land preservation tax on his newly acquired home. He brashly exclaimed:  I don’t care about the land, build on  it. It’s progress. I almost choked on my wine.

Only a couple of weeks ago, we met an  amicable couple at a winery. They are new arrivals and were enjoying the music. However, they too mentioned their annoyance at the land preservation tax. This time,  I didn’t choke on my wine. I  explained why we pay the tax. They were mollified. 

Recently,  folks who were  enjoying  “my beach” were calling it a day. While packing  up, they neglected to pick up their trash. I approached them and politely showed them the wastebasket. One gal snarkily asked:  “Are you the mayor or something?”  Equally, snarky, I answered:  “Well, yes I am.” They  picked up their trash.

Must it be newcomers vs. locals? Don’t we have enough discord in our polarized society? 

Are we adopting a darker attitude? Perhaps, if you search for something or someone to hate or  be mad at, you will find it. But isn’t  that a  stressful, unhealthy way to live? 

It’s time we figure out how to co-exist peacefully with our old and new neighbors in our paradise found? Most of us have been strangers in another place at one time or another.

If what I am suggesting seems trivial, consider these words  paraphrased from the Good Book: The stranger residing among you must be treated as your own native-born, for you were once strangers. 

There it is, folks:  I wouldn’t mess with the higher authority who has clearly stated how we should treat a stranger. However there is a flip side:  The stranger is called to practice good manners and be a good neighbor, respecting the dignity of  everyone who resides in paradise found — and the land and the environment itself.

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Celia Iannelli is a native New Yorker enjoying a second career — in 'retirement' — as a freelance writer. She lives in Jamesport.