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The good life at Catapano Dairy Farm. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Five different birds trill and sing, competing for attention. Breezes whistle through leaves. Sunlight dapples the fragrant herbs by our feet. As we sit on our deck on a beautiful June afternoon, the North Fork’s bounty reaches all five of our senses.

Raising my kids here, they’re learning to appreciate more than pretty sights: they’re also smelling, hearing, touching, and tasting the place where they live. 

My preschooler is fearless with backyard creatures: her version of multitasking is holding a worm while looking at a book. After tasting veggies at the Peconic Land Trust’s Ag Center, my third grader asked if we can plant sorrel. Yup, sorrel. I pretended I knew what that was (a leafy, lemony green — thanks, Google) and told him to research its sun and water needs. They both love putting food out for the abundant birds and strategizing to prevent squirrels — and let’s face it, raccoons — from gobbling it all up.

Their openness to, and interest in, the natural world is a direct result of living on the North Fork.

In the spring, we go on flower watch: as the world grows green, when will the purple rhododendrons bloom? We look forward to farm stands opening and the first strawberries of the season. The kids start asking to visit the goats at Catapano Dairy Farm and to have a sunset beach picnic. We get excited for our inaugural outdoor dinner at home, fire up the grill, pull the covers off the deck furniture, and bask in the sunshine we feel we’ve earned. Inevitably we have to re-cover everything when rain and cool temperatures return, but hey, it happened.

School lets out, and all the summery coastal goodness is at hand. I pinch myself that we actually live in a place where everyone else wants to vacation. The kids remember that they don’t like oysters (fine, more for me) but they like the shells; that paddling a kayak around the bay gets you hours of uninterrupted time with mom and dad; that camp is shorter than school and they have to entertain themselves occasionally (gasp!).

North Fork camps offer so many options: sailing, soccer, swimming, art, farming, water sports, marine biology, horseback riding. Each summer it gets harder for my older child to choose. Honestly, I feel a little lucky that there aren’t as many options for preschoolers.

Just as the kids are getting antsy from the lack of structure and the heat, temperatures cool and we start thinking about apple picking, hay rides, corn mazes and pumpkin carving. You know, the usual after-school activities. Each weekend gets packed with festivals, music at the wineries and breweries, and catching those precious final beach days.

As much as our family loves summer on the North Fork, October might be our favorite month, with Halloween activities every weekend.

After Thanksgiving, we gear up (literally) for ice skating, igloo-building, library visits and fun times at the American Legion’s newly restored roller rink in Greenport.

My children spend more time thinking about snowball fights and dance routines and less about our community’s connection to the land and sea. But that’s fine. The North Fork is a multi-dimensional, multi-season environment for families. The cold is just as important as the heat.  We don’t get all those good things to eat and smell, to hear and touch without it.

Sara Berliner is the founder of North Fork Family. This column will run monthly on Find her on Instagram and Facebook @northforkfamily. She lives in Cutchogue with her, yes, #northforkfamily.