With the passing of “Focus on Nature” columnist Paul Stoutenburgh, the recent retirement of Louisa Hargrave’s “The Oeno Files” wine column and the previous semi-retirement of my own “The Observer” column, there’s just one columnist left standing when it comes to continuous longevity of service to this newspaper. Marty Garrell has been writing his “North Fork Outdoors” column for an awe-inspiring 38 years — and he told me earlier this month he has no intention of stopping anytime soon.
Our conversation took place a long way from the North Fork — more than 400 miles away, in fact, in Churubusco, N.Y., three miles south of the Canadian border, where Marty and his wife, former Suffolk Times reporter Janet Garrell, have made their permanent home since 1990.
I know (I know!), you’re probably asking yourself: How does someone write so intimately and knowingly about the North Fork from 400 miles away? Here’s how: by commuting back and forth between Churubusco and Long Island every week for nine months a year for the past 25 years.
It seems Marty’s real job is as a professor of physics at Adelphi University in Garden City, a position he has held since the mid-1970s, when he first discovered the North Fork in the course of chasing the elusive weakfish. That’s when the Garrells purchased their beautiful little white farmhouse on Main Road between Cutchogue and Mattituck, where they resided until the move (way!) north.
And because he’s on Long Island four days a week during the school year, Marty gets out to the North Fork often enough to stay in touch with his sources, including the fishing stations that provide the grist for his weekly fishing report. Or as Marty puts it: “You never really leave Long Island.”
So why, then, did the Garrells bail north after 15 years on the North Fork? Because they were finding it increasingly difficult to make a left-hand turn out of their driveway and, simply put, they needed more “outdoors” than the North Fork afforded. So they purchased their 130-acre spread for a comparative pittance and now have more than enough room to field-train their menagerie of five Brittany spaniels and three horses.
But in order to do that, Marty had to take on a commute that would bring men half his age (he’s 76) to their knees. These days, his school week begins Sunday night, when he drives 45 minutes to board the overnight Trailways bus from Plattsburgh, N.Y., to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City, catching a few zzzzz’s in the process. Then he takes an LIRR train to Garden City in time to teach his first class at Adelphi, postponing sleep until Monday night at his nearby apartment. And after his last class on Thursday, he reverses the process, returning to his bed three miles south of Canada around 2 a.m. Friday.
How much longer can he handle that 16-hour round-trip? With a bow to physician/author Oliver Sacks, Marty replies: “If you still enjoy it, why stop? I plan to do this until something happens. That’s always the mystery.”
Troy Gustavson is the former co-owner and publisher of Times Review Media Group. He can be reached at [email protected].