And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
On a steamy evening toward the end of August, I drive from our home in Springs to Gardiners Bay. At Louse Point, I dive into the gold-glazed water and swim west toward the setting sun.
A wooden launch glides by with a bayman in waders piloting from the stern. His Black Lab stands watch in the bow. They form dreamlike silhouettes against the glowing sky.
Egrets wade on the far shore, expertly spearfishing for their supper. They’re startled into flight when an outboard surges into the channel, hell bent for the harbor. As the engine’s roar dies out and the boat coasts to its mooring, the egrets return, one by one, to their evening meal.
A few fishermen cast for snapper blues on the eastern edge of the point. Everyone else has left for the day. The tide is going out, and the bay, too, seems to be slipping away, retreating into the misty twilight. It feels like the last of summer.
* * * * * *
At noon on the autumnal equinox, I float on my back at Louse Point, pleased that the water is still warm enough. I look up at fleecy clouds the color of buttermilk—a mackerel sky.
Out toward Gardiners Island, the sun slides behind a row of clouds and the summer-blue water turns its autumn shade of taupe. The bay is changing its color scheme, flowing from summer into fall.
As I stand on the beach, a soft onshore breeze brushes my shoulders. I dry my hair with my Elvis beach towel and walk to the water’s edge. Small waves send pebbles and shells skittering around my toes with a giggling sound. The mid-day sun darts out from its hiding place and spangles the surface of the bay. A pair of sleek cormorants dive for fish.
I’m grateful for Indian summer on the East End, for days like this that arrive on a warm wind. Legend has it they’re sent as a gift from the southwestern court of a Native American god.
At home after my swim, I take an outdoor shower under a lush green canopy. Before long, the overhead cherry tree leaves will turn pale orange. Sunlit showers after a swim in the bay will be only a summer memory.
* * * * * *
A week later, on a bell-clear morning, the tide is up at Albert’s Landing. To the east of the wide beach, I can see as far as Montauk Point.
I plunge in and swim toward Gardiner’s Island. The water’s cold, really cold. I get out quickly and sprint to my sun-warmed car, not sure if I’ll swim again this year.
Back home, I light a fire and stretch my fingers toward the flames. The smell of wood smoke in the house gives proof that autumn has arrived. I spend the afternoon getting out my boots and woolen jackets, the down comforters and flannel sheets. I put away my sandals and, still hopeful, all but one of my swim suits. Out on the deck, I shroud the chairs and tables with their green winter covers. They look like ghosts of their summer selves.
* * * * * *
October arrives. In the mornings, I wake up to the compact quiet of a house with its windows closed for the season. The kitchen skylight frames fiery foliage against a crystal sky.
I buy the last of bumper-crop tomatoes at Round Swamp Farm, already nostalgic for summer berries and peaches.
On a Sunday, I pick apples with my family at a Sagaponack orchard near the ocean. For supper, we make roast pork with apples and onions simmered in cider, maple-baked butternut squash, a honeyed apple cake for dessert. The house swells with the fragrance of autumn’s bounty.
* * * * * *
One late afternoon, I pull a sweatshirt and leggings over the one swim suit I hadn’t yet stored. I head for the beach at Maidstone, not sure what I’ll do when I get there, hoping I can take a quick dip.
At the end of Flaggy Hole Road, an artist is painting the low sun’s reflection on the bay.
“They say the water’s really warm today,” she tells me.
I walk across the broad beach hugging myself against a nippy wind. I dip my fingertips in.
“They’re lying,” I say to myself.
I sit near the shoreline and let the late-day sun warm my face. The brilliance of the October sunset takes me by surprise. The sky is a blaze of burnished gold with vivid streaks of magenta, indigo blue, and violet.
A fleet of swans glides by swiveling their heads like peckish tourists. They sail away in the fading light as though heading south for the winter.
* * * * * *
Early one chilly evening, I bundle up and head to Louse Point, hoping to savor one last sunset on the bay before it’s really too cold.
A few forlorn seagulls waddle along the beach; all the others, the cormorants, egrets, and swans, are gone for the year. The sun disappears quickly behind dark evergreens on the western shore. I turn to leave as the sky and water turn wintery grey.
At the head of the beach path, I’m startled by a harvest moon rising eerily over Napeague. Suspended above that spit of land to the east, the huge moon takes over the sky, glowing neon orange, astonishing in its size and color. The moment has a wild, urgent beauty.
I’m suddenly grateful for the flow of seasons through the stillness of place.
I recite to myself a favorite Yeats line: “Be silent and rejoice, for of all things known, that is the most difficult.”