Sunday, June 1, 2008

Sand In My Teeth

The first time I felt it, I was coccooned in a towel on the beach, avoiding sunburn by any means necessary. All I could see was the orange glow from the sun shining through my towel, and I was gritting my teeth together, grinding the salt and sand that ended up in my mouth when a wave washed over me.

We went to Robert Moses State Park today, enjoying the sunny weather. But as warm as it was, the water was really too cold for swimming. I tried my best, because clearly I am not a person who likes to go to the beach and just lay out, but walking into the water made me fear hypothermia and instant arthritis in my ankles. In fact, the best I could do was to lie down on the cold wet sand where the water had once washed over, and wait for it to creep back up on the shore and wash over me.

It was actually quite refreshing and got my heart rate really going, but it was so cold that I had to run back to our spot and wrap myself up in a towel and lay in the sun to warm up. My heart rate slowly calmed as I dozed off a little, listening to the gigantic waves that eventually chased us out of our spot, farther up towards the dunes. I found the grittiness in my mouth comforting, as though it gave me an excuse to grind my teeth, a therapeutic way of relieving the tension that had built up in my head all week.

After getting a little beached out, James suggested we go take a walk by the lighthouse. There's a great boardwalk that takes you through the Fire Island National Seashore, famous for its wildlife (bunnies, rabbits, raccoons, and apparently lots of deer) and birdlife. We were lucky to see one cottontail on the way, and, strangely, a fly-infested dead shark.

The approach to the lighthouse is gorgeous, with lots of great scenery. Even better is the view you get after climbing the harrowing 182 steps to the top of the lighthouse tower, 360 degrees of Fire Island - its flora and fauna, its ever-changing shores across a narrow plot of land, its significance in New York's maritime history now eclipsed by stories of crazy parties and sun-loving teens.

After teetering back down the spiral staircase, which sent my claustrophobia and vertigo into overdrive at the same time, we did some more exploring outside around the lighthouse, following a dead end path down a boardwalk that led to a narrow strip of shore filled with fisherman. As we walked past their posts towards a local pier (which we weren't authorized to actually go on), I became increasingly surrounded by sea creatures that had washed up to their ultimate death: empty mussel shells, so many disembodied crab legs and empty bits of shell, and even a whole skate. I'm glad those didn't wash up on me when I was lying down by the water's edge back at the beach.

fly-infested fuzzy wildlife dead skate

James is a great person to go exploring with, and he's mapped out pretty much the entire area, so it was easy to just let him navigate and let myself decompress, forgetting I have to work tomorrow, even not minding so much being the third wheel to him and his girlfriend. But once we got back to the beach, his two other friends were gabbing away, and he snuggled up with his girlfriend to rest from the long walk back, and I realized being the fifth wheel is even worse. No one to talk to (and no interest in insinuating myself into somebody else's private conversation), I stretched out alone on my beach blanket, enjoying that I didn't have to share it with anyone. I dreaded the car ride home, which would surely bring back my claustrophobia, once again being crammed into a backseat that does not easily fit three not-small girls.

On the way home, we made a worthwhile stop at Branchinelli's in Hauppage, a strip mall family-run Italian restaurant that pleasantly reminded me of Syracuse. Beautiful pizzas, gigantic chicken parm (could feed three), and an iceberg lettuce tossed salad that's deceivingly delicious with chopped cucumber, celery and green onion giving it some flavor. They don't have a liquor license so you have to ask for wine, which they'll give to you for free, but I chose to wash the rest of the salty sand that remained in my mouth down with some Diet Coke. Although it's a casual place that serves the soda in wax-coated paper cups, it still felt like a special occasion.

Overall I'm glad I joined James and his friends for today's excursion. There were parts of my day that were beautiful and poetic, but for that adventure I had to forego comfort, conversation, and a ride all the way home. As the sun set with a bright orange sky, I was dropped off in Long Island City and had to tote my cooler, towel and blankets onto the 7 train to complete my journey home. I guess if I'm not going to explore alone, I'm relegated to the role of tagalong.

Plan Your Visit: Fire Island Map