The End of Summer
Here on the East End of Long Island, we know in August that the end is near. The beach plums and the rose hips are ripening. Both are part of the rich fall vegetation the lines the sandy beach lands of the North East. After their harvest in late September, beach plums which look like plump dark grapes are sought after to make jelly. Bushes which sported white and pink wild roses in early summer now show off red and orange rose hips. They dot bushes which grow by the roadside near sandy shores as the summer comes to a close.
August, by most counts is still a summer month, but we recognize that the time has come because local tomatoes and corn are now advertised at each farm stand along the highway. The best tomatoes, red and yellow, come in around August first – if the weather’s been good to the farmers during June and July. Earlier in the summer we have “Jersey tomatoes” and then tomatoes from the North Fork.
Long Island is divided at Riverhead into two peninsulas, the North and South Fork. It is the South Fork tomatoes, still bearing dirt from the rain-washed plants of the nearby farms that make our hearts quicken. We reach for the salt and pepper and the vinegar and maybe a little oil and garlic and basil, and we have a feast.
The corn from the North fork has already appeared on our table and it is good – better than any other. But after the first of August the real South Fork corn comes in – and like the tomatoes it is the best. We all clamor for it and get to the roadside stands at the right time, not too early because we know that it is just being picked. Early afternoon usually yields plenty and it’s still warm from the fields.
There is yellow corn and white corn and the one called silver and gold or sugar and spice because some kernels are white and some yellow. The corn is more tender than any you will have eaten in other places in the world and we eat one, two, even three ears. The meat or fish for the evening meal is good – but it is the corn and fresh tomatoes that remind us why we love being here in August.
But August is also at the end of the summer months. We anticipate the bookend of Labor Day a few weeks ahead. The fresh produce signals that summer is coming to a close. The days are shorter now, the sunsets come around 8, not 9 and they don’t linger as long in the sky. Now you bring a wooly sweater to the beach when you walk there after the evening meal. The dogs wander off the leash with a clip in their step. They seem to know that they should gather the delicious fishy smells while they can.
These August night walks on the beach, the dinners of the freshest food available on the East Coast, remind me that we will leave here soon and that summer is going.I remember the end of the first summer I spent here. I walked on Labor Day with a new friend through the dunes at Fresh Pond on the bay. The sky was grey, the air was cooler than the week before and the beach was deserted. As we walked the path we said little. It had been a memorable summer. Would we be back here again? Would I?
It had been a discovery for me, this beautiful part of the world that evoked memories of my childhood years on the other side of the great Long Island Sound. Saybrook, Old Lyme, Clinton Connecticut all belonged to my father’s family. This south fork of L.I was my discovery. All the blessings of the vegetation and the land and waterscapes were and are visceral reminders of my own beginning. Now I had my own place that touched that early little soul.
My romance with the farmlands, the sea and the bays and all they delivered to us were gone for another year. I knew then I would surely return here as I have now, for 23 years. I know as I write this in my little cottage in the Springs that I will feel sad in August as we pack up to leave. Yet, I almost cherish that familiar feeling. I begin to look forward to next year and to walking on Gerard Drive and looking for shore birds, walking on the beaches in the evening and eating feasts of corn and tomatoes with old friends who feel the way I do.