Fire Island Slideshow

Jon Cotner
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Clipper Roadway, Ocean Beach

We leave our Ocean Beach rental house, and enter a corridor of something that’s a cross between bamboo and corn.


Bayberry Walk, Ocean Beach

Weathered planks lead us to the water-taxi terminal. Today – our final on Fire Island – we’ve planned to walk from the island’s eastern end to its western. We’ll start in The Pines and reach Saltaire by sunset. In total it’s about eight miles along varying terrains: planks, paved paths, deep sand through which movement is tough. There are no cars. Here in this summer paradise, if people must transport something, they use wagons.


Basketball Court, Ocean Beach

As we await the noon taxi to The Pines, I suggest playing Horse. Amazingly the ball isn’t flat. Claire has an accurate jumpshot and beats me H-O-R-S-E to H. I know I’ll never match her distance game, so I change strategy and do a bunch of layups, alternating sides – right, left, and back again. It’s cheap. But I win H-O-R-S-E to H.


Liberty, Ocean Beach

Our taxi arrives.


Liberty, Great South Bay

The driver welcomes us aboard. He seems to enjoy his job. During our voyage, the passengers strike up conversation. One says “It’s hot today.” To which another replies: “I hate Fire Island when it’s hot.”


Ocean Walk, The Pines

At The Pines we encounter a fork in the boardwalk. Claire pulls out her phone and calculates our route. Everywhere we see graying wooden mansions, but no residents.


Beach Hill Walk, The Pines

Soon, however, a deer greets us. He wants to take us someplace. His head keeps moving in one direction, as if pointing. I recall Claire’s story about the wise homeless dog that led her family through Capri. He hit all the major sites. We follow the deer.


Beach Hill Walk, The Pines

Our tour-guide reveals this flock of plastic flamingos, then vanishes in beachgrass.


Linda & Richard, The Pines

How do you like Fire Island?

Linda: “We love it.”

Richard: “Here we’re forced to walk.”


The Meat Rack

We say goodbye to Linda and Richard at the Meat Rack – a forest falling between The Pines and Cherry Grove. This woodland is named after the sex it accommodates. Two mosquitoes bite chunks out of my arm. I swat another off Claire. We embrace.


Mark, The Meat Rack

Beautiful day, isn’t it?

Mark: “I’m actually looking for a place to pee.”


Bayview Walk, Cherry Grove

Downtown Cherry Grove is jubilant. Real-estate offices display million-dollar listings. Most guys wear swim trunks. We study the Cherry Lane Café’s lunch menu, and decide to move on.


Janice, Cherry Grove

Janice left Hershey, Pennsylvania for the summer to work at Homo Depot & Kinky’s Copies, a convenience/copy shop founded by her son. I grab water. When we ask about local ice-cream shops, Janice frowns. She says she’d expected “home-churned ice-cream” in Cherry Grove. But the shops serve Hershey’s – the stuff you’ll find in Pennsylvania, the very stuff that’s manufactured in her hometown.


Sweet Licks, Cherry Grove

Despite Janice’s warning we visit Sweet Licks for a Cookies ‘n’ Cream cone.


John & Rich, Cherry Grove

On the Cherry Grove beach, there’s a kite way up in the clear sky. A rock anchors its spool to the sand. Neither John nor Rich does anything to keep it going. They’ll spend a week at a friend’s place. Describing some differences between this town and The Pines, John tells us, “Cherry Grove is more relaxed.” Rich calls The Pines “more cityboyish.”


Cherry Grove Beach

We walk down the beach. Near a path to the Sunken Forest is this sculpture. It contains no nails.


Sunken Forest

Trees in the Sunken Forest are shorter than their protective dunes (without which salt spray would obliterate all plant life). Signs point out black cherries, red maples, red cedars, sassafrasses, and shadblows. One 300-year-old oak is just 25 feet tall.


Point O’Woods Boundary

The sky turns ominous as we approach Point O’Woods.


New York Avenue, Point O’Woods

We’ve managed to enter Fire Island’s gated town. We see families in V-neck sweaters holding tennis rackets. Everyone wears pastels, including these women on an afternoon cruise.


Dakota, Point O’Woods

Are you the official Point O’Woods lifeguard?

Dakota: “I’m one of them. Some days it’s hot; some days it’s cool. Right now it’s perfect.”

Does your tan last the whole year?

Dakota: “That’s the most random question I’ve ever been asked.”


Ocean Bay Park

Walking along the Point O’Woods beach, we soon cross into Ocean Bay Park. This is another family town. But it seems scruffier – more improvisational – than the gated settlement.


Bayview Walk, Ocean Bay Park

Our legs start getting heavy. I peek in the window of a bike-rental place, though the shop appears closed. Someone sprints from an adjacent bar called Schooner Inn. He offers to rent this bike by the hour. Since there are thick sandy trails ahead, we pass.


Schooner Inn, Ocean Bay Park

On the bar’s patio another guy inflates beachballs. His name is Gene the Machine. Tuesdays are “Crazy Inflatable Day,” a promotion that gives 500+ balls each summer to children who visit The Schooner. Gene also serves as house musician. He’s a “one-man, real-time act” that performs 70s classic rock with occasional Frank Sinatra. While his feet kick drums and his hands play guitars, he’ll blow into a harmonica or sing.


Peter & Wes, Seaview Market, Seaview

How many summers have you spent on the island?

Wes: “This is my fiftieth.”

Peter: “It’s my thirty-ninth if you count the womb. Seaview is as much a part of me as my hair.”


Shells, Ocean Beach

We eat delicious nectarines on concrete slabs outside Seaview Market. The boardwalk leads us to Ocean Beach (where we began). Along the way Claire notices that many houses are named: “Sea’s the Day,” “Forever Young,” “Old Smuggler,” “Comfortably Numb.” One house is known simply as “Shells.” A man and woman snooze on its porch.


Midway Walk, Ocean Beach

From Ocean Beach to Atlantique, our shoes sink every time we step.


Atlantique Park, Atlantique

Atlantique’s marina is packed. We sit on a bench, shake our socks, and take in the nautical bustle.


Artie, Anne, Bobby, Pat, Carl & Lucy, Atlantique

Pat’s friends prepared chicken liver and artichoke dip for her birthday. They’ve all known one another “years, years.” Artie introduces us to the Québécois neighbors. “Get their stories while they’re here,” he says.


France, Noe’mie & Pierre, Atlantique

Pierre extinguishes his cigarette. He observes: “I don’t inhale smoke, but I swallow my drink.” France waves us aboard. As a family, they’re on the water ten weeks each summer, traveling from the North Channel to Virginia Beach. They’ll drop by Atlantique during these trips. Noe’mie adds “it’s very rare you can dock, and see a deer.” Last week the family docked in Manhattan. They picnicked in Central Park.


Sweet-Pete, Atlantique

Noe’mie wants to show us the lower level. It’s my first time in a boat’s belly. She points out the living-room/kitchen, then her bedroom. Steaks are thawing for dinner.


Lonelyville Beach

We cut towards the ocean and pass through Lonelyville, which – contrary to its name – has 60 houses, not one.


Brutus & Gary, Fair Harbor Beach

In Fair Harbor we hear a Yorkie growling frantically. Gary always holds Brutus’ leash because last summer Brutus was almost killed by the high tide. This gets difficult around New York City, where law requires that human beings walk dogs. But Gary won’t let people near Brutus.


Adele & Louis, Fair Harbor; Louis’ finger pointing to the lion cave’s entrance

Nice castle.

Louis: “It’s a jungle … a lion’s cave. The lion enters here.”

Oh yes. We see that.

Louis: “I make jungles and giant holes.”

How’s your summer?

Adele: “We love that there are no cars. We walk around.”


Sea Walk, Saltaire

When we hit Saltaire, we stop to admire what might be the world’s largest screened-in porch. I imagine contemplating Moby Dick in miraculous calm. That passage from Rilke’s diaries about just wanting keys to someone’s vacation house also comes to mind. Rilke suspects keys would change everything.


Sea Walk, Saltaire

I try steering us towards Saltaire’s Public Library. Years ago, when I first visited Fire Island, the library stayed open all night and operated on an honor system. You could borrow any book or DVD so long as you signed a log. I’d even found stacks of yoga mats upstairs (beside the mayor’s office).


Public Library, Saltaire

The sun lowers, spreading pinkness through town. It seems the library now has a deadbolt and official hours, but the door is unlocked, so we enter. At a pine table two blonde teens skim Facebook. I’m curious if the yoga mats are still upstairs.


Public Library, Saltaire

The narrow back staircase is cluttered. On our way down Claire trips over a box – she falls in slow motion; it lasts 20 seconds. I worry her ankle is sprained. We examine it outside the library.


Saltaire Yacht Club, Saltaire

After a short rest, we locate the one place to eat in town: Saltaire Yacht Club. Bikes are parked along the boardwalk. We put on sleeves to look respectable. The hostess asks if we’re new to Saltaire. I say we’ve just bought in Fair Harbor, and would like to join this club. “Well you could talk with Mr. Thomas tomorrow,” she responds. Claire asks if we can eat tonight. I emphasize we’re very serious about joining.


Saltaire Yacht Club, Saltaire

Mr. Thomas appears. He’d been slurping oysters at the bar. Since we don’t belong to any affiliate yacht clubs, we’ll have to leave. We use a bathroom. It’s on the other side of the community hall where an underwater animation film is playing. The hall smells strongly of popcorn.


Bay Promenade, Saltaire

We remove our sleeves. We watch this sunset. When the sun touches the horizon, our water-taxi home should be here. But we’re already at home in this never-to-be-again composition of glowing accidental things.

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