Seldom do we associate a visit to the shore with our frigid wintertime climate. Yet, I often enjoy a solitary stroll along the shoreline of Long Island Sound. It is an adventure worth experiencing at least once in one’s lifetime.
Ah, yes, the sun, the sand, and the waves. A gentle breeze caresses the surface of Long Island Sound touching my face; a day at the seashore. The coast is the setting I most fancy. It is bursting with peace and serenity, light glistening like crystals sprinkled across the undulating water.
Today, however, the tender kiss of the wind stings my cheeks, my cheeks only for they alone are exposed. It is January and though the sun, the sand, and the waves are with me, the coastline is a different venue in mid winter. I am visiting Silver Sands State Park in Milford and though the environment may seem to be a bit brittle there remains a tranquil air.
The landscape is virtually empty of people, an occasional jogger or walker dispersed along the boardwalk. Herring and ring billed gulls seem ambivalent to the chill, floating on the incoming tide or waddling at the edge of the lapping waves always in search of a meal. A small flock of black ducks bob offshore as they would in summer. Further along a flotilla of brandts, a small version of the Canada goose, paddle parallel to the sandy shoreline. They were always in the habit of migrating south during this season but are now regular residents because of the environmental warming trend.
Today, January 6, is not significantly unlike midsummer. The sand and shells and stones remain a dusty beige in color, darker around piles of empty muscle shells. Though cold to the touch, my feet (with shoes of course) even now sink shallowly into the sand with each step leaving behind an impression, elongated in shape rather than the distinctive silhouette of toes and heels. They soon will be erased when the tide returns, just as happens in summer.
The sounds, too, are similar. The wind whistles only now passing by my upturned collar. The soothing splashing of the water, as it ends its journey reaching the shore, is just as it is in July. A fish crow caws soaring overhead searching for anything to eat. Yet, though the same sounds are here, their tone is different. The clarion crispness of each sonorous noise is more distinct in the frigid air. Each is more separated from the other. With little foliage or bodies to absorb or muffle the sound each reverberation seems to snap in my ear.
I began my stroll in the Silver Sands parking lot heading east along the newly constructed boardwalk. The walkway extends a little over a mile to the town beach crossing a rivulet that carries brackish water to and from the salt marsh just past the lot. I look for my friend, the marsh hawk, commonly a summer resident, hoping she may have stayed the winter. This would be unusual but I have seen her here twice before in Februaries past. The wetland along with the rest of the bordering meadow and wood has definitely tucked itself in until the spring warmth begins the thaw. It isn’t a harsh environment yet it is barren.
As I approach the town pier I leave the boardwalk to once again set down a trail of footprints in the sand. I walk under the pier momentarily losing any warmth from the sun. Pieces of driftwood randomly decorate the beach. A well-defined high tide line is evident by the gathering of empty clam, snail, and oyster shells deposited by the waves at high point of their voyage. One lonely skeletal shell of a horseshoe crab sits overturned above high water
I turn around when the boardwalk ends to return to my Subaru. The wind has shifted, no longer coming off the Sound but at my back giving me a little push. I collect a few curious, colorful seashells just as I always do in the summer. Approaching the actual State Park beach I am conscious of its emptiness, the life guard chair deserted nonetheless a sentinel on the coastline. The newly rebuilt bathhouse and snack bar is almost complete. Unfortunately, three years ago, a disgruntled beach goer, not wanting this “cutting-edge” addition to the park, set it afire totally destroying the partially constructed building. The cause was determined to be arson but a culprit has never been apprehended. The new building is scheduled to open this spring. The sandbar to the island is nearly exposed but no one walks to the isle at this time of year. You certainly would not risk having to wade back after forgetting to pay heed to the change in tidal direction.
Before I return to the car, I glance back, reflecting on the beauty and calm that is always here at the shore, no matter what the season. It has been a delightful visit my friend. I’ll see you in the spring with my kayak and I will ride upon your fluid surface looking in at the shore rather than out at the Sound. Until then, be happy!