Going to Davis Park is like stepping back in time to an era of neighborhoods, kids being out all day exploring, smiling, and saying hello to strangers. It’s the last town on the east end of Fire Island, the barrier island along the south shore of Long Island, NY, and it’s a typical seasonal beach town.
It has no cars, just wooden walkways everywhere. The extent of buildings beyond the homes includes a beach bar, a nice restaurant, a little grocery store with a snack bar, a tiny post office and library building, and of course, police and fire departments. With no cars in town all the traffic happens on the water. Throughout the summer there is a tremendous amount of boat traffic in and out of the marina and a remarkable amount of people arriving by ferry to make the five-minute walk across the island to the ocean-side beach.
In the week after Labor Day, we boaters, anxious to extend our summer boat fun, are some of the last inhabitants of the beach towns at the end of the season, so we get to see the beauty of the town when it’s cleared out. At our floating home, our nightly ritual of sitting on the bridge for sunset cocktails, discussing the day’s adventures, and planning the next underway has been done in jackets this week. We’ve even put on socks and shoes (gadzooks). Each night, there are fewer and fewer boats here. We’ve watched the people who work on the island for the summer pulling out and heading back to the mainland. Ferries in and out carry lighter and lighter loads each time they go. The people standing on the ferry dock waiting are wearing more and more clothes.
This year we were among the last inhabitants of this little beach town and with nothing to do here besides vacation, it turned mighty quiet after Labor Day had come and gone. The cool and breeze and grey skies felt as though Mother Nature recognized the kids going back to school and suddenly figured she should be delivering autumn weather. We are one of a few boats left in a nearly empty marina. Tumbleweed Tuesday, as the locals call it, earns its moniker, as the wide, empty wooden walks demonstrate plenty of space for those iconic dried weeds to roll unmolested. The town feels as if it’s sighing after a busy summer and preparing itself for the lonely winter. I strolled the five-minute walk from the marina across the island to the ocean. With the waves churning, the sky gray and overcast, and the beach empty, there’s even more autumn atmosphere to add to the feel of the town.
With all the people cleared away, the town shows itself. Its municipal staples, police and fire, continue their vigilant presence on Main Walk. The post office is closed up and tucked in for the winter, the front window sporting a sign announcing “Grand Opening June 25.” The greys of the overcast and weathered wooden walks are punctuated by the colors of the evergreen trees and tropical décor presenting themselves brightened in the autumn-colored sunshine. The store is open shorter hours, and even its front doors that spend all summer standing wide open are closed against the wind and beginning chill. In just a few days the town went from being filled with kids in swim suits to a few folks walking around in jackets, from walks filled with vacationers to vacant, from bustling commercial activity to bored store owners, from Main Walk being a hub of activity to calm enough for municipal repairs.
These signs and the burgeoning autumn weather remind us it’s time to go south. Watching the weather, we look for a break in the wind to make our run south to warmer climes. Our preparations to say goodbye until next summer add to our feelings of tucking it in and closing up for the winter. The town will rest up and gather its energies for another wild summer next year, when people will return in the typical droves to enjoy the clean white sand, carless walkways, the neighborhood feel of strangers smiling and saying hello, and the blazing sunshine of every summer in this beach town.
About the Author: Elizabeth Kelch travels up and down the East Coast with her partner on their Grand Banks Classic In No Hurry.