Summer vacations need to involve water. It’s that simple. I can visit mountains, deserts, cities and small towns any time of the year, but a summer getaway must take place near a lake or an ocean (rivers won’t do–don’t ask why). Perhaps summers feel so fleeting because I grew up in upstate New York where obstinate snow sits on the soil well into April. The snow melts and suddenly it’s summer, brutally hot, 92 degrees, beg-for-winter-because-it’s-so-damn-hot summer. But upstate New York summers are short. You get a finite number of weekends to frolic on the beach before Mother Nature closes that window, making you appreciate those weekends all the more. New England summers are just as intensely brief.
August is half over and I have yet to visit a beach, any beach, but hopefully that will be remedied soon with beach trips to both coasts (and all in one week!), though those jaunts won’t take me to New England. I’ve spent summers vacations in Spain, the United Kingdom, Ireland, New York’s Finger Lakes, California, Lake Chelan in Washington State, Jersey Shore, Martha’s Vineyard, and the Maryland coast, but no matter where I go, I associate this time of year with that stretch of rugged, curvy Northeastern coastline. As a kid, our family spent summers cocooning in a cottage in Mystic, Connecticut, a popular 19th century whaling village. When we decided to mix it up, we headed to Bar Harbor, Maine, where fog quilts the town. But New England is more than just childhood memories; summers there are idyllic and feel that way because winters there are so unforgiving. As much as I love summer trips to Southern California, I know that the weather I’m enjoying any given summer weekend is pretty similar to the weather I would get to enjoy around Thanksgiving. California skies spoil me with their imperturbable hipness.
New England is the opposite of California in every way; craggy, not smooth, and smothered by seasons that are moody, not even-keeled. Haunted lighthouses, witches, the grave of Robert Frost, real maple syrup, Stephen King…California can’t claim them. We’ve visited all six New England states (and I lived in one of them–New Hampshire), but the one least known to me is Rhode Island. I am hoping we can grab a long summer weekend or week here. Block Island is said to have the windswept beauty of Martha’s Vineyard without the trepidation of bumping into Carly Simon or any other celebrities in hiding while hunting for organic blueberries. Natural wonder without hype. You can be yourself on Block Island. And then eventually we want to make our way back to Lake Champlain in Vermont, one of our favorite places on the planet. That’ll be more of a homecoming.
New England summers are also delicate. Walk along the beach with the frothy Atlantic licking your feet and you know that 85-degree topaz blue day won’t last. Leaves shrivel and yellow as early as September and by October, sunny days on the shore already are a lifetime ago (it doesn’t help that Halloween decorations are in store windows before school starts). New England makes you work for it; you weather months of gray, sleet, snow followed by months of wind, slush, mud and a few budding daffodils to keep your hopes up to make it to the finish line: a glorious summer. And when you sit there on the sand savoring your ice cream cone, reading your New York Times, and questioning where to go for fresh lobster that night, you know you’ve earned those indulgences.