Think of this as a postcard from Fire Island Pines, one link in the chain of narrow barrier islands that separate Long Island Sound from the Atlantic Ocean. My wife and I are here to visit her brother Matt and his husband Rolando. Their home here sits atop an engineered dune overlooking the ocean. We spend our days taking long walks, eating one delicious meal while discussing what to make for the next, or just sitting on the deck chatting while we watch for dolphins or even the play of light on the water. When it’s time to retire for the night, we’re lulled to sleep by the music of the waves breaking against the shore.
Idyllic as it sounds, Matt and Rolando’s island home is a weekend (or sometimes slightly longer) retreat from their busy lives on the Upper West Side of New York City. To get to the Pines, they have to ride a crowded subway downtown, take a Long Island Railroad train from Penn Station to Sayville on the island’s south shore (a trip of about an hour and a half), then hop on a van for a quick trip to the ferry dock where they board a boat for the twenty minute ride across Long Island Sound. There are no cars on Fire Island so from the Pines’ ferry dock, it’s another ten minute hike along the raised boardwalks that wind through the dunes before they reach their front door. It’s not an easy commute but once they’re here, it’s clearly been worth the trek.
And therein lies the rub. Because the clock never stops its relentless ticking, sooner or later, the day inevitably arrives when it’s time to make the journey in reverse and return to the reality of life in the big city. That moment always seems to hang in the air like a brooding cloud that comes out of nowhere to block out the sun. So, on any given Sunday, when the last passenger has boarded the ferry and the mate calls up to the captain “Ropes off!” for the return trip back across the Great Bay, the bubble bursts and reality rolls in like ocean fog. Why can’t good times last forever?
They don’t because life is full of yins and yangs, all those contrary forces that rule our unruly universe. Departure and arrival; up and down; hot and cold; north and south; right and wrong. It’s impossible for most of us to know one state of being without also knowing its mirror opposite. But it seems to me that most of the time, the line that separates yin from yang is subtle, almost imperceptible, like a new day that gradually emerges out of the previous night. Rarely is the line of demarcation as clear as it is here on Fire Island when the mate yells out “Ropes off!” and the ferry pulls away from the dock. To my two brothers-in-law, that shout with its big exclamation point sounds a lot like a gun shot.
Fortunately, the story doesn’t end here, on the day of Matt’s and Rolando’s departure. In a few days or next week or in the spring, the wheel will turn again and Matt and Ro will come back to their home in the Pines on Fire Island. And on that fine day, when they hear the mate confirm that the ropes are indeed off, the words will have a very different ring, one that’s full of the promise of fun and friends and a spectacular ocean view.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown, MD. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com