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8.1.17

The Rhythm of the Cove

A day at Lambert’s Cove Beach begins before dawn and lasts until long after the sun has set.

Like the Birch Path in Anne of Green Gables, the path to Lambert’s Cove Beach is a romantic passage, lined with summersweet and huckleberry bushes. Chokecherries and beach plums are available for sampling. Sparrows chirp and flutter. Bunnies make cameo appearances, while large rocks invite stillness. The air is fresh and the vibe is happy.

As you approach the dunes, the trail ascends and widens. Soon the prickly undergrowth gives way to fine sand, making shoes and sandals too much bother. You can measure the stamina of those who preceded you by how far along they made it before kicking off their Keens, Birkenstocks, Crocs, or flip-flops and stashing them on the side of the path.

No matter how many times you have made this short journey, it is a visceral moment when you arrive at the top of the dunes. Feet sink into flour-like sand while you take in the spectrum of the view: rustling beach grasses, Paul’s Point, James Pond, and a few boulders. The beach itself, a long, slow, powdery arc, traces the edge of some of the calmest saltwater to be found on the Vineyard. In the distance on a clear day, across the blue-green expanse, the Elizabeth Islands dot the horizon. Sailboats tack lazily in and out of the cove and the occasional kayaker ventures out, skimming past cormorants and terns.

Tova Katzman

Feeling the gentle southwesterlies and smelling the salt air, you realize right here on this dune, about to descend to Lambert’s Cove Beach, that this is where you’ve been “going” to every time you’ve ever tried meditating.

The first to arrive on a summer’s day do not enter through the sandy parking lot, however. They are the dawn-walkers, who stroll down on narrow paths coming from their nearby beach houses to a peaceful scene: a handful of seagulls bobbing over tiny waves, a few surprised deer, perhaps a piece or two of frosted sea glass in the wet sand where the tide has receded. At sunrise everything feels sacred and joggers and fishermen pass by offering only a quiet smile.

As the sun rises higher, dogs arrive on the scene – this is one of the few beaches on the Island where dog owners are permitted to let their pooches run and swim freely. As long as they follow the rules, that is. The fragile deal is predicated on the agreement that everyone keeps their dogs leashed until they reach the third buoy, cleans up after them, and makes sure they are off the beach by 10 a.m. sharp.

Afterward, the rhythm of the day returns to its quieter state – if only for a short lull. Soon the congregation of cove worshipers arrives with their umbrellas, coolers, and paddle balls. It’s a daytime camp out: tents are pitched, potato chips are crunched, and books are read. Party groups with red Solo cups are as rare as a mermaid sighting; these beachgoers prefer taking leisurely strolls and catching up with friends.

Tova Katzman

A gaggle of kids clings to an inflatable raft, hoping to avoid crabs scuttling along the ocean floor. Adults don goggles, wade up to their waists, then dive into the flat Vineyard Sound, beginning their long, lazy laps between buoys, their feet kicking up a thin foamy wake. An occasional snorkeler pops up to report a striped bass or silvery scup moving underfoot with graceful but cautious ease. Ferries pass off to the north. Powerboats drop anchor. Dinghies bring passengers ashore. The lone stand-up paddle boarder gliding toward the Makonikey Cliffs makes you vow to buy a board before next summer.

Perhaps four hundred yards from the entrance, but what feels more like four miles when carrying towels and tots, is the much-loved Coca Cola Brook, also known as the Coca Cola Stream or River. The name comes from its curious brown color, believed to be caused by sediment, though a few over-protective parents seem unsatisfied with that explanation. Here, kids frolic, catch tiny eels, and build dams that temporarily pool the water into deep puddles. Sand castles outnumber patrons and no one needs to read the phrase printed on one father’s sky-blue shirt to know that “life is good.”

The sun-drenched lifeguards, who return year after year, spend the day strolling between their two stands, reminding first-timers to keep out of tick and poison ivy–infested dunes and to respect the nearby private property. The beach director, Joe Schroeder, is a fixture himself, having been there since 1995. Time seems to stand still here through the years, except for the requisite erosion.

By 4 p.m., the woodsy path is shared by parents and freshly napped children as well as members of the Island’s workforce – sweaty folks clocking out from landscaping jobs, making their way in for a dip and a breather before their dinner shift at a restaurant. These late-afternooners are the ones who come empty-handed, thinking they will just take a quick swim. But as the water shimmers and the light all around turns golden, it becomes harder to leave. It’s the only moment one might wish for a hot dog stand to appear on Lambert’s Cove Beach, in order to enjoy just a few more minutes of bliss.

Tova Katzman

As the day draws on, the final changeover occurs when the lifeguards pack up and beach stickers are no longer checked. Sunsetters arrive after 6 p.m. with their chilled Pinot Grigio, pizza boxes, and sometimes even tables. Some families bring a photographer along and come primped and dressed in matching outfits, ready to pose under a mackerel sky. Swooping ospreys make their final catches, before taking off for their nests near Paul’s Point. As empty pizza boxes pile up and the temperature slowly drops, an occasional bonfire might be lit. Kids cozied up in hoodies need just a whiff of the familiar scent to stop skipping rocks and begin roasting marshmallows instead.

With the sun slipping behind the Elizabeth Islands, the scene starts to feel like the new Menemsha – except this crowd doesn’t clap as they do there. The low-key vibe is what they have come for, after all. Groups of friends, stretching out in beach chairs, tell stories, their laughter drifting on the offshore breeze. Couples pull one another close as the sky turns inky blue.

The first stars appear in the sky, and only then do Lambert’s Cove stalwarts decide it’s time to head home. Eventually, one by one, they follow the moon’s light back up the path, truly the bridge that returns them to their lives. May they walk it slowly, allowing the beach’s magic to seep into their souls, tiding them over until their next visit. A hushed shoreline and a few bobbing gulls await their return.