For all Americans, the 4th of July signifies freedom in all its kinds - including freedom from stress. Which means, besides remembering this nation's independence from the shackles of British rule, stressed-out citizens of the urban jungle are just too eager to go anywhere on this long weekend in order to be free from it all. For us, this meant traveling by car for more than an hour on an already congested Long Island Expressway to go to - hmmm, not the Hamptons - but Sayville where we took a half-hour ferry to Cherry Grove on Fire Island. We settled on one of the quiet stretch of beach and erected our tent in lieu of a beach umbrella. This is the best I and my friends Al, Rene, Jenny & Minnette could do to really say we're away from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan.
Fire Island sounds so hot having heard so much about it from friends but no, it's not an island on fire (unless one thinks of a hot summer month on a shadeless stretch of sand where bodies of all shapes and sizes are literally at the mercy of an almighty SPF). It's a sliver of a barrier island off the southern side of Long Island, approximately 32 miles in length and less than a mile wide. As expected, this super-slim piece of real estate comes out alive during summer, when visitors swell up to more than 800,000. But fear not, those number of people do not really come out elbow to elbow in any of the various communities within the island. One plus is that no private cars are allowed, saving one's nostrils from exhaust fumes and definitely adding to that more laid-back vibe.
Of all the communities on Fire Island, Cherry Grove is the most popular among the LGBT crowd. Even the flag on Cherry Grove's pier fluttered in welcoming rainbow colors as our ferry arrived. There are only several hotels but these fill up quickly during the busy summer months and rates definitely skyrocket to high heavens. Those who ran out of luck do try instead the more affordable beach house sharing which oftentimes lead to impromptu parties. There are enough bars and restaurants for most visitors to indulge in but thankfully, they're not right on the beach to mar one's quest for some quiet time.
Close to Cherry Grove is Sailor's Haven which is even more peaceful as no private homes or hotels are built. Giving it a more natural appeal and quite a contrast from the nearby sand and sea is the Sunken Forest. Maintained by the Fire Island National Seashore, this piece of greenery has a mile and a half of boardwalk trail snaking through a forest of blueberry, holly, sassafras, and shadblow trees. Plenty of birds and the occasional white-tailed deer made our wildlife experience more complete. For someone who loves both the beach and the forest, this was surely a double treat for me, allowing me some quality time to be free from stress and to be away from it all, this on Independence Day.