This winter one feels a bit like Christopher Columbus in 1492 as he sailed the ocean blue. Except we've been sailing through a seemingly endless sea of white. Snow white. Grungy white. Sallow white. Sheets-hanging-on-the-clothesline white.
Last month, I wrote about a visit to the Grass Shack on the edge of Long Island Sound in Guilford. I figured my annual winter trip to the open waters would cure my winter blahs and cabin fever. And then more snowstorms came. That was followed by the endlessly reforming ice dams. Mile-high piles of snow were next — dirty, grungy heaps.
It was again time to seek the solace of the shoreline.
This time it was a visit to The Nature Conservancy's Griswold Point Preserve, a barrier beach at the mouth of the Connecticut River where the waterway's 410-mile journey through New England comes to an end. It's a beach void of houses – a rarity along the state's highly developed shoreline.
And when you plan a visit, consult a tide chart. A storm in 1993 separated the beach from the mainland, creating an island during high tide. But there is a four-hour window each day at low tide when visitors can walk out to the barrier beach.
The fall and winter is a good time to visit since the preserve is closed to the public from Memorial Day to Labor Day because of nesting plovers and least terns. The main parking area is also a popular beach only open to Old Lyme residents for the same time period. So your best bet is the off-season unless you have a boat.
After parking in the lot that resembled the frozen tundra I was trying to escape, I walked west along the rocky beach, eventually reaching the entrance to the preserve marked by a wooden sign. As I prepared to cross the beach, a birder welcomed me and said I'll have a few hours before the tide turns. He asked if I was going birding. I said that I am more of an explorer and photographer, although I wouldn't mind seeing a snowy owl.
"Haven't seen many snowys for a few weeks," he replied.
If you time it correctly, crossing the beach is fun little journey. The tide has left seemingly endless ripple marks in the sand. Slipper shells and a blue crab claw make for interesting beach mates and the neck of a half-buried green bottle sticks out of the sand, beginning the process that will turn it into sea glass.
The views from the barrier beach are tremendous. Due south are Plum Island and Long Island's Orient Point — both turned ghostly by a late winter haze on the horizon. To the west lie the 19th-century sentinels – Saybrook Breakwater Lighthouse and Lynde Point Lighthouse. And northwest, the mighty Connecticut River – filled with chunks of ice – passes by the marshes of Great Island.
I walked around the wind-swept dunes of the barrier beach to the western banks where the Connecticut River meets the sound. Tidal pools were filled with seashells and waterlogged autumn leaves. I returned along the beach, a mix of swaths of sand and rocky shoals that resemble streets of cobblestone.
Spring arrives in a few weeks. For me winter has lost a bit of its luster. I'm ready for a change of scenery. Or at least to be able to see the bare ground again.
To get there, take I-95 to exit 70 and Route 156. Follow Route 156 east and turn right on Old Shore Road. Take a right on White Sands Beach Road and park in the lot at the end.