"Motif Number 1" is perhaps the quintessential seaside shack of them all. The barn red fishing shack sits at the end of a pier jutting out into the middle of a busy Rockport, Mass. harbor. Multicolored lobster buoys hang haphazardly from its clapboards and painters and photographers flock to capture its life by the sea image.
A lonely shack at the confluence of the East River and Long Island Sound in Guilford is a close second. It goes by other names too: "Guilford's Little Motif" or "The Little Red House." It's basically a movie set kind of building. Finished and cool looking from the outside, but unframed and barren on the inside.
Although the shack is usually a three-season destination, I found myself being drawn south last week like a migrating bird. I love winter. The colder and snowier, the better. But even I have my limits. And although it varies from year to year, this needed escape came early. And my escape is always south to the open water, waves and gulls crying against the cold north wind.
Built at the turn of the century as a summer cottage, the shack burned down and was rebuilt in the 1930s. When the tide threatened to wash it into the Sound in the 1950s, the shack was moved to higher ground. In 1963, the owners of the cottage gave the shack and its half-mile of land known as Grass Island to the town.
Although not technically an island, there is only one way to get to it during the winter – a right-of-way at the end of Circle Beach Road. After parking at the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection's East River State Boat Launch, I walk past summer cottages and homes newly fortified against the rising waters.
As I hit the beach, I am welcomed by my favorite state lighthouse – Faulkner's Light – sitting to the south on a tiny island across a sparkling, but cold Sound. Anytime I visit this shoreline town – celebrating its 375th year in 2014 – the lighthouse is a constant – and comforting companion. The light was build in 1802 and is the state's second oldest lighthouse behind New London Harbor Light.
The beach in late January is a mix of frozen waves and colorful slipper shells piled high in the sand. The waves of the early morning's high tide are frozen in time as gulls scour the sand left barren by the retreating Sound. The ice has trapped various items from seaweed to clam shells displaying them like some museum exhibit.
As the sheets of ice cover much of the beach, I navigate the high ground where numerous conch shells have been placed on the branches of trees like Christmas ornaments or piled high on the tops of stumps. Perhaps the conch shells are the shoreline's versions of stone cairns.
Grass Island is a lonely visit this time of year with boats in hibernation. The bright green marsh grass, so vibrant in the summer, are mats of brown rocking stiffly in the wind. The only signs of green are the cedar trees and sea glass along the beach.
Along with the lighthouse, the shack is your constant companion as you visit Grass Island. As I round the western corner of the island, the shack comes into full view standing proudly against the wind as if bragging that it has survived nor'easters and hurricanes all these years. The floor boards creak as you enter the shack and visitors immediately feel at home. The views out the window – the frozen East River to the snow-covered dunes out to Long Island Sound – speak to the rare open space of Connecticut's shoreline.
Route 1 to Neck Road. Take a left on Ridgewood Avenue which turns into Circle Beach Road. Take a right to the East River State Boat Launch.