Summer ends officially on the September equinox, in 10 days time. But the idea of summer, in New England at least, can start to disappear before that, as school returns along with football and pumpkin beer, and a few cold nights remind you that it is only going to get colder.
Labor Day is one unofficial end to the summer. The last great beach day is another, though it is rarely so unmistakable as what arrived Wednesday, when temperatures soared into the 90s a week-and-a-half into September, like nothing that has come before it for weeks and nothing that is forecast to follow it for the next eight or so months.
Donna Bullen saw the forecast, and her gut told her this would be her last great chance to put her toes in the sand, so she drove from Woburn to Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester, which was packed, and plopped her chair in the surf. And there she felt an immediate nostalgia for summer.
“The thing about nice weather is that people are nicer,” she said. “I don’t even want to hear Harvey Leonard’s voice” forecasting the weather. “Cold is bad for your mental health. If you don’t have Seasonal Affective Disorder, you’ll get it. I’m proud to be from Boston, but the weather . . . ”
During the cold weather, she said, she engages in the ancient New England tradition of wondering why she does not move.
What was great about Wednesday is what gave it the feeling of a closing ceremony: blazing sun you had to squint at through sunglasses, toddlers in bucket hats, barrel-chested guys with gold chains, all on the list of things that will not return again for a long while, like tans, bare feet and shoulders, and water temperatures that are almost tolerable. It was a perfect New England beach day when they are usually done.
Peter Briggs, 76, lives across the street from Good Harbor Beach, and he was aware that walking in the surf with his shirt off was a treat. But so was the weather to come.
“It’s a four-season life,” he said. “Autumn may be the best time of the year. If you want one season, move to Arizona.”
Max Coffin and Lauren Fiore held hands as they walked in the surf. “It’s a gift,” she said, one they each had to sneak out of work to enjoy.
They were not the only ones who had made an excuse to get to the beach. Few wanted it in the newspaper. But the parking lot was packed. Many had apparently gotten away with it.
At Crane Beach in Ipswich, Laurie Stone, 29, of Peabody, was hunched over her laptop. She gets to work from home one day a week and had gone with the heat.
“I’m a beach worshiper,” she said. “And I think this is going to be our last beach day, unfortunately. The forecast for this weekend is going to be in the 60s,” she said, adding that her mood will change with the temperature. “I’m not as energetic. . . . So on days like this you just have to appreciate that it will come again.”
Before summer returns, though, comes adventure: Heroic weather is a cold-
weather sport in these parts. “I reverently believe that the Maker who made us all makes everything in New England but the weather,” Mark Twain wrote.
The weather shifts in big swoops, and the transition from warmth to brisk is perhaps the most jarring. “You feel it, that tinge of loneliness,” Chris Thomas, 52, said after coming in from paddleboarding at White Beach in Manchester-by-the-Sea. “I live alone, and this time of year it just feels different all of a sudden.”
Two years ago, Jessica Gilchrist went into labor when a nor’easter hit in October. “Winter comes early, and it stays late. . . . So when you have a beach day, you have to take it,” she said as she watched Sophie, who was born during that storm, present a woman nearby with a beach toy.
“It’s probably good that she doesn’t understand that she won’t see it again for a very long time.”