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In our winter dreams of summer places we see them as we would like them to be, blue and white, sparkling, tranquil. We forget what it was like to search for a parking space on a hot day while an ocean waited just beyond the dune. Such is not the stuff of dreams, but it is the reality of resorts in a short summer. Here is a case in pictures for the pleasures of May and June, of September and October—the off-season, the quiet season, the "wrong" season.

A solitary kite above the giant dunes of Nags Head, an egret chasing minnows in the shallows of the Pea Island wildlife refuge, a fisherman at the edge of a Hatteras morningtide; these are the sights of spring on the Outer Banks, a slender 90-mile barrier of land and ever-shifting sand off the North Carolina coast.

Part of the stimulation is the changing weather, the foreknowledge that one noon's lulling heat may be followed the next dawn by 50-mph winds that blanket the beach flowers with sand and churn the ocean and clouds into the sort of frenzy that has caused more than 500 ships to founder here. In the aftermath of such a gale a surfer has no trouble finding a wave to call his own.


On Maine's Monhegan Island, serene until the summer crowds arrive, walking trails meander from the exposed rocks of the Atlantic side through forests of spruce and clearings of daisies and buttercups to its tiny settlement on the lee shore. There, island people, ready for company after a lonely winter, meet the ferries from the mainland 10 miles away and gather at the schoolhouse to watch the sun go down.

The pine-timber blockhouse of Fort Edgecomb looks out from a hillside of wildflowers over Wiscassett Harbor, where the hulks of two coasting schooners, the Hesper and the Luther Little, list on the flats, their graceful lines a reminder of the days when this Maine town was the busiest seaport north of Boston. Time slows to a walk, too, in the clapboard village of Somesville, Mount Desert Island's oldest settlement. Spring comes late here and in its last weeks the light still has the pale green cast of new leaf.

The fierce storms of a Down East winter are over. The glistening days of midsummer are still a month away. In between, on a still June morning, an ocean of fog rolls in from the open Atlantic and eerily isolates the craggy headlands of Mount Desert Island's eastern shore.