At the impressionable age of ten, I was introduced to life on the water. Ejecting out of sweltering suburbia, before the era of universal air conditioning, we exchanged steamy nights sprawled before fans for a month of welcome relief, amidst a pine forest at the shores of Lake George, New York.
Our parents’ summertime rules were straightforward. My two-year-old sister was to remain under the watchful eye of our live-in sitter, Mrs. Williams. My younger brothers and I were free to roam and explore, but under no circumstances were we to approach the lake without wearing life jackets.
Lake George, 32 miles long, up to three miles wide, with a maximum depth of 200 feet, was a thing of beauty and a force with which to contend. On calm days, the water stretched before us like a looking glass, serene and inviting. Steep mountainsides, populated by rattlesnakes, merged at lake’s edge with boulders of varying sizes. My father had a fresh plank platform built for our stay, and we spent many happy hours doing cannon balls off its edge, or paddling around it in masks and snorkels, watching the fish.
On stormy days, the lake had other lessons to teach. When the wind whipped into a frenzy, the waters turned dark and menacing. Whitecaps, supplanting peaceful lapping, crashed fiercely against the shore, exploding up through the slats of the dock. Neighbors with boat houses hurriedly checked their fleets and retied lines.
Safe and dry, we peered through binoculars, scanning for naive landlubbers who had the bad judgement to go out, despite warnings proffered by darkening skies. The world cracked above us, severed by jagged bolts, transforming our safe and orderly day into one of chaos and fear. We shrunk back from the lake. Nestling under afghans on the glassed porch’s chaise, we settled in to read.