Everyone should possess at least one special body of water in their lifetime. A watery place that you have grown up with, return to, know the feel and smell of blindfolded. When I was growing up, that was Lake Champlain, an almost-Great lake that forms a wide swath of the border between Vermont and New York, narrow in our own patch in Addison County, Vermont then broadening out in a wide bay all the way to Canada. It was at least three lakes to me in its vastness: one, of my earlier childhood, and two in my teenaged and young adult working lives. Someday I will write about the working lake, the lake of summer camp adventures as a “kitchen girl” and then a cook, but for now, the summer childhood lake is on my mind.
My uncle Jim had a “camp” (in this context, a small cottage) on the lake that we visited often, and my friend Sandy, one year my senior whose family owned the camp next door, was my constant companion those summers. Jumping off the dock into the chill and often weedy water, venturing out in the leaky rowboat, or just sitting for hours on a ledge of the shaley shore sharing secrets, partially hidden from the outside world (and her pesky siblings) by scrubby trees. The lake had an earthy and tangy mud smell. The swimming area started out painfully rocky, and then progressed to a soft, squishy muck that you wanted to get out from under your toes as soon as possible. Kids accustomed to pristine swimming pools would not have set a foot into this sometimes slimy watery playground, but to us it was heaven. We would stay out in the water long after our fingers wrinkled, haul ourselves onto the dock to sunbathe awhile, then jump right back in for more.
The lake water lapped the shore gently, in a reassuring way, on lazy summer days. But, it could also get riled up during wind and rain storms, being almost-Great, throwing wild white caps into the air and beating the shore in a primordial fury. I loved the lake in its many moods and I loved having a friend to share it with. I know The Lake (there was no other in our lexicon), and this friendship revolving around it, helped shape my future self in ways I cannot fathom, like the unfathomable depths of Samuel de Champlain’s “discovery,” which is in my mind truly is a great lake.