Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Lake at Last

     Waiting is the hardest part. But with Labor Day come and gone the wait is over, the time is right. Early September is one of the year's sweet spots. It's a little quieter with vacationers back to work, kids back to school. Yet it still feels like summer, with hot sunny days. And here's the thing - the water is still swimmable warm. That's important because what I've been waiting for is to dip into Lake George. 

     People have been swimming in the lake all summer, of course. The Town of Fort Ann has a little beach at the end of Pilot Knob Road. Great spot if (and only if) you're a town resident. There's also public swimming at Huletts and Tiroga Beach, all in Washington County. These are enjoyed by lots of people. But not everyone is a beach person. Crowded sand isn't really what I'm looking for, even if half the crowd are wearing bikinis. Another alternative is to have your own camp with beach and dock. This is great if your name is Rockefeller, Buffet or Gates. Real estate on Lake George is incredibly pricey and my chance of owning anything there is a case of "slim meet none". Or is it? Actually we all own some very nice water front property. It's called the New York State Forest Preserve with over 20,000 acres in the Towns of Fort Ann and Dresden and miles of scenic shoreline. 

Tiroga beach with Rogers Rock across the lake

Well worn map of Shelving Rock

     I've been making the twisty, turny drive down to the end of Shelving Rock Road for years. Mostly on Sunday afternoons, mostly for a few hours of picnicking, sunning and swimming. Sometimes we'd bring a canoe, paddle out around the islands. Then there were the evening trips. Get done milking early and feed the cows, then on the longest days of the year when there was also a full moon, head for the lake. Trail run up to Paradise Bay in the twilight, then swim until the moon was high enough to light the way back. Those are experiences that stick with you.

     Over the years things changed. More people, more partying. The trail from the end of the road was closed. DEC added regulations and the area became day use only. No more moonlight outings. And no more summer Sundays. It had become too popular, too crowded with the nadir being Log Bay Day, pretty much the antithesis of every reason I liked to come here. 

Log Bay

     But all is not lost. Summer ends and I have the good fortune to be able to sneak away mid-week. That's what Gwenne and I did for a few hours just the other day. And it was wonderful. We swam, walked the lakeshore, waded across Log Bay. There were  a few folks there - sunbathers and several anchored boats with people on deck reading, sipping wine. Some young guys were out in the bay playing games and there was this one old dude who didn't need no stinking bathing suit - he was literally hanging out in the buff. 

     Life was good at Shelving Rock the other day. And I'm not really anti-social. Honestly I'm not. I especially enjoy seeing little kids. The way they see the water as a big wet playground. Pure joy. They "get" what life can be. But every place has its limits, some point where its beauty, its natural essence is simply overwhelmed. Shelving Rock in summer is at that point. Waiting was hard but I'm glad I did. My September swim was worth the wait.

I Splash...They Swim

     Did I say I swam in Lake George? Well...
     Full disclosure - what I do is wade, float, splash and scare the bubbles out of the fish. Certainly a lot of fun but probably not swimming in a strict sense of the word. But there are people, lots of them especially this weekend, who do swim here. 
     This Saturday and Sunday, September 17 - 18, fourteen individual swimmers and fourteen relay teams will attempt to swim the length of the lake. This is not a race, rather an event and fund raiser that gives swimmers a chance to challenge themselves. The logistics and expense of organizing an individual attempt can be daunting. Since Diane Struble (Gwenne's mom) first did it in 1958 only five others had accomplished the feat until this year. Earlier in the summer both David Dammerman and Jaimie Monahan added their names to the list of end to end swimmers. Now a whole lot of others may join them.

Caution - Mother-in-laws in the water

     Bob Singer deserves credit for putting together a great event. You can watch swimmers depart from Mossy Point Boat Launch in Ticonderoga from 3 - 5pm on Saturday, September 17 and they will be finishing all day long on Sunday, September 18 at the Lake George Village Docks on Beach Road. Download a brochure with swimmer bios and more info here.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Georgi on my Mind

     I really enjoyed my summer vacation this year. All two hours of it. It happened late on a Saturday afternoon when we miraculously finished chores before the day was over. You don't question miracles, you accept them on faith, so I suggested to Gwenne that we knock off early. Maybe go for a ride and find some water to sit beside. With endearing logic all her own she responded, "Yes, that would be nice, after I give you a haircut." That's how I got scalped and we headed for the Battenkill.
     We traced a squiggly line thru the hills being careful to give the fairgrounds wide berth. It was peace and quiet with a side of coolness that we wanted, not the hot sweaty mayhem of the fair at full throttle. Soon enough we were in downtown Shushan, turning down Adams Lane. This is the dirt path where Clarence Jackson used to lead his cows to pasture before he sold the property to the Georgi family in 1952. Since then a house was built, the grounds were landscaped and several generations of Georgi's came and went. 

     When Jessie Georgi passed in the late 1980's the property was bequeathed to the people of the Town of Salem. There are nine acres cradled in a bend of the Battenkill River. At the end of the short lane is a former garage tastefully repurposed as a community center with a meeting room, kitchen and bathrooms. The Georgi's former home is off to the right on a low bluff above the river. In front of the house is an expansive lawn sprinkled with shrubs and trees. 

     All summer long the property hosts concerts, theatre performances, weddings and reunions. But you don't need a special event to enjoy the Georgi. It's a great place to just hang out. That's what we did until dusk when the park closes. We walked the short path between the water and the house. It leads to a small beach. You can see the river do a little "S" wiggle thru ledges of slate and phyllite. It's a great place to study the dynamics of moving water. There are deep holes on the outside of the bends where the current is faster with more energy. On the inside of the curves are sand and gravel bars and eddies where the flow is actually upstream. 

     Unfortunately you'll also find empty beer cans in the shallow sections. Most likely the tracks of a local form of wildlife called the Battenkill River Drunken Tuber. It's an invasive species closely related to the Log Bay Party Animal found up on Lake George. Now tubing with the kids can be fun on a hot summer day. But towing a cooler full of alcohol?!? The stream is a public "highway". Anybody ever heard of open container laws? Tossing the empty cans and bottles is disgusting, even dangerous - glass breaks, kids wade barefoot. You get to see the best and the worst of our relationship with place here at the Georgi. The volunteers who take care of this lovely spot deserve our gratitude. And those who trash the river? They deserve their sunburnt hangovers. 
     In addition to the Georgi family and the parks volunteers we may have the last glacier to thank for this spot. I've seen theories that the pre-glacial Battenkill flowed south thru what is now Cambridge and the Owl Kill valley, joining the Hoosic before emptying into the Hudson. Some 13,000 years ago, as the last ice sheet waned, a huge block of detached ice sat where Eldridge Swamp is today. This, along with massive amounts of outwash deposits (The Plains) were enough to divert the flow of the river north thru the valley where Shushan and the Georgi are located. 

     We spent a pleasant evening at the Georgi swimming and wading in the river and strolling the grounds. There are interesting trees that I'm not sure about. They aren't the common black locust  but they look a little different than honey locust. A mystery and challenge to figure out what they are. Naturalists will find a nice variety of plants to identify and birders will also enjoy a visit. We saw just one other family. All was quiet, still and cool - just what we were looking for. 

     I left the Georgi feeling rejuvenated. Isn't that what vacations are for? And I left with a fresh perspective on legacy. Few of us are wealthy enough to leave a park and museum to our community. But we all have some impact on the place where we live. Will our lives make that place better for those who follow? It's worth thinking about. 

     Here's a link to The Georgi's website.

Fair thee well?
     It was getting late by the time we drove home from Shushan so I thought it would be safe to stay on Rt. 29 and drive past the fairgrounds. Wrong again. 
     We were treated to clouds of black, sooty smoke and an ear-splitting roar. This with our windows rolled up. Apparently some kind of evil beast of a tractor pull was in its death throes. Now I've spent my entire adult life and a good chunk of my childhood driving tractors. I've put my share of carbon into the air and probably irked my neighbors with early morning diesel noise. My defense is that it was done in the service of food production, not cheap thrills. Maybe it's a case of the pot calling the kettle black but I think we could do without all the motorized "agritainment" at the fair.
     Cultural habits are often slow to change and fossil fuel based recreation is certainly part of our culture. But we know these fuels won't last forever and that burning them has consequences for climate, our health and even the world's political stability. For the foreseeable future, fossil fuels seem necessary to grow our food and provide other basic needs. But is it smart to burn them just for frivolous amusement? The fair showcases so many good things - the county's agricultural productivity, the mutually beneficial relationship between people and animals, the solid values rural kids grow up learning. Fair management (somewhat reluctantly) finally got rid of the confederate flag and its hurtful symbolism. Maybe roaring, guzzling, belching "monster" machines should be the next to go. 

Tool or Toy?

     Finally, here's a link to the song that inspired my title. It's not about Shushan's park and museum but rather an ode to some place down south where they grow peaches and peanuts. Enjoy Ray Charles singing Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia on my Mind".