Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Lake Years

This continues a previous blog entry: Once I left for college, my boating days were over for a while. In fact I never even thought about life on the water, or boating, until Ann and I were married in early 1970. This event coincided with my one and only change of jobs during my working career, leaving New York City to run a division of Greenwood Press which had just relocated to Westport, CT. Westport is on the Long Island Sound, probably, along with the Chesapeake, one of the most interesting bodies of water for the pleasure boater on the east coast. The Long Island Sound has been called the inland sea, boarded by the north coast of Long Island and the south coast of Connecticut, a narrowing funnel of water meeting New York’s East River and, through Hell’s Gate, the Hudson River.

Between these points are thousands of ports, marinas, coves, and anchorages, a boater’s dream. Still, that was not on my mind when I experienced these two major events within two months of one another, changing jobs and getting married (for the second time in my case, which made it even more momentous).

I initially did the reverse commute to Westport, keeping Ann’s rent controlled $83.00 per month one bedroom apartment at 33 west 63rd street pictured here, while I moved out of my studio at 66 west 85th street. Her apartment was ideally located between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue and it was hard to contemplate giving it up; therefore, we were determined to stay in NYC. So at about 6.00 am I would set out to my Chevrolet Nova which was parked in a lot a few blocks away and drive over to the West Side Highway to the Cross Westchester, to the Hutchinson Parkway, to the Merritt Parkway, to Exit 41 and onto the Greenwood office which, at the time, was on Riverside Avenue (more water – the office was on the Saugatuck River, directly south of the US 1 Bridge).

With minimal traffic, I would get into the office by 7.30 am and would normally leave around 6.00 pm, getting back to our apartment by 7.30 pm. Ann, meanwhile, was still working where we had met, at Johnson Reprint, 111 5th Avenue. I envied her short subway commute.

After one full winter and spring of this commute, someone in my office mentioned that she knew someone who was trying to rent a “caretaker’s cottage” that was on a 9-1/2 acre estate in northern Westport, near a waterfall and a fresh water swimming area, which eventually emptied into the Saugatuck River. As the renters were expected to do some of the rudimentary maintenance, the rent was only $125 per month. At that rate, we figured that we could maintain our rent controlled apartment and split our living between Westport and NYC.

The cottage was originally the estate’s living quarters for the chauffer and was attached to a three car garage. It had no central heat; just a tiny gas heater in the kitchen, a small dining room into which I was able to squeeze a barroom piano (two less octaves than the normal 88 keys), a little living room with stairs that led to the small bedroom where we slept on a platform bed. It was roughing it, but it was our introduction to our new life in Connecticut.

As it turned out, living out of two places was more difficult than we anticipated, never knowing what clothes were where, and working out schedules, so we finally decided to make our Westport cottage our main residence, and kept the apartment for occasional weekends in the city.

This led to Ann having to commute during the entire week to Manhattan on Metro North, my driving her to a 7.30 am train and then going to my office only five minutes from the train station, usually picking her up around 6.45 pm each evening. By then I was in the habit of taking home work from the office as well, so while she prepared dinner, I did my work or sometimes played the piano, working later. In the interest of full disclosure, while Ann rarely complained about the vicissitudes of commuting, working, and then returning home to play the role of housewife, over the years this has become a bone of contention, she pointing out that I never fully appreciated those sacrifices, which I guess I didn’t at the time. We were younger and had boundless energy. After all, I rationalized, I dropped her off and worked until I picked her up and then worked again once home, but I guess that didn’t quite compare to the Trifecta of working, commuting, and cooking. So, publically, I say I’m sorry that is the way it was, and maybe I could have helped more, but at the time I was obsessed with my career and my work.

I guess the foregoing does not have much to do with our boating lives but our personal history at the time is relevant as more details will reveal.

So aside from our careers and day to day work at living, we tried to fit some leisurely activity into our busy lives. But what to do? First we were convinced that we were campers. I loved the outdoors and although the totality of my camping life was confined to two weeks at a Boy Scout camp in the Poconos when I was about ten, and Ann’s experience was equally barren, we found ourselves examining camping stuff at the local Westport store, Barker’s. So we bought a tent, a Coleman stove, and a couple of sleeping bags and we were set to go. I found a campsite in northwest Connecticut and off we went one weekend in June.

Here I am shaving on the hood of our car and Ann is cooking up a storm for breakfast. Happy, weren’t we? What is not revealed in this the day after the awful night is the state of my allergies. For years I had respiratory problems when exposed to tree pollen. Over the years this condition has completely disappeared. But when we arrived at the campsite late in the afternoon we unknowingly bedded down in the midst of a pollen forest. At first I was fine. When I got up my eyes were tearing and I was wheezing, but managed to get though the morning. By the afternoon we had to pack up and head for the nearest air conditioned motel. By that evening I could hardly breathe and we considered a hospital visit. Needless to say, that was the end of our camping days, at least, camping on land.

Having eliminated camping from our vacation repertoire, we thought about a bucolic weekend at the Roaring Brook Ranch near Lake George, NY. During my high school years I had done some horseback riding in Forest Park, and Ann had a little experience too, so we thought a leisurely ride with a novice group might be fun. So we made a reservation and drove up to Lake George one weekend. Unfortunately, at the appointed time, the novice group was cancelled as there was a light rain and the trails were muddy. Heck, I thought, I know how to ride a horse so I went out with the advanced group. Ann wisely stayed behind.

But my experience with the docile truck horses of Forest Park was not well matched to the conditions. As we broke out into a gallop in single file, I saw one of the lead horses rear up, throwing its rider into the mud and spooking all the other horses, including mine who also decided to rear its clueless rider. I did everything wrong, dropping the reins and hanging for dear life onto the saddle. So, that was the end of my riding days.

But driving by Lake George we were struck by its sylvan beauty and its size and we made a mental note of wanting to visit the lake itself someday. In the meantime, before Jonathan was born, we continued with our professional lives, and bought our first house, right across the street from where we rented, on the road made famous by Robert Lawson’s book, Rabbit Hill. Two years later we moved again to nearby Weston, but more on this part of our lives in a later entry.

We returned to Lake George a number of times in the late 1970’s after Jonathan was born. We first rented a room in a lodge that provided meals family style. The lodge owned an island in the middle of the lake.

Here is Jonathan watching one of the excursion boats on the lake. We took that boat and explored the entirety of Lake George from The Village of Lake George, at the south end to Ticonderoga at the northern end. The Village itself was touristy and honky-tonk, but we loved the lake.

So, when Ann’s cousins, Sherman and Mimi visited the Lake with us one year, I rented a boat, a fast runabout with an outboard engine and even a steering wheel! All those old memories of my little wooden row boat were rekindled. While there was no Shelter Island to venture to in Lake George, there were little islands and that sense of freedom and adventure which defines the boating spirit came to the surface. I was hooked.

After two one-week summer vacations at the lodge we rented a cabin with our friends Robin and Joe who had a little girl, Jonathan’s age, Amy. Sharing a cottage was not the same as our own space and we decided upon a different venue for our next lake visit – one at the Finger Lakes in the Canandaigua region. Again, we found a lodge but one that rented cabins as we brought Ann’s mom, Rose, with us. We climbed to Rocky Point but the best part, again, was the ability to rent a boat and to explore the lake.

The following summer we visited Connecticut’s Lake Candlewood, a lake that was closer to us, although much smaller than Lake George and many of the Finger Lakes. We went out on a ski boat there with our friend, Carole, and her sister and brother-in-law, my one attempt at water skiing. I was an expert at meeting the water face first as soon as I began to get up on water skis.

We seriously looked into buying a cottage there at small community with a dock but the thought of having to clean the gutters of two houses began to overwhelm me, so we reconsidered this plan. While we loved boating on the Lake, it suddenly dawned on us that, in spite of many lovely weekend days at Westport’s Compo Beach, swimming and reading the Sunday Times, we were forgetting one of the greatest resources available to a pleasure boater right in our back yard: The Long Island Sound. That realization changed our boating lives and led to our next chapter, to be continued.