In 1967 I was spending the “summer of love” at sleep-away camp in the Poconos with an undiagnosed case of mononucleosis. One afternoon my cabin mates and I set out to swim to the raft in the middle of the lake when half way across I realized that I wasn’t going to make it. I began to panic. I can only describe the smell and the taste of the lake water that afternoon as some horrible combination of the liquid in canned vegetables and rust. The still water of the lake actually felt like it was working against my staying afloat. It seemed there was only one way to go…. Since my rescue that day I’ve had no interest in lakes, preferring instead the salty tasting and swift moving, often tumultuous water of the ocean.
Nonetheless, some of my best friends are loyal lake people. I’m even aware that up north, in places like New England and the Adirondacks, vacationing at a lake is very popular. These lake vacation places, I’m not surprised to learn, are referred to as “camps”.
Unlikely as it seems, last week I drove eleven hours north to do what was for me, the unthinkable: to spend a few days at a friend’s camp at a lake in New Hampshire where I was to see for myself that “camps” are not synonomous with “camping” and, in fact, the comforts of some of these lakeside “camps” belie any definition of the word. More importantly, I was to discover that there exists a lake in New Hampshire that holds a pleasant pull on me.
My friend’s camp on Lake Wentworth has been in her family since 1905. Upon entering the bright modern great room, the lake came into view. After so many hours in a car, I was helpless in resisting the pull of this inviting body of water. As I moved onto the screened porch, a mere ten feet from the lake, I finally exhaled. I quickly made up my mind: I would be sleeping out on that porch during my stay. There we stayed for the remainder of the afternoon, enjoying a Smuttynose or two. As the sun set we headed into town for dinner.
Wolfeboro, New Hampshire seems a pleasant lakeside town of courteous adults and well-behaved youth. Shops sell fine art, books, boutique chocolates and a lot of high end mouse-inspired merchandise. In keeping with the traditions of New England towns, the center of town has a church with a clock tower and a bandstand. After dinner that first evening we strolled towards the bandstand where a group of musicians was entertaining both young and old with popular songs the words to which everyone seemed to know. The band wrapped up at 9:30, thanked everyone for coming and within 30 minutes the main street of Wolfeboro was rolled up. Like I said, all very well-behaved.
Vacationers, renters and second-home-owners, come to Wolfeboro all year long for Lake Winnipesaukee. It offers a range of traditional summer water sports, and since the lake freezes, there is snowmobiling and ice-fishing – as well as skiing in the nearby Belknap Mountains – during the winter. The Romneys have a camp along the shore of this lake. The scene in On Golden Pond in which the character played by Henry Fonda capsizes his boat with his on-screen grandson was filmed here. I know this because the captain of the Winnipesaukee Belle explained it all to us on our tour around the lake (and a lot more).
Back at the camp, the sleeping arrangements were very agreeable. The screened porch was to be all mine. Each evening I fell asleep to the sound of the lake lapping against the shore and the gentle clatter of small boats and rafts knocking against each other in time to the rythym of the water. Sound carried over the lake in an unfamiliar but comforting way and I caught bits and pieces of conversation from neighboring camps as I drifted off to sleep. One evening it rained and the gentle lake rhythm was replaced by a more steady, insistent tapping. Several times each night I was awakened by the haunting calls of the several pairs of loons that lived on Lake Wentworth. After a few evenings sleeping on the screened porch I came to realize that the loons had several different calls each communicating something.
On my last morning, the loons woke me. All that was required of me that morning at 5;15 was to open my eyes. I was greeted by a still weak early morning sun rising over the mist covered mountains and soft shades of pink coating the undisturbed surface of Lake Wentworth. This was a sight I had only seen in photographs. I was torn between lying there, appreciating how unique this moment was for me or getting up and trying to capture this beauty in my own photographs. Being as I have a web site and business cards that both identify me as a photographer I got my camera. I have posted a few of the best images here but none, I’m afraid, captures the serenity of that place and that moment.
I would like to be able to tell you that my relationship with lakes came full circle during those four days at Lake Wentworth, that I finally completed that aborted swim to the raft from nearly 40 years ago. Certainly the opportunity presented itself as you can see from the photograph above. But that would not be true. In fact, not expecting to use it, I didn’t even bring my bathing suit with me up to New Hampshire. I did happily splash around in the lake like a kid, in a T-shirt, with my friends and for the time being that’s how the story ends.