I was awake anyway– never really sleeping late anymore, even on a brief vacation– but a strangely Squawking Crow compelled me to unzip the tent and arise. The day was just breaking and you only get one chance to see that. When we camped on the Islands, when the kids were younger and we all went to bed earlier, I would try to see the sunrise each morning, but it had been a long time since then, and I only had a short time at this sacred northern Lake George site this summer. I was determined not to miss it.
The previous night had not seemed so sacred, to tell the truth– surrounded by drunken Hiawathas of the modern era in this densely packed public campground, I’d had to clamp an extra pillow over my head to get some rest before 10:30, beat from 2 days of driving, camp chores, swimming, sun, and exertion. Thanks to the weird jungle-like bird sounds I’d heard (the word Quetzalcotl kept coming to mind, thanks to an old Jorge Luis Borges story I dimly recalled), I was beating everyone else to the punch on this one special morning.
Absolutely no one else was stirring yet. No crackling campfires or creaking restroom doors. No one. Very rare in a campground. I grabbed my swim trunks, towel, pen and notepaper, minimal equipment, and strolled as Indian-quiet as I could down the road to the path to the rock shelf area where insiders knew to go for the best lake access.
My cellphone said 6:14 a.m. as I got to the water’s edge, 53 degrees, chilly last night. The orange orb of the sun was just above the tree-tops on the Putnam side of the lake. Its glistening shimmer on the water was overwhelmingly bright, more than sunglasses could deflect. Awesome sight, but I’d wished I’d been down there half an hour earlier, when the dawn was just breaking. No matter, I was here, alone, not a soul moving or anywhere in sight. Not even a fishing boat on the water yet– and I had about a seven-mile view of the Lake expanse, from Anthony’s Nose off to my distant left, down to Sabbath Day Point to the south, far right.
The water before me was limpid and clear, but the rowdy white folk from the night before had left their usual assortment of Coors Light and Keystone cans behind, which I decided to gather up and bundle out of sight. Cigarette butts were also infinitely dispersed, and I picked up the most obvious of those, keeping them away from the shore. Some thoughtless parent must have given their kids blue chewing gum recently as well– there were gobs of the residue left in the grass and crevasses of the rock. With a plastic cup I collected the foul debris, as my service of the day. Found an empty plastic half-gallon jug of Smirnoff vodka left behind– alcoholics notoriously negligent about cleaning up after themselves. Once I cleaned the rock slabs– ancient granite and gneiss, if I remembered any geology at all– I felt better about doing my sitting meditation and prayer of the morning.
After some quiet absorption and silent offerings, thanking this amazing place for allowing me to be there– I pulled off my sweats and tee, donned the swim trunks. Primordial rock meets crystalline water, still pure despite the degradations our species often brings with it.
I plunge in and take my dip in the golden light on the surface. Emerald water sustains my float, and ten minutes of side-stroking. Not a powerful swimmer, I wish I could make the mile-and-a-half haul across to the far side, but that would have been more likely 30 or more years ago. I content myself within fifty yards of shore, more cautious now. The water temperature was not as chilly as some people complain it is– actually it felt velvety and comforting. The air temp, however, when I crawled back up from the slippery rocks to the dry, was another story. I quickly pulled on my shirt and sweats again, and wring out my trunks, the lake water draining back to its source in rivulets.
Then I noted the first fellow human of the day, or at least his cruiser, coming out of Silver Bay, a couple of miles away. Then I saw a small fishing skiff zipping along on the far side of the forested shore– the long stretch of (mostly) unpopulated, densely-wooded lakefront that runs north from Bluff Head. Those two boaters had hefty chunks of the lake to themselves as well. Though the sun was rising, a large swath of the green forest– which catches the last sunset of each day, was still dark in the shade of the ridge.
As I scribble my notes about the gorgeous golden light I witnessed on this Monday, the sun slips under a wide bank of clouds and the ambiance goes from yellow to silver, right away, proving how transient these transcendent moments are. It seems chillier right away, and I’m glad I swam when I did. Still almost no one is on the scene, and anyone getting up from this point on won’t know what a glorious start to the day they missed.
After an hour it occurs to me that the lapping waves have hypnotized me, and I have not had my morning coffee yet. It’s time to take the golden memories with me and return to the campsite to start the fire. After breakfast, I will have to help my wife and daughter break down the tents and stow the gear, and will have to be back at work by 1 or 2 p.m. in Saratoga, 70 miles south of where I sat this morning. But now I am refreshed, and know that the spirit and sense of Lake George will remain in my soul for the rest of the summer season. No matter how brief this visit was, if you catch it right, it is intense, and stunningly beautific.
Wishing you all a taste of such beauty,
Copyright Wayne Perras 2013, for WaynesWord2,