I grew up in what is essentially the “lake district” of New Jersey. Located in the northwestern corner of the state, it consists of tiny lakes, medium-size lakes, and one large lake: Lake Hopatcong. I’m pretty sure that Lake Hopatcong was originally a smaller lake that was expanded at some point to make it the lake it is today: big and deep enough for boats with gas-powered engines, yet still small enough that you can easily see from one side to another. This is no “Great Lake,” but it has its moments.
The lake community I belonged to, Lake Shawnee, is somewhat of a feeder lake to Lake Hopatcong. There’s a waterway that connects the two, though I suspect in times of drought the connection dries up.
It was in Lake Shawnee that I learned how to swim, and how to row and paddle a boat (even sail, though not extensively). It’s where I spent my childhood summers: long, lazy days that involved riding my bike to “First Beach” with a towel draped over my shoulders, extended dips in the water that left my fingers pickled, and damper bike rides home to dinners of chicken nuggets and spaghetti. There were times in the water that I’d feel the curious poke of a fish or two on my skin, or the touch of weeds if I went deep enough, and other times where water snakes would break the surface, traveling frantically through the midst of splashing bathers. Their appearances always resulted in lifeguard whistles blowing and people making a hasty exit for the beach.
Lake Shawnee was very shallow in spots, which made boating excursions on it an interesting experience because you could easily see what lay under the water. Like Lake Hopatcong, it was originally a much smaller lake that had been dug out to increase the size, and some of the trees that were in the way had simply been felled and left to slowly rot into the muck. The remaining tree trunks resembled, to my overactive imagination, the slumbering bodies of lake monsters, like Garden State Nessies. I would pass over these in a slight terror, just waiting for the moment that one of them would rise up and reveal itself to be a very angry variety of New Jersey plesiosaur. Continue reading