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Joys of Water
Percy Knauth
May 21, 1962
To a little girl it is the glistening, undulating surface of a pond. To 90 million other Americans it may be the excitement of water skiing, the satisfaction of owning a boat, or the simple business of going for a swim. Whatever it is, or wherever it happens, it adds up to the single theme presented here and on the following pages—half a nation turning happily to its legacy of cool, protected inland waters for a bounty of summer fun
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May 21, 1962

Joys Of Water

To a little girl it is the glistening, undulating surface of a pond. To 90 million other Americans it may be the excitement of water skiing, the satisfaction of owning a boat, or the simple business of going for a swim. Whatever it is, or wherever it happens, it adds up to the single theme presented here and on the following pages—half a nation turning happily to its legacy of cool, protected inland waters for a bounty of summer fun

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On an early June day the lake lay still under the hot sun. There was not the faintest breath of wind to stir it, and every living thing in and around it seemed asleep, drowsing in this first summer heat. Where the cool waters touched the shore, tiny fish swam slowly, and in the woods that marched from the mountains to the lake's edge, even the birds were silent. The many islands shimmered in the heat waves rising from the lake's surface, but in its dark depths winter was still imprisoned; the sun, filtering slowly down, had scarcely begun to awaken the life that lay dormant there. As night came on, the lake slept quietly under a gradually darkening sky. Then, suddenly, the time of sleep was over.

At 4 o'clock next morning a cold front came whistling down from Canada, bringing with it a tumultuous dawn. All along the rocky shore, pine trees swayed and sang in the sudden wind. In the summer cottages, shutters began to bang and blinds flapped where windows had been opened for the first time in many months. The wind drove before it a line of rising waves, and the season's first few boats, tied to their newly painted moorings, pitched and rolled. At the yacht club on the point, the waves smacked against the breakwater; in the long barroom that ran along the water's edge they found an entry through chinks and crannies, and the help, coming down early, discovered the dim room awash, with chairs and tables standing glumly in a rising tide.

The storm woke up the lake, and it galvanized all the communities along the shore as well—the villages, the cottage colonies, the campsites, the motels, hotels, hot dog stands, antique shops, souvenir stores and the extravagant glass kiosks by the roadside where frozen custard was sold. All of these had dozed with the lake until that violent morning and now all were animated as the lake was, aware that soon the invasion of visitors would come, the stream of people from the cities.

As the rain that followed the wind came drenching down there was a scurrying of activity everywhere—a banging of hammers; a whirring of vacuum cleaners; a flurry of unpacking—bed linens, blankets, towels, chinaware, tableware, glasses, cooking pots; a scrubbing of floors; a crowding of pickup trucks as plumbers, carpenters, painters, builders, boatmen and handymen went at the work of cleaning and preparing. The lake had experienced these rites, for many, many years. Generations of visitors had been drawn to it by the lure of inland water, a lure as powerful as that which draws the sailor to the sea. As people came, the town grew at the foot of the lake, and the villages spread along its western shore. Cottages were built among the trees; campsites were chopped out; docks were thrust out into the water; the big houses of the wealthy shone forth from the mountainsides.

The years brought many changes, but the magic of the lake, despite the inroads by those who sought pleasure or profit from it, was always there. A very small boy felt it on the hot day before the storm, when, for the first time in his 18 months of life, he swam in water bigger than a bathtub. Naked in his father's arms, he gazed wide-eyed at the mirrorlike expanse. In the shallows beneath the pines the lake was carpeted by pollen from the trees, light green and shimmering. Father and son waded into it together; around their feet the carpet broke up and dissolved, and the dark water washed up from below like memories breaking through the surface of the conscious mind. The father sank into the water as a man sinks slowly back into the well of years, remembering. The infant splashed happily at the green blotches undulating on the tiny waves and laughed to see them disappear.

Another boy felt it that afternoon—a much older boy, fresh from his first year at college—as he arrived at the yacht club for his first summer job away from home. The place was silent and deserted as he walked down the long driveway from the bus stop, and he was nervous and afraid. But as he rounded the last bend the lake opened before him, wide and calm and still. He ran a few steps toward it, dropped his suitcase and simply stood there looking at it. He picked up a stone and threw it and watched it splash. Then he turned, took up his suitcase and walked into the clubhouse to his job.

This was the last day of solitude for the lake until autumn. By the weekend after the storm it was full of people. They came by train and bus and automobile, with trunks and suitcases and duffel bags and boats. Hotels, motels, cottages, bars, restaurants welcomed them with banners and billboards and neon signs. The Wild West Village roared into life, and along the main street of the town music flowed out into the summer air. As evening came, the motels one after another turned on the lights that spelled "No Vacancy"—those on the lakeshore first, then those across the road, then those farther away where the highway climbed the mountainside. From the motels, in the evening, the people ebbed back into town, the headlights of their cars lighting the sky so that from far up the lake the town seemed to glow like a distant fire.

The cottages began to fill, and the colonies beyond the town where the perennial visitors made their summer homes. Children blossomed on green lawns and chirped and laughed among the solemn pines. Shouts of welcome and recognition greeted old friends, and hostesses and social directors bustled everywhere introducing newcomers. Suitcases disgorged improbable quantities of summer clothes. Station wagons were unloaded and henceforth were given over to wet feet, wet sand and brown pine needles. And splash, splash, splash, went pale city bodies into the warm dark waters.

The first speedboats appeared, slashing across the mirror of the lake, carving their foaming furrows. Behind them, lovely as gulls skimming the sea, came the girls on their water skis. More circumspectly, at the boatyards in the town, the cruising craft made ready for the water. The engines of ancient Fords, mounted on winch drums, wheezed and strained as they pulled the boats from their cradles and their sheds. Fathers worked and children scampered, old boatmen wielded tools and paint brushes, mothers polished brass and handed sandwiches, and here and there chintz curtains appeared in cabin windows. Winched slowly down at last into the water, the boats floated languidly for a few moments. Then their engines purred; with a surge, bows rose and the boats moved off in stately fashion toward their docks and moorings.

From the yacht club, and from the marinas in the villages, sailboats glided out. The larger ones slanted across the lake to cruise among the islands. The tiny Penguins and Sailfish were splashes of color, bobbing with fanciful sails. The racing craft cut swiftly in and out, handled with serious discipline by crew-cut youths whose shoulders were reddening with the first hint of burn. On the more junior boats there was cheerful pandemonium.

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