A Walk Around the Lake

by Frank Baliko, SUNY Cortland, April 30, 2008

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Seven-thirty was the ideal time for a sweet summer walk around the Crescent Lake community. The refreshing color of the orange sherbet my Aunt prepared for an early dessert was smeared in the sky above. The intense yellow heat of the summer sun that had towered over was now hiding low behind the swirling vanilla clouds.

It is only a short walk from my aunt’s log cabin on a rocky foundation to the man- made beach. On the walk down, shimmering light catches your eye from the West. It is the setting sun shining off the lake, calling to you, trying to get your attention. The sun’s screaming rays are scattered by the natural picket fence erected in the form of a forest of dry, naked trees. The beach is the first and only spot where you get a nice clear view of the lake, undisturbed by the chaos of the forest. Standing on the sand, looking out on the water, it is a breathtaking view. The orange sky drops behind tinted trees on the far side of the lake. The trees that guard the perimeter of the lake are shadowed from the glow of a long summer’s day. Comfortably resting under the line of trees lay Crescent Lake in all its placid beauty. At this time of day, it is a quiet place. You feel as if you are the first to discover the natural sleeping beauty of water. The only sound you hear is the distant traffic of Route 81, bringing you back to reality. The engines of passing cars drag you away from a peaceful, seldom visited part of your being.

A solitary blue bucket, left behind by a child, rocks back and forth on the small pulses of water flowing onto the man made beach. Wet clay-like sand now seeps from the bucket as a child hurriedly washed it out after building an admirable sand castle. The blue bucket and the scattered footprints are the only signs that people had been on what appears to be a deserted beach. The beach was anything but deserted earlier in the day when all the residents met and socialized with their coolers packed sandwiches and sodas.

Past the beach, a tiny wooden bridge connects the residential part of Crescent Lake with the wild part. Its bright red wood has been weathered and chipped. The only red that can be seen today is a deep maroon. With my line cast over the side many years ago, I caught my first fish. Disregarding the insecurity of the unsteady bridge, I focused as I took an ordinary silver fish from the water. At 10 years old, I was startled I was able to take a complex living being from the lake. Its gills convulsed in a struggle for the necessary cold lake water. The skin, so smooth and slimy, shook violently in my hand as I stood there in amazement. So not to become a murderer, I threw my catch back into the lake. From then on, I wondered what had happened to the fish. Could it still be alive, now much bigger than it was then? Maybe it became dinner for the mischievous family of beavers that called the far side of the lake, home. Or possibly, it became a snack for the Crescent Lake black bear; its teeth sinking into the side of the fish that I had held in my hand.

My aunt would always warn me and my cousins about the wild black bear when we went for our evening walks. In every encounter we ever had with the creature, it appeared more as a bum than a wild animal. The bear seemed to be an outcast with no valuables to his name besides what lay in the metal treasure chest of our filth and garbage. When we passed the garbage dumps on our way around the lake, he would always be there. Although we stayed clear of danger, my heart would race with excitement of every daring step closer to the bear. With his head buried deep in trash and his end part sticking out like a duck bathing in a pond, he would hear us coming. His head lifted out of the trash with a sudden “who’s there!” look on his face. My cousins and I were always ignored as the black bear would just lick his mouth clean and dive headfirst back into the junk.

The end of our walks was marked by an abandoned red house that withered away like the bridge. It stood behind a field of tall, untamed grass. This is where we always stopped and waited. Staring at the dry grass waving in the summer breeze, we looked for a head or two to pop up. A family of deer was usually feeding at this time. The head of the deer was the only part you would generally see, as if they were a mirror images of the deer head that was mounted in my aunt’s log cabin only 200 yards away. Occasionally we would catch them running off behind the abandoned red house, out of sight. Their bodies sprang from the grass as they ran, like a pod of dolphins jumping from the ocean as they moved in pack.

By 7:30 the intensity of the summer day has disappeared. The heavy warm air has become lighter and cleaner on the lungs. The sun has settled below the silhouette of the trees and the Crescent Lake residents have drudged from the beach back to their warm log cabins. As the people begin to rest for another long summer day of fun at the lake, the natural residents of Crescent Lake come out to feed. Soon, they, too, go and rest. The Crescent Lake community watches the orange sherbet skies be taken over by a darker and sweeter strawberry sherbet.

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