Welcome to Beach Week, a celebration of the best place on earth.
I’ll take any body of water, but there is a hierarchy. Pools and the ocean are at the top of the list, depending on their proximity at any given moment and whether I need them for business (swimming laps) or pleasure (splashing around, hanging out with friends, immediately dropping my body temperature). Ponds sit at the very bottom; the likelihood of many creatures being near me, and of my foot having to touch a soft, squishy bottom is too high. Rivers and streams can be nice for a casual dip because of the constant water movement, if not dangerously rocky. Which leaves us with lakes, a decidedly middle-of-the-pack water source: sometimes full of lurking fish and mysterious algae, sometimes blissfully clear. Very seasonally dependent, lakes are. Moody, if you will.
That’s how I felt anyway, until recently, when I discovered a whole new world to lakes. In the early days of the pandemic, in New York City where I live, swimming in pools had become impossible during lockdown, and it had been months and months since I had been able to do laps. (The beach was out of the question because, well, have you ever tried to swim-swim at Rockaway?) Then, once summer hit, I realized that lakes were about to be my savior, and they had one particular perk I hadn’t appreciated as a child: property to ogle.
I started my quest, specifically in the lakes of upstate New York, which were the only ones I could get to safely. One was almost perfectly round, with a broad stretch of lawn perfect for lying on post-swim, giving way to a small sandy beach. I would crisscross it back and forth, wondering if the waterfront lots really felt as close together as they seemed—was everyone constantly up in each others business?—Zillowing prices once I got home and dried off. Another was long and thin, empty on one side except for some hiking trails up an expansive mountain. The other side boasted a massive Victorian on the corner with a huge tree swing. Midway through my swim, I’d pass a public beach (closed because it was frequently teaming with geese), and, right past it, a home with a particularly over-the-top boat dock.
But my favorite lake to date takes me past home after home after home, sometimes with trampolines out in the water. One of the houses, located on an alcove, looks like a summer camp for adults by the number of people I’ve seen regularly floating on tubes off the dock, and I’ve gone as far as to track it down on Google Earth to see if I can gauge its size. Another was empty and on the market for over a year—as far as I can tell, it was the rare lakefront property with acres and acres of land, though the catch was that it basically needed to be knocked down, a tall ask even in this housing market—and yet the lawn was always freshly mowed. (Per my subsequent stalking, it was in contract, then dropped back out again.) The styles of the lake houses vary some of course; garishness touches homes everywhere, as I saw when one property on the lake burned down and was replaced with an upsetting white modern farmhouse (though the pool on the lake was a tantalizing touch). But there is often something quaint about a lake house; lacking the salty spray of an oceanfront home, the mildewy vibe is almost comforting, the decor lovingly dated.
And with every stroke, I get tantalizingly close to an idea of what it might look like to live someone else’s life. It’s not as if I don’t do this in other places; walking around in any city or town, I peer at the details of every building I pass. But there’s a personalness to seeing the backside of a home, rather than the street-facing view, as if I am peeking at the soft underbelly of someone’s life. This is where a family has their alone time and gets to enjoy their view. By nature of the fact that I’m pushing myself through water, I’m getting to take my time. When I reach one end of the lake, I stop, tread water, look around, and enjoy mine too.
Top image by Noppawat Tom Charoensinphon/Getty.
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