Lake Garfield is scarce a mile from my house. Nestled comfortably into the surrounding hills it is a magnet for local residents and visitors alike during the warmer months of the year. Its public sand beach serves as a centerpiece for families, there to congregate and socialize. Kids dig and splash along the water’s edge, teens cavort on and off two rafts floating not far offshore while canoes and kayaks are launched from the adjacent ramp disappearing into the water.
Surrounding the lake is a ring of waterfront properties, premium priced because of their proximity to the shoreline. Many feature spacious, manicured lawns that slope downward, then end at the water’s edge. At that point docks jut out into the lake to which are attached a variety of “seaworthy” craft. Chairs and lounges are scattered about on the grass. Here people sit, read or simply enjoy the surroundings.
There is much to see on and above the lake, especially on those wondrous days when bright sunshine illuminates all. Morning mist produces shimmering images such as those impressionist artists once found so inspiring, while puffy clouds drifting by are mirrored on the lake’s normally tranquil surface. Men and women in kayaks often are out early, gliding about noiselessly and often aimlessly. Motorboats, some dragging water skiers, and houseboats follow later, scurrying about before cutting power and drifting along. Folks more energetic choose paddle boats which move only in response to their exertions. The larger “vessels” leave their mark, their passage agitating the water, creating waves along with anxiety among those nearby occupying lighter craft.
Throughout most days, boats can be seen drifting about close to the shore. On board fishermen cast their lines toward submerged rock formations, water foliage or nearby shallows. Every so often a rod bends, the line snaps taut, a fish breaks the surface and is hauled in.
These notably idyllic scenes are hardly exceptional, are duplicated at thousands of other recreational lakes. Far more unusual, however, is the transformation we all witness. Every Fall Monterey “draws down” the lake, substantially empties it by opening a dam and allowing much water to run off. Draining the lake in this manner exposes the shoreline dock areas and encourages homeowners to repair them if necessary and to remove unwelcome plant life nearby. The water, having receded over significant patches of the lake, causes the scene at lakeside to change dramatically. The water basin has been transformed into a sterile, alien, uninviting landscape, virtually unrecognizable when compared to its exquisitely scenic appearance over the spring and summer months. The prince has become a frog, Cinderella’s coach a pumpkin, the emperor is without clothes.
Mud flats now stretch out in all directions. Scattered puddles abound. Many an exposed dock appears fragile and rotted. Without water to hide in, debris is evident – cans, bottles, rotted wood, tree stumps, etc. The surrounding hills, their trees stripped bare reinforce the drabness and sense of desolation. No people are present, few birds, no motor engines sounds – simply silence.
Sometimes it’s best not to be around in the “off-season” or to look behind the scenes. How often have we been warned about the way sausages are produced, legislation devised or “stars'” appearance before their make-up is applied. I had in late fall peered behind the curtains, entered through the back door, viewed the lake at its worst.
Hopefully, by now the remaining water is frozen and snow has blanketed the area, creating an unbroken surface of pristine purity. And before we know it, spring and summer will arrive and the beauty, serenity and familiar sounds and sights of Lake Garfield will be ours once more to savor.
Dare we utter an unkind word about the countryside? Long celebrated as an oasis of tranquility, beauty and simplicity, why cast a critical eye in that direction? How does one question lush meadows, inviting shady woods, bubbling brooks, fields of haystacks, stately barns, cows grazing lazily along rolling hills? Add to that, spectacularly adorned butterflies, the aroma of freshly cut grass, birds chirping happily, puffy cumulus clouds, sparkling night skies, roadside flowers of bewildering variety and the inevitable swinging screen door. Such are the bucolic delights that adorn many a calendar page and folk art canvass. Concentrated in our cities and in our increasingly congested suburbs, the country represents a welcome get away – simpler and wholesome, more natural and beautiful.
But there are dissenting views that suggest that close up the country is not without blemish or menace. Approach those contented cows, and you discover that each is a magnet for clouds of bothersome flies. Only by continually flicking their tails are they able to gain temporary respite. Exit the screen door and be prepared to defend yourself against an array of aggressive insects; best not to offend or provoke a passing bee, wasp or hornet. Bathe yourself in repellent if you need to, but don’t expect to escape the inevitable bites and persistent itching compliments of opportunistic mosquitoes.
Take a walk along a delightful country path, but don’t imagine you are alone since you may soon be attacked by squadrons of bugs. Most disconcerting are the gnats and flies which, seemingly possessed, target your eyes and ears. Swatting them aside is fruitless. Impossible to discourage, they are relentless. Should you at this point decide upon a swim, other assailants await. You may soon be defending yourself against ferocious horseflies which circle overhead menacingly before landing to deliver a bite decidedly sharp and painful. Submerging brings but a brief reprieve. Resurface and you’re once again targeted.
Finally, consider the fact that the country presents best in the late spring, summer and early fall. At other times, especially in winter, its attractions diminish and it becomes noticeably drab, uninviting and fallow. Fallen trees are exposed, as are myriads of decaying leaves. Fields are bare, birds migrate, animals retreat and rural folk keep mostly to themselves.
No one reading this will, as a consequence, forsake the countryside. But they’d best be on their guard and recognize that an honest reckoning should include its annoyances, along with its enduring delights.