Lake Myosotis has always been one of my favorite places. It’s where I learned to swim, row a boat, and paddle a canoe. I’ve hiked around it countless times. And it even factored into an adventure on the night before my wedding. More on that later.
When I was a little girl, my family would spend at least part of each summer in Rensselaerville. We kids (there were six of us and I was the oldest) were expected to take the Red Cross swimming lessons that were offered by the Huyck Preserve. I remember learning to kick—you’d lie in a sort of push-up position in the shallow water, your head angled toward the shore, hands on the lake floor, and kick your feet. There’d be maybe 10 of us in the class all kicking our feet harder and harder to see who could created the biggest splashes. We mastered the back float. And at some point, we started blowing bubbles in preparation for the side-to-side breathing that is an essential part of the crawl (now it’s called “freestyle).
One summer, we couldn’t take our lessons in the lake for some reason; a bus took us to nearby Thatcher Park where there was a big outdoor pool. The pool was huge—and boy was the water cold. And it had that horrible chlorine smell. We changed in the locker room and put our clothes in small wire baskets that we took outside and set on the pool deck. One day, my instructor told me to get out of the water and grab my basket of clothes. He hustled me to another part of the pool and left me shivering with another group of kids. Bewildered, I thought I had done something wrong. Turns out that I had passed some kind of test and was “promoted” to a higher-level swim class. I didn’t even realize I had taken a test. I much preferred the slower pace of the swim lessons at Lake Myosotis and was relieved that the lessons resumed there the following year.
Until the early1960s, there were two public beaches on Lake Myosotis: One was a beach with a boathouse—we just called it “The Boathouse”—and the other was a community beach. The boathouse was where Huyck family members and guests would swim. Since my grandmother was a Huyck, my family was invited to swim there. All the parents would sit on the boathouse porch or the sandy beach and keep an eye on the kids. We would change in and out of our swimsuits in the boathouse. It was dark and cool inside and a nice place to retreat to on a hot day. There were also a few canoes and boats stored there.
The most fun thing was being able to swim out to the floating dock if you were a good swimmer. And when you were old enough, you had the privilege of being allowed to swim across the lake as long as a grownup followed you in a rowboat. We waited with eager anticipation for that day. When it was my turn—I think I was about 12—I swam all the way across the lake and back without getting tired. I was so proud of myself.
Some time in the 1960s, the Preserve shut down the boathouse beach and everyone had to swim at the community beach where there were lifeguards. The boathouse was used to store boats for a while, but in the 1980s it was removed entirely. Huyck Preserve board member Vincent Schaefer who had a longtime interest in restoring Dutch barns, arranged to have the boathouse removed and reassembled somewhere else in New York State. I’m glad it wasn’t destroyed.
I loved going to the community beach. Not only was it strangely comforting to return to the place where I had learned to swim, but it was nice hanging out with friends on those long, hot, summer afternoons. When we weren’t sunbathing on the beach—or flirting with the lifeguards—we’d swim out to the floating dock (yes the community beach had one, too), where we’d practice diving or linger in the cave-like coolness underneath.
Being allowed to use a rowboat or canoe by yourself was another rite of passage. My earliest memory of being in a rowboat was the summer when my sister who was a year younger than me (she was four) had her hand bandaged from a burn she had sustained that spring. She had her hand in a plastic bag so it wouldn’t get wet. She dragged her unbandaged hand in the water as my dad rowed us across the lake. Years later, I would be canoeing on the lake almost every day.
Thanks to my “training” on Lake Myosotis I would later become a swim instructor, lifeguard, and even a canoeing instructor. But my fondest memory is of what happened the night before my wedding. My then fiancé—Geoff—and I were getting married at my grandparents’ house just up the hill from the lake. After the rehearsal dinner, we took a group of our out-of-town friends for an evening stroll and headed down to the lake. It was pitch dark out, and we couldn’t see one another, but Geoff and I could have done the walk with our eyes closed because we were so familiar with the terrain. We were standing on the lake’s shore with our friends, when we overheard them whispering about how much fun it would be to throw us in. Geoff and I backed quietly away until we were standing, hidden, in a nearby stand of trees. We listened with amusement as our friends stumbled around in the dark trying to find us.
Eventually they gave up and made their way back to house leaving Geoff and me to enjoy the now quiet calm of Lake Myosotis.
Today, nearly 40 years later, the memory of that night still makes me laugh.