For nearly an hour, our boat crawled along Conesus Lake (in Western New York) at 15mph, towing my friend’s boat along after the battery died. We’d just finished watching the Ring of Fire, a tradition from the Seneca tribe that involves lighting fires (and nearly 10,000 flares) around the lake as the fireworks begin to kick off. My three-year-old nephew, Caleb, had nodded off halfway through the show, and as we pulled into the dock my mother and father hopped out with Caleb, accidentally kicking a chord loose that connected to our battery. We desperately tried to get it started, but both boats were now drifting into the sheriff’s dock, triggering the local sheriffs on Independence Day duty to come outside with flashlights beaming through the night. It was quite the scene. I hadn’t seen my family in a year, so naturally some form of chaos had to ensue when we all got together.
I had just “jethiked” back to New York in time for my little sister’s graduation ceremony, with her high school class totaling a whopping 70 students. Not much had changed since I left: my father still tried to convince me to move back to my home town (I’ve lived in Fort Lauderdale for the last four years), and I swear he enrolls my best friend to help his cause. Before we were even halfway up the driveway (my parents live on a hill), my mother was pointing out all the gardening she had done and my dog started barking like crazy until it recognized my voice.
I played tourist in my own town for once, and when I took some time out to explore downtown Rochester I uncovered a hidden gem: an old subway system and aqueduct covered in graffiti art. The city has talked about tearing it down, but the tunnels are practically an urban-art museum and – with a little revitalization – could be a fascinating tourist attraction.
Summer thunderstorms were predicted every day, but when the weather finally cleared we flew over Lake George, New York. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t really discovered the celestial water until now; it was stunning. I can only compare it with Lake Tahoe, California, and yet here it was in the same state I grew up in. It made me wonder what else I had missed.
Mike, the pilot, was also a U.S. Merchant Marine who worked on the freighter ships and never had a real “home” to go to. He lived out of his car for many years, but always had his “soul mate” – his Cessna 180 – that he flew around New England during the summer months when he wasn’t at sea. Mike loved grass strips, so we landed at Basin Harbor, Vermont and I pitched my tent just to the side of the grass runway. While at Basin Harbor, I checked out the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, where a replica of the 1776 gunboat, the Philadelphia II, rested in the cove. As soon as I climbed aboard, the rain came pouring down and Don, the historian dressed like a patriot, ushered me on board to take shelter from the rain. I listened to him explain the importance of Lake Champlain during the Revolutionary War long after the rain stopped.
I crawled into my tent that night and fell asleep – just like my nephew had – to 4th of July weekend fireworks exploding in the sky above the lake.