I confess that until I was invited to spend a few days on Lake Hopatcong in northwestern New Jersey, I’d never heard of it. I was, however, intrigued that my friend’s home was on Halsey Island, on the lake. I have a thing for islands.
When I was growing up in New York City, the adventurous idea of living on an island was instilled in me by books and movies. I was fascinated with the concept on living on a bit of land that was totally surrounded by water. Such a setting not only seemed romantic and exotic, it felt safe because it wasn’t easily accessible. I was on a 4th grade school trip on the Circle Line, as it sailed around Manhattan, when it dawned on me that I’d lived on a island my whole life. But Halsey Island on Lake Hopatcong bore no resemblance to Manhattan, and is much closer to what I had in mind as a child. After arriving by car it was a revelation that, after a brief seven-minute skiff ride from the mainland, I stepped onto a residential pier and found myself in wonderland.
I arrived on a rainy, cool morning that did nothing to dampen my spirits, or the eerie sense of the familiar. The name Lake Hopatcong (a bit of a tongue twister) is like Manhattan; a derivative of Native American culture. This was another link that appealed to me because of my own Indian ancestry.
What I noticed first, being shown around, was the silence. I could feel myself stepping down from the kind of hyper alertness that comes from living day to day in a large urban city like New York. The second was the fresh smell that the all-day rain left on the ground vegetation and in the air. And the shoreline was very irregular,, cutting away to inlets and small coves. Curiosity prompted me to look closely at maps of the entire lake area. It looked like the earth had been stabbed, or ripped apart, eventually filling in with water to form the lake. I learned that Lake Hopatcong had once been two separate bodies of water that had been artificially joined with the help engineers.
I was told about the deer that are plentiful on Halsey that, unfortunately, ravish the gardens of so many homes there. I heard that there are bears that show up (maybe on their own day trip) having swum over from the mainland. I don’t know if they take up residence on the island, or eventually swim back. It all sounded so charming to me, but I doubt that those who live on Halsey, whether all summer or all year, think so. It seems that all animals present nuisance problems for the homeowners. Sharing the land, let alone an island, is not easy.
I loved that there are no motorized vehicles on Halsey Island, reinforcing my sense of isolation and privacy. People get around...and I mean around...on water crafts, be it rowboats, motor skiffs or Zodiacs, sailboats, motorboats and jet skis, and something called a wave runner. But the craft I hear most about is the kayak, and I imagine I know why. It’s a slow, one person craft that allows its passenger to sit low in the water. They can control the flow of their movements by use of a bladed paddle. The benefit is clear. There is the opportunity to glide gently through the water, which also affords the kayaker the time to look at everything around them on land, lake, and overhead sky. According to my hostess, early morning kayaking is the best...before there is much movement or sound, and the world of the lake feels private and protected with nature as the dominant force. It’s very easy to feel that there’s nothing else in the world except right where you are. That’s how I felt. But only an hour or so later I are reminded otherwise by two very fast moving, very noisy, wave runners shooting across the water from one side of the lake to another. In its wake other crafts bob about, it’s occupants trying to fish over the sides as they rock and roll over the crests.
One of my hostess’ neighbors was kind enough to give me a 90-minute boat tour around some of the lake. She added an interesting and sometimes funny narrative about local history and lore. I saw wonderful waterfront homes, big and small, old and modern, all along the edge of the lake shoreline. Of course, I fantasized about living in one myself. I particularly liked the boathouses, many of which have been updated and looked like mini houses with all the architectural details of the larger ones. We passed several small crafts that were anchored on the lake, while the occupants picnicked on board enjoying each other’s company, and the water activity around them.
Ifelt like an explorer. I’d been invited but had found a place that seemed ideal for occasional enforced solitude, perfect for peace; a perfect place to allow my mind and soul to recharge, to become re-acquainted with the natural world. Lake Hopatcong that weekend also freed my imagination from its old routines and gave me a new vista in which I saw myself being able to create. The possibilities for sketching, watercolor, photography, even writing, rushed through my head like flash-cards.
I’m sure there are downsides to life on Lake Hopatcong, as there are with any community anywhere. I did notice that even in this protected, coveted corner of New Jersey paradise is not perfect. But for my brief visit it most certainly was.