Lake reflections

It occurred to me that anyone stumbling across this blog might be interested in sampling a bit of Renting Dirt, so from time to time I’ll offer excerpts in the hope that they’ll generate interest in the book itself. Today’s selection is from Chapter 3, in which I describe Mother Nature’s darker side after a flood our first year over-topped the dam of our man-made lake:

That first shocking flood—we had several more in the years that followed, although none quite as severe—was a gut punch that taught me something emotionally I had previously appreciated only in the abstract: that nothing is all one thing, all good or all bad. Everything has a drawback to offset every advantage, a minus to balance each plus. Focus only on the positive and you’re likely to get sucker-punched by the negative; see only the worst, and you’re likely to be blinded to the best.

The lake itself was a prime example of this tension, and a constant reminder of the tradeoffs we had to accept. The visual focal point for the entire campground, its adjacent sites are some of the most sought-after in the park and its banks are frequently lined by campers fishing for perch, bluegill or large-mouth bass, the latter running to seven pounds or more. Heron, ospreys, and an occasional bald eagle fish the lake as well, and one year we even had a young beaver mosey through, felling one tree before he decided (thankfully!) to keep moving on. A bulletin board in the office registration area is covered with photos of happy campers proudly showing off their catch, with the biggest fish seemingly caught by the youngest people.

But the lake also is home to snapping turtles that in some cases have grown bigger than a garbage can lid, accounting to some extent for the rise and fall of the resident duck population. And thanks to the liberal use of fertilizer on the surrounding farms, drained by the two creeks that feed the lake, we waged a constant battle against algae that at times covered as much as half of the lake surface.

We also had to combat an annual incursion of Canada geese. Once a protected migratory bird whose flights signaled the changing seasons, the species in recent decades has bifurcated, with one branch continuing to make the long haul from the northernmost reaches of Canada to as far south as Florida and Texas—but with another, apparently lazier cohort deciding no, what’s the point of all that flying if we can just stay year-round in the Goldilocks middle of the continent? In the process, these winged symbols of freedom reveal themselves for what they really are, which is aggressive pooping machines, each producing up to two pounds of particularly slimy excrement every day that fouls waterways and seeds lawns with green land mines. . . .

Author: Andy Zipser

A former newspaper reporter who worked at a variety of newspapers, from small community weeklies to The Wall Street Journal, I finished my "normal" work life as the editor of The Guild Reporter, official publication of the union representing newspaper workers. On retiring, I and my wife bought a campground in the Shenandoah Valley and--with the help of our two daughters and their husbands--operated it for eight years, first as a KOA franchisee and then as an independent family-owned RV park. We sold the campground in May, 2021, and live in Staunton, Virginia, a short walk from our grandsons' home.

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