I count my blessings every day as I practice the physical isolation necessary to keep me and others safe from the COVID-19 pandemic, because I have the incredible privilege of living on Owasco Lake. Stresses and fears melt away when I open my doors and windows, and step outside to the sights and sounds of lake life. And so, in the spirit of Billy Joel’s "We Didn’t Start the Fire," I hereby set forth a list of those things about living on Owasco Lake that have kept me steady, not just during seclusion, but for all the years I have lived here.
First, the sounds: Birds, birds, birds. One of the first things I did when I was deciding whether to buy my old farmhouse on its two acres of lakefront property was to step out on the deck and listen for birds. And I was pleased. Birds are everywhere. I have tallied over 50 species heard and seen, and I’m sure there are many I’ve missed in my musings. Bluebirds raise young in nest boxes on my lawn, and sing “like a robin with a cold.” The cardinals usher in spring with their melodic whistles. Cornell’s Arthur Allen quoted the cardinal as telling him to “Hurry home, hurry home” for breakfast. Robins have a special call that announces coming rain, and the pileated woodpecker’s wild call takes us back to prehistoric times. The rose-breasted grosbeak sings like a robin who has had music lessons. Tundra swans hoot an eerie "coo-coo-coo" that carries up from the lake, and common loon calls always send shivers up my spine. Towhees exhort us to “drink your tea,” and sharp-shinned and red-tailed hawks shriek.
The sounds of the lake itself can be comforting or exhilarating. On calm days, the susurrations of tiny waves can lull you to sleep if you’re not on your toes. There is nothing more calming than sitting on the beach with my eyes closed, just listening to lake whispers. On days when the wind is howling around us, the noise on the beach is deafening. Waves crash and roar and rumble, and sometimes I have to close my windows to sleep. The sound of motorboats on the lake, and the voices of the people in them, reflect the joy of being on the water. I even appreciate the sound of traffic on West Lake Road. It is a reminder that despite these puzzling times, people are still going about their lives.
The sights: Owasco Lake is ever-changing and always magnificent. I’ve seen sunrises that fill the entire eastern sky and the water with lurid reds and pinks and purples, and watched the reflections of sunsets turn the eastern shore gold. Morning sun flashes off the water in a blinding display that my 3-year-old granddaughter described as the lake having a sunburn, and the silver reflection of a full moon is breathtaking. The color of the water varies from the yellow and orange reflection of the surrounding hills in autumn to the vivid Caribbean blue-green of a whiting event. Huge waves, bigger than it’s possible to imagine on so diminutive a water body, are steely grey and flaunt lacy whitecaps.
Wildlife abounds in this rural place of woods and lawn and lake shore. Bald eagles are a common sight. My neighbor watched an eagle knock a red-tailed hawk into the lake and steal its prey. We found the hawk high in a tree with wings spread to dry in the sun. Foxes and deer traverse my lawn, and ducks, swans and geese fill the lake in the spring and fall. Squirrels and chipmunks entertain my indoor cats, and flying squirrels raid the bird feeders at night.
Finally, because I live on Owasco Lake, I have met wonderful people who express their love of the lake through action. The members of the Owasco Watershed Lake Association have continued to meet during this time of isolation, gathering virtually from our homes. Plans for summer projects to reduce sediment and nutrient flow into the lake are in the works, as well as plans for public outreach and education about what we can all do to preserve and protect Owasco Lake. For more information or to join OWLA, visit our website at owla.org.
Nancy Hart is a member of the Owasco Watershed Lake Association Board of Directors. For more information, or to join OWLA, visit owla.org.