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This must be the place

art theplaceI was born half-fish.

No, not the mermaid kind, but close. As a kid, I grew up on Lake Champlain, a 125-mile long body of water sandwiched between New York, Vermont and the Canadian province of Quebec. Pristine waters flow from the Adirondack Mountains to the west and the Green Mountains to the east, ultimately heading north and merging with the majestic Saint Lawrence Seaway.


My childhood home was less than a mile from the shoreline, in the small border town of Rouses Point, N.Y. I’d spend my days riding my bike on Lake Street, up and down the road alongside the water. My cronies and I would find ourselves jumping into the lake anywhere we could find an opening. During the lazy summer months, we’d swim, fish, canoe or go boating. In the midst of the long winters came skating, ice fishing, pickup hockey games and random jaunts onto the massive sheet of frozen water we’d make into a temporary playground.

My great-grandmother, Florence, who lived to the ripe ole age of 103, spent her childhood on barges cruising the Seaway. Following World War II, my grandparents purchased a plot of lakefront property and built a couple of camps (or “cabins” in these parts) on Lake Champlain. Though it was only a mile or so outside of Rouses Point, it was an escape. The moment you pulled into that dirt driveway, you were in a whole other world and mentality.

Some of my fondest memories were at that camp. Barbeques, birthday parties, celebrations just for the hell of it, the enthusiastic kickoff to summer with Memorial Day and the bittersweet end to the season on Labor Day. And then there was the lake. Each time going to camp, I’d run down to the beach and jump off the dock. A sense of ease and comfort would wash over me as soon as my body immersed itself in the refreshing liquid. 

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With the Adirondack Mountains at my doorstep, I’d head for the hills during weekends in high school and college breaks. Searching for waterfalls, lakes and deep rivers (which aren’t hard to find in the Adirondacks), I would launch myself off rock faces and cliff ledges, eager to land in the frigid northern waters. It was a complete and total freedom.

And that love for the aquatic hasn’t ceased, it rather ironically has become a thirst, one that will never be quenched. When I was living on the Dingle Peninsula (Ireland), I immediately stripped down to my boxers and ran into the water upon seeing the Atlantic Ocean from a European angle. While in college in Connecticut, I’d take off from campus and shoot down to the Long Island Sound, watching immaculate sunsets while enjoying a dip in the salty sea. In Yellowstone National Park, I threw myself in a freezing waterfall lagoon, where tourists yelled down, “You’re crazy. That water’s too cold,” to which I replied, “It’s great, jump on in.”

A couple of months after college graduation, I traveled to the West Coast to scout out Portland and Seattle as possible places to inhabit. I had never seen the Pacific Ocean before and was looking forward to making its acquaintance. One morning, while crossing into Northern California at Crescent City, I knew the ocean was close. I had to see it. 

When I finally found a beach, a thick fog blanked out everything. I could hear the barking of innumerable sea lions somewhere in the depths. Sunshine finally burned off the fog, revealing an ancient, endless body of water. There it was, the Pacific Ocean, and there was the tiny rock island in the distance covered with sea lions. I ran straight towards the water and leaped in. To this day, I feel a piece of my soul is still floating somewhere out there.

Recently, I felt a deep urge to go for a dip. I was parched and wanted to go soak. I had heard about Midnight Hole, a popular spot in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A blazing sun above me, I jogged up the trail and found myself at the waterfall lagoon. I immediately dove in. The water was bone tingling, and I loved every moment of it. I swam under and popped up, my head held high to the sky in awe, thankful that such beauty can exist in this world. Some people go to church to feel God – I go swimming.

Jump on in y’all, the water’s great.

Directions to Midnight Hole (from Waynesville): Interstate 40 West to Exit 451 (Waterville exit on North Carolina/Tennessee stateline). Turn south across the Pigeon River and follow the paved road past Carolina Power and Light into the national park. Go straight through the intersection onto a gravel road, pass the ranger station on right, go to hiking/picnic area and park in parking area. The trail is 1.5 miles to Midnight Hole, where you’ll see a waterfall and lagoon.


Hot picks

1: Renowned world dance troupe The Diavolo Dance Theater perform on Sept. 28 at the Great Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin.

2: Chicago tribute band Brass Transit brings their style of jazz-fusion rock-n-roll to Western Carolina University on Sept. 29.

3: Frog Level Brewing Company in Waynesville will host their Oktoberfest on Sept. 21.

4: Valorie Miller and Musica Nostra will perform at the Classic Wineseller in Waynesville on Sept. 27-28.

5: Music folklorist Brendan Greaves will host a discussion of early-20th century recorded musicians on Sept. 26 at WCU.

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