It’s a part of my history that has seeped deep into my DNA. It is as much a part of me as my cowlick, big eyes, and thick ankles.
Visiting Crescent Lake as a child remains one of my fondest memories.
Spending time there as an adult with my own young children -- so uplifting that I wrote a travel memoir about it – Away at a Camp in Maine. The book's title was chosen carefully. I wanted to convey what the lake and the camp mean to me. Going to Crescent Lake feels very much like getting “away.”
Away from my home, my city life, my working persona.
Away from all I am day-to-day.
Far, far away.
Going in summer -- swimming, boating, kayaking, floating on the lake for hours -- is pure magic.
But I also come to Crescent Lake in the fall when all is blanketed in gorgeous color and in the depths of our Maine winters when the landscape palette is white and the silence, profound.
I find it equally compelling in all seasons -- albeit in a much different way, under layers of snow and ice.
To get to Crescent Lake, we take the turnpike north to Gray and then the Egypt Road to Route 85. I am not a Route-302 girl through Windham – too much traffic, too much busyness and eye pollution, too much consumerism and man-made box stores. I will always take the prettiest route regardless of where I go. If I can see nature and something new on my drives, success.
Crescent Lake is 703 acres in size. This is rather small, but still conducive for all outdoor lake activities including fishing for brook trout, pickerel, large and small mouth bass, salmon, and white and yellow perch. ("Perch City" is a chapter in Away at a Camp in Maine.) Most of the lake is in Raymond except for its northernmost side which is in Casco. The lake is 2.5 miles long and a half mile wide, 54 feet at its deepest point, but generally 17 feet deep.
I wonder if anyone has swum the entire lake. At 2 ½ miles, they surely could -- think of the swimmers crossing the English Channel. Leaves Don’t Drop, They Just Let Go, a song by Carrie Newcomer, is meaningful to me for many reasons. She sings:
The truth I learned when I was eight
My dad swam the length of Spirit Lake
And it must have been a million miles
This I knew was true
Crescent Lake has an adorable island, surrounding hills, open vistas, clean, clear water. It also has an outlet leading through Tenny Tunnel, along the meandering Tenny River to Panther Pond, a body of water twice the size of Crescent.
In winter, I can walk across the hidden sandbar of the lake and around the island in my boots – when I dare to.
Despite over a foot of ice likely on the lake, I am always timid walking too far from shore. It feels too open to me, kind of like flying.
I’m more baby-in-a-papoose than eagle soaring when I venture onto frozen lakes. I love wide-open fields and meadows, but am a cautious ice-walker.
When we come to Crescent Lake, we park in the tiny lot at the base of Rattlesnake Mountain on Route 85, diagonal from the camp road. In our boots, we begin the hike down the steep hill to the lake. All camps are buttoned up, hibernating until late spring, Memorial Day, when owners and families will return, opening the camps up and bringing them back to life.
The lake in winter is empty, silent.
Winter happens to be one of my best seasons.
Yes, it’s true. (I’m odd that way.)
The snow on the camp road isn't plowed, so we sink in a couple feet of it as we trudge up and down the small hills of the road. Our snow shoes are more practical to keep us on the surface when the snow is quite deep.
Much of the road is flanked with “Christmas trees,” balsam firs, green throughout the seasons. Other trees among them have lost their crown of autumn colors, now bare and gray. Sleeping.
We see rabbit tracks, deer. Particularly along the once babbling brook that meanders on the inside of the camp road. The babbling has turned to a trickle seeping in between the chunks of ice. The sound of the trickling water is comforting, quiet like all of winter in this place.
If it's a winter of more cold than snow, the ice skating can be pristine if you dare to get out onto the lake.
I've seen boys shooting a puck as they speed around in an oval, their snow boots haphazardly thrown on the shoreline, usually a thermos of cocoa, or possibly something stronger based on their age, flanks the perimeter, extra sticks and pucks, and ratty L.L. Bean totes that once held their snow pants or thick, plaid wool overalls.
Plaid is a favorite color for me.
It evokes a certain nostalgia like certain aromas do.
Plaid, wood fires, a gentle snowfall, furry boots, hand-made mittens – these are a few of my favorite things.