65 Jumps – Beyond the Sister Islands

The next day, August 15, 2002; I was all enthused about the new destination, and shared it with my family and the Karps, Elaine’s cousin’s family that vacations with us at the lake. I described the rustic fireplaces, perfect for hot dogs and smores, the ready-to-explore island, the nice outcroppings for sun-bathing, and the jumping bluff.

It seemed to offer so many more possibilities than the Sister Islands, heretofore the only island we had ever spent any time on. Joe Pace and his family had discovered them, four tiny islets a mile and a half from Ampersand bay, just off Eagle Island: one pair only 20 yards from Eagle, the other pair out across a 150 yard channel. The close-in pair were too small for overnight camping, but offered a delightful spot to pull up your boat and picnic. Or use as a base for waterskiing. Or swim out to the farther pair. It was just barely feasible, although probably against the park rules, to build a small campfire in a shallow scrape, so we only did that once in a while.

Joe had noticed a makeshift stone fish weir, a circle of rocks in the shallow water, suitable for keeping one’s live catch, until the fish might find a gap, and escape. So Joe started the tradition of adding more stones to it. It’s a therapeutic activity, to build and rebuild a little structure, that we enjoy immediately and know that others also enjoy our anonymous labor. Big stones, little stones, it doesn’t matter. Just throw them loosely in the circle, letting the small ones fill the gaps naturally.

But we had been to the Sister Islands many times in the first few years, and a larger destination island, with more to offer, seemed to be a great idea. We made plans to go out to Bluff Island that afternoon with the Paces and the Karps. I was in the boat house contentedly fussing with the boat, when 11 year-old Nate came stomping in.

“We are not going to this Bluff Island. The Paces are going to the Sister Islands, and we are going to the Sister Islands. I do not want to go some other place. I just want to go to the Sister Islands.”

I tried to explain that we were all agreed to go to Bluff Island, and that Joe and the Paces were going with us. Nate was unimpressed, unconvinced, and not at all happy about the possibility of doing anything which might deviate from routine or separate us from the Paces.

Nonetheless, we packed our lunch and towels and bathing suits and life jackets and chairs and floaties and Swiss Army knives and books and whatever else we could cram into the 13-foot Whaler and shuttled out to Bluff Island. The small little Whaler, laden with such piles of gear, and adults who are distinctly not so small, chugged out the three miles to Bluff Island. We actually are not very organized in these outings; there’s invariably some delay, some over-packing, and some things are left behind. Pulled together on the spur of the moment, the food does not always include a appropriate full lunch, snack, drink, fruit, and dessert for everyone. This day we were taking Robbie with us, a kid from a family of extraordinarily skinny people. Well out in the lake, beyond the point of no-return on our second shuttle, I asked Robbie what he had brought for lunch. “Nothing.”

Once there, with the Paces and the Karps, any discontent melted away in the bright summer sun and the deep cool water. With the supplies and chairs set up at the far picnic area, we explored the island; Joe and Chelsea carved walking sticks. Many of us soon gravitated to the bluff. Joe had earlier explored the water underneath it with his boat’s depth finder, and assured us that it was deep all the way around.

We mustered up our courage, and one by one, we all jumped into the water, from a higher or lower spot. The bluff slopes up from the lake, so you can jump off a one-foot ledge, a twelve-foot ledge, or anywhere in-between. From the sheer front, it also slopes back up the hill, facing west to catch the afternoon sun. The water is quite deep, and the face of the rock is quite sheer, so it’s not so simple to get back up. But off to the right, where it slopes down, there is a natural seat just below the waterline. At least we think it’s natural; while extraordinarily convenient, it’s rough and rounded and gives no hint of being man-made. We took to bluff-jumping immediately, although not everyone jumps. The moms are notoriously resistant, but the dads and the kids of both sexes make up for it.

It is the greatest feeling in the world, to approach that ledge, look down the surprisingly high-seeming twelve feet, gather up your courage once again, jump into the water, bubble back up, swim over to the seat, pull yourself out of the water, run dripping up the ledge, plop down on a towel next a family member or friend, talk about something or nothing, and feel the warmth of the sun drying you off. The lake stretches out beneath you, extending off to the north, meeting the rolling Adirondack mountains.

The lake itself is special.