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The Moods of the Lake

September 30, 2016

cayuga lake-photos from poplar beach stay 9/11-9/24/16Hour after hour, day after day, I have been sitting and watching the lake as it cycles through its endless moods. The light constantly changes, the wind shifts, and the waves rise and fall. My observations start before sunrise, when an orange thread first appears over the hills to east, and go into darkness, when all of the man-made lights compete with the lights in the night sky. When the wind is still and the lake is mirror-smooth, the town of Aurora, three and a half miles across, looks like a dollhouse collection set on the hills. When the wind kicks up white caps and the waves pound the shore, the lake becomes an ominous beast. The waves are not huge by ocean standards, but, in contrast to the scale of the landscape, they have a power that demands respect. Boats caught in the white caps struggle against the irregular rhythm and can be heard surging through the churning water. Swimming or canoeing becomes out of the question.


The direction of the waves works with the sun to create infinite patterns of color and light. Shifting currents can make the water a pea soup, so opaque one day that I can’t see my hands when I swim, and, then, clear as a cup of green tea the next, revealing a forest of weeds and fish before the bottom drops away to milky-bluish depths. From where I sit, the lake is over three hundred feet deep in the center—modest by ocean standards but deep enough to hold it’s mysteries.

cayuga lake-photos from poplar beach stay 9/11-9/24/16

During my stay at the lake house, I took hundreds of photos of the lake, trying to record every mood, every nuance. A moment frozen in time cannot capture the noisy energy of waves; videos and painting seem better suited. I am trying to figure out the visual pattern that allows us to read them as waves. There are layers of color, light, shadow and reflection. The pattern repeats but is never the same. Quick, expressive marks capture the energy but gloss over the intricate lace-like reflections that a more careful study will reveal. I suspect that any one approach will fail and that the only way to know the lake is to study it thru a multiplicity of experiences and to employ equally diverse means of expression. Perhaps I will need poetry and dance to fully explain all that I come to learn.


When something presents a seemingly simple surface, but under scrutiny reveals an intriguing depth and complexity, I get drawn in. Like swimmer on a hot summer’s day, I am ready for the plunge.

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