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Recovering from Irene

In Boathouse, Champlain Valley, Daily Munge, Lake Champlain on September 25, 2011 at 10:32 am
Rosslyn boathouse after Hurricane Irene

Rosslyn boathouse after Hurricane Irene

Much of the North Country is still recovering from the devastation wrought by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene. Four weeks on, I return to the notes I jotted during and shortly after Irene passed through Essex, New York.

A sheet of water cascades in front of the parlor windows. I’ve sunk into an armchair to watch the white caps rolling into our stone seawall. Into the dock beneath Rosslyn boathouse. Wind surges, thrashing and straining the leafy limbs of the gnarled old maple tree on the front lawn, violently snapping the boathouse flag.

Hurricane Irene has been delivering a less devastating blow to the Northeast than originally anticipated, and yet our lawn is littered with branches, entire tree limbs and even the top half of an Aspen which snapped off next to the carriage barn. Lake Champlain‘s water level has risen dramatically, gobbling up the sand beach and lapping at the stone seawalls currently being rebuilt north of our boat dock.

I initiated this post during the worst of Irene’s wind and water, however I quickly abbreviated my commentary. My mind flashed back to Lake Champlain’s destructive spring flood. I grew superstitious, my premature relief that Irene had taken it easy on us replaced by dread that I was underestimating her impact.

The next day I continued my observations after a demoralizing round trip to Plattsburgh. My suspicions had been confirmed. We were lucky; others unlucky…

The day started well enough. Clearing skies. Sunshine. Only a light breeze, virtually imperceptible after yesterday’s 65mph gusts.

I checked the waterfront, noted the dramatic rise in water level then celebrated the absence of damage to the boat house. I walked the lawn and counted about a dozen broken limbs strewn over the grass. The top third of an aspen tree had snapped off and lay crushed to the south of the carriage barn. But no serious, unrecoverable damage.

My sunny disposition clouded briefly upon finding 27 bags of ready-mix concrete that had been left uncovered by the fellow rebuilding the stone seawall. All had been soaked and were now petrified, unusable.

Nevertheless, I departed for Plattsburgh relieved that we’d escaped virtually unharmed.

This is where my notes end. The day would force me to recalculate my earlier conclusions. Yes, Susan and I had been fortunate. Rosslyn had been virtually unscathed by Irene. But many of our neighbors in Whallonsburg, Willsboro and Wadhams and throughout the Champlain Valley were underwater.

Normally I’d drive through Willsboro, up and over Willsboro Mountain and then pick up “The Northway” (NYS Route 87) north to Plattsburgh. But I’d already heard that roads were closed beyond Willsboro, so I turned south toward the ferry dock to try another route. Our Town Supervisor was directing traffic at a road block, so I stopped and rolled down my window.

“What a mess. Roads are closed everywhere.”

“Can I get to Plattsburgh?”

“Route 12 is the only access to The Northway.”

“Toward Lewis? That’s fine.”

“Would you show those folks how to get to Meadowmount?” she asked, pointing at a car with out-of-state tags that was parked across from the Masonic Hall.

“Sure.”

“Good luck!”

I pulled in front of the car and parked. I introduced myself to the driver and explained that they could follow me to Meadowmount. They were grateful.

With 20/20 hindsight I should have realized that I would need to take Route 12 to the Lewis exit on the Northway and then cross over and lead them into Meadowmount from Betty Beavers Truck Stop. But there are a half dozen local routes between Essex and Lewis that would be quicker. It never occurred to me that all of them could be flooded.

They were. And over the next thirty minutes I tried every one only to be stopped at road blocks or unmarked, submerged roads. Staggering. But most heart breaking of all was Whallonsburg, a hamlet of Essex a couple of miles inland from Lake Champlain. The Boquet River flows directly through the middle of Whallonsburg and it had flooded so high that five or six houses along the river were totally inundated. A couple of homes had water up the the second story windows! Emergency services had been set up at The Whallonsburg Grange, and volunteers were directing traffic and assisting displaced residents.

I would revisit this heartbreaking scene the following day during a bicycle ride assessing the damage all along the Boquet River corridor. By then the water had retreated and residents were dragging furniture and carpets and clothing and books and appliances out onto their yards. Over the next couple of days enormous dumpsters were filled with the destroyed possessions. During my most recent conversation with a friend who lives in Whallonsburg I learned that at least one and maybe more of the homes were condemned. Despite the devastation, it’s been heartening to experience the community spirit and volunteerism that have resulted. The community has pulled together to help the residents effected by Irene with a fundraiser (Good Night, Irene) and countless hours of volunteerism.

Still trying to absorb the depressing situation in Whallonsburg I proceeded to attempt one road after another. And it seemed that with each “dead end” our entourage collected another vehicle. In due course our entire caravan made it out to The Northway, hopefully in time for one of the cars to make it to the airport without missing their flight. At Betty Beavers I got out and explained to the first car how to get to Meadowmount and offered them my card in case they got stuck. Only a few days later I received a gracious email from them explaining that they made it safely to the music school where their son had studied some years prior.

I mention this detail for the same reason I explained the community recovery efforts in Whallonsburg. Irene’s proverbial silver lining may be the humanizing influence. People connecting and helping one another. This was also the case last spring when Lake Champlain flooded its banks for weeks on end. In both natural disasters the disruption and destruction were catastrophic, but in both cases effected communities rallied and supported one another. This civic responsibility, this community spirit underpins the attractive North Country lifestyle that has embraced us since moving from New York City to Essex in 2006.

In closing, the photograph at the top of this post was taken after Lake Champlain’s water level rapidly rose due to the runoff from Irene. Although it pales in comparison to the water levels last spring, it was surreal to watch our beach disappear as water levels returned to typical spring levels.

Totally, unabashedly, irreversibly seduced

In Adirondacks, Boathouse, Carriage Barn, Daily Munge, Historic Essex, House, Ice House, Lake Champlain, Renovation & Rehabilitation on July 19, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Today’s question from Al Katkowsky‘s Question of the Day book was the perfect invitation to reflect on Rosslyn Redux, the “big picture”!

What should you definitely not have done that turned out okay anyway?

In the summer of 2006 I definitely should not have purchased a dilapidated, almost two hundred year old house in Essex, New York. Definitely not. Not if I wanted to stay sane, solvent or married. Not if I wanted to do anything else in my life except for renovating, babysitting contractors, and nurturing this handsome old house back to life…

But I was totally, unabashedly, irreversibly seduced by Rosslyn, a sagging-but-still-stately, almost two century year old property on the Adirondack shores of Lake Champlain. My new bride and I swapped Manhattan for North Country bliss.

Our plan? Renovate a home. Grow a garden. Plant an orchard. Raise a dog. Swim, sail, ski, hike, bike and live happily ever after.

Or not…

Over a hundred carpenters, tradesmen and artisans later; over four times our budget and planned timeline later; and over countless marriage-testing misadventures later we finally finished our renovation. In time for the biggest flood in over two centuries to swamp our boathouse and waterfront for two months…

We should definitely not have undertaken this wildly ambitious project. But we did. And it turned out okay anyway. So far!

Check out RosslynRedux.com for a vicarious plunge into the idiosyncrasies (and absurdities) of our renovation, marriage and North Country life.

Rosslyn Boathouse Free from Toppling Ash

In Boathouse, Daily Munge, Lake Champlain on June 27, 2011 at 2:11 pm
Ash tree undermined by Lake Champlain flood

Ash tree undermined by Lake Champlain flood

Remember the Lake Champlain flood? The good news is that flooding is abating. Rapidly. In fact the water’s “fallen” to normal spring flood stage… Which means that we’re finally catching up on the damaged waterfront, repairing the boathouse, installing docks and boat hoist, etc. You may remember that large ash tree was undermined by the flood and was beginning to topple down over top of the boathouse. Not good. You may also remember that local arborist Mark Sauslgiver decided to install a tension line from high in the tree to the guardrail north of the boathouse. The idea was that in the event the trees roots gave way and the tree toppled, the line would pull the falling tree northward, sparing the boat house.

I liked the idea. Sounded good. Looked good when I drew a little diagram on paper. But, I’d be lying if I claimed that I was 100% confident it would work. That’s a big tree, and I had a difficult time imagining a static line enduring a fall much less staying taught and pulling thousands of pounds of gravity-fueled ash anywhere other than straight down. On top of the boathouse, the pier, and the railings. But, turns out Mark knew his tension lines.

Today his crew removed the tree, piece by piece, sending massive chunks of wood down a “zip line” to the curb or New York State Route 22 where they could be cut up and/or chipped. The entire affair was a success!

I’m deeply saddened to lose a mature, healthy tree that offered much appreciated shade in the heat of summer and served as a charming frame for images of the boathouse. But I am overjoyed that the tree was removed before gravity won. And I’ve been assured that sooner or later it would.

I’ll add a short video soon!

Moon Over Lake Champlain

In Boathouse, Daily Munge, Lake Champlain, What's Rosslyn?, What's the story?, Where's Rosslyn? on June 16, 2011 at 9:11 am
Moonrise over Lake Champlain with Rosslyn boathouse in foreground

Moonrise over Lake Champlain with Rosslyn boathouse in foreground

Last night’s moonrise over the Vermont foothills (south of the Green Mountains) was absolutely sensational! The moon started out fat and orange as it made a dramatic appearance. My bride and I first spied the “Great Pumpkin” while driving home to Essex from Willsboro after dining at Johnny’s Smokehouse. Breathtaking. And elusive because it kept disappearing behind the trees.

Once we arrived home, I grabbed a camera and headed down to the waterfront where I tried to capture — albeit in blurry facsimile — the less orange and smaller but still exquisite orb shimmering across Lake Champlain. The view in this video was shot from the flood damaged but finally dry waterfront of our home in Essex, New York. You can see the Essex ferry dock where the Essex-Charlotte ferry delivers and picks up passengers, and the Old Dock Restaurant is even slightly visible beyond the illuminated ferry gallows. Rosslyn’s boathouse is silhouetted in the foreground with a Lake Champlain moon beam inviting you to begin enjoying summer after Lake Champlain floods put such a damper on the first half of June.

As of this morning, the USGS website reports that the Lake Champlain water level has fallen to 100.33 feet. Most of the bottom terrace of the waterfront is now water free, except for where flooding damaged the stone retaining wall and eroded the lawn. This weekend we’ll remove the remaining debris and begin to repair the damage. We’re still waiting to hear what New York State has decided about stabilizing the embankment and repairing the road, so we’ll need to hold off on significant repairs in the area where NYS Route 22 (aka Essex Road or Lakeshore Road) collapsed at the end of May. But hopefully by next week we’ll be able to start windsurfing and possibly even install the boat lift and docks so that our ski boat can be launched. A late start to summer, but hard won!

 

Ed Pais visits Rosslyn Boathouse

In Boathouse, Daily Munge, Renovation & Rehabilitation, What's Rosslyn?, What's the story? on June 13, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Edward Pais was a classmate of mine at Deerfield Academy from 1986 to 1990, and he now practices architecture in Burlington, Vermont. Despite being out of touch for more than two decades we recently reconnected via Facebook. Ed joined the Rosslyn Redux Facebook page and he’s offered ongoing feedback about our boathouse during the Lake Champlain flooding. Recently he offered to come over and take a look. Needless to say, I eagerly accepted his offer.

We started out with a delicious lunch at Essex Provisions overlooking the still flooded marinas, then headed back to Rosslyn to take a look at the boathouse. Ed’s reaction was encouraging, and despite pushing him into engineering territory a couple of times, I mostly listened and took mental notes. He reminded me that he’s an architect and not an engineer, but repeatedly expressed his confidence in the work of Engineering Ventures in Burlington. Paul Hobbs who handled most of the structural engineering for the boathouse renovation repeatedly impressed with his keen mind, so Ed’s confidence was not misplaced. That said, I do intend to follow up with Hobbs and/or Jeffords Steel to ascertain whether or not the beams which support the suspended pier were fabricated out of COR-TEN or a similar weather resistant steel.

Ed’s recommendation to quickly and aggressively treat the mold situation was highlighted in a follow-up message after his visit. He suggested that we should remove the baseboards to inspect for mold. He linked me to helpful information “Cleaning Mold on Wood” that confirms that we’ve been remediating the post-flood mold situation appropriately.

The molds seen on lumber are largely a collection of fungal spores on the surface of the wood. Wet wiping and scrubbing the lumber will remove the mold. But simply wiping the wood can release spores into the surrounding air. A better approach is to gently spray or wet down the mold prior to removal.

There are a number of products on the market, ranging from common bleach to commercial mildewcides, which are promoted for cleaning mold from wood. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggests using a mild detergent and water for most mold clean up. The EPA recommends wet vacuuming the area, wiping or scrubbing the mold with detergent and water and, after drying, vacuuming with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuum.

Common bleach and water can be used for cleaning mold. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends using a solution of 10 parts water to one part bleach to clean mold from surfaces. (Western Wood Products Association)

Huge thanks, Ed, for taking the time to coach me through the latest challenge! I really appreciate it.

After De’s departure my parents joined us for dinner. They’ve just returned to the Adirondacks from Chicago for the summer, so grilling and dining al fresco seemed like the perfect way to launch their summer. While showing my mother the recovering boathouse, I asked if she remembered Ed Pais from Deerfield. She did! She recounted a story that I’d never known. My brother, two years younger than I, had come to Deerfield for his admissions interview. Although he already knew his way around because he had visited me frequently, he decided to take the admissions office campus tour anyway. His tour guide was Ed Pais! When we got back to the house I asked my father if he remembered Ed Pais, and he immediately told me the same story! Ed, must have made quite an impression…

Friends, Flooding and Photos

In Boathouse, Daily Munge, Lake Champlain, Renovation & Rehabilitation, What's Rosslyn?, What's the story?, Where's Rosslyn? on June 1, 2011 at 10:49 pm
Stephen Phillips field sketch and notes of Rosslyn shoreline/road condition

Stephen Phillips' field sketch and notes of Rosslyn shoreline and road condition on Friday, May 27, 2011

This afternoon Essex neighbor Stephen Phillips stopped by to help assess the damage to Rosslyn boathouse caused by week after week after week of flooding. Having run a large contracting company for many years, his perspective is valuable and his offer of assistance welcome. In this photo he’s sitting on the stairway down to the boathouse with my bride, waiting for me to don waders and trudge out to the partially submerged boathouse.

Stephen Phillips and Susan Bacot-Davis

Susan Bacot-Davis and Stephen Phillips

He spent the better part of an hour examining the structure, asking questions and advising us on how to proceed. We took plenty of notes! The good news is that the structure remains sound, and damage so far has been minimal. Unfortunately we identified increasing surface mold, especially prevalent on fir bead board that must have received less oil sealer than neighboring planks. Most boards are okay, but several are covered in green, gray and black fuzzy mold!

Beneath the water level inside and outside, everything is covered in slippery, green algae. We hope that this will be easy enough to remove with a pressure washer once the water retreats. At the very least we’ll need to re-seal and repaint all of the surfaces that have been saturated for the better part of two months. And until the water level falls another 18″ or so, we’ll need to continue monitoring the waterfront from large debris, trees, etc. Constant vigilance and quick log wrangling has saved the structure significant damage so far, but Steve was quick to remind us that even one of the large trees afloat in Lake Champlain combined with wind and wave action could devastate the boathouse. As if we needed the reminder!

George Davis in Rosslyn boathouse on May 16, 2011, photo credit Kathryn Cramer

George Davis in Rosslyn boathouse on May 16, 2011. (photo credit Kathryn Cramer)

On the bright side, he explained in impressive detail what is happening with the collapsing road. Have I mentioned this previously? Perhaps only on the Rosslyn Redux Facebook Page… That image at the top of this post is a sketch and notes he prepared last Friday when he came by to speak with the New York State DOT engineers who were preparing to stabilize the badly eroding bank. Actually, it turned out that the erosion was far more severe than he could ascertain, completely eliminating most of the embankment and undermining the road. The pavement began to crack in deep fissures running parallel to the lake as the weight of the road cause it to settle and slough.

The remedy involved 250 tons — approximately ten tandem dump truck loads — of riprap dumped over the side of the road to arrest further erosion and stabilize the road. I’ll share some video footage soon which reveals the current status of the waterfront and road including the riprap “armor”. The DOT is continuing to monitor the road to determine whether or not additional stabilization will be necessary. In the event that the road continues to settle, the next step will be to install a steel sheet pile retaining wall. Steve’s explanation for why this would be advantageous was convincing, but we are hoping against hope that it will not be necessary to mar this historic waterfront with a steel retaining wall.

Steve offered to assist us in deciphering the potentially complex decisions ahead, and suggested that we should consider this an opportunity to permanently address the long term stability and safety of the waterfront. I appreciate his optimistic perspective, and my bride and I have sent  out cosmic “Thank you!” vibes all afternoon.

Thanks also are due another friend and Champlain Valley writer/editor/blogger, Kathryn Cramer (@KathrynC), who has been doing an outstanding job of documenting Lake Champlain’s aquatic antics over the last couple of months. Full stop. Kathryn Cramer has done an outstanding job of documenting Lake Champlain for the last couple of years! That goofy picture of yours truly standing inside the boathouse in the earlier days of the flood was taken during her first visit to our soggy waterfront. She’s been back at least once, and even helped pull some driftwood up from the lake.

Kathryn’s support and understanding in recent weeks has been a big morale booster, and he exhaustive coverage of the 2011 Lake Champlain floods is simply unparalleled. I hope she’ll curate her many photos into an exhibition once we’ve all recovered from the damage. It would make for a fascinating chronicle!

Rosslyn boathouse transcending Lake Champlain floodwaters. (photo credit, Jill Piper)

Rosslyn boathouse transcending Lake Champlain floodwaters. (photo credit Jill Piper)

Although most photographs of Lake Champlain flooding in general and of Rosslyn‘s flooded waterfront in particular emphasize the dire and depressing, a spectacular counterpoint was recently shared by Jill Piper, the creative eye and lens behind www.pickapiperpic.com. Her photograph of our boathouse wading up to her knees in Lake Champlain was published on Facebook with the following caption:

…and the sun sets on another day under… fingers and toes crossed for a hot sunny week!!!

Ah, yes, another day under water, but optimism flowed easily after viewing her handsome image. In fact, unless you look closely at the lower left border (or recognize the submerged Old Dock Restaurant, visible in the distance), you might not even notice that the boathouse is flooded. A trick of the eye, but soon, I hope, the floorboards will be visible once again. And then we can set to work with pressure washer and paint brushes to restore her to her former glory. Thank you, Jill, for reminding us to smile, and for reminding us that being underwater (or not) is just a matter of cropping!

Did I mention that Steve Phillips told us all of the electrical system, outlets, fixtures, etc. would need to be opened up and inspected? Sigh…

Meadowmount and Rosslyn

In Adirondacks, Boathouse, Champlain Valley, Daily Munge, What's Rosslyn?, What's the story?, Where's Rosslyn? on May 17, 2011 at 8:44 am
Rosslyn Boathouse, by Steven Rochen

Rosslyn boathouse photographed from Essex ferry dock (photo credit Steven Rochen)

What a pleasure to discover on Monday morning that the newest friend of the Rosslyn Redux Facebook page was Steven Rochen. Who you might ask? (Though, if you’re a Meadowmount School of Music alum, you probably already know!) Mr. Rochen first crossed my radar back in February of this year when I happened upon an interesting photograph of Rosslyn’s boathouse. The following was originally posted in “Rosslyn Boathouse in August 2005“:

Another Rosslyn boathouse sighting, this time discovered via Google Earth. The photo was taken by czechsteve on Panoramio.com on 2005/08/12 which is approximately one year before my wife and I purchased Rosslyn. The wooden Chris Craft on a mooring between our boathouse and the Essex ferry dock belonged to our neighbor, but he has since replaced it with a sailboat which is visible in more recent photographs.

If you go click through to the original photo and enlarge it, you can see the degree of disrepair that we inherited when we took ownership and began restoring this stately old maritime structure.

I have contacted the photographer to suggest a title because the image is currently untitled.

Update: Today is Wednesday, February 2, 2011 and I’ve just heard from the photographer:

I have added a title to your boathouse picture. Thanks for your input – I have seen that boathouse for many years (I’ve been coming for summers in the Adirondacks since I was a teenage student at the Meadowmount School of Music coming from Texas to study violin.)

Was the boathouse there in 1980? I don’t remember when I first saw it from the ferry crossing but I have always enjoyed seeing it – that is why I took the photo years ago…I can’t wait to see what you have done…

All best wishes! Steven Rochen – a.k.a. czechsteve!

Wonderful response. I’m excited to have made the connection, and I’m hoping that I may one day have the chance to meet Steven Rochen and give him a tour of the boathouse which has intrigued him for decades.

Rosslyn for Sale

In Adirondacks, Boathouse, Historic Essex, House, Lake Champlain, Memoir, What's Rosslyn?, What's the story?, Where's Rosslyn? on May 16, 2011 at 11:16 am
Rosslyn for sale, November 2004

Rosslyn for sale (photo credit Jason McNulty)

Susan and I were driving back to Rock Harbor after visiting Rosslyn, an early 19th century home in Essex, New York, which our realtor had just shown us for the second time in several months.

It was spring. At least a dozen sailboats speckled Whallons Bay as we wound south along the edge of Lake Champlain. Small white caps, light wind, bluebird skies above. Two fishing boats trawled between the beach and Split Rock where a glimpse of Vermont was visible within the cleft.

We veered away from the lake and up Couchey Hill toward one of the most picturesque views of in the Champlain Valley. Hurricane, Giant, Dix and the Jay Range were silhouetted against cloud specked blue skies to the east. An undulating patchwork quilt of hayfields and tree lines stretched to blue green foothills clumped against the Adirondack Mountains.

Half an hour can vanish in a single breath while watching a sunny day expire here. Even at midday the view is an open-ended invitation to linger.

But with minds and mouths racing, we did not even slow down on our way back to Rock Harbor. We were sorting engagements, worrying over deadlines and synchronizing schedules for the week ahead. After a quick lunch, we would drive back to Manhattan. Although the trip could be as quick as five hours, Sunday afternoons were typically slower with increased traffic around Albany and returning weekenders adding to the congestion.

Re-roofing and Flood Proofing

In Boathouse, Daily Munge, Lake Champlain, Renovation & Rehabilitation, What's Rosslyn?, What's the story?, Where's Rosslyn? on May 13, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Rosslyn boathouse when re-roofing was 50% complete in the summer of 2010

Rosslyn boathouse when re-roofing was 50% complete in the summer of 2010

Last summer (June-July 2010) our biggest concern with Rosslyn’s boathouse was restoring the roof. It’s hard to imagine that a year later our biggest concern is saving the building, pier and waterfront from finally-receding-but-increasingly-rough Lake Champlain flood waters! What better way to distract our anxieties than to look back on drier times?

The cedar shingle was suffering from many years of neglect. Covered with moss and rotted completely through in many areas, it was possible to watch clouds passing overhead (and fireworks) by standing in the second story and looking through the rot spots in the roof! Friend and former neighbor Michael Leslie headed up the project of stripping the expired shingles, rebuilding the rotted beams, sub-roof and related trim including the window overlooking the lake. The following comes from a blog post last July as we rounded the halfway mark.

The hardest part of re-shingling Rosslyn dock house is now behind us. Special thanks to Michael Leslie, Jerry Spooner and Jim Spooner for their progress so far.

In a bizarre twist, David Hislop asked me yesterday, “What’s the story with the dock house?” Hmmm… The story? Well, that’s what I’m writing: Rosslyn Redux. Coming soon to a digital download near you. 😉 Turns out he was referring to the roof. “People are asking why you’re re-roofing it AGAIN.” Again? Apparently a half dozen people have asked him this question. Easy answer. We’re not. It hasn’t been re-shingled since the early/mid 1980’s, but after a quarter century of rain, snow, ice, sun and wind, many of the shingles have rotted through and the roof is leaking, especially the southern exposure. We’d known that we would eventually have to strip the old shingles, but we had delayed as long as practical. Let’s hope the new roof lasts as long as the old one!

Although the re-roofing project took considerably longer than anticipated (this formula has become the rule rather than the exception during the process of renovating Rosslyn), it was worth every second when the beautiful work was complete. And doubly so last winter when snowstorms battered the little structure and again this spring when rain lashed at the roof. For the first time since buying this property in the summer of 2006 my bride and I could stop worrying about the boathouse that seduced us half a decade ago! The foundation had been restored. The structure had been restored. And now the roof had been restored. Life was good…

Perhaps we were too pleased? Perhaps hubris slipped into our homeowner psyche’s? Perhaps. Or perhaps nature’s far more powerful and far more fickle and unpredictable than we can possibly imagine. I’ve commented elsewhere that nature is a formidable foe and a loyal friend. I genuinely believe this, and yet this spring has reminded me that a boathouse built on a pier in the waters of a lake is not natural. It is a valuable architectural artifact. It is an indulgence. But it is not natural. And despite my resolve to balance my lifestyle with healthy stewardship of the natural environment, I never before stopped to contemplate how unnatural this structure really is. Although I’d likely discourage construction of a new albeit similar structure in fragile habitat like Lake Champlain, I never once stopped to consider Rosslyn’s beautiful boathouse a violation of nature because it already existed. It’s part of the architectural heritage of Essex, NY. In fact, we felt a responsibility to restore the boathouse. Indeed I still do, despite my newfound recognition that it contradicts my conventional bias.

Life is complex, and contradictions are everywhere. I don’t pretend to know all the right answers, nor even very many of them. But I’m beginning to suspect that the silver lining of Lake Champlain’s destructive flooding this spring is that I’ve been forced me to recognize and grapple with the contradiction in preserving Rosslyn’s boathouse despite the potentially adverse environmental impact. It has reminded me that conviction is handy but not infallible, that conviction must be balanced with questioning and humility.

So, I’m finally flood proofing my optimism! I’m still soggy and still anxious about the waves rolling through the interior of the boathouse and crashing against the rapidly eroding bank supporting Route 22, but I’m beginning to see that the glass is half full after all. And Lake Champlain? It’s still overfull!

Imagining Rosslyn Boathouse, Spring 2006

In Boathouse, House, Lake Champlain, Memoir, What's Rosslyn?, What's the story?, Where's Rosslyn? on May 12, 2011 at 10:44 am
Rosslyn Boathouse at Sunrise

Rosslyn Boathouse at Sunrise

“Coffee? You don’t even drink coffee,” Susan said.

“I know. I know it doesn’t make any sense. But I’m walking through Rosslyn early in the morning with a steaming cup of coffee…”

I hadn’t drunk coffee since college, and I’d obviously never wandered around Rosslyn at the crack of dawn either. But I kept having this vision.

“It’s just barely sunrise. You’re still sleeping. I’m up, drifting from room-to-room, slowly, haltingly, studying the way the sunlight illuminates each room. And those green walls in the parlor? They vibrate in the morning light, like new maple leaves in the springtime.”

I described the shaft of sunlight stretching across the workshop floor. I described the calm, the quiet except for an occasional creaky floorboard. I described Tasha, our Labrador Retriever, padding along with me, anxious for breakfast.

“Tasha sighs and lies down each time I stop. And I stop a lot… to watch the morning unfolding, to watch the sunlight shimmering on the rippled lake, to watch the boathouse clapboards glowing yellow orange for a few minutes as the sun rises above the Green Mountains.”

“I was imagining the boathouse too,” Susan said. “Not like today, but like it was ours, like we lived at Rosslyn. I was thinking, the boathouse’s just begging for a hammock. Don’t you think? A big, two-person hammock in the open-air part, under the roof. Can you imagine lying in a hammock in the evening, listening to the waves?” Susan paused, lost in the idea. “And think of the dinner parties,” she continued. “A table set for four. White linens and candles and sheer curtains billowing in the breeze…”

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