Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Few of Your Favorite Things: A Swimmin' (and Divin') Hole

Place names in the Adirondacks tend to fall into one of three categories: There are the ordinal names (Eleventh Mountain, Thirteenth Lake), the first-resident names (Lake George, Elizabethtown), and the thing-that-was-there-when-the-place-got-named names (Loon Lake, Garnet Hill, Crane Mountain). The names aren’t clever, mostly, but I like to think that’s because the places they refer to were settled by people too rugged and practical to get fancy about things – people for whom the word “branding” would have suggested nothing that didn’t involve hot metal on a cow. There is the occasional inspired, evocative one, though — like Paradox, or Lake Tear of the Clouds, where the Hudson starts. Or my favorite, and favorite thing this year: the Black Hole.

The Black Hole is a very deep spot on a fast-moving stream called Mill Creek (a Category Two name), which runs through Warren County, New York, about five miles from where I was born. It’s an ideal swimming-and-diving hole, a spot so perfect that alien visitors would be able to deduce from its existence not just the human practice of swimming and diving but the human practice of Mountain Dew commercials. It’s flanked on both sides by 12- or 13-foot cliffs, and has cold and seemingly bottomless water. It really does look black, at least from the top of the cliff, but this is not what gives the name resonance. The important part — the irresistibly attractive part, the one that justifies the other sense of “Black Hole” — is that some years ago, somebody ran a length of steel cable from a tree on one side to a tree on the other and fixed a rope swing to a spot in the middle. The rope hooks at the bottom to a bent spike in a tree, and if you loosen it, grab on above your head, and pull your knees up, it will fling you out into midair and deposit you about fifteen feet above the water, from which point you can drop down and forget about everything in the world for a few seconds, until the water slaps against your legs and then sucks you in.

My parents say that I used to go swimming there when I was a kid, but I don’t remember, and in any case I’m sure I was too little to get on the rope. I didn’t try the swing until just a few years ago, when my girlfriend and I starting renting cars on the weekend and driving up whenever we could. The first time, there were a bunch of local teenagers there, lean county kids in cutoffs and baseball hats who’d set their beers down and launch themselves into looping backflips, landing as close to the rocky shallows on the other side of the pool as they could get. They were leaving as we were coming in, so after about fifteen minutes we had the place to ourselves and could take our time summoning the courage to try a swing. I’m not sure I can explain how good it felt. For other New Yorkers, the best analogy I can offer is to the feeling you get when your cab is stuck in traffic for a long time and then you finally get loose and out onto the West Side Highway and the air starts rushing in the window. We go now every time we’re up there; a visit isn’t complete without it. Once we even took the host of this blog (I’ll leave it to him to tell you how he did). If you’re ever in the Adirondacks, you should stop by. It’s not hard to find — right between Johnsburg and the Town of Chester.

--Nick Trautwein


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