Lake George, New York is a massive tourist trap. It has wall-to-wall tacky tourist stores that sell anything from t-shirts, sweatshirts, shorts, swimsuits, and flip-flops to shot glasses, ceramic mugs, toys, and sailor hats, all imprinted with boats or sea creatures or the beach, all saying LAKE GEORGE, NY in huge embroidered letters across the front of them. The whole town surrounding the thirty-two mile long lake is swarming with hordes of children, old people, young couples, foreigners, teenagers, campers, renters, motel-stayers, swimmers, water skiers, boaters, museum visitors, hikers, and beach-goers. It’s gotten so packed with tourism in the last five years that I bet you could stay there for a week and not meet a single person who is a year-round resident of the town. Lake George is also one of my favorite places, and probably one of the most important places in my life.
The Lake is so blue and so clean, that it makes the gorgeous blue-green and purple mountains surrounding it even more incredible. Its waters are populated by small sailboats, motorboats, and large steam ships that cruise slowly down it for tours every day in the summer. There are fields and forests on the outskirts of the town, and wild flowers on the side of the main road through the village. There are little cottages that populate the tacky man-made beaches on the edge of the lake, and every hour or so, a bright red horse-drawn carriage meanders down the road carrying families for sight-seeing.
I’ve been vacationing here with my family for as long as I can remember. And not just my immediate family either. It’s more like the entirety of my mother’s side of the family, as well as several members from my dad’s side. I don’t really remember how this tradition started but every year we come from around the country and across the Atlantic, some of us camping, some of us renting cottages, to be together. We frequently meet up during our stay, sometimes in the small, air conditioned living rooms of the cottages, but mostly on the campgrounds around a campfire at night. We talk and the kids run around and play games and roast marshmallows, and the adults drink and the ranger gets called. But once it gets pretty late and the night is winding down, someone breaks out in song. It’s lame to think about singing around a camp fire at night and it kind of is, and sometimes it’s really annoying. But it’s also quite beautiful to hear people you love singing such sweet Irish songs. Because that’s what they always are, Irish hymns or folk songs that have been handed down over the years. During the rest of the year, I don’t feel the kind of familial ties and connection to my heritage as strongly as I feel it those nights at the Lake. When my uncle died suddenly two years ago, we all talked about how we would miss his deep, sonorous voice at the campground in the years to come, and how much he loved Irish music.
I have learned a great deal about family history and loyalty, and about having an appreciation for the beauty of nature from going to Lake George every year. These values have asserted themselves in my life many times throughout my childhood, but I think these vacations up to the Lake enforced them in a way that was more powerful and more meaningful than anything else in my life.