Winter on an Island in Lake George
By Anthony F. Hall
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
People don’t know whether to envy Jeff Moore, a 33 year-old native of Hohokus, New Jersey, or to pity him.
His is either the dream job or a form of unusual punishment.
He’s the caretaker of one of Lake George’s privately-owned islands, a pleasant enough job in summer, but one that requires some fortitude in winter, when weeks will pass before he might speak to another human being. “It’s a matter of perspective,” says Moore. “Is it loneliness or solitude? For me, it’s an enjoyable solitude.”
A graduate of the University of Maine at Orono, where he studied to become a high school English teacher, Moore learned to love Lake George as a camper at Adirondack Camp and as a weekend visitor. When he heard that an opening for an island caretaker was available, he seized the opportunity, spending several summers living on a small cabin perched on the shore.
Not long ago, he asked the owners if he could extend his residency beyond October, the time of year when, traditionally, the pipes are drained and the house is shuttered and closed until May.
“What prompted me to do this was, having a history of experiencing the lake in summer, was the thought, ‘wouldn’t it be fun to have a winter on the island?’ I was spending winters in Florida and I was tired of being away from the snow.”
So that’s where he’s spent the past two winters, listening to the frozen lake creak, watching eagles circle above pools of open water.
“Last year wasn’t much of a winter, but this year was great,” he says.
With this year’s late but hard freeze and the heavy snows that followed, Moore had plenty of opportunities to explore the deserted lake, skiing to Black and Tongue Mountains and scaling their summits on snowshoes, or pushing his way through the swamp at the mouth of Northwest Bay Brook.
“The weather dictated my days,” he says. If the weather forced him inside, he holed-up in his cabin, reading, painting and playing his guitar. If there was big news on shore, he didn’t hear about it. He rarely reads newspapers, he says.
Of greater interest to him than the news, he says, was the changing seasons.
“I got up every day before dawn to take photos,” he says.
Moore also, he acknowledges, spent many an hour securing the necessities of daily life, hauling water, rigging up a method for taking hot showers, crossing the ice into Bolton Landing for food and other supplies.
“I developed a healthy respect for the ice,” says Moore.
In the days leading up to ice-in and ice-out, Moore secured enough provisions to last him several days, or until he could either safely traverse the ice on foot or travel by boat.
He’ll admit to at least one occasion when he went in. He was pushing a canoe with one foot when both he and the canoe broke through the ice, leaving both in the water. With the canoe sinking, Moore had no choice but to pull himself out.
“You have to have a sense of humor,” says Moore. “Things go wrong and you have to be able to laugh about it. You either laugh or you freak.”
That’s probably a quality that will serve Moore well in life, even or especially when he decides he no longer wants to be caretaker of an island.
“I’ve learned to be self-sufficient,” he says.