After a friendly meeting with few words at which even less was said I climbed into my car and (thanks to the miracle of GPS on my phone) decided to visit the nearby large body of water in Suffolk County known as Lake Ronkonkoma. Despite its size of two hundred and forty acres it is difficult to find in dense suburbia when approaching it from the west. According to the maps there are many shady streets leading down to its shore, each one lined with that archetypal Long Island blend of clapboard houses with the interspersed shanty. But each street ends in a severe wire fence and dense undergrowth, through which the lake may be glimpsed tantalizingly above the innumerable colonies of feral cats. The only open views and access are on the northern and south eastern edges.
My advice when at the north end of the lake is: Focus on the water and not on the commercial properties behind you. For if you turn around you may be tempted to spend money on your nails, a martial arts lesson, your first tattoo, or, God forbid, sell your last scrap of gold to an unscrupulous merchant. Oh, and get your dog groomed at the same time. No, park the car and walk past the children’s playground to the waters’ edge.
I was greeted by dozen or more geese (including three white geese which reminded me of my childhood) and I spent a few long minutes looking out over the lake. Almost a perfect circle in shape each shore is about a sixth of a mile from its opposite bank. And although I did not know this – Ronkonkoma is deep, very deep. There are places where the bottom lies ninety-five feet under water, such was the scouring power of the glacier that carved it out in the last ice age. Coupled with its sheer featureless surface these depths make it very difficult to fish. A man was trying his best during my brief visit, up to his waist and gently casting a floating line in front. I hoped success for him, but I would have been more realistic had I been the angler.
I read that Ronkonkoma was a thriving resort in the late nineteenth century. Large lakeside houses and hotels were constructed. Even a pavilion or two, as people flocked in their thousands to the area. Some even believed that the lake water has medicinal properties. There was even a claimed “Lady of the Lake,” an Indian princess who fell in love with an English settler and who drowned while swimming one night. (There are so many variations of this story and no space to tell them all. They all focus on one man, one woman, and tragedy.)
The resort gave way to residential which was replaced by commercial development, notably on the north shore. Thankfully pockets of land are preserved in County and Town park-lands. The rest is at the mercy of future developers.
Will I return to fish? Perhaps. Perhaps on a late autumn day if I can find a boat and row out into the center. Then a slowly sinking line …