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In dry dock

The winter months are when I resign myself to what I consider the “dry dock” season. This is the time in which our community pauses much of its lake frolic and hunkers down for a long cold winter. Living on and around our mountain lake, we know that when the weatherman smirks through the forecast, predicting, “Higher accumulations and lower temperatures in the north, west and higher elevations,” we’re heading for what I like to call the Lake Hopatcong Weather Triple Play. Unlike most weather forecasts, it is depressingly accurate. That said, these winter blizzards bring the comfort that the more snow we get, the sooner the lake will fill up in the spring. There’s always a snow-white bright side!

My dogs aren’t particular fans of being in “dry dock.” That first snowy dash into the white drifts outside starts well, but rapidly descends into the winter version of “Stages of Grief for Dogs That Hate Everything Wet.”

Stage 1: “Yaaaay, there’s snow!”

Stage 2: “Wait, there’s snow?”

Stage 3: “&^%*^&, there’s snow!”

Stage 4 (with baleful eyes at me): “I’ll do my business outside in the cold as soon as you do!”

The dogs will then stand outside, noses pressed to the glass door and eyes glued to mine, waiting until I let them back in to make their mess in the warmth and comfort of the living room. It’s a challenge of wills that I don’t always win. For Christmas my husband bought me a carpet cleaner with an attachment specifically for pet messes. This was not an unwelcome gift.

But back to what it means to be “in dry dock.”

In dry dock, the absence of sound is felt and heard, filling the air with heavy silence. During the warmer seasons, there is the lighthearted cacophony of bullfrogs and birds, and the morning guffaw of ducks sharing what I have to believe is a hilarious “fowl” joke. Come wintertime, even when the ducks visit the melted pools in our cove, they’re silent and sullen, as if it were too cold to quack.

In dry dock, the marinas are still and empty, yet tease us with the leisure to come. Dozens of boats are shrouded in white, nestled in snowy flocks like giant sleeping swans, accented by azure wraps that rival the infinite blue above. Occasionally, on the outer end of the marina, you will spot a little boat trapped in the frozen water. I can’t help wondering if that last day of fishing before abandoning the craft to the wiles of winter was worth it? I’ll bet it totally was.

In dry dock, even the best of relationships can get a little chilly, with cabin fever and the winter doldrums taking hold in the short days and long nights. Even the wildlife is not immune to a little winter grumpiness.

One Sunday morning a couple of weeks ago, I watched two herons fishing peacefully, one on the dock and one in the water several feet away. The first looked across to the other, then without warning leaped off the dock, dive bombed the other, and smacked it on the head before screeching up toward the trees. The stunned mate shook itself, confused, and flew away to sulk alone. This just goes to show that even in the animal kingdom, winter can transform the gentlest of creatures into a crankypants.

In dry dock, certain weather-hardened souls venture out onto the smooth expanse of ice, to fish, skate, and play hockey, or otherwise freeze various body parts that I personally prefer keeping at a toasty 98.6 degrees.

On any typical weekend I see small groups of two and three people gathered around a hole carved into the ice, armed with fishing gear, hot coffee and cold beer. People do make the most of winter on the lake, or maybe they know that’s the best way to avoid a crankypants at home.

Like all seasons, dry dock does wind down. As late winter thaw arrives, the days grow longer, the lake begins to twinkle in the sun, and we move on to other, important topics. First and foremost, the Great Springtime Debate: How soon until we get back out onto the water?

March brings out the intrepid bass boats and kayakers, some to fish and some to (quietly) rescue a previously icebound craft.

Early April brings out a curious form of spring fever that makes otherwise rational people decide that swimming, waterskiing and wakeboarding in chilly water is a perfectly fine idea. But after that, we are all together again, eager, delighted and relieved to be out of dry dock for another glorious year on the lake.

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