(Host) Samuel de Champlain gave the lake his own name in 1609. It’s been a key player in the campaigns of war. Commerce once thrived over its waters. And there has even been an effort to declare Champlain one of the Great Lakes.
As part of our series, Sounds of Vermont, VPR’s Steve Delaney listens in from morning to night.
(Sound of small waves lapping at shore.)
(Delaney) It’s a few minutes after 6:00 a.m. on a clear morning, and wavelets are combing out the sand and pebbles on the Vermont shore of Lake Champlain’s Inland Sea. (Sound of waves.) The morning is so new that the daylight bounces yellow off the Adirondacks, way off in New York.
(Sound of birds.) There’s an enormous variety of birds along the shore, and just now the chickadees are in season.
(Sound of boat motors starting up.) There’s an enormous variety of boats on the lake, and the morning’s first are often the bass boats. They’re so far away they’re seen only by their wakes, little silver comets flashing north over the still water, toward some secret fishing spot.
Harry Slauson hears them, and makes a judgment on the day ahead.
(Slauson) “Is it going to be a good day or is it not? You can pretty much even tell just lying in bed.”
(Delaney) Harry Slauson, who lives in Shelburne, is in his ninth decade of tuning in to Lake Champlain from a lakeside camp that was old when his grandfather taught him to fish here on the Milton shore.
(Slauson) “Well, I wake up in the morning, I routinely listen. I can tell whether the wind is coming from the north-south-east-west, whether it’s blowing hard enough to keep me off the lake or whether it’s nice. I don’t have to get up, I can tell just by listening.”
(Delaney) Big as it is, Lake Champlain has no tides or current. It moves, restlessly sometimes, but it moves in response to the wind, which governs its moods.
(Slauson) “When I hear the little lap-lap of the little waves, then I know the lake is relatively calm. That’s the time to get up and go use it. If I wake up and hear the waves go crash-crash-crash, I’m a small boat fisherman, I’m not that…. It’s time to go back to bed.” (Sound of heavier waves.)
(Delaney) Sometimes the transition from lapping to crashing can be quick. The wind has backed into the south at mid-morning, and that leaves this shoreline unprotected. The waves are a little more vigorous, a little bigger. (Sound of kids playing in surf.) But not big enough to keep kids out of the water. There’s a houseful of summer people having a family reunion, and many in the family seem to be kids of the age that they just cannot go into the water quietly.
(Sound of heavy waves and kids squealing.) By the time they come out for lunch, it’s clear that Lake Champlain is working itself up into a froth, and there’s nothing delicate about the waves that arrive now.
They’re only three or four feet high, but they’re close together and they smash powerfully into the rocks and beaches. The lake seems to be impersonating an ocean, at the urging of the wind.
There’s no thunder, and not much rain. But it’s gray and the summer people have taken their kids sightseeing for the afternoon. (Sound of smaller waves.) But the wind is fickle, and goes northerly at mid-afternoon, and the waves quiet down. Kids and boats reappear, together.
(Sound of boat motor; gears shifting and boat accelerating.) There are 12,000 powerboats on Lake Champlain, and most of them just go for the sake of going, a journey to no place in particular, with no urgency. There’s not much commerce on the lake any more, and its part in the struggle that formed a nation is a faded memory for most of the people in the boats.
(Sound of water on the hull of a boat.) Whether they move faster or slower across the lake, the recreational boaters become part of the scenery on one of New England’s natural treasures.
(Sound of small boat motor.) It’s late now, and the waves are tamer. And there, out beyond the Point. That’s Harry Slauson, going fishing, in calm water.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Delaney.
(Host) Our series, Sounds of Vermont, explores everyday sounds and what they mean to us. Suggest topics for future segments by visiting the Sounds of Vermont feedback page.