Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

An Ode to Lake Needwood

I spent my early teenage years a mile from Lake Needwood, so when I heard today that they're going to permanently drain the lake dry due to recent flooding, I felt a tinge of sadness and nostalgia.

When I moved to Maryland from California in 1981, my dad began taking my brother and I for hiking trips around the lake, and we would walk over the massive earthen dam that's now the source of the lake's instability. Our hikes always included a treasure hunt for lost fishing lures and arrows from the nearby archery range. My brother and father and I would drag downed trees from the water in hopes that a snagged lure was hooked on the end. It may sound like searching for trash to most people, but whenever I saw the flicker of a fishing lure on the end of a dripping branch, my eyes lit up. My brother and I had an entire collection of lures we'd pulled from that lake. At the archery range, we'd scramble behind the targeted hay bales to see if any arrows had gone all the way through and been forgotten by their shooters. Inevitably, we'd find one and go home happy kids.

In the late 80s, Lake Needwood had to be closed one weekend because there was a KKK rally inside the park's boundaries. This was the first time I'd ever heard of the "KKK" and I remember asking my dad what it was. "They hate Catholics and black people", came the answer from my father. "They used to hang people from trees". I recall not fully understanding, but in my childhood brain it was very sinister and scary.

When I got my license at age 16, my friends and I found Lake Needwood a secure venue for carrying out our various mischiefs---smoking cigars, drinking beer, lighting firecrackers. We usually got chased out by the police.

During muggy Maryland summers, we'd gather a dozen friends and rent canoes and row boats. Of course, the purpose of those trips was never to simply enjoy the serene surroundings of the lake. Oh no. We'd row or paddle the boats to a far corner, and begin a game of crash-up-derby on the water until we'd capsize.

In the summer before I went to college (1991) I scored a job at the boathouse. The head of the Needwood Boathouse was an old codger named Jack who worked every day from 6 AM until 1:30, then went home and---I was told---downed a case of Budweiser.

My job at the lake was to hold the boats while people climbed on. This job had its share of down time and, subsequently, serious flirting with co-workers. Since the afternoon manager was an all-day pot smoker, and used the boathouse office as a sanctuary for his vice, we could get away with anything. Shit, I used to bring my guitar and grill to work and relax and strum for hours on end---all the while getting paid $5.50 per hour. I had a serious crush on my co-worker, Alexa, whom I thought was SO cool. She was an artist and talked in a really high-pitched voice, which was incredibly alluring to me. I was intimidated because she was 22 and listened to bands I'd never heard of like The Cows, Mudhoney, and some band named Nirvanna who she thought had "totally sold out" (this was before they got big). During the down times on Needwood's docks, I'd try to convey my infatuation for her, but she was far more interested in the punk rock pot-smoking boathouse manager than me. One night, Alexa invited me to a show at the 9:30 Club in DC to see a punk band from Seattle. (This was when the 9:30 was at 9th & F St, NW---much cooler than now). This was the beginning of my love for the city.

One of the perks of the job was having the authority to jet around the lake "on patrol" in the motorboat. Mostly, the purpose was to catch misbehaving kids splashing one another. We even had radio codes, like 10-9 (sex on shore), 10-6 (fighting) or 10-2 (boat in need of tow). Having the motorboat also alowed us to stop and chat with pretty girls who were renting boats on the water. Man, such power and priviledge ...

I assumed the lake would always be there, but soon it'll be gone. And the Maryland governor just approved a plan to construct a massive highway a few hundred yards from Lake Needwood. When I was young, Montgomery County was beautiful and pristine. You could suck in nature with a deep breath not too far from the beltway. But no longer. The suburbs and growing "exurbs" are becoming vapid, less interesting extensions of the city---everything will be paved soon enough. Each time I visit my parents in Maryland, I see a new housing development where I used to ride bikes through woods and cornfields. Not any more. Lake Needwood's demise is just one more piece gone from the place where I grew up.
Comments:
Mother fucker. You probably owe me at least three lures.
 
Remember that kid who jumped out of a canoe and hit the muddy bottom, getting his legs stuck? His friend was left on the boat wondering where he was.
 
Unbelievable, I have 4 Kayaks and a boat who's up for one last run on Saturday? Chris
 
A sad tale of nostalgia. Unfortunately, the bitter truth is that as we all keep fucking and making babies, these small pieces of nature will diminish and the entire East Coast will be one big "suburb".
 
Shrubs,

I believe the term from Richmond, VA to Boston, MA is "Megalopolis".
 
Beautiful post. Sad story. Your summer job beats my summer jobs. You'd think there'd be more of an outcry over draining a lake that it seems many people used.
 
I'm really sad to hear that. Sounds like you could probably publish a book of stories/memories from that lake!
 
Great place to do 10-9ing
 
it is definiitely sad. BUT i did see someting on the news that said it may be only temporary...just to fix the dam. But still, it will probably get all swallowed up in red tape and tthey will probably end up building a fucking shopping mall there..like Montgomery county need another strip mall. Even if they refill it after the dam is fixed, it will still take YEARS for the ecosystem to get back to where it was today.

Too bad. I guess people wanting to make out, fuck and drink beer will have to find another spot. Maybe lake Frank??
 
hey, i golf near there at a nicely maintained course called (what else) Needwood. They're not draining the golf course water hazards too are they? Cuz that would improve my game significantly.
 
Red Storm,

We used to go sledding and hang out drinking at night at that golf course when I was a kid!

As far as I know, they're not doing anything to the course.
 
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