Tales of Finding
Scenes from Brant Lake
Years as a writer, traveler, teacher and rabbi have provided me a unique perspective on the human experience. And while I have gleaned treasured experiences from my exposure to distant lands and, through pastoral counseling, the inner country of emotions and thoughts, lately I have turned my attention to quieter, though no less fertile, grounds: My home in the hamlet of Brant Lake, New York. My current posts explore the people, landscape and wildlife of the Adirondacks as Brant Lake becomes a metaphor for setting off on paths of finding and the ever present opportunities for a rebirth of the human spirit–––or, in the words of Thoreau, “Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn.”
My Introduction to Brant Lake
They were two elderly men with strands of white hair blowing in the breeze and, in retrospect, they inspired my life, although I was only 13 at the time and could not have known the importance of this ordinary encounter.
My parents and I were driving on Route 8, skirting Brant Lake, and searching for a summer camp I could attend. From the age of seven I had spent summers at a boys camp near Old Forge, snowmobile capital of the world. However, in the spring of 1950 the director fell ill and the camp closed. Frantically my family contacted camps. Idlewild, Cayuga, Androscoggin, typical Indian names for camps without a single Native American camper. Filled. Every camp was filled. So we drove 80 miles north of my home in Albany, New York to visit a final recommendation, Brant Lake Camp for Boys. And, in case you consider Brant a non-Indian name I would note the real name of this Mohawk leader was Thayendanga—thus the camp qualified as a legitimate summer way station for a Jewish boy!
As we approached the camp we spied two man wearing bathing suits and terry cloth robes crossing to the beach. My father stopped our brown Plymouth coupe with the canvas roof that became a convertible a week later when it blew off in a heavy windstorm.
“Excuse me,” my father said to one gentleman. “Excuse me, we are looking for Brant Lake Camp, could you give directions?” The man waved his towel towards a green sign embedded in a stone gate. “Brant Lake Camp” and replied, “This is it.”
“And,” my father beamed,” Are you the owners?” For certainly the two appeared mature and the exact image of camp directors. The only response was a laugh that went on and on and on.
“The owners? Hardly. But we can give you the owner’s phone number. He lives in New York City. Mr. Gerstenzang.” Equipped with this information we returned to Albany and called Mr. Gerstenzang.
“Sir,” my father explained, “we were visiting Brant Lake in search of your camp and met two distinguished men who we thought owned the camp. They said you were the director.” My father described them and Mr. Gerstenzang laughed, and laughed, and laughed.
“That was Casper and Irving. They clean the toilets at camp in the summer and you can find them in their role as bookies outside Madison Square Garden in winter.”
Well, I went to Brant Lake, built a home on Brant Lake, met Ann at Brant Lake and over the years the community at Brant Lake has become a treasured aspect of my life as I return over and over and over.
Therefore, I am indebted to that brief meeting with Casper and Irving by the side of Route 8 and a laugh that expanded into years of fulfillment. I was granted the rich gift of a lifetime, garnered in a seemingly insignificant moment–––like so many of the defining moments in our life.