It’s been years since I was out on the water at Clove Lakes Park. Back when I was but three, my grandparents took the family to the park for a leisurely day of barbecuing and hiking. Being from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, Clove Lakes Park seemed like an oasis in the bustling city. It was, and still is. During our trip back in the ’70s, we rented paddle-boats.
I had shared a paddleboat with my uncle, who was more like a big brother to me. Unfortunately, I was too small to pedal, and so we ended up going in circles, mostly. My other distinct memory was getting stuck at the waterfall, all because I couldn’t paddle sufficiently, and my aunt and her then-boyfriend had to paddle over and extend a helping hand to pull us out.
On the day of the Chabad shofar ceremony, Sunday, September 20, 2020, we decided to rent a boat from the Stone House at Clove Lakes Snack Shack and Boat Rentals. The cost was eighteen dollars for an hour.
Alas, there were no longer any paddle-boats like in my early childhood, but a rowboat seemed more suitable, anyway; peddling for an hour seemed like quite a chore.
Others who were at the park for the event took to the water as well, and so we were left with a single oar as so many boats were launched. It made the rowing more challenging, but we made due. While waiting on line, we saw a group of people release balloons into the air, each making a wish.
The attendant told us to walk down the worn concrete steps to the dock area once he had readied the boat. We carefully climbed in, and the attendee gave the boat a gentle push. We were off!
Immediately, I was awed by the view: I have been to Clove Lakes Park thousands of times, probably, and the view is always the same. I’m always walking the path circling the lakes, looking out across the water to the other side. This was entirely different. The water glistened in the sunlight, casting sparkles everywhere.
Very soon, we witnessed out first incredible sight: A blue heron sitting on a dead branch projecting out of the water, just chilling. We rowed the boat in for a closer look, and to say hi to the beautiful bird. He didn’t fly, and just watched us drift closer and closer.
We were mere feet from this majestic bird. I’ve seen plenty of blue herons in Clove Lakes, Wolfe’s Pond park, and even at South Beach on the old disused pier. However, I’ve never been so close to one that we could look in one another’s eyes, or say, “What’s up, dear friend!” ever before.
After a few minutes, we bade our goodbyes to our new buddy and said we hoped we’d see him again, no doubt from the shore next time. We rowed on.
Oddly, I’ve never witnessed any boats in the south lake before, the lake that abuts Victory Boulevard. Seeing that there was ample room to pass under the stone bridge crossing Clove Lakes, we realized that nothing was stopping us. We paddled on through, seeing the familiar world from an entirely new perspective.
Once we passed though, we saw the Stonehouse restaurant, and the twin gazebos we’ve noticed innumerable times before. This time, we were a lot closer, though! Along the bank, on the side of the baseball field, a man took photos with his cell phone of a woman.
We were headed to the water spout. A duck was frolicking in the white spray, spreading her wings, enjoying the moment. Further along, we saw a flock of ducks, which took flight long before we could even get close to them.
Other boats passed under the stone bridge, joining us on the southern lake. We headed back to the larger body of water, passing under the other bridge. Kids in a nearby boat sung, “100 bottles of milk on the wall” as we passed by.
Next, we saw a family of ducks chilling out on one of the banks of the lake. They were clearly enjoying the day as much as we were. We rowed to the center of the lake, where we let the boat sit, motionless. Seeing the sky reflecting on the water was incredible; I’ve found this sight aesthetically pleasing before, but from our newly gained perspective, it was even more striking, as the sky turned a narrow band in the center of the lake deep blue with its reflection. This was a relaxing place.
We rowed on after some time, getting in close to a weeping willow that was growing into the water. We’ve seen this tree so many times before, it would be impossible to even guess how many. Even so, it looked entirely different now, fuller and more shapely. Various groups hung out on rocks along the shoreline, or walked the path so familiar to us.
A snapping turtle sat sunning himself on a tree trunk jutting out of the water along the East shoreline. Sunlight is good for us all; the turtle barely acknowledged us, and instead only seemed to care about catching as many of the sun’s rays as was possible. I wondered how old the turtle was. I wondered if I’ve ever seen him before. Who knows!
We passed too close to a dead tree that had fallen into the water and had to push ourselves out from under it.
Our next destination was the falls from my time as a toddler. We rowed in close, as a family sat up on the stone wall adjacent to the metal railing with a fishing pole. Back in high school, I recall having spent innumerable sunny afternoons lying down on the curved part, reading incredible works of literature. So, so many titles! Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, winner of a few awards back at the turn of the 1960s, was but one.
Trying to get a good shot of the falls, I almost flipped the boat over, and nearly lost my camera. The lurch left me feeling as though I had pulled my back, but I was alright. So strange that I had a second troubling experience at the place I returned to so many years later. When we had paddled on the lake so many years ago, I was horrified as the current of the water pulled us against the metal railing that blocks boats from falling down the incline to the lower lake.
We rowed back, trying to beat the clock. We didn’t know the precise policy and didn’t want to be charged for a full second hour for overspending time in the boat. We made it back, arriving with only a minute to spare!
This is a day trip I recommend to every Staten Islander, as well as anyone traveling to the island as a visitor. An hour seemed short; I’d say be prepared to spend at least two hours on the water , in order to have enough time to explore every nook and cranny of the shoreline without having to rush. Then again, it was fun having to race across the lake to get back. We made in just in time for the shofar ceremony organized by the North Shore Staten Island Chabad, conducted right at the foot of the dock.
We saw Rabbi Mendy Katzman standing at the top of the grey concrete slab steps, and the shofar ceremony began just as we touched land once again.