In early October we took a much-needed family vacation that involved more driving than I might have liked, but was well worth it. We drove the circuit we usually make to visit our immediate family. This time, however, we had a few extra days, so we spent a couple of them at Lake Minisink–a timeless, even somewhat sacred place that holds a special place in my heart.
Lake Minisink is a small lake nestled within Pennsylvania’s Delaware State Forest. Before our recent trip, I hadn’t been to the lake in over five years, but when I was a child my family–including grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins–spent nearly a week there almost every summer. The memories of summer days spent there are vivid; each one is like a stitch that string together the fabric of my childhood. Wading and swimming in the lake was always an adventure, with the soft lake bottom squishing between our toes and tiny sunfish and minnows nipping at our legs.
When we weren’t swimming, we were often out on the lake in a canoe or rowboat, either sunning ourselves or fishing. The fishing was decent and we often made at least one our meals from our catch, which would be mostly made up of sunnies (sunfish) and perch, but might also include some trout or bass.
To this day, the best fish I’ve ever had was a breakfast of pan-fried filets of sunfish that we caught in the lake the day before. Catfish and pickerel were prevalent in the lake as well, and catching them was always a thrill, but we didn’t eat them.
The lake is beautiful, quiet, and peaceful. But I think my favorite thing about Lake Minisink is that it is always the same. Okay, nothing really stays the same. Sure, our side of the lake is a lot shallower and overgrown with lily pads than it used to be, some of the dilapidated boats docks have been replaced, and one of the neighbors across the lake was re-siding his cabin. But beyond that, it’s pretty much just as I left it five years ago. No road improvements, no new houses, no huge influx of people, no major changes. How refreshing!
If I left the Virginia town in which I live and didn’t come back until five years later, I’m willing to bet that some of the area would be unrecognizable. There would be changes to road infrastructure and new shopping centers and housing developments all over the place. At the lake, it’s just as it was five years ago, ten years ago, and even 25 years ago. This is remarkable, considering the lake is in what has been one of the fastest growing regions of the state! But then again, it’s in a state forest.
In general, we’ve always referred to this place as “the cabin”, but over the years our family has stayed at three different cabins on the lake’s east shore. Two of them are lakefront cottages that are essentially one small multipurpose room with a roof (kitchen, dining room, and bedroom all in one) with an enclosed sun porch on the lake side. There is electricity and a wood stove, but there is no plumbing or heating/AC. Most of the houses on the lake, including these three, have outhouses. It was always an adventure to take friends there that were unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the idea of using an outhouse. It really isn’t bad, though. It’s like a permanent porto-john without the volume of traffic that a porto-john gets.
The worse part, to me, is having to put a coat on and walk out there in the middle of the night when it is cold and dark outside. I always find myself laying in bed for a while, half asleep and weighing my options: continue to lie there in pain, pee my pants, or tough it out and go outside to the outhouse.
It was great fun taking my husband and two children to the lake, where I made so many fond childhood memories. My husband came with me the last time, which was just before we got married, but now we have a family and I couldn’t wait to see what our kids thought of the place. And of course, I snapped a ton of photos. But they weren’t just of us enjoying ourselves. I really took in the details of the place–details that for so many years I had overlooked or had forgotten about.
One of the great things about our cabin is that family members that stay there have, on many occasions, left a bit of themselves behind. You can’t be there without being reminded of all of the others that have enjoyed this place. For instance, my grandmother’s painting of the lake hangs on the wall.
So does the mounted citation bluegill that my sister pulled from Lake Minisink 26 years ago,
and the mounted pickerel that my cousin caught just a year or two later. The pickerel was huge by our standards, but was just a few ounces shy of a citation.
There are also photos displayed of some that love to visit the cabin, as well as a photo of a special lady who also loved spending time there, and whom we are fondly reminded of while we’re there.
The weather was amazing… perfect, to be exact. You couldn’t have wished for better conditions for fishing or being out on a boat, and my son was eager to do both.
My husband and son took the rowboat out three times during our short stay at the lake. I anticipated that as soon as my husband rowed out to a suitable fishing spot, our son would get bored and ask to go back ashore. But he really enjoyed himself and loved being on the water.
When they got back to shore he was happy to report to me that they caught three fish!
"We caught THREE fish!"
While they were out on the boat and our daughter napped, I shared a staring contest with this pickerel that was hovering in the water right by the dock. (He was much smaller than the one mounted on the wall in the cabin.)
I also took each of my kids for a walk on the trails that begin just a short distance from the cabin. Since my daughter had just begun walking a few weeks earlier, the rocky outcroppings were a bit of an obstacle for her. She had fun just sitting on the ground and picking up whatever was in her reach. She especially enjoyed the reaction I gave her when she decided to taste the leaf that was in her hand.
My son is older and much more agile, so we went for a longer walk together. He was happy to lead the way and enjoyed crawling over the rocks and trees in the woods.
During our walks my eyes were often turned downward in hopes of finding a red-spotted newt.
Red-spotted Newt (juvenile or eft stage); Photo from the PA Fish & Boat Commission
These small, bright orange-red salamanders are one of the cutest things you might ever see and when I was a child we would catch a box full of them over the course of a week. They weren’t hard to find at the time; we would often spot them waddling across the path right in front of us. I remember one summer having caught about 50 of them. (Can you imagine the fun we had, releasing all of them at once before we went home?) I didn’t find a red one, which are the juveniles, but I did see an adult in the water near the boat launch, which we always affectionately called “the swamp” and was another place we often found the salamanders.
When they are adults, their color is more of a muddy green-brown. I didn’t see this one at first, but its abrupt dart from the shoreline to the deeper water as we approached was unmistakable. I caught it out of the corner of my eye. Then I grabbed a long stick and gently coaxed him out of his hiding spot in the shallow, muddy water. The adults are quick swimmers, but this one laid still long enough for me to get a few shots.
On a side note, I had noticed in more recent years that we wouldn’t spot nearly as many of these newts as we did when we were kids at the lake in the 1980’s. I always wondered if this was just due to bad timing on our part with respect to the life cycle and metamorphosis of the newt, or if there was another factor such as pollution that had caused a decline in the species. In searching for online content about the newt, I found this PubMed abstract that seems to suggest that a relatively new fungus is infecting the newts and could be impacting their population.
Aside from newt-hunting, boating, fishing, and exploring, we were happy to simply relax inside the cabin. My kids are too small to play board games, another great cabin past time, but I look forward to those in the future. We enjoyed the childhood thrill of bunk beds, snacked, colored, listened to music, watched movies, and just enjoyed being together. I can’t wait to go back!
According to the Department of Conservation of Natural Resources (DCNR), Lake Minisink is a man-made lake that covers 35 acres and has an average depth of 15 feet, offering fishing and boating opportunities. The cabins that surround the lake are privately owned, but the cabin owners lease the land from the state. Lake Minisink’s cabin owners even have their own association.