Remembering Scott Leighton: joie de vivre

Scott on our way to get gas and ice

Scott on our way to get gas and ice

My friends and I have this annual group camping trip that’s been going on for 25 years now. As a coincidence Scott and I both attended the first time in 1995, and since roughly 1998 it’s taken place on Lake George in the Adirondacks in upstate New York. If you’ve never been, Lake George is absolutely gorgeous. It has a reputation as a sort of mini-coney island tourist trap, but that’s just the southwest corner of the lake – the northern 4/5ths of the lake are mostly state lands and undeveloped, and there are a few dozen campsites that are accessible only by water. For 10 or so years out of the 25 year history of this camping trip we’ve rented a boat and camped on the water-accessible only sites, floating in all our supplies and spending the weekend tubing, cruising the lake on the boat, etc.

The area is known for its powerful thunderstorms in the summer. You can be out on the lake on a completely beautiful sunny day one second and the next find yourself in the heart of the maelstrom, thunder crashing, the wind roaring and the rain coming down so hard and fast you can’t keep your eyes open to see. Usually the dramatic storms are short lived – they blow through, relieve some humidity, and then you’re back to your beautiful sunny day.

after the worst of the storm. You can see the white line where the rain is still coming down hard

after the worst of the storm. You can see the white line where the rain is still coming down hard

Dave, Scott and me set out to refill the boat one year the day after we arrived. It was a beautiful sunny day and we were tubing on the way back after picking up gas when we noticed thunderheads moving in, so we pulled in the tube. Almost before we had finished that it started coming down hard, the wind picked up, and things got rough. While we didn’t exactly panic, Dave and I both got concerned. Dave had been driving and he had slowed the boat to a crawl, but the winds were high and were forcing us towards shore. Scott and I both started exhorting him to keep the boat moving. Dave complained that he couldn’t see a damn thing with the rain blowing in our faces. Scott took control of the situation, taking the helm of the boat. I asked Scott how he could possibly see – I had sunglasses on which was keeping the rain out of my eyes, mostly, but I still felt blinded. Dave meanwhile had pulled the tube up as a shield and he was kneeling behind it. I joined him and the two of us knelt there on the deck, cowering behind it.

Tell me that doesn't look a bit like a 1970's Yes album cover

Tell me that doesn't look a bit like a 1970's Yes album cover

Scott meanwhile had started to accelerate. At first he was just trying to get the boat’s nose headed into the wind so we would stop drifting towards shore, but soon he was laughing, nudging the speed higher and then higher again. Now the wind was just whipping through the boat and the raindrops stung when they hit you, and Dave and I were clucking like nervous hens behind our tube, occasionally poking our heads up to try and see what was happening and then quickly ducking back down.  At some point during this Scott asked for my sunglasses, and that’s my image of him in this scene – my sunglasses on, laughing, laughing, laughing – laughing at Dave and I, who definitely looked pathetic, laughing in the face of the storm as he pushed the boat ever faster into it, laughing at life and the chaotic fun it could throw at you.

It was over in 5 or 10 minutes, and soon we were all laughing at what we had just been through, Scott poking fun at Dave and I, observing that we felt like we were starring in our own Yes album cover, and chugging back to camp in what was now a gentle rain.

There’s a gallery of all of my pictures of Scott here. I’ve also written a few other remembrances of him, which you can read here.

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