Upon entry to the region around Lake Awosting directly from Lake Minnewaska, the carriageway at the north end of the lake sweeps slightly upward en route to the first views from Overlook Hill. There, right off the trail, a broad white conglomerate bedding discloses the blue rolling Catskill Mountains capped above the lake’s northern reach. Though positioned to the north and the west, the Catskills function to lead the eye to the lean white cliffs on the west side of the lake, and then immediately southward toward Sam’s Point. The ridgeline in the west is elegant and nearly straight, transporting us ever southward— whereas the east side is indiscriminately filled with the encroaching forest that sweeps below the overlook bluff and undulates again at two other points along the lake towards its distant terminus. Immediately this asymmetry sets up an imbalance, nudging our orientation to face westward. The body of the lake separates our own body from the horizon to the west. The environment to the east initially becomes, thereby, local, and discretely integrates into part of our observing stance, just below our first sweeping inquiries.
As if spying from a privileged vantage, our second series of glances look down directly upon the lake and the local environment for a more enduring investigation. In truth, the lake was the target of our first preliminary review upon arrival, but the initial act of sight took on the style of a received feeling more than a gathered environment. It flowed in at once in the form of an affirmation of the lake’s bold spatial presence— as expected. Still, the sheer facticity of the lake’s presence flowed beyond the visual presentation that was expected, so vision was solicited in a more engaged fashion. That presentation was apprehended primarily through the relationship that the water’s surface holds with its own boundaries with the surrounding terrain. Finally, at the end of this series of rapid glances, Overlook Hill positions Lake Awosting as the most prominent presence at hand— overweight with gravitas, and a bearing that is strong enough to pull all attention inward toward it’s broad surface, while simultaneously spinning us outward toward its defining contours.
This internal-external tension gives rise to the stability and cohesion of all visual objects. It is even how vision presents an object only as a form of relationships between vying ‘centers’ and ‘surrounds’ defining each other as a basic unit, the elemental atoms of sight. But though vision operates as a sense process by means of this reciprocal exchange, the perceptual experience does not take in the elemental two-sided dynamic, but rather, the singular presence that is ultimately made palpable and unquestionable because it had no constitutive parts.
At day’s end, this same privileged position atop Overlook Hill discloses a sunset that paints Lake Awosting with the rich hues of the setting sun just above the elegant line on the west side of the lake. All focus is drawn to the color of sunset at the time— a sunset akin to nearly any sunset upon any mountain lake. The white cliffs that one stands upon are painted with smoldering hues during the twilight glow that immediately follows such a sunset, but the rock more often loses itself to the bright display as the earth is blanked with shadows that have already acquiesced to the submerging sun. In early morning light, however, if the sun behind the ridge at our backs has not yet risen to directly light the setting from the rear, the white rock becomes nearly luminant with its own self-generated glow.
Subtle pink hues mix with cyan blues in the sky above the lake’s water, which takes on the deeper blues of the sky above. In the morning, color is distributed across both the terrain and the lake’s surface relative to the hour of sunset. In the morning, the lake itself— mysterious and hidden in a gradient of deep blue— has not yet camouflaged itself beneath the dull silver-grey volume that it wears for much of its day when spied from Overlook. Under the midday sun, therefore, that blank volume incites the viewer downward to investigate the lake’s surface. And so we oblige.
Staying to the right on the carriage road so that we may hug the lake, the route descends beyond a junction with another carriageway that climbs toward Castle Point and Hamilton Point. A right turn at this junction navigates us toward the lake shore, with additional panoramic views available off trail before the carriageway turns left again to parallel the lake’s contour. The lake shore carriage road sweeps along a few tantalizing turns just before it broadens onto a wide slab of gently sloping conglomerate that quietly plunges under the water line at the lake’s formal, but rocky, ‘beach’ area. Swimming at Lake Awosting is an experience unto itself— its cool crisp water hovers like a transparent sky above the smooth sculpted rock. This offers a tactile experience that complements the refreshing dip and provides the experience with an unforgettable sensation of flight.
Not far beyond the conglomerate beach, the old road continues to sweep along toward the southern end of the lake. Before curving round the terminus of the lake through a series of turns outside a marshy wetland, the trail passes a peninsula that juts out a significant plot of land populated with pitch pine, grass and wild blueberry. This is a prized plot. At the waterline, a private conglomerate platform extends round an apex beyond the terrain, just before it slides below the waterline. This platform offers intimate views of the lake’s depths and hidden harbors between its shores on either side. It also offers a prominent position to view the entire length of the long lake from the water’s edge.
The American Indian name for the lake was Aawosting, roughly translated to ‘flow waters’. It has been said that the First Americans also utilized the notion of ‘Long Body’ to represent the fact that each of our current moments are seamlessly attached to the trailing experiences of our past, which are still there to inform and impart a momentum to our current acts and identity. These descriptions utilize a spatial reference to intuit a temporal extension— a life compelled into the present but not divorced from the past, as western thinkers such as William James and Henri Bergson referenced in different ways. For the individual that instantiates it through a lived experience, time is not a series of discrete moments, but rather, an ever transforming momentum. Likewise, the first intuition at Lake Awosting may be the ‘longness’ that it presents perceptually (it was once named Long Pond), nonetheless, we know that those perceptions also harbor a compiled base of experiences that bubble up remnants through our attention, all of it embedded in a vast matrix of perceptions and interpretations already present and already sedimented into the real form of the lake, so to speak.
Out At Dawn
Lake Awosting, particularly at dawn, takes on a character that feels more remote than at other times; but in a different sense than the usual remoteness that it boasts relative to the other Shawangunk lakes. That is to say that, even during the day, Lake Awosting’s remoteness relative to Lake Minnewaska appears to be a source of secret commune for all who participate in the shared experience of an afternoon arrival. “You made it here too”, they all seem to proclaim in glances that size-up and soak in the presence of others. This secret society is initiated anew nearly every summer weekend. The hike or ride to Lake Awosting is not that far, of course— but still, relative to the hordes that populate Lake Minnewaska and other regions in the Gunks during the summer months, arrival at Awosting feels as if it is an accomplishment of a wilderness exploration. In truth, it is perhaps a bit more secluded than the other lakes— not quite ‘remote’. At the other extreme, however, early morning at Lake Awosting is different than even sunset and dusk. While the lake feels secluded at sunset, outside of the pre-dawn hour the feeling of remoteness is an awareness of an odd relativity; a kind of fringe awareness of relative distance encapsulating the primary experience of one’s own presence at the lake. But dawn at Awosting shifts all presence toward the lake itself. One feels as if they have encroached upon another’s environment or another’s era— that of the Lake’s independent bearing. During dawn at the water’s edge, one looks expectantly for a tree-bark canoe to slide silently out of the mist that creeps upon the water’s surface with a shimmering display of subtle colors. Just prior to dawn, one remains confused whether the non-descript body of the lake is pooling into the haze of one’s half-waked consciousness, or if, on the other hand, the movement is opposite and one’s existence is spreading outward into the lake’s muted contours.
Unlike other environments in the Gunks, Lake Awosting does not immerse into the lucid personal space of one’s dawning consciousness at first light. It does not overflow its own perception and invoke a singular vision that invites and clarifies my own perceptual space in the process, by means of soliciting movement. It never fully immerses into the silent sentience of sight. Just before dawn, this environment envelops us with a vague consciousness of transport; a transport of consciousness into remoteness. Time and place simply appear alien. This is not the everyday ‘other’ that presents an object for an observing subject who is normally engaged in an activity that references the environment as a self-evident situational background— one that can occasionally solicit our attention on its own. Nor is it the kind of other that bounces across that dipole of subject-and-object so that the subject receives an echo of a world already imbued with subjective qualities because those qualities have been secretly stirred from the latent depths of the perceiving subject— as during aesthetic and mythological experiences. Rather, the otherness that brings the feeling of remoteness in the early part of dawn at Lake Awosting, is a momentum toward the other pole of the subject-object dipole at work in aesthetic perception. It is not the reception of an active subjective rebound, but instead, the withdrawal of the subject into the vagueness of a remote, undefined horizon of otherness. Through this vacuum of clarity in the form of a bold and blatant form of ambiguity, our native sense of self-identity is dropped out. And yet that ambiguity is not incomplete perception, but rather, nearly complete otherness by means of it. Unlike one’s first initiation at Lake Mohonk— that ‘otherness’ does not remain ‘intimate’ at Lake Awosting. It does not allow the subject to temporarily take on the landscape’s bold presentational style in the momentum of a series of heightened perceptions. In those forms of outwardness-into-otherness, so to speak, the subject is fully present even while it is present to that otherness. Here, by contrast, the subject is washed over and flooded with an alienation that diminishes it without notice.
Before dawn, Lake Awosting simply never discloses exactly where its remoteness resides, but it also never intimates a who or what, as does the presence of the other lakes of the region. Though it harbors a history, there is no narrative that Lake Awosting is tethered-to to the same degree that Lake Mohonk and Lake Minnewaska are reflexively bound. There are times when Lake Awosting seems to dislocate from the Gunks and situate in a pure wilderness environment— even though one knows that civilization is close at hand, and the signs of human occupancy remain well within sight.
Not long after the sun rises, however, the environs takes on the internal glow of every dawn once again. With the gathering of reflective light from a rising sun, the lake begins to shrink into a manageable perception. It becomes a specific horizon for our naturally ambulating bodies. It is Lake Awosting. Real vision is integral to movement and function, not a pure act of observation from a perch that is thought to hover outside of itself. Only thought can hover outside itself; and then only by the deception of believing in the stance of its virtual productions. Vision, on the other hand, is always immersed and embodied.
With the capacity for this kind of authentic sight, the lake is pinned down. It is once again that seemingly remote lake relative to the other Shawangunk lakes. It is attached to my body and its potential reach by means of movement and motivation. But all of this is still relative to a position deemed anchored, whether that anchoring is attached to a distant parking area or perhaps to Lake Minnewaska itself. ‘Remoteness’ spans that distance regardless of the direction of access. Remoteness is no longer, as it was in the pre-dawn poise of a new day, a direct perception of alienation received in an open-ended fashion— incomplete, that is, and requiring completion— much like the subject itself. It is now once again relegated to a lucid network of relations on the side of the clarified object. Like every handle that we use to mentally grasp our world through common thought and language, it has become a formative condition, a situation that is constructed and interpreted only by means of an interwoven fabric of competing perceptual and conceptual relations that gain the ability to take part and sustain the ongoing narrative of our mental lives. The momentum of this entire fabric collectively accrues to achieve “what’s going on”. It began as a set of perceptions constructed through relationships read off a tiny subset of the world’s active physics, but it has transformed its momentum so as to mature into the background of our thoughts, which are the presentation of a different set of relations.And so we can say also that it is precisely by means of our previous journeys to and around the other principle Shawangunk lakes that Lake Awosting acquires its rightful position in a Shawangunk day. The entirety of those experiences is what now constitutes the clarity of this lake. Awosting is the Lake that is most often located in direct relation to Lake Minnewaska, from which many visitors depart. It may be populated at times, but it is radically less populated than lake Minnewaska. It too may be the center of many other journeys— only it stretches and elongates as a node; and it is displaced from the other main junctions that the Gunks offer. Yet despite all of this relational identification, we have already glimpsed that it too has the power to slip under our topographic contours and our developed notions about place, so as to exist, completely stable and weighty, in the native solidity of an independent perception. All of this appears radically self-evident, but it is seldom actually perceived.
C.H.Carver from Philosopher's Stone. Accompanying images below
The links below access the online adapted version of the book and do not correspond to the order published in the physical booklet. Only a few master copies of the book remain (published 2018), so this set constitutes the original impetus of the work in a different order. In the physical book, the essay "Intimate Otherness
" (below) introduced the Gunks through Mohonk Mountain House, the historical introductory anchor to the region. Don't forget to check out related Gunks landscapes (on istockphoto
by Getty Images).
a phenomenological essay series