On December 15, 2021

Underneath it all: Discovering a new world

By Dom Cioffi

Many, many decades ago, my grandmother bought herself a lake property. She had been ill for some time and was looking for a place to recuperate. In hindsight, it’s clear she was severely depressed, but back in the 1940s, they simply called it “exhaustion.”

Submitted – Click here to watch the trailer.

The property was old but my grandfather, being a jack-of-all-trades, spruced the place up. It had running water, electricity, and a workable kitchen, so once the interior was cleaned up and the exterior was weatherproofed, the place became very livable.

The main structure sat on a rocky ledge overlooking the water, which abutted the front of the cottage. From the dock below or the deck above, the view was quintessential Vermont, with the water outstretched for miles and the Green Mountains framing the distant views.

My grandmother used this spot as her refuge away from the working farm that she and my grandfather ran. In the warmer months, they would travel the 40 minutes out of town on weekends to relax and spend time together. But often, my grandmother would journey to her lake property alone and sift through the emotional baggage that was weighing her down.

Eventually, she healed, but she always acknowledged that her time at the lake house was the reason she got better.

Her four children also enjoyed the camp, spending years growing up fishing and boating on the weekends. Eventually, my generation came along, and we also became enamored with the camp. On any given weekend, there could be a dozen people shacking up on the property with card games and campfires and all the trappings of a summer on a lake.

I became quite attached to that lake house and have many fond memories of my time there, from swimming and tubing to more devious activities like smoking corn silk and squirrel hunting. However, my favorite pastime was snorkeling the rocky reef that jetted out from the front of the camp.

The reef was a natural outcropping of submerged rock that spread from the left side of the property straight out into the water for about a 10th of a mile. There was buoy at the spot where the reef ended that warned boaters not to come near. Occasionally, someone would ignore the warning and when they got too close, you could hear their propeller grind against the rocks.

From a young age, I was enamored with the reef. I loved to swim out to the buoy and then stand on the rocks. It was an interesting sight from the shoreline to see someone standing up so far out in the water.

But what I found most compelling was what was happening underneath the water in the rocky crevasses that ran the length of the reef. While most of the lake had a sandy floor or was covered with lake weeds, this particular area was awash with a variety of lake life.

I had a rudimentary set of fins and goggles with a snorkel attached that I used to explore the area. It was cheap gear, but it served my purposes.

I would put everything on and either float on a tube or swim around with my head underwater looking at the lake life. There were fish galore hiding among the rocks, but just as many other odd little creatures that called this area home. The fish would scurry away when I got too close, but many of the other crab-like organisms were just as happy to let you watch them go about their day.

I spent endless summers floating around that reef thinking it was amazing. And then one day my wife and I went snorkeling in the Caribbean and everything changed. I felt like I was Dorothy going from black and white to Technicolor in the “Wizard of Oz.”

One dive in the Caribbean, with its amazing color and variety of sea life, completely crushed every underwater experience I had previously. I wouldn’t trade my youthful experiences at the lake, but those dives near the Equator made me realize just how amazing and inspiring the underwater world can be.

This week’s film, “Becoming Cousteau,” is a documentary about Jacques Cousteau, the tiny French man who popularized the underwater ocean worlds with his journeys around the globe aboard the Calypso.

Many people are familiar with Jacques Cousteau, but few know the story of how he came to be the preeminent authority on our undersea domains. Cousteau was a relentless explorer, but he was also a savvy businessman, award-winning filmmaker, and conservationist long before it was popular.

Check this one out if you used to watch “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” or ever fantasized about diving into the expanses of the ocean.

A complicated “B+” for “Becoming Cousteau,” available for streaming on Disney+.

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at moviediary@att.net.

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