If I had to pick one place in Rochester that was a favorite place to teach, it would be Irondequoit Bay Marine Park. Yesterday I went there to pay homage to summer with a ground steak burger and onion rings at Don’s Original, a 70-year-old eatery along the bay.
Irondequoit Bay was the original mouth of the Genesee River before the last Ice Age rerouted the river. It is a couple thousand acres in size. Its flow to Lake Ontario is naturally blocked by a sand spit, but a dug channel now offers access to the lake.
This sand spit was the site of a tragedy on Christmas Eve, 2012, when Town of Webster emergency officials were ambushed while answering a fire call. It was shocking to watch such violence unfold in a place that generations of people have associated with peace and relaxation.
The best teaching locations do not necessarily have one grand vista demanding attention. Instead, they are built up of small details. The mouth of Irondequoit Bay is an old beach colony. Its modest cottages remain, for the most part, unchanged; for some reason this tiny stretch has escaped gentrification. There is a sand beach, a jetty, and an old marina. There are always fishermen on the swing bridge. They make for interesting figure studies, since they’re practically immobile until they get a bite.
“This looks so different from the ocean,” I said to my friend Jane. Before you roll your eyes at me, it’s not about size. Lake Ontario is much bigger than Penobscot Bay, and yet the latter is clearly oceanic, and the lake is not. Even the rhythm of their breakers is different.
Mostly, it’s the light. As I walked out on the jetty at Irondequoit, I was struck by the character of the sunlight here on Lake Ontario. It is always finely filtered and delicate. Even on sunny days it doesn’t have the brutal clarity of the light in Maine. Instead, the light is refracted by the ever-present humidity. It’s easy to pick out detail because the scene is not reduced to an overriding pattern of lights and darks. The water colors are more delicate.
In the end, that indirect light—so hazy and beautiful and heavy—is what drove me to Maine.