Snake Island

A panoramic view of water and trees and the sky
A picture taken off the dock- Snake Island is the little one to the right

A staple of my childhood time spent at Lake Norman was Snake Island, and the sandbar that led up to it. Snake Island is a small piece of land located a little ways away from the dock attached to the lake house, and as a kid it felt like a completely different world. When we were younger, my cousins and I were so proud when we managed to swim to the sandbar by ourselves, wearing life jackets required by our parents of course. Depending on the rainfall that year, the sandbar was either completely above the water so that we could walk right up to the island, or slightly submerged so that we had to stand on our tiptoes, and sometimes couldn’t reach the bottom.  It was- and still is- one of my favorite pastimes to watch people on speedboats, pontoons, and jet skis get stuck in the sand as they try to pass our dock. Even though the island isn’t too big, or even that far away from the shore, going as a kid felt like complete independence.

The island is made up of three separate tiny areas of tree-covered land, with a little bridge between the first and middle sections. If you want to make it to the third section, which is the smallest, you have to leap a small distance over the water, which was especially daunting for an eight year old. On the rare occasions I go back to the island now, the gap seems surprisingly small compared with how I remember it from when I was a child. Though in reality it wasn’t very dangerous, in our minds, the island was filled with copperhead snakes, and we made sure to tread lightly wherever we went. In actuality, the majority of what we saw on Snake Island was littered beer cans and snack wrappers, and perhaps a harmless water snake or two. Nonetheless, Snake Island was an excellent place for an adventure if I was ever in need of a break from adults and the luxurious monotony of vacation.

As I grew older, I began to appreciate this monotony much more. I started to realize that being bored is a privilege, and treated it as such. I spent more time sitting, and less time doing. As a kid I never understood why the adults in my life only seemed to want to lay around and read, or talk to their friends, or tan in the sun. I wanted to run around, swim, explore. But through the years I began to realize that being an “adult” meant constantly running around, so that it was exciting to be able to sit and relax for a while on vacation. I began to have my younger sisters go to Snake Island without me, saying “Maybe later,” whenever they asked me to come with them. It’s not that I’m not active at all anymore while at the lake. I still paddleboard, swim, and take walks with my dog. But in a way, I miss the days where I couldn’t stand to be still for more than a moment, and went to bed thoroughly exhausted from a physically rather than mentally active day.  

Normie and Other Inhabitants

One unexplained phenomenon of Lake Norman is the lake monster, aptly named “Normie.” Normie lives deep in the lake, and only comes out at night. Bearing a strong resemblance to the Loch Ness monster, Normie is serpent-like and huge, and somehow remains undocumented by the over 7,000 residents that frequent the area.

On a summer night in high school, my friends and I went swimming a bit farther out on the lake than usual. Sitting in a circle on our floaties in the warm water, we decided to tell scary stories. Or maybe we were playing Never Have I Ever, or Truth or Dare, or another one of those young adult to teenaged games. Regardless, one of my friends decided to tell the story of Normie the lake monster. My friends and I teased her, saying we only believed in Normie as kids. But she continued, and a few minutes later, I felt something brush my leg under the water. I assumed it was my friend sitting beside me, but her feet were above the surface. I felt it again, right as my friend across the circle said “Hey, is that you touching my leg?” I said that something had touched me as well, and suddenly the entire group was swimming back to the dock like our lives depended on it. Once we were out of the water, we all started laughing, thinking our friend had successfully scared us. But she swore it wasn’t her. Clearly, the only logical answer was that Normie the the Lake Norman monster wanted to give us a little nudge to believe.

Other creatures that inhabit Lake Norman are just as intimidating as Normie (to some), but not quite as much of a mystery. My family and I do not have a great track record with the insects we interact with at Lake Norman, though they clearly have more of a right to exist there than we do. A lifelong fear of spiders has made me cautious of walking onto the dock unless armed with a stick or pool noodle to fend off potential webs. Though dragonflies are harmless and beautiful, my sister’s screeches can be heard for miles around anytime one gets within three feet of her. The mosquitoes hardly need mention, as they are a common annoyance in any part of the southern United States. Water striders, or Gerridae, also known in the South as “Jesus bugs” for their ability to float on the water’s surface, cause pointless distress for my sisters when the surface of the lake is particularly calm.

A panoramic picture of a lake with a dock in summer
A view of the dock that was once swarmed with mayflies

One summer our trip to the lake was timed perfectly with the emergence of what seemed like millions of mayflies. We woke up one morning to the entire dock and porch covered in the odd looking little insects, with their thin, transparent wings and long, threadlike tails. It seemed like the apocalypse to myself and my younger sisters, until my father explained why they were there, along with the somewhat tragic life cycle of the mayfly. Waiting nearly a year in their immature phase, otherwise known as the nymph stage, mayflies sit in freshwater and do largely nothing. Most then live just one day in their mature phase, coming out in droves in order to pass on their genes, not even bothering to eat. I remember feeling bad for them, but still wishing they didn’t have to do that around me.

A Brief History

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Lake Norman was created by Duke Energy, a company formerly known as Catawba Power Company, to make a hydroelectric dam to generate electricity. But before the area was flooded, it was a natural space that many people called home. The phrase “natural space” is debatable- it is possible that a location could only be considered a natural space if there is no human development, or even any trace of human impact visible, such as the square inch of silence project. However, I am going to choose to define this phrase as a location in which people can spend time outside and where they are able to observe natural phenomena such as birds and trees.

I am interested in what this space might have looked like before it was flooded. The majority of the land was undeveloped, but there were still a large amount of farms, homes, and community spaces such as churches and schools present in the area. It is difficult for me to imagine what was involved in order to convince these farmers and their families to give up their land and start anew, as it could not have been an easy task. I would imagine that, as with many small scale farmers, many people had inhabited their particular parcel of land for multiple generations, and felt tied to it in a way that was not easily given up. Creating Lake Norman also involved moving public buildings like churches, many of which had cemeteries on their premises. The concept of digging up grave sites was likely not enjoyable for either the power company, the cemetery’s inhabitants, or their loved ones. It’s no wonder it took almost six years for the Catawba Power Company to begin filling the lake. In fact, many cemeteries and buildings remain under the water of the lake to this day. My friends and I used to think that there were air pockets in these abandoned buildings deep under the water, and if you swam too close to them they could pop. Then the swimmer would be sucked into the building with the force of the rushing water, and drown.

What might this view have looked like before the docks and homes? Or even the lake?

I would still consider Lake Norman a natural space, though it has been developed extensively in the past fifty years. There are many pictures in the lake house of Paige’s childhood, most of which were taken at Lake Norman, and show varying degrees of development of the lot their house is on, as well as the formerly vacant lots surrounding the house. One picture in particular stands out to me- at first glance, the picture is just a sepia photo of a young blonde child proudly holding a fish (presumably Paige). Cute enough, but not very interesting, until my mother told me that the empty lot was the site of the home we were currently standing in. When we visit the lake house now, we can see at least one mc-mansion in any direction, but in the photo there were only trees and water. Assumedly a majority of the trees were the same Silverling and Tulip-poplars that stand around us today, but the difference in the level of development is astonishing. It will be interesting to see how the land changes in the future. Will it even be recognizable as the same place in the photographs in my Aunt’s house?

Just Kidding…. Lake Norman

So…… I changed my location. Further research resulted in very little information regarding any of Lake Brandt’s history, natural or otherwise, aside from a brief paragraph on the greensboro-nc.gov website. The staff working at Lake Brandt also did not have any information to offer me other than asking “Did you check the website?” So I thought it would be best to pick a different location with more readily available information. The place I am now choosing to discuss is Lake Norman, somewhere I have spent a substantial amount of time in my life, and I know some history of already through personal connections.

Lake Norman is, first and foremost, a human-made lake created for the purpose of installing a hydroelectric dam to generate power for areas in North Carolina and other Southern states (making an acception for Ohio). It is the largest and last of seven lakes in the area created for this purpose, and it is owned by a power company called Duke Energy. Duke Energy, at the time called the Catawba Power Company, started making plans for a hydroelectric dam based out of the Catawba River in the early 1900’s.

The idea for the dam came from William States Lee, an engineer from South Carolina who had worked on the hydroelectric plant at Niagara Falls. Lee was then given a $50,000 check by James Buchanan Duke to start the company that would become Duke Energy. The first plans for building the dam were introduced in 1957, and so began the process of buying the land in which the lake would eventually reside.

The lake’s secondary purpose has become providing a vacation spot for wealthy North Carolinians, primarily from Charlotte and its surrounding areas. In just my lifetime, an astounding amount of huge homes have been built on and around the shores of Lake Norman. The house my family has always stayed in, though a very reasonable size, seems tiny in comparison. This house is owned by my “Aunt” Paige and her family (no relation). Close friends with my mother since the age of fourteen, my family’s closeness with Paige is the reason I have spent so much time at Lake Norman. Her father bought the lot the house lies on in 1977, after Duke Energy purchased and flooded the almost 32,000 acres worth of homes, farmland, and natural space that once occupied the area.

A picture of a really big fancy house with cars in a drive way in front
One of the many mansions that have surfaced in recent years

It follows that as more land is “developed” for affluent vacationer mansions and the necessities they require (groceries, coffee shops, liquor stores, restaurants, etc.) animal habitat and truly natural spaces are lost in the process. I often wonder what the area might have looked like, and what plant and animal species it was home to before Duke Energy purchased the area in the mid 1900’s. However, this does not mean that natural spaces are not to be found. When standing outside the lake house, it is nearly impossible to look in any direction without seeing evidence of human impact. From the giant houses sandwiched on the shore to the very lake itself, it is clear that people have had a huge impact on this area. There are contrived natural spaces close to the house such as the small park across the street, but a slightly more authentic outdoor experience is not too hard to find.

Lake Brandt 2.7

A few Thursdays ago, Greensboro experienced what was potentially the most beautiful weather February in North Carolina has ever seen. I decided it was too nice to be inside, and, 4 o’clock class notwithstanding, set myself up for the afternoon at Lake Brandt.

I drove to the Lake Brandt Marina, a place I had only been once before, over a year ago. Then I walked for several minutes down the Nathaniel Greene Trail until I found a spot a bit off the path by the water. Once I located the appropriate trees, I set up my hammock, got out my book, and stayed there until sunset.

This is a picture I took of the sunset from the Marina as I was leaving.

The last time I visited Lake Brant was late summer going into fall, so going back in early February was a pretty big contrast. I am not a huge fan of winter or cold weather, so I definitely preferred my first visit, even though the weather was so nice. The trees were so bare, and in my opinion green leaves look much nicer with the water of the lake than the empty branches present in February. I’m looking forward to spring when everything will be green and alive again!

I’m hoping more things will be growing in my future visits… there were plenty of trees, but not a lot of plant life to identify. Brief research does not yield very much information on the plant and animal life of Lake Brandt, or the history surrounding it. I did learn that Lake Brandt is one of the two main reservoirs that supply Greensboro’s water, and the lake was originally built in 1925. Lake Brandt is a 816 acre area, and was named after Leon Brandt, Greensboro’s Mayor in the years 1907 and 1908.

In the future I would like to do more research on the history of this area, as well as identifying the plant and animal life. Towards the end of my most recent visit, a person wearing a “staff” t-shirt very politely reminded me that the gates would be closing at 5pm and I would need to move my car if I wanted to stay. I could potentially talk to them or one of their colleagues about the history surrounding the lake and the local wildlife.

The Marina was very quiet when I was there, which makes sense considering it was a random day in February. During the summer there are rentals available including boats and paddleboards, and I’m sure the hiking and biking trails are much more frequented as well. Fishing is another popular activity at Lake Brandt, it would be interesting to learn about the types of fish that are most common in the reservoir. I’m excited to learn about the history, as well as plant and animal life of Lake Brandt, and explore more than just the few minutes I walked down one of the trails. I can’t wait for the weather to get warm so that I’ll actually want to be outside again!

First Post – Sophie ♡

It was late afternoon, and we were hiking back down the mountain after a full day of work. It began to rain, and as we walked we saw wisps of fog cover the hills through breaks in the trees. Everything was green and wet and misty and beautiful. I felt a sense of accomplishment and peace that I hadn’t for the past month as I had struggled to acclimate to my new environment. Our group had been chatting as we made our way down, but as the rain started we grew quiet, listening instead to the sounds of the forest on a rainy afternoon in the Smoky Mountains.

Clouds cover the tops of green tree covered hills in the distance