LAKEHURST – Everyone thinks Denise Maynard lives in Lakehurst because she’s always there, camera in hand, ambling Lake Horicon.
She remembers when Harry Wright Lake was built (and went to school with his grandson), although she hasn’t been to the lake in ages. She’s part of the first graduating class of Manchester Township High School. She grew up in the Beckerville section of the township, and today lives in Pine Acres Manor, just about a mile away from the lake.
But it’s to Lake Horicon she goes, nearly every day, to photograph the flora and fauna surrounding its shores. She shares her photographs on Lakehurst New Jersey Facebook group. The photos of birds and sunsets have drawn people out to the lake, and sometimes Maynard gets recognized as “that lady who posts the pictures.”
“I’ve always had a fascination with photography, but I think that stems from my grandmother’s side,” Maynard said. Her great-uncle Leonard was a professional shutterbug, some of whose work she has at home. “I’ve always been fascinated with cameras, ever since I was a little kid.”
Her first camera was a Kodak Instamatic 110, complete with flash cubes. And she photographed then what she photographs now: nature. Animals. Bugs. Flowers. Landscapes.
“I’ve always been a nut for that kind of thing,” she said.
She upgraded from her 110 to a Canon 35mm format, and then got to borrow a Nikon DSLR from a friend to photograph her nephew’s race car races. She upgraded to the Nikon D3300 and has a 300mm lens attached, although she dreams of a 500mm lens someday. She also shoots with a 70mm and 200mm.
She uploads her day’s work to her computer and makes some adjustments on basic editing software, no Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop. She’ll sharpen a photo or adjust white balance, but otherwise prefers its raw, natural look best.
As for others’ work, “Sometimes I see it so Photoshopped it doesn’t look natural.”
Like many film purists, Maynard initially shunned digital photography. But a visit to Rand’s in Silverton and a promise made her change her mind. The salesman sold her a Canon DSLR.
“‘If you do not like this camera and the pictures,’ he says, ‘I will take everything back without question,’” Maynard recalled. She didn’t return the camera, and fully embraced digital.
She’s self-taught and has several professional photographer friends she can lean on for advice.
“To me, photography is an art form. I’m very crafty and to me this is a form of art. It’s my way of expressing things,” Maynard said. “I like to look at things not for what they are but what they could possibly be. People bypass so many things. They walk right by things and not look at them. I can find a stone and say, ‘Oh, look how the light is shining on that. Isn’t that pretty?’”
Raindrops on branches. Light hitting a leaf just right. A feather caught in the grass. But she loves photographing animals best.
When the borough drained the lake this past winter, a sandbar emerged which allowed Maynard to get out to photograph a bald eagle. Her favorite spot is the island, connected to the main land by a tiny wooden bridge. She sits on the bench on the island for a nearly 360-degree view of Lake Horicon. The island offers views of beavers, ducks, six great herons, hawks, osprey, geese, owls, and eagles.
“There’s a greater diversity here the last couple years,” Maynard said. “There are more and more different species of duck. The cormorants are here this year.”
But it’s more than the wildlife and scenery that draws Maynard to Lake Horicon.
“It’s the calmness. The water is calm. You sit here in the evenings, you’ll see me and mother sitting along the shore watching the sun set, and you sit here, and the coolness of the water and the breeze and the quiet…people come along with their dogs and they stop and they talk,” Maynard said. “And it’s the water. I like to be around the water. It’s just calming.”
Maynard remembers swimming in the lake as a child. It hasn’t changed much since then.
Maynard’s grandfather, Harry Brown, an army enlistee stationed at Fort Dix, got an acre of land for subscribing to a newspaper. He settled here in 1924. Maynard said he was a bit of a character with a sketchy past. Her mother, his daughter, is one of eight children total, one of five daughters raised in Beckerville. The family recently found out they are part of his second family; he was married and divorced, possibly in Europe although no one knows for sure. “Harry Brown” is an alias he lived under his entire life; he was born in Germany (not Denmark, as the family first though) and believed the Germans were “after him.”
“He just loved the land. He bought acres and acres of land over in Beckerville,” Maynard said. Brown started as a chicken farmer and worked odd jobs on the base. He not only helped construct Hangar One but helped fight the Hindenburg fire May 6, 1937. He saw the dirigible smoking as it flew over the homes, and jumped in his truck, racing through a shortcut in the woods. The shortcut likely doesn’t exist anymore.
Maynard’s mother was born in a house in Beckerville and stayed local. Maynard grew up on the family farm and promised her grandfather she would make sure her grandmother got to stay in the house after he passed.
“All of the sisters have stayed in New Jersey within a 20-mile radius of their birthplace,” Maynard said. One aunt lives in Center Street, and has for years. “We just like the area. We have a lot of friends, a lot of family. People complain about small-town living, but there’s a lot to be said for it. We have a lot of roots here, and we’re comfortable here. That’s why we stay. We just like the area.”
Maynard will leave her job at K-Mart—she’s been with the company 40 years—and grab her camera before heading to the lake.
“I can get my camera and walk around just kind of zone into just that and calm down and just breathe again,” she said.
Maynard’s pictures can be viewed on the Lakehurst New Jersey Facebook group, facebook.com/groups/542663905810690/.