May 1930 Adirondack Canoe Trip

Written by Bill Toporcer, my father.  This is an account of a week-long trip to and across the Adirondack Mountains.  The original notes were typed in 1988, two years before his death in 1990.  I am transcribing from that typed copy.

May 15, 1930 – Thursday

Rain made starting doubtful this morning, but at 9:30 I decided to leave. It was 10:30 when I said goodbye to Mabel, Ruth, and Bob and got into the car with George. He drove me to beyond Egypt – 14 1/2 miles. He had to be back at the ball park at 11:45, so could take me no farther. Shook hands with him and waved goodbye as the car took a turn out of sight.

I walked nearly a mile, then received a lift to Lyons in a fast moving truck. Driver made short stops at Palmyra and Newark. Had a pleasant conversation. Walked about a mile out of Lyons. Next got a lift to Syracuse. Driver a middle-aged man, a very fine person. Enjoyed the ride with him. Walked from the heart of Syracuse over 5 miles. Very much traffic, but no rides. Finally a lift that was bound for Clinton. I alighted at the Rome road about 2 miles beyond Sherrill, deciding to avoid going through Utica, where I would no doubt have to walk a good deal. Got a lift into Rome from an Italian. He was coming from southern New Jersey, having driven 400 miles since “half past two – two o’clock” this morning. A rattling old car, but it traveled at a fast clip. Rome not very inviting, approached from the south. Walked a considerable distance beyond town. A couple of short lifts to Lake Delta; then a very welcome ride through the Lansing Kill Gorge to about nine miles from Boonville. The driver was a farmer, shrewd after a fashion, a talkative person, but one to whom I took an instantaneous liking. He remarked on many things and he pointed out a few interesting things along the way, one of them a very old tunnel, the entrances of which are now blocked by earth and rock, but still to be seen if one knows where to look. Old Black River canal, now out of use, is beside the road. There are numerous locks. When we reached his home the farmer expressed his pleasure in my company and remarked that he was sorry he was not going farther. “You can pitch your tent right out here,” he added, indicating the yard. But I said I would walk another mile, trying for one more lift. I walked nearly a mile, but got no lift. I had my eyes watchful for a spot to camp, one that would be near the road, but hidden from it. I found it, a level, grassy spot on the incline between the old canal and Lansing Kill Creek, below it. I crossed on one of the locks. I looked over the situation and unslung my pack. It was past seven o’clock – twilight. I had very little time. I pulled out the tent and the hatchet (the top things in the pack, so the tent could be pitched at once in the event of rain and, because in the event of breaking camp in the rain, everything would be packed under shelter).

I cut a pole about 6 1/2 feet long and five or six sticks for pegs. The tent was up in less than ten minutes. I hastily pulled handfuls of grass and various green plants, which I tossed on the tent floor for a “mattress” for my bed. Over this went my poncho, then the sleeping bag and cover. I sat down on the bed and ate an uncooked supper of all-bran with evaporated milk, raisins, and sugar, an orange, a pat of butter, and an apricot or two. Although I had not eaten anything but an orange since breakfast, I was only ordinarily hungry. It was 8:10 when I finished eating. I had cut the evaporated milk can with my scout knife and used it as a candle lantern. I undressed, wiped my body with the towel, put on fresh socks and underwear, and went to bed.

The scenery between Rochester and Syracuse (Routes 31 and 5) is very fine, typical Finger Lakes countryside. From Syracuse to Rome is too populated and there is too much traffic. Lansing Kill Gorge is a splendid, wild, narrow valley, bounded by heavily forested hills. Unfortunately, I saw it after sundown.

In spite of all the skiing of the winter and all the walking of the spring, my feet were in miserable shape this evening. I had walked about 11 miles, on macadam and concrete, and the soles of my feet were hot and blistered. It is the result of wearing different fitting shoes and socks. I went up and down Marcy* in a day last fall in the same shoes without an ache. When I got back to New York, my feet had burned in street shoes. So it is. It was painful for me to move about when pitching camp.

I am running into details again, when I have only time for outline, but it is the details I enjoy. What I thought and felt is more to me than where I was or what I did. I regret that I cannot write out the most pleasant thoughts. The chief regret was leaving home – parting with what I like of life at home – parting from George and Mabel, Ruth and Bob. They are a great deal to me. They do not see where my pleasure comes in leaving good home, good meals, good surroundings, for a series of discomforts. I must own up that often on a trip like this I wonder why I do it myself. The first few days – with thoughts of recent interests fresh in mind, are always hard for me – whether it be camp, Keene Valley, or any other change of place and activities. Then, when I round into the new order, its loveliness grows, and leaving it becomes likewise sorrowful. So, I hope, it may be with this trip.

* Bill had climbed Mt. Marcy, N.Y. State’s highest peak, some twelve times, mostly in the winter, twice on snowshoes and once on skis

May 16, 1930 – Friday

The first streaks of dawn were welcome to me. It had rained in the night, but the tent was scarcely wet, and this mostly in the form of drops that could be shaken off. I munched a few raisins to tide my appetite to breakfast. Broke camp after making a repair on the knapsack, one of the buckles having torn a hole in the canvas to which it was riveted. I used a couple of rivets, a piece of leather, adhesive plaster, and a needle and thread.

It was raining lightly when I took to the road. My blistered feet ached badly. In less than a half mile I got a lift to Boonville – about 8 miles. The driver, a young fellow, had a rifle in the car, which he used to take a shot at a woodchuck he asw about 150 yards from the road. He missed – which pleased me. I engaged him in conversation to detract his attention from looking for other woodchucks. I saw a large bird, which I think was a great blue heron, but kept the observation to myself.

I had breakfast in a lunch room in Boonville; half a grapefruit, Pep with milk and sugar, a glass of milk, and a cup of coffee. Walked out of town. Two short lifts of less than a mile each, then a third lift to Alder Creek. Some walking and two lifts of short distances; then a ride through to Old Forge with two men – school teachers, one quite young. They stopped at Thendara for coffee and doughnuts. Invited me to eat with them. I accepted a cup of coffee. It was 10:20 when we reached Old Forge. I limped down to the nearest dock. Inquired about canoes, rates, expressage of canoes from R.R. points, carries, etc., from a Mr. E. L. Marks. Said his rates were $1.25 per day, or $7.00 per week. Lightest canoe 50 pounds, Old Town model. Expressage about $5.50 from Saranac Lake and about $5.00 from Tupper Lake. I told him I was informed that canoe rates were $1.00 per day, $6.00 per week. I could not afford to pay more. This rate I got from him. I paid him $16.00, for which I got a receipt. $6.00 is for the canoe for one week. The $10.00 is to cover expressage and deposit. He is to mail me a money order to Keene Valley covering the deposit as soon as the canoe is received by him. I am to send the canoe express collect. His receipt contains these arrangements.

He attached a carrying yoke to the gunwales, I selected two paddles – one of which I tied to the canoe with a rope; and at 11:23 I shoved off for points northeast. My pack was in the bow. It was cloudy. There was a gentle wind at my back, which aided me greatly throughout the day. It was nice through the narrows to First Lake. I put around the point abutting it from the west, and read my map before crossing between the island and the north shore peninsula to Second Lake. Swallows flew about me for several miles, seemingly wishing me a pleasant trip. I christened the canoe Swallow. I entered Third Lake at 12:30, and emerged into Fourth Lake from the channel at 12:45. I kept to the south shore of the lake, passing close to the points but running offshore between them. Summer camps and cottages on both shores, but without occupants except for native workmen who, no doubt, were putting in stovewood, joining water and sewer pipes, etc., in preparation for the summer season.

I had my first taste of swells and small waves whenever I approached a jetty or a point. It was 2:10 when I docked in the channel at Inlet – good time. I drew the canoe up on a rickety pier and went to the village close at hand for lunch of a malted milk, chocolate, and fruit. Then I purchased a few groceries – potatoes, carrots, two eggs, graham crackers, and fruit. I reembarked as rain commenced. It approached a shower as I paddled for the east shore of Fifth Lake, but it had ceased by the time I docked beside the macadam road. I shouldered my pack for the first carry. It goes uphill at a gentle slope for a half mile on the road, then about 80 yards along a dirt drive to Sixth Lake. I counted my paces on the return for the canoe. I figured the total distance as 950 yards. I was greatly pleased how easily the canoe could be carried with the yoke. I called it an Easter bonnet in replying to a good natured remark a man made about my “umbrella.”

I kept to the south shore of Sixth Lake and passed under a highway bridge to enter Seventh Lake. This I crossed to Seventh Lake inlet. I watched for a suitable campsite but saw none to lure me from going to Eight Lake and to spend the night at a lean-to I hoped to locate. Quite a way up the inlet I saw the landing at the carry, but, supposing it to be a summer cottage pier, and observing I could proceed farther up the channel, I passed it by (a costly error in time and effort), and made a landing about a quarter mile beyond it. An automobile road is close to the terminus of navigable water. Up this I carried my pack – probably a mile – until I saw Eighth Lake, through thick trees on my left. I left my pack on shore, realizing I had not come via the carry, and started back for the canoe. It was getting late – nearly 6 o’clock Standard Time. Nevertheless, I decided to do some exploring. About a quarter mile back toward where the canoe was was a very inviting dirt road. This, I learned later, leads to Uncas. It is given on the U.S. Topo sheet, but the auto road is not. I took it and struck the regular carry road, which crosses the Uncas road. I turned north along the carry to make sure of where it reached Eighth Lake. There was the lean-to, facing the lake and providing a good view of it. There were also two fireplaces where one may pitch a tent. After debating two alternatives, I decided to go back on the carry in the hope of retrieving the canoe and returning via the carry. It was 7/8 of a mile to the landing. How to get to the canoe? I took to the woods along the bank of the channel and found a place I could cross over, beyond the canoe. Reaching the canoe, I paddled against a strong wind and rain back to the carry, and trudged to the lean-to with the canoe on my back. I embarked on the lake and retrieved my pack. I was dog tired. It was 6:50. Between my aching feet and my tiredness from exertion I called it a day’s work; but there is no rest for the wicked or the weary, so I hustled through camp preparations. This consisted of chopping a little wood, cutting three balsams for browse, cooking supper (potatoes, carrots, bacon, coffee, graham crackers and fruit). There was also the problem of making my bed. It was 10:30 when I turned in, but not until I had punctured five or six large blisters on the soles of my feet.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I will be adding more to this in the coming week or two.

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To be honest, this is not a story I tell proudly…

I grew up on a secluded two acre paradise about 1/4 mile from the center of a village. Also within smelling distance was a sizable herd of goats, and in spring, if memory serves me, those goats were highly odoriferous. Perhaps love was in the air.

One afternoon, the biggest billy-goat I’d ever seen – although I confess to not having seen any others at close range at my tender age of 9 – appeared in our front yard. My sister and I and a friend were playing just outside the garage. Said goat was white, though he undoubtedly had a black heart or maybe a heart beating with passion, his horns were long, and he chased us into the garage, where we were able to climb to the attic for safety while screaming, “DUCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!”   (“Duch” was what we called my mom, but that’s yet another story). Duch apparently didn’t hear us, and after some time, Mr. A. Goat left.

The scene repeated on the next day, this time sending us up onto our screened porch just in time. I can still see that damned goat standing with hind legs on the front steps and front feet up on the screen of the door.

My mother, who was no sissy, tried to chase him, but the score was very quickly Goat – 1, Duch – 0. She made some phone calls, and in about 15 minutes a man showed up, grabbed the amorous goat by one horn, and led him away. I presume some fence mending was also done that day, or perhaps a goat pilaf was eaten, for that was the last time a billy got my goat.

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Pig Street

Up until now, I’ve always been in too much of a hurry, either driving by one end of Pig Street on the way to a friend’s home or passing the other end while taking the “back road” to a local diner.  Once I stopped and photographed the sign, but I went no further.

Drive Around Chipman-1-1

There’s an old joke about the City Slicker who was walking down a country road and spotted a farmer standing under an apple tree with a pig in his arms, enabling the animal to eat the ripe apples on the tree.  The City Slicker – eager to prove that the  intellect of City Slickers is not to be sneered at – stopped and called out to the farmer:

“Wouldn’t it save a lot of time if you left that pig on the ground and just shook the tree?”

The Farmer considered the suggestion for a moment and then replied, “Well, I suppose it might… but what’s time to a pig?”

Which brings me back to Pig Street.

On the way to the diner this morning, Raymond noticed the road sign, Pig Street, and it prompted him to recount how that name might have come about.  “I remember somebody telling me the story of how, a long time ago, maybe back in the thirties, a couple of fellows tried to steal a bunch of pigs from one of the local farmers.  In the middle of the night, they drove to this fella’s farm and were trying to herd his pigs onto their truck, except that as soon as they’d get some on, others would jump off.  Realizing they needed some help with the heist, they knocked on the farmer’s door.  He answered it, and they explained that they had this load of pigs to deliver and they had gotten some of them off the truck when they realized they were at the wrong address.  They said they were having a devil of a time getting them all back on the truck, and they asked the farmer if he could give them a hand.  The farmer said, sure, he would, and presently all the pigs were loaded and the truck on its way.  It wasn’t until the next day that the farmer realized his barn was empty of pigs!”

So I drove the length of Pig Street this morning.  It’s a pleasant dirt road, but the farms are gone.  What was once pasture and hay fields has returned to woods and cedar marshes encouraged by the arrival of beavers.   I didn’t see a single pig.


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Stormy Winter Morning Musing

From my house, if the wind is quiet, I can hear the sirens from all three local fire departments. They all sound at noon – at slightly different times – and individually when there is a fire, calling the volunteers. If for some reason the local volunteer ambulance squad is going to be a little slow getting to a call, our fire squad dispatches a fire truck (because it has an oxygen mask and a volunteer trained in basic first aid).

Twice I have been the beneficiary of this service. Once, while burning some junk wood at a firewood landing, the wind took the fire into my field. It was 2400 feet uphill from the road, and the volunteers came carrying water on their backs. Another time, when my heart went into arrhythmia, the Pierrepont Fire Chief (once a kid in the 4H club I was involved in) arrived in a firetruck and calmly put an oxygen mask on me as we waited for the ambulance.

This morning as the blizzard was beginning, I heard a siren. Whether it was Colton or Pierrepont, I couldn’t say for sure. I am always thankful it is not for us, I hope that it is something very minor, and I feel gratitude for those good neighbors who dedicate themselves to fighting fires and saving lives.

When we disparage those who voted for the current president, we need to remember that most – if not all – of these people who give so much of their time and effort to protect us and keep us safe probably voted for him. They try to do what they believe is the right thing. As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Except that there aren’t very many of “us” on the volunteer fire department rosters.

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Putting in Stitches

…………Sipress cartoon from The New Yorker, 3/10/08, p. 91
Behind the altar in the Baptist church of my childhood was a velvet curtain. If I ever did think about it as my mind wandered during Sunday services, I’d have thought it was simply a decorative touch, a bit of burgundy (or was it gold??) that matched one of the colors in the stained glass windows.

When I was about thirteen, my church-going contemporaries and I were herded into a baptismal class. The lessons “taught” to me there didn’t stick in my memory – but for the revelation that a large concrete water trough had been secretly lurking behind that velvet altar backdrop, and that one by one my classmates and I were going to be paraded into that tub and get our heads wet. In all the years past, church folks had been smart enough to do this sort of thing after all the young kids were sent down to their Sunday School classes. None of us had previously witnessed this strange event.

On “the big day” we donned some sort of white cotton choir robes, got in line, and then one-by-one waded into the tank. The water was waist-high, the minister asked me the pertinent questions, I answered as I’d been instructed to, and SPLOOOSH: the bastard tipped me over backward and under water. Apparently I came out of that tank a saved Christian; in reality I decided this religion was for the birds, or maybe the fish.

At some time after “organized religion” was washed out of me, some family friends came to visit. Their daughter Donna Jean and I were the same age but of ever more differing interests, making it harder and harder to know what to do during these occasional social get-togethers, and on this Sunday I said, “Why don’t we sew? We could make something.”

Donna Jean looked a combination of horrified and all-knowing while proclaiming, “Don’t you know that every stitch you take on a Sunday will be a stitch of pain before you die?” I must say that I didn’t know that…but not wanting to push her into doing something that she obviously felt was wrong (and apparently dangerous), I answered something like, “Yeah, oh, well, we don’t have to sew.”

My logical brain scoffed. I already had one foot planted in my father’s agnosticism and was secretly turning away from my mother’s Baptist church, and Donna Jean’s nonsense was laughable. Or was it? My mind raced. Had I sewn anything on a Sunday before?? I had. Yikes. Could Donna Jean’s proclamation be true?? Nah. But could I be sure?? Pain scared me. Building up a large cache of stitches of it that would have to be endured before death scared me not a little. We didn’t sew that day, nor did I sew on a Sunday for many, many years.

I’ve had pain now and then in the years since God’s ways were revealed to me by Donna Jean. Maybe I’m paying down the cache. Or maybe there’s a Christian equation that looks something like this:

(Life allotted) + (Sunday stitches sewn) – (Pain stitches experienced) = Time Remaining

Who knew God was a mathematician?

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FaceBook.  FB.  Time-sucking, discount-store blog.  “Friends” you’ve never met on the outside of a screen feel your pain and share your excitements with a simple click; causes and politicians can be supported with the touch of “Share”.  Surely this is Nirvana.

I used to blog regularly, at times doing the literary equivalent of attending Black Friday sales in the wee hours, searching for the perfect word or turn of phrase to complete the day’s post.  Now, through FaceBook, I take on the evils of real Black Friday with a mighty click.  Climate change:  Click!  GMO crops:  Click!  Romney’s dog on the car roof?  Click!  Click. Click. Click!

Back in the real world, there’s an insect for that, although the Click Beetle’s clicking tends to scare off predators because of its sound and action, not its support of causes.  The mechanism is a spine on the prosternum which snaps into a corresponding notch on the mesosternum.  Not only does it create a clicking sound, but it can bounce the beetle into the air, so it’s useful when the critter is on its back and needs to right itself.  Evolution has not yet provided our click beetle with an “Unfriend” button.


It was Karan Cross of who “got me on FaceBook,” as they say.  As anyone who sells handmade items will tell you, social networking is a way to spread the news of what you are creating, and, being a smart dealer, Karan made it easy for me to try the drug.   It quickly progressed to being the first thing I do each morning with subsequent fixes throughout the day.  The personal page was soon supplemented by a Wizened Eye Photography page.  If you want people to “Like” your art, it isn’t necessarily good to mix personal observations, loves and hates with the more dignified artistic self you wish others to see…  Or, put more succinctly, I soon had two f***ing FB pages to manage.

Inevitably, the question “Why?” arises.  I sip my morning coffee and click to see what’s new.  A high school classmate posts a new photo of her granddaughter, stunningly beautiful and sparkling with personality.  Click!  A distant neighbor describes a morning’s activity in Ireland. Click!  A cartoon makes me laugh out loud (or, more precisely, LOL).  Click!  A new painting is unveiled, a hand-crafted silver bracelet displayed, a haiku shared.  Click, click click!  Awareness of someone’s need or illness is made.  A dinner recipe tempts me.  Whispers and shouts from around the world, taken in nibbles that I swallow- or left as crumbs on a plate for other scavengers of cyberspace to forage.

And so, although it doesn’t fend off enemies or right me when I’m on my back, like the beetle, I’ll keep on clicking.  My FaceBook friends, thank you for being a part of my life.  This post’s for you.


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That’s Odd

And so the New Year, an odd-numbered one, approaches.

Many years ago, my husband and I came to superstitiously believe that there was goodness in the odd-numbered years (and toil and trouble in the evens). After all, we were married on 11/03/1973, as odd a date as one could find. I had a stress-induced miscarriage in 1974, two days after my ex- sued for custody of our daughter. Our move to the North Country was in 1/1975, marking a new age of freedom from the constant threats and harassment that had been visited upon us by my ex-husband. I was diagnosed sterile in 1976; our son was born in 5/1977. The many other “proofs” of our theory slip my memory, but it did seem to be a definite pattern in those days. 

As calendars are a human construct, I suppose the whole “good year / bad year” idea lacks any rational basis. Indeed, recent years have blended ups and downs – until 2016. (And if I’m honest, I had a couple of things to be very thankful for in the past twelve months: the “salvation” of my grandson from meds that were poisoning him, and the birth of sweet Ada come immediately to mind.)

2017 is almost upon us. May it bring us reasons to have hope, reasons to rejoice, and may it bring us – collectively – reason.

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