Anyone familiar with the “Go ye Heroes” song from Pirates of Penzance? The women sing words of cheer to the men marching off to war:
MABEL: Go, ye heroes, go to glory,
Though you die in combat gory,
Ye shall live in song and story.
Go to immortality!
Go to death, and go to slaughter;
Die, and every Cornish daughter
With her tears your grave shall water.
Go, ye heroes, go and die!
GIRLS: Go, ye heroes, go and die! Go, ye heroes, go and die!
Meanwhile, the men start marching off to war… but make a U-turn around the town fountain and march back to the women… who keep singing cheerfully about them heading off to die. So off they go again, only to make the same U-turn and return, obviously not as enthusiastic about their bloody demise as the women seem to be. After about three times around the fountain, and the women exclaiming, “YES, BUT YOU DON’T GO!” they finally do march off the stage – as the women sing “At last they go, at last they go!!!”
My point? Winter is behaving like those poor schmoes in Pirates: Yes, but you DON’T go!!!”
photo by WizenedEye.com
How do you catch a woodchuck? I catch mice and voles with peanut butter, sunflower seeds can lure chipmunks, the two gray squirrels who terrorized the Accounting Dept. at work were suckers for Doritos, but what would interest a hedgehog?
It turned out I was able to rush him and scare him onto the front porch. Once he was cornered there, I made a lot of noise, banging my hoe on the sidewalk and shouting to keep him scared and in hiding behind a lawn chair while I dashed to the barn for the bigger Havahart trap. He was just considering making a run for it when I returned. More banging and arm waving bought time to get the trap open, set and along the porch wall, then a bit of herding with a broom, and VOILA! – I had captured Punxsutawney Phil! He now has a new home several miles from my garden.
One spring a few years ago I rounded up a large snapping turtle who had chosen my garden as her egg depository. The capture involved a metal garbage can and a shovel – dangerously close to the electric fence, I might add – and I’m here to tell you that Mrs. Terrapin was one fierce, hostile critter. In comparison, this woodchuck was sweet indeed.
But the Pesty Animal Capturer Life-time Achievement Award goes to my friend Dale who, in his 20+ years of service to the local school district, captured and relocated more than sixty skunks. Did he ever have “a problem?” Only once, when, trap full and loaded on the back of his pick-up, a friend came along and asked, “Watcha got under the tarp?” – punctuating the question with a loud thump of his fist on the truck bed…
Note: A “Havahart” is a humane, “catch alive” trap. Once captured, the animal can be taken to a suitable habitat and released.
I once had a sound-recognition experience that I will always remember. It wasn’t the impact of metals, glass and plastics coming together, it was the screaming of a rabbit, and although I had never heard it before, I recognized it as such.
I grabbed my camera and raced toward the sound – not stopping to wonder why the rabbit might be screaming – and there, under my back porch, Nature’s plan was being carried out. The rabbit struggled but could not kick free of the mink’s jaws. Death was swift.
The mink – beautiful though somewhat bloodstained – eyed me for a moment, moved closer as if to get a better look, and then went about the task of dragging the rabbit’s body to a protected place where he could dine on it as his needs arose. I watched from about six feet away.
Standing there, I suddenly understood the waning of the local mouse population. The mink had probably been hunting the area for some time, unseen and unheard as he consumed the deermice and voles, nature’s quiet Quarter-Pounders. But for the rabbit’s screams, I would never have seen him, and although sorry for the snowshoe hare, I welcomed this four-legged rodent trap.
A week later, the daughter of a neighbor dropped in to say hello. She was home on a break from her missionary work. I casually mentioned having seen a mink under my back porch, and with amusement, she told me about coming home and finding a mink in their yard, writhing in agony. Her father had poisoned it. Eventually bothered by its suffering, she got a friend to shoot it.
This young woman and her dad believe in Heaven and Hell, and being born-again Christians, they feel assured of a place in the former. I am not so sure. In fact, I hope that there might be a peaceful place, an eternity, where God’s innocent creatures could go about their business without ever having to cross paths with those who so blatantly disregard their beauty and their importance. I care a lot less for those who harm them for no good reason.
NOTE: I posted the first couple of days of this trip some weeks back, but did not have the time to finish it until now, so here it is in its entirety.
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 have transcribed this from that typed copy.
Bill Toporcer was born in 1901 in New York’s upper east side to immigrant parents. He left school to go to work after his father died in 1913.
Around 1920, following the death of his mother, he met two other young men, Jess and Eli, while hiking in the Sprain Brook area north of the city. They were in the process of moving “back to the land” in Keene Valley, N.Y. Eli had built a small cabin (the “shack” mentioned in this diary) on a farmer’s land with the stipulation that after five years the shack would become the property of the farmer, Seth Holt. Bill had always loved reading the tales of men of the frontier, and he was convinced to join them.
For awhile, the three of them lived in the shack mentioned on page 36 of this diary; then Jess and Eli grew disillusioned and went back to the New York area. Bill worked summers as a camp counselor near the Pennsylvania-New York border, but returned each fall to Keene Valley and the shack. During those winters he climbed many of the high peaks (Marcy 13 times – once on skis and twice on snowshoes).
In the late 1920s, Bill moved to Rochester, N.Y. to live with his brother, George “Specs” Toporcer. After some years with the St. Louis Cardinals, George had gone back to the minor league Rochester Red Wings where he starred for many years. Bill left the mountains and his camp counseling to be a live-in “nanny” for his brother’s two young children. It was from George’s home that he embarked on this canoe trip.
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One recent evening while sitting on the porch of the Adirondack Hotel in Blue Mountain Lake village, I imagined the place 88 years ago: without sea planes, without the bustle of sport-utility vehicles, joggers, and paddlers of Kevlar canoes. This musing was sparked by a memory of my father eating licorice on the steps of this hotel in 1930. Did I dream this up? Or did he tell me about doing so? For whatever reason, I always feel close to my father when I go to those steps. Silly, I suppose. They must have been replaced more than once since his stopping there on May 19, 1930. He was quite an unforgetable man.
Bill Toporcer passed away on October 6th, 1990, at the age of 89. At that time, he and his wife were living in a log home in the northern foothills of New York State, close to his beloved Adirondacks and about 90 miles slightly northwest of Keene Valley.
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.
May 17th – Saturday
I was up about 5:30. The sun shone upon the camp a while later, making this a desirable spot to be. I cooked breakfast and wrote a little herein. Two young fellows and a dog surprised me with their sudden appearance. Fishermen. I loaned them the canoe. I studied my maps before I packed. A truck, bearing two guideboats and followed by a car, arrived bumpily. The party, two men and four women, embarked, the latter carrying fishing rods. They were dressed in what appeared to be the styles of 1910 – including in one case a purple veil. I pushed off when they did and paddled up the lake. The 1 1/2 mile carry from Eighth Lake to Brown’s Tract Inlet spared neither my back nor my blisters. I carried the pack first. The trail is broad. In about 1000 yards it meets with the auto road (not on the U.S. Topo Sheet) which covers up a section of the former trail for about 450 yards (where the road turns to the right). The trail is resumed at that point, being on the left, and I estimated that it is 700 yards along it to where one puts his canoe into the water of the Brown’s Tract Inlet. I left my pack on the shore and went back for the canoe. But not directly, for curiosity led me to explore a trail leading west to the R.R. tracks and then no doubt to Brown’s Tract Ponds. (Years later I got to know this area quite intimately, and my confusion caused by unrecorded things on the maps I used is understandable).
It was raining when I reached the canoe. I carried it the mile and a half without resting. I have performed lighter tasks. It was with relief I embarked on the circuitous route of the inlet to Raquette Lake village. The inlet recalled the “Stillwater” above the Ausable Ponds. It is wild-looking. I saw many birds, including a lone duck that swam ahead of me and then took to flight – probably the same which flew north over my camp at Eighth Lake, and which brought Bryant’s “To a Waterfowl” softly to my lips. Red Winged blackbirds were particularly numerous, and the song of Kiloleet, Little Sweet Voice, the white-throated sparrow, was carried often to my ears.
The sun shone several times, only to be hidden again. A strong wind came up and made me apprehensive of crossing Raquette Lake. I passed under the highway bridge at Raquette Lake and paddled around to the village. Pulled the canoe up on a dock and inquired for a lunch room. A boarding house served “substantial” lunches for 75 cents and $1.00, but I decided to buy something to eat instead. The general store had no vegetables at all. Purchased Triscuit, fruit, a can of evaporated milk, chocolate and two eggs. I ate an ice cream cone and the chocolate on the spot.
I inquired as to the advisability of crossing the lake and by what route. “Gets pretty choppy in a west wind,” said the boarding house man. “It’s all right to cross if you’re a pretty good hand with a canoe. Stick to the north shore and cross in the narrows,” advised another. I ate an apple and set off. Kept along the west (north) shore and rounded the point into Duck Bay. Swung into this and crossed it about halfway in. Waves wind to buck, but not bad. Rounding Antlers Point was harder. I was a little nervous, not having experience in rough water and heavy wind and ignorant of just what a canoe can take from them and ride safely. As I swung around to Beaver Bay I met a thrust of wind that stopped the canoe and sent it back a foot or two before I again had it in hand. I nearly fell out once, though I still cannot think of what made me unbalance. I was paddling on my knees. Beaver Bay was swept with low white caps, running east. Lonesome Bay looked bad. I was a little scared, fearful of being foolhardy, not of danger. The waves rocked my craft, and so I put in against some rocks and pulled the canoe over them to a pool of quiet water. Here I decided to rest a while and to look over the situation, hoping the wind might abate meanwhile. I ate some fruit, stretched out in the canoe. Several beautiful warblers alighted near me and remained as long as I did. The sun was bright. It was warm out of the wind. The skies were clearing and I knew the night would be colder. Off east-northeast, Blue Mt. was plainly in sight, hued after its name. After a half hour I decided to cross Beaver Bay. I swung across the outside of Lonesome Bay, running the waves quarter side, lying low in the craft. I paddled hard and steadily. Swung with the waves as I approached Indian Point and felt relieved as the white caps were left behind me. I followed along past “The Crags” and on to the lower point. Swung around into a small bay, against a choppy stretch. After a brief rest, I paddled to the upper point, a low somewhat swampy peninsula, but with tall trees. A black dog barked at me from the shore and ran off. There was a camp at the tip of the point. I landed here. It was locked. The dog appeared and ran off again. I looked out to Sucker Brook Bay. The waves were moving off Green Point toward Boulder Bay. The white caps dashed high, and the foam sprang high where the waves struck on the distant shores. It was no place for me in a canoe. It might be suicide (I don’t swim well, only a breast stroke). Yet I wanted to get to Outlet Bay badly. I explored the point, hoping I might strike a carry along it into Sucker Brook Bay, in which event I might skirt the entire shore line of it. But the woods were to thick and the waters off shore too choppy for launching the canoe.
I looked for a place to camp. It was already colder, and I knew that frost was not unlikely. I saw the dog again. He ran away when I called to him. I decided to camp at the end of the point, sleeping in the canoe – so having a good windbreak. I didn’t want to pitch the tent because I wished to be ready to embark in a moment if the wind lessened. I ate two raw eggs, some crackers, and fruit for supper, not bothering to cook because I did not wish to unpack the utensils. I placed a mat I found at the camp (Birch Point Camp) in the bottom of the canoe, which I drew up beside the “workhouse” and propped with chunks of wood. I sat in the canoe and wrote herein. Once or twice I thought the wind was losing force, but when I arose to survey the bay I quickly changed my mind. I was there much over an hour. It was 6:05 when I suddenly noticed that the wind had somewhat abated, the whitecaps were fewer and lower; and I decided to cross. I quickly placed everything in the craft, stretched out with only my arms, head and shoulders above the gunwales and paddled hard for “Stott’s,” at Bluff Point. I was going in a direction across the wind, which was bad, but by paddling on the right I kept the nose quarter to the waves and the “drift” made my course nearly direct. I paddled strenuously. I was grim – I did not know if I was courting death or just a novel experience.
May 19th, 1930 – Sunday
When dawn broke, my watch read about 3 o’clock. I was up in a jiffy. The lake was calm. At 3:15 (4:25 actually) I was afloat, headed around Bluff Point. I swung into Outlet Bay and was headed for Beecher Island when the sun came up before my course. There was no warmth in its rays, but warmth in its glance. Like the Indians, my spirits uttered an unspoken “greeting to the sun.” I was getting warm from paddling and my thoughts were cheerful. I passed close to Beecher Island. From a camp on the north shore of Outlet Bay a man waved me a greeting. He was at a boathouse. I located the public lean-to on the north shore, about 1 1/4 miles past Beecher Island. It cannot be seen until one is almost abreast of it, but there is little likelihood of passing it by. It was an inviting place, and here I made camp for breakfast. I built a fire and hung up my poncho to windward to protect me from the wind. I enjoyed the meal very much and the spot pleased me, so I stayed there for several hours, writing here and looking over my maps. These hours here, especially while I was writing herein, were among the happiest of the trip. The sun was warm, I was comfortable, I was relaxed in mind and in body. My feet were less sore. And not the least of my joys was that it was morning – the nicest part of a woods day. At 8:30 a launch went by. I called out for, and received, the correct time, and set my watch accordingly. It was 11:20 when I embarked in the canoe. It was delightful along the shore of Outlet Bay. The landing at the carry to Forked Lake is conspicuous by a ferry dock and two buildings. A dirt road, very wide, leads across to Forked Lake. About 150 years up it one crosses an east and west dirt highway. Three men were nearby the
Forked Lake dock, with whom I had a few words of exchange before I went back for the canoe. The carry is a half mile, on a pleasant road. Lest I forget it altogether – as I docked at the Outlet Bay dock a woodchuck sat up less than 20 feet from me and then crept beneath the pier out of sight. I was never so close to one before.
Forked Lake is nice, without visible camps along the shore to the Raquette River. I enjoyed paddling leisurely but steadily. Less than a half mile from the landing – which is 200 yards into the Raquette River – I saw a deer just inshore, less than 60 yards from me. It had seen or heard me and was making off at a gait that should be called a gallop, but at a moderate speed. In animals and birds seen I have been fortunate. (I have failed to mention that gulls on Raquette Lake were numerous, particularly on the rocks at Needle Island).
There is a dam at the beginning of the first of Raquette River rapids. One lands about 200 yards above it, in sight of a 2 story frame house, about which is a large grassy clearing. The green clearing is seen a considerable distance up Forked Lake. The 1 1/2 mile carry was a tough on for me. The dirt auto road is winding and hilly. I carried my pack and a paddle first. About 1 1/3 miles along the road (there were deer tracks along it) a trail runs to the left and it is about 300 yards to the lean-to on the bank at the end of the rapids. Here one takes to the water again. A man was fishing. He was hard of hearing and I had to shout to be heard. I carried my pack back to the road, walking with the fisherman to his car where it was parked at a bridge. Here were two women and another man. I took my pack along a trail to the river again and left it on the bank. The reason was that I did not know how deep the water was between this spot and the lean-to, which was 150 yards up-river, to where I would bring the canoe.
I measured my paces on my way back to the canoe, and made marks in the road. These marks were incentives for me when I carried the canoe the mile and a half to the lean-to, which I did without a rest. I was quite tired at the end, and my blisters were complaining again.
I embarked at the lean-to and picked up my pack and the other paddle where I had left them. It was over a mile to Buttermilk Falls. There is no danger of coming unseen upon the falls (Murray’s Phantom Falls). One hears them and sees them while he is still far from them. Besides, two log spiles – possibly once part of a sluice – block off the river. I landed, took a look at the falls, and noted an interesting fireplace. Then made the carry in two trips. It is across bare rock for about 20 yards, then down a wet, narrow trail to the foot of the falls – 1/6th of a mile by my estimate. Next followed a water route of a little more than a half mile to the second rapids. Here was a difficulty. Regular landing there was none – or at least no visible marks of one. I watched carefully for one. I landed about 100 yards above the rapids and did some reconnoitering. There seemed to be something like a trail starting along the shore, but hardly one over which to carry a canoe. It was wet, overgrown, and very faint. I cut over through the woods to the road and went up and down that, looking for a trail leading to or from the stream. Found none. Cut for the river again and struck a fairly good trail near the bank. This I followed and it led me back to the first faint trail I had seen. Returning downstream, I located a spot and brought it down to this place. I carried my pack first. The trail improved. It runs to the public campsite, which is about 150 yards below the foot of the rapids. It was about 3/8 of a mile as I made it. One is very likely to have trouble locating this trail and I would advise a bit of exploration before one shoulders his pack or canoe. I put the canoe in the water and paddled the short distance down to the lean-to, which I reached at 5:55. Here I camped for the night. It was in messy condition, and I cleaned out the inside of it. I set about making a good balsam bed, for I wanted a good night’s rest. It was dark when I ate supper. I enjoyed sitting before the fire, thinking, quoting to myself, and singling a little. It was past 10:30 when I went to bed. I slept very well. The bed was soft and the night was not cold. I awakened once, but soon fell asleep again. (I have failed to mention the bluejays, kingfishers and other birds I saw, both today and yesterday. Also a cottontail rabbit on the end of Indian Point on Raquette Lake. The rabbit scampered off quite close to me. I’ve seen chipmunks and red squirrels, and the gulls and ducks. I will add at least a major number of creatures seen after the conclusion of this trip.)
May 19, 1930 – Monday
I arose at 5:30. It was cloudy. I dressed, built a fire and cooked breakfast. While I was still in bed I heard a cackling conversation outside the lean-to; then a crow walked out in front of it. It took to flight when it saw my bed (I don’t think it saw me, for it would have uttered a warning). Two other crows took wing after it, but not at once. Common in the open country, a crow is a rare spectacle close at hand in the wilderness.
After breakfast I wrote herein. While I was thus engaged I heard a thump out in the river, which I recognized (from Keene Valley experience) as the slap of a beaver’s tail in diving. Out in the river, sure enough, was the beaver, swimming upstream. His head and the arch of his back were visible. Like the beavers I watched at Keene Valley (on the Ausable) this one had dived and come up immediately. I watched him swim for about 60 yards, then he disappeared from sight. I launched the canoe and paddle to where I had last seen him, but did not see him again, nor did I find any tracks along the shore.
A gull was swimming in the river near my camp, once taking to flight, but returning again. A beautiful little chipmunk hopped tremulously (?) about a portion of the lean-to while I was writing. I squeaked invitingly. He came within a yard of my foot, then he disappeared beneath the floor. I spent over an hour cleaning up the lean-to and its surroundings. It looked inviting when I left it at 9:55.
I passed Deerland in less than a half hour. Long Lake is very nice all the way. Like the other lakes, there are summer cottages all along its two shores, though not numerous above Triplet Hill. I swung around the bridge at Long Lake village at 11:40 and landed by the Adirondack Hotel.* A very large hotel – very conspicuous – lies below the bridge (Long Lake House?). I purchased some groceries in one store. P.O. was closed – lunch time, I supposed. In another store I purchased more groceries and waited nearly an hour in the hope that the milk truck would arrive, for I want fresh milk whenever I can get it. But I did not get it, for I could not wait longer. I wrote cards to Priscilla and to the Keene Valley post-mistress. It was 1:35 when I set out again. I put around the first point on the eastern shore and ate lunch of chocolate, fruit and Fig Newtons while lying outstretched in the canoe against some bushes against the bank, close to two tiny islands.
The wind was against me in most of the coves up to this point, but now it was veering around to help me at times; but it was also blowing me no good, for rain was no doubt coming on. This was a consummation devoutly not to be wished. I ran part way into every cove, on the lookout for a public lean-to, supposed to be “four miles above Long Lake village.” I expected it to be just below Round Island, but I did not find it, through I heard later that it is somewhere in the cove there. In rounding a point and swinging out into a little cover I saw a creature swimming ahead of me. It dived and came up again. I thought it was a beaver, but I am inclined now to think it was a muskrat, for there was something a little different about it, and when it dived it made no thump, and its tail did not seem to be that of a beaver but more like that of a rat. It soon came up on the other side of the canoe, only to dive and reappear no more. I landed here and inspected a picnic place on the peninsula. I also landed in the bay below Round Island, doing a little scouting around for the lean-to.
A launch passed at this point – the only craft I saw on the entire lake, except at Long Lake village. (One can get supplies at Long Lake village if he lands in the cove on the east shore, just above the bridge. A general store is at the turn in the road just up the street marked “Arrowhead Store.” The P.O. is also here. One does not have to go farther inland.
I passed Round Island. The view of the mountains beyond the north end of the lake was a fine one. (Round Is. looks good too). Buck Mt. comes into view at this point. Kempshall Mt. is seen from farther south. It commenced to rain lightly when I came to the widest part of the lake. I landed at the beginning of the trail to Kempshall Mt. There is an old log cabin here. The rain passed overhead to the north, almost obscuring the tall mountains there – which I take to be Seward Mt., Mt. Donaldson, Seymour Mt. and the smaller peaks about them. Behind me the skies were clouded but light in color, and I hoped for good fortune; but when I passed Camp Islands it commenced to rain lightly again. East of Buck Mt. are two little islands in the lake. As I reached the northern one of these, a terrific shower descended. I paddled hard for the mainland ahead, where I saw some camps and a dock. I got drenched by the time I reached it. I hurried my baggage onto a bungalow porch and turned the canoe over. There I stood, cold and wet. Some wash was hanging out at a camp just behind. I went there and knocked at the door. It was opened by a woman, and I was greeted by the delightful gust of warmth from the room. I explained I had just put in out of the rain and asked if there would be any objection If I slept in my canoe on the porch where my duffel was – in the event the rain continued hard. I expected her to readily say it was all right, but it did not penetrate her consciousness that I was wet and cold and rather miserable, for she seemed horrified at the suggestion. A man joined her, and then a young, clean-looking girl or woman, on whose face I could read sympathy. The man suggested that there was a lean-to (private, but unoccupied) just up the next point, where I might put up for the night. I asked him questions about distances, not caring to appeal to his sympathy since it had not been aroused spontaneously by my appearance. He said six fellows occupied the camp on whose porch my duffel was. “They’re planting trees,” he said. I went back to my duffel, just as the “fellows” returned – 3 of them. Each had some deformity or freak in his appearance, though two of them were not over 20, and the third was a boy. One had cross eyes, and the other only one tooth in front. One meets with many types like these in the mountains. They live on synthetic grub, mostly canned stuff no doubt and their teeth go bad early. They do a man’s labor when only boys and go out of shape. Mentally, they are grasping only of what comes within their daily experiences. In appearance they express lack of intelligence – or at least intellect. Yet among them one meets with many whose faces are handsome, whose figures are imposing, whose eyes express intelligence and a native refinement. Men straight, clear-eyed are among men who are very bow-legged, round-shouldered, and rheumatic. I am struck pathetically by some of these latter types. But very often these men who appear to be broken and bent men of 50 years are in reality 60 and 70 years of age and still doing manual labor daily, cutting wood and ice, tapping trees, getting a deer in the fall, fishing in the spring,and smoking around the general store stove in winter. When one lives among them for a time, his pity passes. He sees they have interest in life, that they have wit and can tell and listen to stories of rare merit, and that there is much in their lives that is missed by we who hail from the city.
The rain was diminishing and I wanted to go on my way. Had it been necessary, I would have slept on one of the camp porches without conscience and without further explanation. In a few minutes I put out into the lake and paddled hard for the Raquette River. I light rain was still falling when I entered its island-strewn entrance. About 2/3 of a mile down it I noticed the first of the typical evergreen-forested shorelines of Adirondack streams, and I knew the lean-to would be here. It was, and it looked might good to this wet wayfarer. I got my duffel under shelter and inverted the canoe on the bank.
There were two tables in the shelter, and a box for a chair. It was in untidy condition, but not bad. A strong wind blew into it from the south. I hung my poncho as a windbreak at the front of the lean-to, using two nails and a pole. So strong was the wind that I had to put another pole against it to prevent it from flapping straight out like a shirt on a line. I weighted the bottom with heavy chunks of wood. Even with these precautions, I was afraid it might unfurl itself to the breeze, and so I added one of the paddles to restrain it. I cut three balsams for a bed and dragged a birch to camp for firewood. Got water from a pool about 60 yards up a trail, to which I was directed by a sign, “Pure drinking water.” I built a fire only about three feet from the forelog of the shelter, just inside the drip from the overhanging roof. I kept it small and sat near it. The smoke was a nuisance. No wood I could get was really dry, unless I cared to chop some chips out of the lean-to itself.
I cooked supper of potatoes, carrots, canned tuna fish, 3 eggs (scrambled), coffee, Swedish rye bread with peanut butter, and an orange. It was a large mean, but I was hungry and had labored hard. It was rather cheerful by the fire, but there was no way to dry out my clothes except by wearing them. It must have been about 10 o’clock when I went to bed.
As I arrived at this camp I heard a loud noise across the river which had an alligator-like suggestion in it. I don’t know what it was. It seemed to say “Thump-ah!” every little while. I had no time to investigate.
(Yesterday, when I arrived at the camp below Buttermilk Falls, while I was getting a fire going, a heard a porcupine behind me. I turned to see a great big one, about 30 feet distant, approaching the camp as if to take possession of it. I grabbed a stick and rushed at him. He ran as fast as he could and took to a big tree. I poked the stick into his ribs to scare him, my action being solely for that purpose, hoping he wouldn’t come prowling around at night. He wrapped his tail against the stick, I judge, for I could not withdraw it until he climbed again. I like porkies, but not when they call at night. This one did not come back, nor did I see him in the morning.)
Beside the several large birds I have mentioned, andI haven’t, I have seen several sandpipers.
May 20, 1930 – Tuesday
It was raining when I awakened. My watch had stopped. I got dressed in my damp clothes and built a fire. Had All-bran and Post Bran Flakes, with milk, raisins and sugar; coffee, an orange, and bread and peanut butter for breakfast. The rain ceased and the sun once or twice made a quickly fading smile upon the earth, but presently it rained again. I fed the fire all morning – just enough to keep it from going out, while I looked at maps and wrote herein to the present word. I may stay here another night. Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a warm bath! I’m filthy.
I gathered more balsam for the bed. My method is not to cut the browse from standing trees and carry it to camp, but to select 2, 3 or 4 small luxurious trees and drag them to camp – there to do the trimming. Only a few years ago my heart bled at the thought of cutting down a tree, or taking life from anything, even if it was for my comfort or knowledge. I did not wish to give up that feeling, yet I wanted to be a woodsman – with a woodsman’s lack of feeling where necessity is concerned. Was my sentimentality a beautiful thing? Or was it a form of weakness? Did I lose something precious in its passing? Or have I gained something better, even though less satisfying emotionally? “Before love, before money, before fame – give me the truth,” wrote Thoreau. And yet, how may we know it surely? Several times in my mental growth and experience I have thought I had reached the conception of what is true and what is false – only to learn again that life is not so simple as that. Things I felt to be true – trusting to intuition, or inspiration, or mere speculation – I have since learned to be false. Lessons which which I thought I learned when I lived at the shack [the shack is the tiny cabin in Keene Valley, NY, in which Bill spent several winters during the 1920s] the first two or three times, like Thoreau more or less, proved not to be lessons at all, but only the stepping stones to a lesson of longer duration – one which is not yet learned. Life is strange. Every sage that ever tried to pin it to a narrower definition than that had his moments of doubt. What sage had not his followers? Yet, who wants to be a repetition of any sage – whether Thoreau, Emerson, or Christ? No, each life blazes a different trail. Therein, perhaps, is its chief charm. What am I trying to prove, or disprove? A hundred wise-sounding sentences could flow from my pencil in such a mood as this; but which would have the grain of truth, and which of falsehood wholly? Or is it all truth? A nice mess to get into while sitting in a lean-to while the rain patters on the roof and the fire crackles and smokes. But I did enjoy it, because I don’t get that way any more. And the thought is still where it was when I started – just as original for somebody else, or for another day. I speculate on Christian Science, and I think that if I were to adopt a religion other than that which is natural to every living thing, it would be Christian Science. Stripped to its skin, it strikes me that it teaches that life is good, that the individual is a worthwhile part of a great Oneness, that his belief controls how much he may get out of being that part, and, of course, that that belief should be Christian Science. Excepting the last “that” because it is not necessary to the question. I heartily wish to subscribe to all of that, I wonder if it is not the religion of every living thing – save man, who is not content with the natural article but must manufacture all different kinds for himself – each with its weaknesses.
But I have browsed from the subject, which was balsam. I have been struck with the great difference in balsam browse one place and another. Charlie [a friend who shared some of Bill’s Keene Valley time] and I made very downy beds of luxuriously-needled stuff at some camps, while at others the needles were not only scarce, but flatter and more brittle. I see no really good balsam for the purpose around here. It appears to be thickest near the summits of the mountains.
I added the browse to the bed, chopped a little wood, shaved, swept up the lean-to and in front of it, and ate a meal which was to obviate the need for cooking supper. It consisted of half a grapefruit, coffee, a thick sandwich of pimento cheese, and some Post’s Bran Flakes. About 4:30 I went for a little cruise on the river.
The rain had let up for a little bit, after having fallen almost steadily for hours, though lightly. I thus was able to definitely locate the lean-to on my map. Clod River enters the Raquette a half mile below it. The map shows two large island and a small island. These large islands have very indefinite shorelines and are partly inundated and wholly swamp. The result is that one seems to be in an archipelago, and he is likely to get all twisted up in them, if not lost. I circled what I thought was one of the big islands and came out on what I thought was the Raquette again. I was seeking the mouth of Cold River proper, thinking I was in the Raquette, when in reality I was in Cold River. A guideboat, with two men and a woman it it passed me by. I called out to them to inquire for Cold River’s mouth. “That’s it,” called back one of the men, pointing up the stream. I thought he pointed to an entrance farther ahead of me (on the Raquette). I paddled about 100 yards; then I felt that I was going against a current, and my true position suddenly dawned on me. I verified it with map and compass. I returned to the Raquette (for it was raining again) and paddled back to camp; but I passed by it to explore a short distance upstream. I got the lay of it pretty well in my mind. I understood now why the circular warns against entering Cold River by mistake. If I were to advise one who was desirous of going down the Raquette, I would tell him to keep to the left bank, to take all left turns after he passes the lean-to, and to make sure he is never paddling against the current. This last precaution will prevent him from going up Cold River more than a very short distance. Stick with the current. If one wishes to explore the swamp in a canoe, my advice is to look for landmarks to which to return, carry compass and map, check up every turn. The hills and mountains are the best guides.
When I first left camp I saw a great blue heron standing in the water. It took flight a moment later, looking large like an airplane until it got going gracefully. As I got back to my camp it looked mighty good to me. I had been rather downhearted because of the rain and the confinement. I was indeed down in the mouth over the discomfort of wet clothes, wet wood, wet everything. The short absence from camp changed that. It is well when one sickens of being kept in camp by the weather to don waterproofs and leave it for a while. When he comes back it will surely appear like home sweet home to him. My spirits revived. I wrote herein the reflections of a few preceding pages. This was quite enjoyable.
Often today I heard that “Thump-ah” sound of which I wrote under yesterday’s entry. I made various conjectures as to its origin, but it is still unsettled. At a distance it resembles the sound of a hand pump. It came always from the same direction – so whatever it is, it is in singular number around here. I even thought it might be two logs thumping together in the swamp. A frog seems to be the most logical explanation, but no bull frog I ever heard had the power in his bagpipe that this thing has. Helen Kane’s “Boop-ah-doop” might have been a steal of this sound.
I went across the river to try to locate it. But the shore there was only a foot or two high at the most and I could not wander back in where the sound came from; but I did perceive that it was nearer at hand. I took the occasion to pick up some dead wood, which I threw into the canoe and brought back to camp. I mixed Klim for a drink for supper. Darkness came on. About nine o’clock by my watch, which I had set by the sun in the morning, I went to bed.I fell asleep at once in comfort and I did not awaken until shortly before dawn. When I did, the moon was in the sky above the river. It was colder now, and I slept only in snatches thereafter.
May 21, 1930 – Wednesday
It was about 5:15. The sun was coming up. It was a very uncomfortable job to get into my wet clothes. I chopped some wood to warm me up and I built a fire. I breakfasted shortly on half a grapefruit, cereal with milk, and coffee. Wrote herein to this word. I wonder how many persons I shall meet today! Yesterday, beside the three in the guideboat, I saw three men in a boat with an outboard motor. They passed upstream in the morning and came down a little later.
How beautiful is sunshine. Without it, the Adirondack forest is dark and forbidding. With it, it is primevally satisfying to the soul. “Life is checkered shade and sunshine” came to mind, and my thought that the joy of this morning was visible shade and sunshine. Birds sang gaily. Some came to feed in front of my camp, evidently rather glad of my presence. One chickadee – that most friendly little parcel of cheer – alighted on the table and then on the end of a stick, gave a few chirps and surveyed the premises. I spoke to it, a “Welcome, brother!”
I lingered over the last touches of tidiness I gave the camp. It was 8:30 when I started on a journey that was to be a very long one. If the weather held clear, I hoped to reach Tupper Lake, or Saranac if my plans altered at Axton. If it rained hard, I would camp along the Raquette River and reach Tupper Lake tomorrow.
As I paddled down the river I carefully observed the mouth of Cold River, checking up and adding to my observations of yesterday. If one wishes to go up Cold River, I think it is best to turn up it at the rock in midstream on the Raquette. Other channels are likely to be confusing to the unacquainted person.
At the left is a photocopy of a map I drew in my looseleaf journal.* It shows the Raquette River where it leaves Long Lake and shows the location of the lean-to I occupied there, the junction of the Cold River with the Raquette, and continues nearly a mile beyond that. This I made (somewhat enlarged) from the Long Lake topographical quadrangle available at that time, which of course has been brought closer to date on more recent survey maps made with the aid of aerial photography. The latter are more accurate, of course, but the route I took, which is shown with dotted lines here, is still the one to be taken today, using the latter. Changes in a river’s course are constantly being effected by erosion of banks, conditions of stronger flow, etc. But the course is inevitable to the faraway sea. Continuing my written narrative.
Just below the rock I met with a light motor boat with a single occupant, coming upstream. Then I came in view of some private camps. There was a white flagpole. From this point down to Raquette Falls was the most pleasing part of the day’s journey. The sun was bright, the stream winding, the current helpful. I sang many songs, thinking of the voyageurs of old, those Frenchmen who first among white men penetrated the northern fastnesses of America. My topographical sheet was at my feet and my little compass was in the bottom of the canoe, and I checked on each turn and hill we passed. I saw many birds, of several species, one no doubt a hawk, which was perched at the top of a giant dead tree.
It was 9:45 when I landed at the Raquette Falls carry. There is a rock in the stream, and a little cove on the left. One passes the rock and comes instantly in sight of the wagon road on the right, only forty yards from the beginning of the rapids. To save time, and to test my strength, I made the carry “doubling up,” that is I carried pack and canoe both. The total weight was about 85 – 95 lbs., but it was not hard to manage. It was the distance and the uphillness that were hard. I made the distance without a stop in 16 minutes. I jogged some of the downhill places. I did not count paces this time, but I might have counted perspiration beads. A sign at the beginning of the trail points to the upper falls. I took its word for it. At the end of the carry is a house and buildings. The road led across a plowed field, which however I skirted. I saw a team of horses hitched to a wagon. An old man was bailing out a motorboat on the little beach. We exchanged a few words. At 10:15 I paddle away. A tent was pitched in sight of the beach. To this the old fellow went. There was another man there. As I passed by the older one said, “I’ll give you a tip; if you sit in the other seat she’ll ride lower in the bow.” I knew this, but I can paddle much better from the regular stern seat, and what tipped the bow up a little was that I had my pack amidships, where I could reach it if fain fell – for it was clouding and I expected a wetting. Large masses of yellowish white foam floated downstream, looking like chunks of dissolved ice. I soon passed the lean-to on the right bank.
Several miles farther down it commenced to rain. I paddled hard, hoping to reach Axton; but as I swung around the bow before the inlet from Stony Creek Ponds the deluge came. I landed on the right bank, propped the overturned canoe against a couple of birch trees, put my pack beneath it, took out my tent and spread it over the craft as a leanto, using the paddles to give it the slope. I sat on the flap of my pack and ate lunch of a thick cheese sandwich and an orange. The rain ceased as I finished, and I embarked again. Within two minutes I saw the bridge at the inlet. I paddled on to where Axton used to be. There, at the beach landing, is the lean-to. The sky was clearing nicely. Stony Creek Mt. looked friendly. So did the higher peaks more distant. I decided definitely to continue my try for Tupper Lake. It was 12:15 when I resumed my way.
The Raquette’s meanderings continued – with many side bodies of water, but always I let the current be my guide. The sun shone clear and warm, but I expected more rain later. Certain things may be expected in the Adirondacks. One of them is more rain. Heavy showers are not frequent, and usually of a short duration, but a dozen light rainfalls, interspersed with sunshine, are very usual. There is much rain here – not so much in total quantity as in number of falls; but there are also periods when for days on end – and even weeks – the sky is serene as if it never knew a cloud bigger than a rabbit’s tail. This is the camper’s delightful weather. The rub is that it can’t be predicted. Conditions affecting rain and sunshine are largely local; and it is therefore the usual thing to have four kinds of weather in four points of the compass all at once. A record of the weather – to use Longstreth’s method – might read:
East – 12 rainfalls in 72 minutes.
South – 1 shower, bright sunshine.
West – dark ceiling; strong winds, 1 hailstorm
North – bright sunshine, 1 shower, bright sunshine, 2 showers, hail storm, dark ceiling, fair, cold.
There is a lake-like marsh north of Follensby Pond, no doubt offering a channel to the latter. Follensby Pond made me think of Emerson’s poem, The Adirondacks. (Follensby Pond is where Emerson and the other New England wise men camped in 1858). I rather enjoyed thinking that Emerson was here once.
Farther on it commenced to rain again. I had been looking for a lean-to on the right bank. The rain made me look around, just in time to spy a shelter in a loop of the river. I paddled to it. It was a conservation shelter, for there was a fireplace and a latrine and a forest fire sign. It was not a regular style lean-to, but probably a shed for horses or buggies; for I deduced there was a house nearby. (Great deduction – the topo map shows it!), from which a road led northeast to Wawbeek. The road was now overgrown with grass, and what was once a clearing is now planted with young pine trees. Probably the state bought the property, converted the shed to the use of a lean-to, put in the fireplace and latrine, razed the house, and planted new forest trees. The shed is a good shelter, with hay for bedding. A rather nice spot.
But the sun shone again and I went on. The stream runs west a half mile, then north to a bend like a duck’s head facing west. The bend is near the highway, which later I was to pass over – but there were miles around to come back to that. A little channel, only two yards wide or less in places, cuts across to eliminate the trip around the duck’s head. I did not know if it was navigavble, but I felt I had over a half mile to gain and less than 200 yards to lose by entering it. I got through easily. At only one point was it blocked. This resembled a little beaver dam. I stepped out and slid the canoe over and got in again.
When I turned southwest a bit farther I ran into wind that made paddling hard. The current is here much slower, very little in fact. It seemed a long way to the Oxbow, then under a bridge, and then on through a shallow channel where the Raquette turns north again. I paddled straight for the bridge at the mouth of the Raquette. It was a hard paddle all the way – against a strong wind; but it was much harder acrtoss the shallow swampland of Tupper Lake, around to Raquette Pond. The wind was against me all the time, changing direction when I thought I was going to have it in my favor. I landed carefully at Tupper Lake village, on Raquette Pond, running in with heavy waves. The canoe trip came to a close amid surroundings not pleasing to the eye. It was 4:15. I had come about 26 or 27 miles this day, 1 1/4 of it being Raquette Falls carry.
Close by where I had landed I was able to leave the canoe for the expressman to pick up in the morning. I made arrangements with a lady in the office of a business firm there and left the canoe, with tags attached, and placed under cover. I made sure she put today’s date on the express bill – so I should be charged only up to this date. I need every cent I have. I thanked the lady who served me, wrote a note to the owner of the canoe, directing him to refund what was due to me to Keene Valley. I hurried up the street, had a cup of coffee, a piece of pie, and ate some chocolate.
Got a lift about 3/4 of a mile from town in a fast-moving truck. The driver took me past Lake Clear Junction. Nice Ride. Got another lift very soon to Saranac Lake. Walked about 1 1/2 miles through and out of town. Then got a lift to the site of the new Olympic Stadium at Lake Placid. It was twilight and I took to foot again. I had gone less than a block when a car stopped and a girl addressed me from it, “Where are you going, Bill?” It was Mary Morrison – now Vick’s wife – a cousin or niece to Katy, Seth Holt’s housekeeper! [Seth Holt was a bachelor who owned the farm in Keene Valley, NY, where Bill had spent several winters during the 1920s. Seth’s housekeeper, Katy, was blind.]
Vick was driving, and a boy was in the rumbleseat. “We’re going to Ausable Forks,” said Vick,”get in and we’ll go through the Cascade Road.” They drove me right to Seth Holt’s door! What luck. Here I was in Keene Valley, 60 miles from Tupper Lake, in less than three hours.
How familiar the mountains were after we left Placid. It was bitterly cold in the rumble seat, but who cared. I had played a long chance and won out – 26 miles, or more by canoe, and 60 miles by hitching in 11 hours. I talked with Mary and Vick and Seth and Katy for some time. Then I left my pack at the shack door and went to Hudson’s for the key.
Returning to the shack I lit the oil lamp. Here I was again, back in the surroundings which have played an unusual part in the lives of Jess, Eli, and myself. The surroundings were the same. Was I different? The warm smell of the shack brought a host of recollections – thoughts of so many days of “learning life at first hand,” joys of reading and writing, joy of being self-reliant and hopeful, and joys in the simplicity of how I was living; but the stronger memory, perhaps, was of doubts, loneliness, a little fear of being held in a corner by life and being whipped by her, rising to heights of faith and then lowered to depths of disappointment, going on because – though not satisfying enough – the city was even less so. Perhaps the best way of putting it is that here in this valley I met myself face to face on issues that enter only some lives. The experience has passed, but the shack will always recall it clearly. The emotion is not like any I have ever had elsewhere. There is a grimness to it. The wind howls in the chimney and the walls shake again. And all because I was young and inexperienced, I took life to seriously and fought with her.
I ate something and made up the bed. Unpacked my knapsack. I looked at Emerson’s The Adirondacks in the volume of Emerson’s poems which I gave to Jess when he was alone in 1926. Walden, two of the Harvard Classics, one with several of Emerson’s essays, hard by [sic] a paperbound Health Through Natural Methods which at the time influenced our daily diet. The sight of these books facing me by the table brought the experience closer than any objects in the room. “Seek truth, live with nature, simplify existence” – that was the aim here of three young men. There were both grandeur and pathos in it. Only Jess, Eli, and I know our experiences. We tasted of being philosophers, of being hermits, of being later Thoreaus; and back of it all were three young men who wanted more out of life than they were getting. No wonder we don’t speak about it much. Each of us was disappointed, and each of us doesn’t care to tell the others so, lest the gains be doubted too. I have tried, but I have never succeeded in getting to paper the words to describe what we went through here.
It was 11:25 when I went to bed, sleeping contentedly beneath the black, brown, and the cream-colored blankets which have been here since the shack was built by Jess.
I think I shall stay a week. The trees have only leaved out recently here.
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Note: My route was guided by the Adirondack Canoe Routes circular issued the Conservation Department at that time, to which the topographical sheets for Old Forge, West Canada Lakes, Blue Mountain Lake, Raquette Lake, and Long Lake supplied me with invaluable detail throughout the trip. I still have them in my possession.
After-note: “That bird” is possibly solved. Harry Stetson, heavily mustached Keene Valley woodsman, when hearing my description of it, laughed and said I had probably heard a stake-driver. “It’s somethin’ like a blue heron,” he said, “but brown, and smaller. Hunts frogs. Sits up straight as a stick, neck and bill pointin’ up. ‘Can’t hardly see it.” And he chuckled to himself and went home.
Next morning, May 23rd, I saw a large brown bird alight in the marsh near the shack, just this side of the alders. I went out and approached it. I could not see it, but when I was about 50 feet distant from it, it rose and flew off. It had long legs, big claws, and was fairly dark brown in color. It made no sound except with its wings as it rose rather ungainly. This must be Harry Stetson’s bird, and if he is right about its croak, it is the author of “that sound.” Mightly interesting culmination. I shall look it up at the library.
P.S. I asked Seth Holt if he knew what a stake-driver was. He replied, “What do you mean, a bird or a maule?”
P.P.S. Harry Stetson, later, added the information that the stake-driver is the male to the mud-hen. [Stake-driver is the colloquial name for a bittern.]
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Incomplete list of birds and animals seen and heard on the trip: deer, beaver, muskrat, red squirrels, chipmunk, porcupine, woodchuck. Birds were blue heron, ducks of several kinds, hawks not definitely identified in species, crow, blue jay, chickadee, pheasant, partridge, red-winged blackbird, grackle, sandpiper, warblers of several species, sparrows (ditto), kingbird, gull, phoebe, thrush, robin, bluebird, kingfisher, swallow.
List of duffle I departed from home with, most of which was on my back
Fiala sleeping bag
“Icta” bag repair kit
extra pair socks
extra suit underwear
IN A BAG:
3 cook kettles
1 small spoon
1 large spoon
1 fry-pan and handle
1 aluminum plate
ROLLED IN THE TOWEL:
face and body towel
razor and blades
Kephart’s Camping & Woodcraft – 2 volumes in 1
first aid kit
sheath knife lumber jacket tent (home-made tarpaulin tent) hatchet 1 cup pencil and notebook
FOOD BROUGHT FROM HOME:
1/2 lb. apricots
15 oz. raisins
1 lb. prunes
1/2 lb. sugar
2 1/2 lbs. Klim (powdered milk)
1 1/4 lbs. Lemade (lemonade powder)
1/2 lb. nuts
1/2 lb. coffee
1/2 lb. butter
1/2 lb. bacon
10 oz. All Bran
Other food secured along the way.
Yesterday on FaceBook I saw a photo of a huge full moon rising on an ocean horizon. The shore in the foreground is rocky and moonlit in places. It had some 89,000 “Likes”. To my pleasant surprise, there were MANY comments calling it what it is, including mine: “Go outdoors. Look at the moon. Look at the ocean. Look at a tree. Photoshop is fun, but reality can be quite beautiful. This photo is so over-edited that it’s ugly, in my opinion.”
In previous times, the camera was never a liar. It could force us to look at realities we might otherwise avoid. Film was primarily a truth-teller, even though we burned and dodged in the darkroom.
Photoshop is a great tool. It’s fun to use, it can “rescue” a less than perfect shot (sometimes). I use it – along with every other serious photog – on almost every picture I take, but this world is becoming more and more dystopic, and people are getting further and further removed from Nature. We need to see the natural world as it is, not as one more thing for man or photog to manipulate.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 2006
At the beginning, they came slowly. I noticed the first one near the front steps, slow-moving yet deliberate, it’s eyes still adjusting to the relative brightness. A life spent in groundwater hadn’t prepared it for even the overcast grayness of the day. I ran for the bug jar.
Captured and under the intense scrutiny of a kitchen halogen spotlight, it froze, squinting at the kaleidoscopic view afforded by the curved glass of its Ball mason jar prison. It seemed harmless enough, although a thorough search of Field Guide to Insects and Spiders failed to yield any clues to its identity. Curiously, it appeared to have grown slightly larger during the time I was scanning my bookcase for a copy of Pond Life. I released it near the back door, snapped a couple of photos, and went in to start cooking dinner.
It was fairly late and I was a bit groggy when I headed out to do the barn chores. The day’s drizzle was continuing and the night was black when I returned, and then suddenly I saw them: five or six of the same strange creatures, grouped together and moving slowly in the direction of the house. Stifling a scream, I raced past them and through the door to safety.
Sleep came with difficulty. Visions of pincers, round staring eyes, backs that resembled decorated armor, wings – all these haunted me and filled my heart with fear. There was also a strange new rustling sound cutting the night air, soft but audible, emanating from someplace near the well.
In the morning, all of my fears were realized. Just as Hamlin was overrun by rats, so was my front yard inundated with lobster-like bugs. They clambered from the well, scuttled across the flower beds, mounted the house walls and beat their pincers upon the window panes. I Googled for help but none came. I emailed the local public radio station’s host of “Natural Selections” and she in turn emailed her biology professor co-host, and finally came the answer: “Oooh, neat-o! It’s a Giant Water Bug; they can fly and they do travel between lakes sometimes. Don’t pick it up, though; they stab you with their piercing-sucking mouthparts = mega-OUCH.”
And then around 10 o’clock, more quickly than they had arrived, they all took wing and vanished, leaving me to ponder whether the professor is right. Yes, I suppose they could have been Giant Water Bugs, but my suspicion is that they were giardia lambia. They came from my well, they attacked me… Surely if a beautiful monarch butterfly can emerge from a chrysalis, then these strange creatures could be the incarnation of microscopic giardia beasties. Life is sometimes stranger than fiction.