Lone Goose

DSC_1915

Lone Goose

Just about every day of my life, with very few exceptions, I drive between my house and our little village along Engleville Road. I’m glad it’s still Engleville Road. It is, after all, the road that leads to Engleville. During the deployment of modern 9-1-1 addressing systems, some roads had their names changed. Some lost the identity they’d had for the past one hundred, one hundred-fifty, or two hundred years. Two hundred years ago, in 1820, there was one main route that led from the closest water- the Cobleskill and Schoharie Creeks which connect to the Mohawk River- and on westward overland on the corduroy road called Loonenburg Turnpike. Modern times crossed it with New York State Highway 10, Route 145, my own county route, Engleville Road; and Loonenburg Pike was dissected into short sections.

Curiously, for the longest time, there were three or four “roads” referred to as Loonenburg Turnpike. The road to Engleville Pond was called, not unnaturally, Engleville Pond Road. Now it is called “Mill Pond Road”. Still fitting, as Engleville Pond began as Engle’s mill pond. The Loonenburg Pike, however, acquired several new names for its multiple sections. “Stagecoach Road” for one part and the plain label “Turnpike Road” at another. Progress, I suppose.

Back to Engleville. Along the flats by Mahar’s swamp, across from the turkey farm, runs a little creek that wends its way beside the road. You can see it behind the Kennedys’ house where their lawn ends at the edge of the mucky swampland. Here is where I spotted the goose. A Canada Goose, in spring, stopping off on his trek northward past lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River, and on to Hudson’s Bay. Geese mate for life, but this mature bird, we’ll presume it’s a male, floated alone on the little branch creek.

I’m a big fan of nature, and all forms of wildlife. Migratory and seasonal birds a particular excitement due to the brevity of their passing, or the knowledge they may be here today and gone tomorrow. Some will stay for the short summer; hummingbirds and yellowthroats, then move south when the frosts begin and the meadows go to seed. Some will arrive with the winter solstice. What we see as cold January and ski season, they see as a warmer climate than the taiga and the tundra from which they’ve shifted. Snowy Owls and Dark-Eyed Juncos and White-Crowned Sparrows. During most years, a few pairs of Canada Geese make nests around the ponds locally. So the first time I saw Goose, I thought nothing more than “Oh, look at the pretty goose. I should stop to take a photo.”, and rambled off to my busy, adventure-filled life.

Nesters

Nesters

The next day, I saw Goose again. He was in the same spot. A sort of quiet pocket about twenty-five feet long, where the theree-foot-wide creek rounds a turn between sumac saplings and marsh grasses. He was still alone. No flock, nor any other geese on this small patch of water. It occurred to me he seemed to be waiting. Not exactly the nervous pacing of the expectant father from 1950’s movies. Still, there seemed a certain vigilance. It got me to thinking that maybe he is waiting for his mate. Maybe it’s not so unusual to get separated, and to wait at a familiar place to reunite. Perhaps this is their nesting destination, or maybe they stop here for rest on every migration.

 

The flyways are filled with these places. Rivers, lakes, marshes and cliffs that have indelibly inscribed themselves on that magical machine called instinct. Like the swallows of Capistrano fame, these places have offered brief respite for for weary winged travelers for eons. Hawk-watchers and Crane-photographers wait eagerly at these spots to view the awesome and wondrous spectacle of thousands- or tens of thousands of birds in a single place. Decorating the beaches or filling the river marshes and swamps with milling and calls and eruptions in brilliant colors into the sky, to the tune of twenty thousand beating wings.

Perhaps for “my goose”, this was that familiar place. Something deep in his mind spoke to him when he saw silvery West Creek wandering its way to Hanson’s Crossing. The pumpkin fields of Parson’s Farm, dotted with oranges and whites and just a touch of green. The round bales waiting for a ride, scattered across the hills and dales of hay fields. The cornfields, alternately standing tall, tanned and dried; or shaved to stubble, a goose’s favorite snack bar. From the sky he could see the isolated Corporation Pond at the top of the hill, feeding into the big, road-rimmed and well-visited twenty-acre Engleville Pond below. See the thin ribbon of water as it traces its meandering course from Maggie’s Pond, weaving its way through our own Wonder Woods before continuing on to the horse farm, two miles hence. One by one these landmarks lead him north from Vroman’s Nose and west from Settles Mountain until he sees that old faithful trickle of water awaiting him.

Little of the aforementioned occurred to me that first day. A pretty goose, then on to the next thing. On the second day, there he sat. Or floated, I should say. It was then I began to think of all this, the life of a migratory bird, the separation of the pairs, the devotion, dedication and patience shown by Goose, waiting steadfastly. What vivid Disneyesque dreams I dreamed of his wringing hands (if he had them) and checking his watch (if he wore one). His story takes on the hues of personification. First the waiting dogs him, then anxiousness helps to mask rational fears. Again, my world goes rolling past Goose with little more than a savored glance, a recognition and remark. “Such a cute goose.”

Driving home, perhaps weary from my own migrations, perhaps seeking my own landmarks of comfort and familiarity, I saw Goose. Still waiting for a third day. Now my child-like mind and over-active imagination began to wonder, to speculate on Goose’s story.

DSC_2020

I am keenly observant, immersed in the world of wildlife of all kinds, and birds particularly. I consider them to be amazing little marvels gifted to us by this Cosmos. Motions and colors, sounds and behaviors. Sometimes mesmerizing, like a hovering hummingbird. Sometimes comical, like the starlings at the feeder. Sometimes awe-inspiring, striking me dumb, as murmurings of a thousand starlings dance through the sky as one moving, living flying mass. Or great V’s of Canada Geese, silhouetted against an October sunset, as they honk their way across my horizons.

I try to empathize with birds. I imagine them flying over the bizarre, invasive, intrusive, noisy unnatural and potentially lethal haunts of man. I have logged too many hours reading Audubon, Nature and The Conservationist to think the lives of geese are natural and peaceful. Like so many of nature’s most fragile creations, their intersection with humankind rarely has a positive outcome. Blacktop and highways, cars and trucks screaming past at seventy miles per hour. Towers, buildings, cranes and windmills, crowding the very skies that were once a domain reserved only for the winged. Oil spills in the waters. Plastics on the beaches. Neonicotinoids in the seeds stolen from farm fields. Massive light islands that appear as bright as the moon to migratory birds in the night. Without exaggeration, their bodies are collected by the hundreds where they fall to their deaths at the bases of skyscrapers and bridges.

Now my accursed brain links together these two worlds. The wild goose in the cool, crystal waters behind Kennedy’s, and the world of man, which may have taken his mate. I love my imagination when it is good, but curse it when it is too good. When it imagines possibilities I’d rather be spared from.

She may have been struck by the grill of a tractor trailer moving faster than she can fly, as she tried to cross the highway from one impoundment to the next. She may have flown head-first, at top speed in the dark of night, into a building or a wind turbine, breaking her neck. She may have mistaken for a gentle pool the toxic, tar-like mess which is a catch basin for the petroleum refinery. Once plunged into this sticky, poisonous muck, she will be lucky to get out with her life, and even then will be cleaning feathers for weeks before she can take to the air. Several lives ago, I myself was secreted in a blind with a shotgun, awaiting mourning doves to shoot on the wing. What a terrible narrative it might be to finish this thought in the context of Lone Goose waiting devotedly in Engleville for his mate to join him.

Alright! Alright! I remind myself I’m launching on another anti-man rant. There are plenty of natural threats to a goose even without mankind’s incursions. A fierce hurricane can blow whole flocks off course, or carry them out to sea, perhaps beyond their point of no return. Alligators in the swamps and bayous of the south. Bobcats, panthers, pumas, even house cats, all along the route. The sly fox. The hungry coyote. Everyone must eat to live. Nature is true to her scale, and a loss here is a gain there. It’s a big world out there, life is a circle.

DSC_0246

Lone Goose evokes images of the waiting. In Portland, Maine, a silent statue stares out across the vast Atlantic Ocean, mourning for those “…who go down to the sea in ships.” At the mouth of the Savannah River, a young maiden holds aloft a kerchief, signaling for her beloved with whom she will never be rejoined. Outside a subway station in Japan, a bronze cast of a little dog that came each day to greet his master. His presence there, alone until dark each day after his master passed, inspired this monument to undying devotion.

I lost track of the days. Maybe it was three or four. Perhaps a week. One evening, on my way home from the turbulent and intrusive world of man to my own little patch of Heaven, I saw the shallow branch creek behind Kennedy’s to be empty. No goose.

The true end of Lone Goose’s story will forever remain a mystery. But a story without an ending is a bane to a writer. This can go either way now in the imaginative mind of a sentimental, childish, maybe slightly crazy old author. Real, grown-up world of man can conjure up those dark thoughts that might be the final chapter. She was shot by a hunter, or hit by a truck, or killed by the unlit vanes of a wind farm or ambushed by a fox as he waited and waited. Since it is fiction, I shall pull my quill from the Pollyanna well, and construct the ending I’d prefer. 

Instincts began to whisper in his ear after several days. Unable to understand these feelings within, he is unable to will himself to move on. She is missing, and life was at a standstill until this condition would pass. He watched flock after flock of his cousins heading north, getting on with their geese lives. He was compelled by the warming days, the nearly-imperceptible travel of sunrise, drifting slowly northward at each dawn.

Time and tide wait for no goose.

It would be the evening of the sixth day. Goose has no knowledge of all those things that raced around my mind. Only a strange feeling that something is missing. Something is different. Perhaps forever. Goose knows only the signs of the Earth. The lengthening days. A call deep within his heart and soul to complete this annual trek despite all difficulties and disappointments.

Mother Nature calls to him in her gentlest Mother voice. The most soothing voice she knows. She has practice, as she has had to tell this to more than one Lone Goose, or Right Whale or Red Wolf.

“I’m sorry, precious one, for your unsettled feelings, your lost-ness, your losses. This too shall pass. It’s time to go now.”

Lone Goose pauses, and looks around once more. With reluctant resolve, he points into the headwind. A flock above invites him to join them. To share company and fellowship in a world that can make company and fellows vanish without explanation or trace. He stretches his wings, prepares to leave this once-welcoming refuge. “Their” swamp.

At the last moment, he hears a call ring out from the passing birds. Out of tens of thousands of Canada Geese in the Atlantic Flyway, he is unmistaken in his identification.

It was she.

Evening Flight

Take care and keep in touch,

Paz

The Game Of Life

Me and Life, we have this game we play. Timing and seasons are incorporated, but it’s not a race. There are no rules at all, really. It has goals, but no specific scores. Curiously, it is not considered a contest, and the winner enjoys winning throughout. I am the winner.

The game play takes place on a huge field. (Several fields, actually, as well as some trails and woods, a lake and a couple of ponds. And a swamp). There are few boundary markers. Mind you, the boundaries are there, and life will let you know if you cross them.

We have been at this a long time, so it’s impossible to describe how the game starts. No doubt it just seemed like life to me as a child and stupid young adult. In a way it’s a bit like chess, in that we each can have several campaigns unfolding simultaneously.

Some of my campaigns have been underway for a great deal of time. Some for years. Maybe some for decades. Something about this time of year that makes me pause ever-so-briefly to look at the tally. There is a sense of turning point in this season. A seventh inning stretch.

My plays involve my hearth and home, my beloved patch of green. Battling the sumacs. Cheering on the pollinator garden. Keeping open the trails, beating back the brush of summer. Basement windows are in frequent play, opening in the spring, closing before the pipes freeze. They are essential in my long-standing feud with the dampness in the hot and damp seasons, the drafty cold in the cold and drafty seasons.

I marshal a team for the season of light, rain and grass; lawn tractor, string trimmer, lopping shears and bow saw. A separate team, an offensive detail of sorts, tackles the bulkhead door, the screen door hinges, the crooked cupboard doors. The mice, the chipmunks, moles and voles that would delight in sharing our Victorian home crafted by masters. This team includes our tallest, the 28-foot ladder to reach the end zone of the roof to patch those cracks and realign the TV antenna. They fill lockers with hammers, drills, levels, screwdrivers, tin snips, glass cutters, putty knives and paint brushes, chisels and awls.

On defense, we train against the elements. Cold and snow and wind. Our captain is a four-wheel-drive plow truck, our co-captain the pellet stove. Plays include the sealing of 114-year-old windows and a foundation sill that has drifted in the five generations since those Scotsman cut and laid the toppling limestone. A squad of draftstopper chearleaders greets us at the door to the parlor, the coffin doors out front, the side door to the porch which will see the return of the bird feeders, and welcome the juncos, and say goodbye to the porch swing for a little while.

And herein lies our game. I make plans. Paint the house. Dismantle the toppled barn. Reclaim the back part of the property from the brush and weeds. On the playlist are many intentions. Replace the cracked glass in the round-top window out front. Paint the walls of the spare room. Get a load of gravel to fill and level the driveway, last treated twenty years ago. A fence to guard the corner garden, where the concrete Virgin keeps watch and welcomes visitors, to keep the dog from uprooting the hydrangeas.

In the meantime, I must keep the plates spinning on the stage as I try to dash off to these accomplishments between mowing the constantly-growing grass and feeding the dog and taking the trash and cooking on the barbecue. Somehow there is always a way to squeeze in a few days in a tent at a lake, quiet sunrises in the cabana, pulling sweet bass from the pond, hiking through the Wonder Woods with Sassy June.

Occasionally, someone will call a time out. A day spent with the boys in pursuit of white-tailed deer or turkeys. A day at daughter’s farm to help host Family Farm Day. A birthday party for dear friends. Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

Then, back to the game. What wins do I count for this season? What plays remain on the board? Where did I lose a pawn or perhaps a knight? Where have I broken the lines of my opponent?

Like fencers, we pause for a moment in September, and face one another honorably and cordially. We bow to one another.

An autumn leaf falls. Frost on the window.

En garde!

Take care and keep in touch.

Paz

Camp Journal, Part 4

 

Making Legends

Camp Morning

My body clock wakes me between 5:30 and 6:00, so that’s probably about the time it was when I crawled from my tent out into the warm and hazy July Sunday. We still have a long way to go, I think as I brew the coffee and heat water for oatmeal. I won’t be satisfied the boat motor repair will be straightforward until it’s actually done. The prop came off easily, and we had two sizes of propeller shear pins available, so this should be a slam dunk. Okay, don’t get over-confident.
While the boys slept in after a weekend full of action and a march through a monsoon, I headed down to the AquaMarie for the repair. I was glad to see Max had remembered to throw back the single bass from the live well. The breakdown and subsequent trip to town erased all hopes of Saturday Fish-Fry in camp, so this fish won a reprieve. The rain was so heavy the night before that it filled the boat almost halfway. A foot deep or more at the transom, the battery case was submerged, my tackle box afloat.
I grabbed the bilge pump, and returned water to the lake for a few minutes before feeling an urgency to get to the motor fix. The shear pin was just a tad long, and it jammed as I put the propeller on. I tried to pound down the ends with the hammer head of the camp hatchet. It needed to be just a sixteenth of an inch shorter for the prop to slip on over it. I couldn’t get the prop to seat all the way on the shaft, and determined the shear pin was still long, and snugging the ends of its channel within the assembly. Using the hatchet hammer again, I gently tapped the prop on over the tight shear pin until it seated enough to get the cotter pin back into the prop bell. “The use of the hatchet in small engine repair.” I narrated to myself.
The thing I always dread, which is yet to happen, would be striking camp in the pouring rain. Fortunately, there were but a few passing sprinkles this morning as the boys rose and breakfasted. We lingered a little, retold some early stories of the trip. Finally, the task of rolling up our beds and collapsing the tents loomed, and we began to pack the boat for travel. We loaded up, tied the kayak to the stern line as it hauled our cooler. We pulled out from site 34 with one long, last look at our temporary forest home.
“Fingers crossed.” I said as I started the motor and let it warm up. As expected, we put her in gear and she motored off, and headed for the channel marker buoys that lead to the boat launch.

Motoring

For a Sunday morning in mid-July, there were few people at the launch. Normally there’s a queue waiting to get to the water’s edge. Rental canoes are emptied and returned to the racks. Kayaks are lifted to rooftops, and the occasional boat trailer would back in to retrieve a vessel. Now the “beach” was wide open, save two other campers.
Up to the lot to fetch the Jimmy, (aka The Black Pearl), over one lot to hook up her boat trailer, then down to the water. The routine process of trailering the boat was made easier with two young men to assist, and we pulled our beautiful blue fiberglass baby from her favorite lake.
There’s an old adage that says things happen in threes. I hold no stock in superstitions, but as luck would have it…
Onto the beach crawls the trailer, the right tire torn and flat as the proverbial pancake.
“Ock!” came the Gaelic interjection.
I had a spare. Two in fact. Over the years I’ve owned the AquaMarie, I’ve steadily upgraded and replaced parts. New bow and stern lights, reworked wiring. About five horns ’cause for some reason they always stop working after two years. New bunks on the trailer, new LED trailer lights that don’t need three bulbs replaced every year. Along with a stern-mounted American flag and a new winch, I also ordered a pair of tires on brand new white rims.
Now, the boat came from Florida originally, and I’ve owned it a decade or so without ever seeing the lug bolts removed. These are the five bolts per wheel that hold them onto the hub. For the past two years I’ve gone out and sprayed them with rust-busting products, anticipating the wheels that are routinely submerged would not come off easily. I had planned to take the trailer to “The Tire Store” in Canajoharie, where the guys armed with air-driven impact wrenches, torches, and other tools of the trade could “persuade” stubborn lug nuts or bolts to come off. So for the past couple of years, two shiny new, 5-bolt trailer tires have taken a great round-trip joyride into the Adirondacks. It must be like a dream life for a tire; never exposed to sunlight or that nasty pavement, never having to hold up a thousand-pound load.
I’m anxious that the rusty old lugs will not be moved. We grab the lug wrench from the Jimmy, and of course, it’s too small. Well, it’s Sunday, camp is packed up (though much of it is in the boat), we’re on dry land, and the weather was pretty mild. Another perfect storm.
“Maybe I’ll need to find out if Roadside Assistance will change a trailer tire.” I addressed the boys, “Meanwhile, let’s head to town to see if we can find a 3/4″ socket to fit.”

The Jimmy and AquaMarie at the Mohawk River, 2019

We pile into the Jimmy again, and wind our way up the gravel road, up Deerland Road, and three miles up the state highway, straight to Hoss’s. Nothing like tools at all, so on to Mountain Born. Here, down one of the alleys, we find wrenches and sockets. No 3/4″ socket or ratchet drive or lug wrench. “Well, I guess we’re going to get to see Tupper Lake after all!” I called to my mates, and we headed north out of town.
It was a beautiful day for a ride, and this is some of the most scenic country you’ll ever see. We got to Tupper Lake and drove through the town, looking alternately at the lake and boats, then looking for the Aubuchon Hardware store. On Saturday, we noticed the water lilies had bloomed overnight. Places where we fished green pads on Friday sported white flowers. At Tupper Lake, we saw a lot of water lilies, and were enchanted by their colors; red, white, pink and yellow.
We found the hardware store and walked about to find some tools. I had measured the bolt with my fishing de-liar, and was certain it was three-quarters of an inch. I bought a 3/8″ ratchet drive to add to the four or five I already have back home. I picked up a (very expensive) deep well 3/4″ socket. We looked further for a “breaker bar”, solid chrome steel to spin your socket without grinding the gears of the ratchet drive. We came across the automotive department, and found a 4-way lug wrench. There was no 3/4″ on it, but there was a 13/16″, so we’ll take this along for insurance, along with a can of WD-40 penetrating oil. Sixty dollars later, we were heading south again to rescue our abandoned boat.

Scenic Adirondacks

And so this “perfect storm” engulfed us. Like the firewood purchased from Mountain Born Friday, and then the find-of-the-day shear pin there again on Saturday. We’d had a great ride on a wide open Sunday in beautiful summer weather, in one of the prettiest places I know of, and now were equipped (hopefully) for the tire change.
“I suppose I could leave her here and come back tomorrow if I had to.” I reasoned as we pulled out the jack and Max went to the wheel. The 3/4″ socket didn’t fit. My “surely 3/4″ bolt head was actually a standard 13/16”, which was one of the legs on the 4-way lug wrench. Without hesitation, Max quickly loosened all five bolts. “Pretty easy once they started.” he said, “The threads aren’t rusted at all.”
We listed the “what-ifs”, and again counted our luck. This didn’t happen on the way up here. On one of those long, desolate stretches of State Highway 10, where you see nothing for miles. No houses, no villages, no power lines, no stores. Nor did it happen on our way home, when the trailer and boat (loaded with gear) would need to be left on the side of the highway as we went in search of a lug wrench. Just like shearing the prop pin right at the beach, this perfect storm happened at the perfect place. Where we could park our boat in the lot, the rangers on watch. It was surrounded and passed by other campers and boaters that wouldn’t dream of tampering with such a thing. She was in a parking lot at a campground, covered, and could have remained there briefly if necessary.
In retrospect, even the torrent we marched through was perfect in its way, as if collaborating with the shear pin incident. The result was we walked through a rainy forest and had a great tale to tell, and this prevented us from being out on the boat when the storm struck. The very hour we were at the Eagle’s Inlet the night before, catching fish and watching the sunset, a half-hour’s ride from camp.
And so, the Camporee of 2020 will go in the books as one of the most memorable, adventure-filled and satisfying trips to our fabled lake. I can’t relate the excitement of landing fish after fish, or the feelings of self-reliance and accomplishment felt overcoming the obstacles we encountered. Photos do not do justice to the lake or the mountains, or the skies filled with passing storms and the golden red sunset, or the fish. My words can only describe the sounds of the loons calling into the night, the breeze in the pines, the chugging of the little outboard motor or the laughter of my grandsons.
I have added a page to the future. A page that will be turned many years from now, long after I am gone from this Earth. A man named Kacey, or one named Max, will look to his children, or perhaps grandchildren, and tell them stories of epic adventures with their grandfather. If they have learned anything from me, they will dutifully exaggerate the arduous journey, the ferocity of the storms, the efforts required to overcome our difficulties, and most importantly, the number and size of the fish.
And perhaps they will remember the trip made to the stormy lake, just we three. Without buddy-system backups or spare boats for rescue. Just the three of us, and our beloved lake.

Indeed, Camporee 2020 will be vaulted to the status of legend, and we three Musketeers to legendary.

 

Take care and keep in touch.

Paz

 

Camp Journal, Part 3

Number Thirty-One

Forked Lake Campground

Of all the days we pass through in a life, the majority will be unremarkable in a lifetime sense. We remember important individual days by date, but it is singular moments, brief flashes, that actually constitute a memory.
I don’t remember everything about the day Ryan was born, but I remember going to the mall and buying blue and pink balloons, printed with the names Ryan and Elizabeth respectively. (Until he joined us in the world, we didn’t know if we’d greet boy or girl.)
I don’t remember all of Miranda’s wedding or reception, but I vividly recall walking her down the aisle and telling her “Take one giant step.” . I recall as well the father-daughter dance hours later, with the newly-minted Mrs. Prime.
And so it is with our great adventures, in the outdoors and at camp. I can total the number of days I’ve spent at this lake. I can list the friends and loved ones that have joined me here. I can show you on the campground map all the sites where we have pitched our temporary canvas homes. But the stories, the ones we really remember, are those times when the ordinary became the extraordinary.
The time I swamped the canoe and ended up, fully clothed, in the lake. The time I couldn’t get the engine of the boat to start, a mile down the lake and approaching sunset. Never was I more thankful for my die-hard camping partner Joe, and his little Bass Tracker boat which towed the AquaMarie back to camp.
The time I arose from my tent, somewhere deep in “the middle of the night”, and observed a single cloud sitting on the silent and still lake, not another cloud in sight. Or another occasion past midnight, the campground practically empty, when I was the sole witness to a great ancient hemlock crashing down onto the forest floor a half mile away in the otherwise peaceful wilderness.
The Camporee of 2020 will certainly be remembered as remarkable in many ways. First and foremost, all other members of our tribe had called off, leaving only grandsons Kacey and Max, and myself, to foray into the piney woods. I must relate that the aforementioned grandsons are not little children as they may come to mind. Kacey turns twenty-two in October, and Max seventeen a month later. They were essentially grown men helping with the work and enjoying the camping trip rather than children that required supervision.
And here we were. The real deal. The real die-hards, eh? There’s some kind of line between “bold” and “stupid”, and we may have straddled it a bit. But it sure made for some great stories.

Stormy Weather

So we were lucky to find a shear pin to replace the broken one on our boat motor’s propeller, right nearby in the hamlet of Long Lake, and we leaped from the Jimmy to try to beat the thunderstorm rampaging up the lake toward us. We weren’t ten steps from the truck when the rain started. Before we entered the woods trail, the skies opened, and torrential rain fell hard. Previously, we had found the sprinkles to be quite warm. We joked that we could shower in them if we had a bar of soap.
Not so true for Number Thirty-One.
“Whoa! That rain is cold!” cried Max, in a t-shirt, shorts and Crocs. Kacey wore jeans. It took about two minutes for the rain to soak my slicker, and the water drained down the back, onto my calves, through the socks, into the shoes. It was nearing darkness, but thankfully still light enough to see in the woods without flashlights. We heard one or two claps of thunder as we marched through the monsoon. It was probably a fifteen-minute hike in good weather, so there was little point in hurrying. We were in it now, with no choice but to keep walking. We’d pass the side trails that led to campsites and shout them out over the noise of the rainfall.
“Site eleven! We’re a third of the way.”
“Site twenty-one, only a third to go!”

Site Marker

The rain made the trail slick, especially on tree roots and the occasional wooden bridge. Troughs in the trail filled with water deep enough to submerge my canvas sneakers over the laces.
“Twenty-six! Only five more to go!”
We plod along, soaked to the skin. My mind hearkens back to many snowshoe walks with canine companions as I cheer on my stamina. How the top of Nishan Hill, only a quarter-mile from the house, seems so distant when the temperatures are far below freezing, and the winter wind sleds down Victory Mountain, gaining speed across the glen until it blasts me in the face. We’ll be sitting in front of a hot fire sipping coffee in twenty minutes, but for now it’s one more step, then one more step.
We sloshed our way along, losing the trail just once, but we quickly corrected. I was mindlessly plodding along, head down, watching my footing. “Here we are!” Max declared. I looked up to see the Site 31 sign on the tree three feet from me.
The rain continued heavily as darkness settled around us. Just in time. We crawled into our tents and stripped off our wringing wet clothes. Within half an hour, Number Thirty-One finished its performance, and the rains stopped, leaving the air cooler and more comfortable.
We crawled from our cocoons and battled wet everything to try to get a little fire going. We fried hot dogs in the cast iron, and commenced to fill our bellies with another delicious camp meal. Max discovered the can of Spam, and that followed the hot dogs.
The umbrella chairs were soaked, pools of water in their seats, and to say we were tired would be quite the understatement. The lingering over the dying fire would not last long this night, and our little beds on the ground called to us.

Fire Ring

In the tent, I was too excited to sleep. The adventure of it all, and unflinching accommodation of all the hurdles the lake, the sky and the little boat threw at us. I spent some time jabbering away at Kacey, mostly about my camera, which was conspicuously absent on the boat for pics of our catches. I talked about the way I love photography and documenting all of life’s adventures and beauties. Certainly the rain was a threat, and helped convince me to leave the all-electronic gadget in the camera bag. Yet there was another incentive, and that was to simply enjoy this time with my grandsons. To be grabbing the landing net at the call of “Fish on!”, not grabbing my camera. To see the bald eagle, and watch it fly through the great wide beautiful world, not condensed and cropped to the size of a viewfinder. To marvel at the colors in the sky, the smiles of my grandsons, reflections in the water, the passing rain clouds. To live these moments and tuck them into the memory banks and galleries of my mind.

Camp Neighbors

In fact, on this trip, I was glad to have just one photo to bring home, of a family of ducks swimming past our camp. (All the other images in this journal series are from years past at Forked Lake) That single image will be iconic for me, and will always transport me back to this lake, and the time just the three of us shared camp. The time we had no Saturday Fish Fry because we were trekking through a hurricane fetching emergency repair parts for the boat. And running my mouth like Chatty Cathy as the loons called into the pitch black night.
Fifty-one years later, those rings deep within, that ten-year-old boy, still excited as ever to be at camp.

Rains fell off and on as we slept away our last night in this incredible, amazing, memorable place.

Part 4 next time.

Paz

Camp Journal, Part 2


“More please, sir.”

 

Good morning, Lake!

It was dark outside when the pitter-patter of raindrops on my tent fly woke me. So we were not to be entirely spared some rain. After a short while, the shower stirred Kacey, who climbed out of the hammock and crawled into the tent. Entering or exiting a tent simply cannot be done quietly. There are two parallel zippers on the outer fly to open, then the L-O-N-G oval door zipper. Then you must zip down the two on the fly before closing the L-O-N-G oval door screen. It was quite hot in the tent, as the flaps of the fly remained closed for rain. Door screens, window screens and vents in the rain fly were no match for the air in the 70’s and 100% humidity.
When again I awoke the sun was rising, and I pulled the firewood from under cover and got a smoky fire going. There’s something about a smoky campfire. It’s like a prerequisite for a campsite. It doesn’t seem alive without a plume wafting skyward.

Smoky Fire

I fired up the gas camp stove to brew fresh coffee in the red enameled steel coffee pot, and to heat water for oatmeal in the blue enamel cookpot. Coffee was done and a good fire burning as the boys rose to greet the day. We had instant oatmeal, mixed and served in the aged aluminum bowls of the mess kits. I had introduced the lads to my pervasive philosophy of “What would Lewis and Clark do?” This is applied to many things afield, at home and at camp. It includes things like passing on the bug repellent and using a head net, tucking socks into pants, and washing dishes in the lake. And so I commenced to make “Lewis and Clark toast”. Bread grilled in butter in the aluminum mess kit’s skillet. Okay, so Lewis and Clark likely had no yeast-risen bread, but I’m sure they had hot biscuits, and butter as fresh as it gets.
I pulled from my pack two “Emergency Poncho” packages, and distributed them to my campmates. I had a good light duty rain jacket, and we were ready for rain. Without further ado, we killed the fire and boarded the AquaMarie for a Saturday full of fishing. Today the rains would visit us off and on, and I started a game of numbering each brief shower. The boys would pull their plastic poncho hoods over their heads, and I mine on my green jacket, and I would declare “Here comes number twenty-two!” Before we knew, the drizzles would stop, and frequently the sun would peek out at us.
“Let’s go down to the lily pads.” Max requested again, “The ones all the way down the left fork.”
We motored west down the lake, and bore left at its namesake fork, down to the inlet from Indian Lake. We didn’t find much action here compared to years past. We re-positioned to a few promising spots, but landed the rare foot-long, barely keepers.
“We might wish later we kept the small ones.” Kacey referred to the minimum-length fish we released back into the water. By evening, we would wish we had heeded those words. Rain and sunshine came and went as we wound our way back to the other lily pads, the inlet from Lewey Lake, hereafter known as “Eagle’s Inlet”. We numbered each shower, and peppered the lovely day with “I should have stayed home” as we enjoyed good fishing action and the calls of the loons. We saw the big birds a lot this trip, accompanying this year’s brood. The tiny copies would swim alongside, or climb on mom or dad’s back for a ride. Occasionally they would be left alone, momentarily bobbing on the surface as parents swam deep to catch lunch.
We hauled in quite a few foot-longs, and Max dropped a keeper in the live well, a 14-incher. As we headed back to camp for lunch, we trolled our way across “the fork”, which is the deepest part of the lake. Here, the land-locked salmon settle into the cold depths. We always hope to hook one again. Of the hundreds of fish caught here over the years, we’ve seen just one. We had a good chuckle when Kacey swung the landing net, fish included, over my seat as I stood beside it (twice). “I like the way you subtly held that dripping net right over my chair.” I said. “Now it’s all wet.” Of course, everything on the boat was already wet after a day of fishing in the rain.
I had checked the gas gauge and was startled to find it below a quarter-tank as we fished the far end of the lake. “I think we have enough to get back to camp.” I shared with my shipmates. My eye went to the gauge frequently on the trip back, and on one occasion as I faced astern, Max called from the bow seat “Pop! The plane!”

The plane!

I looked up to see the floats of a single-engine water taxi fly past us, 50 feet off the water and not 10 yards off the port. We watched the plane fly down the lake, traveling eastward. It rose above the tree line, made a long banking turn, and disappeared behind the distant hills.
We made it back to site 34, where we beached the boat, without running out of gas. It was shallow, but flat and sandy here, unlike the shore strewn with boulders that hemmed our own sites. Fortunately, no one arrived to claim site 34 for the weekend, so it became the AquaMarie’s mooring home.
“Is Joe here yet?” I ask as we traipse through site 33 on the way to our own camp. No joe. It’s a bit more than a two-hour drive from home to here, so I held out some hope we might still see him later.
Burgers again, cooked in the cast iron over an open fire. We finished off the package. Saturday night is traditionally Fish Fry. We fish for our supper all day, and gather all Camporee attendees at a single site for dinner. Rains came and went as we ate lunch. The mountains across the lake would disappear into the passing vaporous shrouds, and Max would point and exclaim “That mountain is gone!”

Disappearing Mountain

With lunch in our bellies and only one fish in the live well,, the fishing beckoned. “Let’s head over to the lily pads.” I said. We shoved off and paddled out of the shallows. The motor started right up, but when I put it in gear, nothing happened. I shifted to neutral, to reverse, back to forward. The motor revved, but the prop barely moved.
“Oh no!” I said in shocked surprise, “I think we broke the shear pin on the prop!” It was that or the transmission had stopped working for some reason. Start with the simplest first. A shear pin in a prop should be readily serviceable, even afield. We paddled back to shore, lucky and thankful that the breakdown took place right at the beach, not in the middle of the lake. Or worse, a mile-and-a-half down the lake as we were earlier in the day.
More or less instantly, my focus shifts. From carefree wilderness camper and fishing guide to two young men, suddenly I am responsible grandfather and broken-down boat owner. We’re dead in the water, so to speak, with no boat for fishing or transporting our camp back to civilization tomorrow. There is a wilderness trail that leads back to the campsite parking lot, and this was our salvation. Many years we’ve camped on the north shore, where there is no trail at all, boat access only! Still, nine miles away was only the hamlet of Long Lake; a convenience store, a hotel, and two camp stores. We might find spark plugs, or even a bilge plug, but parts for a 50-year-old outboard motor seemed like a bit of a long shot.
The boys settled back at camp, probably eating again, as I started to troubleshoot the motor. Using the pliers on my all-in-one fishing tool, I removed the cotter pin from the bell of the propeller. Pulling the prop off its shaft, I saw a small metal piece drop into the foot-deep water. I picked it up out of the sand and found it to be one third of a broken shear pin. I carefully removed the other two pieces so I would have an example with me to determine length and diameter. This find was something of a relief. A shear pin is essentially like a nail pinning together two parts of rotary machinery. Quite common, they’re found in snow blowers, probably lawn mowers, too. This would be easier to find or substitute than transmission parts for a 1976 Evinrude.
I wouldn’t be able to relax with the unresolved situation hanging over me. I checked the sun, and it looked like late afternoon. We had perhaps three hours before sunset, and no idea how long it might take to find a suitable part. It was possible we’d need to drive the twenty-two miles to the next big town, Tupper Lake, to find a hardware store. Not to mention it’s already five o’clock on Saturday. Who knows what stores will be closed, and which might remain so Sunday?
The boys could have stayed at camp, but tagged along as we set out on the half-mile trail back to the Jimmy. I brought my slicker and a flashlight, in the event we were to encounter rain or darkness. Back at the lot, I said “No white Jeep.”, which meant no Joe. By suppertime on Saturday, I guess we should give up hopes of seeing him this weekend. On the hike, and the drive to the village, we reasoned out our situation. With time came calming, and collected thoughts. “Well, we could ask the campground rangers to tow our boat back if we really needed to.” I stated.
We went to Hoss’s, but they had little by way of hardware. I found a variety pack of nails, some similar in size to the shear pin, and bought them. “In a pinch, a nail will substitute for a shear pin.” I shared with Max and Kacey. “It should be enough at least to get us home.” I asked if there was a hardware store in town.  No, replied the girl behind the counter, but there’s an Aubuchon hardware in Tupper Lake, open Sunday, too. Yet another relief. At least there’s a safety net. We continued on to Mountain Born, and looked around the array of goods. I turned down one aisle and found all the drawers of hardware I’d find at my hometown True Value store. Nuts and bolts, washers and lags, spring clips…and there was a drawer labeled SHEAR PINS. I pulled my sample from my pocket, and found the closest match. We couldn’t be sure about the diameter, so bought a pair in each of two diameters. Best $1.20 I’ve spent in a long time. Our spirits soared at this easy find, and we headed back to the campsite, darkness approaching.
“No white Jeep.” I said back at the lot. Looking up the lake, westward, I could see a huge black storm stomping its way toward us. It looked like the meanest storm we’d seen all weekend. “Maybe we should wait this out in the truck.” I suggest. It’s a close gamble, as it became darker with each moment. If we waited it out for more than half an hour, we’d be hiking through the woods in a moonless, cloud-covered, pitch black night.

Storms Approaching

“Let’s go for it!” Max replied.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
The rain began before we were across the bridge from the parking lot to the trail.

More next time.

Paz

Camp Journal, Part 1

 

Perfect Storms

Chairs Await

I understand much of the modern science of meteorology. Warm and cold fronts, high and low atmospheric pressures, occluded fronts, jet streams, humidity, moisture in the clouds. One can fathom a pretty good guess with the data from weather radar, computer modeling, and good, old-fashioned experience and instinct. Still, even a meteorologist will admit, foretelling the weather is essentially an informed speculation.
So the weather forecast for our annual trip to the Adirondack High Peaks region and the remote Forked Lake Wilderness called for showers and passing thunderstorms. 25% guess for Friday, 85% educated good guess for Saturday, and back to 25% Sunday. “Looks like we might see our first washout.” Joe texted me. My regular camping companion for this past decade, he followed Sparky’s lead (our other 10-year die hard compatriot), who had hinted at calling it off already on Thursday. It would be the first break in the ten-year tradition. “Bah!” I replied to Joe. “I’m heading north. We’ll see what it looks like when we get up there. Every day is part of the story!”
Friday morning, after we finally got Max awake, he and another grandson, Kacey, climbed in the Jimmy and hauled our boat, the AquaMarie, to her favorite destination. Skies were cloudy and overcast, and temperatures were high, in the 80’s. Perfect brewing weather for thunderstorms. We were packing light and moving at a quick but unhurried pace. We drove past the scenic outlook, where we can see the western edge of the Green Mountains in Vermont, and the north end of The Berkshires. We drove past the hamlet of Sabael. These are two places I like to pause and look and linger.
We pulled into the Indian Lake One-Stop for our traditional cold cut sandwiches. Max’s favorite is the liverwurst sub, not something offered at a lot of places. I do turkey on wheat, and I don’t know if it’s superior bread and cold cuts or the atmosphere and preferred company, but I find it always to be the best turkey sandwich of my year. We ate on the road, continuing our northward trek and watching skies that looked potentially stormy, but dropped no rain on us. Past Lake Durant, past Mason Lake, past Galusha’s Cottages and Lake Algonquin, and the Northville-Lake Placid Trail signs.
After two hours’ travel, I drove past Deerland Road, where three miles hence resided the gravel road, which 2.8 miles later brings us to the DEC Campground at Forked Lake. I turned left at Hoss’s Corner Store, and showed the boys Long Lake, (the lake, not the village) and the place where Ryan and I boarded a float plane for a great ride, much of it right over our beloved campground. Then we made straightaway for the boat launch, and the AquaMarie slid into the cool, clear water, the lake obviously low, with a few rocks poking up where normally they are hidden. We could see the high water mark, and the lake was down by perhaps four inches or so. In a shallow lake filled with boulders, this can mean the difference between boating over rocks or hitting them.
Then we came to our first, and frankly easiest, hitch in our plans. We checked in at the ranger station and asked for two bags of firewood, to which the ranger replied “No wood this year. Didn’t have time to get it.” The campsites in the state had only opened July first, and hadn’t time to put everything in place. “Have to go to Stewart’s for wood.” he said. So back in the truck and up the 2.8 mile gravel road and the three miles of paved road and three more miles back to the hamlet of Long Lake. Passing the Stewart’s and Hoss’s, I again continued down the “main drag” by the beach, where the water taxi was homed and the Adirondack Hotel stood three stories high, facing north. Here we stopped at Mountain Born, and picked up four bags of firewood after nosing around the campy-touristy store. Little did we know that finding this hitherto unexplored trading post would be our salvation from another hitch we would encounter Saturday.
Camp stores are a mesmerizing conglomeration of goods, and seem to be a hybrid of tourist trap, camp store, marina, hardware store, grocery and fishing tackle supply. There are window stickers and T-shirts and sweatshirts for the tourists. Then there is camping supply; stove gas and fire starters, plastic flatware and plastic ponchos and S’mores sticks. Part of the store is a mini-marina; spark plugs for your boat motor, 2-stroke oil, paddles, life jackets, bulbs for your running lights, ropes for anchor lines. At the other end of this aisle is the beach store; sunscreen and beach umbrellas, floaties, checkered plastic tablecloths, disposable hibachis and folding chairs. Next to plastic pails and sand shovels and the occasional snorkel we find the automotive section; motor oil, fix-a-flat, air fresheners and sun shades. In the midst of this will be a miniature fishing tackle department, with poles and fishing line, lures, hooks, snap swivels, and a fish scaler. Then the souvenir section, with those little cedar boxes declaring “World’s Best Mom” or “Lake Life”. There are soaps made from pine needles and candies made from maple syrup and boxes of Paine’s Of Maine balsam incense.
We grabbed up our firewood and hightailed it back to the boat launch, boarded the AquaMarie, and motored out onto the lake, up the east shore to sites 31 and 32, our home for these three days. Clouds came and went, as did the sunshine, and we awaited Joe’s arrival at site 33. We pitched camp in short order, and were ready for some fishing. We headed for “the lily pads”, which actually describes a half dozen places around the lake with several inlets. This spot, however, has two parallel channels that wend their way through half a mile of bog before emptying into the pristine lake at one of our top “hot spots”. From here, Max would land the first of many bass over the weekend. One at seventeen inches, and another at sixteen. Kacey and I would soon join the ranks of successful fishers, and we were well on our way to another perfect day at camp.
As we caught and released quite a few fish, listened to the loons and floated on our peaceful lake, I began a running gag that would punctuate our weekend. With a sarcastic tone and a disgruntled moan, I’d say “This is awful. I should have stayed home.” The other running gag was the “waiting for Joe”. The last I heard from him before leaving my cell phone in the truck was “See you up there.” I fully expected him to show up sometime Friday. I’d see a boat as we were fishing and ask “Is that Joe?”
“Want to troll the south shore down to the lily pads?” Max asked, referring to yet another spot with the same moniker. I agreed, of course. Our road trip to Paradise, added trip to town, pitching camp and catching fish had burned up most of our day. The sun told me we had perhaps two hours before sunset. “Let’s head for the inlet (the “lily pads”) first,” I commanded as Captain of the AquaMarie, “then we’ll troll our way back so we’ll be getting closer to camp as it gets dark.”
We chugged slowly up the inlet as the water lilies fouled our prop and wrapped around it. We shut off the engine and dropped anchor at the spot that produced awesome fishing last year. I saw a movement across the forty-foot-wide channel, and from a pine tree not 100 feet away, a bald eagle leaped into the air, glided southbound down the channel, made two flaps of its nine foot wingspan, and disappeared behind the trees. We marveled at the sight.
“Well,” I summarized, “we drove here, pitched camp, caught fish, heard the loons, and now we’ve seen a bald eagle. Now we just need to eat some fish and sleep in a tent and we’ll have checked all the boxes for a perfect trip to camp.”

Forked Lake Sunset

The action was hot, so we stayed at the Eagle’s Inlet. We watched the sunset from the boat, watched the water calm to glass. Viewed the colorful sky as civil twilight progressed to nautical twilight, often declaring “I should have stayed home.”
Finally, and I don’t recall exactly why, we weighed anchor, lit the running lights, and got underway for our mile-or-so trip back to camp. Perhaps darkness or hunger were our incentives, and we cannot discount plain old tiredness. The air was perfect, and we motored our way up the center channel as twilight faded into darkness. I throttled back, left the tiller, let her plod along her course toward the little light hanging from a tree that marked our home. I stood and walked amidship, between my two boys so I could be heard above the hum of the motor and the churning water.
“I’m so glad we did this. I’m always wanting to be out on the lake at night, cruising or fishing under the running lights. We have fulfilled my dream.” After a moment’s pause I put on a scowl. “This is awful. I should have stayed home.”
“Yeah.” the grandsons nodded in mock agreement.

We cooked more burgers over the fire. Kacey took to the hammock, to sleep out in the piney forest air. I prepared a bed for him in my tent, in the event he might need to escape rainfall. The occasional splash of a fish, a light breeze in the eaves of the hemlocks, and calls of the loons were our lullaby.

Ah, another perfect day.

The Pinnacle Days Of Summer

Bow View

We’re right smack dab in the middle of it now, this summer thing. Hot weather, T-shirts and shorts, long days with the sun setting at 8 o’clock. Misty, humid mornings. Hazy humid afternoons. Passing thunderstorms. Welcome trips to the lake or the ice cream stand.

Spring’s constant is change. Each day nature reveals something new. A flower, migrating birds, trees leafing in. The days grow longer and the temperatures milder. Away with coats and hats.

Then we roll into June. Busy as can be with grade ceremonies and graduations and weddings. The fields are getting greener, the pumpkin plants can be seen now, starting their march to Autumn. By the end of June, we’ve pretty much accepted summer weather as the status quo.

Too often, our senses are so calmed to summer that the slightest change will awaken them. A particularly chilly night, when we are shocked to find ourselves lighting the heater on a June morning. A hot day, which is what we would expect from summer, becomes the topic of whining conversations. “It’s oppressive today.” “It must be the humidity.” “Looks like rain all weekend.” “My air conditioner never stops.”

It takes focus to remember these are unique days. The brain purposely makes you forget February and snow and down comforters, and lulls you into thinking that life will be like this from now on. But the clock is ticking, the Earth is tilting, and these days we dreamed of in the depths of winter are numbered.

Now we arise each day and move through it without noticing the outdoors and the subtle changes in the flora and fauna. The lilies are blooming and the hummingbird regularly visits the foxglove. It’s just another summer day for us, but for the wildlife, the clock is ticking, too. Babies must be raised, taught foraging and camouflage and self-defense, and fattened up for the next set of seasons. Fledglings fledge and leave the nest, often under the watchful eyes of parents.

And so what looks like just another summer day is anything but. Thick leaves on trees hide the squirrels, thick underbrush hides the mink until she scurries across the road with lunch in her jaws. In tall grasses, Common Yellowthroats and Skippers and Crickets disappear, save the occasional glimpse of movement, the flash of a wing.

Now I am on watch each day. Every day I remind myself (and the dog, when she’s listening) that these are our pinnacle days. I must remind myself to look and to see and to treasure these moments. Lush, full trees. Red-winged Blackbirds. Summer storms. Each and every day counts, and I am bound and determined not to simply let them pass by without notice. Every evening I stand outside and marvel at the mild air, the starfield above, the calls of creatures of the night, the owl and the coyote.

When I awaken in my armchair at 1 a.m., and Juney wants to go out, I follow her. I note the position of the Big Dipper, off to her summer place, and far from her winter home. I note the morning sun rising over the Sumacs instead of the south side of the barn. On my commute she rides quartering-off to my left, a welcome relief from the dead-ahead of the equinoxes.

“Remember these lilies,
These misty mornings,
This thick underbrush,
This Pinnacle Day.”

And now I am off for the weekend to my favorite lake way up north in the High peaks Region of the Adirondack Mountains. Here I will commune with loons, lure some fishes. Sleep on the ground with the sounds of night things rustling beside my tent. I will rise with the sun and smell the air, scented with water and perfumes of pines. I will gaze out on the glass-smooth water under the stars. I will be in touch intimately with these Pinnacle Days, and will relish every moment before my return to civilization.

Keep watch now.
These days seem to pass so quickly, and I wouldn’t want you to miss a minute of it.

 

Take care and keep in touch.

Paz

Oh, Deere

Deere Girls

I love to mow, and mow a lot. This could be a conflict with my alter-ego, Pazlo the Philosopher, who would think that cutting the grass is egregious to the Earth. That may be true, but the lawn was there before I came along, and there’s a certain social pressure to keep your dwelling space from looking abandoned or condemned. So, I cave to fashion, and slash away at the defenseless grass, often with zeal. I must admit I apologize to the grass sometimes, and when Pazlo sneaks into my brain I still consider the grass’s point of view, though I don’t take my foot off the Go pedal while doing so. Technically, I guess I could quit the world and go live under a bridge, which is where my wife would send me if I didn’t mow the lawn. So mow I must.

As a new homeowner, in 1986, my first summer at the Ark, I had the vigor of a 26-year-old, and thought I could mow three acres with a push mower. I quickly came to the conclusion that my sons would need to learn to push the mower. They were home all day anyway in the summer, right? Okay, so that didn’t go so well either, maybe because the oldest was 10. I began a search for a riding mower.

By search, I mean I had to first start saving some money. (Only rich people had credit cards back then. Diner’s Club mostly. You had to put the card on a thingy that would scrape over the top and grab the card numbers on carbon paper ((google it if you need to)). That’s why some credit cards still have embossed numbers, although I bet there isn’t a cashier alive that knows where the machine is or how to use it if the internet card reader goes down. But I digress.)

After pooling some dough over the course of half a dozen paychecks, I was on a keen lookout for a used riding mower that could be had for $280. I’d go $300, but didn’t have it yet. I was lucky at the time to be a cable television technician, and therefore drove around the service area for installations and trouble calls and outages. One fine June day, I saw it. Parked on the lawn of a farm on Barnerville Road down in Howe’s Cave. A very used Cub Cadet 105.

I stopped right away, fisted the $280 dollars at the guy before asking if it ran or listening to him introduce himself. He said I didn’t need to come back next week with the $20, he’d accept $280 (which was close to two weeks’ pay at the time). We (the sons and I) ran the daylights out of that thing. It couldn’t be stopped, even when the grass was a foot tall. It was big for a riding mower. Tall, big tires, a wide mowing deck. Ah, but good things never last.

Finally, after a few years of growing up and earning money, I appropriated a tax return to go buy our first brand new riding mower. It came from the Farm And Family store, which is now a Tractor Supply Company store. If I recall, it took a whopping $599 plus tax to procure the shiny, single-cylinder, 32″- decked machine of our dreams. Life was good for a while with the little green tractor. It wasn’t the most ergonomic I’ve driven, and was an entry level mower with a manual transmission. Still it cut right along for a few years until the shifter started acting funny and sticky. One good yank and it broke right off.

By now, I’d had enough years to come to know something about such machinery. Tractors, mowers. The real difference between an entry-level Monkey Wards kinda riding mower and a mid-sized, two-cylinder garden tractor like the old 105. So this time I set out to look for a good tractor with a big deck and a hydrostatic transmission, enabling one to simply press the pedal, forward or reverse, no clutches or breaking shift levers required.

I went right to the dealer. No retail store mower for me. A place that could service and repair my machine. And deliver it, since it wouldn’t fit in the cable van. Being from farm country, there are a few names that mean real. Allis-Chalmers, Deutz-Allis, International Harvester, Case, Ford, White, McCormick, Massey-Harris and Massey-Ferguson. And between the reds, whites and blues of the competition, populating nearly every farm one passed, was the singularly green of the green John Deere. That’s what I would have. A real John Deere.

I selected the LA120. A 22 horsepower twin-cylinder engine, a 42″ wide mowing deck, a hydrostatic transmission, a manual PTO, and available attachments. I would save a little and buy the snowblower attachment, and ditch the walk-behind snowthrower.  This green and yellow beauty was delivered to my driveway, dealer-prepped, and we were off on a ten year love affair. We mowed more lawn than the Ark had known previously. Stretched the south lawn another 50 yards to the east. We made and maintained a trail system that encompassed a mile of pathways, a rifle range, and two R/C Airplane runways.

It toted around, in its little garden wagon, my own kinder garten consisting of all six grandchildren born during its tenure. It was driven (and perhaps borrowed) by one of the sons originally slated to grow into a pushmower job, as he toted his own children around the heaping pile at our annual Leaf Pile Party. It was a go cart for tween girls and teen boys, and raced about at top speed, even in the snow.

Tires were flattened frequently, cavorting over old farmland, trails to the woods, fields previously tilled for corn, and places where there once stood chicken coops and sheds. I bought “Slime” inner tubes for her. These are tubes filled with a self-sealing gunk (or Slime, if you prefer). Never had a flat after that. After six or seven years of hard service, the anchor points for the spindles began to rust through on the deck. I bought a new replacement deck (something you won’t find for your Farm & Family mower). Ran that for a couple years. This machine is serviceable. Picked up blades right in the Home Depot. Deck belts, too. Ordered a replacement steering gear from GreenPartsDirect online. (Yes, we drove it so much we wore the teeth off the steering gear) One day, I went to start it and heard a snap, a decidedly metallic one, and the engine wouldn’t run. Luckily, I have my own certified small engine mechanic in son-in-law Matt. I bought two new heads and some pushrods, and Matt brought my Deere back to life!

There gets to be a tipping point between a man and his machine. Like a cowboy and his faithful steed, knowing the day will come when we can no longer gallop and rope and ride, and we each of us must go out to pasture. On a fine June Saturday, no doubt a day not dissimilar to when I first laid eyes on the old 105, I pressed the Reverse Implement Operation button to back up, and when I stepped on the Go pedal, she shut right down. I surmised it was a safety switch somewhere in the wiring harness. Maybe the one related to the RIO button, designed to help prevent you from backing over rocks and dogs and children and the like. Well, after a good cry, I realized Old Green had reached the end of her trail. She’d worked tirelessly, long and hard hours, for about every member of our family. I think her clock was approaching 800 hours.

I purchased a new lawn tractor the next week. I called Mr. Jackson, the Mower Man, who also drove the school bus for my children, and subsequently grandchildren that would board the bus at Mam & Pop’s house. I had, “on the lawn”, also Ryan’s old White rider whose wiring was fried, and a little red Craftsman riding mower I had purchased used to cover for the Deere while Matt rebuilt the engine. Would Mr. Jackson be interested in my mower collection, Ryan asked him a few weeks ago. Why yes, of course, he said, and made his way to the ranch with his own son to load up. I wasn’t there when he did so, and when next I arrived home I saw the White and Craftsman gone, but Old Green still sat, looking forlornly toward her former home, the cabana, and wondering about the shiny new machine under the cover.

The next Saturday, Mr. Jackson pulled into the driveway. He had to come back and ask. Ryan had said “Dad wants all those old mowers gone.”, but Mr. Jackson needed to hear it from me for himself; did I really mean the John Deere, too? Yes, I replied, wiping a tear on my sleeve, pretending a gnat had flown into my eye. He insisted on giving me something for it. No, no, I declined, I appreciate your clearing them away for me. Well, I like to feel I gave something, he repeated, looking at Old Green, and I could hear the undertone, “for Heaven’s sake man, are you in your right mind? It’s a John Deere!” Okay, I said, for his peace of mind, and grudgingly pocketed what strangely felt like thirty pieces of silver. I watched as they loaded her on the truck. I watched from the seat of my new mower as I returned to my lawn work, I watched long and fixedly, and spoke to her under my breath, a bon voyage.

In a couple of days, as I drove down Chestnut street, a familiar bright green machine called out to me from Mr. Jackson’s lawn. Probably an easy fix, I thought, just a switch. For a moment I was tempted, now that she was up and running again, to stop in and buy her back. I resisted the temptation, repeating my mantra about getting older and not leaving a whole pile of junk for your children to clean up when you die. I would not be tormented long. As you might guess, that green machine was gone in two days. I can feel good about part of the saga. I can hope some poor young guy who took on too much lawn but didn’t have too much money went driving down the road one fine June day, and saw her. A real John Deere. And I can hope, and will choose to believe, that Mr. Jackson put a price on it of $280.

Into The Sunset

 

Take care and keep in touch,

Paz

Pa’s Lunch

I appreciate the simplest things. Shadows on snow. Dew on grass. The calls of the birds in the trees or passing overhead. The smell of pines and rain on the wind. Sunrise. I cherish these things, constant and enduring. Faithful as fate.

Shadow Art

I’m not certain how I arrived at this place. Perhaps I convinced myself this was the way I wanted to be, for I have not always been so. Perhaps I should not be so typically human, and take a conceited credit for learning these lessons. Some credit should be given, perhaps, to the living of a modest life, one without the extravagances monetary wealth seems to attract. Due should be given also to my interspecies soulmate, my late Chuy The Wonderdog, for the many silent happy hours we spent together on the trails and in our Wonder Woods. Without a doubt, it was he that truly taught me. Not only to look, but to see. And to smell and hear. To stop talking and start listening. To slow down, and smell the bunnies.

View from The Top

I like old things. My mom was old and I really liked her a lot. The Earth is old. The sky, too. I like old trees that remind me of myself. Feeling grand and stately, yet exhibiting a few signs of wear and tear. I like old forests that have huge deadfalls carpeted with green moss, and tiny pink sorrels that grow between the shadows of Hemlocks. Don’t get me wrong, some new things are good. New socks. And babies. Although they also get old eventually.

I like old movies, TV shows and radio series’. Folks often talk about how “times were simpler back then”. There’s a lot of truth to that, but unfortunately an egregious dichotomy. To put it simply, sometimes things were great for healthy white men while at the same time things were not good for women or the infirm or people of color or children. You can imagine this list could go on a bit. I grieve for those sorely affected by the narrow-minded and short-sighted people that came before me. Hope remains high that we are well on our way to a welcoming world.

I like to watch old shows because of what is not in them. I see wooden crates and burlap sacks and I say “no cardboard back then”. The phone is wired to the floor. All one needs to do is exit the room to be liberated from it. I see characters in crisp cotton clothing and think there was no wash-and-wear. Every garment worn would require pressing, except the wool and fur. There are no power tools or machines as we think of them. The kinetic energy of water was used to turn the mill wheel, to grind grain. Or to turn a leather belt that turned more leather belts and the cogs and gears and blades needed for a sawmill. Beasts of burden turned such wheels where water was unavailable, and they further pulled plows to till the land, and the wagon to go to town or church. Life In Engleville takes its name from this tiny hamlet, named for Engle, who built Engleville Pond a half mile from here, to power Engle’s Mills. Perhaps living in the shadow of the mill pond and the namesake endears those olden days to me.

Engleville Pond

In cowboy movies there are no vapor trails across the sky (except that one scene in that John Ford film, a famous blooper). In pirate movies, the wind propels the Black Pearl, without the black soot of the diesel engine, nor the trail of toxic wastes left in the ocean. In Egypt, we marvel at the great pyramids, built solely with human muscle, the sweat of the brow, the unfortunate slaves. In Yucatan we are amazed at the accuracy of cosmic clockworks, calculating calendars out twenty thousand years without the aid of Newton, Einstein a slide rule or a scientific calculator. We can watch Hillary summit Everest in a jacket and a pair of leather shoes. We can watch Shackelton stranded in the Antarctic for two years without a single death of the 28-man crew. People were tough back in the when. People were resourceful and did with what they had, whether in Antarctica or the Great Plains of the American West.

When my kids were growing up, Michael Landon did a television series bringing Laura Ingalls and her beloved book Little House On The Prairie to life. She would be known as Laura Ingalls Wilder when she wrote the series that chronicled her childhood as her family went westward with the frontier. It was a moment in an episode of this series that cemented my desire to “live simply” as Thoreau would put it. To be the kind of person that could make do with what he had, get along without machines, to embrace Yankee ingenuity,  and the Pioneer spirit. And to be happy and content with such simple things. Pa, as he would be called by Laura, worked at the saw mill with Mr. Edwards.

(Sidebar: Okay, so Ingalls is almost Engle, isn’t it? And Pa works at a mill, for which my road and Hamlet are named. We used to have a neighbor that used the hayloft of our barn. His name was Roger Edwards. Coincidences, I suppose.)

Barn At Sunrise

I’m watching Pa break for lunch. Pa and Mr. Edwards don’t go over to the diner or drive up to the Burger Queen. Pa brings a lunch pail. It’s a rectangular tin box, and the lid has a chamber and a screw cap. One would put cold water, or ice if you’re lucky, into the chamber in the top to keep food cool. In the winter, a scuttle full of hot coals would keep a warm meal so until lunchtime. (I have one upstairs).

Big buildup. Here it is. Remember how we’re talking about simplicity?

Pa reaches into his lunch pail (now you know why it’s called a “pail” before “lunchbox” came along), and pulls out a thick slice of homemade bread, wrapped in cheesecloth. There is also in the pail a ripe apple and a small piece of cheese. He washes this down with water from a tin cup. I can still see Landon’s engaging trademark smile, as he imagined himself to be this simple man. “That was a good lunch.” he says to Mr. Edwards, and they go back to work.

I have not viewed a meal the same since. Balanced diet and three places on the plate and sides and sauces and salad and dessert. Breakfast lunch and dinner. Three thousand calories a day. Where did all that come from? Maybe folks in Pa’s day did not have a well-balanced diet or what we would describe as healthy nutrition. Yet even without modern medicine, folks still lived to be seventy and eighty and who-knows-how old?

I was particularly lucky at lunch today. I am fortunate every day, of course, inundated with more offerings than Pa Ingalls could ever have imagined. Still, lunch is PB & J most days, on wheat bread. Sometimes a hard roll. How extravagant, Mrs. Ingalls would think. I’m not sure they even had much of peanut butter yet. Plenty of jelly though, because you had to make do with what you had. You had to be self-sufficient. You had to live simply.

Today’s lunch was a hot cross bun, warmed by the sun, accompanied by delicious black coffee from the green steel thermos. Icing and dried fruit were a delight.

“That was a good lunch.” I said, to the sparrows and starlings enjoying the wheat bread, a few feet from me and the Funbus. I thought of Pa again.

And who is “better off” I wonder?

Is it the man who enjoys the wealth of the world, jet-setting lifestyles, exciting once-in-a-lifetime highs, a balanced diet and three places on the plate and dessert?

Or could it be the man who can derive great joy from a quiet wood and canine companion, a peanut butter sandwich, the memory of a man who is long dead, and shadows on snow?

To The Wood!

Take care, and keep in touch.

Paz

Earth Life

I’m talking to YOU!

“Rome was not built in a day.” they say.

“All in a day’s work.”

“An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.”

We’re talking to you, too.

“Tomorrow is another day.”

“Let’s call it a day.”

Enter Scarlett O’Hara, Margaret Mitchell’s beautiful, selfish, mesmerizing heroine of Gone With The Wind.
“Fiddle dee dee.” Scarlett says, “I’ll think about it tomorrow.”

Hello?

“The Day The Earth Stood Still”

“Day Of The Jackal”

“Dog Day Afternoon”

What does a day mean to you?

I’m talking to you, as well.

Do you wait for one day each year to eat?

We’re asking YOU.

Do you take only one day each year to sleep?

I’m just listening.

Do you take care of your home just once each year? Make the beds, clean the windows, rake the lawn and then what? You’re done for another year?

Every day is critical to me.

Every day counts for us.

We embrace the Earth every day.

We’re talking to you, too.

It’s our Earth, too.

I’m trying hard to think of something special, something extra to do for Earth Day.
It seems everything I think of are the things I do every day.
For water, for air, for birds, for animals, for terra firma.
She is my mother, and I love her every day.
Not more on better days and less on lesser days.
I don’t live Earth Day or even Earth Year.

For me, for mother, I live an Earth Life.

Down here. We’re talking to you, too.

We’re in this together.

Trees and water calling, too.

We all share the same planet.

Don’t forget us.

A big thanks from me!

 

Love always,

Paz, Sasha, and Mother Earth