Wonders in the Woods

Rerun- This post was originally published in January, 2016 on Armchair Zen.

To the Woods!

To the Woods!

Headed out into the Magic on this New Year’s Day with two of my favorite beings.

Of course my canine companion Chuy was the catalyst, and my grandson Max joined us in the 28-degree air. In my super-eager, always-ready grownup fashion, we were striding past the barn before I realized Max hadn’t any gloves, and was rather underdressed for an hour or two of outdoor play. Back to the house, and he donned my spare “jumpsuit”, some gloves, hat & scarf. Now we were ready. We headed up the runway to the rifle range, and at the crest of the hill Chuy crossed through the hedgerow to “The Widowmaker”, a big hayfield which has seen many radio-controlled airplane crashes, and has claimed the scale pretend lives of many scale pretend pilots.

“Can we go to the woods?” Max asked.

Inside my forced-order grownup brain, the responses line up:”Well, your dad is on the way over to pick up you and your sister. He might be here soon, and we don’t want to keep him waiting. It’s a bit of a hike over the hill, and I hadn’t planned on it. And it’s pretty cold.”

What came out of my mouth: “Sure we can!

As we walked the treeline atop the Widowmaker, a sudden thunder exploded nearby on our left. In a flurry of wingbeats, a ruffed grouse made its escape, placing trees and distance between it and us. “Partridge!”, Max declared. “Never saw him.”, I replied.  As we entered the hardwood stand, the ground before us was free of snow, a blanket of tan, brown and bleached leaves carpeted the forest floor, ankle-deep and noisy.

“Which do you like better, winter or summer?” Max inquired.

This was met with a lengthy response about all the things there are to love about summer, followed by all the things to love about winter, a circling and recircling diatribe that ended where we started, without a real direct answer to the direct question. The summary was a vague “there are so many things to enjoy in both seasons, one precluded from the other, resulting in sort of a tie.”

As we walked through the woods, the ground seemed to crumble beneath our feet often. The sensation was one of walking on foot-deep piles of saltine crackers. A crunching sound followed by our boots sinking 3 or four inches into the humus. We stooped for a closer look. Upon examination, we found most of the ground to yield crystal structures rising six inches out of the soil.

“Crystals.”, I marveled, to which my companion replied “Are they valuable?”

Crystals of the Forest

Crystals of the Forest

This lead to a dissertation about the definition of crystals, crystalline structures, common types of crystals, and their definitions as common, semi-precious and precious gems. I theorized about the formation of these dirty glass ice crystal structures. We had a warm spell, and some rain, followed by a dip into temperatures well below freezing. Water evaporating from the ground met freezing air, and the crystals formed.

Dirt Diamonds

Dirt Diamonds

“Can we go look at the creek?” was Max’s next request.

Again, my brain tickled through a file of grownup reasons why we might not, followed by the exclamation “Sure!”.On the way we saw some interesting tree-ear formations, and I stopped to take a photo.

“They look more like tree noses.” said Max, and I agreed.

Tree Noses

Tree Noses

At the Little Beaver Creek, ice rimmed both sides of the frigid, flowing water. We stepped on the ice at the bank and it crunched underfoot. Then we had to throw rocks onto the ice on the opposite shore, trying to break through. The rocks were frozen into the ground on the creek banks, and we had to kick them to free them from their resting places. Three million years it took that rock to get there, and suddenly in one day it moves 20 feet. Changing the course of geological history, we pelted the ice to no avail.

Max vs. Ice

Max vs. Ice

Along the North Loop trail we came across a shotshell wad, and Max narrated last weekend’s rabbit hunting.

“I was here,” he began, taking his position and holding his arms in shotgun-wielding formation, “and Pierce was over there.” Max gestured to the other side of a tangle of brush. “He called ‘Are you ready, Max?’, and kicked the brush. The rabbit went right through here,” a sweeping arc of the arm, indicating the bunny’s course, “and BAM! BAM! I shot twice, but missed him.”

Conservation of angular momentum is the cosmic force brought to bear on objects circling other objects in space, the push & pull, the yin and yan of gravity versus centrifugal force resulting in an orbit. Some orbits are close, such as that of our moon. Some orbits are millions and millions of miles long, often ellipses, hanging a tight turn around their gravitational anchor, then sling-shotting off into the far reaches of solar systems and galaxies. Objects moving through space are affected by the pull of the objects they pass. Sometimes ever-so-slightly altering their course by degrees over millennia. In other cases, objects are drawn close, and the cosmic dance begins between host and satellite, and the once-free and boundless travelers become residents, orbiting moons or rings of debris.

My days and times with my grandchildren affect me in similar ways. I am pulled from the ultra-ordered, prepared-for-retirement, insured-for-everything, time-honored traditions of middle-aged American patriarchs, and drawn back into the world of wonder, the endless hours of childhood. To walk almost aimlessly, to stop and identify every type of scat. To play at edges from which grownups recoil. Throwing rocks onto ice, skirting the near-freezing water without cares, without worries of “what would happen if…?”

What would happen if we fell into the swiftly-moving current, plunging muscles and lungs into 34-degree water wearing 10 pounds of clothes?

“It would be a bad thing if Chuy went into the creek and couldn’t get back out.” Max observed, as the old dog approached the banks of the Little Beaver Creek. It was a parallel of too-grownup thought, the same things I am thinking about the boy. The boy on the brink of becoming a man. Let’s not hurry that, okay? Let’s have another year, another winter, another walk in the woods, where you are a child of Neverland, and worries are unwelcome. A place and time before you set out on that endless highway of adulthood. Before you fall into the traps, reading the road signs “What would happen if…?

“He’ll be fine.” I answer casually, carefully concealing the legitimacy of his concern. “Not likely to happen.”

Max the meteor streaks past Grandfather planet. I am pulled toward him by the unseen forces, trying to hold him.

He pulls back, as a glorious tail stretches out across the cosmos, hurtling by me at phenomenal speed.

My orbit affected, I reach out with my own unseen force, and try to grab that tail.

Max Meteor

Max Meteor

Be at peace,

 

Paz

 

 

Deer Season

Huntsmen

New York State has a long deer hunting season, that starts with bow and muzzleloader seasons, after which comes the regular firearms season.

Son-in-law Matt and Grandson Maximus are avid hunters, going back several generations in the hamlet of Buel, five miles north of Engleville. It’s been quite a while since I stalked deer with a gun, and I’ve moved on to a new hunt. With my camera.

I’m a catch-and-release fisherman. Except for a couple of shore dinners while camping up north at Forked Lake, I measure, photograph and release the fish I catch. I decided that since I’m past the game-taking stage in my life, I’d start a new thing: “Shoot and release”.  It’s unlawful for members of a hunting party to be unlicensed, so I have my big game tags on my back as we pursue our quarry. However, my Nikon is the only thing I shoot with.

Opening day I joined the lads and a couple other hunting buddies, Mike and Jeff, and we went on a couple of deer drives in Buel. Push-hunting, or driving, is a method that calls for a couple of members of the party to take a stand at advantageous spots, while the “drivers” start along the opposite side of the area (typically woods, swamps, marshes and the like) and we make noise and hoot as we drive the deer out towards the shooters.

After a couple drives in Buel, we headed to daughter Kerry’s farm, where Matt and Max have box blinds. These are raised stands enclosed by walls. We spent a few hours in the blind, until dark, without seeing any deer. Max got himself a good nap, though.

The day after opening day, Max got his buck. He and his Dad were at Kerry’s, and Matt drove the swamp towards Max. A fine 6-point buck was Max’s reward. It was a beautiful deer, in good health, with no sign of ticks.

 

Max’s buck

As the only unarmed member of the hunting party, I’m always a driver, or “pusher”. I get some great exercise and see some trails and terrain that’s new to me. The hunting party is actually glad to have me, as fewer and fewer folks pursue hunting these days. Back in the when, there would be a dozen guys assembled for some big drives. Sometimes the group would take more than one deer in a single drive.

I’m a little conflicted in the sense that I myself don’t kill things, and also I love all of nature and all its creatures. Thanks to Disney and The Yearling, many of us get emotional over seeing a deer killed. Thankfully, my over-sized human brain is able to understand the concept of overcrowding. There was a time when predators would take their fair share of deer, and there were no fields full of corn or pumpkins to feed them. Nowadays, deer get plenty to eat, and have power line right-of-ways and rear easements to wander through safely. If we don’t take responsibility for reducing the deer overpopulation, they’ll all suffer with starvation and rampant spread of diseases. They’ll also run out in front of your car or even occasionally crash through a picture window into someone’s living room.

For me, I’ve taken to joining the hunt to spend time with my grandson and favorite son-in-law (okay, so he’s my only son-in-law, but still…) in the great outdoors in all weather. It’s a fine adventure for an old Armchair Zen grandfather, and I am easily mesmerized by the many photo opportunities that present themselves. Alas, I’ve yet to “shoot” a good deer on a hunt.

Mostly it’s about taking game, but nearly as important is the camaraderie of the hunt. Jeff arrives with “tomato pie”, very popular in Utica, from which he hails. Between drives we’ll talk about the deer we saw or didn’t see, yesterday’s drive, tomorrow’s plan. We recall names of those that hunted before us and have since passed on. Max’s grandfather Mert, Mike’s cousin Ken (they say don’t mention Ken Jones locally, he was a real character. Loved or hated, no in-betweens). A neighbor stopped to ask where we were hunting and if we had permission, and after a couple of well-timed name-drops, the neighbor was glad to have us nearby. And “Yes!”, she said, she’d be glad to get some venison if we were successful.

So, another year of trucks lining the roads on weekend mornings, guys walking around armed like soldiers, and the sound of shotguns and rifles ringing out through the hills. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a good respectable sport, and we are responsible sportsmen, and we have some great times out in the snow and mud of November.

Until next year!

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

In The Wonder Woods

This post is a follow-on to “Walk With Me” (10-27-17), wherein we walked our trails from the Great Lawn, and eastwards up to the top of Nishan Hill.

Across the top of the hill on our walk, we arrive at the great forest we call The Wonder Woods.

“Seek not after answers, but after the joy of wonder.” – Chuy The Wonderdog

Breakfast Company

We find so many fascinating and curious things herein, hence the name. It is a breathtaking and beautiful place to dwell and linger, wander and wonder, in all seasons.

It’s a marvelous place to be in Spring, as the days grow longer, the snows recede and vanish. Spring Robins will roost in the pines at sunset. By the hundreds they’ll noisily gather in the grove, settling for their evening’s rest on their migration northward. The earliest tell-tale signs can be found of new growth, the thawing of our world, and nesting season.

Throughout the long summer, the woods grow thicker with vegetation and undergrowth. Squirrels rule the day, and they will begin barking at you as you walk through their domain. Summer bird visitors are seen now. Woodpeckers love the aged wood. From time to time we’ll see the huge Pileated Woodpecker, looking like Woody himself. An indigo bunting is an eye-catching sight, and after the Goldfinches come their near-lookalike, the Common Yellowthroat. Catbirds will follow us on our walk, albeit at a safe distance, and the Cedar Waxwings will work at gleaning the wintered-over seeds of the Sumacs.

Turkeys scratch and dig in the forest floor for grubs and worms. They walk the same heavily-trod path followed by deer, coyotes and even the occasional black bear. To some, the wood may look untrammeled, but those with a keen eye, the trail can be seen. A few kicked-up leaves here, a snapped twig there. It’s easier to see if you get down to coyote level. 

Of course our wood is beautiful year-round, but few seasons are as striking as autumn. Granted, the landscape is dramatic and captivating in the snow, and we find as much to see therein. There’s no competing with fall color, and the activities that accompany the season. Deer will begin scraping the velvet off of their antlers in August. Squirrels and Chipmunks are running marathons to gather and store food for the coming winter. Deer are consuming everything they can while it’s available, before being trapped in their winter yards. Overhead, Canada Geese wave long goodbyes, and mile-long flocks of Starlings will transit the drumlins of Engleville.

Winter is a wonder unto itself. The landscape seems almost alien. Frozen and packed with snow, it is far from devoid of life and activity. Winter is the most visceral season, with winds whipping up snow devils and piling drifts. Like the sand of a beach, the surface tracks activity among forest friends. Big turkey footprints, tiny mouse footprints, trails leading every which way, some burrowing beneath the snow. It’s a season of light, even though the days are shorter. With the canopy devoid of leaves and clear frigid air, light finds all corners of the woods.

In all seasons and the seasons-between-seasons, the Wonder Woods is my ever-present friend and guardian. There is never a trip into the forest that does not bear some gift for you.

Look us up if you’re out our way, and we’d be glad to take you along.

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

Walk With Me

Let’s Walk!

I so often talk of our Wonder Walks and trails and woods behind our home. It occurred to me that a virtual tour of our beloved space might benefit the reader, put images to the names and places, like Widowmaker Field, Little Beaver Creek, the Rifle Range and the Wonder Woods.

Grab your jacket and join us, won’t you?

Let’s head east, through the Great lawn, reserved for our famous Leaf Pile Party. The lawn was mowed last weekend, and now will not be mowed again until after the party. Don’t want to chop up our leaves!

 

We’ll walk the old R/C Airplane runways, past the Sumac Stand, wherein we will find Jeff’s Rest. Named for my best human friend that gave me the chair. It’s cool and welcoming in summer. It’s a nice place to sit in winter, too, brightly lit when the leaves are gone. Through the sumacs and bear to the south, we’ll go east up the Rifle Range, to the top of the hill.

We walk the trail in all seasons. We walk in the sun, the wind, the snow, even the rain.

A wise dog once taught me:

“I would not let the rain keep me from this walk. It is filled with beauty, and the rain is part of it.”

Past the pine stands, or perhaps on the North Loop, the other side of the Pine Grove. Our course meanders, typically chosen by my canine companion. Walk, wander and wonder, I call it, and we find the grandest things right here in our back yard.

We’ll top Nishan Hill, named for its owner, and have a good long look around. On a clear day, you can see for several miles. Always a breeze, welcome in summer. At other times, we’d call it the blustery wind. If we wander to the south, we’ll cross Widowmaker Field, where the wind whips up snow devils, and dries the mowed hay in June.

 

Through Chuy’s Trail and on to Wonder Woods Trail, we arrive at the forest. Herein we can walk down to Little Beaver Creek. We can cross the Tree Bridge to get to the swampy other side. Just a bit further and we’ll come upon the old rail bed, abandoned in the early seventies. The bridge is still intact, of course. The Wonder Woods see all sorts of activity, from walks with kids in the full summer, to squirrel hunting in the fall. A couple of tree stands dot the woods for deer season, and camouflaged turkey hunters will secret themselves at the cross-trails.

 

We’ll linger long in the summer. Linger more briefly when it’s 12 degrees and a fifteen mile-per-hour wind is rumbling down the lee of Victory Mountain to our west. From atop the hill we’ll “put the sun to bed”, as often as we can be here at just the right time.

Rainbow’s End

I’ve spent many an hour atop this hill, gazing out across the grand landscape. Many long, luxurious moments feeling the sun on my face, listening to the visiting winds that blow, watching as the Earth moves through the thousand seasons I will share with her.

Like a child, I want to stay longer. It always seems too soon to go in. Chuy and I would “be in trouble” in the old days, staying out so long. Well past dark in some seasons. Curiously, I will always feel the same way, even after a long walk in the pouring rain or howling wind.

I feel like I belong when I am out in The Magic, The Wonder of all that is laid before us. When I am all alone (well, except for the company of a canine), I feel most in touch with our blue ball, this spinning rock suspended in space. When the floor beneath me is earth or snow, and the only walls surrounding me are sturdy giants called pines and maples and beech and hemlock. Where everywhere is a window, and the ceiling is twelve miles high. Here the smells and sounds and motions come racing to me. Here, surrounded by light and shadow, green and gray and brown and black.

Here, safely in Mother’s arms.

Shadow Paintings

We’ll explore the Wonder Woods in depth, and follow the trail where it leads us.

Next time on Life In Engleville.

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

Our Waning Pinnacle Days

Parsons Farm Flower Field

In the middlest part of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, I have a name for this season-within-a-season. These are our Pinnacle Days of summer.

There’s no set start date or end time for Pinnacle Days. You sort of know one day, typically around mid to late June, that we have settled our globe’s rolling-rocking year. Now there is a time for things to grow and to look fuller each day. Until the wane of Pinnacle Days.

Now we approach that time. The “Clock Tree” on US 20 will tell me when our Pinnacle Days have ended, and we will segue into the Harvest Time. Actually, these two may overlap a bit, as harvest begins in the Pinnacle Days. Strawberries first, and Swiss Chard, followed by peas and beans, tomatoes and potatoes, then finally sweet corn. Now we just wait for the pumpkins.

We don’t notice much when things stay the same. Day by day, our summer ticks along. Each day we rise to T-shirt temperatures, go about our business without care. We can leave the windows open, park the John Deere where we please. If you don’t remind yourself that these are the Pinnacle Days of summer, you might not notice until you wake up that foggy morning to a later sunrise and the need for a light wrap.

People are like that. We notice spring because it’s a change. Something different than the day-to-day snow. Snow, snow, snow…then BANG!..flowers, flowers, flowers, and birds (and mud, of course).

We notice autumn. How could you NOT notice autumn? The crisp morning air, warm afternoons, and then Mother Nature’s Fall Fashion Show, as she paints every hillside in temperate zones with dabs of hue and intensity that make every painter envious.

We notice the first flock of Canada Geese headed for Mexico in the fall, or Hudson Bay in the spring. We see “the first robin” as a harbinger of summer, and we await the return of the tiny Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds.

If you spend a lot of time outdoors, you can’t help but notice the subtle turn to the seasons-within-seasons. This year’s fawns growing bigger, readying for their first winter. Wild Turkey are fledging a second batch this year, they’re roosting in the pines now. At Quiet Creek, the water slows to barely a trickle.

You can know without clocks and calendars the time of day and the season of the year. Black-eyed Susans begin to wind down. Milkweed has spent it’s blooms and now holds pods of feathery seeds, hanging on until after the turn. They’ll fly with the snow. “The down of a thistle” can now be seen, clinging, letting go, flying away. Chicory and Asters bloom in shades of blue, and cattails form their furry brown heads.

And so, September is now upon us. Seasons are not static, there are no defining lines or dates, just the profusion of growth followed by a fullness, and finally, a settling, a slowing. Our Pinnacle Days wrap up, leaving us so many warm memories of the warmest season. We set our sites on the next set of seasons-within-seasons. Frankly, the most breathtaking.

And I will tell myself that I will not shoot a thousand photos of the same tree I took a thousand photos of last year, and the year before, and the thousand-or-so years before that.

Reflection Of Fall

Next thing I know, I’m sorting a thousand snapshots while watching Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

Perfect Day #3

Bow Boots

Journal entry 6/14/17

Perfect Day #3

Wednesday is Fish Taco Day in camp. Today, you fish for your supper.

Went up the northeast inlet quite a ways, and grounded the AquaMarie on weedy clumps of sediment in the shallows. Lifted the outboard and revved it a bit, and thankfully we were able to pull her free from the grounding. Twice! The motor ran poorly off and on, fouling one cylinder occasionally. 

Ryan pulled the first fish, a 14″ rock bass, which we placed in the live well. “One fish each and one for the pot will be plenty” I said, observing our Forked Lake Rule. We went fishless for a couple of hours as we worked the north shore just off the main channel, fished the holes between islands. By 2 o’clock, we still had just one fish. “Well,” Ryan says, “if we don’t have more fish by three o’clock, we might as well throw this one back.”

We decided we would force ourselves to eat the dehydrated “survivor” foods if we failed to catch fish. Oh ye of little Lake faith. About then I hit a nice rock bass, about 15″, and I assured Ryan it would be enough to make fish tacos for two. “I wouldn’t mind having a third fish, just to be sure.” came Ryan’s reply, as we returned to camp to prep for dinner.

I walked to the south point of our island and hammered it, fishing alongside a pair of loons. A couple nibbles I thought were short (there were Bluegills), then whack, and BANG! Fish on! Set the hook and landed another 15-incher. I walked back to the table where Ryan was filleting the fish. “Did you order a delivery?” I asked, holding up the rock bass. “Sweet!” was his reply, “You come through again!”

Ryan whipped up a beer batter and fried small pieces of the day’s catch. Flour tortillas, avocado, limes and a little sauce, and a delicious Fish Taco Shore Dinner was had. “Well, that was a great dinner.” Ryan summed up, “Eating fish my dad caught for me!”

My battery had died on my camera, and I decided to live the last day actually seeing everything. From time to time I would gaze at the beautiful vista or some tiny subject and would declare “I wish I had a camera so I wouldn’t actually have to look at this with just my eyes.”

It cooled off a bit, the last evening in camp, and we stretched out the hours around the fire pit. We laughed so much, we both complained our faces were hurting. We headed for the tent reluctantly, and laid down our heads, listening to the call of loons.

When I awoke in the midst of the night and walked down to the water, I looked north and there was an entire cloud, just sitting on the lake. It was probably 100-150 feet tall, as wide as that part of the lake, and it just sat there. So curious. Not much of fog about, and not a cloud in the sky.

The sky had, indeed, fallen.

Good thing Chicken Little is not here. 

Third Eye

As the journal stated, my camera battery ran out Tuesday evening. I had made no provision for a spare. I intended to make a run back to civilization and the Fun Bus, and charge the battery, but this didn’t happen.

Whenever I am out in the world, and I mean always, the camera is part of me. Practically a body extension, a bionic eye. I love to document our lives, events, our growing family. I love the art of photography, compelled to capture mood, light, moments in abstract. And, of course, I love to shoot our outdoor adventures in all their aspects.

I missed my niece’s wedding and reception, even though I was there for all of it. I was the official wedding videographer, and was no hack. We got every second from early morning hair and makeup to the mother-of-the-bride after the reception, complete with B-roll. Of course, I spent the day inside a three-quarter inch viewfinder, and felt the next day as if I wasn’t even there.

This was not my only lesson on the subject, and so I embraced the idea of having a good excuse to leave the camera in the bag.

We traveled quite a ways up the northeast inlet, winding our way slowly up the channels, often shallow enough for the prop to churn up the fine sediment. As we twisted and wended our way back out, she ran aground on a clump of weedy soil deposit. I tried reverse, but the bottom fin of the outboard dug in and refused to let her back. I lifted the motor halfway and powered on in forward, and she rooster-tailed her way over the impasse. For a moment, I thought we’d have to jump into the muck and push her out, but again, the little outboard saw us through.

We saw a whitetail deer on the west side channel, a rare sighting at the lake. Backed up to hundreds of thousands of acres of Adirondack wilderness, the wildlife has plenty of places to go without approaching areas of human activity. Of course the black bears follow their noses. The loons, too, will tolerate our encroachments on their lake, share their fish. To date, at this lake I’d seen just one bald eagle, practically the icon of wild places. Oddly enough, I’ve seen more bald eagles around my home town, and even in the big city along the mighty Hudson River.

Throughout the day I’d make tongue-in-cheek comments about not having a camera, being forced to see things with my eyes. My only regret was I was unable to document the preparation and presentation of the Fabulous Famous Fish Tacos of Forked Lake. Luckily, Ryan had enough reserve charge on his phone to get a snapshot for me.

Fabulous Fish Tacos

Last evening in camp is always dichotomous. There’s a whisper in the back of your mind, calling you home. Yet there is a quiet gentle voice of this place compelling us to linger longer. The timeless days pass quickly, and before we know they are drawing to a close. Last day in camp is my least favorite. Striking the tents is undeniable testimony that this dream must end.

This particular evening I saw the whole sunset, the rose-tinted wisps of clouds flying above me. This evening I saw the laugh lines in my son’s face, the warm fluttering glow of the campfire in his blue eyes. At the twilight of this day, I saw the aquamarine sky light up with the evening star, the delicate diamonds of giants, shining brightly across the incomprehensible distance. This evening I smelled the smoke of camp, the humus of pine and hemlock, the very water of the lake as it hung suspended in the cool night air. I tasted the cold and bitter coffee, scented of wood fire, ashes floating on its surface. I listened intently to the creatures of the night, the owl’s “who cooks for you?”, the maniacal laughter of loons swimming in the dark. I felt the wet breeze on my face, the chilly dew setting on mossy rocks, the warming embrace of favorite company.

“The best pictures I have are right here”, I say, tapping my temple with an index finger.

 

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

 

 

A Perfect Day, Again

Serene Morning

Journal Entry 6/13/17 – A perfect day, again.

After missing out the first day, Ryan scores a respectable Bass down past the fork and to the north (13″). One 13-incher for me, maybe a Crappie .Boat motor running poorly, fouling plugs, but didn’t leave us stranded. 

A pancakes & bacon breakfast, tuna salad on rye for lunch and Famous Deconstructed Pot Roast Dinner with fresh-baked corn bread. A brief shower in the afternoon, but otherwise partly cloudy with periods of full sun. Temps in the high 70’s. Ryan got a sunburn.

Mike and Joyce and Ann and Eric struck camp a day early, and we now have the island to ourselves. Resident friends included the robin, a pair of grackles, probably a nesting pair, and a couple of sparrows that I may mistake for pine siskin.

I awoke somewhere in the wee hours and stepped out of my tent. The night air was completely still. The three-quarters waxing moon hung high to the south, illuminating the fog with its orange glow. Venus stood thirty degrees above the horizon due east, and its doppleganger was reflected in the glass-smooth waters of our own personal lake. Except for the father-and-son with their own island next door, we have the entire campground to ourselves.

Ryan retired early, and I sat up for a long while, listening to loons playfully echoing one another. I slept the fitful sleep of the dreamer, exhausted by his adventure.

I awoke fairly early. Some awareness of different surroundings, probably. Things scurrying on the forest floor beside my tent, birds chirping ten feet away. Also, I’m as excited to be at camp now as I was at ten years old, and like to be up early. The world is different at sunrise. Before sunrise. Before the world awakens. It’s very, very quiet (except for birdsong), and all the world feels closer, more intimate. It is the best time to feel a personal connection with the world.

This morning, however, I heard the gentle sounds of a light rain. Barely more than a drizzle. As if the rain was waning and was dripping from the trees. I laid in bed (well, “in sleeping bag”) a bit longer, waiting for the rain to stop. I was awake, and as I listened to the sound it seemed oddly directional. I leaned over toward Ryan’s side of the tent, and found his iPhone in the net bag, set to sleep machine mode. All that water noise was Ryan’s phone!

I flew out of bed and ran from the tent with camera in hand to capture that golden hour.

Ryan whipped up a bacon and pancakes breakfast with maple syrup. Real maple syrup, We live in maple syrup country, after all, and in “March Journal, March 2016”, there’s a whole bit about Max’s Sugar Shack, tapping trees and boiling sap in the Cabana.

After breakfast, we hit the water. Forked Lake has a fork in it, as the name implies, and at the confluence of the two forks is the deepest part of the lake, with about forty feet of water. This is the deep hole where the Landlocked Salmon hide, a quarry we seek each year. Joe caught one about three years ago, and we haven’t seen one since. We motored past the fork and to the north, headed for a small cove Ryan had had luck at before. Sure enough, before long he pulled a thirteen-inch bass from the clear water. Having gone fishless Monday, it was good to “break that spell”.

I hadn’t done a tune-up on the boat motor, and the AquaMarie putted along more like The African Queen, slowly wending her way down the lake, then along the north shore. We hit a few spots and motored around for a few hours, then made our way back to camp for lunch.

We had quite a crowd of locals, at times. Seems there was some kind of Dragonfly Rally. I suppose it was mating season or maybe they were just racing, but they were everywhere, along with Swallowtail butterflies (or maybe Admirals). Typical of my behavior, I personified them all and began speaking to them regularly. Usually, we’d be out on the boat and see one or the other, and I’d scold them. “You’re not supposed to be out here in the middle of the lake. You’re going to get eaten! Get back to camp, now.”

Fishing was off a bit today, and we returned again to camp after a nearly-fishless afternoon session. Ryan began to prepare his “Deconstructed Pot Roast Dinner”. He likes pot roast, but not in slices, so he cooked up the meat then cut and shredded it like chili or stew beef. He proceeded to cook the rest of Pot Roast Dinner; potatoes and carrots. All cooked in cast iron over an open fire, the final touch was baking fresh corn bread (declared as my favorite camp food) in the cast iron skillet. We hovered over this pan like quilting-bee ladies on a newborn baby. We made great fun over exaggerating Ryan’s silly name, and soon it became “Mechanically Deconstructed Rehydrated one-pot Pot Roast Meal”. No matter what you called it, it was the best camp dinner since yesterday’s.

With a delicious dinner in our bellies, tired bodies from a hard day’s camping, and soaring spirits buoyed by the most beautiful place we know, we settled in for evening in camp. There is no end to the topics that are discussed around the fire. We laughed long into the night, now and then hearing a loon call, or the splash of a fish surfacing for a snack. By day three, we both remarked at how our faces hurt, our cheek muscles strained from an excessive amount of laughter in a short period of time.

Ryan’s my son, but calls me his best friend in the world. In a way, I wish for him that he had a compatriot of his own age, raising babies, remodeling houses, drinking heartily. Yet again, I must admit that there is hardly a greater compliment, a greater satisfaction, a greater honor, than to be best friend to your own child. The feeling is mutual.

So another sun sets on camp, and we while away the hours around the fire pit until Ryan retires first. As the journal entry states, I lingered long over the fire, watching and listening to my lake. All was still when suddenly I heard, perhaps a quarter-mile distant, a great thunderous crash, deep in the night. I realized I had just heard a gargantuan tree falling in the woods, a hundred-year-old hemlock probably, standing fifty or sixty feet tall before today. I felt a little thrill thinking I am the only person in the world to bear witness to this event.

I retired to the tent, well-worn from a day of adventure.

I vowed not to be fooled by the sleep machine tomorrow.

Perfect Day #3, next time on Life In Engleville.

 

Take care, and keep in touch.

 

Paz