Tag Archives: Summer

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

A Changing World

March Sunset On The Ranch

As the spring equinox arrives, it brings to a close one season of changes, and escorts in yet another. Winter is not boring. One day is filled with sunshine and crisp, clear air, the next is dark and gray and blowing and ever-so-cold. Like snowflakes, no two winter days are identical.

Snow falls and piles up, mounded by the plow, piled by the shovel. We embrace its uniqueness, especially when new, as it is each year, each snowstorm, each blizzard. We frolic in it, throw it at one another, photograph it as if we’d never seen it before. We lace up boots and strap on snow shoes and skis, harness the dog and don the jorring belt. We marvel at the way it paints the trees, the hillsides and meadows, the mountains in the distance.

In between, the snow will fade. It gets thinner and thinner, some bare patches may be seen. Just when you think it’s safe to put away the snow shovel, a late March blizzard will dump 30 inches of snow on us. There will be in there somewhere an ice storm, which coats everything in our natural world with a glaze of glass.

The ponds evolve daily, our visual barometer of the season and calendar of change. First a small opening appears in the center of the ice. The next day it is twice the size. A week later, ice rims the edges of ponds, and creeks cascade over ice-covered rocks.

Now spring brings another season of change. Here the tulips are popping up through the snow-matted south lawn. We spy red-winged blackbirds and grackles, harbingers of summer. Each day is a guessing game. Do I wear the longjohns? Do I bring the “winter” coat? One day we swear winter is still upon us, and the next we revel in temperatures that call to mind days in May, lilacs and dandelions. Regulating the heat in the Ark can be a challenge. The pellet stove drives off the 34 degree F chill driven by the wind. Then by noon it is 82 degrees F in the kitchen. Pellet stove off. Doors flung open. Other days seem mild, and we’ll leave the wood stove on standby, use the gas heaters, and in the evening we flip a coin to decide if it’s cold enough to warrant a fire.

The driveway goes from a solid sheet of glacier to a massive mud bog, complete with a sinkhole in the middle big enough to swallow small pets. The lawn changes from a pristine field of white carpet to a mess of sticks and leaves and such, previously hidden beneath snow. The sump pump in the basement works tirelessly, pretends it’s a bilge pump on the Titanic.

There will be one more round of big changes as spring barrels its way into our world. Leaf buds on trees, crocuses on the ground, orioles in the air. The first tulips, the first hummingbird.

By comparison, summer can be a bit boring. A little monotonous. Sure, we can watch the peas growing in, we can start cutting hay in June and watch for the next round. We can look forward to three days at the lake. But besides that, it’s pretty much the same each day. Green grass and green leaves and flowers of every color and profusions of growth in all directions. Birds of every kind. Well, I may not see a dark-eyed Junco again until November.

I will bear it only because I know, like all things in this universe, it is fleeting and temporary.

Soon enough, with some patience, my dear friend August will start the first hints. Hints of change. Pumpkins getting large, morning glories climbing.

And I will be glad the boring sunshiny summer is behind us, and I can again be entertained by a changing world.

 

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

 

The Ark: Windows

From My Window

 

All of the windows in my 113 year old farmhouse are original, except for the one new triple-track aluminum deal in the kitchen that looks out onto the driveway. Much of the glass is original, too. “Albany glass” they call it around here, but in other parts of the country it probably has other names, or perhaps the name of the town where the glass factory stood. The old glass has ripples in it, actual wrinkles you can feel with your fingers as they pass over the otherwise smooth glass. And bubbles. In some places, quite a few tiny air bubbles, and in other places, individual larger ones. I’ve had to replace a few panes of glass during my 34-year tenure caring for the Ark. It always makes my heart ache a little when I must break up and throw away this antique glass.

The lifting and latching of the windows brings a mixed bag of the original workings. A single spring-loaded latch is in the center of each lower sash. On some windows, the ancient cast iron pieces within have cracked and broken off, and the latch does nothing at all. These windows get propped open with retired curtain rods. On a few of the windows, the latches still work. Most probably had window weights concealed within the window frame. A rounded length of iron about the diameter of a cigar, usually about a foot long. These were originally attached by sash cord, long since decayed within its wood confines. The window weight would offer a counterbalance, an assist to lift the window as well as a resistance to slow the sash’s descent.

They are as inefficient as one would expect an original 1906 window to be. Pretty sure I have actually seen tiny crystals of snow driven through them in the height of a winter’s blizzard. In the frozen season, condensation on the inside of the windows often freezes on the glass. Whenever we see this, we call it “Zhivago glass”, as it reminds us of the scenes in “Dr. Zhivago”, when he and his charges are holed up in Siberia. Giving it ringing names and associating it with the stark beauty shown in the movies helps distract us from the fact that the window is no better than the one Zhivago looked through in 1890.

 

Juney

 

The windows are large and ornate. Houses don’t have large and ornate windows anymore, just vinyl rectangles. The tops of the windows out front are rounded. 10 round-top double-sash windows frame the coffin doors, with two round-top lights of its own. (“Coffin doors” refer to the main entrance at the front of the house. ((We call that “the dooryard” around here)). One door is used most of the time, the one with the doorknob. The other side of the double door was intended to be opened to bring a coffin into and out of the house. When it was built, this is the way funerals were done in the sticks.)

We had a sales person call on us to pitch us custom vinyl replacement windows. His first shock was the sheer number. For living spaces alone (excluding the “attic” windows) there were 18 of them. He measured and calculated. Were we sure we wanted them the same size? “100 united inches” I think was the term. Surely we would want a standard, smaller vinyl rectangle? Less expensive and more energy efficient. He choked a little when quoting the price (more than twenty years ago) at $18,000!

Okay, last thing, window guy. You know your custom windows that are made-to-order to fit the openings in my home? Well, will the ten out front have the same rounded tops? Well, not exactly, window guy says. We could fashion a mask for the outside that evokes the shape of the round top. Nope. Stop right there.

 

The Coffin Doors

 

There is a tremendous beauty in these windows. Like most things I love, their inherent beauty is the attractant. Not efficiency. In the fall, I make my rounds to each one. A couple of screws jammed in the sides will hold the lower sash tightly against the upper. Then rope caulk is applied to the gap. In the spring, I visit each again, removing the caulk and the screws. Flinging them open, however briefly, symbolically putting winter to bed.

I could have had eighteen modern, efficient vinyl rectangles in these places. A lower heat bill. No need for rope caulk.

In June I will go upstairs and open the front and back windows in the center hall. This is the official start of summer for me. Breezes will move through, and birdsong. And the smell of the rain, and the sound of the neighbor’s birthday party across the road. The rumbling of summer thunderstorms, the voice of the wind in the leaves of the great maple trees which tower over the two-story house. In spring, the sound of the robin leaping from the nest it has built atop the window frame. In August, the smell of the third cutting of hay, drying in the field adjacent. The smell of the diesel tractor crawling up the road with a wagon of hay bales stacked impossibly high. The sound of lawn mowers and dirt bikes and dogs barking.

 

Windows go both ways

 

In the peak of the summer heat I will go upstairs to fetch something. At the top of the stairs I am met with a unique fragrance. It is the smell of a very old house. Century-old wood. Horse-hair plaster over hand-cut lath. Ancient wallpapers. It smells of all the things it has always smelled like, and not unlike the attic of my parents old farmhouse. I can’t know how much longer I will be in this house, or in this world. But I know in the meantime I will delight in that old familiar smell of an old, old house owned by old people. Unchanged but for those few places where it was deemed absolutely necessary. And my kids and grandkids will share this experience. This smell. This old Ark.

And until I go, you will not smell vinyl. You may be a little chilly in the winter. And you can look out at ancient trees which are as old as the wavy, bubble-filled glass you are looking through.

 

Take care, and keep in touch.

 

Pazlo

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

Berry-Picking Time

Black Caps

Black Caps

Half of my grandkids came over on a recent Sunday, and we hit the trail for some berry picking. Mostly the red raspberries were ripe, and the black caps were just getting ready. The blackberries, growing on their dinosaur-sized eight-foot canes, ripen later in August.

This year, the blackberry crop is off the charts. They go like that. A couple of average or lame years, then suddenly a boom!

These thorny cane berries are related to roses. Actually, roses are a member of the raspberry family, and berry canes sport flowers that look quite similar in many cases.

Cane fruits grow on biennial canes. The first year, only the cane grows. It then winters over, and the second year it flowers and bears fruit. You can tell what kind of year the next will be by assessing the number of bare, first-year canes in your berry patch.

Accompanied as always by Chuy The Wonderdog, we wandered the trails, going where the berries led us. Big sister Maddie was also very helpful, showing the little ones where to find berries low enough for them to pick. Repeatedly trying to show little Evan the ripe, red berries. Evan, in typical toddler fashion, ate one of everything.

When my kids were little, we’d head out to the berry patches with cups and mugs and containers of all kinds, intent on collecting enough berries to make a pie. I’ve finally learned that when you pick berries with kids, the cups are just extra things to carry around, and they always come back empty. A kid would get a dozen or so berries in a cup and the temptation was irresistible. Munch, munch, munch.

One year, with Max & Lizzy (two other grandkids), we actually brought enough blackberries home to make a skinny pie. Lizzy recalls that each year during berry season.

We didn’t bring home any berries this day. But we did harvest some precious moments together. Next day, Chuy and I headed out with a cup, bound to fill it. I stopped by our little blueberry bushes and picked all 20 ripe blueberries. While Chuy waited impatiently, we stopped by the black caps, then finally some red raspberries, for a delicious medley of color and flavor.

Nature's Candy

Nature’s Candy

As our pinnacle days of summer continue, we’ll have the neighbors come over to help eat all these blackberries. Granted, we’ll have a little help from some birds and deer.

Take care, and keep in touch,

 

Paz