Tag Archives: Adirondacks

COMING BACK FROM ELSEWHERE

The breeze lies on the water. There are two red canoes with four people in blue life-jackets paddling with silver & black paddles. Maples have pushed out their leaves to hang limp, yellow-green & newborn. The reflections of boats docked to the shore waver in the wake of one goose moving toward the island. At one time that goose had been in flight on a southern course. At one time it had been feeding in New York corn stubble.

**

A deer lowers its head to fallen acorns, walks into scented breezes proud & knowing. Empty mouths cry in the valley. Sun falls patched on leaf, moss & maple sprout alike, burning the frosted collar from our shoulders. Wind lies still in the valley. The sun goes cold over the hills, it will warm to greet us soon. Our young will grow with the seasons, nothing is lost. Buckskin blankets in the valley. Our mouths full of song.

**

From Indian Falls, Algonquin’s jagged head is framed by pine, rock, water & sky. Snow is alive on valley currents. Lifting my eyes from winking coals & hiss of unseasoned branches, through smoke I create the peak, frame its jagged head, hear the wind through pine boughs. Snowflakes land white & new on my jacket, pause, then glisten.

**

Lithe long fingers—her gray smolders burgundy, then faint green. Japanese Maple moving, then still—her graceful, tangled sweep of stars bows to the breeze & rippled water.

**

I am up early enough this morning to watch the carpenter bee that nests in the rafter above the doorway where I sit begin her day. Her buzz interrupted my train of thought about three deer I had seen in the field below our house drinking from the stream. Hovering above & behind me, I tip my head back to watch her hover just below the beam of the doorway. Her wings, dark auras that hold fast to her back & forth motion—I can feel their wash on my face. Her day of hunting for pollen grains, or soft wood to masticate, has begun. Legs folded dutifully to abdomen, she re-examines the territory around her nest, finds me incidental & moves on.

**

Canoe in dark water. Silent bow with no wake, no foam, no waves crashing. Turtles sun quietly on their flotilla of logs. Herons slow-step along green curves with careful eyes for minnows. Bushes full of white sound below yellow pine. Bass breathe thick shadows under lilies.

**

Before the fat pre-dawn (a quiet trumpet, a low moan in the pines), before sky becomes a reflection on the lake water bugs touch like tiny drops of rain, before bass are made lazy by water warming in the sun, before dogs stir & stretch their haunches, before gusts of mist rise like spirits with breath heading somewhere & nowhere, as thin light brightens…

**

I was smaller than my sister when my Dad told the story of the stones, Indian heads, hard heads, slick-smooth & half buried in shale, below the High Banks at the south end of the lake. Seneca, Canandaigua, Cayuga, Owasco, Skaneateles, Keuka, Otisco. These waters are the print of the Great Spirit’s hand, the story goes. Hills grew from between the Spirit’s fingers & the valleys beyond them. My people were born of this place, of many places & in death their skulls would turn to stone. Smaller ones were those of children my size. I picked them out of ankle-deep water, asking—this one? & this? Deeper, the lake at my belly, I would find larger stones with bare feet & stand on their easy angles like pale green hill sides.

**

I stand on this hill, above other hills, above valleys. I stand before this land that shouldered the great herds. I stand before the nations I was told French soldiers attacked while the men were away hunting. I was told, if I remain after nightfall, spirits that still defend this place will turn the breath in my chest to ash. For now, while sundown rests on these hills, they whisper to me from the grass. I close my eyes, listen across the distance. It is enough, I hope, that I hear their voices, share their steps under this sky of fire.

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GETTING AFTER IT

It’s been a busy summer for house-projects, travel and work. Four months have already passed since I made the jump from the agency world to freelance-dome and it feels like it’s been years…in a good way.

Over the next month or so I’ve got a significant amount of writing to do about a few significant trips from this busy summer:
• The IFTD show that I just attended in New Orleans (watch for reports from Cameron over at The Fiberglass Manifesto and Alex at 40 Rivers to Freedom, as well as Midcurrent and Angling Trade).
• My upcoming trip west to fish in Idaho (hell yea!)
• Our week in the Adirondacks (which I’ve already been putting up some poetry from).

So, stay tuned as the busy-ness rolls on.

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Filed under Making a living, On the water, Reviews, The road

TWO MORE FROM THE MOUNTAIN

PADDLING

Fat white-gray clouds on blue
beyond the rugged pine shores,
east beyond Indian and Wolf Mountains,
west beyond Chaumont Swamp and Twin Mountain,
north beyond Bear Mountain in the saddle of Cranberry Lake,
south beyond Five Ponds and Deer Mountain,
gone before we round the point at The Narrows,
headlong into the wind, pulling water
on both sides of the canoe.

THIS CURRENT’S COURSE

Nameless stream, a whisper among boulders and tree roots,
a tired whisper after the dam holding an acre-sized beaver pond
breached, let loose a river from up the mountain, straightening
the meandering curves of this small seam, bounding,
fanning wide into the moss, fern, rock and pines
before circling back and rushing on.

From the relative depths of a dark cut
beneath a knot of exposed birch roots,
an eager brook trout attacks my fly.
Bright gem catching a glint of sunlight
in this almost accidental universe.
Large in the large scheme of things.

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Filed under On the water, Poetry

THREE DAYS & THIRTY NINE YEARS

This past Memorial Day weekend, I spent a few days camping in the Adirondacks with some new friends and fishing for native brook trout. Unfortunately, the weather forecast was not nearly as bright as our anticipation of catching a good-old-fashioned mess of of brookies on dry flies. Instead, we caught the brunt of three massive thunder and lightning storms that filled the fire-pit and kept us corralled under a very big and well-placed tarp. 3-plus inches would be a conservative estimate on total rainfall, which translated into 2-plus feet on the main river and trib stream we planned on fishing.

The third day, Alex (author of the blog 40 Rivers to Freedom), his son Cole and I elected to stay above the fray and explore a small spill-pool stream, which we followed from the river up into the fern, pine and boulder covered mountainside. As with any time spent in the giant solitude of the mountains, the mind tends to clear a bit. I let go of the responsibilities waiting for me at home and the ever-present weight of a schedule. I took in the heavy pine smell of the wet woods, the humidity of the (yet again) impending rain, the dull snap of branches between my wading boots and the peat, the repetitive mantra of the water on its downhill path. I got to thinking about fishing as a kid and realized that there’s only been a handful of times in my life that I’ve actually caught brook trout. Even fewer that I’ve headed to water with the intent to fish for them specifically.

My first introduction to a brookie was brokered by a small Mepps Black Fury spinner–a black blade with a couple yellow spots, a short brass-and-orange-bead body and a black/yellow tail with a single piece of red yarn extending from it. I was 8 and it was my birthday and not five minutes earlier I had unwrapped my first real tackle box and real rod and and about two-dozen lures–including the Black Fury. We were staying with friends in their cabin in Wanekena, a tiny Adirondack hamlet near Cranberry Lake. The Oswegatchie River flowed by the cabin, tea-colored and deep and slick with braids of current flexing and twisting around giant boulders and their forever weight.

I made my way out onto a low boulder anchored to the shore, locked my lure into the swivel tied at the end of the line, pinched the line behind my trigger finger, flipped open the bale on my reel and pitched the spinner into an eddy just across and upstream from me. I barely had time to close the bale before my line went tight against my first Adirondack titan. All 6 or 8 inches of it. That fish was breathtaking, even to an 8-year-old.

23 years later I went on an actual brook trout fishing trip to the Rapidan River in the Shenandoah National Park. A friend and I fished the river from a pull off on Quaker Run Rd. upstream to the Rapidan Camp (or Hoover Camp) property line. Miles of plunge pools no more than 10 – 12 feet across retreated up into the foothill elevation toward the camp. Small chutes pouring between boulders. Blow-downs zig-zagged the stream every 15 yards, guarding pristine pocket water. Fish attacked every dry fly, wet fly and nymph that we cast. Pint-sized predators in black, orange, red and even a little teal. Bright, but not smart. We celebrated streamside with some jerky and a couple luke-warm beers while I enjoyed a pipe-full of slow-burning Virginia cavendish.

***

Back on that Adirondack stream, by around one o’clock Alex, Cole and I had fished our way over a quarter-mile up the mountain. Cole was a trooper for being only 10 years old and seemed to have the magic touch with the fish throughout the weekend, which is exactly as it should be. I on the other hand, had many bites and fish on-and-off, but landed my only fish just ten minutes prior to another thunder and lightning storm trouncing our valley. Electing to take photos all weekend instead of fish, Alex had said that he was happy to just help Cole learn more about fly fishing and enjoy his time as much as possible–that with all the fish (and big fish) he’s had the good fortune of catching, he might (might being the operative word) even be at a place in his life where he doesn’t have to feel compelled to fish just because he can. I understand exactly what he’s saying. I’m getting to that point with my own kids. And while he elected not to fish, and I simply did not catch fish, I felt the same zen-like satisfaction simply being out in it.

But I must admit that the euphoria I felt when I caught that perfect 6″ gem from a 5′ x 3′ spill-pool way up on that mountain was a mix of relief and child-like happiness and amazement. On one hand I didn’t get skunked. On the other hand, I could not get over the fact that something so perfect and giant (when you consider the scale of water vs. fish) exists in such a place, completely of its own accord.

That fish was breathtaking. Especially to this 39 year old.

 

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, On the water

CALLING FOR SUN

Independence Day weekend was upon us and my wife, three kids and I were staying with friends in their cabin in Old Forge to celebrate. Three bedrooms, an open kitchen/dining/living area, screened porch, big stone fireplace and indoor plumbing. No grand hand-hewn beams, lofts or giant picture windows. Just a simple, comfortable single-story cabin that’s been a lake-side snowmobiling, fishing, swimming and bonfire-ing family get-away for a couple generations–three actually, since our friends now have kids of their own tracking sand and pine-needles into the place.

Twenty-five years ago, I spent a long weekend at the same cabin as a guest of the family and their son. Being one prone to spending every waking minute in pursuit of fish, I had brought with me one rod and my tackle box. Thankfully, my mom had made sure a backpack with things like extra shirts and shorts, clean underwear and a toothbrush made it’s way with me too.

That weekend, I managed to catch a bass that is still talked about amongst their family members–even their Old Forge cabin neighbors speak with great reverence and enthusiasm about it. Its size fluctuates between good-eatin’, pretty dang big and trophy, depending on who you talk to. That’s a story for another time though. I digress.

It just so happened that on this particular Adirondack summer morning, heavy clouds elbowed their way in-between our 4-day vacation and sunny blue sky. Since the plan was for the dads and boys to fish for bass on a remote mountain lake anyhow, I didn’t necessarily mind the clouds, or the light mist-rain that came with it–although I had neglected to bring any wet-weather gear. The 10-day forecast had called for nothing but sun. Fortunately, I now have a wife who is as diligent about packing the practical stuff as my mom was when I was 13. I could count on a warm change of clothes to wear while I my rain-filled tackle box and I dried out. My boys, on the other hand, thought otherwise of the weather and made the 11th-hour call to hang out and watch a movie. A wise choice, as fate would have it.

Chris and I lashed the 14 foot aluminum rowboat into the bed of his pickup and stowed our gear. Harry, Chris’ son, waited patiently in the cab. It should be said that Harry is a born fisherman, like my boys. They all inherited the fin-tuition gene from their fathers. They are as comfortable on the water as they are tormenting their sisters. Thankfully, it’s a condition for which there is no cure…fin-tuition, not tormenting their sisters. They will carry the malady for the rest of their lives. We climbed in the truck and made haste to Little Safford Lake.

Chris had recounted fabulous tales of big bodied largemouth caught right from the shore, before the boat had even been taken off the back of the truck. Eager, hungry and ready for a fight, a morning of Little Safford bass was supposedly enough to make a man wonder if he should’ve spent some time in the weight room before casting a line in that tea-colored water.

I’m telling you, he said, there’s fish in here like swimming pigs.

I must admit, I’ve never seen a pig swim. But I have heard of a diving pig, named Ralph. Used to leap full-on into Aquarena Springs – the head of the San Marcos River in Texas – back in the 60’s and 70’s. Swimming pigs. I was wondering if I had heavy enough line.

We followed miles of dirt roads through the mountain pines – snowmobile trails in the winter, when the snow is deep enough to necessitate directional signs placed 7 – 10 feet up on poles. A few lefts and rights at forks in the road and the road became less a road and more like a wagon trail. Then quite suddenly the trees opened up and the lake appeared.

Now, I’m pretty much a sucker for just about any body of water, but Little Safford, at first glance, looked about the fishiest I could hope a mountain lake to look. We pulled the boat and gear out of the back of the truck and staged it on the shore. By the time Chris had walked the forty-or-so yards back from where he parked the truck, Harry and I had already fought, caught and released a bass each. By the time we decided to actually put the boat in the water, we had managed a dozen between the three of us. No pigs to speak of, but very good fish nonetheless.

Even as we shoved off, the sky looked unhealthy and the misty rain had pulled itself together into respectable drops. A half-hour later and a quarter-mile into the wind, unhealthy gave way to down-right ugly, as if Mother Nature had just woke up with a hangover. Undaunted, we pressed on. We had adopted the tactic of rowing 40 yards up-wind of a likely stretch of bog shoreline and then fishing the 40 yard drift back. And it was working. Even with the worsening weather, fish were still biting in the water along the face of the bog. Then the temperature dropped like a stone. As if to put an actual sound to the falling temperature, a thunder clap shook loose from around the far side of a not-so-distant mountain at the other end of the lake.

An aluminum row-boat. Four or five graphite fishing rods. A good quarter-mile between us and where we put in. And at least 300 yards of bog between us and the safety of the nearest treeline and cover. Now Mother Nature had our full attention. So as to keep from attracting any of her more electrically charged hints, we elected to pull the boat into a small cut-back in the bog, get out onto the bog, and hunker down on the bog as far away from the boat as we could safely tread.

This wasn’t a black, muddy, tractor-pull type bog like you find crowding out a smaller pond. This bog was a 6 to 8 foot thick tangled mat of bramble-like growth that half floats on top of the black, muddy, tractor-pull build-up on the bottom of the lake. Acres of it. Under normal circumstances, most all wildlife avoids these bogs. Well, most wildlife that carries any sort of weight anyhow. False steps and weak spots are met with nature’s equivalent to the carnival dunking booth. And much like the carnival itself, it’s tough to get out once you’re in, and you feel lucky to be alive when you finally do.

We hunkered down and weighed our options–praying the hair on our arms would not stand on end as lightning flung itself like jagged party streamers around the valley. Mother Nature’s own version of fireworks.

Looks like this is going to be around for a while, Chris said.
We should make a run for it, I replied.
In the boat? Chris asked.
Yea. Look for a cloud break, we’ll pace it, I replied.
I’m not rowing, added Harry.

And so we rallied and rooted for Mother Nature to give us a break in the clouds.

Now, I’m not sure if it was an actual break or if our imaginations had fabricated that small window, a blue-sky oasis in the clouds. But we all saw it and piled into the boat with the fervor of hunting dogs after waterfowl. Chris was first up on the oars. The wind refused to cooperate though, blowing at an angle across our three man tub. As we zigged and zagged roughly in the direction of where we put in, rain picking up, I grabbed hold of the oars as well and we rowed with the intensity of Vikings approaching an unsuspecting seaside village.

Reaching our port, we dragged the boat up on the shore and raced to the truck to get out of the rain and get some heat going. No sooner did we get the doors closed, our window in the sky closed as well. Sheets of rain and hail, cracking thunder and flash after flash of lightning made sure we understood just how lucky we were to have arrived when we did. After a while the heat sank in to our wet clothes and backbones and our chattering teeth stopped chattering. Harry scarfed down a snack he never had the chance to eat while in the boat, smiling at his dad as if adventures like these happen every day.

Any idea what the weather’s supposed to be like this afternoon? I asked.
Calling for more sun, Chris said.
Cool, Harry added. I won’t even have to change my clothes.

 

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, On the water