Sunday, January 25, 2015

Summer in the Adirondack Mountains

My first summer in the Adirondacks was my first summer away from home with no family anywhere nearby. I was alone in the woods with total strangers. Sort of. The McKennas were familiar with my family, however. Both of my father's younger brothers had worked for them in the 50's while attending Case Western Reserve in Cleveland where McKennas were social workers.

Mr. McKenna was head of social  work for Cleveland when he retired. They were both from old money, descended from Mayflower settlers, but they both worked anyway. They were also socialist/liberal politically which nearly got Mr. McKenna disinherited. He also had some robber barons in his background which gave him an interesting bunch of relatives, many of whom I got to meet, eventually. Joe and Pat were a bit quirky, but they were great readers and correspondents. Joe had picked up an advanced degree at Cambridge University (yes, that Cambridge) in English literature which made conversation totally fascinating. Pat was similarly educated and when we had guests, which was most of the time, there were interesting discussions which I found myself soaking up while doing my assigned chores. We got the NY Times, but being 300 miles north of the city it was always a day late.

This was where I learned to play cribbage. The coffee table was a slab of pine about 40" in length with holes drilled in it to keep score. The pegs were turned aluminum and brass. These people were serious. An old retired boy scout executive named Morse Lowry would paddle his canoe across the lake at least several nights a week for cribbage. He always paddled properly, on his knees near the center of the canoe, and always wore his big ol' brimmed boy scout hat when he paddled.  They kept score of their games in a notebook and the notebook was older than I was.

Other good friends of theirs, the Gorhams (descended from Nathaniel Gorham of the Continental Congress, etc.) were from Buffalo, but had a place down the lake a mile or two. They were extremely nice people with about four children all older than me. The daughters were awesome and I had a crush on the youngest, even though she was married with two kids. (If you see a pattern here with crushes on older women you are observant.) They had known Joe since childhood as Joe's mother had owned a Chrysler foundry in Buffalo.

It is understandable then that the car I drove for Joe and Pat was a Chrysler product. It was a coupe with a 383 and a 4 barrel carburetor, so it wasn't a great car for running around the north woods doing shopping and errands, but on my day off it was a hoot. Stomp on the accelerator and it would roar to life while inhaling gasoline at an incredible rate. I had to be careful though as $50 a week needed to go toward college and I couldn't afford to burn up a lot of money on 40 cent per gallon gas, and beer was a luxury, too. Remember, you only had to be eighteen in New York to drink.

I saved money well and also saved up a 3 days off by working every day for three weeks.  I decided to go on a little adventure and see where it would take me. I headed to go North and cross the Canadian border for the first time. I picked up a hitchhiker from New Orleans, while going through Watertown, who was headed for the Strawberry Fields concert across the border. Having been in the woods for a couple of months I hadn't heard a thing. (the previous summer my girlfriend's brother was headed to a farm New York for another concert and wondered if we wanted to come along, but we had to work. College ya know.)  I was planning a trip through Algonquin Park so when we stopped at  at the Thousand Islands border crossing we parted ways. I didn't realize the road only goes through a small corner of the park and I wasn't prepared to do any serious camping, anyway. I was pretty much rolling without a plan. I ended up spending the night in a cheap hotel in Hamilton.

I started driving back toward New York the next morning and picked up a couple of guys hitching to Niagara Falls. One guy was Swiss and the other German and they seemed pretty cool so I joined them and we toured Niagara Falls together. It was fun and then they headed out toward the West Coast, hitch hiking across North America. I headed to Rochester to take up an invite of a young friend of Joe and Pat. It was the only time I've been to Niagara Falls.

Mike was a professor of psychology and had done some post-doc work under Piaget in France. He took me to the Faculty Dining Club at the university for dinner as his wife wouldn't be home until later. I had met them before when they were guests at camp. I had three days growth of beard, a chamois shirt, and jeans,so even though I was under dressed I was not underfed. It was awesome food!

After we got home Greta also arrived. Greta was about ten years older than me and had had a crush on my both of my uncles when they had worked for the McKennas years before. I returned the family obligation by having a crush on her. We had a lovely evening of conversation before retiring for the night.

 You realize that I have never told any of those women about my feelings so as not to make anyone uncomfortable. I just admired them all from a safe distance. As the Cooker's mother once said, "He wouldn't say shit if he had a mouthful!" That is how I stayed out of trouble all these years.

I had a leisurely drive back to the Adirondacks the next day. I got to the landing, threw my bag in the canoe and paddled back to camp. A quick three day adventure was now one for the books.

One more guest of Pat and Joe and a genuinely fascinating guy was Dr. Donald Griffin. He was a second cousin to Joe through one of their robber baron ancestors. He was working at Rockefeller University at the time I met him, but his claim to fame was discovering echolocation in bats. During the end of WW2 he was working on bat-guided bombs. He studied animal behavior and animal consciousness and when I took him on a hike to a nearby abandoned beaver pond he pointed out things and demonstrated beaver archeology. His wife was also a research scientist, but with fiddler crabs in the Caribbean. She had a nice tan!

For a guy who had turned nineteen in July I had an amazing summer and I had only spent about a hundred dollars! I think those days are long gone.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


Every now and then something triggers a series of memories that puts me in a dream state that occupies my mind off and on for days. I ran across some names of people and places I knew for a few summers.

Way back, when I had hair, I worked for an older couple on a lake in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. It was the summers of ’70, ‘71, and ’72 and I was a college student making money for school. I was their “boy” in charge of cleaning, chauffeuring, shuttling guests and goods, laundry, maintenance, occasional shopping and cooking, wood splitting, fire making, and dish washing. The “camp” was built in the 1920’s primarily by a man named Earl Covey who was also a local legend. But he is another story. I got room and board and fifty dollars per week cash plus a day off and use of the car on that day. 

From Utica, the last bastion of “civilization” when entering the six million acre park from the southwest, you head up to Old Forge. It’s an artsy, touristy little community not unlike the town I now live near. From there you go on to Eagle Bay, north to Big Moose, and then to the public landing at Twitchell Lake. That is when you start getting all wildernessy. Jump into a boat or canoe and make your way up the lake. The “camp” consisted of the main two story cabin, a small guest cabin that could sleep about six or eight depending on how friendly everyone was. Also, there was a boat house an ice house (mostly used for firewood) and my sleeping cabin. There was no electricity or phone, but we had gas appliances and lights. 

I first remembered seeing her zooming down the lake with her motorboat and 150 pound German shepherd sitting in the bow as a counter balance. She was blonde with pigtails and wore a plaid jacket. “These are my people,” I thought. Unfortunately, she was a very private person and about 18 years my senior. I still thought she was hot. 

They said her name was Anne Bowes, but she was divorced and changing her name back to Anne LaBastille. She had been married to a resort owner C.V. “Major” Bowes (not the old time radio personality)on a nearby lake. She was a recent Phd. and radical (at the time) environmentalist. She was considered a bit eccentric, but she was in good company on that lake. 

Her book, Woodswoman, came out in 1976 and I discovered it a couple of years later. To protect her and everyone else’s privacy she called the lake Black Bear Lake. There were plenty of black bears around, but it was really Twitchell Lake. It was the first in a series of Woodswoman books and the first of at least a dozen written by her. 


We never did more than exchange pleasantries at the boat landing, but I did have a bit of a crush on her.
Twitchell was seasonally visited by most, but Anne and a man named Bill Carmen were year round residents. They were political opposites and didn’t get along, but I suspect they probably kept an eye on each other when no one else was there. They both loved the forests and lakes of the Adirondacks. It was the common thread amongst everyone that came there. 


Anne died in July of 2011, a victim of Alzheimer’s disease. Her cabin is being moved to the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. I have been to the museum about three times, but not for over forty years now. It was an amazing place with beautiful exhibits and I am sure they will do a fine job of interpreting Anne’s life. There was much more to her life, but this was the part I knew about. If you enter her name in a search engine you can find out much more.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Frozen assets

As I sit, freezing my ass off, I wonder what the world has become when you can't make fun of something or someone. There would be no comedians and there would be no Mad magazine just to name a couple of things. Since when is satire punishable by death?

Emily Litella would have said something like, " What's all this I hear about making fun of profit?"

Is an insult or social faux pas murder worthy?
"Sir, I take exception to your farting before my wife!"
"Sorry, I didn't know it was her turn."

People have made fun of me and my beliefs all my life and I hope I have done the same to them. Worst case was a little embarrassment or an occasional, "Oh yeah?!" or even, "I'm sorry."

I had an extensive rant that pretty much goes along with much of what has already been said by so many who can say it better.

I could go on and on and I did, but so many others have done so already and I am not adding anything new, so I want to show you something.

There is some beauty on the drive to work, but I usually can't stop because I don't want to be late. So on a Saturday morning (yesterday, in fact) with the temperature hovering around zero (-17C) I decided to figuratively stop and smell the flowers. Of course the flowers have frozen to death, but there is the stark beauty of the lake shore and the moodiness of the big lake. Click on the pics for a larger version.

The morning light and clouds change constantly.

Here is another "ghost ship" from the previous week. Shipping season ends on the 15th of January and starts up again in about 8 to 10 weeks so if I see any ships in that time they really ARE ghost ships. The lake will have either some or a lot of ice on it by then and the icebreakers will be out to help open things up, especially near the harbors.

Meanwhile I'll just try and stay thawed.