56 Years Along The Blue Trail: Then And Now


Like brave mountaineers, we weren’t bothered much by time.

–Gordon Lightfoot

It’s late August in the North Country.  The green of the leaves and shrubs are looking tired.  Some hints of the colors of autumn are emerging from the maples and oaks.  Late summer flowers like Black-Eyed Susans and Ragweed are everywhere.  The quarter moon rises after dark for a brief time before setting in the west.  The recent heat wave has broken, leaving the nights cool and breezy for sleeping.

In the Adirondack Park there is a region a few miles out from Lake Placid that is designated by the DEC as the “High Peaks Wilderness Area”.  I first hefted a pack and took to the trails as a twelve-year-old in 1959.  I’m still hiking these paths today…my pack is newer and my boots are better.  In those days, one could walk for hours and never see anyone else.  Now, the trails are crowded with climbers and people just out for a short time in the forest.

I owned a Sierra Club cup.  It’s wire loop handle of aluminum allowed you to carry it on your belt.  At every stream I’d cross, in those early years of hiking, I would stop and fill the cup with cold clear mountain water.  Soon my urine would change from deep yellow to a clear fluid.  Then, I felt, I was less filled with the toxic substances of normal life.  I was cleansing my body.

Now, I would never do such a thing without fear of getting the dreaded Giardia, resulting in extreme gastric pain, vomiting and diarrhea.  I carry bottled water from the Price Chopper supermarket in Lake Placid.  Price: $1.15 for 16 ounces.


I am on the Van Hovenburg Trail, the main highway to the summit of Mt. Marcy, the highest peak in New York State.  I’m not intending to go to the top today, I would have had to be on the trail at 6:00 am.  That was a climb I’ve made perhaps twenty-five times.  No, not today.  Today, I was only hiking with my wife and another couple to Marcy Dam.  It’s a 2.3 mile walk that I’ve done in the heat of summer, the chill of autumn with dazzling colors of the leaves against a sky so blue it hurts your eyes.  I’ve been on this trail in the dark, with friends, alone, and on snowshoes in -5° F weather.

This is the Blue Trail.  I’ve been on nearly all the trails of the High Peaks.  The trail markers show you the way.  The Red Trail goes up this mountain.  The Yellow Trail goes up that mountain, and the Blue Trail is now what I follow.

When I was a teenager, I would often be found hiking in these hills.  I was fifteen…sixteen, full of vigor and carried a full Kelty packframe on my strong back.  Usually, I would prefer to let my brother, Chris or my friends hike ahead of me so I could walk in solitude.  I would often sing to myself, only to myself, the popular songs of the day.  Sometimes it was Moody River, sometimes it was Running Bear.  My songs led me to think about our return to Owego.  Hopefully, there would be a dance on the night we arrived home.  I thought of my girlfriend.  I would sing Teen Angel and think the dark thoughts of death and youth.

I don’t remember being tired.

Today, I’m not expecting a high school dance or my girlfriend.  I’m thinking of very different things now.  I think of my older brother, Chris, who first showed me the way to the top of the mountain.  His ashes were scattered in the forest only a few miles from where I’m walking.

In 1962, my legs were strong and the days would never end.  Now, my legs are that of a man who has had back surgery, leg surgery and foot surgery.  I’ll not be dancing tonight.  I’ll be home and sitting with a book on my lap…but, not without irony, still thinking dark thoughts…this time not of youth but of age.

I am carrying my load on 68 year-old legs.  I can feel how the years and miles have damaged my bones, my ankles and my lower back.


But, still I walk, stumbling over the same crazy pattern of tree roots that I tripped on fifty-six years ago.  I’ll cross the same streams, but on different wooden bridges.  Those old planks have long since rotted away.


Even when the bridges are no longer replaced and people stop walking these woods and begin to forget the cloud covered summits, there will always be a way to cross the stream.

I would search for a few large rocks and, taking great care, step from one to another.

Then I would find myself on the other side.  Then I would have to find that old trail again.




My One And Only Superstition


I taught science for over thirty years.  I have learned to separate fact from belief, real from unreal and rational thinking from irrational concepts.

There is a world of superstition out there.  It is a danger to society to rely on unproven ideas.  This is why many people burned many women (and men) as witches for many centuries.  I once dated someone who would lick her finger and make a smudgy X on my windshield every time a black cat would cross the road in front of us.  She said it was for good luck.  It was lucky for me that I had a tissue to clean the many X’s from my window, following an afternoon drive.


Many people won’t walk under a ladder, or will throw salt over their shoulder if they broke a mirror.  Too many people think that something really weird is going to happen on any Friday the 13th.  Great movie, but let’s get real!  It’s just a date on a calendar.

However, some superstitions are interesting and not totally without merit.  I’d whistle every time I passed a cemetery but the problem is, I can’t whistle like I used to do when I was a kid.  So I don’t and nothing has happened to me in the meantime.  It’s not totally surprising since it is common to fear graveyards.  In fact, I rather like them.  I find them interesting places to discover local history and contemplate life.

I believe I made my point.  Superstitions are a little nutty.


I am ready to admit to my readers that I suffer from the burden of superstition on a daily basis.  It’s just one misplaced belief.  Only one, but it can ruin my whole day.

I put myself in your hands by telling you this.  If any of my former students finds out about this, I could lose my standing in their memory.

You see, I cannot bring myself to mark off a day on the calendar until it’s precisely midnight.

It sounds goofy to you, but I just can’t bring my Sharpie to the wall calendar and proudly make an X until the clock strikes 12:01 am.  But that puts me into an altogether new dilemma.  Which clock should I trust?

I am well aware that Einstein told us that time is relative.  Time, some mystics may say, is an illusion.  What time it is, is a human construct.  If I lived in a deep cave somewhere in France, time would really have no meaning to me.  There would be no diurnal cycle to tell me when the sun rises and sets.  But, I don’t live in a cave in France.  I live at Rainbow Lake, NY…and that makes me need to know what time it is.


Do I trust my wall clock in the kitchen?  Of course not.  I have to change it twice a year and I can never be sure exactly where to set the minute hand.  The clock on the oven is a possibility, but we have occasional power failures and we have to reset the timer.  So, that leaves the cable box.


Now, I do not know where Time Warner (or Verizon) gets their time feed, but is it exact?  I have no way of knowing.


I had another idea.  Check my iPad time or maybe my iPhone time or even my laptop time, but isn’t that all feed by Verizon?  I didn’t know where to turn.  Then a really odd thought came to me.  Maybe, just maybe, all this time was being fed to me from Amazon?  And, all this time, I didn’t know.  They sell everything, don’t they?

So, I just have to learn to depend on one clock and take it on faith that it is correct…to the second…before I can approach my wall calendar to make my X.

Sometimes, I wear a wrist watch and a belt watch that hangs from a loop on my jeans.  My son, Brian, thinks that is a crazy thing to do.  I think he is thinking of an ancient Zen saying: A man who wears two watches never knows what time it is.  I see it differently.  A man who wears two watches has choices.

But, one choice I don’t have is when the Sharpie traces an X on the calendar.  I have to wait until the time is right.  But now I have a clear graphic that reminds me of how fast time is flying.

That’s another story…for a different time and another day.





Day And Night At The County Fair–August, 2015


It was my third visit to the Franklin County Fair.  I came on Senior’s Night when the admission is a mere $2.00 for older gents like me.  It was crowded with North Country folks of all sizes, shapes, and ages.  Teenage girls clung to the arms of their ‘guy’.  Wounded vets were pushed in wheelchairs by their caregivers.  Old farmers, old as the fields they just hayed or plucked corn from, walked silently around with their silent wives.  This may well have been their fifty-sixth Fair…they’d seen it all.  Gone were the ‘girlie’ shows.  No need for the old men to finger a dollar in their overalls anymore.  No need for the wives to push them past the glittering enticing lights, while they looked back over their shoulders at the three strippers on a narrow stage.  No need for them to wonder about their faded beauty.  Gone were the freak shows in the tents on the margins of the midway, on the margins of the bright lights–the deformed and the odd lived out their lives on the edges of a society that stared into their world for a quarter.

No, the new County Fairs were squeaky clean, except for the rigged games where a guy could lose $17.00 throwing darts at balloons that wouldn’t pop.  Eventually, just to keep ’em coming back, the carny would let the guy win a Teddy bear worth $1.50.  The kid would promptly hand it to his sweetie…hoping it would help him rack up the points in her young heart.


I sat and ate a Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich that would test the limits of my immune system.  My friend wanted an ice cream…I wanted an ice cream too.  I paid $5.00 for a chocolate caramel mix in a small plastic container.  [I knew I had to stop eating anything more than a salad every two days for the next two weeks to lose the weight in time for my 50th high school reunion.]  Cotton candy stands were everywhere.  If you didn’t like Coke, you were out of luck.  As I stood eating my ice cream, I turned around to see a tent filled with South American clothing and jewelery.  A young man with bronze skin and black hair sat behind the counter playing the pan flute.  He was playing Let It Be.


The giant wheels of lights put you in a daze.  The mountains of cheap plastic toys (?) were everywhere.


I ducked inside the 4-H building.  There was a stand of real vegetables with ribbons.  Someone grew food on a farm somewhere nearby…and it won first place in a contest.  How do you judge yellow string beans?  What do you look for?  I pondered these things.  I bought a tee-shirt from the maple sugar booth that read: Big Or Small: We Tap Them All.  


The loud-speaker announced the start of the parade that was to pass in front of the grandstand.  I hurried to a spot by the fence to get a good look at the troop of DEC Forest Ranger Police who helped in the search for the two guys that broke out of Clinton County Correctional Facility in June.  The Dairy Queen went past me riding a small John Deere.  Her court followed on foot, their flip-flops kicking up dust in the dirt track.  The Queen looked straight at me and waved.  Boys and girls with fresh faces and neatly cut hair followed along with sheep, cows that needed milking, (the udders looked bloated to me) and goats, horses and pony or two.


We found a seat in the bleachers and settled in for the Franklin County Has Talent Show.


A little ten-year-old in a white ankle length dress sang about having a broken heart.  She was standing in the spotlight’s glare.  Tiny and white.


Girls danced to tunes I never heard.  A guy played a mean fiddle.  A teenager in a red dress that dragged the stage just above her bare feet sang beautifully.  Her song, “I’ve Got Nothing” came from her heart…one can tell when a singer means the words she vocalizes.  But, she is so young.  What does she know of love?  What mistakes has she made?  Can a fourteen-year-old heart really be broken?

I began to think back on my own life.  I was getting close to an answer when someone let go of a helium balloon about ten rows in front of me.  Even in the evening light, I could see the white sphere drift slowly up and hit the inside of the roof.  It bounced about in the breeze.  I saw several more.  One was blue.  Another red like the girl’s dress.

I looked back at the stage and thought about the brave little hearts that stood in bad lighting on a vast stage, in front of hundreds of strangers, and sang about your pain, or your joy or your dreams.  I could never muster the guts necessary when I was twelve to do what these kids were doing.

Risks.  They were taking a risk.  A dangerous risk.  They were risking their self-esteem.  I’ve had these same thoughts and wrote these same words two years ago–at the same County Fair.

I looked back up at the balloons.  When, I wondered, would they lose enough helium through the micro-pores of latex and begin to weigh more than the air that held them aloft?  I knew they would slowly fall like big wet snow flakes in the northern winter.  They would end up in the seats, snagged on a fence or on the ground being walked on and ground into the boards.  Sloppy bits of latex with a string and a bow attached.

Is this what will happen to the hearts of the girls and boys on stage, on this night in August, if they lose the competition?  Slow deflation, of a gas or an emotion, from a balloon or a fragile and tiny ego, can bring down the strongest of us all.

I sent out a ‘prayer’.  I hoped their dreams were made of a metal, yet unknown, that would carry their song, their heartbeats, their dreams and their hopes up, beyond the clouds and into the stratosphere.

My thoughts went back to the young man with the pan flute and the words:

Let It Be.

The Great Guano Goldmine of Rainbow Lake


[WARNING: The subject matter of this post may not be suitable for general readers.  If you are offended by such words as “droppings” or “do-do”, then please move on to another, more appropriate blog about late summer recipes or crocheting cat napping pillows.]

On the afternoon of August 6, 2015, I was sitting quietly in my Adirondack Chair on our back deck.  Beside me, on the little table where we burn our citronella candles, was my new Exterminator.  At first glance, it appears to be a small tennis racket and that’s the point.  It’s not supposed to look like an Exterminator.  Inside the handle are two batteries.  When a black fly or other biting and sucking insect approaches my arm, I pick up the “tennis racket” and zap the bug with 500 volts of electricity.  How one can get 500 volts from two D cell batteries is something that is very hard to explain.  It’s too technical for the lay-person to understand, so I won’t go into it.  Let’s just say it has to do with electrons and leave it at that.

But, I digress.

I was deeply engrossed in Immanuel Kant’s Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, a riveting work of suspense, gratuitous sex, violence and Epistemology.  I was nearing the end and, let me say, it’s a real page-turner.  I won’t be a spoiler, but I expected the end to have a proper climax to the narrative arc complete with fading action and resolution.  I was not disappointed.  As I was nearing the final fifty or so pages, I suddenly felt that I was being microwaved.  I blinked and I raised my eyes to the small patch of sky that is visible from our deck.

The sun was out!

I hate the feeling of Ultraviolet radiation on my skin so I called Mariam to come out and help me.  She promptly pulled apart a velcro band and raised our umbrella.  I pulled my chair into the shade and continued reading–after thanking her, of course.

A few minutes later, Mariam comes out to the deck and settles into her Kindle book.  It was a picture of domestic bliss. Here were two middle-aged people sitting side-by-side, each engaged in our own little world of reading and thinking.  I closed my eyes for a few moments to reflect on what I had just read, and I began to drift into an August Adirondack daydream.

That’s when I heard the movement.  It seemed to be coming from the umbrella.  I slowly raised one eye lid, fully expecting to see a squirrel playfully scampering around on the green canvas.  How wrong I was.  I opened the other eye lid and looked up into the inside peak of the umbrella.

Was it…?

I slowly went into the house to get my Zeiss Wild Bird Spotter Scope and tripod.  I focused the monocular at the inside peak.

There it was.  It stared back at me with the red eyes of Satan himself.  The pointed ears, the claw-like feet and the leather-like wings filled my field-of-view.  I was looking, eye to eye, at a bat.

I crossed myself and hurried to the kitchen to retrieve a clove of garlic.  This was surely a Vampire Bat of legend, making its yearly migration from Ohio to the heart of the Transylvanian Alps in Romania.  I was taking no chances.  I got more cloves for Mariam.  She reminded me that we needed a salad for dinner that night.  I asked about radishes and she said she could pass.

She looked at the cloves of garlic I had strung around her neck.  I told her that they would protect her from the loathsome Vampire Bat of legend that was living in our green umbrella.

She looked up and saw a foot and a pointed ear partly hidden by a fold in the canvas.

“Honey,” she said, “that’s a Small Brown Bat that is native to this part of the country.  It’s an Eptesicus fuscus.  The wingspan is only about eight inches or so.  It’s related to the Big Brown Bat.  I’m glad we have him.  They were nearly killed off a few years ago with a strange disease.  Now they seem to be coming back.”

I looked back at the bat.  It’s didn’t seem so large to me this time.

That’s when I noticed them!

“Look”, I said, “droppings.”

My mind raced through memories of stories of how spelunkers sometimes come down with serious respiratory illnesses after entering a cave filled with guano, or bat droppings.  I asked Mariam where our surgical masks were stored.

“There’s only two or three tiny pieces,” she said, “I don’t think we have to worry.”

As I stared at the tiny pieces of guano, I began to think of the Civil War.  I began to make serious connections with what was on our deck and the fortunes that were made during the War by entrepreneurs who collected, processed and refined guano into gun powder.  I thought of all the hunters in the Adirondacks and I realized that there were quite a few.  A fair number of them, as well as new age frontiersmen and survivalist, still used flintlocks or muskets for hunting.  It didn’t take me long to see that we were sitting beneath a gold mine.  All we needed to do was collect the guano and sell it to gun powder manufacturers.  We’d need a few more deck umbrellas, I knew, but it would be worth it.  Soon, we’d be rolling in guano money and thinking of buying a certain condo I had in mind in Labrador.

I quickly explained my plan to Mariam, knowing she’d be on board when I made it clear to her that there was money in those little black specks on our deck.

She just stared at me for a few minutes and went back to her Kindle.

Me?  I went downstairs and brought back a quart-sized Bell jar that I had used for storing my homemade pickles.  I carefully scraped together the few black grains of what I saw as gold, black gold, that is.

This is how fortunes are made, by far-sighted guys like me.

I went back to Kant, comfortable in the fact that my mail would be forwarded to Labrador within the next ten years, or so.

[WARNING: The image below may not be considered appropriate for general viewing.  Discretion is advised!]




I Knew Her When

Wedding Pic  M & P

I knew Mariam when she turned fifty.  She wasn’t extremely happy about that “milestone” to say the least.  When President Bill Clinton turned fifty (he celebrated up here in Lake Placid), he was asked how it felt.  His reply: “It’s kind of sad knowing that more of your life is behind you and not in front of you.”  Those may not have been his exact words, but you get the point.

When I turned fifty (I’m about two years younger than Mariam), she threw me a surprise party at an Irish Pub in New York City.  No one ever did that for me before.

I was there when she turned sixty.  Her thoughts were on retirement.  She’s still working part-time!  Because her birthday fell on August 3, we were often in some strange place on vacation.  Once we celebrated on Cape Cod with the best lobster we’ve ever eaten.  [Note to reader: It was the Lobster Barn in Orleans].  Another time we had her birthday dinner at a nice hotel restaurant in Albany.  I took the head waiter aside and told him I’d like a cake delivered to our table after dessert was ordered.  He said: “No problem, sir,” in a conspiratorial whisper.  After we finished the main course, I nodded at the waiter.  Three other waiters came in and delivered the birthday dessert…to the wrong table!  And, it wasn’t what I had ordered.

They charged us anyway.  Aren’t those little things supposed to be “on the house?”

We recently had a little “debate” about if she was a true “Boomer” or not.  She said that since she was born in 1945, that was too early to be a boomer.  I was born in 1947, which puts me into that group without question.  So, I Googled “Boomer” and found two studies, one put the first boomers as being born in 1945.  Another said that 1946 was the start of that generation.  We both won the “debate”.

Now, today, she turns seventy.  It’s unsettling to Mariam to think of herself as seventy.  She has outlived both her parents and she is feeling the aches and pains of age.

She works in health care.  She has a way with people that is hard to describe.  When she came to Owego, New York for the first time to meet my family, my mother was at Robert Packer Hospital, dying of lung cancer.  My father, two brothers and myself stood around the room not knowing what to do about my mother.  We were never very good at open affection.  The first thing Mariam did was to walk up to my mother and kiss her on the forehead and pull her covers to her chin.  The men just stood and watched.

I decided to illustrate this post with our wedding photo.  It was an informal shot made on the steps of the Columbia University Library.  We were married at the chapel on campus.  But this isn’t a wedding blog.  It’s a birthday piece.  So, why the wedding photo?

It’s here for several reasons.  I wanted all of my friends and readers of this post to know how lucky I was finding such a beautiful woman.  Look at the two of us.  I look like I just failed an audition for “Welcome Back Kotter” and had the general appearance of an Upper West Side psychoanalyst.  She, on the other hand, looks spectacular.  She is wearing a waxen head-piece that her mother wore when she was married.  Mariam, as many of you may know, was a professional opera singer years ago.  She sang at Avery Fisher Hall once and there is a photo of her somewhere in an album of her sitting on Pavarotti’s ample lap with his ample arm around her petit shoulders.  She hung out with the “big guys” as they say.

One morning, after she had attended my Science Fair at Town School in Manhattan (where I taught), I was walking into my lab.  My sixth grade was lined up along the wall.  I overheard one boy say to another as I sipped my tea (while walking at the same time): “Did you see Mr. Egan’s wife last night?  She’s glamorous.”

“Yes,” I thought to myself as I opened the lab door to begin class, “she is glamorous.”

Happy Birthday, Mariam, my glamorous wife.


Kodak Moment


My son, Brian, just turned 28 on July 14.  He is a part of the last generation of people (in America, I suspect) who had their childhood photos of them taken with film.  I have boxes stacked in my closet of envelopes containing hundreds if not thousands of pictures of him, my daughter, my family, my wife, her family, our friends…our childhood playmates…the list goes on.

The date on the back of this photo is July, 2001.  Brian is standing on the observation deck of the Empire State Building.  I have another picture of him standing in lower Manhattan with the WTC behind him.  Two months later…

I have beside me on the table where I now write, a heavy book with the title: “A New History of Photography“.  On page 24 is a negative of an image of a ‘latticed window’, taken by William Henry Fox Talbot.  It is a negative.  The date of this image is 1835.  It is probably one of the earliest “photos” ever taken.  It pre-dates Daguerre by a few years.


No longer will I carefully tuck the little tag with the serial number of my film in my pocket while the person at my local pharmacy tells me “it will be ready next week”.


No longer will I carry the packet home and review the images I just paid $7.50 to have developed.  No longer will I look at the strip of negatives and take one back to the drug store and say: “I want duplicates of #17a and #17b”.


I will not be licking little “corner” adhesive mounts for a scrapbook.  It’s all done in the computer now.  I can use  Photoshop 9 to alter reality.  (Even with this technology, I’ll never make myself look like George Clooney.)

I have to say that I will miss gently touching an old photograph.  Discovering a box of images I’ve never seen before.  Open my wallet, as a teenager, and gazing at the small school photo of my girlfriend, standing in an antique store and looking into the eyes of a stranger, a natty gentleman in a bowler, a pretty woman in lace, an old man with a white beard and straw hat, an aunt with a basket of unshucked peas in her lap.

My wife has a photo of her grandmother in her coffin.  It was taken in Aleppo, Syria circa 1920.  This was a common practice in pioneer America and Europe.  It was a way of keeping a final image after a life lived.  Instead of a slowly fading memory, there, in an old dusty book, was the final picture of a loved one before they were buried.

Now, our memories…well, we don’t need memories anymore.  Everything, an entire life can be stored on a memory stick…available with a touch to a keypad.

I’ve seen Internet projects where a woman photos her face from exactly the same angle every day for a year or more.  It makes for fascinating viewing, but in life, I don’t want to see the gradual changes that are meant not to be seen in 30 seconds, but in 365 days.

When you turn to look at someone you love, or have loved, or will love…what you see should change in real-time.  Not in slo-mo or fast forward.

That’s not how life works.

Your Kodak moment should be a moment, frozen, as you are, for all the future generations yet to be born.

Recently, in a restaurant on Broadway in New York City, I went down a few stairs to the men’s room.  In the hallway, at the bottom of the steps was an “old-time” photo booth.  These were often found at county fairs, Coney Island and Amusement Parks…everywhere.  They used to cost about 25 cents.  Here was one that gave you a set of four poses for $3.00.  I didn’t mind the money.  But these were in black and white…like the old days.  Nothing digital about these!

I couldn’t resist.

I just need to use Photoshop 9 to retouch my hair…and I’m a teenager again.  My wife doesn’t need any alterations to look pretty.

Yes, we’re teenagers again, kinda.