Two Men On A Rock

And I need to be there when the world gets too heavy and the shadows cross my mind.

Like brave mountaineers, we were never bothered much by time.

—Gordon Lightfoot.

 

[The author, left (in blue) and climbing partner, Greg Stella on the trail of Big Slide Mountain. circa 1972.]

Once upon a time, two young men set out from Johns Brook Lodge in the heart of the High Peaks region of the Adirondack Mountains. Their goal was to climb Big Slide. These two men were vigorous and healthy. The fire of youth burned in their veins. They climbed together for many years…in the rain, the sleet, the fog and the snow. In the summer they sweated and in the winter they huddled beside a log-fed blaze and sipped hot chocolate, hot enough to scald their tongues.

On this particular day, nearly half-way to the summit of Big Slide, they shook off their packs and sat on a rock for a cool drink and a rest. A few moments passed and another climbing party came panting up the trail.

“Excuse me,” said one of the resting men. “Would you mind taking our picture?”

The stranger obliged and handed the camera back to the man who wore a blue parka.

The small group moved on. The two young men rested for a few minutes and continued their climb.

Forty-seven years later, these two men and their wives were enjoying a few days together at a lakeside cottage owned by the blue-jacketed man and his wife.

“Hey,” he said. “I have a website and if I remember correctly, there is a picture of you and I when we were climbing Big Slide. It’s in one of my slide-shows. Would you like a copy?”

Soon it was all over. The slide-show was seen and the picture was saved. Much to the amusement of those present, an attempt was made to reproduce the postures of the two young men resting on a rock.

The two men stared at the original photo…and remembered.

 

[The author, left (in white socks) and one-time climbing partner, Greg Stella. November 5, 2019.]

 

[Note: The sound track to the slide-show was Bob Dylan’s Forever Young.]

Both photos are mine.

My website: http://www.patrickjegan.com

When Sand Turns Cold: Between The Seasons

[The Lake Colby Beach in Saranac Lake, NY. Photo is mine.]

This is an odd time of the year. The autumn colors are past peak (yes, there are a few places where the reds are blinding and the yellows can bring tears to your eyes)…but the peak foliage in its intensity is essentially gone until next October, or late September (depending on the summer rains).

It’s a sad time. The public beaches have hauled in the lifeguard chairs and the floating docks. No mothers wander about looking for toddlers, no cheerleader is working on her tan line. No quarterback is working on a Malibu bronze complexion. That’s all okay…it’ll all fade in three weeks time (unless they still use a bottle tan mixture like they did in the ’60’s.)

Still hikers take to the trails since most of the bugs are gone.  The kayaks are being put up in boathouses for the long winter. Year-rounders are stacking wood for the stoves in their cabins.

The skiers are busy waxing and sharping their edges at the local ski shops.

Sam Adams has come out with the Octoberfest brew.

Local micro-breweries are putting up the taps of the newest Pumpkin flavored IPA.

But the beaches are gone.  Sure one can go and wrap up in fleece and try to read a book…but’s its changed.

I have a distinct memory of jumping out of our family car in the parking lot of Golden Beach…sometime in the early 1950’s. We had a campsite, but none of my brothers wanted to put off the swimming. My feet, the tender feet of a child burned as I ran toward the water. I couldn’t make it. I ran back and jumped in the waiting arms of my father. He carried me, tenderly across the burning sands and gently put me down in the cool waters of Raquette Lake.

Summer is gone again. The first snowflakes are a few weeks away.

And, then the WINTER sets in. Sometimes until mid-May. I grew up in downstate NY, near the Finger Lakes. We had four distinct seasons. Up here in the North Country it’s more likely three seasons.

I live on Ibuprofen because of my back pain.

So, we are off to Portugal in mid-December for 2 1/2 months of warmth. It’s not Florida, but it’s cheaper.

I wonder what things will be like in five or seven years.

Will it matter?

The Robin’s Nest

[The nest after being moved from the lamp]

[American Robin: Turdus migratorius.]

I’m sure it was a Robin’s nest.  Every time Mariam or I would use the front deck entrance (with a screen door that slammed louder than the front gate of Alcatraz), a bird with a rusty breast would scold us from a nearby branch of a long-needle pine.

When we arrived home after our late winter trip overseas, neither of us noticed anything.  But one afternoon something caught my eye.  It was atop our outdoor light.  At first it looked like Rip van Winkle’s hat…leafy, twiggy and crusted with mud.  I chanced to pull out our kitchen stool and peaked inside…it was a birds nest, constructed with such engineering skill, it made a beaver dam look like a 6th graders science experiment.  I touched nothing, knowing the rules about birds and nests.

Nothing much happened for a few days.  No sign of any action.  Then on another afternoon, I was in the guest bedroom trying to find a clean flannel shirt for the day (It’s late May, so I get to level down from wool to fleece to flannel.)  I looked out at the lamp.  A mother Robin was tending the nest!  I moved the window shade ever so slightly and she took off to a nearby branch.

We had a family living above our lamp.  Life was about to begin on our front porch.  For several weeks we watched as the mother sat as still as a dead parrot in a cage.  We began to use the back deck for our commerce, avoiding the disturbance of the slamming screen door.  Mariam began to take a special interest in the birds welfare…she watched it from afar like a trained ornithologist…which was great to watch…since she, Mariam not the bird, is from Queens.

A few days ago, I was sitting in our living room reading David Copperfield.  (I’m on page 260…I have only 469 pages left…that’s good for me, I’ve only been at it for four years) when Mariam walked in and announced that she believed the mother bird abandoned the nest.  I thought about it for a few minutes and told her that I thought that the hatchlings had already taken wing.  She didn’t think so.

Today, she asked me to take down the nest as it was obviously empty, but she didn’t want to see inside.  So I went out and actually had to struggle to move the nest.  It was so firmly attached to the lamp that even the stormy weather we’ve had couldn’t possible have budged it.

[The original nest site…pretty good choice I think.]

It was a marvel of…well, nest-making.  But I found no signs of egg shells bits.

I believe the family is gone and the fledglings are fine in the parents care.  Soon, they too will be fully adult by summers end…and will migrate when the time comes…that time when their internal chemistry tells them it’s time to fly south, something I can relate to.

Watching nature’s cycles unfold from a window is a privilege.  This is what living in the North Country offers.

The next major event is black-fly season.  I’ll be watching that play out from the screened-in porch, thank you.  There are some things in nature I just don’t do…getting my blood sucked by anything with wings is not on my to-do list.

Words From A Footpath: The Excursionist X

[Older footpath signs]

It must be my age.  It could be my imagination.  It certainly is something I don’t fully understand.  But, the truth is I think that the English Public Footpaths sometimes call my name.

There is a legend among the Northwest Indigenous People that when you hear an owl call your name…you will soon pass on into the next world (read death).  I think that when I pass a Public Footpath sign, a similar thing happens, except that instead of passing on…I will be walking.

That is one of the charms about Britain.  Public footpaths are literally everywhere.  You can walk across yards, fields, etc…the public have rights here that don’t exist in the USA.

I’ve blogged about such things in the past, but, hey, get a good subject and you can blog it from here to Friday.

[Newer sign posts]

Sometimes I have a guide-book to help me locate interesting routes.  And, at other times, I just wing it and strike off, hoping to find the next marker, hoping to not get off on a wrong path.  But, are any paths really wrong?  Following my instinct I find such places like this:

[On a Dorset walk a few years ago]

Or this:

[A walk in Yorkshire last year]

There are a few rules a walker must obey.  It’s all common sense:

–Keep your dog on a lead

–Close the gates behind you

–Don’t litter

And, to help you through one field to the next, there are a variety of stiles.

[A wooden step stile]

[An old over-the-wall step stile]

[A kissing gate. You can figure it out]

So, what’s the big deal?  Well, for me, this little portion of England is a walker’s paradise.  And sometimes that all I need.

Many times, it’s what I really need.

[All photos are mine. Some have been used in other posts or on Instagram. But, hey, if you follow me you already know that]

Adorable Aquatic Mammals Of Rainbow Lake

[Castor canadensis. Source: Wikipedia]

beaver n. A large aquatic rodent having thick brown fur, webbed hind feet, a broad flat tail and sharp incisors used for felling trees and building dams.

–The American Heritage Dictionary (5th ed.)

When late summer arrives here in the North Country and the leaves begin to turn red, gold and yellow, I like to reminisce about the fun facts and involvement I’ve had with the wildlife that is abundant in the Northern Tier of New York State, deep in the Adirondack forest, where animals and plants, from bears to wildflowers flourish.

I’ve written about the fascinating lives of spiders, black flies, mosquitoes, gnats and bees. This year, I’d like to turn my attention to the cuddly little furry critters that scamper about my yard at all hours of the day and night. The squirrels are just so full of life…they scamper about and make cute attempts to scratch holes into our eaves so they can live in our attic. The deer almost seem ready to eat out of my hand as I sit on the front deck. Every time I walk across the tiny little patch of grass that we like to call “our lawn”, I get yet another chance to check my body for ticks.

We don’t see too many bears so I’ll skip them.

But what we have, living in some lodge in some hidden part of this relatively large Rainbow Lake, are a pair of beavers.

So, let’s talk about beavers.  The North American beaver (Castor canadensis) can weigh up to 71 pounds! I got that fact from Wikipedia, so it must be true.

Are they social animals? You bet they are. They come right up from the lake and into our yard. Why just about two months ago, at night, while I slept just a few feet away, one (or both) of the local beavers chewed through and felled my wife’s favorite Poplar tree. I noticed it the next day when I was taking the recycling bags to the garage. There was the tree resting against the house, just outside our bedroom. Actually, the tree (about seven inches in diameter) was resting against our power lines.

This was serious. Our cable TV could have been taken out. How was I going to watch Dancing With The Stars or The Hoarders? We called the National Grid (sounds so Canadian) and within an hour they had the tree down.

Not one moment of interruption of our favorite shows!

But it was not all bad. We gained some useful information about our friends, the beavers. They loved Poplars and Birch. It so happens that I love those trees as well.

So, what did we do? Simple. We caged the trees. Our friend who sells us firewood and does some trimming (his name is Forrest, really) caged our vulnerable trees.

Now, because of those miserable beavers (what were they going to do with our tree, dam the lake?), we have a yard that looks like a display at Disney World.

How attractive is this:

Or this:

Or worse, this:

At least they left these under our dock. Maybe I can find a nice walking stick from this pile:

In search of more beaver lore, I went to The Wild Center in Tupper Lake. There, in a tank, was a beaver. I felt some aggression rise within me. I stared into the beaver’s eyes and said: “You will not conquer me. You will not take out all of our favorite trees on our .5 acre lot. I am still the master of my domaine. Do you hear me through this thick plate glass? I will not be ruled by you!” I suddenly realized that the beaver was stuffed. A small crowd had gathered around me.

“Daddy?!”

“Harriet, take the children to the car.”

“Don’t worry, Timmy, he’s just a grumpy old man…you know, like grandpa was when he became senile.”

I had to save face. I pretended I was a WWI veteran and slowly limped away humming It’s A Long Way To Tipperary.

I can only deal with these little frustrations philosophically. Soon, none of this will matter. The sun will expand to the size of a Red Giant and consume all the inner planets. Or, global warming will flood the Adirondacks.

And, if none of this happens, we’re going to spend the winter in England. I know they have hedgehogs, but I’m not sure about beavers. Hedgehogs don’t build dams, (I don’t think) but the beavers can gnaw away on our wire cages all winter.

At lease I don’t have to build a Wall.

[With the exception of the lead illustration, all photos are mine.]

 

 

The Quiet Feast/The Great Cycle

I felt the breeze…

I stumbled on a tree root when…

Finally, we reached the pond…

Concentrate.  Start over.

When I was a teacher I was often given the dubious privilege of  “lunch duty”.  A room, nearly the size of a gym, filled with 5th & 6th graders…or 9th & 10th graders, and a hand full of teachers produced a noise level that made it impossible to carry on a conversation or to even think about the hour before you.  Sometimes on days when I didn’t have duty, I would retreat to the faculty lunch room.  Even there, teachers talked about the students, the administration or their Valium prescription.  Still, no time to think.

As a last resort, I would take my tray to my empty home room and eat alone.  It occurred to me that I would appear antisocial…but at least I could think.

Once, perhaps a decade or so ago, I found a guidebook to monasteries, close to our home in Manhattan, that opened their doors to travelers…like a B & B with stained glass.  Mariam and I found one, run by the Episcopal church, on the western side of the Hudson River.  It was a large estate-like building that sat high above the river in the Hudson Highlands.  It happened that we booked our room on a “quiet” weekend.

No talking allowed.

During the meals, all I could hear was the clinking of forks and spoons on the china plates.  A whisper here and there…but otherwise, silence.

I could think.

A year ago, in October, along with our great friends, D’Arcy and Judy,  Mariam and I took a walk along the Silver Lake Bog trail.  The sky was azure.  The foliage was at a peak.  Brilliant reds, yellows, copper and scarlet leaves mixed with the green conifers.

I hung back and walked alone.  I stopped to listen.  The gently falling leaves sounded like a light rain.  I looked around me and realized that I had walked into a grand feast, a forested restaurant, a silent meal.

Nearly everything I looked at was in the process of dying…or already dead.  What was alive was consuming what was dead.  This was considered to be a fairly dry summer, but you would never have guessed that from that bog or our front yard.  My copy of Peterson’s Field Guide to Mushrooms was used more than the previous decade.

It was like watching “The Walking Dead” with the roles reversed.  Of course I have lived a life-time of seeing this every autumn, but on that day, the Big Picture came into focus more clearly and gave me the urge to put all this into words.  I was a witness to the Great Cycle of Life.  I know it’s a cliché, but there it was, all around me.  The ground itself was covered by a blanket of moss and lichen that were feeding and consuming the organic material.  The dead logs, many cleared from the trail by a chainsaw, were helpless to resist the countless fungi, moss, bacteria and water that was breaking a once tall and stately beech or maple or oak into mere molecules.

And, all this was done in total silence and  would continue even under three feet of snow and ice and temperatures of -37 degrees.

In six months, a small spore, a seed, a dormant larvae of a black fly would begin to revive and then bloom and the green would return.

And, that fly would find out where I lived.

 

 

Confessions Of A Gravestone Photographer

[At work in St. Patrick’s Cemetery, Chateaugay, NY]

I would strongly object to anyone who would dare call me morbid.  It is not morbid, in any sense, to appreciate and love old (and new) cemeteries.  It is not morbid to stand over a grave of a total stranger and contemplate his or her life.

I grew up in a small town in upstate New York.  Overlooking the village below was Evergreen Cemetery.  I could never tell you the number of times I’ve wandered among the monuments of those who walked the very streets I walked.  Every time I go back to my hometown, Owego, I spend at least an hour strolling the beautiful landscaped, 19th century burial ground.

When I moved to the North Country in 2011, to the Adirondack Mountains where I am closer to Montreal than to any other major urban area, I began to discover the charm of the small graveyards of this part of the state.  Some are hidden and silent among the pine trees, some are six feet from a corn field and some are on breezy hilltops, with faded red barns in the background.

Then, sometime in 2012, I believe, I came across a website called Find-A-Grave.com.  I checked it out and found out that they were seeking volunteers to photograph headstones for people, upon request.  These were folks that lived in Montana or Texas who were doing genealogical research or simply wanted to see the grave of uncle Robert or aunt Hazel.  These people would place a request to Find-A-Grave and I, as a volunteer photographer, would get the message via email.  I then would find the cemetery, locate the grave…take a photo…upload it to the website and move on.  My reward?  Hundreds of thank you emails from the people who made the requests.

“Thank you for taking the time to photograph the headstone of my aunt Martha.  I knew I would never see her final resting place because I live so far away and I’m getting too old to travel”.  This was typical of the emails I would receive.

Doing this, I have learned a great deal about local history and the stories of the families who were so much a part of this area.

  • I’ve stood over the grave of a young girl who was murdered in the 1920’s.
  • I’ve stood over the graves of suicides.
  • I’ve stood over the graves of old farmers who had four wives…all buried nearby.
  • I’ve stood over the graves of two young girls who froze to death in a blizzard.
  • I’ve stood over the grave of a thirty-something woman who came home from jogging along a road several hundred yards away from where I’m writing this, stepped into the shower, and dropped to her knees and died of a massive heart attack.

I did this alone for a few years.  My wife probably thought I was just trying to get out of the house, until I invited her along on one of my “graving” afternoons.  She became my best partner in this ‘hobby’.  She had the sense to look for women’s graves through the name of the husband.  My number of photos taken began to soar.  At this writing, on a mild Indian Summer afternoon in September of 2017, I have contributed over 1,000 photo requests.

It’s been said by some philosopher that one never dies as long as someone speaks your name, remembers you or thinks about you and your life.

I hope some volunteer photographer will stand over my grave and speak my name…then I know I never truly died.

                                                 [Log book and print-out of requests]         [My ‘graving’ kit]

[An extra note: Below is a link to Find-a-Grave.  It’s all free.  You can open an account and make requests for photographs. And remember, it doesn’t cost anything.]

https://www.findagrave.com/