–Adrienne Egan“Danny Boy” (From a high school essay)
I have long dreaded what was about to take place. As I approached the shore of Long Pond, the memories began to weigh heavy on my heart. How often had I stood in the sand since the early 1980’s when my older brother, Chris, discovered the St. Regis Wilderness Canoe Area? A group of friends followed me to the beach. My son, Brian, carried a backpack that held a black box. I was about to say a final goodbye to my brother, Dan. He was the last of my brothers…the last Egan from Owego…except me. I was alone now. I thought of a phone call in 2019.
Mariam and I were in a pub in Dorset, England. The establishment was closed except for several dozen locals. It was Christmas Day. The dinner was for those who had nowhere else to go for the holiday. Mariam had located the small square in the pub where cell phone reception was weak but present. She punched in the number. It was a phone call I wish didn’t have to happen.
I spoke (or tried to with a broken signal) to my brother, Dan. He was in a hospice bed and he had about forty hours or so to live. I managed to say “I love you” but I don’t think he could make out the words.
Two days later, while we were settling in for dinner at the White Lion Inn, Mariam’s cell rang. The message was simple. The message was clear…and final. Dan had passed away.
I signed a paper to allow for Dan’s cremation.
Years later, in early August, 2022 I sat up in bed and realized that I was the one responsible for the cremains. I chose August 27 for the day to fulfill Dan’s will and have his ashes left in Long Pond.
~ ~ ~
Many years ago, back in 1991, just after I arrived in New York City to take a new teaching job, my phone rang. It was my father. What he told me sent shivers down my spine and tears to my eyes. Dan, who had been badly injured in Viet Nam, was told by the doctors that a) he would never walk again and b) he would never father a child. He proved the good doctors wrong. He walked with a limp…but he walked. And, he had a daughter by a young woman named Diana. The child’s name was Adrienne.
All was well until it wasn’t.
Adrienne and other college mates were having a party event on the roof of Adrienne’s dormitory. The facts are vague in my mind. The others left the roof…left the roof for Adrienne. She fell asleep. She rolled to the roof edge. She fell. She died.
Something died in my brother that day. His personality darkened. But he pushed through much of the grief…as much as one can…and he began to age. We all aged. But Adrienne was destined to be the teenager that lived in Dan’s memory. For the rest of his days.
Dan has been reunited with his daughter in the urn.
They both will enjoy the sunsets and storms that roll over Long Pond. The ice of winter. The buzz of mosquitos and black flies will fill their ears. The wind will howl in the dark nights of winter. The burning sun of summer. The meteor showers and the Aurora. The rainbows and the woodsmoke. These are all the things that Long Pond will offer them as it welcomes the new arrivals.
I began my walk to the Barnum Brook Bridge carrying an emotional load that nearly broke my already painful back. It was a warm and very muggy afternoon. There were grey clouds in the hazy sky. There were grey clouds in my mind, my soul and my heart. I was not dreading the Bridge like I once did. In fact, I was looking forward to visiting an old friend…sort of. I walked slowly because I needed the extra minutes to think. At the same time, I was formulating my words. It’s not every day that one has to say farewell to a friend. For me, now was that time. I must make this my finest hour.
I walked on, pausing to photograph a wildflower for a later post on Facebook.
I had arrived. I put my foot down hard on the first plank, making more noise than usual. Sure enough, out pops The Troll. He looked about and disappeared beneath the bridge when he spotted me.
“Who is passing over my bridge?” he asked.
“I am passing over your bridge,” I said. “Let’s get this over with. I need to sit down.
He emerged from under the wooden planks and said: “I know you. Listen up. Keep your distance.”
“The Covid thing, remember. Are you still in lock-down mode?”
“Not really,” I said. “Things aren’t as bad as they were when I last came this way. Now it’s the Monkey Pox.”
“Just in case, don’t come any closer. I’m packing a can of Mace.”
“Let’s get the riddle thing over, shall we. I need to have a talk with you.”
“Okay. Okay. Here’s the first riddle:
What is dirty when it’s white?”
I pondered the question for about forty-five seconds when it came to me. “A Blackboard.”
“One down and two biggies to go, Patrick.
What goes from Z to A?”
Another new one. Where did he get these riddles? I thought. This time I was really puzzled…for about a minute. “Zebra”, I almost shouted.
“Whoa. Who’s on a roll today?”
“I am. Let me have the third one, Sir Troll.”
“Don’t get cheeky, my friend. You know what fate awaits you if you miss one. I cringe to even contemplate…”
“Spill it,” I demanded.
He looked smug. He thought he was going to get me on the last one.
He spoke with a twinkle in his large eyes: “What is the saddest fruit?”
Now I was worried. I had no idea. This wasn’t in the Big Book of Riddles I study before every trip to the VIC. And no mention of any of these new puzzles in the Ultimate Book of Norse Mythology. The newer edition that has a new forward by the author, Dr. Sven Sunquist.
“The clock is ticking, Patrick.”
“Go ahead, grind my bones or whatever you do when someone misses a riddle. I give up.”
He stared long and hard at me: “You look like a beaten donkey. I see damage in your eyes. I’m going to give you a pass. The answer, appropriately, is Blueberries. You can pass, but you owe me one.”
“I owe you a riddle?”
“Figure of speech,” he said. “Don’t get anal on me.”
I sat down on the wooden bench near the bridge: “I’ve got something to tell you, Troll.”
“You won the Mega Millions.”
“Don’t I wish. No, it’s…it’s that we’re going away. We’re moving. We’re going back to New York City, I do believe I’ve had enough woods and winter and slush and bugs.”
He looked deep into my eyes again. No words came to his lips. He just looked at me. His eyes were moist. He sighed.
“How long are you gonna be gone?” he asked slowly while trying to swallow. “When can I expect to visit with my favorite human again?”
I chocked at my following words: “That’s just it, Troll. We’re moving away for good. It’s possible that we may never see each other again. Don’t think for a moment that I won’t miss you because I will. You see Troll, these last few months have been very hard on me. I lost my closest friend. I wish he had just moved somewhere, but he didn’t. He passed away. I have only a few real friends. You could count them on two of your three fingers. I’m lonely up here in the North Country. You, Troll, are the only real friend I have left…besides my wife, of course.”
He had one hand in his pocket and the other one rested on the planks of the bridge. He was drumming his fingers on the dried wood. He said: “Funny thing. I don’t have many real and true friends either. We’re both the same here, are we not?”
He turned away and began to cry. He didn’t just cry, he sobbed and wailed. I’d never seen him like this before.
“Please Troll, don’t make this any harder. It’s not you, it’s me. You have your little place under the bridge. I’m a restless guy. I need a change. I need something new. I don’t know how many years I have left.”
“Hah, I can see right through you. You’re leaving me for some Big City Troll, right? I knew it. Those Big City Trolls are different than ones like me. They wear the traditional outfits. They look like they just got off a photo shoot with National Geographic Magazine.”
“No, there’s nobody else, in New York or anywhere. Come here. Let me shake your hand and wish you farewell.”
“Oh, but that’s against the Rules. You can’t touch me. Strange things might happen.”
“There are no such Rules out here, Troll. Here, give me your hand.”
As he placed his very large hand in mine I felt a jolt. I swear a bolt of lightening hit my arm. I closed my eyes. I had visions. Troll standing in the rain and waving at me, or standing in a foot of snow and grinning up with those big cow-like eyes. Or wiping away the sweat on days like this. I remember how he played the Pan Flute and made me see the different Adirondack seasons squeezed into one short vision. He was a treasure trove of wisdom and I’d be crazy to let him go out of my life for good. No. I would return someday…some sunny day. I will be older, more feeble, more pained and maybe just a little bit wiser. But Troll, he will never age. He has all the time in the world. I don’t.
I withdrew my hand: “I have to go now. Be good, my friend. It’s not forever, it’s just for awhile. I’ll be back.”
“That’s what the little girl said in Poltergeist.”
I turned and began the walk back to my car.
“I see your son was in Iceland for a few days. He loved it, didn’t he?”
“Yes, but how did you know?”
“My Icelandic cousin. And, oh, I see your daughter, her husband and your grandson came for a visit. I bet you loved that.”
“Oh, by the way. I know you used a photo of Fluffy to hawk your books. That’s shameful.”
“Little Lambs Eat Ivy.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’re the Riddle King. Figure it out.”
The trail curved to the left. I looked back for one more wave. I saw him blowing his large nose with a red bandana.
[Note: All photos are mine with the exception of the Troll image. That was a result of a Google search.]
Look close. It’s hard to see. If you’re reading this post on a laptop, you’re out of luck. On a mobile device you can use your fingers to enlarge the photo. See the sign in the background? The one that reads: Tir Na Nog. It refers to a very old Irish legend. Tir Na Nog is (was) the Land of Eternal Youth. If you lived there, you would never grow old. If you left that place, and touched the ground in the ‘outside’ world…you could never return. And you would grow old and eventually die. This was the name of our camp in the Adirondacks. The whole spell worked for a time, and then it didn’t. I grew old.
The sign in the foreground speaks for itself.
A small bit of backstory here.
I have been coming to these mountains since I was five years old. Seventy years of family camping, canoeing, hiking, climbing and building sand castles became part of my DNA. As a teenager I first had the feeling that living in these glorious hills was a dream to be wished. Time passes. Hiking partners, several dear friends and a brother or two…fellows who shared a cramped lean-to, built campfires, swam and sweated together began to move on (a sweet euphemism for death), leaving me alone without the motivation to climb just one more summit or paddle to just one more lake.
Did I mention that I have a deep fear of being alone? Loneliness most often brings me to tears.
A hiatus set in for several years. Then I met the woman who would be my wife. Even though she was born and raised in Queens, she took to camping like a bird takes to the clouds. She loved it. She often said that the Adirondacks were “soul satisfying”. So we bought a house in the woods where deer and bears roam, by a lake with a dozen loons, under skies that rang out with thunder and the rain fell by the pailful. We moved from our apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan to Rainbow Lake in November, 2011. We decorated with gusto, bought a wood stove, hung Adirondack posters, bought several kayaks and a new pair of hiking boots. We were happy…until we weren’t.
Those of you who have followed me on WordPress have read my many posts highlighting my many complaints about the harsh weather, the length of winter and the incessant presence of mosquitoes, gnats and black flies. A winter or two ago we had a week of frigid arctic air. The high temperature for that week never rose above -9° F. But make no mistake. I have also celebrated the quiet snowfalls, the early summer wildflowers and the jaw-dropping autumn colors.
So, I’m turning another page in the book of my life. Pending any financial issues, we have found a buyer. Boxes are already filled and labelled: BOOKS FROM PAT’S OFFICE. TO NYC. Eleven years of memories are going with us…but just as many are staying…for the new owners and for a few friends.
Not an hour ago I said a tearful farewell to my daughter, Erin, her husband, Bob and to my precious grandson. Elias got to see where grandpa has spent the last decade. I’m so thankful for that. The next time he visits, I’ll be taking him to the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan.
I will be trading the tall pines that surround our house with skyscrapers of glass and steel. Some of my friends don’t care for urban life but I thrive on the buzz, the convenience and the lack of isolation. As I wrote a few lines ago, the wilderness (the Adirondacks have lost the real sense of wilderness experience to the masses of hikers seeking this very isolation…ironic, but true), breeds loneliness in my soul. Where I once found solace and quiet, I now find sadness. The ghosts of my brothers and close friends lurk around alder thickets and shadowy forests. I can not escape them.
But the Adirondacks haven’t seen the last of me. I will surely be back to take care of the items still resting at the bottom of my bucket list. I’ll return on a glacially cold day in a future January and ski the slope on Whiteface Mountain where the Men’s Downhill was held in 1932 and again in 1980. Then I intend to learn the intricate moves of curling and join a pick-up team.
Or maybe I won’t.
I already have a plan. Once we’re settled in an apartment, I’m going to order Chinese take-out. Or perhaps I’ll take a walk in Central Park to experience nature.
“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness of other people.”
In the rearview mirror of the last three weeks of my life, I see I’ve left behind many things and added many memories. I’ve left behind the heat and sand of Florida, the peaches and boiled peanuts of Georgia, a friend and his wife in North Carolina, the breathtaking vistas and overlooks of the Blue Ridge Parkway and later, Skyline Drive. Mariam and I sat in a restaurant in Lebanon, Pennsylvania and played music bingo. We passed Carlisle where my daughter went to college so many years ago. We drove apace with the trucks and cars across New Jersey and plunged straight into the Holland Tunnel.
The Grateful Dead: “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”
Once we were settled in a generous friend’s apartment, we began to search for a place of our own. Both of us want to come back to New York City to live. But it’s proving to be harder than we expected. One place is too small, another lacks outdoor space. One might be a walk-up. I can’t do four floors as well as I once could. No, not now.
Why move? you might ask. You have waterfront, kayaks, canoes, snowshoes and bikes. The answer is simple and complex at the same time. We love the quiet woods. We love the sound of our paddles as we glide along on Rainbow Lake. But, so much of what the ‘dacks provides are activities that are fit for a younger man (I speak here for myself). We miss people. The quiet can be overwhelming sometimes and brings with it the loneliness of the North Woods. As a person who has struggled with insomnia since childhood, I dread the dark nights, those dark nights when the wind shifts in strange ways and the moon struggles to peek out from behind a dark cloud.
I don’t want to shovel another millimeter of snow. I don’t want to get into my car just to get our mail. I want something of a social life. I want to be able to order in Mexican or Chinese food. I want company.
Bob Dylan: “I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea. Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, at times it’s only me.”
With the exception of my mother (she never took to the camping), my entire family had strong ties to the Adirondacks. They made Eighth Lake, Raquette Lake and Long Lake special places. But these people have passed on. Around every corner I turn, behind every tree, on any lake, along any trail…there are ghosts lurking…not to harm me, but to remind me of the many great times I had among the mountains. One spirit, however, follows me. He was a good friend. I took him on his first trip to the High Peaks. On a chilly November night…I remember the gibbous moon…this friend died, not in my arms but very nearly so. I’ve told this story before. His presence, his souI and his life have followed me for forty-eight years. My memories of the night he died are dark and are the stuff of my nightmares.
Gordon Lightfoot: “Like brave mountaineers, we aren’t bothered much by time.”
I’m heading headlong toward a milestone birthday…and I am fearful. There are so many years behind me and not very many left to me. I accept that. But I don’t have to like it.
I’m not done yet.
I can only hope.
But, in the end, I will never totally forget my love of the mountains, even though they are now beyond my grasp.
‘There is beauty in everything. Even in silence and darkness.”
[Author’s note: I would like to dedicate this humble blog to my friends and loved ones who, through no fault of their own, were caught up in a Late-Spring Snowstorm. No wonder many of my classmates from high school moved to the south or mid-south after graduation. After a winter in Fort Myers, Florida, I totally get it.] Now the blog:
All Things Must Pass–A George Harrison album name.
We are taking our late afternoon walk down Cuarto Lane. One must wait until after 6:30 pm for such a stroll. Otherwise, it’s so barking hot the sun will melt your polyester toupee, it’ll bleach your already grey hair and sear your retina unless your wearing Ray Bans. I’m not wearing Ray Bans. I’m wearing cheap Walgreen’s sunglasses. I can feel the plastic rims get soft. That’s why 6:30 is our cut-off time.
But I digress.
On our walk yesterday I snapped a photo of a palm frond, on the grass, beside the Lane waiting to be picked up by the Resort maintenance crew. I saw it as a symbol of a season’s completion. Just like the leaves in Autumn in the mountains of the Adirondacks or all of New England. The frond spoke to me. It was lamenting the fact that it was done with contributing any and all Oxygen to the atmosphere. No more photosynthesis, it said. I stopped to answer back but my wife, Mariam tugged at my arm.
“Don’t! The neighbors are watching.”
But I got the point. All things must pass, even palm fronds. And even Snowbirds like us. Soon we leave this little bit of paradise and go north. Back to our home on Rainbow Lake and the very real possibility of a freak mid-June snowstorm. Think I’m kidding? We once sat at the bar of Lake Placid’s Mirror Lake Inn. It was May 31, my birthday, and we were have a quick glass of wine before a lovely steak dinner at the Adirondack Steak & Seafood. I spun around in my bar stool to look out at Mirror Lake, but it was snowing…no, it was blizzarding. I saw the fronds as a metaphor for our eventual departure. But, there’s more:
This blog is about travel, migration and departing. Here is something of interest:
The bird shown above happens to hold the record for longest migratory flight yet discovered. The Godwit has been found to have the ability to fly 6,800 miles without any layovers. (Think of it as Jet Blue with feathers). Now, I don’t know what impresses you, my reader, but 6,800 miles is one badass flight. In doing the research necessary to bring you this post I also found out that some long-term migratory birds can do awesome things on their journey. One species has the ability to eat, fly, sleep and mate while on the wing. My brain short circuits when I think of humans doing these sorts of things. Myself? I can barely drive along a country road for a country mile while eating a cheeseburger.
Well, so much for the avians. Time to discuss Cockle shells.
The Cockle shells litter the edges of the beach…where the waves wash up and then back into the sea. Whole shells, bits of shells…shells of all kinds are found in the sands of Sanibel Island. I find pleasure in picking one from the knee deep water and holding it for the iPhone camera. But, like everything else along a shoreline, the waves and currents are constantly moving the shells along only to replace them with newer ones. If I were to stand at the exact same spot on the exact same beach at the exact same time next year, I will reach into the sand beneath my feet and find another Cockle shell…exactly like the one I found today. I’m not sure what the point is about all this, but it does remind one of moving along, going away, traveling and replacing one environment (the beach) with another (the Adirondack lake shores). Some of my readers will say:
“A place in the Adirondacks? You have waterfront? Kayaks? Canoes? A screened-in porch? A quiet place in the playground of New York State? And you’re not satisfied? Are you playing with a full hand?” The truth is that I enjoy the Adirondacks very much, but not like I used to. As a little boy I played in sands of many of the most popular beaches in the ‘dacks. But I’m not a boy. I’m not a healthy fit young teenager who would climb any peak at the mere suggestion of doing it. Two of my three brothers were Adirondack oriented men. Both are no longer with us. I have found that around every bend in a trail, every curve in the road and every paddle stroke I make to round an island, I see the ghosts of my brothers. I’m tired of seeing ghosts, both figurative and real.
I love the night sky and the Adirondack air is fairly free of light pollution. The stars tumble out in numbers that are not humanly countable. I’ve slept on mountain peaks and counted the stars. I gave up after reaching 3,000 points of light. But our house is surrounded by trees and my patch of sky above our house can be covered with one open hand.
I want to see for miles while standing at sea level.
Which brings us to Yankees. Sorry, but this is not about the Bronx Bombers. This is about snowbirds who flock to Florida for the winter. I’m one of them. A yankee? In one sense, that is the definition of anyone living north of the Mason-Dixon Line. But what about my one-time sailing partner here in Fort Myers? He was from Toronto. Well he’s a yankee too, by my definition.
I’m lonely and I’m restless. How many years do I have left to see the world? Only a seer can answer that kind of question.
So take heed, take heed of the western wind
Take heed of the stormy weather
And yes, there’s something you can send back to me
I can think of nothing in nature more calming, soothing and tranquil than standing in a forest while snowflakes nearly the size of marbles drift slowly downward through the trees.
I’ve sat by gurgling brooks. I’ve felt the winds of the prairie whistle in my ears. With a mug of Oolong tea laced with local honey at my side, I’ve sat and listened to the rain fall, sometimes heavy and in waves…sometimes only a dribble. These are all transcendent. And you need only one good sense, hearing.
Snow, on the other hand is silent. You can’t hear a flake settle on a pine needle. A rainfall doesn’t lend itself to a visual experience, unless you count thunder and lightening. A snowstorm, in its aftermath, can leave you breathless…the absolute whiteness of it all. Well, not all. A mere three weeks can separate the dazzling colors of late autumn to a black and white world where only a hint of dull green marks the presence of coniferous trees and a cluster of brown Aspen leaves that have not yet fallen from the mother tree.
But snow is a superb example of what could be a blessing to one but can be a curse to another. Yes, I appreciate the quiet solitude that snowstorms bring, but I can also see darkness that lies beneath the ten inches of the white fluffy stuff.
It wasn’t always like this for me. I skated when I was young. Tobogganed every hill around Owego, NY and skied Whiteface Mountain. I spent five summers living on glaciers of the Juneau Icefield in Alaska. I knew ice. I knew snow.
Then I aged. Snowshoeing became difficult. X-Country skiing became problematic and downhill alpine skiing presented its own set of dangers to my body.
Blame it on my Lumbar region (L4 & L5) for my falling out of love for the winter season.
[Me shoveling. You can’t see my L4 & L5, but I can feel them. Photo credit: Mariam Voutsis.]
SIDEBAR A few facts about snow.
It is a myth, often repeated, that the Inuit (Eskimos) have dozens of words describing snow. There is no way to determine the real facts here because of the multitudes of Northern Native People. Different country…different way of viewing snow. There are however, researchers who study snow and keep track of these sort of things. The latest list contains 121 different types of snowflakes.
Is it true that no two snowflakes can be the same? This is mostly true, but recently scientists have found ways to practically duplicate a snowflake pattern.
Most snowflakes that we are familiar with are hexagons. There are thirty-five common types in all. Here is a short list:
Stellaar Dendrites (pictured below)
Columns & Needles
Fern-like Stellar Dendrites
Diamond Dust Crystals
[A Stellar Dendrite flake. Very common. Photo source: Google search.]
There is even a Field Guide to Snowflakes available. I tried to examine snowflakes one afternoon a few winters ago. I wore a dark jacket and held my geologic hand lens in my frozen fingers. A flake landed on my dark sleeve. But when I put the hand lens to my right eye and leaned forward to examine the flake, my warm breath melted it, leaving me to examine a small drop of water. This is something I could do in my kitchen. I learned nothing. I’ll learn the technique, someday, perhaps.
So, I believe it can be stated that there is a snowflake for every taste. It would be an understatement to say that snow is the engine that runs empires, so to speak. What would winter TV every four years be like if it weren’t for the Winter Olympics. Hallmark Movies? Who would know about Tanya Harding? (I’m including ice as a sub-set of snow). How could we live without the likes of Lindsey Vonn? If you’re old enough your heart stopped for a few moments when Franz Klammer won the men’s downhill in 1976. And of course, who can’t forget the aerial flights of Shawn White?
[Alpine skiing. Awesome. Photo credit: Google search]
I celebrate winter. I love snow. But, these days it’s a visual thing. I must leave you now to contemplate my winter landscape. I’ve sat long enough. I need another heat patch placed on my L4 & L5 region. I will make another mug of Oolong tea and add a tad of honey.
[Winter on our road. Photo is mine.]
[All of the factual information about snow came from several Google searches.]
REGULAR GUY GOES MISSING WHILE SHOVELING A PATH TO DRIVEWAY!
[The Egan Cabin at Rainbow Lake at time of search. Aerial photo from Channel 7 News Drone7]
[Photo credit: Google search]
Rainbow Lake, NY (AP)
Only days after a lone ice fisherman had turned, basically into a snowman, another winter-related incident occurred on a lonely loop road in the town of Rainbow Lake. A regular average man (name is being withheld pending further investigation) vanished only yards away from his front deck while shoveling his way from his front door to the safety of his, as yet, unplowed driveway.
This following a major snowstorm that dumped nearly 20″ of snow the previous night.
This photo was taken by his wife shortly before the tragic event.
[Photo credit: Mariam Voutsis]
His wife spoke to state police Search & Rescue: “I don’t know. One minute he was there and the next minute, he wasn’t. I thought he wandered off to take some pictures for Facebook,” she said while taking another sip of her fresh cappuccino mocha.
“Oh, I see you like a sprinkle of cinnamon in your coffee,” said the Trooper. “What else can you tell us?”
“Sometimes I don’t use cinnamon, I just take it neat.”
“No, I meant about your husband, ma’am.”
“Well, he kept complaining about how he had no place to put the new fallen snow.” The Trooper looked out at the piles of newly fallen snow. The tiny crystals twinkled in a sun that was struggling to break through the cloudy sky, as gray as a wet sidewalk in Schenectady. “He spoke to me through a crack in the front door. He told me that every time he would heave a shovel-full of snow onto this giant pile on the deck, much of it would slide back, forcing him to shovel the same place all over again. Poor guy. He has a bad back, you know?”
“It’s unfortunate but most men his age have back problems. Does it affect his golf game at all? I’m looking for suggestions to lower my handicap.”
“Oh, heavens, we gave that up years ago. Those little white balls kept getting lost in the snow.”
“You can paint them red, ma’am. Besides golf is a summer game.”
The wife looked out over the mound in the driveway (which was her Honda CRV, she hoped) and pondered this comment. “Summer? like in the season?”
“Yes, ma’am. The time when people swim, fish, take walks, go camping, sit on the beach…things like that.”
“Well, the search dogs are getting a little tired. They don’t like deep snow. I best be calling off the search for now.”
The Trooper surveyed the yard and the front deck.
“Sorry to have to say this ma’am, but from the looks of this accumulation, we may not have any luck in locating your husband until late-May at the earliest.”
“I’ll probably be in New York City then, so here’s my contact number. Don’t hesitate to call if you find something.”
“Rest assured. And thanks for the cappuccino.”
[Happier days at Rainbow Lake. Photo taken by Pat Willis]
I check my watch as the train jolts into motion. It’s 12:09.
There was a time when Mariam and I would make the trip from Manhattan to Rainbow Lake in one day. It was 305 miles from our apartment door on W. 93rd Street to our driveway at 58 Garondah Road, deep in the heart of the North Country. Oddly, it was exactly the same distance from the driveway of my childhood home (420 Front Street) in Owego, New York. But that’s beside the point.
We left our city apartment in November of 2011 and moved to the Adirondacks. My childhood dream was realized…I was living in my favorite playground. Now, I could hike, kayak and bike to my heart’s content.
Reality set in quickly. I had serious lower back issues and my right foot was problematic. Hiking became less enjoyable…it actually became unbearibly painful.
“Age appropriate,” said my orthopedic surgeon.
“Thanks,” I said as I thought about where I would store my snowshoes and x-country skis.
Fast forward to the present moment. We no longer make the trip to the city in one day. Our favorite hotel is on Wolf Road in Albany. Mariam has since retired from her job of fifty-one years in health care. It wasn’t a total break, however. She is now the President of the Hemophilia Association of New York. That means quarterly trips to the city. We’re on such a trip as I write this. We’re old hands at this, although we still use SIRI to get from our hotel to the Albany-Rensselaer Amtrak Station.
I’d like to say that the gentle rocking of the coach is nap-inducing, but in reality, its nausea-inducing. We make sure our seats are close to the restroom. The train is really not rocking at all, it’s jerking me from side to side like a Yuma cowboy at the County Rodeo. I’m having trouble hitting the right keys as I write this. I’m using my MacBook Air without a mouse. The heels of my hands are firmly planted on the deck of the laptop, but still I hit the wrong keys. Three sentences ago, I meant to type “The train is really not rocking at all…”, but what appeared on the screen was: “Yug brain is ggreally not frocking ab vall”.
I’d like to say that in a half-hour, I intend to stroll back to dining car to sip a cognac and play a few hands of Whist, but in reality, there’s is no dining car on this particular train. What made me think I was on the American version of the Orient Express? But, hey, given the present state of rail travel in a country that sold its soul to Detroit and spends zillions of dollars on the Interstate System, I should be happy to settle for what we do have.
And, this trip is a little different for another reason. I’m running away from a very long and depressing winter in the North Country. It’s still January at Rainbow Lake. I had to shovel a path to the garage just yesterday. I’ve been filling the bird feeders two or three times a day. Our respite in the city, where flowers are blooming I’m told, is only for a week. Then its back to the snow, which I promise, will still be present in our front yard until early June.
As I look out at the Hudson River to my right, I do not see any snow…only on the tops of the distant Catskill Mountains. Alongside the tracks, in the trees that line the river, I see wisps, mere hints, faint washes of pale green. Spring is arriving in this middle land between the Adirondacks and urban New York. Across the river, on the western shore, I think I see forsythia shrubs in bloom. The yellow is intense. Some of the trees are starting to bud with a reddish hue.
[One of the many lighthouses of the Hudson River.]
It’s great to see color after six months of a monochromatic grayness.
Now, if I can only hold myself steady against the jerking of the train, and not slam the right side of my head against the plexiglass window sustaining a slight concussion, I can end this post. But, I must find my email first.
We’re passing a nuclear power plant. I think I’m starting to glow.
Do I see the George Washington Bridge coming up on my right? Soon, we’ll be in tunnel on the west side of Manhattan and I will lose the wireless. This is my second posting from a moving train. I’ve done it!
[A view from the front door. Photo is unfortunately mine.]
Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan!
[Oh, where are the snows of yesteryear!]
I can tell you where the snows of yesteryear are. I can also tell you where the snows of today are…and I can tell you where the snows of tomorrow, next week or two months from now are going to be. They’re on my front deck, my back deck and three feet deep in our tiny yard.
I wonder why the oceans of the world still contain water. Most of the moisture of our blue planet seems to be covering the 1.3 acres that surround our home. In the last week, I’ve shoveled enough of the solid form of water to fill the Erie Canal.
Which brings me to the topic of this post. Cabin fever.
In legend and lore, in story and in song, the subject of cabin fever is quite common. It is a well-known condition that affects those in the North Country. From the gold miners of the Yukon to the fur trappers of Manitoba, grizzled men with beards and red suspenders have been known to lose their minds when confined to a lonely cabin…while the snow falls relentlessly. Some simply open the door and walk out into the frigid swirling blizzard and are never seen again. Some crawl under their Hudson Bay point blankets and fall asleep while their wood stove burns low and then turns to embers and then goes out. Someone will find the body in the Spring time. Others have been known to take their own lives, once the bottle of hooch is empty. And, others have turned to their fairest friends and best buddies and put a bullet into an unsuspecting brain pan.
I, myself, was driven by near insanity to simply walk out the front door and into the Adirondack forest. But, the screen door wouldn’t open because of the snow accumulation. Besides, it wasn’t nearly cold enough…it was only -18 F.
I have been driven to violence. Two days ago I took a Macy’s carving knife (with a serrated blade) and hacked at a leftover breakfast burrito from the local health food store.
My misery knew no limits. It puzzled me because, well, we don’t live in a cabin, we live in a house with a number of rooms and a fair library in my den. There’s always cable television (something the gold seekers of ’49 didn’t have). No, we have Spectrum with 200+ channels but nothing worth watching. We have the internet, but how many anti-Trump postings can one person click “like” on? And, one gets weary of playing Spider solitaire 377 times a day.
So, what to do? Go out and shovel? No, we’re expecting 6-9″ this afternoon. Go to Whiteface and ski? The lift tickets are too pricey. Pay $90+ for a chance to get frostbite and/or a compound fracture of my left leg? Don’t think so.
I think I’ll find a comfortable position on the sofa by the picture window and begin to count the snowflakes as they fall, minute by minute and day by day for the next three months.
[After the shovel and before the car door incident. Photo is mine.]
Once upon a time not so very long ago, there was a man who lived in a house, with his faithful and patient wife, in the Great Wilderness known as the Adirondack Mountains. These mountains are located in the far reaches of upstate New York.
This man was sore of back and gray of hair. He had recently spent five weeks in the high desert of California. He went there looking for solitude and warmth, but instead he found himself surround by neighbors with strange cars and small barking Chihuahuas. He also wore fleece nearly every day, until it was time to leave…of course.
The man’s eyes stung from the smoke of distant fires and he went through five and a half boxes of tissues, so frightful were his allergies.
Upon returning to his home in the North Country, there was a January thaw that put his limbs at risk with the ice and constant dripping of masses of snow that had recently befallen the countryside. Then two days ago, his weather app on his iPhone bespoke of a new storm that promised a foot of snow followed by thumb-numbing cold.
When this man awoke this morning, he put off looking out of the bedroom window for fear of what he would behold. But, he also had another app on his iPhone that told him how much daylight was left in the day. He checked the temperature. It was 4 F. He saw that 75% of the day had passed. He decided he should get out of bed and shovel a path to the car and clean the snow from the car and try to start the car.
The first two tasks were accomplished with sweat, frost on his mustache and a lower back that had pleaded with him to stop the punishment.
Now to start the car. But, alas, he found all four doors frozen shut. Not to worry, he thought. I have a can of de-icer in the garage. He pushed the button and the garage door creaked open. He found the de-icer and pushed the button to close the door. It didn’t move. He tried to spray the little button but nothing but a faint hiss came from the spray hole. He shook the can and determined it was full, but not a molecule of de-icer was to be found.
[The frozen car. Photo is unfortunately mine.]
He returned to the house with the spray can, but he was broken of heart and frustration welled up in his soul like a backed-up toilet.
Why have the gods of the North Country forsaken him? Why did he feel as alone as a Democrat in Mississippi or a Quaker at a Microsoft convention?
Why didn’t he stay in California and buy more tissue boxes? What had he done in this life or any other life to deserve such anguish?
He checked the weather app on his iPhone and saw that the forecast predicted a low of -22 F for the overnight hours.
The old man poured a cold beer and sat waiting for the bathtub to fill. He had added about two cups of blue crystals that promised muscle relaxation. (It never worked before, but tonight would be different).
But this man had a plan. He would build a fire in the downstairs stove and he and his wife would have a dinner of hot soup.
All will be well tomorrow, he thought. After all, tomorrow is another day.
He sipped his beer and considered how existentially alone one is in the Universe. Or, at least in the North Country.