The vast Adirondack Park of northern New York State comprises almost 6 million acres, a large portion of which is designated “forever wild.” The forests there have been undisturbed by logging and road-building for well over 100 years. To tramp through them is to begin to appreciate what they were like before our ancestors arrived and began to “let daylight into the swamp.”
For exactly 50 years I came here almost every fall to hunting camp, and with a happy band of like-minded buccaneers scoured the mountainsides and valleys in search of the wily whitetail. The camp itself morphed over the years, from a Korean War surplus tent perched atop 6-foot frame walls, to a steep-roofed chalet that burned down one day, to a fairly plush cabin with a generator, electric lights, running water and a hot shower. That was sold about 10 years ago, and the sense of being adrift since then has been, for me, at least, fairly intense. But I’m getting too old to clamber up and down the steep slopes, anyway.
The story of today’s little adventure in the woods begins just 60 years ago, when I was first invited to join the exclusive brotherhood on the mountain. In those days, when I could walk anywhere and forever, I was prodigal with my energy — in the same way we waste our youth — and wandered all over the place, sometimes descending at the end of the day into the wrong valley, with a long walk back to camp. What would now be a calamity was then only an annoyance.
I climbed one day to a remote spot called Will Martin’s Notch — the third in a long ridge leading to Pincherry Mountain — and, standing there on a ledge overlooking the next valley, shot a deer. To mark the occasion, I carved a triangular blaze in a nearby ash tree and placed a Mercury dime under a rock at the edge of the ledge. Then I dragged the deer back to camp.
Years later, when the regular camp roster had become more established, I must have mentioned the incident in conversation. Still more years later, I climbed up into the notch again, reminisced, and picked up the rock where I’d left the dime. It was gone. It couldn’t have happened, but it had. It was gone.
This time, I’m sure I didn’t mention it back at camp. I puzzled over it for about four years; and then one evening in camp, Spencer — a puckish character, if ever there was one — said, “Say, Will, d’you ever happen to misplace a Mercury dime anywhere around here?”
My response is better imagined than limned. Spencer, while denying personal knowledge of the phenomenon, said, “I dunno; but if I was you and gonna search for it, I’d try lookin’ under a rock up in old Jim Hays’ sugar works.” So, a year later, I did. Jim Hays, an old-timer who sugared on the mountain each spring many decades ago, had left behind a cast-iron cauldron that looks, when you manage to find it, like a Galapagos tortoise. I followed Spen’s directions the first time, and there it was! My old Mercury dime! Naturally, I left it there, went back to camp at the end of the day, and in response to Spen’s raised eyebrow, merely nodded.
There it’s lain, undisturbed, for maybe 40 years now. A few weeks ago I floated the idea, to my son in Arkansas, of a revisit. Somehow the word got around, and there were six of us here, all alumni of the old camp — plus Kiki, who recently got bowled over by a couple of large dogs and has spent much of the past few days walking, to my peril, between my feet for protection.
We hiked the old trails and bushwhacked down a barely visible swale to the cauldron. The dime was still there, quite shiny and unworn after 60 years under two rocks. We took a few photos and headed back to our trucks, stopping on logs along the way to rest, talk and tell stories. At one stop, Kiki, clearly bored by all the chit-chat, began snuffling the century-old leaf mold and discovered, to her delight, great purple millipedes. I don’t know how the first one tasted, but its myriad little feet obviously startled her. She flung her head around and snorted, gazed downward, and went back for another. Finally she just lay down and rolled in the duff, getting completely covered in bits of ancient maple and beech leaves.
All through the hike, the guys ahead of me threw deadfalls out of the way and smoothed my path. On the way down, on very steep spots, my son held my belt behind and two men walked in front of me to catch a possible trip, which, I’m delighted to write, didn’t happen. We reached the trucks at length, and that evening dined on the veranda of a local restaurant. I can’t recall ever before feeling so surrounded by support, affection, and respect. The phrase that comes to mind is “band of brothers.” And I can’t wait for the next trip to the dime. I presume it’ll still be there. Unless Spen — naw, he wouldn’t do that. Would he?
Willem Lange can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.