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Nessmuk's Adirondack Letters

By George Washington Sears ("Nessmuk") (1821-1890), 1880-3

Rough Notes from the Woods, 1

Forest and Stream, August 12, 1880

Moose River, July 21

SHE'S all my fancy painted her, she's lovely, she is light. She waltzes on the waves by day and rests with me at night. But I had nothing to do with her painting. The man who built her did that. And I commence with the canoe because that is about the first thing you need on entering the Northern Wilderness. From the Forge House, foot of the Fulton Chain, on the west, to Paul Smith's, Lower St. Regis Lake, on the east, is ninety-two miles. About five miles of this distance is covered by carries; the longest carry on this route is about one mile; the shortest, a few rods. If you hire a guide he will furnish a boat and carry it himself. His boat will weigh from sixty to one hundred pounds and will carry two heavy men with all the dunnage you need. He will "take care" of you, as they express it here, and will work faithfully to forward your desires, whether you be artist, tourist, angler or hunter. His charges are $2.50 per day and found. The tired, overworked man of business who gets away from the hot, dusty city for a few days or weeks cannot do better than come to this land of lake, river and mountain and hire a guide.

What the mule or mustang is to the plainsman, the boat or canoe is to guide, hunter or tourist who proposes a sojourn in the Adirondacks. And this is why I propose to mention at some length this matter of canoeing and boating. Being a light weight and a good canoeman, having the summer before me, designing to haunt the nameless lakes and streams not down on the maps, and not caring to hire a guide, it stands to reason that my canoe should be of the lightest, and she is. Perhaps she is the lightest cedar-built canoe in the United States, or anywhere else.

Her stems and keel are oak, her ribs red elm, her gunwale spruce, and six pairs of strips, three-sixteenths of an inch thick, with copper fastenings from stem to stem, leave her weight, when sandpapered ready for the paint, fifteen pounds, nine and one-half ounces. The paint adds about two pounds. She is ten feet long, twenty-six inch beam, with eight inches rise at center; and, propelled by a light double paddle, with a one-fool power in the middle, gets over the water like a scared loon. I propose to take her a rather extended trip before snow flies, if she does not drown me. I reckon her carrying capacity, in ordinary weather, at 150 pounds. If she proves reasonably safe on the larger lakes of the wilderness, she is an achievement in the boat-building line.

She was built by J. H. Rushton of Canton, N.Y., and is by several pounds the lightest canoe ever made by him. I will only add that she is too light and frail. I would recommend ten and a half feet in length, with thirty inch beam, and ribs two inches apart instead of three. Such a canoe would be staunch and safe for one and need not weigh more than twenty-two pounds. She can easily be carried on the head in an inverted position, first placing a blanket or old coat on the head by way of cushion.

When I reached here just one week ago, tired with a twelve-mile ride on the corner of a trunk, while I hugged that frail boat like a faithful lover, I only meant to stop until I could get my traps carried through to the Fulton Chain, which, in the case of the canoe, was not so easy. I was in no hurry--the hotel here is neat, well kept and prices very reasonable. While waiting for the man to turn up who wanted to carry the little craft on his head to the Forge House, it dawned on me that I was well enough where I was for a few days. Parties were constantly coming and going, and all stop at Moose River, which is the halfway house between Boonville and the lakes.

For interviewing guides and taking notes of the region to the eastward, there could be no better point than this; and I needed practice with the canoe before taking her over the larger lakes. Moreover, I came here for a superior quality of water, air and angling, with a little hunting thrown in at the proper season.

What if these things were at my hand, right here, and parties hurrying through post haste to the Brown Tract or the Raquette waters were running away from what they sought? Those coming out of the woods do not, as a rule, claim notable success with the trout. Many of them would eat salt pork oftener than broiled trout were it not for the guides; and one of the latter told me that "trouting" was poor on and around Big Moose, while he thought Little Moose and Panther lakes not worth a visit. "I could catch all the trout I wanted right around here," he added.

So I overhauled my fishing gear and went in for brook trout and, as I supposed, found all I wanted; found that I could, by angling just enough for recreation, catch more speckled trout by far than I need, while there is very pretty fly-fishing at the spring holes in the river. Many gentlemen who go far into the wilderness, at much expense of guides, etc., would be well content with just such fishing as I am enjoying at Moose River. Then there are, within an easy walk of the hotel, several small lakes where deer "water" nightly, and may be "floated" for with a fair prospect of success.

But this is not camping out--not a genuine woods life. We seek the forest for adventure and a free, open-air hunter's life, for a time at least. Well, it may be a little tame, but it is very pleasant and healthful, all the same. As for camping for the benefit of open air, bright fires and beds of browse, fresh picked from hemlock and balsam, we have that right here.

Just under my eyes as I write, there is an island in the river some twelve rods long by six wide. It is well timbered with spruce, balsam, hemlock, cedar, pine, birch and maple. It is one of the pleasant spots that nature makes and man neglects. The island lies high, with roaring, rushing rapids on the left and a broad rock dam on the right, which at low water becomes a cool, clean promenade one hundred feet long by forty feet broad. Near the center of this rock is a natural depression, forming a basin into which the water slowly filters from the river. In this little dock I let the canoe rest at night; against the largest spruce on the island my light tent of oiled factory is erected, and there I rest o' nights--for a few days only, and then for broader waters and deeper woods; perhaps to go further and fare worse.

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