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Cruise of the Susan Nipper, 2
Foresf and Stream, Dec. 15, 1881
THE Nipper was up for a rather extended cruise, to start July 3. I quote a brief entry from my journal under date of July 23: "Slept later than usual and on rising found my knapsack missing. The loss is irreparable. Spent the day paddling around the lakes trying to trace it. It has gone to Blue Mountain in the duffle of Mr. Durant and his guide Moody taken by mistake." The guides assured me it would come back by the first boat coming from Blue Mountain, or, perhaps, the Raquette. The mistake was a most natural one. The knapsack was of oiled ducking, black, not heavy, and easily taken as a part of the oilcloth goods that hung on the same large nail. I was fain to wait with what patience I could.
Days passed, and the knapsack did not come back. I put the time in by climbing the hills--Bald Mountain especially; paddling, botanizing, digging blisters off the fir trees for the few drops of balsam contained in them, and fishing for lake and brook trout--with little success. I interviewed guides and tourists, studied maps of the Wilderness, and strove--in vain--to keep dry. To give an idea of just what the weather was like at this time, I will give a few brief quotations from a journal kept faithfully on the spot:
July 16th. Gale with heavy rain. Frequent showers; wind mainly from the north.
17th. Heavy wind and cold rain from the north, everyone shivering with cold. Five people in the house with hard, chronic coughs. Bark, bark, all night.
18th. Rain, rain; blow, blow, from the north, as usual. Cough, cough. Five of us keep it up. Two will most likely never be better.
19th. Like the 18th, cold and rainy. Rained all night.
20th. Put on a gum coat, took my little hatchet, and went for the woods. Made a fire that would roast an ox, and got nearly dry--for once. Still raining. Rains nearly all the time. 'Tisn't the most favorable weather for lung diseases; not the healthiest region, I should say. Parties who come for health are every day going out, disgusted and sick. Still the camp is full.
21st. John D. Fraser visited us. He has been taking views of the scenery in Brown's Tract, and taking them well. But what American pays for American sketches? Let him go to Switzerland or the Rhine. He painted, artistically, a name on my canoe; for I hurried her maker so that he did not have time to do it, and I would as soon have a wife or daughter without a name as an unnamed canoe. Still it rains and still we miserables cough night and day. Is it cheery? Do we feel exhilarated? "Like the Crank Turk?" as Mr. Quilp remarks. Not to any great extent, I should say.
22nd. Weather a little better. Better myself. Dinner at Sam Dunakins's. Warmer. Wind S.W., and showers during the night.
23rd. Already noted.
24th. Paddled to Forge House. Wet again. Am wet all the time. The whole Wilderness water-soaked.
25th. Just a repetition of 24th for rain and wind. Tried the spring holes just before and after sundown--with the usual luck. Guides, boats and parties coming and going all the time.
26th. More parties and more rain. Many going out disgusted. Tried fly-fishing again--with no luck.
27th. Weather better. Am making up a blanket-roll and getting ready for a good start to-morrow, if it is fair.
28th. Rained in the fore part of the day, but cleared off in the afternoon and I started for a cruise at 6 p.m.--rather late, as I found; for, what with stopping at Ed Arnold's for a visit and loitering on the way, night overtook me long before I reached the head of Fourth Lake. Here I found a roaring torrent coming down the inlet from Fifth Lake, which after an hour of hard work, I was unable to stem, and so drifted back into Fourth Lake, where I paddled around until midnight, finally landing on an island where Fred Hess has a good house and camp. Here he lives with his family; but happening to be absent just then, could not welcome me, so I made myself welcome to his open camp, found a lamp and a good bed, lighted the one and took possession of the other, managing to put in a few hours of solid sleep before sunrise.
Started early and tried the inlet by daylight; but the current was too stiff, and I was forced to back down and take the carry to Fifth Lake. Found the fishing camp at the foot of the lake partially submerged and untenable. Last year it was a fine camp to stop at; but the State has seen fit to back up the water in Sixth and Seventh Lakes with a dam ten feet high; the gate had just been raised "by order," and the pent-up waters were rushing downward to the Black River, to turn mill-wheels and swell the profits of some manufacturer or corporation having influence at Albany.
Making the three-quarter mile carry from Fifth to Sixth, I landed at the dam and rested for a time to take in the desolate scene.
The water at and above the dam was clogged with rotting vegetation, slimy tree-tops, and decayed, half-sunken logs. The shoreline of trees stood dead and dying, while the smell of decaying vegetable matter was sickening. Last season Sixth Lake, though small (fifty-three acres), was a wild, gamy place, and the best of the chain for floating. Its glory has departed. None care to stop there longer than is necessary. Seventh Lake, containing 1,609 acres, is the second largest lake of the chain and lies but a trifle higher than Sixth. There is no rapid water and no carry between the two, and a dam that raises the water eight or nine feet in the Sixth will raise it almost as high in the Seventh. The channel up to Seventh was as plain as a highway last year, and pleasant withal. The present season finds the channel wiped out, the forest of balsam, spruce and hemlock converted into a dismal swamp of dying trees, foul, discolored waters, and fouler smells; while the channel has puzzled more than one guide who had been used to the route for years.
However, by the help of a few blazed trees and fallen timber, with short sections cut out of the trunks for the passage of boats, I contrived to keep the channel and debouched into the once pleasant Seventh, only to find it a scene of desolation and decay. All along the shores the timber was dead or dying; and the odor of rotting vegetation was not suggestive of "ozone," or balsam-laden breezes.
As you enter the Seventh by the outlet, turn to port, follow the shore for one hundred rods, and you will find an open, free-for-all bark camp. It has been there for many years, and many are the names and dates carved on the square logs of which the sides are built. I expected to find Sam Dunakin, with Dr. Nott and party here, but they had left, though their fire was still burning. So I stopped for a rest and dinner. Across the lake, looking by the high rocky point, you could see, last season, a white, long strip of clean sand beach. Just back of the beach was a hedge-like row of green shrubbery, some fifty yards long, and just here came in the stream of Eighth Lake--the inlet of Seventh.
This, too, is all changed. Beach, hedge and inlet are all drowned out, and the dense forest, for a long distance, is under water on either side. This is bad, for the open spaces among the trees are easily mistaken for the inlet by a stranger, while the tortuous channel is hard to follow and the landing still more difficult to find. And thereby I came to grief; for, taking an after-dinner nap, I must have slept too long. The afternoon was cloudy, and my watch, that very useful companion of the lone tourist, had got wet, and, though keeping up a feeble semblance of life, had become utterly reckless as to any proper division of hours and minutes. The hands pointed to half-past two. The hands lied.
Probably it was nearer half-past five when I paddled leisurely across Seventh Lake, and, after losing half an hour looking for the inlet, started up the channel all right. I ought to have found the landing in less than one and a half miles, but I went on and on until the roar of the rapids admonished that I had gone too far upstream. Also, I had lost the marked trees which the guides had blazed to indicate the route. So I turned and paddled back, looking carefully for some sign of the landing. None was to be seen.
I skirted along the north shore, as near it as I could get, and got into a fearful mess of dead logs, submerged tree-tops and sunken brush, but no landing. All at once darkness shut down on this miserable, dismal forest like a wet blanket. A heavy black cloud showed in the southwest, and thunder began to growl ominously. And now for the open channel; for any place where dry ground may be found, with a chance to put up the shelter tent. Too late. One end of the canoe was fast on a floating log, and the first attempt to back off resulted in sticking the other end in a scraggy treetop, while the log stuck tighter than a brother.
It began to look like an uncomfortable scrape. The canoe was hung up, stem and stern, and the furious gust that usually precedes a thunder storm was roaring through the forest, tipping a balsam or spruce over here and there, making one feel uneasy as they plashed into the muddy water, their loosened roots making them an easy prey to the wind. On the heel of the wind came the rain, and how it did pour; while the lightning was almost incessant, and the thunder was highly creditable for a country with so few advantages.
I unjointed the paddle, and, using the single blade, got free of that execrable log. Then I worked free of the old tree-top, and, aided by the flashes that lighted the whole forest momentarily, got out into clear water, but quite idiotic as to the points of the compass. So, as there seemed nothing better to do, I sat still and watched the strange, wild scenery, as shown in different colors by electricity. There were white flashes that appeared to dash all over the forest in a broad, white glare of light, with no distinctive point of stroke. Pale-blue, zig-zag chains that gave a peculiar ghastly light among trunks and limbs, and orange colored bolts that seemed to my eye like round globes of fire. These last struck twice within a short distance of the canoe--once, a tree that stood in the water, and once on dry land. I could tell by the sound of the shattered tops, as they plashed into the water or clattered to the ground. Comfortless as the situation was, it was a grand display, also--a little unearthly and a trifle scary. It was some satisfaction to reflect that I was insured in two companies, and a random bolt or a tumbling tree might be worth three thousand dollars to the widow.
The storm lasted an unconscionable time, but was followed by a bright, clear night, and when I had made out the north star, I slowly worked down the channel, got into the lake, and made the camp again just as the eastern sky began to show streaks of light. There was plenty of dry kindling wood in the camp, and a roaring fire was in order, with a pint of strong, hot tea, broiled pork, bread and potatoes. Thanks to the waterproof shelter-tent, I was capable of a dry blanket, shirt and drawers, so, hanging my wet clothes to dry by the fire, I swathed myself snugly in blanket and tent, lay down on fragrant browse, and slept the sleep of the just man.
It is not to be supposed that a man far on the wrong side of fifty years can take an all-night soaking in a wicked storm, seated in a sixteen-pound canoe, where to rise, or even turn around, may mean drowning--can turn out, after needed sleep, with a general disposition to throw hand-springs, or perform feats of muscular agility. I awoke at about 10 a.m. on the morning of July 30, lame and sore, unwound myself from blanket and oiled shelter-tent, took a wash, built a huge fire, made some strong coffee, and tried my best to make a cheery thing of it.
It wouldn't do. The miserable dead-line of timber was about the only cheerful outlook; it was a long distance either way to human habitation or to human sympathy, and--I was just mad. I limped down to the soddened beach, sat down on a soaked log, and "nursed my wrath to keep it warm." I cursed the weak, selfish policy (if it deserves the name) that is turning the finest sylvan region on the face of the earth into a disgusting, malarial nuisance. I cursed the miserable, illogical hoodlums, who, from high positions, sing the praises of the Adirondacks as a finer, more romantic land than the Swiss Alps; begging that it be kept as a "State Park"--"an inheritance for our children's children," while, from the other corners of their mouths, they explain how the waters that, by nature, seek the St. Lawrence, may be dammed, backed up and turned, to flow into the Hudson. (See Verplanck Colvin's Reports, which I have before me.) Now, let any man, with as much brains as a hen-turkey, look over Colvin's Reports and say what the result will be if his suggestions are ever practically carried to their consummation.
But enough for the present. "An' if the beast an' branks be spared" I will ventilate this subject by another year, quite to the satisfaction of all those who advocate the damming of lakes and rivers, regardless of health, recreation and the preservation of a region the like of which does not exist on the surface of this globed earth. More anon.