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Nessmuk's Adirondack Letters

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

Cruise of the Sairy Gamp, 3

Forest and Stream, Aug. 16, 1883

HAVING loafed about Moose River for a week, and spent another week loitering, fishing, and paddling about the Fulton Chain, it struck me that, if the little canoe was to carry me on a cruise to the other side, it was time she was about it. I had several excuses for such utter laziness. I said the weather was too stormy, too "catching" for a start through the woods in a boat where a man can carry no change of clothes save an extra blue shirt and a pair of socks.

Moreover, I had met with an accident on the Brown's Tract Road that made my port deadlight look as though I had been in a "fight mit table legs" at "Hans Breitman's Barty"; looking like a tramp with a black eye, I disliked to introduce the Sairy among strangers. Again, there was good fishing, good fare, and plenty of deer about the Fulton Chain. True, we might not shoot the deer just yet. But it looked wholesome and woodsy to see them come down in broad daylight and feed fearlessly within sixty rods of the hotel, while the ladies waved their handkerchiefs, and the party chatted in tones that must have been very audible to sharp, cervine ears. I shall not soon forget one brave old fellow who came down to the water's edge, raised his antlered front boldly, calmly surveyed the party at the hotel, and then resumed his feed among the lilies.

"The old rascal knows it's close time," remarked a guide. "He won't be quite so tame after the first of August."

But there came a bright, clear afternoon, with good promise of one clear day, and the next morning the Sairy was making good time up the inlet of Fourth Lake.

The little Fifth, containing only nine acres, but good for floating and frogging, was run over in a few minutes; and then came the first carry, only three-quarters of a mile, but a muddy landing, and, like all carries, including "taking out" and "tieing in."

The Sixth Lake is made a desolation by the dam at its foot. The large, desolate rock on the left as you paddle up looks the more dreary for the dead timber at its base, and the inlet that leads to Seventh is a dismal swamp.

The trees around the once bright shores of the Seventh were dying when I was there two years ago. They are dead enough now. But the open camp, fifty rods to the left, is still there, and I turned to it for rest and a lunch. And as my newly-made fire sent up its smoke, there came a succession of rifle shots from the opposite side of the lake, a mile away, as of those who go through the wilderness wasting cartridges with poor aim and no object.

Then a boat pulled out and came swiftly to my camp. I had met the two occupants before. They reported that "Slim Jim" (James P. Fifield) was on the opposite side with a bark camp and a "party." He would like to see me. Now, Jim had been very friendly to me on previous visits to the woods, and I could not go by. So I paddled over for a hand-shake and an hour's chat. The time passed too quickly; and by the time I got back, made some tea and got packed up, it was nearly 3 p.m.

There were two carries (one of a mile, the other a mile and a half) with nine miles of water between me and my destination on the Raquette, and it was time to move. Over the desolate Seventh, up the drowned-out inlet, tie in, and over the carry to the Eighth and last lake of the chain. Here is a lake to admire and camp. No dam has backed up the water here. The bright green shores are as nature made them. Dunning's lone island is still a sylvan, restful emerald set in peaceful waters; and, by the way, Dunning was not at home, and as I couldn't burgle into his camp I thought it as well to play the paddle, for there is no landing on Brown's Tract Inlet, and if, at the mouth, it should happen to get backed in by rough water on Raquette, it would be most unpleasant.

So I hurried over the lake, took a short rest by the spring on the right, tied in, and went for the inlet on time. In thirty minutes I was afloat, and in an hour and ten minutes more was at the mouth. Luckily there was little wind--just the rolling swell a canoeist loves--and I turned down the shore of South Bay for a leisurely two-mile pull to the new camp of Joe Whitney, longtime guide, trapper and hunter, though being crippled in his best arm.

When he saw the tiny canoe and found I was cruising through the wilderness alone, I think his old hunter's heart went out to me. He welcomed me like a brother and got me up a supper consisting mainly of crisp trout, with fresh bread and butter, and powerful tea. If there was anything more I did not need it, and have forgotten. There is a sort of freemasonry among woodsmen that only woodsmen know. Joe and I had heard something of each other--not much; it took us about five minutes to get acquainted. In two hours we were thick as thieves.

While he was caring for the supper duffle, I was building a rousing fire before the camp. Both understood by instinct that no lamps or indoor arrangements were in order; and we squatted around the fire until "deep on the night," swapping forest yarns and hunting adventures. Then Joe showed me a bed, springy, fresh and clean, whereon I slept sweetly, but awoke in time to take in a glorious sunrise on scenery that I shall not disgrace by attempting to describe. It was all the more welcome in that sunrises during the summer of 1883 have been mostly inferential.

I half felt that on such a morning I ought to strike out and make Long Lake before night. But the day and the scenery were so delightful, the camp was so quiet, so restful, and the air so dry, so redolent of balsam and pine, that I let the hours go by, and the day wane in utter rest and indolence. What though? May there not come one glorious day in the weary year when we may cast aside every grief and every separate care and invite the soul to a day of rest? And in the future, when the days of trouble come, as they will come, I shall remember that grand day of rest, and the abundance of trout and bass wherewith I was comforted.

A finer, brighter morning never dawned on the clear waters of Raquette Lake than the one on which I paddled out from the fragrant, balsam-breathing camp of honest Joe Whitney for a new-made private camp on a point near Ed Bennett's, where I laid off while an enthusiastic young photographer took the Sairy in different positions, with and without her crew.

Then, by invitation, I went over the camp as amateur inspector, and although I have inspected dozens of these woodland residences called camps--all of them inviting and redolent of balsam and pine--I have seen none in more perfect sylvan taste than Camp Dick. I never feel the lack of wealth so sadly as when visiting these private camps, where, with a camp costing several thousand dollars, all in the way of food and drink that one can ask, two or three guides at $3 each per day, good fishing and hunting, the best of air and sweet sleep by night, one may dream away the hot summer solstice without ache, pain or care.

"And it is not so very costly," said one of the fortunate ones, "not so expensive as the watering places. I bring my family here during the summer months and get out of it for about $3,000 the season." Yes, it is cheap--for a millionaire. But it would break some of us to run such a camp for a single week. Fortunately, the woods are free, and we can make our own camps.

I stopped at Ed Bennett's Under the Hemlocks and then paddled slowly over to the Raquette House, kept by Ike Kenwell, and well kept, too. The selection of this hotel site was judicious. It stands--the hotel--on a dry breezy point of land jutting out into the lake, and it is always cool in the hottest weather. The house is well furnished, the table good, and the open bark camp with its fragrant bed of browse and rousing fire in front at night is a delightful woodland affair that should always be a part of the wilderness hotel. The best bass fishing on the lake is in easy reach of the landing.

Just at night I went down to the Forked Lake landing and carried over to the Forked Lake House, where I had a good supper, and watched a couple of guides organize their boat and jack for floating, though the close season had not expired. They were out nearly all night, and if they got a deer they kept their own. On the next night, however, a couple of guides went out and got a yearling buck. "It was so near the open season," they said, "what odds did it make if the deer were killed on Monday instead of Wednesday? The boarders were wild for venison." I think they were not so far wrong.

The second morning was clear (the previous day had been stormy) and I pulled out for the foot of Forked Lake, where I found Bill Cross, engaged as of old in hauling boats across the mile and a half carry. He took my knapsack over the carry out of good nature, and I paddled leisurely down the river, and down Long Lake to the newly-made Grove House, kept by Dave Helms. Dave is a well-known Long Lake guide, who, having got a little ahead, and well knowing the requirements of tourists and sportsmen, concluded to give up guiding and take the chances of keeping a woodland resort. And he does more than well. "And it will be colder than it is now if I get left on venison after the first of August," says Dave.

It is at these less pretentious houses where the landlords have mostly been guides that I find the best fare and most sport when I care to fish or hunt.

And I write this gossipy letter because I am laying off for the subsidence of a strong N. W. wind and rain. For I am not going to cruise the longest lake in the wilderness with wind and rain abeam. The Sairy is too light of tonnage for much extra clothing. A spare blue shirt and a pair of socks for change are all the clothing that goes on her manifest.

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