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Nessmuk's Adirondack Letters

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

Cruise of the Sairy Gamp, 5

Forest and Stream, Sept. 13, 1883

THE little steamer that plies on the Upper Saranac makes the different landings in a zig-zag manner that knocks the compass points endwise. Only by staying where you can watch every turn of the prow can you retain a definite notion of north and south. And that is how it happened that, being unobservant of turns, I found the sun setting in the east--a vexatious thing to a woodsman. Missing one of the turns of the boat, I was turned myself. I straightened myself out by shutting both eyes and letting a muscular guide whirl me around half a dozen times promiscuously, then setting the compass without looking at the sun; then, being right on the cardinal points, I took a general average of the landscape. This brought me right.

Bartlett's Landing is a ten minutes' easy walk from the hotel. The house was well filled with boarders, and when the captain of the steamer got a little enthusiastic in describing the little canoe, nearly the entire force of the house, eager for any novelty, turned out to take a look at her. I think that not less than fifty people had a turn at lifting her. Then they wanted to see her go. So I took off boots and coat, got in, and paddled out into the lake, where there was a swell that made her dance like a cork. Then down the lake, with a whole sail breeze after us, bright weather, and the principal mountain peaks in sight all the way. Very pleasant, but it came to an end.

A night at the Prospect House, and a most exasperating draw across a muddy carry of four miles, where I hung onto the canoe until my arms were numb, and I launched on Big Clear Pond, only to get caught in an ugly squall and drenching rain once more. I paddled up to honest Joe Baker's camp, wet to the skin, and got a privilege by the cook stove, which I held until bed time.

The next day brought a steady, persistent, all-day rain; tiresome to a degree. I relieved the tedium by playing the mouth organ for Joe's children, talking to anybody who would listen, and baking my mouth with five-cent cigars. Monday, the 6th, was clear and cold. I hired Joe to take myself and canoe across the two-mile carry on a one-horse wagon, and found it the roughest, muddiest carry I had yet encountered.

Crossed the Upper St. Regis Lake to Spitfire Pond, where, for the first time, I was driven ashore by a sharp sea and a flawy wind that bade fair to catch under the canoe and capsize her. I crept through the brush along shore until I reached the outlet, paddled to the Lower St. Regis, where I was again beaten off and landed on Captain Peter's Rock in front of the hotel, where, less than half a mile off, I could see conviviality and comfort and pleasant verandas where couples were promenading and children playing about the grounds of Paul Smith's noted woodland resort.

And I was hungry and likewise thirsty. If there be creature comforts anywhere in the woods, they may be found at Paul Smith's. But there was a white-crested, topping sea between me and the comforts aforesaid. Even the stiffest guide-boats shunned the rough sea from Peter's Rock to the outlet, and kept along the smoother windward shore. So I amused myself by putting a board shanty which stands on the rocky point in order, picking blueberries, cutting wild grass and making believe I was going to camp all night within one hundred and fifty rods of a first-class hotel.

It was, on the whole, very enjoyable. The weather, barring the heavy wind, was dry and bright. I sat on the warm, mossy rock and recalled all the wild forest yarns I had heard of Cap'n Peter. I half hoped that the wind would rise to a gale and hold me there all night. Once I got up my sand, "tied in" and made a straight wake for the hotel. Ten rods out a black flaw caught the Sairy at the garboard streak and nearly lifted her over. I watched for a "smooth," turned her, and struck out again for Cap'n Peter's Rock.

Late in the afternoon, when the wind had subsided somewhat, a strong boat with two guides in her came over purposely to give me a lift "across the stormy water." At first I demurred. I would paddle over when the wind fell a little. I could "make the riffle," etc. But they said there were parties at the hotel who were anxious to see the little canoe and the little old woodsman who had paddled and carried her over 118 miles. So I weakened and allowed myself to be taken in tow.

Luckily, Paul Smith happened to know me--by reputation--and he met me cordially. Grand old woodsman he is. Once a guide, and a good one. Now, the most successful landlord in the Northern Wilderness. Not so old as one who has followed the writers of the North Woods would infer. Only fifty-six, and well preserved. I am glad to have met him. More than glad to have crossed from side to side of this region without its parallel on the globed earth.

On the 12th of this month, Verplanck Colvin meets a commission at Blue Mountain to report on the expediency of preserving this grand region as a State park. May their counsels be guided by good common sense and humanitarian principles, and no politics, log-rolling, or hippodroming allowed the slightest consideration.

Paul Smith's, August, 1883.

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