Just up the road from Powley Place is a tree which is occasionally blazed with a ribbon. This is the start of the Goldmine Trail in the 147,000-acre Ferris Lake Wild Forest. The unmarked trail starts wide and broad and then narrows. The trail squeezes among the spruce, which scratch at my thighs and try to tear the backpack from my back. (Is this the price of admission?) Finally, after a thrash up the trail, I reach the vicinity of the Goldmine Falls, and set up my tent.
I’m camped near Goldmine Creek. I checked the high water mark on the rocks and shore. What if something bursts upstream? This stream is draining such a wide area. It drains Morehouse Lake, and the Coon Vly, and half a dozen little wetlands spread out like little beads on a silken necklace of streams in the aerial photo I’ve brought along.
For me, backpacking is “time taken out of time.” At its best, it can be an experience outside the bounds of the limitations of linear time, where we travel past the magical “Sunday Rock” and are suddenly outside the bounds of calendar time. Sunday Rock (here) once served as a boundary marker for “The Great South Woods”, as the Adirondacks were called by those in St. Lawrence County. It was said, that once Sunday Rock is passed, Sunday does not exist (or Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday for that matter). Couchsachraga- “The Dismal Wilderness”- Time out of time.
Nowadays, I usually don’t go any farther than the Adirondacks. I have been domesticated by time and by these woods. In my mind I can hold the whole aerial view of this area – the deep blackness of Christian Lake, the entwining of Goldmine Creek with the Coon Vly outlet and Christian Lake Outlet. Big Goldmine Hill and Little Goldmine Hill. Tiny streams show up on aerial photos that never made it onto any topographic map. Looking at the aerial photos this place looks so tiny from the air – it is such a large, wide view.
I find myself drawn to this big-picture view of sorts. I have the Morehouse Mountain USGS 15 minute provisional topo draped across my lap with the aerial photo placed on top. Goodness, Goldmine Creek drains a large area: far upstream – Morehouse Lake, Mud Pond, and who knows what else – as it is cut off by the edge of the map. To the West, Goldmine drains an interesting, longish pond high up, hidden on a mountain face. To the East, it drains six wetlands-including Coon Vly. It drains Christian Lake – all of it joining together in the waters of the West Branch of East Canada Creek down near the Big Alderbed Trail. Indigo and Jones Lakes- where do they drain into? They stand in the North on the map, sans outlets- like two big eyeballs staring back at me.
A few winters ago we flew over this area at 5,000 feet, and I stared out the window of a tiny Cub, totally disoriented, not recognizing anything until I saw these two eyeballs of lakes staring back at me- and then something clicked and the previously unrecognized Adirondack landscape below became familiar again. To the North, there is a patchwork of forest preserve and private land. It would take a lifetime just to learn all the nuances of the place spread out on this topographic map on my lap. Yet it is just a tiny fraction of the Park as a whole. The topographic map and the aerial photos together suggest so many different journeys, so many different possibilities for today’s exploration.
Wilderness camp is always unusual- there is a sense of privacy, yet a sense of expectation- that, sometime, someone could arrive and come waltzing through. But, most of the time, no-one ever does. For although these are public lands, these particular public lands of the forest preserve are but little used. In the forest preserve, there is this sense of public space and public exposure alongside this sense of personal privacy. On this day, I am at home in the forest preserve as if I were in my own living room. But, always, there is that subtle sense of anticipation that someone might just happen by for lunch, and a visit.
With road-side camping you can always just jump in your wheels and go. Even at my friend’s backwood’s cabin, 50 miles south of here, you can hike out to the house, where there is a hot shower, a refrigerator, and warm companionship.
People made fun of ‘ol Henry David Thoreau going to town – but I think I get it now – he had to make those trips between his woods and civilization. His writing needed a foil- the contrast between woods and civilization. He needed the occasional stimulus of civilized life- as a catalyst for the reaction, the alchemic reaction between his writing and his life in the woods. Without it- he’d be like me last night- in the center of it all- with no referents, no edges. Writing seems to exist best on the cusp, on the edge of things.
Now, the tent is put away- and with it a sadness- camp is not really “camp” without a shelter. I’m “three quarters packed.” Pots and pans are still out, and equipment is still strewn about. I shoo the sweat bees off my gear and finish packing.
It’s afternoon now, and I must return back “down the hill” to challenges and obligations and duties. I swing my pack onto my back. I leave Goldmine Creek and falls with its murmur and splash of subtle wild conversation behind.