For the first time in many years Amy and I are not spending our winter break in the Adirondacks. We are busy here in Madison and we have spent lots of money on making the house ready to sell, so this decision feels like the right one. But it is not easy. Lost Brook Tract issues a nearly irresistible call to us. The feel of Adirondack winter, which I was lucky enough to briefly enjoy just two weeks ago, is a physical sensation in our bones. Most of all, we miss you three. The times in our lives that have most powerfully bonded us to everything it is to be a parent are those Adirondack winter adventures we shared together.
You know we’re not the types to idly reminisce, but absent an actual trip we spent a delightful time the other day going through Amy’s journals from vacations past. I think our earliest winter visits, specifically the first few expeditions, set a tone and character that inhabits each of us; we all spoke together in the car of just such an inhabiting a week ago at Christmas. So I thought you would enjoy it if I related some of those Adirondack New Year memories from Amy’s wonderful notes.
Our first serious winter foray as a family was with you, Adam, a bushwhack in the Dix Wilderness. You were seven or eight – we’re not sure of the year. But on a bitter night at Round Pond you drank champagne with us. It was so cold that we were sitting up in our cavernous Eureka Wind River 4 tent completely mummified in our sleeping bags, just a tiny bit of our faces showing. We would sneak our fingers out, the effect looking oddly like hermit crabs emerging from their shells, grab the champagne bottle and take a quick sip. Together we drank but a third of a bottle before Amy had enough of the routine and unceremoniously tossed the bottle out of the tent. We settled for the night, huddled close together with the dog as frost rime blanketed the interior.
In the morning we awoke to discover that the bottle had landed in the snow mostly upright, a good third of the champagne still lodged inside as a thick slush. So we had impromptu champagne ices for our breakfast accompaniment.
In December of 2002 we took our legendary trip to winter camp on Long Island in Blue Mountain Lake. Alex, you were 13, Zach 10, Adam 9. The ice was solid, though walking out where we usually paddled was mystical and unsettling. We played a game of “Guess-where-the-sunken-boat-is” by standing over where we thought it might lie. I chopped holes in an attempt to determine the winner. The thought of that cold, gray-brown prow rising from the icy depths, seeking me atop the fragile ice, raised the hairs on the back of my neck. Peering into the dark water was entirely unnerving, though we never did make it out.
There were major “equipment” failures on this trip which apparently none of you minded but caused Amy and me to engage in some grousing because we knew that you knew better: gaiters left off resulting in boots hardened to stone from melted and refrozen snow, Alex’s hindquarters red and raw from missing snowpants and soaked long underwear. Solo’s dog booties on Castle Rock were an utter failure.
I say this trip was legendary because it includes the infamous sledding incident at Site 3 on Long Island. At the back of the site there is an abrupt vertical rise of roughly a dozen feet. We had a small blue plastic sled which we’d used to cart supplies over the lake to our camp site. You three geniuses decided it would be great to create a sledding “hill” – more free fall than hill – down that rise. I’m all for those kinds of things in general so I had no objection.
Was it fate? Parental instinct? Blind luck? I suppose it must have been a good dose of that third thing but I remained convinced that it was mostly the second. I had just come sauntering over to the sled run when you Zach took a trip down the rise, hit a bump near the top and went airborne. Without thought or panic, as though entirely mechanical, I swooped in and caught you. Only then, with you in my arms, did I see the tangle of blowdown just beneath your body, with an array of sharp spruce branches pointing upward at a perfect angle to unleash viscous devastation. A foot further downward and you would have been impaled. Yet even as we both felt the surge of panic such a near miss provokes, I was certain that I was ready to save you quite on purpose, even though I had shown blithe disregard to the danger before. That moment as a father is seared into my memory.
Snowy sumo replaced the sledding and a blustery northeast wind rose as darkness fell. The ice spoke at great length that night. On our way out the next morning we marched to Osprey Island and stood just off shore watching as a gorgeous, thick snow descended. On the way through the forest to the car you boys delighted as Dad, in the lead, was repeated “furumped” by snow-laden branches… likely on purpose, of course.
Our canonical list of “Things We Could Do Differently Next Time” included more waterproof garments for boys, no metal flashlights and always stack snowshoes or poles against trees.
Two years later we took a trip with a slightly apprehensive Charity as a guest. The car rental agency screwed us – the details escape me – but we limped to South Bend Indiana in a car so stuffed that literally only my limbs could move to operate the car; everyone else was pinned. There we picked up a Ford Freestar the rental agency had kindly located for us, which although it was much larger, was promptly packed in every nook and cranny to the point where I am sure it still has one or another geegaw or doodad that belongs to us, socked deep into some interstice.
We played our required Phat Phunktion tune as we entered the park, sorted things out at Schulte’s Motor Lodge as usual and watch dog sledders in Lake Placid. We climbed Mount Jo under a full moon.
The bulk of the trip was camping on a far shore of Henderson Lake where we were joined by by my nephew Michael and his wife Dawn Marie. All told there were nine of us, a slightly raucous but happy group. Alex showed Michael the Adirondac cemetery. Michael and Dawn Marie neglected to dig out their tent and paid the price. I, who had beaten up my Tubbs snowshoes in every kind of hiking activity without incident, managed to bust one doing the Hustle. We ventured out on the lake and were slack-jawed at the blue color of the numerous ice falls edging the shoreline. We broke camp in single digits and a fierce wind; “utter hell” you boys called it.
We had – as we always did – terrific conversations: the conservation of energy in the universe, the greatness of the transitive property and the joys of winter buttsliding. We engaged in the latter activity (with a bit of the transitive property thrown in, rendered in the form of some entertaining Newtonian mechanics) buttsliding nonpareil on the Giant Ridge trail with winds that were gusting to seventy miles per hour and a horizontal freezing rain. We descended upon the Noonmark Diner filthy and damp and promptly fogged the windows. Alex decided to spend time tasting and rating artificial sweeteners.
Your list of “bests” from this trip included the sunrise at Henderson Lake, Giant buttsliding and Deluxe Burgers at the Adirondack Hotel. My “best” was watching Alex walk down the sidewalk in downtown Lake Placid as we approached the Palace movie theater from the south. There the sidewalk narrows considerably and with cars parked close and tight, opposite-traveling pedestrians must proceed single file. There was just such a long single file line of people streaming the length of the sidewalk from the seven o’clock showings and as Alex passed them he held his palm up for hand slaps, saying “good game” the entire way. Alex, you were always good at confusing large numbers of people.
Boys, we are missing you. Thank you for these beautiful memories. They have set the stage for all that has happened since – for Lost Brook Tract and for the plans we have made. We look forward to 2015 as the year we will realize those plans: move permanently to the Adirondacks.
So to my children – and to all readers – I wish the happiest of New Years.