Saturday, January 6, 2018

Blue Mountain Lake In The Early 1970s

View of Blue Mountain Lake From the Adirondack MuseumMy grandfather Robert G. Stehlin lived on Durant Road until he died in 1974. Living in Blue Mountain Lake was a very spiritual experience for my ‘Pop’ after having grown up in Brooklyn and Long Island most of his life.

Going through his letters and journals which he wrote while living on Durant Road I often hear, in his words, “a more meaningful way of living.”

There are a thousand little moments preserved in his journals in which he writes about the birds and other animals he encountered at his feeders, or out in the woods, and the people he met, that are hints of the joy he got from living in Blue Mountain Lake.  Below are a sampling of his notes:

February 26, 1971: 6 am 12 degrees I awoke at 5:30 this morning and when I looked out the window a beautiful, lovely star was shining very bright. What a wonderful feeling witnessing this clear morning. It may get overcast later in the day and again give us more snow. Up here you just keep looking for more snow. I’m getting to believe that without snow we wouldn’t know we were in the hamlet of Blue Mountain Lake. No wonder people leave this place for the winter seasons.

March 24, 1971: Art Gates called up last Friday morning the 19th at 9:50 am and said, Bob, put on some real warm clothes you and I are going for a snowmobile ride. I met him across from the firehouse and we started right off the snowbank which was about five feet high right down to the lake. We crossed Islands back on the lake and it is really terrific how and where these machines can travel,uphill,downhill,and they can do 50 miles an hour. It’s damn cold out in the middle of that big lake and the wind don’t make it any warmer. Next week we may go to Cascade Pond. We will start on Lake Durant, go through the flow to Rock Pond, and then get on the trail to Cascade, and as you know that’s all up hill. It should make for a good ride as long as the thing don’t konk out when we are halfway there. What a walk out that would be without snowshoes as the snow in the woods is still very deep.

Sunday Mar 28, 1971: Another beautiful morning. I have a visitor with me this morning, a big gray squirrel is outside the window eating bird feed. I took about seven or eight pictures of him and he don’t seem to give a damn about me. It is about 8:50 and the sun is beating in the window and is really hot, and how good it feels. When I came downstairs this morning at 6:50 the temperature was 8 degrees. And now it is 36 degrees. It has gone up 28 degrees in two and a half hours so I can just imagine it will go up into the 50’s today.

September 29, 1971: 10:55 am 66 degrees The moving truck came yesterday at 1:35 pm and at 2:35 pm the truck left for Connecticut and Pete and Blanche (Cahill) left about half an hour later, so Durant Road last night was dark and deserted and it reminds me of the days before Blanche and Maury moved here. They were good days. Blue Mountain Lake is getting quieter and this is what a lot of people are finding out and want to buy in this hamlet. Let me say it’s like a place that is going to stay primitive, and this is what retired folks want and cannot find.

A week ago yesterday the phone rang at 6 am. It was Blanche she was really frightened as well as incoherent. I was not dressed so I said ‘tell me quick what is wrong?’ She told me she was paralyzed on her right side Christ help me. I ran over there in a cloudburst and when I got there I could hardly breathe as I was scared thinking what the heck can I do? Knowing nothing about these things I finally called Dr. Carroll and he got there at 8 am, gave her a good examination, blood pressure, thyroid test, and what have you and finally said, ‘You have to go to your sister in Connecticut.’ Then he told me she could have another attack which could be fatal, so she called Mae, her sister, and she arranged to have Pete come up Monday morning to bring her back to Connecticut and that’s just what happened. So now Blanche is gone and Durant Road is really dark and lonely at night.

Mr. and Mrs. Webb’s son, and his wife, own Hemlock Hall. What a place! It was built by Mr. and Mrs. Paul many years ago. I used to set traps on Mr. Paul’s land, and catching me one day he gave me hell, and as he said only because he didn’t want his beautiful setters to get into one of my traps. This was better than thirty years ago. From the owner of four square blocks of shoe factories in Philadelphia to a poor man, whose wife died in an old home in Warrensburg penniless… just ask yourself, like I do many times, what the heck good is money, for when your time is up money is of the least consequence. And so are you, because no matter what you do money cannot buy you, me or anyone else an extension of life. When our time comes we go and nothing stops this procedure it is the way of all life. Dust to dust.

December 23, 1971: 8:55 am -6 degrees I have my suet feeder full of suet and I was just watching a male grosbeak sitting on top of the cage trying to figure out how he can get some suet, but they are not the clinging type and don’t know how to hang onto the screen. If one ever does learn how I’ll need about twenty more feeders and a few hundred pounds of suet for them. Right now I cannot count how many of them are on the ground, but there has to be better than a hundred of them, and I’d rather see them here than on the road where some fool going like a bat out of hell will kill many of them. A few weeks ago, not far from the Forest House, there were twenty-four dead grosbeaks on the road, killed by some idiot traveling like hell.

December 12, 1972: 1:35 pm 20 degrees I think of the many years ago when I used to go trapping with my sheepskin-lined heavy coat and high collar and knit cap. The coat was $5.50 which at that time was a real heap of dough. I gave that coat to old Ted Blanchard who was in charge of our dump, and who is now deceased.

December 29, 1972: It was 4 below 0 this morning. Our weather up here in Blue Mountain Lake has been the worst I have ever seen, and the few old-timers that are still left claim they have never seen a December like this. I’ve had a lot of people here since Christmas Eve when they took me to midnight mass. On Christmas night I had company, and the one woman said “shh shh shh I hear singing.” How they ever got on my porch I don’t know as I had no lights on, but it was one of Emory Savage’s daughters with her three little girls. Them kids had such lovely voices. All of Jimmy’s (Condra) kids sang carols to me over the phone, so now you have an idea of what I thought was a merry Christmas.

January 8, 1973: 3 pm 22 degrees below zero Very often I think of many things from the past and to me this is a resurrection of happy days. I wonder why should I go back to them days since I am still alive and seeing all the beautiful things around me, the mountains, the gorgeous trees that have been here for hundreds of millions of years and stayed healthy long enough for me to enjoy them…..

January 9, 1973: When I came down at 6:55 am the temperature was 16 below zero as against 22 below yesterday. I have been confined to the house for a good number of days, and believe me if I were not gifted with the blessing of being able to look out any of ten windows, and see all the beauty of nature, as well as watch all my bird friends, I would probably by now be 99% stir crazy.

January 24, 1974: 9:30 am 20 degrees clear Mabel LaPrairie and Emory Savage came in last night to celebrate my birthday and we had a few drinks and Mabel made special cookies for me and they also brought over a bottle from which we had partook, and a very enjoyable evening was spent by the three of us. A lot of people up in this country have sent me birthday cards and from where they know when my birthday was I simply cannot figure out. Just the same I certainly did appreciate their thoughts to me.

Photo of Blue Mountain Lake From the Adirondack Museum, courtesy Adirondack Experience, the Museum on Blue Mountain Lake.

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Charlie Stehlin owns a small business in the Capital Region. He worked with WMNF Tampa, FL (an NPR affiliate) from 1987 to 2006. He collects books on Adirondack history, is a photographer, and an avid preserver of moments via journalism.

9 Responses

  1. George DeAngelo Jr says:

    I enjoyed reading your grandfather’s journal items.
    I have been vacationing at Blue Mtn Lake for the past
    twenty years and knew Kathy Gates very well.
    Do you have additional items to share with regard to the Gates

    • Charlie S says:

      Hi George……. I knew Kathy just from going up there and chatting with her now and again over the years. She was a fixture in Blue Mountain Lake and I was surprised when I heard she had passed on as the Mrs. Gates I knew was always on the move, always loaded with energy. I used to see her working on her wood pile, loading rakes and/or shovels, or whatnot onto her truck, unloading, always on the move she was.

      The animals are what stand out the most about Mrs. Gates. They went to her feeders which she always kept full, or to whatever food she put out…the deer, the coons, turkeys, jays and whatever birds were in the neighborhood on Durant Road… they went to Mrs. Gates house. I was up there some few months ago and saw some turkeys hanging around where she used to have her feeders full and the first thing that came to mind was that turkeys have good memories. I suppose they were wondering what happened to Mrs. gates.

      I am not sure if there are any more bits on any of the Gates. I do plan on going through these notes more thoroughly soon though and anything I find I will submit or go through John and get them to you. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Kathy Radler says:

    Thank you for a charming look in the past. Emery Savage was my gramp, and that was Aunt Elaine with Caren, Linda and Patty singing. I remember Durant Road fondly, and many beloved friends there. I still own Emery’s house and spend wonderful summers there. I snowbird in Clearwater but still miss the crystal clear nights!

    • Charlie S says:

      Yes the crystal clear nights and countless stars above and now and again a shooting star zipping across over those Blue Mountain skies. It’s a special place Kathy and my grandfather loved it up there. I know by going through all of his notes, or what is left of them I should say as a lot was thrown out or disappeared. I have journal notes from the 1950’s where my Pop talks about his Blue Mountain Lake adventures and he names names and boy have things changed since then and so many of them folks long gone. Some of Pop’s notes have survived and I am so grateful for that as he was a good story teller as some of the locals up there who knew my Pop still recall.

      Unfortunately I never really got to know him when he was alive. He died when I was too young to appreciate him. I remember him but didn’t pay him much mind from what I recall. We did commune through letters way back then and I must have had fifty of those letters but they were thrown out years ago when there was a move in my family. He knew how to identify the birds he saw and I recall he always mentioned the wildlife out his windows and other things of interest, and things I cannot recall because it has been so long since I have seen them, and O’ how valuable those letters would be now as things have changed so much over these years. I am knowing him more now, all these years later after he died, than when he was alive. Oftentimes it works that way…..we come to realize special people long after they are gone. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Martie says:

    Your grandfather had the gift of appreciating life’s little pleasures. He’s a fine example to us, in this age of acquiring things and forgetting to enjoy what is right outside our “ten windows.” Thank you for sharing his wisdom with us.

    • Charlie S says:

      You’re welcome and thank you for sharing. From going through his journals and notes I have come to realize there were distinctive features in him that I have in me which explains some of my particulars. They say it works that way, that we get traits from someone along bloodlines in the past, sometimes the long ago past but which we can never know for sure…unless records or notes were preserved which is rarely the case. The little pleasures! Yes. There are so many of them in every day. He saw them. I see them. I suppose it’s a gift. Thank you.

  4. Martin says:

    When I lived in central NY there were many trips to the area. Canoeing the lake out to the Island. Climbing Blue Mountain and camping for 2 nights in the old rangers house ( the door was loosed ) and using the wood stove to keep warm. Every turn was magic to me back then. The fauna changing on the mountain the higher you climbed. Mosses, fungi, flowers, pine and hardwoods. Blue Mountain’s trail and Bald Mountain’s trail unfold like a carpet Robert Frost would have to sharpen his pencil for… The lake was crystal blue several times we ( I ) were the only souls paddling across. There is the feeling though as you canoe some retired man or woman is following our progress with a pair of binoculars from their comfy perch lake side. Some fond memories…

  5. Charlie S says:

    “the old rangers house”

    Which ranger was this Martin? That wouldn’t be Ralph Spring would it? It seems odd to me that there’s no mention of Ralph Spring in “The Forest Rangers A History of the NY State Forest Rangers” by Louis Curth. People mention him, my dad remembers him, yet no mention of him in this book that I recall. My grandfather knew him too and mentions him frequently in his notes and I even have photos of him that my grandfather took, the old ranger’s house behind, the lean-to which is still there. I have photos of my grandmother at that lean-to way back in the 1930’s. If it is Ralph Spring you refer to then you’re going back a long ways.

    “camping for 2 nights in the old rangers house ( the door was loosed ) and using the wood stove to keep warm.”

    Nothing like good old memories Martin, especially when a wood stove is thrown in for good measure. I bet you have some good stories to share. Robert Frost! I’ve been to his grave a handful of times. What a beautiful old graveyard where he is buried, and the Old First Church next to it. I take a drive there every chance I get just because why not and besides the history is interesting.

    “There is the feeling though as you canoe some retired man or woman is following our progress with a pair of binoculars from their comfy perch lake side.”

    That’s you having a fancy imagination I’d wager, your child spirit very much alive. Thank you.

  6. Charlie S says:

    “there’s no mention of Ralph Spring in “The Forest Rangers A History of the NY State Forest Rangers” by Louis Curth.”

    I stand corrected. After I wrote the above I wanted to make sure I was accurate on this and so I went to the back of the book and saw that Ralph Spring was recognized as a New York State Forest Ranger Blue Mountain Lake Hamilton County 1918-1952.My mind slips.