I remember our orientation day visit to Paul Smith’s College with our son RJ as he prepared to enter his freshman year as a Wildlife Sciences major there.
It was August 2017. RJ had been accepted into Paul Smith’s Wildlife Sciences program. He wanted to follow his grandfather’s footsteps and become a Forest Ranger. My wife and I were so proud.
We had visited the campus several times prior to that day. RJ had fallen in love with it from the start. So had we, as his parents. Who wouldn’t? It was perfect. A small college campus nestled in the heart of the Adirondacks, on the shore of a lake. A place where students could bring boats, kayaks & canoes, go hunting, hiking or fishing, study trees, fish & wildlife, learn to make maple syrup, where they could simply open their dorm room window and smell that cool mountain air balsam breeze.
RJ’s freshman packing list was rather unique: chest waders, life jacket, a good pair of hiking boots, snow shoes, warm sleeping bag, backpack, flashlight, fishing pole, first aid kit, compass, pocket knife, saw, tackle box, even a camp hatchet. He came to college equipped to study life in the wilderness.
As were many other parents in the hustle bustle excitement of their child’s first day on campus, we helped RJ unload his belongings and set up his dorm room. We toured the campus together, attended events, and heard several welcome speeches. For some reason one comment stuck with me.
I’m not sure which welcoming speech giver made it, but at one point someone said something like “Many students come to Paul Smith’s seeking an education, find so much more. Some even find their future life partners here.”
What I realized in that moment was that my son had come to Paul Smith’s seeking an education, but had before him the potential to find so much more. I realized that my wife and I were bringing our boy to college, but at the other end, were going to get back a well-educated Adirondack man.
RJ studied hard at Paul Smith’s. He clearly thrived there. He excelled in all his classes. Sometime during the late fall of his freshman year we started hearing about a girl he had met on campus and began dating. A Natural Resources Conservation & Management major from down Albany way. He told us her name was Carrie. We first met her not long thereafter.
RJ and Carrie were clearly a good match. They studied and hiked the high peaks together, supporting each other as they worked towards their mutual Forest Ranger career plans and their trek towards a shared goal of 46er status.
My wife and I met Carrie. We both liked her immediately. In the summer of 2018, RJ introduced her to our family’s Bull Rush Bay camp. She fit right in.
RJ was a straight A student. He graduated early, in three years, May 2020, finishing online from home with a virtual COVID graduation, at the top of his class. He took the DEC Forest Ranger and ECO exams landed near the top of the list on each. Like so many others, he awaited an announcement of the next DEC Forest Ranger Class.
In the interim, while Carrie continued her studies, RJ landed a job doing wildlife and bird studies for a private corporation, TRC. He spent his days in the woods, doing bird surveys. He and Carrie continued their relationship, continued hiking the high peaks together. In December 2020, Carrie too, graduated.
They got an apartment together down near Albany. Carrie entered graduate school to continue her environmental studies. RJ spent his time in the field doing bird studies for TRC. One day RJ called me:
“Dad, I’m thinking about buying a ring, any fatherly advice?”
“You only do it once Son, do it right.”
RJ made his plan. He bought his ring. He kept his mother and I in the loop, sought advice from time to time.
May 21, 2021, our family went into Bull Rush Bay through the Memorial Day Holiday for two weeks to camp. RJ kayaked in for the 1st weekend to set up and spend time in camp.
RJ kayaked out for the week. Finally, the day came. Thursday, May 27th. His mother and I were back in camp. RJ had made dinner & hotel reservations at some fancy digs for a night in Lake Placid. He took Carrie to the Paul Smith’s VIC, where they had spent so much time together on campus. He got down on one knee. He proposed. Carrie said “Yes.”
Carrie and RJ walked in from Ampersand the next day. My brother Ray had come in earlier and let us borrow my father’s old Starcraft, which he had just had serviced, repaired and retrofitted with band new decking and carpeting, cleaned up nice. The boat RJ grew up with.
We boated across the lake and picked up RJ and Carrie. Their Corgi dog Finley Jack was waiting in camp. RJ’s sister Abby had brought him in the night before. They came into camp for a Memorial Day celebration. Carrie helped me make a big two pot batch of Wild Turkey soup. We took pictures by the shores of Middle Saranac Lake. Popped champagne corks. Abby & Chelsea had even brought in T-sits and a banner. We build a big bonfire. Had a big camp dinner. Ate S’mores.
Richard Jameson Monroe and Caroline Rose Granger. Our pair of Paul Smith’s College Graduates.
“Carrie & RJ”. Camping partners forever. An Adirondack Engagement.
Photos courtesy of Richard Monroe