An Adirondack Outlaw: Wandering Lost in Love’s Wilderness
There’s a mystic trail in these mountains. Myths, tragedies, and harrowing rescue tales surround it. It’s not marked on any map. Old timers who’ve survived its trek issue stern warnings to those yearning to follow. Legends say it reaches skyward beyond Marcy’s peak to the clouds.
It’s well known, yet elusive. It begins near heart’s lake. It is rugged, treacherous, and steep. Many outlaw souls have attempted its route.
Most brave harts who sought never found it. Of those who somehow did, most quickly got lost in the woods, others got dizzy and disoriented, many broke down in tears, some found themselves mired waist deep in a swamp, quite a few just plain quit.
Most who survived the journey bore scars for life.
Legends say it’s a trail littered with broken hearts.
More than a few are my own.
From the time even before we were young Adirondack Outlaws, we planned, puzzled, pondered and plotted. We hid out from them in bedroom blanket forts. They were banned from backyard tree houses and snowball fight fortresses. The sign on the outside always read:
“NO GIRLS ALLOWED!”
Yet we were huddled inside our forts trying to figure them out. Every young Adirondack Outlaw’s enduring mystery:
“What are these annoyingly captivating creatures called “girls”?”
My first overt attempt at engaging one came during my third-grade stint on the Northville end of the Northville-Placid trail.
My family rented a stucco house on Bridge Street. Mr. & Mrs. Berry lived next door. Mr. Berry was either an attorney or accountant, something important enough to merit a big white sign with his name on it in his front yard.
They were rather like grandparents to my younger brother and I. We had the run of their backyard. Sometimes we raked leaves or did chores for them. Mrs. Berry paid us with treats. I remember the first time I tasted honey right from the comb was over a big dish of vanilla ice cream while we sat in her kitchen.
I still had a relatively clean record at that point; no outstanding warrants, few arrests, no convictions. My resume was impressive: straight “A” student in school, Sunday school and church every week. I was a proud uniform-wearing Cub Scout. I owned my own bike, baseball mitt and fishing pole. We had our own dock on the lake, and my dad owned a boat. What more could a third-grade Northville girl want?
My best friends in school that year were Eric and John. Mrs. McCaffrey was our teacher. Eric, John and I spent a lot of time at each other’s houses, sometimes overnight. I had my eyes on my quarry, my heart set on her capture. Eric and John helped me plot out a strategy. She was one of our classmates. Her name was Pam.
“Okay boys, cover me! I’m going in!”
At some point during the fall, around Halloween I think, Northville Elementary had a school movie night. I made my move. Either Eric or John delivered the note. Pam checked the “Yes” box. She agreed to go to the movie with me. I had just scored my first date.
The movie that night was “The Ghost & Mr. Chicken,” a comedy movie starring Don Knotts. It would be shown in the school auditorium. Pam and I walked to the movie together, held hands and sat next to each other. There was only one problem. Creepy organ music, haunted houses, ghosts, murder, and the fact that I was scared to death of the dark! Okay, maybe there were multiple problems.
Regardless, I did more cowering during that movie than Don Knotts ever thought of! I can still to this day hear that organ music. Scarred for life! In the end, Pam had to walk me home! So much for my first failed effort at romance. I suppose it was pretty hard for a girl to respect a guy who was scared to death by Don Knotts.
My second run in with Cupid’s arrow occurred the following year. We had just moved to Lake Placid. This time though, I was not the culprit. I was Cupid’s arrow’s target.
Our fourth-grade class in Lake Placid that year was out behind the school in a tin building annex. Our teacher was Mrs. McCarthy. I had a massive schoolboy crush on her.
The thing I remember most about that fourth-grade year was tokens. We could earn tokens in class for a variety of things; high scores on tests, raising our hands and giving right answers, cleaning the chalk boards, having perfect attendance. Tokens could then be used like cash to buy trinkets, pencils, erasers, and candy.
I earned so many tokens in Mrs. McCarthy’s class that at the end of the year she took me on my own downtown shopping trip and bought me an ice cream cone. It’s amazing the things a fourth-grade schoolboy outlaw will do to earn teacher’s pet love!
But that’s not the whole story. My best friends in school that year were Chris, Doug and Timmy. Chris’s dad was my dentist. Doug’s family owned a local hotel. Timmy played hockey. He and I played tee-ball together. His dad worked at the grocery store.
They were of no help to me though, on the school playground. I was cut off, surrounded. My pursuer had her own posse. Her name was Melissa. Her fourth-grade partners in crime were Alexis, Tia and Jody. I could run from her Cupid’s arrows, but had no place to hide.
Every day after lunch we went out on the school playground, near where the Olympic oval sits now. There were swing sets and monkey bars there then. They may be gone by now. I’ve never dared return to find out, so I don’t really know.
We frequently played tag on the playground at lunch. I liked tag. I was fast. It was fun. Unless Melissa and her posse joined the game. Then it was perilous, and I was in trouble. They cheated, ganged up on me, had their own set of rules.
They would chase me, surround me, try to get me cornered. Sometimes I escaped. Most times I did not. The penalties when I got caught were quite harsh. Tia, Alexis and Jody would hold me down while Melissa kissed my whole face. In my defense, I was heavily outnumbered. Not to mention highly traumatized.
The harder I tried to run away, the harder they tried to catch me. This went on for most of the year. I was on my own, defenseless. My own posse abandoned me.
One day I was ducking, running, and dodging. I turned to look back. Melissa and her cohorts were hot on my heels.
Just as I turned my head back around to run forwards- BAM!!! I smashed face first into the playground monkey bars.
No kissy face THAT day! Too much blood and no front teeth! I landed in the emergency room dentist’s chair. Eventually they abscessed and I ended up with root canals and permanent caps. Cupid’s arrow bagged an outlaw. Another hapless victim scarred for life by love.
Now, folks might think, that as a result of that experience, I’d have had enough of girls for a while. Well, those folks might be wrong.
We moved after that year. My mom and dad bought a house over in Saranac Lake. I was in Mr. Fletcher’s fifth grade class. He quickly became one of my favorite teachers of all time.
My best friends in school that year were Bruce, Matt and Mike. Bruce’s dad worked with my dad. Matt was a genius. Mike’s dad was school principal. My dad was DEC Regional Director, nearly half the kids in class had a parent that worked in my dad’s office None of that, however, proved remotely helpful, in any way, to any of us.
There were lots of pretty girls in our class. We each had our favorite. Bruce liked a girl named Sherri, Mike liked them all, Matt was into airplanes. He couldn’t have cared less about any of them. Me? I was head over heels for a long-haired girl named Karen.
Matt was no help. When it came to fifth grade women, he was clueless. Unlike the rest of us. Mike and Bruce were my wingmen. We tried everything under the sun, love notes, name calling, clown antics, every trick in the book. We scratched our heads. It was perplexing. Nothing was working. So, I redoubled my efforts.
I called Karen on the phone every day after school, from the rotary dial phone, while I hid with the door closed upstairs with the door closed in my parents’ bedroom. One of her brothers or her mother always answered the phone.
“Karen, it’s for you. It’s that boy from school again.”
Looking back now, I’m surprised her older brothers didn’t eventually lock me in a school gym locker or chuck me in the river. I should probably thank them.
At any rate, at some point that winter, my luck finally changed. Hope rose anew! I think I had Bruce to thank for it. Somehow, we all ended up after school one day at my house to go sliding on Carpenter’s Hill; me, Bruce, Mike, Sherri, another classmate named Barb, and, much to my delight, Karen.
I was certain this was my chance. We were on my home turf. I was an expert sledder. Carpenter’s Hill was my mountain. I dragged my sled to the top of the hill and prepared to race down. The girls were all standing near the bottom of the hill in a group, giggling and watching.
I started downhill. Carpenter’s Hill run was steep. Not Schroeder’s Hill steep, but still quite zippy. We’d built a jump out of snow about half way down. I was about to go airborne.
Suddenly, Déjà Vu! “WHAP!” I’d been hit! I was thrown from my sled. “Man Down!” Blood was dripping down my face. I sat stunned, thinking;
“What in the world just now happened?!”
The answer came soon enough: “Karen.” That’s what happened. I got Karened!
Karen had reached down and grabbed a chunk of frozen horse manure and chucked it at me. She was a good shot. Hit me right above my left eye. I ended up in the hospital again, this time getting five stitches, and a tetanus shot. I wasn’t struck down by Cupid’s arrow. Karen’s chunk of frozen horse manure got me. That was pretty much the end of any hopes I ever had for calling Karen my girlfriend. I still bear the scar from that incident. Right above my left eye.
There were many other endeavors, attempts and efforts through the years. Despite my best efforts, they almost all crashed and burned.
There was Julie, the freshman cheerleader, whose pom-poms nearly got me kicked off the football team. Then there was Melanie, my one serious long term high school romance, who dumped me after high school and ran off with the ice cream guy.
Then of course, there was “Sweet Adrienne,” my freshman year at Cornell. “My Elegant Friend.” Once again, I struck out. I eventually gave up on women all together and threw myself wholeheartedly into the army.
Thank God one of them finally found me, wandering, dazed lost and shell shocked, took pity on me, slowly nursing my broken heart back to health.
She convinced me to trade “My Rifle for a Rose.” She’s now my No. 1 heart, my wife, my Robin, my rose.
But that’s a story all its own. Still being written. Thirty-two years strong.
Happy St. Valentine’s Day!