A Writer (Me) in the Adirondacks


After driving two thousand miles with my husband and three teenagers, I am at last home.  Seven hundred and fifty miles back and forth to my family’s house in the Adirondacks, only thirty miles from the Canadian border, with whistle-stop college tours at Carnegie Mellon and Ithaca, stopping off at Syracuse on the way down south.  When we pulled into our driveway, my husband said he wanted to “nail his feet to the floor,” to borrow from Lewis Grizzard.  I love being up north, but I’m Southern; I also have no business eating in so many restaurants.  My reward for enjoying myself to the max in the great northeast is I now have to join Weight Watchers again.  That’s what happens when your house is twelve miles from a dairy which makes its own ice cream.

There is neither television nor internet at the house.  It’s the only time of the year I go off the grid so to speak.  Reading? Lots.  Fishing?  Yes.  And antiquing, hiking, cooking, bird watching, canoeing, having three hour dinners with friends and family, and my favorite: lollygagging. It’s the only time of  year I get to do things like study dragon flies or empty minnow traps.

These are the notes from my journal.  Various scribblings from the great north woods.



There is always plenty to talk about when you go fishing.  The ones that got away, the ones that shouldn’t have gotten away, what to fish with, where to go on the lake, whether or not the bass are biting.  Last week my nephew caught a five and a quarter pound largemouth bass which is big for these parts; he had no idea the fish was a lunker because it acted like a log most of the way to the boat (know the feeling).

I often fish alone and I like to daydream.  For some reason, I started thinking about fishing with E. B. White.  Like me, he liked to fish so I imagined rowing him around in my mother’s guideboat and we tell fishing stories which I kind of enjoy but I’m about to burst at the seams because what I really want to know about is New Yorker gossip, the steamy stuff.  Who is having affairs and who is a jerk and who doesn’t deserve his reputation and who would be chopped meat without an editor and who is a floozy, but Mr. White is too much of a gentleman to tell tales so we stick to the fish talk.


Animals at Night

Our property abuts a six million acre park, much of which has been declared forever wild by the New York State Constitution and cannot be developed.  We tell our guests to stay on the trails or walk around the lake if they get lost insofar as if they wander off, the next highway is 40 miles in one direction and 25 in another.  Who wants to be coydog meat or something akin?  Mountain lion?  Alien?  The wildlife is amazing, certainly not what you’d find every day in the suburbs of Richmond; I have come face to face with a little red fox; last year I watched a young bear graze by the lake, then disappear over a ridge and when I turned the boat to watch, he reappeared and jumped in the lake to swim across.  This year a doe is living in the vegetable garden so she can eat our apples and raspberries and some mornings she can be seen in the garden in front of the house.   Often when I fish, there will be at least one loon in the distance.

I don’t know why, perhaps it calms me, but when I lie in bed as I drift off to sleep, I think about the night life.  In the forest.  What are the animals doing as we climb in bed and settle under our comforters?  They are trodding the same trails we use – I know because they leave their scat behind – the deer, the coydogs, the bear, the coons.  Do they walk down to boathouse for a drink from the dock?   Do they stand and stare in fascination at the house?  Curious?  Perplexed?  After all, we make noise, slam doors, scoot by in noisy boats and cars, cook their loved ones on a grill, and laugh maniacally ‘til late.  And then we are gone and the house is silent again until Memorial Day.  Perhaps they think summer is our mating season.


The Spirit of a House

The house was built by my great grandfather in 1920 and my father has always said that when we’re not here, the house takes care of itself which isn’t exactly true because we have a caretaker, but now that I’m older (I’ve been going to Forestmere for 51 years), I understand what he means. The spirit of the place keeps it going and us too to a certain extent; I’ve had Forestmere in my heart since I was six-years-old.  I’ve visited lots of mountain ranges and the Blue Ridge are certainly fine though for me nothing has the poetry of the Adirondack Mountains.

We are Virginians and each of us takes a little bit of Forestmere home with us each year.    We think of the mountains often, wondering about the snow, the chipmunks we’ve fed and if they share all those peanuts (extortion!), whether many deer will make it, how the new roof will do, will another moose be seen on the old tennis court, or if  the fox will live under the library at Main Camp all winter.



One Saturday morning, 9 AM, a very late hour for birders so fine by me, I went on the Paul Smith’s College Visitor Center Teddy Roosevelt Bird Walk where we walked through boreal woods and marsh, trying to ID some of the same birds Mr. Roosevelt may have seen when he visited the area in the 1870s.  In 1877 Teddy Roosevelt, Jr. and a colleague published a pamphlet called Summer Birds of the Adirondacks in Franklin County, N. Y. which annotated the local bird species, listing 97.   A motley crew of birders traipsed through the woods with Birding Center Director Brian McAllister for two hours and I checked American Bittern, Wood Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Broad-winged Hawk, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Cedar Waxwing, Black-capped Chickadee, Mallard, American Crow, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird on my list.  This was a short list for the season though I enjoyed hearing the fledglings begging for attention and food from Mom and Dad.  When I returned home, while walking over to the swimming lake, I heard a knocking and looked up a dead tree and saw a pileated woodpecker.  Amazing!  Imagine a crow in a black and white costume with a bright red fright wig!  The next day, on the way to town, I saw a bald eagle eating something in a bog not far from the house.


More Notes on Nature

This year there have been few blueberries (cold spring and summer) so we worry the bear won’t have enough to eat before hibernating.  My dad says we’d better start looking for driver’s licenses in the scat.  The goldfinch are eating so much niger I think they’ll be too fat to fly south.  In town I yelled out “Look! They have a pet deer!” but on another drive, I realized he was plastic.  My dad doesn’t want to feed the birds sunflower seeds anymore because he has to keep fishing them out of  his underwear drawer.  Mice.  I’m kind of tired of feeding the birds anyway. I am a beginner birdwatcher: I can pick out the goldfinch and the rest are UBB, Unidentified Brown Birds.


Random Observations

  • When it rains, the locals don’t wear raincoats.  Only tourists do that.
  • Sign in antique store: Please Feel Free to Brouse.
  • In another antique store, $3 crawlers were for sale in a fridge under the brewing coffee pot.
  • At church, St. John’s in the Wilderness, we sing from a 1940s hymnal.
  • One antique store seemed closed (we were driving around dairy country outside of Malone), and a gentleman told me to drive back over and “blow the horn, she’ll come out” which I didn’t have to do because the proprietress was already outside.  She didn’t want to open her barns because it was raining.
  • Two phone bidders in a fight for a Tiffany lamp at an auction.  Sold at $56,500.
  • At this time of year, it looks like the tips of white pines are hung in people’s fishing lures that glint like stars.  I realized later it was the sap at the bottom of the cones.  In the light the trees look like they are decorated for Christmas.
  • My bird book says Black-capped Chickadees say dee-dee-dee and the American Bittern says oong-ka’choonk, and the Cedar Waxwing sings zeee; this is not what I hear.  For me, in the woods, the trills are more like Lonely-Lonely-Lonely or pleaseleave/pleaseleave/pleaseleave or Stop Goofing Off.  It’s a little bit like wine.  When wine lovers talk about hints of oak or clove, wintergreen or licorice, I just taste. . .

. . .wine.


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