Thursday, December 7, 2017

Canoeing in the Adirondacks

by Madeleine Kando

Horseshoe Pond, New York

The weather today is a lot better than yesterday: sunny, no wind, blue sky with cute little white puffy clouds floating by. We wake up to the sound of loons calling each other over the misty pond. Loons are more like submarines than aquatic birds –only their dark black heads and striped necks stick out of the water, like periscopes. As soon as you think you can spy on them through your binoculars, swoosh! They have disappeared. Eons later they pop up somewhere else, playing a ‘catch me if you can’ game.

After a morning coffee (which we drip through our dishtowel since the outfitters forgot to pack us coffee filters), and after my husband Hans takes a dip in the probably freezing cold water, we go on a short canoe trip around 'our' pond.

Canoeing is like meditation: the sound of the water sloshing against the boat as the sun burns your shoulders and back and the reflection of the sun in the water, creating jewels on the rippling waves. The rhythmic motion of your arms on the oar.. You get the feeling that you could go on forever.

The next day

We wake up to the sound of loons again. Hans is making the coffee this time. As I look over the foggy pond, one lonely loon glides by. His nose in the air, he is inspecting his kingdom – glancing right and left, totally ignoring us as he majestically makes his way across the water.

That evening we take another short trip along the shores of Horseshoe pond. There is silence and peacefulness all around us. Not even our oars make a sound as they slide in and out of the water, making miniature whirlpools with each dip. The shores are strewn with beautiful dead trees, white and ghostlike, often creating strange and wonderful shapes due to their reflection in the water. Huge logs have become the home for new growth of blueberry bushes, extending far out into the pond. A rustle makes us look up the embankment and we stare right into the eyes of a deer with large ears and a puzzled look in his eyes.

As we row back to 'our' island we see another boat approach it from the other side. I am hoping that they are on their way to some other campsite, but they plop themselves right down onto 'our' turf, far enough so we don't see them from our tent. Even so, I am disappointed. The code of conduct is being violated. Don't they know you are supposed to ask the occupants of a site if you can set up your tent? And you only do that after you have canoed around for endless hours and cannot find any place to camp, when you are exhausted, ready to die a horrible death by drowning. Only THEN do you beg on your wet and dirty knees if you can please let them share your site.

That night, as I am falling asleep, I fantasize that a large wasp nest is hanging over the intruders' tent and that by remote control I can command the wasps to attack the noisy, insensitive strangers and make them flee to another campsite. Pack up your beer cans and fishing gear and loud voices and let US sensitive and nature-starved city folk enjoy our solitude.

We are getting ready for our journey back. I write and Hans is busy packing our gear. I love the canoeing experience, but I could do without the portages (or 'carries'). We do have a huge amount of stuff. Food, sleeping bags, tent, mattresses, clothes, pots and pans and whiskey up the wazoo, although we managed to finish most of it.

Whiskey is important when you go camping. When we arrived, we were tired, wet, totally inexperienced. We had three monstrously large bags, a cooler, oars and a canoe to carry and by the time we got to the campsite we weren't sure if this was a sane way to spend our vacation. That rainy night, as we were trying to figure out which rope goes through which loop, we felt we deserved a nightcap and slowly the camping experience acquired a more and more positive tint. Who cares if the tent is all crooked? Why worry about having all these matches and no way to ignite them, since the outfitters didn't pack us a matchbox? Yes, whisky keeps you warm and bears don't like it. I even made us dinner!! We filtered lake water and boiled it and I skillfully prepared our freeze-dried turkey with gravy dinner pouches. We had a great time.

We were sure that hungry bears would visit us, having been told not to keep any food in our tent, not even a stick of chewing gum. We hoisted our food bag high in a tree, inspected our pockets for candy wrappers and crawled into our complicated sleeping arrangement. Of course, it took me twenty minutes to prepare myself for the night: long johns, earplugs, pillow, socks, sweater.. And we waited for the bears. Nothing.. Only the cries of the loons calling each other. I finally fell asleep only to wake up in the middle of the night sweating like a pig. It took me another twenty minutes to take off everything I had on so I wouldn't fry to death.

And now, as we are paddling back to base camp, tanned, dirty, I feel ten years younger than three days ago. As we hop out of the canoe at the first carry, bare feet and all, we pass some fellow sixty-year olds who have paddled out for the day, to gather mushrooms. We walk passed them, Hans invisible under the canoe on his shoulders, me with one of the oversized bags on mine. I am so full of myself that I don't watch where I am going and stub my toe on a piece of wood. So that's why everybody wears those ugly looking waterproof sandals.

This is another beautiful sunny day. The lakes are full of canoes and kayaks. It is Labor Day weekend and it seems that the whole state of New York has come to enjoy the lakes. And the closer we get to base camp the more canoes there are. Sometimes it is hard to avoid crashes, since these poor day-trippers of course don't have our experience at steering their boat.

The last stretch to base camp and civilization is in sight now. I don't want to go home. I want to stay here forever. Amongst the loons and the dead trees, and the sun and the water... But then again, a good glass of red wine and a hot shower don't sound so bad either. leave comment here