a family vacation in the adirondacks

Our family spent a week in the Adirondacks in August of 2001.  A week on Flower Lake in McKenzie Cottage with its pine-paneled walls and low ceilings, its brown-and-black striped Herculon couch and green plaid wallpaper, its wooden duck pegboard to hang our jackets. A week enjoying McKenzie’s window boxes abloom with geraniums, pink-and-white-striped petunias, and New Guinea impatiens pouring from buckets.

I relaxed in a dark green Adirondack chair on a hickory brown deck, the rails of which were rough-hewn Adirondack logs and willow vines.  I watched Alex, Adam and Mike canoe on Flower Lake, amidst motoring pontoon boats and jet skis going at top speed.  It was noisy, not at all idyllic as I imagined, except for a few suspended moments. I hated the jet skis, just as I knew I’d hate them in the Bahamas, just as I’d hated them in the Bahamas nine years before.

The boys went out in paddle boats, looking dwarfed and tiny in those bright orange life jackets. Puffy whipped cream clouds billowed down the lake and a motorboat roared by pulling a kneeling boy on a ski board. The leaves on a small tree in the yard rustled in the breeze, like snow static on an old black and white TV.

At dinner at Casa del Sol, painted banana dolphins, peeled and unpeeled, jumped over a turquoise ocean on the wall. A vase of sunflowers brightened an arched window. We sat at a mauve-tiled table under turquoise ceiling beams. The waitress, wearing a chili pepper apron, said it was miserable last week when temps were in the 90s as none of the places up here had air-conditioning. Outdoorsy people were in abundance, people with dreadlocks and beards. Spanish guitar music serenaded us as we drank tumblers of margaritas rimmed with gritty salt. On the wall was a festive painting of a carnival Ferris wheel and a low white moon, fireworks and people playing tubas.

On Sunday morning, we hiked two hours up Baker Mountain, on a trail covered in pine needles and cones. The birch trees gleamed in dappled sunlight, like pale angels among the dark pines, with their scraggly, broken lower branches. These trees had a hard life up there, naked to the elements.


Adam, me and Alex on our Baker Mountain hike


Mike, Adam and Alex on Baker Mountain

At the summit, we had a view of Flower Lake, probably Upper and Lower Saranac, Ampersand Mountain beyond Oseetah Lake. McKenzie Mountain stands behind Haystack Mountain. As we walked down the mountain, Alex sang a song he learned at boy scout camp:

DaMoose, Da Moose,
Swimmin’ in the water
Eating his supper
Where did he go?
He went to sleep. He went to sleep.

Dead Moose, Dead Moose,
Floatin’ in the water
Not eating his supper
Where DID he go?
He decomposed. He decomposed.

Nice song! We sang along with Alex as we walked down.


view of Flower Lake, probably Upper and Lower Saranac, from Baker Mountain

Back at the cottage, I laid on a double-wide raft with Adam, then Alex. We liked riding the wake from the passing boats. Later, I sat on the deck and read Poetry Reader’s Handbook. I especially loved a poem by e.e. Cummings: “if there are any heavens.”  I wished my own children would feel that way about me. It is so utterly respectful, a beautiful tribute to a mother.  I could truly identify with “Song of the Barren Orange Tree” by Federico Garcia Lorca. I knew so well that torment and frustration of not being fruitful, not having found my purpose in life.

After making a dinner of soft and hard tacos in our hole of a kitchen, we drove to Lake Placid. We cruised in our blue van past Saranac Lake Village offices with a plywood painted train in the windows, past the Lake Flour Bakery, past Guide Boat Realty, and Mountain Mist Custard under a gray lumpy sky drizzling on our windshield. We passed a pond with a floating dock, through a forest of spiked gray tree trunks with mutilated limbs, remnants of some past forest fire. We drove by a florist hollering “Cut flowers!” and Adirondack Delights, with colorful Adirondack chairs out front on a patch of grass.

Lake Placid was a bustling little lakeside town only a shadow of its former heyday as host of the 1980 Winter Olympics. Giving flavor to the town were the Bluesberry Bakery, Nicola’s Over Main Mediterranean Restaurant, With Pipe & Book, Northern Exposure: The Restaurant, Olympic Center, Bowl Wrinkles, High Peaks Cyclery, Cobbler’s Shop, The Thirsty Moose, Cactus Pete’s, Lake Placid Toboggan Chute, A Touch of Glass (glassblowers), Lake Placid Pub and Brewery, and Mirror Lake Inn. The sun hung, a pink-coral orb in the dusk.

The drive reminded me of drives in the Pacific Northwest except with more kitsch. I missed deciduous trees when I was up north. Cars drove past with kayaks and canoes on top. People walking on the street wore hiking boots or Tevas or other sturdy outdoor sandals.

In Imagination Station, I wandered around absorbed by books on Zen, the meaning of dreams, astrology, yoga, freeing creativity, gemstones, Celtic knot earrings and $55 leather journals. Alex and Adam shot wooden guns with rubber band ammo at a target. I was also tempted by incense, meditative music, T-shirts with Adirondack motifs of canoes and wild forests, jewelry, Adirondack pens, and magnetic poetry.

Adam got a hoot out of boxer shorts in a shop window that said “Nice Bass,” with a picture of bass across the ass. Another one said “Bear Bum” with a big black bear. We had ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s – chocolate chunk brownie on a sugar cone, surrounded by guys with dreadlocks and piercings.

At the Adirondack Museum, we were tempted to touch the gleaming polished Adirondack guideboats despite the “Do Not Touch” signs. I loved imagining life in the early 1900s.

After looking at all the boats, I started brewing an idea for a story about a woman who works in a canoe/hiking outfitter in Saranac Lake and feels her biological clock ticking. She wants to have a child. I don’t know if she should be married or not. Eventually she decides on artificial insemination using a bird carver’s sperm.

In the second exhibit building: “Knowing the Natural World: Theodore Roosevelt and the Adirondacks 1871-1901” was a one-year exhibit highlighting Teddy Roosevelt’s ride to the presidency and the role the Adirondacks played in our 26th president’s lifelong love of natural history and the outdoor life. I was fascinated by one part of the exhibit: “Theodore Roosevelt & Pop Culture Legacy.” I decided my main character would have loved Teddy Roosevelt and collected Roosevelt pop art and memorabilia and Teddy Bears. “In a 1902 hunting trip in Mississippi, TR refused to shoot a captured black bear. Morris Mitchom and his wife had an idea to make a small toy they called “Teddy’s Bear.”

We met the bird carver, a bald man in his late 30s with wire rim glasses who was whittling away at a chickadee. A kid walked by and asked him wasn’t it boring doing that. He said, “Boredom is the degree to which you are not working to your potential.” He’d been carving birds since he was 12, from basswood and sometimes White Pine. Mike asked if he did the otter with thousands of fine hairs. He said he woodburned those hairs on, a very tedious process. When I commented that it must take a lot of patience, he said it took more than that – stubborn perseverance, tenacity, dogged determination. He admitted he lacked patience but was very tenacious.

In another part of the exhibit, we pulled open exhibit drawers of nature specimens – a bear skull, bear paw, yellow bellied sapsucker, a gray fox skull, hummingbird eggs. I studied a diorama of different birds from the region – hummingbirds and blue jays.

On Tuesday morning, at Aroma Round in Lake Placid, I had a Café Mocha and a Piña Colada Muffin sitting on plush Empire and Victorian couches in a rounded room brimming with ferns, tropical plants, and window boxes of impatiens and vinca.

We drove through a gorge, next to a boulder-filled stream, cliffs on either side, forests of pine and smiling white birch, the dreaded purple loosestrife in the open areas near the road.  The sky was a too-brilliant blue, with clouds like frothy whipped cream tossed around like cottonball confetti. The air was crisp and dry. We crossed the Ausable River. Mike said “it’s kind of nifty.”

We hiked 2-hours round trip on the Owen and Copperas Ponds trail, fraught with exposed roots and rocks. Trees grew out of boulders and roots exposed themselves, blooming, erupting, bursting out of the earth. All around us was verdant growth: ferns, Eastern Red Cedars, quaking aspen saplings, a grove of hemlocks, a chipmunk, a Shagbark Hickory, whose bark was grey and peeling off in long shaggy strips. Primeval mottled mosses covered rocks and tree trunks.


Alex on the Owen & Copperas Ponds Walk

Sitting in a clearing, perched on rocks, a chilly breeze ruffled our hair and raised goosebumps. From the clearing, sunlight gleamed on Copperas Pond and Moss Cliff.  The cliff face of Sunrise Notch was dotted with evergreens. Across the pond, people were swimming and diving off rock ledges. It seemed a little nippy to be swimming, although a few minutes earlier we were sweaty and hot as we climbed. Slightly to our right were Little Whiteface Mountain and Whiteface Mountain.

We had taken the gondola up Little Whiteface earlier, where we had a 50-mile view of mountains and lakes.


taking the gondola up to Little Whiteface


view from the top of Whiteface


Adam, Alex and me at Little Whiteface

All three of my boys waded in the Ausable River, cooling off, while I sat on a rock watching over them. Insects – flies or gnats – crawled on my back. My back felt creepy crawly and even more so because I couldn’t see what was back there.

On Wednesday, we went to Adirondack Lakes Trails & Outfitters (ALTO) to get our canoes. They drove us to a spot along First Pond, where we launched, me in one boat with Adam, Mike and Alex in another. I had a hard time getting going because I’ve never paddled in the stern (rear) before. I’ve always been in the bow, where I didn’t have to steer. Somehow when I paddle, I veer to the right, so I kept having to use the paddle as a rudder to correct us to the left. All the ruddering made us lose momentum, so it felt like I paddled twice as far as Mike. It was maddening. If it weren’t for that it would have been lovely, the sapphire blue sky, clear and cool, the mountains in the distance around us, the lily pads and marshlands, the stiff breeze blowing across the lake.


Alex and Adam in the canoes

Early on, we pulled in behind a huge boulder and waded around on the sandy bottom while eating snacks of Ranch and Parmesan pretzels and Ruffles potato chips. We paddled through Second Pond, down the Saranac River to the Lower Lock. We weren’t entirely sure what to do at the lock, but the operator guided us. He opened the gates to the lock; we went in and held on to ropes dangling from the side. He then lowered the water, calmly and quietly (no turbulence at all) by about six feet. Then he opened the gates and we went out on the lower water surface. We pulled off to the left immediately after the lock, into the boathouse, where all three boys got out to use the privy and I sat in the canoe swatting at the biting flies and applying the useless OFF/Sunscreen lotion. We then paddled out to Oseetah Lake, a good-sized lake, behind some islands dotted with private homes, then down a river further into Lake Flower, finally! It was truly beautiful and I could have stayed out on the water all day – if I hadn’t had to paddle every minute to either progress or keep from losing ground. Sometimes it felt like all our efforts were wasted as we made very slow progress against the wind. Near the marina, beside tennis courts, we carried the canoes up the hill to ALTO with our life jackets and paddles.


canoeing on Oseetah Lake

Back at the cottage, Mike and Adam floated belly-down on the blue double-wide raft, holding on the boat raft by a rope, and yapping away. Mike pulled the ubiquitous lake-choking Milfoil, a tenacious exotic weed, out of the water and dangled it in mid-air, as he’d done all week. It was like bathing in linguine. Milfoil Mike we should have called him. Alex was in the cottage on the Herculon couch playing Gameboy.

We’d been blessed with postcard-perfect days all week. I was also happy and grateful, at the end of each day, that we were still alive. Every day in the newspaper I read of someone dying an accidental death, and I thought how death can just come out of the blue, when you least expect it, when you think you’re safe. I hoped that both my little boys and Sarah would grow up to have long, productive and happy lives. Of course, I hoped the same for Mike and I too.

For dinner, we went to A.P. Smith’s in the Hotel Saranac of Paul Smith’s College. The restaurant was decked out for hunting and fishing. Adirondack scenes circled the plate rims: fishermen, black bears, rustic cabins, mountains and woods. Large old-fashioned snowshoes and a double saw hung on the walls and the curtains had Adirondack scenes similar to the plates. Alex said a little girl behind him kept making “annoying” duck noises. Our waiter, Tique, had a hard time pronouncing “Steak Poivre” and seemed nervous as if it were his first day on the job. The restaurant trains future restaurateurs who are students of nearby Paul Smith’s College.

Back at McKenzie, I called my 17-year-old daughter Sarah, who had opted to stay behind, and found her to be sad because her boyfriend Donald would be in manager training for 8 weeks from 2-11 each day and she’d be in school from 6:45-2, so she wouldn’t be able to talk to him every day as she did before.

On Thursday, we drove to Essex on Lake Champlain. At Natural Goods and Finery, I inhaled the soaps and bath and body goods and was tempted by the jewelry. I ended up buying myself an antique necklace for $196 that I would have Mike give me for my birthday.

We went on a tourboat cruise of Lake Placid, 16 miles around the perimeter of the lake. The summer homes along the shore were called camps. When the U.S. flag was hoisted, it meant the camp was occupied for the summer. Most of the camps were boat accessible only, but they did have phone service and electricity.


a camp on Lake Placid

We boated past Whiteface, the fifth largest mountain in New York. The lake is in an H shape, with the water between the islands like the rungs of a ladder. Most of the lake is 45 feet deep except next to Pulpit Rocks, where it is 250 feet to the bottom.

Lake Placid freezes in the winter 4-5 feet thick. Cars and trucks drive across the lake to take supplies to camps and to check on roofs, etc. Snowmobilers also drive across and cross-country skiers slide across. Ice fishing is prohibited because the Lake Trout are voracious eaters in winter and could be entirely wiped out in 3-4 seasons.

At Pulpit Rocks in 1963, some scuba divers tried to find a connection between Mirror Lake and Lake Placid. They found a woman’s body preserved by the freezing temperatures with a rope around her neck and a rock tied to it. It was Mabel Smith Douglas, an educator; her death was first ruled a suicide. Later, people thought it was suspicious and promoted the idea of foul play and murder.

While eating ice cream from Mountain Mist Custard in our raincoats during a torrential rainfall, we dripped ice cream all over the van. Later, we played Chinese checkers and Mike won, as usual, even though it looked like I might win at first. I didn’t know how he always won.

It rained all night long, metallic flower petals clicking on the roof, threads and shreds of drizzle, rain, downpour, and a thick breeze blew over us through the screen and blew thick over us as we slept, tossing and turning, listening for the night to finish its incessant falling. The sleep was deep and dream-filled, though I don’t remember the dreams. I did when I first woke, but they dissipated into the drizzling night.

Because of rain all Friday, we drove to Lake Placid, where I hovered over items in the Adirondack Arts and Craft Store. Birchbark or spruce bookcases, heavy quilts with bears, fleecy blankets with moose silhouettes, metal picture frames with bears or pine trees attached to one side, miniature Adirondack twig chairs, mirrors framed in birchbark, a canoe coffee table with a glass top over the opening, sofas with hunting and fishing scenes, canoe or fishing basket, or fishing lure Christmas ornaments, soft leather journals filled with parchment, a jewelry box with butterflies and flowers on it, red and green Adirondack rockers, Mission style bookcases and dressers and even picture frames, handmade paper, leather bags, sweaters and fleece jackets, a glass coffee table held up by a wood carved bear sitting on his behind, arms in the air.

We played a final game of Yahtzee on our last night. Mike won, as usual, I came in second, and Adam lost.

The vacation was nice, but so often I feel like I’m boring and Mike’s boring, so we’re all boring because we don’t talk much and don’t seem to have hilarious times together.

As we drove out, the mountains clutched gray clouds like mink stoles around them. We stopped at the taxidermy shop to take photos of the boys next to a big stuffed black bear and a wolf. Driving through the gorges alongside the Ausable River reminded me so much of the drive from Coeur d’Alene to Boise, Idaho. Many of the birch trees in the forest appeared to be either broken off at the top or simply leafless. I wondered what accounted for their bare, broken condition. We rolled past fields of goldenrod and white flowers with a backdrop of gray-green peaks, bubbles of clouds congregating near the peaks.


Alex with a stuffed bear

*August 10-18, 2001*


“PROSE” INVITATION: I invite you to write up to a post on your own blog about a recently visited particular destination (not journeys in general). Concentrate on any intention you set for your prose.  In this case, I kept a travel journal where I attempted to use my five senses and to record details of our family trip.  This essay is from that journal.

It doesn’t matter whether you write fiction or non-fiction for this invitation.  You can either set your own writing intentions, or use one of the prompts I’ve listed on this page: writing prompts: prose. (This page is a work in process.) You can also include photos, of course.

Include the link in the comments below by Monday, May 13 at 1:00 p.m. EST.  When I write my post in response to this invitation on Tuesday, May 14, I’ll include your links in that post.

This will be an ongoing invitation. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂

I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!

the ~ wander.essence ~ community

I invite you all to settle in and read a few posts from our wandering community.  I promise, you’ll be inspired. 🙂

Thanks to all of you who wrote prosaic posts following intentions you set for yourself. 🙂

I am traveling from April 4 to May 10. If I cannot respond to or add your links due to wi-fi problems or time constraints, please feel free to add your links in both this post and my next scheduled post. If I can’t read them when you post them, I will get to them as soon as I can. Thanks for your understanding! 🙂