Another Beaver River story. And, yes, it does have political implications… so stay tuned.
I was half frozen from the chest down, my hand bleeding, the night I started the fire in the fireplace in the Napier’s cabin…
There are things we wished we’d remembered, things we wished we’d forgotten, and some things we should not have left behind: should have brought “on the journey…” just in case.
This is a “should have brought with” story.
The year was 68, my mother had just died, and I was going hunting. I was too young to be hunting with the gun I had, a heavier than hell .43 Spanish Remington Rolling Block. If caught the ranger would assume I was hunting big game and I’m sure there would have been more than just “words,” but it was all a ruse to go to Beaver River. My father knew that. But he let me go with a warning: “Don’t stay there too long, it gets dark fast this time of year.”
He was right, and I knew it.
The trail from Twitchell Lake to Beaver River in Upstate New York State is a deceptive 7.5 miles long. “Deceptive” because it seems to go on forever though some of the most remote wilderness of the Central Adirondacks. And, at the time, the trail from the end of the Beaver River trail around the lake back to our home on Twitchell trail was ill-defined. As both my father, Bill Carman, and I knew the weather in December could be unpredictable, as it proved to be that day. The lake: not safe to walk on yet, would be of no help.
And it wasn’t.
I think I left around 8am and arrived around lunchtime. Beaver River was my fantasy, my mecca: an almost forgotten, never quite abandoned, railroad only town surrounded by vast stretches of International Paper and Forever Wild land: as close the the vast wilderness that is Alaska as you will find on the east coast. I fell in love with the tiny town of Beaver River in 66 when I walked in one summer for the first time with my father and my cancer stricken mother.
She passed on in 68.
Had to be two years of quirky hell for my father. Mom died, the trip to Beaver River happened, earlier that spring I had ended up slipping under a riding lawnmower and had a now useless part of my foot removed. The next year I fell helplessly in love and then had my heart shattered into little shards that cut me over and over again three years hence, moping around for years… I was probably quite unpleasant to be around.
Something else Dad warned me about that might happen when I started dating her.
Spending too so much time talking and walking around my beloved Beaver River, where I am now as I type this story, I looked at my watch and gasped. I immediately headed for the trail. I should have had them contact my father by CB and stayed the night instead.
One of those Robert Frost split in the trail moments when you find out later you chose the wrong path.
The trail seemed even longer than on the way up to Beaver River. The gun was like carrying a backpack filled with bricks and lead. By the time I cursed my way to the end of the trail the light was faded and it had turned close to 20 below. I gazed helplessly over a lake I knew I could not cross, looked back towards the official trail where I knew I’d get lost due to the dark. There was a trail that closer to the camps that was even worse than the official trail and less defined, but it did join back up with “the neighbor trail” about a half a mile from where I was. And what little light was would be more useful closer to the lake.
So I tried to follow the lake, follow the less defined trail, which meant crossing a stream. A mournful song by The Association, “Requiem for the Masses,” echoed in my head. When I crossed a stream that didn’t look all that deep I suddenly went down to my chest. As I climbed back out my clothes started to stiffen, and would soon turn into frozen cement.
I knew I was in trouble. I knew if I didn’t do something frostbite was the first of my worries, death the last. Getting indoors fast was my best, and perhaps only, option. So I found a camp, the Napiers, and decided to check to see if it was unlocked. Not all that unusual in a relatively crime free wilderness area. It was so dark I couldn’t see, as I went to open the door, that I was leaning against a glass window. It shattered.
Damage done, I used the butt of the Rolling Block to clean out the glass, and straddled my way into the cabin.
I started a fire in the fireplace, first order of business, and was so bloody cold I didn’t notice my foot was too close to the fireplace. My sock started to smoke. Luckily, no burns, though a the foot was left a little tender and sore. All though this, every once in a while, I’d feel a little dizzy, especially the times I’d go outside and shoot three times: a sign that a hunter is in trouble. Walking back in I noticed large splotches of red on the floor.
“Damn, these people are slobs.”
Then I saw my bleeding hand. Obviously all the glass had not been cleaned out and the hole through my hand indicated I had impaled myself. I looked back at the window and there was a large bloody shard I could see in the light of the fireplace. So I tightly wrapped my hand in a small towel I found in a bedroom.
I heard something across the lake: people partying at the old Twitchell Lake Inn, now a private residence. Luckily I yelled loud enough they heard me. The party people went and got my father, who snowmobiled part way to the Napier camp, and when the trail got too tough for the snowmobile, he got off and walked to the Napier camp.
A fast trip to the 20 mile distant health center in Old Forge, many stitches later, we called and I apologized to the Napiers offered to pay for the damages, as my father suggested… and I did, also working some of it off. I think everyone knew it was by no means “vandalism,” just a scared and confused 14 year old.
If only I had had a flashlight.
I think about the drive, the supposed “need,” to “cut, cut,cut” government. “Cut” despite the fact it adds our already immense unemployment problem. “Cut” despite the fact food borne illness problems have increased because we now have less inspectors and inspecting. “Cut” despite we need more teachers, more police, more firemen and women: not less. “Cut” despite the financial institution and mortgage scandals prove more regulation and supervision is need, not less.
The magic, mystical “free market” with its more powerful than God like powers is supposed to solve and resolve all problems.
Even the quite magical Harry Potter, quite fictional, needed supervision.
On that morning in December when I left for Beaver River I didn’t take a flashlight, figuring it would only weigh me down, and I’d be back before dark, right?
If I had brought one I certainly could have gone back to the regular trail and made it home.
I can’t help but feel in this cut mania, this drive to head unto that mystical, imaginary land where there free market controls itself…
…are we leaving behind our flashlights?
Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
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