Hunting with Jim

I was hunting with my brother, Jim, toward the end of this year’s deer season. We were walking along what had been a main-haul road during recent lumbering operations. We were heading for a piece of cover that somehow had escaped both the big fires and the wind storms that once raged through the area and had only been high-graded when timbered.
We had a respectful walk ahead of us and, as sometimes happens when the tedium of a long walk weighs on you, we found ourselves talking non-stop.
We pretty much solved most of the world’s problems, including profound topics such as who would be the NBA’s next MVP and what name should be given to the next decade (zero, Ohs, double ohs, aughts? etc., etc.).
We also discussed the mule tracks we had been observing. The tracks had been frozen into semi permanence on the gravel road surface, almost as if they had been cast in plaster.
The interim classification for the newly acquired state land we were on was wilderness. No bicycles, no motorized vehicles, no horses, etc., etc. Mules, it seems got an OK when the hunting party using them (in their words) “threw a curve at the D.E.C” “Mules,” they argued, “are not horses.” We wondered that if I used my uni-cycle I could argue it was not a bicycle. I’m not certain we came to any general agreement on that question, but I think (?) we agreed that mules (and bicycles) were certainly appropriate in that particular location. We might have even agreed that the classification system is flawed.
By this time, we had reached a sturdy, well-built plank bridge over the outlet of Little Salmon Lake just before it empties its waters into Lily Pad Pond. Many years ago, my wife and I had carried our canoe upstream alongside the rapids that exist at this point. We were trying to find traces of the Mac and Mac railroad the O.W.D. had used to carry its logs from Rock Lake on Whitney to the Brandeth Station on the main New York Central Line. It was used only for three years, 1936-1939, before the tracks were pulled, but the ties were left in place and provided a marvelous artery through a very remote and seldom-visited place. Where the swift water ended on that portage we encountered a massive stone wall that was effectively a dam. The rocks making up the wall were enormous, and we both marveled how they could have been put in place long before the day of mechanized equipment. Some time later I ran into Bernie Dunham, who was employed at Whitney, and he told me that his father, Sanford Dunham, had been involved in building that wall possibly as a fish barrier. “How did they procure and move and place those huge rocks?” I asked. “They used oxen,” he replied, providing the answer to our puzzle.
As we carried our canoe around the rock dam that day, I stumbled upon a hidden cache of at least 20 well-oiled beaver traps in good condition. I never knew for certain, but I always suspected they belonged to some Tupper Lake trappers, Howard LeBlanc, Jack Dewyea, and Percy Trombley.
This trio of first-rate trappers had been given privileges to trap the Salmon Lake watershed by the folks at Whitney Park. This was about the same time I happened upon the traps (mid-1950s).
At that time Tom Fortune owned a J-1 Piper Cub, which he had equipped with skis, and he would fly the trappers and their gear in and out of Salmon Lake, landing on the frozen surface. Tom did this as a good-neighbor gesture. It also provided him with an interesting and adventuresome break from his duties at the hardware store.
As it turned out, it was almost too great an adventure.
Late one March day at the end of the trapping season, Tom landed on the lake and prepared to fly out the group, including their fur and gear. his plan was to take the gear out on the first flight and on subsequent trips fly the trappers out.
Tom tells the story best: “I loaded everything I could on that little plane. What I couldn’t stuff in the cockpit, I strapped to the wings. I knew it was a heavy load,” he told me at the time, “but it’s a big lake with plenty of room to get up speed for the take-off. I taxied to the far end, but as I powered back up the lake, I ran into a large patch of shell ice, which gave way and dropped me down to the main ice sheet. I still had fair forward speed, but the drop lowered the plane, and the prop was dangerously close to hitting the surface ahead of me. It was a frightening moment, and I immediately cut the engine. I jumped out of that plane and, to be truthful, I was plenty scared, and the adrenalin was pumping through me like a race horse approaching the finish line. Meanwhile, the guys on shore, sensing my predicament, started running out to me. By the time they arrived, I had that gear unloaded and sitting on the ice. I was cussing my stupidity at being overloaded and worrying about my beautiful plane being marooned on that isolated lake with the threat of ice-out only days away. I had two of the trappers rock first one wing and then the other, while the third guy and I pushed. I had the cockpit door open with throttle slightly advanced, and when we got the plane up on solid surface, I jumped in and took off. That was it for me! I felt sorry for those guys left on the lake. They had a very long walk out with a lot of gear. I didn’t worry about them because they were tough, seasoned woodsmen and I knew they could handle it. As for me, I had pushed the envelope far enough, thank you. I never went back.”
Incredibly, it had been over forty years since Ginny and I had portaged past this spot, where Jim and I now sat eating our lunch. It was not the same place! Only the rock wall remained the same. Not only the hand of man had morphed this dynamic change. Nature was the greater villain. In the 1980s a highly localized tornado, which came down in a narrow, nasty swirl of destructive power, flattened thousands of trees. In July of 1995 a straight-line storm called a Derecho totaled what the circular winds of the tornado had left standing. Jim noted my dejection at the havoc that surrounded us. Far more philosophical (and wiser) than I, he offered this counsel: “Bill it is a natural process, just a blib in time. The forest will actually renew and thrive, become more diverse in the wake of these disturbances. Have faith, brother.”