This must be the place: I awoke and faintly bouncing round the room, the echo of whomever spoke
The air was cool and the sleeping bag warm when I heard the early morning loon from across Buck Pond.
Emerging from the small tent, I put on the old sandals and wandered down to the shoreline, standing there in the last of the moonlight before morning broke and the world reawakened into Friday. The loon kept bellowing, only to have the serene sound reciprocated by another loon from the other side of the pond.
Campsite C-88. Buck Pond. The northern section of the Adirondack Mountains. My native Upstate New York. I’ve been coming to Buck Pond since I was a little kid. My late grandfather loved to camp and fish here, too.
I tried to get my usual (and beloved) C-89 site right on the water, but it was taken, so I went over one. I haven’t been here since June 2007, the same week I came home to the North Country following college graduation in Connecticut. That same week, my grandfather died unexpectedly.
It was heartbreaking, so much so, my best friend and I took off the day before the wake and booked C-89. And in that moment, I was done with college, “officially” now an adult, no clue what the future held, only to carry my grandpa’s casket to his final resting place. But, not before an evening of moonlit waters, the sound of loons, bourbon and bonfires.
That was almost exactly 14 years ago. I was 22 then, 36 now. I headed up to Buck Pond last Thursday afternoon on a solo trek, simply on a deep yearning to do so. Nothing is the same, everything is the same, as they say. My head is held high. My stride steady and light. Onward.
With the sun hanging low over Buck Pond, I jumped into the truck and headed for dinner in nearby Saranac Lake. After a couple of beers at The Waterhole (a legendary Adirondack dive bar, one where I’ve spent many raucous nights) and a meal at the Downhill Grill around the corner, I went for a stroll around downtown.
Saranac Lake is a community I’ve held close to the heart my entire life, whether it be family connections, high school endeavors, live music experiences, Winter Carnival and the Ice Palace, or simply a girl that I once loved, who I thought at the time I’d end up being with, now long gone from my current existence.
I wandered along the quiet streets and also down Memory Lane, by all these businesses I used to frequent, places that were once so familiar in my daily life, as now I’m a stranger in this town somewhat.
At one point, I walked by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. Early on in my writing career, just when I was getting started, it was a dream to someday work here. I was scrapping by as a freelancer during the economic collapse of 2008, 23 years old and eager to find footing, creatively and financially, in the realm of the written word.
I’d submit sporadic articles to the Enterprise, all in hopes of getting a staff writer gig there somewhere down the line. Soon, I was dating this mesmerizing woman from Saranac Lake. We were young and at the starting line of adulthood, trying to figure out a life together — and all I needed was the writing job as the missing puzzle piece, or so I thought.
Eventually, she and I parted ways. And the Enterprise job never materialized. I tried to make it work on both fronts, but it just wasn’t my destiny. So, I left, packed up my truck with what little I owned and headed for work in Western North Carolina. Some nine years later, I stand in front of this building, in awe of the path I’m currently on, all while playfully musing “what could have been.”
It’s all incredibly wondrous and wildly mysterious, no matter what trajectory you’re on. I remain full of gratitude. I also remain as curious as ever, for whatever the future holds.
Back at Buck Pond, it was dusk when I finally got a small fire going in the campsite pit. The sounds of crackling wood and branches swaying above in the late-night air. Grabbing a small flashlight, I sat in the camping chair in front of the flames and dove back into “The Dharma Bums” for the hundredth time, the 1958 Jack Kerouac literary odyssey amid the West Coast (and beyond).
Here’s Kerouac in his whimsical, devil-may-care prose:
“In all this welter of women I still hadn’t got one for myself, not that I was trying too hard, but sometimes I felt lonely to see everyone paired off and having a good time and all I did was curl up in my sleeping bag in the rosebushes and sigh and say bah. For me it was just red wine in my mouth and a pile of firewood.”
I stopped at the end of that paragraph, just for a moment, gazing up slowly at the small pile of firewood next to me, the single sleeping bag unrolled in the tent nearby. Truth, Jack, my good sir, truth.
‘Round midnight, I got the urge to head down to the beach on the other side of the campground. Stepping onto the soft sands, a full moon hung high in the silent sky. I sat down and simply stared at the huge ball of white light, hovering ever so carefully over the water, a million diamonds reflecting across the surface.
Silence. Priceless silence. A single soul, feet in the sand. It’s all incredibly wondrous and wildly mysterious.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
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Love the northern NY woods. We flew into Saranac Lake one October night in a blinding snowstorm. Can still see that runway coming up to meet us. I was in co-pilot seat, so you know how small the plane was. Never was so happy to hit the ground in my life. We were heading to Lake Placid for some vacation time and some research, too.