From Here and Back Again: Notes from Cranberry Lake

By Jim Coufal

I write from the porch of our place on the east shore of Cranberry Lake, in the Adirondacks. It has appropriately been named “Sunset Lodge” since it was built as a hotel and sportsmen’s camp in 1912.

There are no high peaks on the western shore to provide framing backdrop for the setting sun, but the low mountains (really big hills) do fine as they are etched by the red-orange rays and the great ball of fire.

Over the years, I’ve observed that sun seems to move faster in its daily arc as it approaches the far horizon. If that isn’t another of life’s optical delusions; it certainly is an illustration of perspective.

Sunset Lodge is surrounded by state forever-wild land. There is no road, our place being accessible only by boat. That means no water service, no sewer service, no fire, no landline and no cell phone reception, no Internet.

By a quirk of luck we do have electricity, but for the first 20 years we owned it, power was by a generator and gas lights, gas refrigerators, and gas stove. Drinking water is from a nearby spring, but it is boiled or filtered since our son came down with tularemia (beaver fever) after mistakenly drinking it raw when it ran overland. The “balance of nature” isn’t always gentle or pleasant.

This is the kind of land that Thoreau, Muir, Whitman and other “romantics” saw as the wellspring of our spirituality, our true home, the place to know oneself. Wildflowers abound, birds sing and flit, the call of the loon is eerie and frequent, beaver swim by and sightings of deer, bear, mink and even moose are possible.

White pines up to 140 feet tall sway over the other forest trees, the maple, yellow birch, American beech, ash and cherry in their never-have-been-cut glory abound. Legally and culturally it’s a “wilderness.”

Native Americans apparently had no word for wilderness, it was just what was, just home, and we would have no such word if it wasn’t for the contrast we have made with our cities and suburbs, and industrial areas and because we have made such wilderness rare.

But our life here is different from what Thoreau, Muir, Whitman and others expostulated. Mostly it’s projects; fixing, repairing, painting, trimming. We even have a lawn, filled with Adirondack rocks and roots, and why we do so in the middle of the wilderness is open to question.

But lawns are an American icon, and so I mow it to keep out the wild and provide manicured beauty. Plumbing and boat problems are the most common projects. No matter how carefully we drain and even blow out the pipes at fall closing, PVC pipe just isn’t able to take the Adirondack winters without popping a leak somewhere. We’ve learned to keep all kinds of fittings, pipe cement, nuts and bolts and other such goobers on hand because it’s a long trip across the lake and then down the road to the nearest store.

We do some canoeing, kayaking, swimming, fishing and hiking and socialize with our seven other roadless neighbors. It’s been six days since we got here and we’ve each read more than 1,400 pages with the promise of much more to come.

For me this has included mystery novels (bubblegum for the mind), Becker’s “Israel and Palestine,” Prothero’s “God Is Not One” and Aikman’s “The Delusion of Disbelief.”

Looking at what I have just written, I wonder if I am describing a life of quiet futility even here in the midst of wilderness.

One aspect of camp that is different involves the fact that we have rescued several people and groups from the lake over the years. It’s amazing how people will overload a small boat and then go out on the windy, whitecap-swept waters. Some had been caught short when a storm came up suddenly; others just “took the chance.”

Sounds like a metaphor for life.

We’ve owned Sunset Lodge for 42 years. The isolation is a bigger health concern than it once was, opening and closing are getting harder each year and maintenance the same.

Anyone want to buy an Adirondack Camp (seriously)?

Jim Coufal of Cazenovia is a part-time philosopher and full-time observer of global trends.

5 comments to From Here and Back Again: Notes from Cranberry Lake

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