The Demise of Old Three-toes.
Three-toes was a grouchy, old bear. He was also big for a black bear. Folks around Burketown who occasionally spotted him estimated he might weigh between 450 and 500 pounds. This is fairly large for an Adirondack black bear. You knew when old three-toes was poking around from his distinctive tracks. His left fore-paw was missing the two outer toes, leading of course, to his nickname. Nobody really knew how he’d lost those two front toes. Speculation was abundant. Maybe he’d lost them in a fight with another bear, or perhaps a near miss with some kind of bear trap. Whatever the cause, it almost certainly contributed to his sour disposition.
A couple of camps down Burketown Road from my grandparent’s camp and in the direction of Burke’s Marina, lived a friend of the family. A local contractor and handyman, he’d built the camp belonging to my other grandparents on the lot next to ours near the end of the road. For the sake of this story, I will call him Mike.
As of late, old three-toes had become the frequent topic of discussion up and down the road. Folks spotted him on the prowl regularly and he’d been getting in to some real mischief, causing damage to camps, screen windows, front porches, etc. So far nothing serious had occurred, but many felt it was simply a matter of time.
On this particular morning, Mike got up early to go fishing. And, living alone, began cooking himself breakfast. He’d opened the front door to his camp to allow the cool, crisp morning air to pass through the screen door. Unfortunately, this also allowed the smell of cooking bacon to waft its way out through the screen door, and be carried along on the same morning breeze. The tantalizing smell of cooking bacon proved to be irresistible to old three-toes who happened to be passing by. The bear turned, and followed the enticing aroma right up to Mike’s camp screen door.
Three-toes decided that the screen door was not going to keep him from getting to that delicious smelling bacon! Mike heard the crashing sound of three-toes clawing right through the screen door. He turned in time to see the big bear coming down the short hallway to his kitchen area. Mike quickly retreated from the kitchen area and in the opposite direction. He made his way to his den where he kept a loaded 12-gauge shotgun on his rifle rack.
Mike grabbed the 12-gauge and headed back to the kitchen where three-toes was making quite a mess of things. He yelled at the bear first, hoping to scare it off. He did not really want to shoot the bear. Unfortunately, three-toes was having none of it. This was now his bacon and, as far as that went, it was also now his kitchen. Mike simply had no choice. Taking careful aim with the shotgun, he fired.
While many in the Burketown area were saddened by the death of three-toes, a lot of people slept a bit more soundly at night. It is an unfortunate thing when black bears lose their fear of people. It never turns out well for the bear.
I hope this story touched you, and reminds you why it is so important to not feed the bears. While black bears can indeed be cute, they are still wild animals.
And, please take the time to check out my novel, Serpents Underfoot.
Toasting Marshmallows at Uncle Wagner’s Camp!
Our camp sat near the end of Burketown Road near the Miller’s old camp and Jack Camp’s old place. Jack Camp, a permanent resident, was the local coroner and constable, and kept an eye on things for those of us who owned summer camps in the area.
Across the road was a camp that belonged to my Great Uncle Wagner and Aunt Betty. Uncle Wagner was my Grandfather Klippel’s older brother. My Nanny and Grandpa had a camp back down the road, closer to Burke’s Marina. Uncle Wagner’s camp has changed ownership since those days.
This particular evening there were several younger family members sitting around the stone-encircled campfire in front of Uncle Wagner’s camp. There was myself, my younger brother, three cousins who were all boys, and two other cousins who were both girls. We probably ranged in ages from 8 to 15. And, we were having a grand time toasting marshmallows on sticks we had cut earlier from a nearby Beech tree.
It was funny how some of us liked to see the marshmallows blaze, preferring them charred on the outside and melted on the inside. I preferred mine golden brown on the outside and warm in the middle. Therefore, I would concentrate a bit harder than some on the task at hand, selecting just the right nest of red hot coals, and turning the marshmallow constantly to get a nice even golden-brown color. I guess that is why I was the last one to notice that a black bear had come out of the woods, no doubt attracted by the enticing smell of burning marshmallows. I guess Aunt Betty must have heard the ruckus as we all started yelling and scattered to give the bear plenty of room.
Aunt Betty to the Rescue!
Aunt Betty was a short, stocky woman and not afraid of much that I can remember. Uncle Wagner, Aunt Betty, Grandpa and Nanny Klippel were sitting at the kitchen table in the camp playing Rummy 500. This was a favorite Adirondack evening pastime in our families. In addition, we also regularly enjoyed playing Pitch, Cribbage, and Pinochle. Family card games were a regular event. Our parents were across the road in our camp spending a quiet evening reading. I guess they probably needed a break from my brother and me. We could sometimes be a handful!
Aunt Betty exploded through the screen door of their camp armed with a straw broom. The black bear being young, maybe a little older than a yearling, did not know what he had unwittingly stumbled into. He just wanted marshmallows, but what he found was more like a stirred-up hornet’s nest. Wielded by Aunt Betty, the sweeping end of that broom attacked that poor bear from all angles at once and Betty let loose with a barrage of “Shoos, Scrams, and Git’s.” The bear quickly decided the marshmallows were definitely not worth the trouble, and took off just as fast as he could back into the woods letting loose with bawling sounds that were a cross between a bellow and a whine.
All Well that Ends Well!
All us kids were safe and sound. But, that incident ended any marshmallow toasting for the night as we were herded into their camp. Our parents, alarmed at the sudden change in the sounds coming from across the road, had appeared just as the bawling bear disappeared into the dark woods and quickly escorted us back across the road. We were soon settled in for the night up in the loft. I don’t think that bear ventured into our region of the Adirondack Park ever again.
Donny Trees A Bear
It gets dark early in the Adirondacks. The night’s fire was just about burned out with only a few glowing embers left in the stone fireplace. The two young boys had already brushed their teeth and were ready for bed. They unzipped the mosquito netting and entered the large canvas cabin tent their father had pitched on a wooden tent platform followed by Donny, their 35-lb Spanish pointer. Zipping the netting behind them, the boys crawled into their sleeping bags. They had air mattresses underneath the sleeping bags and were comfortably settled in for the night. Donny settled down between them. Soon all three were sound asleep. Full days in the crisp Adirondack air made for good sleeping.
A little while later, their parents entered the tent and prepared for bed. Their sleeping bags were laid out on canvas folding cots and air mattresses. It was also a very comfortable arrangement. Soon all five were contentedly sleeping away. Tomorrow would be another new and glorious day. The boy’s grandfather was going to take them fishing over in the northern part of Raquette Lake in his beautiful Thompson Chris-Craft boat. It promised to be a grand adventure.
Sometime during the night, Donny awoke and let out a terrible growl. The two boys and their parents instantly sat up in their sleeping bags.
What was that?
There was another growl from Donny, and he was up like a flash. A second later he had torn through the mosquito netting and took off like a shot; snarling and growling like a wild animal protecting its young. Suddenly, there was another growl, and it wasn’t Donny. The boy’s dad was now up with his flashlight unzipping the mosquito netting to see what was going on while the rest of the family dug for their flashlights. Everyone kept a flashlight handy just in case. They could hear the dog barking wildly just a few yards away from the tent.
A few seconds later all four flashlight beams were shining in the direction of the growling and snarling dog. Donny was at the base of an old rotten beech tree about 30 feet from the tent. He was growling and barking ferociously at something up in the tree. Raising the flashlights beams a bit revealed a big black bear. The bear had scrambled up the old rotten trunk to get away from the crazy dog. The tree and its bark were rotten enough that the bear’s claws could not get a good purchase. The bear would begin to slide down the tree which would cause Donny to renew his barking and growling frenzy. This, in turn, would cause the bear to scramble a bit higher; only to start slipping again.
The bear, much bigger then the dog that was barking at him, could easily jump down and deal with the barking dog. Fortunately for Donny, the bear did not decide to do this.The barking, scrambling, and slipping went on for several minutes. Suddenly the bear completely lost its grip on the tree and tumbled to the ground. Rolling over the bear jumped to its feet and took off into the north woods with Donny right behind him, barking and growling as he went. The boys and their parents called after Donny.
Donny, Come! Donny, Come here!
But it was no use. Donny, chasing the black bear to who knows where, was long gone. Eventually, the two boys and their parents went back to bed. They wondered if they would ever see their dog again.
Donny was not back the next morning when the boys left to go fishing with their grandfather. He was not back that afternoon when they got back from their fishing trip to the northern part of Raquette Lake. That evening, the boy’s Dad finished patching the hole in the mosquito and still, Donny had not returned.
But later that evening, as the family sat down for a supper of Ravioli, bread and butter, and some of Mom’s homemade raspberry cobbler, Donny came trotting up to the picnic table with a delighted look on his face. In fact, it looked like he was grinning from ear to ear! Donny was utterly covered with Adirondack marsh mud, pieces of twigs and leaves, and he smelled like Adirondack swamp water. Donny had also worked up quite an appetite during his chase and was darn hungry! But, he was undoubtedly a hero … having saved the cooler from being raided by the prowling black bear.
Did you like this Adirondack Bear Tale?
The Dump at Raquette Lake. A Friday Night Hot Spot!
It’s Friday evening in the Adirondacks. So, what do you do? What kind of entertainment venues were available to vacationers in the north woods? One of our family favorites was to go to the dump! Yep! I am serious. We would go to the dump to watch the bears. It was quite popular among those in the know. The bears would come out in the early evenings to feed on all the delightful morsels we humans would throw away.
The Raquette Lake Dump was located a mile or so down an old dirt road that headed out of Raquette Lake Village and into the north woods wilderness. This road was initially an old rail bed for the private railroad line owned by the Vanderbilts. The Vanderbilts built an Adirondack great camp, Camp Sagamore, near Raquette Lake. They and their guests would take a private train from Utica, New York up to Raquette Lake. There they would board a boat and steam across South Bay to head up the South Inlet. A mile or so up South Inlet, at the falls, where it became impassable, they would board a stagecoach and travel along a road that ran past the Vanderbilt’s power-house and a small dam, to the smaller private lake South Inlet flowed from. This was their destination. They would begin to enjoy their stay at Camp Sagamore.
But, I digress. This is supposed to be a bear tale.
This particular Friday evening my brother and I were headed to the dump with our grandparents. They had an AMC Hornet, and we sat in the back. We turned down the old dirt road that lead to the dump. Being an old railway bed, it was a pretty straight shot. As we approached the dump, my brother and I were excited to see that there were already several black bears, an assortment of ages and sizes, out prowling around among the garbage bags looking for tasty tidbits.
My Grandfather pulled up pretty close because he had a bag of trash to add to the pile. Grandpa told us all to stay in the car. He would throw the garbage out and then we would back up a bit to sit and watch the bears. Grandpa got out and retrieved the bag from the trunk and started toward the piled bags of garbage. He wanted to get close enough to throw the bag onto the pile.
One mid-sized bear spotted Grandpa making his way toward the trash heap and saw that he was carrying a new bag of possible snacks. Naturally, the bear made his way toward Grandpa. Now, our Grandfather was not a pushover. He was a big man, strong and stubborn. That bear was not getting the garbage until Grandpa threw it on the pile. The bear, however, had other ideas, and that garbage bag quickly became a major source of contention.
Grandpa saw the bear coming, so he yelled at it in an attempt to “bluff” the bear into backing off. However, the bear was just as stubborn as Grandpa, so just he kept coming. Soon the bear was between our Grandfather and the trash heap. Grandpa took another step toward the bear and clutching the garbage bag tightly, yelled again. The bear, unimpressed, took a step toward our Grandfather. Then the bear took yet another step. Our grandfather, realizing that the bear was not intimidated in the least, began backing up toward the car. The bear followed. This scared our Grandmother who reached up and locked both car doors.
Grandpa backed up all the way to the car with the bear following him every step of the way. Keeping his eyes on the bear, he made his way to the driver-side door and reached down to open it. It was locked!
“Boots, unlock the door,” he yelled. He called her “Boots” because of the fancy boots she was wearing when they first met. We called her, Nanny, of course.
“Erwin, Get rid of the garbage. Let the bear have it,” Nanny yelled back. Grandpa was now circling the car with the bear following him. It was very exciting for my brother and I sitting in the back seat.
“Boots, unlock the door!” he yelled again.
“Get rid of the garbage, Erwin” Nanny yelled back. Grandpa had, by now, circled the car several times with the bear in dogged pursuit. Finally realizing that something had to give, as he came around again to the front of the Hornet, Grandpa hurled the bag of garbage as hard as he could toward the heap of garbage bags about thirty yards away. Nanny reached over and unlocked the driver-side door and Grandpa, jerking the door open, slid into the seat and slammed the door closed. The bear, however, had already headed off in the direction Grandpa had hurled the bag and was now sniffing speculatively at it.
There was an uncomfortable moment of silence in the car. Finally, Grandpa spoke.
“For the love of Pete, Boots, why wouldn’t you unlock the door.
“Erwin, I was not letting you in here with the garbage. What if the bear tried to get in here too!”
“Oh, for heaven sakes!” Grandpa retorted. Needless to say, the bear watching was cut short, and it was a hushed ride back to their camp at Burke Town.
Check out my other Bear Tales!
In addition, if you like these Adirondack Bear Tale short stories, check out my novel, Serpents Underfoot! Available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and Books-A-Million.
Bear Tales from the Adirondack Park
Adirondack Bear Tale #1: Golden Beach
It was dark at the Golden Beach Campground! When the lights go out in the Adirondacks, it gets pitch black. A twelve-year-old girl squirms in her sleeping bag. Her mother had warned her not to drink that last bottle of Coke Cola before going to bed. She had not listened, and now she had to use the bathroom!
What time is it? She wondered. Can I make it until morning? She did not think she could. Working quietly, trying not to wake her parents or her older brother and younger sister, she got herself ready. There was little chance of waking them, as her father was loudly snoring away. All four slept blissfully unaware. The cool Adirondack nights did make for great sleeping.
Reaching for the flashlight, she kept on the floor of the tent by her sleeping bag; the young girl turned it on. Careful not to shine it in anyone’s face, she unzipped the zipper on the side of her sleeping bag and crawled out. First, she put on the plaid flannel shirt because the night air was quite chilly outside her warm sleeping bag. Next, she reached for the beaded leather moccasins her mom had gotten for her on their last trip to the gift shops in Inlet.
Making her way to the front flap of the big cabin tent, she unzipped the mosquito netting, stepped out, and zipping the netting back; made her way down the path toward the women’s bathrooms. It was a short walk, maybe fifty yards. Golden Beach Campground had several men’s and women’s bathrooms and shower houses strategically located throughout the campground. Golden Beach Campground was a great place to camp. Their family had been camping there for years.
The girl made her way along the path, the beam of the flashlight projecting its circle of light on the ground a few feet in front of her. She was about halfway to the women’s bathroom when she froze. There, clearly defined in the circle of light from the flashlight, were two large black paws. The paws were attached to two somewhat furry black legs. Not panicking, the young girl tilted her light ever-so-slightly upward. Standing in the path a few feet in front of her, clearly framed in the light of her flashlight, was a rather large black bear!
Carefully, the girl lowered the light again until only the bear’s paws were visible. She slowly began to back up a step at a time while keeping the bear paws in the circle of light so she could see if it moved. When the beam of light could no longer reach the bear’s paws, she turned and made her way swiftly back to the tent. Quickly unzipping the mosquito netting, she stepped inside and zipped it shut. In a few minutes, she was back in her sleeping bag, listening to her father snore.
She decided she could wait until the morning after all!
Did you like this Adirondack Bear Tale #1?
If you did like this Adirondack Bear Tale, then stay tuned for future installments, and check out my novel here!
The Adirondack Park in upstate New York
I had a need to take trip to upstate New York this weekend. I flew into Syracuse and drove up to Raquette Lake in the Adirondack Park. My family has a small camp (called a cabin in the South) at Raquette Lake. We built it ourselves when I was a young teenager. My family has a history at Raquette Lake that spans several generations, and I understand I made my first camping trip to Raquette Lake when I was about six months old.
How Raquette Lake got its name … maybe!
The origin of the name is uncertain. One account is that it was named for snowshoes (raquette in French) left by a party of Tories led by Sir John Johnson in 1776. Traveling by snowshoe while fleeing American rebels, the spring thaw caught up with them. The snow was gone when they reached the lake. They left their snowshoes in a pile on the shore.
Back to the camp …
Sometime ago, we added a screened in porch to the camp. It has two skylights. One is leaking, so I flew up to take some measurements and see what materials might be needed to repair the problem. Every time I visit Raquette Lake it seems to have a healing effect on my soul. Whenever I drive into the Adirondack Park, it is almost like someone drew a line across Hwy 28. The air changes and I can breathe freely again. It is really quite a remarkable feeling.
Hwy 28 North from Utica
Once you leave Utica and head north, it is a short distance to the Adirondack Park entrance. From there the drive becomes a trip down memory lane. It is very beautiful in a desolate sort of way. You pass through small towns like Remsen, Alder Creek, Otter Lake, Thendara, Old Forge, Eagle Bay, Inlet, and then Raquette Lake.
The Fulton Chain
You pass the Fulton Chain of lakes which are eight lakes formed by damming the Moose River. The chain starts near Old Forge and ends with Eighth Lake. The next lake is Raquette Lake which is a natural lake. The Raquette River flows out from Raquette Lake winding its way northward to the St. Lawrence Seaway. Raquette Lake has 99 mile of shoreline, making it the largest lake in the Adirondack Park. Eighty percent of its shoreline is owned by the State of New York and is constitutionally forever wild. It is truly a wilderness adventure.
The Tap Room
Once I got my measurements and figuring done, I headed to Raquette Lake Village for lunch at the Tap Room. I also need to drop a copy of my book, Serpents Underfoot, off at the Raquette Lake Library. The librarian, Carolynne McCann Dufft, a friend of my parents, was kind enough to add my book to their collection. After dropping off the book, I had a great burger at the Tap Room. The Tap Room is a historic place … probably as old as the village itself. It can be found on the backside of the Raquette Lake Supply Co. While it can get a little loud in the evenings (it is a small place), the food is really excellent and it has a genuine rustic Adirondack atmosphere.
I should also mention that the Raquette Lake Library, while small, is quite nice. Like the post office, it is a newer new addition to the village. Other than the post office and the library, the village remains pretty much the same as it was when I was a child. I love that. Maybe that accounts for part of the “soothing” effect it has on my soul. The village, the lake, the air, the memories … all has a calming, peaceful feeling that recharges me like nothing else I have ever experienced.
Another positive (or negative, depending on how you look at it) is that I can’t get a cell phone signal at all when at Raquette Lake. Sometimes, if you walk out on the end of the dock, stand on one leg, each as far out over the water as you dare, you can get the glimmer of a signal. But, I could never actually make a call from that position … never mind send a text or read an email. For me at least, that is a good thing. We all need to unplug from time to time.
Where do you go for healing?
We all need a place to go to unwind, to de-stress, and recharge our batteries. It is important for maintaining both physical and mental well-being. For me, Raquette Lake is that place. Raquette Lake provides solitude, peace, and a great rustic atmosphere. I hope you find the time to find your own “Raquette Lake.”
Personalized copies of Serpents Underfoot can now be ordered directly from my website. Just click here!