STORIES OF OUR ADIRONDACKS

 

 

 

Forgotten Voices:

Woods and Waters: or, The Saranacs and Racket 

Alfred Billings Street, 1860

 

 

I will open my biographical information on this author with an excerpt from one of his poems -

 

THE DEVIL'S PULPIT 

Sternly and darkly up heaves the rock, 

Throne for the thunder when storm is nigh;

Battered and cleft in each century's shock,   

Broadly its furrowed brow flouts the sky;   

Bare save the cedars that clutch the seams  

And moss-gold streaked like the sunset gleams. 

Glossy the lake in its lovely hush; 

Winds the deep cove at the crag's steep foot;

But keen white lightning's have seen the crush

Of the stately pine-tree, branch and root.

Splintered and scorched on the rocks it lies. 

Where proudly its plume once sought the skies.

 

Poet, lawyer, author, editor and librarian were some of the titles Alfred Billing Street was given during his life.  Born in upstate New York in 1811, educated in Dutchess County, he went on to study law with his Father in Monticello.  Moving to Albany in 1839, Street spent time as a  newspaper editor, and in 1848 was appointed New York State Librarian, a post he held until his death.  A popular poet in his time, he often was called upon to write prose for events such as the dedication of the Albany Rural Cemetery.  Besides publishing his poetry, he wrote two books about the Adirondacks, "Woods and Waters or the Saranacs and the Racket" and "The Indian Pass."

 

While his works today are regarded as flowery and over-sentimental, they reflected his strong personal feelings for the wilderness and nature in general.  His writings tell of the time when the Adirondacks were mostly unexplored and wild, when they still held mystery waiting to be revealed.  It is said that in 1865 he gave Verplanck Colvin, then 18, a copy of Woods and Waters.  It's influence inspired Colvin with an interest in the Adirondacks that led to his topographic survey of the region.  It was during this survey that Colvin named a mountain in the Adirondacks after his friend Street.

 

Street died in 1881 and is buried in an unmarked grave next to his wife Elizabeth in Albany Rural Cemetery.

 

 

CHAPTER IX. pgs 97 - 101
 

Carry at Racket Falls.—Up the Racket.—Cold River.—Bowen's Camp.—Long Lake.


 

We rose with the sun for an excursion up the river, to the foot of Long Lake (Wee-cho-bad-cho-nee-pus, lake abounding in bass-wood), belonging to the Racket System of waters.  As I awoke, a path of gold gleamed into the tent through an aperture in front left for air.  Upon the sun-streaked space before it, the camp-fire was merrily blazing, and around were the guides busy for the breakfast, the first symptom of which appeared as I left the tent, in a gridiron grinning at a gaping lake trout, as if anticipating the lively broil to which it would shortly put him.


The scene was fresh and cheerful. The tips of the white pines, and the upper rim of the bank opposite, were of a yellow burnish; a brown, decayed stump, against which stood a jack, a neck-yoke and a landing net, looked mellow and rich in the light, and the stem of a silver birch, touched by a finger of the sun, gleamed like a pillar of pearl.

 

A carry of a mile and a half led around the falls over a steep ridge.  Each guide, except Corey (who. with Jess, remained to keep the camp), shouldered his boat, and up through the fresh, odorous woods, we moved over an undulating track, a foot in width, with the accompanying music of the rapids and forest.  The guides strode steadily on, with firm and even buoyant step; around huge roots, over prone trunks, and through, tangling underbrush, although the burden upon them was over six score pounds.  We passed the Titanic pine, with its long tassels; the hemlock, with its stiff fringes; the pointed cedar poised on the ledge and clinging to the cleft; the dense cones of the spruce; the perfect pyramid and finger-like apex of the balsam fir; the maple, the beech, the birch, with their varieties and differing hues; the streaked moose-wood; the low-branched hopple; hundreds of seamed columns around, a firmament of foliage above; sprouts, herbs and plants, ferns and mosses, lichened rocks, tall thickets, low bushes and creeping vines forming the floor; the whole scene bewildering the eye and stimulating the fancy.  The landscape, too, was full of life.  A wandering breeze put all the leaves in a flutter; the golden-winged wood-pecker, with an upward slide, clutched the bark of some old tree and rattled with his black beak till echo laughed again; the raven winnowed his sable shape over the tallest trees; the ground squirrel made a brown streak across the green log; and the rabbit, jerking his long ears, bounded athwart our winding track.        

At the summit of the ridge, we found the remains of a camp but lately deserted; the black remains of the fire, and the beds of hemlock boughs showing the locality of the tent.  A deer's head lay under a neighboring thicket, with its brush lodged in the leaves; and a large trout, freshly dressed, hung from a forked stick in the dead leaves, where it had probably been forgotten.  We respected, however, the law of the woods, which says, "Thou shalt not touch thy neighbor's traps, nor his venison, nor his trout, nor anything which is his, not even a jack-knife."  Every-body honors that law.  

In the loneliest shanty, the hunter may find a rifle, a fishing rod, a haunch of venison, a basket of fish, and, lawless as he may be otherwise, he thinks no more of disturbing it than if the owner were present.  

There is another law.  Every empty cabin is taken possession of for the time being as if the intruder were the lawful occupant.  We descended to the head of the falls, and launching our boats, moved up the river sparkling before us like a track of diamonds.  The trout leaped into the light like a flying fish; the duck rose with a splash and shot before us; the brown heron spread his wide sails from the sandy islet.  Sprinkles of hawks were pin-pointed around a dry pine in the background; a flock of blue jays scolded in a near clump of trees; and a black eagle swept lessening over the rolling surface of the woods, alighting at length on a hemlock, like a musquito on a finger.  We presently came to a beautiful headland of open trees and luxuriant grass scattered with firs and cedars. Near it, was a wild meadow, softened and smoothed over with such a rural home-look that I almost bent my ear to hear the sheep-bell, and glanced to see the boy ride the farm-horse in his rattling harness to water.

At Cold Brook we stopped to fish, as also at the mouth of Moose Creek, and soon after we reached Clear, or Cold River, presenting at its intersection a much broader surface than the Racket.  Cold River rises in the Preston Ponds at the south foot of Mount Seward, and empties here after a flow of forty miles.  It being noted for trout, we entered, and soon scores of the speckled fellows were flapping in our boats.

We then explored farther up the beautiful stream, and at length a distant sound of axes touched our ears.  "The lumber people that I told you of at Big Meadow!" said Harvey.  Now the bank thrust some black tongue of a log into the stream to collect the floating twigs and water-weeds; now the elm leaned over so as to touch the sparkling waterbreak as if to drink, and now the lady birch gleamed out with her waxen skin and flowing tresses.  At our right, or to the north-east, Harvey pointed out Mount Seward, some six or eight miles distant and mellow.  A mile farther on we passed a little opening in the woods.  A fire was sparkling there, and around it were several stalwart fellows in red flannel shirts engaged at their dinner.  Among them the copper skin and long dark locks of an Indian were conspicuous.  A yoke of oxen were near, one ox lying down and the other feeding.  

Following the example of the lumbermen, we shot into a little cove and swallowed our lunch on the back of a prostrate cedar, with our knees buried in herbage.   We then returned, and taking the cross cut of a small channel to our left came again into the Racket.  Up we pulled once more, and, after a few miles, landed on the right bank, whence a half-mile carry led to Long Lake.

A path that touched along through the woods soon brought us to a small stumpy clearing, where stood "Bowen's Camp," a little four by six shanty of spruce bark and sloping to the earth from a cross stick on forked poles.  The recess contained a chest and a bed of boughs.  A sapling fish-pole stood in a corner.  Outside was the kitchen—an upturned, propped scow, with a gridiron, a saucepan, an iron pot, and a tin cup or two underneath.  Blackened stones showed the fire-place, with a pole planted in a rocky cleft whereby to hang the pot; the whole disclosing a very primitive mode of life.  It was the home of Bowen, a solitary hunter and trapper, who cultivated also a small patch of potatoes, rye and buckwheat on the adjacent hillside.      

We skirted the clearing, passing the grey eye of Bowen's spring sparkling between long fern leaves, ascended a height, and the lake burst upon us.  Reflecting in its broad bosom the blue and white of the soft heaven, it stretched down toward the south, until an abrupt curve closed the view.  In front was a charming bay, a leafy mountain beyond.  A bare rock stood by a green island in the mid-distance, with another bay rounding to the right.  Thence the vision was closed by the curve, although it still would fain have roved beyond where fancy imaged a hundred fairy coves and stately reaches and romantic shades.  I gazed at the lake in its enchanting beauty, with playful breezes darting over its gloss and the sunlight kissing it into radiant smiles, and thought how it pierced onward and downward into this splendid wilderness, so lonely in its surrounding details, so imposing in its sweep of grandeur.

Far to the east, towered I knew the sublime Indian Pass and the cloud-cleaving Tahawus with the wild lakes gemming like dew drops his giant feet. Southward from its head, down through the great forest glittered a network of water to Lake George, that storied lake of mountains.  To the west wound the savage Bog River, dim artery to the core of the whole region's heart, its gloomy fastnesses offering, with the Mount Seward wilderness and the lonely shades
of Indian Lake, the only home now of the almost mythic moose.



 

 

We're pleased to bring you writings from an Adirondack Blogger, Dave Waite (photoguy@nycap.rr.com) Dave is an amateur nature and fine arts photographer who was trained in black & white photography in the early 1970's, worked professionally a bit and then set aside all artistic pursuits until about 2003.  Ne now enjoys creative aspects of photograph and writing to share with others.  Please visit Dave at:  http://www.davewaitephotography.blogspot.com

 

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