I've long been a proponent of our North Country way of life. It remains a slice of small town America at its best. We live in a familiar place where we know our neighbors.
It's a good feeling to walk down Main Street and say "hello" to the people you meet on a first name basis. And if you don't know their first name, you probably still know their parents.
It's a staple of our existence, we look after each other. We eagerly lend a hand when needed. And it goes without saying, that for such simple favors, nothing is asked nor expected beyond a hardy thank you or a kind pat on the back.
The notion of accepting a monetary reward for shoveling a neighbor's car out from under a snowdrift is unheard of. I guess this is due to the understanding that someday the favor will be returned, whether with a tow out of the mud or a jump-start on a cold winter's morn.
We remember, what goes around comes around. Good deeds or bad deeds, they always return to the owner.
In that same vein of reasoning, many local folks still leave their house doors unlocked and their keys in the car. Often an empty car is found running in front of a local post office or a purse is left behind at the grocery store counter.
In most cases, nothing terrible happens. Someone will turn the car off or call about the misplaced purse. As a group, we don't live in fear of such things as identity theft; why would we? Up here, everybody knows each other and we like it that way.
Maybe it's because we're a sentimental lot and we want to hold onto the innocence of that old familiar, small town charm. It used to be that way; but times are changing. Sadly, we're going to have to change too.
There was a time, not too long ago, that you could leave anything in the woods short of a bottle of whiskey; and nobody would bother with it. Woodland travelers, it has always seemed, operate on a different standard. We respect each other and the sacredness of our surroundings. This isn't a cityscape where everyone views the other with a jaded eye or a second glance.
I've never given a second thought to setting up a camp and leaving it unattended all day. Nor have I ever considered hiding gear while I took a quick shuttle up the road to retrieve a vehicle after a long river float.
Maybe, I'm just too trusting. I know of many that used to be that way as well. But, in the past few years, I've heard my share of stories. Canoes stolen, oars missing, rods ripped off and even motors and batteries taken from boathouses.
Cars have been pilfered at trailheads and gas tanks siphoned. Hikers have returned from a day's journey to vacant campsites, where their $500 tents used to stand. Backpacks and even snowshoes missing after taking one last quick ski around the loop.
In reality, we really don't know all of our neighbors anymore and despite what we'd like to believe, Andy of Mayberry was just television fiction and Aunt Bee doesn't really bake pies.
In fact, that creepy looking guy, who you thought only hung out at the mall, may actually be the guy that's tromping down the trail in front of you.
Cars idling in the parking lot and purses left at the store, no more! That special innocence has been violated, more than once.
Although it's been a few years since a thief grabbed packbaskets, PFD's and paddles out of our canoe while we shuttled vehicles, a more recent incident robbed my faith in fellow outdoor travelers.
Last weekend, as I returned from a day of bass fishing on the St. Regis Lakes, I carefully placed a black and teal colored, Mountainsmith pack on the dock at the public landing since it had my most valuable belongings. I left the other gear in the boat.
After the confusion of replacing a number of blown fuses in the truck, I hitched up the trailer and drove away. In the hustle, I didn't realize that I'd left the pack behind. It contained a Sony Cybershot digital camera (with a Vivatar lens cap), a 20 year collection of fly and spin tackle, a spruce colored, EMS GorTex jacket, a cell phone and my sportsman's wallet.
I was almost to town when I remembered. After dropping the boat and trailer at a friend's house, I immediately returned to the landing. Although I was only gone for about 20 minutes, the pack and all my valuables was gone for at least 19.
Over the years, I've found numerous items at the St. Regis landing ranging from Skilsaws to chainsaws, lunch buckets to tackle boxes. Commonly, such items are left by construction crews, or on the rare occasion, by an absent-minded angler. They were always returned.
There is a certain degree of satisfaction that comes with returning a lost item. Usually, all it takes is a note posted on the dock's bulletin board or at the local post office. Notice can also be given to the lake stewards, who greet boaters upon arrival at the boat landing. Even the local newspapers offer free ads for lost and found items as a public service.
It's always nice to see an individual's appreciation upon retrieving their lost items. The reward is a genuine good feeling for doing the right thing. It's a wonder they are so happy when another human being is simply being honest.
With hopes that an honest individual picked up the pack, I sent a text message to my cell phone. The message read, "Reward offered for the return of this phone and the pack that it was in."
I knew that the phone was still turned on. My wallet, with identification and phone number was also in the pack. I waited, but no one called.
The next day, I reported the theft to the State Police. When the Trooper finished the interview, he asked, "If we find the person responsible, do you want them prosecuted? That is our job."
"You know," I began, " I'd just like to get my gear back, but it's been almost 48 hours. If it were an honest individual, I'd have my pack back by now. I'd like you to do your job."
Two days later, my wallet was found along the side of Route 3, near the intersection of Alderbrook Park Road. The contents were scattered as if it had been thrown out the window of a moving vehicle. My cell phone is probably somewhere along the same stretch of highway.
I hope that some honest parent, guardian or disgusted spouse reads this story and recognizes the new Sony camera with a Vivatar lens cap or the spruce colored, EMS GorTex rain jacket that some slug just brought home in a nice, Mountainsmith pack.
The reward still stands and my email address is listed below. However, from now on the packs will stay on my back and a paddle in my hand.
A bottle of whiskey may now be considered safe, but a camp no longer is. It's a sad day when the Adirondack woods and waters are no longer considered the habitat of honest men.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org