Pictured is the old Wildcliff Lodge on Cranberry Lake. The place is an original log cabin, that was formerly used to house lumberjacks. It used to attract a lot of deer hunters, and a fair share of brook trout anglers.
Monday, Aug. 15, 2011 has come and gone, and for the vast majority of outdoor travelers, the day passed by nearly unnoticed.
Yet, for a tiny fraction of the millions of outdoor enthusiasts who visit the Adirondacks annually, Monday was an important date.
It signaled the first day that licenses for the annual big game hunting season went on sale. It was a day that caused these enthusiasts to look back to the past, and to dream forward to the future.
Although the day dawned cloudy, cool and drizzly, it provided nothing but sunshine and warm thoughts in the eyes of most sportsmen.
It was a day that stirred up fond memories of past adventures, which mixed easily with anxious anticipation for future pursuits. Regardless of age and experience, the day is always a celebration of youth and the annual adventures that serve to keep us all young.
I thought about this, as I hiked into the woods to my hunting camp on a rainy, Monday afternoon. It is only a short journey to the small cabin, which offers just few comforts beyond a simple woodstove, and a couple of soft bunks.
Despite such rustic austerity, the camp provides an adequate retreat. Although it isn’t located far from the din of civilization, it still provides an adequate escape. Like most camps, it allows me to retreat from the typical cares and concerns of the day, and to slow my pace, and escape the race.
Camps come in all shapes and sizes, but the buildings don't much matter. The physical location is more important than the size or number of structures. A rough camp can be just as comfortable as a Great Camp, since camp is simply a state of mind, and a place in time.
What truly matters is the company we keep, and the commitment to return to camp year after year. The real lure of a camp is the unique draw that continues to bring us back to the woods and waters, from one generation to next.
What is done in camp today has changed very little, from what was done over 100 years ago. It is still intended to offer a respite from the civilized world, and to provide us with a place to hunt deer, swap lies, mess about with boats, catch some fish, eat hearty food, laugh, have a drink, play some cards, smoke cheap cigars, and enjoy the company of old friends.
Although camps are often defined by their physical location, there is a much more potent, spiritual sense of camp. Upon returning to camp, we are transformed, we are relaxed and subdued.
Time slows, worries begin to diminish, appointments are forgotten, good times are remembered and everyday concerns begin to seem just a little less important.
Our worries center on the berries that need to be picked, the fish that must be caught, or that big old buck that always disappears over the far hill, on the evening before opening day. Fortunately, in camp, it always seems such troublesome concerns can be put off for just another day.
While traveling in the Five Ponds Wilderness a few weeks ago, I took the opportunity to revisit the old Wildcliff Lodge, located on the far, southern shore of Cranberry Lake. The property has long since been sold, and it now appears to be abandoned, with roofs sagging, and the buildings in various states of collapse.
But for many years, the remote log lodge was owned and operated by proprietors, Vern and Barbara Peterson. It offered a bar and restaurant, where travelers could always find a warm woodstove and a cold beer, or a home cooked meal, and a kind word.
Generations of hunters and anglers considered it to be their own “camp,” and I was most fortunate to number myself among them. Despite its current dilapidated condition, I was transported back in time from the very moment I set foot on the shoreline.
Faded business cards still festooned the bulletin board outside on the front porch, and the place still carried the scent of wood smoke, mothballs and wet woolies, despite its many obvious points of ventilation.
It was a camp that I once shared with old friends, many of whom have long since departed. However, as I stepped onto the long, wooden porch, and gently pushed open the front door, their laughter returned. The warmth of their smiles mixed easily with faded memories of the times we had shared, and for one brief moment, I was back to camp.
I carried these memories as I traveled into Spectacle Pond, Olmstead Pond, Simmons Pond and beyond to the old, Slant Rock Camp located high on the hillside near Curtis Pond. I hope to return one day and share in the laughter again. It sure was good to visit the old haunts!