Saturday, September 26, 2015

Found Weekend at Canada Lake

Canada Lake Expedition, September 17-20, 2015

 Haas kicks back, majorly.

Cast of lovable misfit ex-cons, AKA the Dirty Half-Dozen:

Mark Hotchkiss (known to grow a mustache if he feels like it)
Scott Hotchkiss (wears a hat just like a stone-cold killer would wear)
Fred Hotchkiss (something about this guy just ain't right)
Dave Haas (wanted in three states for assault by belching)
Dan Thomas (referred to by the inner circle as El Bizarro)
Dave Rockwell (related to the notorious Hotchkiss Gang; kills with his camera)

And, appearing offstage in the role of the Ghost of Claudius, Mark Haden, mysterious mastermind and possible supercriminal Cosa Nostra fixer type.

 The cabin of fantasy, five hundred miles north of anything, accessed by floatplane only.

It was a fine Thursday afternoon. We were gathered out on the dock; and we had gotten quickly into the beer. There was a high-powered speedboat tethered in the locked boathouse, with the rear end showing, and very soon Fred had Tarzaned into the boathouse underwater, a long Bowie knife in his teeth (figuratively speaking) and ascertained that the boat had the key in it and would start. This prompted a terrible temptation and madness in some of the company, but not all. Calls were made to Haden – increasingly incoherent and profane calls, but Haden wisely would not touch these proposals even with an infinitely long theoretical pole, and no illicit powerboating ensued. We subsided into the inaudible muttering of Inuit tribesmen chewing blubber, and more beer was transported across the long gangplank, built on a set of bolted steel rails stolen from a train yard a century ago. Clouds drifted by, and an Hispanic stonemason tapped interminably on stones in the waterfront just to our east. Each tap eroded, ever so slightly, the plaster bust of our sanity. However, I think the primitive harmonies of lake, cottage, campfire and freedom shored up that crumbling sanity a little more than it was eroded and we came out of the weekend restored, at least enough to carry on.

 Fred rests from his labors.

Every man carries within him the trapped personalities of himself in previous stages of life, so they say, and I believe. There is a toddler, and a boy, and a teenager, and a young adult, all sitting back in there twiddling their thumbs while the mature adult goes about his boring, unavoidable routine, just waiting for death (according to the younger personalities). And for any reasonable level of happiness, those earlier selves need to be let out and indulged to some degree. So naturally this trip is a yearly escape from the cage just for the teenager and the young, unmarried adult: most rules relaxed or eliminated; personal hygiene strictly optional; self-discipline in food or drink waived; and the time available completely unscripted, with only the cohesion of a small gang of adolescents with no clear leader. Once again the female world is returned to its former status, when we didn't understand it as we do now, and the mystery was intoxicating. I made a toast around the campfire: Here's to our wives, God bless 'em, and to them not being here. 

  A rare moment of Porch Nirvana.

I was able to do some lengthy kayaking, and view a full spectrum of cottages from palatial to post-rustic; here are a few examples of interesting craftsmanship:

 Beautiful stone work, possibly unmortared.

Railing just made for collapsing under dozens of Western movie bad guys dropping into the calm waters.

A fugitive from the last Ice Age, hiding in plain sight, like Whitey Bolger.

And there are plenty of forgotten docks to be found which are clearly deathtraps, unfit to be walked on by anything bigger than a cat:


We did have a general goal to do some golfing together, but in a style and manner completely lacking in seriousness and rigor; hence as balls disappeared forever in the Adirondack backwoods on either side of the fairways, we would curse just for the fun of it, and get another ball. In three carts we hustled along and kept ahead of the real golfers in their foursomes. This was not the kind of course where you get escorted off for wearing the wrong plus-fours – if such courses even exist anymore. Mark was the one real golfer, and Danny showed good skills, but the rest of us had to be content with the rare good shot which was occasionally better for that spot. And for the kid in us, that rare shot is the whole beauty of the game, and the score is just a nuisance to be ignored. For the average golfer, this attitude is necessary to prevent the famous golf-induced frustration that will always set in, because if the score is all you crave, there are always a huge number of players whose game you will never even approach. Golf need not be “a good walk, spoiled.” But it forces you to get your mind right, if you want any satisfaction at all. A drive that lands somewhere near the fairway and a solid six-foot putt once in a while are all I need to be happy.

Canada Lake is a fairly large, oddly-shaped lake surrounded by hills and mixed forest, with fine clear water and houses new and old scattered along much, but not all, of the shore. The surrounding forest is a dense mixture of hardwoods, pine and hemlock. Our cottage, rented very reasonably in the off-season, is charmingly and genuinely rustic and run-down, but still quite functional. It lends itself to the gothic imagination: painted dark brown, with every floorboard creaking, and the whole engulfed in hemlock, one could easily sink into a Lovecraftian dream and imagine a race of misshapen humanoid squirrels living in the dank crawl space with the more decrepit boats. Hemlocks and other small trees have even been allowed to nearly obscure the view of the lake. But the kitchen is excellently equipped with the needful: coffee maker, modern stove, quality utensils and fine large chef knives handy for slashing at zombies and the like.

 Notice the matched pair of eight-point bucks guarding the parlor.

There is also a large, sagging boathouse with a completely renovated bedroom suite upstairs (not rented by us on this occasion), and two kayaks, a canoe and an ancient Sunfish sailboat, identical to those in which we as children played pirates and perhaps learned the first basic requirements of sailing on Quaker Lake, a half-century ago. 

 The cottage of real life - a few broken windows and a million creaking boards.  Oozes charm, as the agents say.

Unfortunately the sail on this Sunfish is completely worn out, just waiting for the next good squall to tear it to ribbons. The last foot for so at the end of the boom is torn, so that the trailing edge of the sail flaps free, and in several other spots small holes have worn through. Hence on Saturday when the wind picked up nicely during my morning kayaking trip, and Fred and I decided to go out sailing, the poor old boat could just barely meet the challenge. We managed to broach it right at the dock while hoisting the sail, which is also a clue to our level of incompetence, but soon we were scudding – maybe a better term is trudging – downwind, with me as captain by default, as Fred had last sailed the Sunfish about 40 years ago.

We rounded the tiny rocky island (use caution, real possibility of hitting the centerboard on a submerged boulder here) a half-mile west in a few minutes and started to tack back up the lake, and soon discovered that our upwind travel with the terrible sail and the overloaded boat was going to be a real struggle. Not far upwind of the island a sudden shifty gust caused an unplanned tack, and our scrambling about caused water to pour in over the side, and we were swamped, and drifting helplessly toward a rocky lee shore, that much-beloved phrase so common in stories of maritime adventure.

  Tiny dock on the tiny island.
Luckily a Sunfish can be quickly bailed out, and we clawed our way back up the lake as the wind faded, shifted and gusted in that enchanting manner which makes small-lake sailing so maddening. There was much recrimination and blame cast as Kirk blamed Spock for being drunk and disorderly, and Spock blamed Kirk for being paranoid and incompetent, but eventually the tiny ship warped into port safely, and beer was drunk. 

Cooking was rudimentary, only slightly more advanced than typical Neolithic or Neanderthal cuisine, especially as the gas grill supplied was almost as craptastic as the Sunfish sail, and had to be lighted with a long burning twig from the campfire. Steaks and hot Italian sausages cooked in the dark kept us alive and drinking. I am a breakfast aficionado, though, so on Friday morning we had cheese omelets, bacon and toast with our coffee. On Saturday morning it was Jimmy Dean sausage and toaster waffles, etc. 

 Do not take this boat out unless you are a world-class small boatman and have insurance.

Central to the flow of time was the firepit, flanked by ancient wooden benches, surrounded by hemlock, near the kayak/canoe launch ramp. We kept the fire going the first two days, using available moldy logs and fallen sticks, and also by the slightly questionable but traditional method of scrounging moldy old logs than might technically belong to an adjacent property. The last night firewood was purchased and brought in, and used liberally, though we could still sit on the benches without broiling. Each morning we rebuilt the fire from embers. 

 Rustic detail.

The fire helps the time flow harmoniously, and the mind is freed to remember the summers of long ago, and the tongue freed to tell the tales that we could not forget if we tried. Some of them, anyway. And Saturday night we got out Fred's drum, and Mark's didgeridoo, and Haas's hilarious little wheeeee! device, and made some interesting noises to accompany a wild variety of classic tunes from Haas's playlist. My boyhood dream of becoming a world-famous didgeridoo virtuoso and Tuvan throat singer was shattered, though, as apparently I just don't have the right sort of floobly horse-farting lips for it, and I don't have the knack of inhaling and exhaling simultaneously, either. Oh well! Fortunately there was no recording made of this session, as far as anyone knows.

 Duke, duke duke, Duke of Earl, duke, duke...

I drove out early Sunday with Scott, as he needed to meet his wife in Canajoharie (Indian name, translates as “The Jar that Washes Itself” – apparently a reference to some pothole feature worn into the granite of a nearby streambed). I dropped him at the Betty Beaver gas station – a name that is self-explanatory, once you see the impressive bas-relief logo. This just begs for a syrupy country western song in the antique style:

She said she'd meet me
At the Betty Beaver
And I swore I'd never
Even try to leave her;
In Canajoharie
That crazy old town
The skies are starry
And the beer's not bad.

 Let us pray that the new management doesn't dare to change the Beaver!

Our early departure apparently was highly fortuitous, allowing us to avoid seeing Tarzan without his breechclout wading out to secure the Sunfish sail before checking out. With any luck there exists no photo of this, if such a thing is still possible in this horribly virtualized world we have created. 

 Mennonite country in upstate New York; almost a green version of Montana.



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He clasps the crag with crooked hands; Close to the sun in lonely lands, Ring'd with the azure world, he stands. The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls; He watches from his mountain walls, And like a thunderbolt he falls.