When I was10 years old I spent the summer going to work with my father. I was not a happy camper when that decision was made, because my plans were to spend it fishing, building a camp on the river, riding my bike and just hanging out with my friends. However, apparently mom needed a break from my antics so dad decided I would spend that summer at work with him. Thus, the day after school got out, I was “forced” into what I assumed would be a summer of slave labor. I wanted my own way, but it was not going to happen, so I sullenly rode the 18 miles from Bloomingdale, NY to Upper Saint Regis boat landing in dads truck. Then, using 4 wheel drive, we bounced along the 3 ½ mile dirt road and arrived by 8am at the place where my father worked.
Dad was an Adirondack guide and the caretaker of one of the great, old Adirondack camps. It was located on 125 acres of deep woods on the canoe carry between Bear Pond and Upper Saint Regis Lake in upstate New York. The Malenson family, owners of the Malenson Silk Company, built this structure and a larger one on the same property in the early 1800’s. The larger camp had burned to the ground in the early 1900’s but about 1935 their grand daughter, Mrs Patricia Olmstead inherited the remaining structure. She and her husband Henry, named the camp “Forest Lodge” and they hired my father in 1948 to maintain the whole facility.
So, on June 24th, 1964 I angrily went with my father to work, but to my great shock I found it to be a boy’s dream come true. There were miles of forest trails that led to hidden trout streams and bullhead ponds. There was a woodshed and shop where my dad and I ate lunch daily, and found shelter when it rained. Up the hill from dads shop was a three story Swiss Chalet, with two large balconies, all built from huge spruce logs. Over the hill from there, and down by the lake shore were boat docks and a 6 stall boathouse made of Cyprus wood. It contained a large wooden inboard cruiser, Mrs. Olmsteds outboard boat named “Ciracco”, a priceless handmade Willard Hamner guide boat, a handmade red canvas and cedar-strip canoe, a sail boat and 3 smaller aluminum boats that were pushed by 10, 5 and 3 ½ horse Johnson outboard motors.
Behind the boathouse was a pump house. This small building had a large, single cylinder “Bulldog” pump. It puffed and chugged and spit as the attached water-ram lifted lake water up the 500 foot hill into a 2500 gallon tank. From there the water was gravity fed to all the flower gardens and coldflats around the property. My father had designed and built this irrigation system and all the flower beds as well. The gardens were actually on the site of the larger main camp that had burned. This location was sunny and it overlooked the lake. When dad saw it he planned the flowerbeds, and built their enclosed walls and connecting flagstone walkways all from Redford flagstone. Over the years he had carried each stone there on his truck and set all of it in place, piece-by-piece.
My job that summer was pretty easy. I watered the flowers, feed the birds, keep the boats gassed up and brought wood inside for the great fireplace in the main room of the lodge. There were other things to do as well. I walked the trails and removed fallen brush, mowed lawns, swept all the walkways, steps and boat docks. I also got to go fishing when things were slow or use the boats as I wanted. But my favorite thing of all was shooting my Winchester .22 single-shot rifle. Dad bought that little beauty for me at a gun shop in Saranac Lake so I could exterminate red squirrels. Needless to say I carried it with me every daylight hour. It was my constant companion and I used it numerous times throughout the day. There was an infestation of squirrels in the area and they chewed everything in sight. Thus, I was appointed the squirrel assassin, and I proudly did my job.
That summer went by in a flash, and before I knew it September had come and it was time for me to go back to school. That first day of school, as I got ready to run the path to my 5th grade class, I saw dad getting in his 1954 Willies Jeep. I knew he was headed for Forest Lodge and everything in me wanted to go with him. It was at that moment I realized what a precious gift I had been given. Few boys had ever gotten to spend a whole summer with their father, and fewer still had spent it in such a wonderful place. It might have just been another summer of work of my dad, but for me, because I had not gotten my own way, it was an adventure that changed my life.
Why am I telling you this? At times we are forced into things that just don’t make sense. These are decisions that refuse to line up with what we had planned to do. People and circumstances can just become contrary, and that can wreck our best plans in a moment. When this happens it is not uncommon for us to make such a fuss that we are able to force the issue to go our way. In those instances we may very well have gotten a momentary triumph over an uncomfortable situation. However, I have to wonder, what adventures have we sacrifice, and what life changing events have we missed because we selfishly made things go our way?
I am the man I am today because of an unplanned summer in 1964. During that time I learned about my father and his work, and that impacted me deeply. More importantly, during that summer I actually learned about myself, and that change me forever. Are you in the midst of an unplanned change? Perhaps it’s time to let the adventure of it take you over. Stop all the fussing and look around at the new sights and sounds. Learn from what is happening, be changed by the experience and then become better because of it. Who knows, this could be your summer of change!