Although the color wasn’t peak, the peaks had great color for the 21st installment of Field, Forest, and Stream, the festival that celebrates all that is Adirondack each year at the Essex County seat, Elizabethtown, NY. Bill Smith, Ben Raino, Akwesasne Women’s Singers Katsitsionni, and I kicked things off with an hour and a half of stories about the North Country from some pretty diverse perspectives!
Bill and I were at the first Field, Forest. and Stream 21 years ago. We sat in a little gazebo in the gardens of the Adirondack History Museum while the snow came in sideways so hard somebody put up a card table over on the side to block the wind, while Roy Hurd literally scraped the snow off the side of my hat! Over those 21 years I’ve been there more times than not, some times in snow storms, sometimes in 90 degrees! Caroline Thompson of the Arts Council for the Northern Adirondacks has organized every one, but I’m afraid if the town and the county don’t take a more prominent role here, Elizabethtown will lose one of, (if not it’s biggest), tourist traffic days, and the Adirondacks will lose their premier showcase of Adirondack arts and culture. Bill, here to the left, is not only an icon as a storyteller, but is also a master pack basket maker, a skill learned a a boy from his Akwesasne neighbors, a greatly overlooked staple of the fabric of Adirondack life.
I guess it’s no secret to anyone here that I’m passionate about preserving the culture of this region where I grew up as a boy. Here to the right are some folks preserving the great basketmaking tradition gifted to us from the Akwesasne people. It may look like a parlor activity, but I’m here to tell you it’s hard work. Until you’ve gone up to Bill Smith’s house and pounded ash splints from a log with the back of a single bit axe, it’s hard to fully appreciate that fact. Some of the baskets at the Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake are over a hundred years old, a testament to the design and artistry developed in the Akwesasne culture for hundreds and hundreds of years.
Here to the left you see the Akwesasne Women’s Singing Society, who appeared at the festival. They not only sang, but danced as well, and invited the audience to join them as they wove in and out of the festival goers and activities! The Singing Society is charged with the responsibility of assistance and support to those in the community who have suffered a loss of some sort. The majority of the songs are written in the Mohawk language with the help of fluent Mohawk speaking people in the community. They believe, as do I, that if their language dies, so will the Akwesasne Nation, because without language they would have no culture. Through their songs they honor our Mother the Earth, our Grandmother the Moon and all that is natural to us.
Here we see a group of Elizabethtown and local natives recounting the many years celebrated with the Maple Festival, a pillar of Elizabethtown’s Adirondack heritage. No matter where you go up here, there is a proud heritage of local traditions that have somehow survived the ravages of time and “progress”. Often it’s simple stuff, but simply delightful to experience. That’s why this festival is so vital to the preservation of the culture and flavor of the North Country. Where else can people go for a one day smorgasbord of the things that make the Adirondacks unique? If going to the woods is all folks want, there’s plenty of places to go all over New England, but THIS is the stuff that sets us apart. If you agree, please hit the “Leave Comment” button at the top of the page and tell us what YOU think.
My weekend didn’t end there, but rather just began. Then I headed north to an “undisclosed location”, (read here- I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you,… ; >) It was the swan song to this extraordinary fly fishing season, a season that led me north twice with my boys, Tink and Silas, who went from neophytes to solid fishermen in the last two seasons. The weather was less than ideal, but I don’t give a hoot, the same group of crazy guys I’ve gone up there with for over 20 years was installed in the cabin and ready to usher out a season that has had no rival in my tenure there. The rain and cloudy weather may have confounded many a beach goer this summer, but for those of us with staff and rod, it was the stuff of stories that will be told around the campfire for years to come. Hell,…some of them will even be true,…
Our venerable grill chef, Lew, seared the filets to perfection once more in the traditional dinner that ends the season for our group. Other than Len Kilian and his son Chris, Lew is the only member senior to me in this group that has fished through heat waves and blizzards over the years. The pavilion you see here has hosted impromptu concerts by John Kirk, Bill Tripp, Jack Hume, Curt Stager, Chris Kilian, and myself for better than twenty years. The rest of the time we build a modest fire, sit quietly, and sip our sarsaparilla, in a humorless, subdued discussion of the days events. (Are they buying that, Larkin?)
We don’t do all the cooking, each morning we go to the local diner for breakfast. You’ll notice the locals have had the good sense to clear the streets so no one gets trampled as the boys head in for breakfast. Of course we remain in that same subdued demeanor here, never being boisterous or outspoken. We simply eat our healthy fare of whole grains, fruits, nuts and berries with local organically fed goat’s milk before heading out to the streamside.
(Hey Larkin,…are they still buying it?)
This is the scene after breakfast as we ponder the logistics of the days fishing. Places with such colorful names as the Washing Machine, Kirk’s Glide, the Grand Staircase, Seven Ferns, and Shaw’s Delight are all fair game as we fan out over the river. This is our Fearless Leader, our Grand Pubaah, Le Grand Frommage,…Len Kilian. Here we see him making that daring fashion statement only he can pull off, the rakish tilt of the club hat coupled with devil-may-care flowing sweatshirt, finished with the shocking white sock-moccasin combo. But then again,…he always was a slave to fashion.
Below you see another picture of Barnum Pond, it’s not a particularly good one, but conditions were less than favorable that day. I posted a much better one almost exactly a year ago when I started this blog. Go to the very bottom of this page and hit “older entries”, and scroll back to see it. I’m going to try to take a picture of the pond every year at this time to remind us all of the importance of tradition. As Len has often said, and as it appears on the crest of our club, “DFWT” (Don’t Fool With Tradition)