Last week, I had the unique opportunity to visit with some old friends who I hadn't even met yet. The meeting occurred near a place that remains far away, but close to the heart.
Our introduction came about as the result of a phone call from a Department of Environmental Conservation dispatcher at Region 5 in Ray Brook, who had contacted me to find an address for a local horse packer who services the St. Regis Canoe Area.
I told her that I would follow up with the interested party, and over the course of several conversations, the horse packer was secured and arrangements were made for a horse and wagon to haul the guests into Fish Pond, located about five miles back in the St. Regis Canoe Area.
Scott Clark and his father Steve used the Blagden Lean-to on Fish Pond as a base camp during a recent fishing trip in the St. Regis Canoe Area. They left the tents to dry inside the lean-to after a heavy downpour.
(Photo — Joe Hackett)
The purpose of their trip was to enjoy a week of camping and fishing. Scott Clark made most of the arrangements for the father and son trip. His father Steve Clark is a Saranac Lake native who graduated from St. Pius. Eventually he was drafted and went off to the Vietnam War, before returning home and completing his teaching degree at Plattsburgh State. He has since retired from a long career as a history teacher at Rutland High School in Vermont.
There was an instant connection between Steve and myself, as my father had been his supervisor when Steve was a student-teacher in college.
"I remember him," Steve said. "He was a really good man."
Steve was a star quarterback in high school and eventually married a cheerleader Faye Duffy, his high school sweetheart. They've been together since their freshman year of high school.
Although disabled by Parkinson's Disease, a result of exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam, he is a proud veteran and his athletic build is still evident, even if his stamina is somewhat deminished.
When we finally met up at the Blagden Lean-to, on the shore of Fish Pond. it was evident that he knew the local woods and waters as well as anyone. And he should, since was practically raised there. Both his father and his grandfather each had tent platforms on St. Regis Pond, and he grew up in a sporting family: hunting, fishing, camping and also guiding.
Steve and Scott had hired the horse and wagon to haul camping gear and canoes into Fish Pond, with plans to camp for a week. I journeyed in for a day trip and eventually met up with them as they returned from a productive morning of angling.
Back at the campsite, Steve and I chatted as Scott cleaned the morning's catch. They had taken an impressive batch of brookies, and within minutes Scott had the fish roasting over the fire.
Steve is a big fellow and Scott is even bulkier. After tasting his pepper-smoked trout, it became obvious how they each got that way.
After lunch, I sat around camp for hours, listening to the tales of the pranks that once played out in hunting camp or while fishing.
"I remember hunting with Frankie Kunath," explained Steve. "He was always climbing trees when we got lost. He'd climb up there like nothing, so he could locate the St. Regis Fire Tower, and then he'd know where we were. He was really something!"
"And I remember one day, we were sitting in a boat on Clamshell Pond - Frankie, Uncle Howard, me and Dad," he continued. "And Frankie hooked into a really big brookie. He fought that fish for over 15 minutes and was unable to get it to the boat. Uncle Howard reached over and touched his line with a lit cigarette as he explained 'You weren't gonna get that fish in the boat anyways.' He lost the fish. and boy was he mad."
For most of the afternoon, I sat around camp with the Clark boys,. Their stories just kept coming, with tales of the big bucks that regularly ran through Apache Pass, near Clamshell Pond and stories about the difficulty of quietly stalking whitetails when there's a 10-year-old kid on your tail.
My only regret was that I had to leave too soon, before my 5-mile return trip became a 5-mile trip in the dark. I left camp with the feeling that I had just been reacquainted with old friends, and in a sense I had. We all shared the common bond of an appreciation for a wild piece of land, and the pleasures that are to be had while traveling there. We also have similar passions for woodsmoke and brook trout, loons and laughter and I expect our paths will cross again.