Looking for the wild things
By Akum Norder
Our expedition leader’s britches keep falling down. She’s zigzagging all over the trail, and she trips on every root she crosses. But we’d follow her anywhere.
My daughter, husband and I are on our way to Panther Pond, a half-hour drive west of Lowville in a remote part of the western Adirondacks. The gentle one-mile trail begins at the end of a 3-1/2 mile dirt road.
Right before we found the turnoff from the Number Four Road it had poured for exactly five minutes, rattling on the windshield hard enough to make us wonder if we should change our plans, and then it stopped just as suddenly. We’re relieved: We’re all eager to unfold ourselves from our car seats and use our legs a little after a long drive.
With Cleis, our 2-year-old, hiking is different than it used to be. We look for flat terrain, chosen with the idea that we may be carrying out a 30-pound sleepyhead. Making good time means getting back to the car before an emergency diaper change. There’s not much quiet communion with the natural world, but when’s the last time you were chased through the woods by monsters?
Cleis’s lopsided ponytail bounces from side to side as she giggles through the forest. Sunlight filters through the jagged clouds to play on the wet rocks. It’s my turn to be the monster, but I have to break character for a parental warning.
“Be careful here, sweetie. Here’s a slippery place.”
“A slippery place! I love a slippery place!”
She skips ahead, risking nothing more than a mud bath, and then picks up a little speed.
“And Cleis runs!” she shouts. She is often the narrator of her own story.
In the register at the trailhead, the entries for the year total only slightly more than one full page, front and back. I am surprised that there had not been more visitors by now, so late in the summer; the trail to the pond has those magical qualities that not-so-buff nature-lovers cherish. It feels remote but requires no strenuous effort.
Cleis skips and sings her way through the forest, hitching a ride on Daddy occasionally. The woods shine a soft green in the cool summer afternoon.
As we round every turn, the little one asks if Panther Pond will be there. And, finally, it is.
The sturdy, south-facing lean-to offers just a peek of the shining water, and the fire pit beckons with marshmallow evenings. My first thought: Who wouldn’t camp here? We immediately make plans to come back.
The pond’s surface mirrors crisply the dense woods of the far shore. As my husband and I often do on our outings, we decide to give each other time alone for a few minutes of reverie. I take the first shift, keeping the girl with me while Gary walks the rim of the pond.
Cleis and I sit on a log at the marshy edge. We watch dragonflies and listen for frogs. I marvel at the tiny jungle at my feet.
Cleis looks out across the water. “What a beautiful pond,” she says.
“What are we going to see next? Where are the M&M’s?”
After she picks her fill of M&M’s and raisins out of the gorp, we go exploring in the woods around the lean-to. Cleis is the leader, of course. This involves going over and under as many obstacles as possible. After we come back, she has to take her daddy over the same leafy course.
I flip through the lean-to register, and what stands out are the entries written by children:
- “I hope we come again because it’s relaxing up here. Me and erik were playing monster trucks and went for nature walks.”
- “the site is really nice one and we hope to come back for a camping trip and hope to bring Soy my friend along too.”
- “This is my first time going back packing with my dad. This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been and the frogs are amazing and Panther Pond is great.”
Unlike the rest of us, children are not afraid to use superlatives. It’s a luminous quality.
“Mommy! Some more raisins and M&M’s, please?”
Another fine quality children share: They’re always ready for one more gorp break.
Going back, our pace seemed even faster (more monsters). As we buckled her into her car seat, Cleis paused thoughtfully. She said, “I thought we were going to see some panthers.”
She was asleep before we were out of the parking area.
From the junction of Number Four Road and Stillwater Road at the settlement of Number Four, drive west on Number Four Road for 0.9 miles. Turn left onto Smith Road (look for DEC sign) and drive 3.8 miles to the end of the drivable road.
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