Fun without Jiffy Pop
By Paul Grondahl
The supermarket was out of Jiffy Pop. I should have taken that as a sign of bad karma for the Adirondack camping trip my 10-year-old daughter, Caroline, and I had planned. The outing was intended as a father-daughter bonding experience in the final days of August, an end-of-summer coda before easing into the start of another school year for her.
Fifth grade beckoned, and none too reassuringly for Caroline, with the faint outline of middle school and the uncertainty of adolescence on the distant horizon.
I recalled the magic of Jiffy Pop from camping trips of my youth and wanted my daughter to enjoy that memorable experience for herself: the mesmerizing aluminum bonnet of popping kernels rising and swelling to improbable proportions when rubbed vigorously across the cooking grate of a campfire. It was a late-night snack as improvisational theater. You wanted to say abracadabra or applaud even before you tore open that steaming mushroom cloud and scooped up the first handful of buttery, salty delight.
“I miss mommy,” came Caroline’s plaintive moan, followed by a quivering bottom lip and tears welling up in her light blue-green eyes. We had finished dinner (macaroni and cheese) and were sitting at a picnic table at Paradox Lake State Campground near the hamlet of Severance. We had exhausted the possibilities of Kids’ Scrabble and card games (spit and war) beneath flickering candlelight as dusk slid gently into nightfall. I bought a bundle of firewood from a guy in a battered pickup. Shortly after he left, Caroline’s whining commenced afresh.
“I wanna go hoooooome!”
We had brought along our black Lab, Daisy, a big, lovable lug, as comic relief. But as Caroline continued to whimper and I tried to console her, the dog was busy snarfling under the picnic table in search of dinner crumbs. Some help this canine vacuum cleaner was turning out to be.
So here we sat, out of daylight, out of diversions and no Jiffy Pop. And I, alas, was beginning to run out of patience.
Earlier in the day, the father-daughter bonding thing was going rather well. We had rented a rowboat and rowed across the lake to a trailhead. It was Daisy’s first time in a boat, and the dog had Caroline cracking up the whole way. She held the dog’s leash as Daisy lunged at a bird, tried to lean over and eat a clump of shoreline grasses and generally made a nuisance of herself as she rocked the aluminum boat from side to side.
We managed to cross the lake without swamping, then pulled the boat ashore in a little bay and located the trail to Peaked Hill (accessible by water only). Daisy rambled up ahead as we hiked up a short, steep pitch before the trail flattened out. I held Caroline’s hand and helped over a few fallen logs as we passed through cool, shadowy stands of balsam, birch and a pungent spruce swamp. As we neared the one-mile mark, we came to a lovely little pond surrounded by hemlocks. Caroline said she was tired. We were only halfway to the summit of Peaked Hill, which promised a fine view of lakes and peaks, but rather than goad her on and spoil her mood, we turned around. On the row back, Daisy laid down in the boat, worn out. We swam a bit at the sandy beach before returning to our campsite.
We had just finished the mac-and-cheese when Caroline started crying for mommy. My only strategy was to go to bed early, as soon as it got dark. That was fine with Caroline. I hadn’t considered the Daisy factor, though.
You would be amazed how loud a Lab’s bark can be when it explodes a few feet from your ear inside a tent. This went on all through the night, at least every 15 minutes or so, like clockwork, whenever a squirrel rustled through the leaves or a raccoon cracked a branch on the ground or the wind rattled tree limbs. Luckily, this was the end of the season, so the campground was nearly deserted. Daisy barked and barked and barked. I thought dogs could grow hoarse, but apparently not. We slept hardly at all.
At first light, I couldn’t take it any longer, crawled out of the tent, started a fire and got some coffee going. I put Daisy on her leash, tethered her to a leg of the picnic table and gave her a dark scowl. Caroline shuffled out of the tent a short time later. I was prepared to pack up, expecting to hear her cries of missing mommy and wanting to go home. Surprisingly, she wanted to stay and thought Daisy’s barking all night was very funny.
After breakfast (cereal, bagels and muffins), Caroline asked if we could go fishing. We loaded up our gear in the rowboat, let Daisy jump into her spot in the middle and set out for an island a short distance away. It was a magical place, this island, even if the fish weren’t biting on worms, lures or spinners. We had it all to ourselves. Caroline was her old self again on the island, happy and playful and the inventor of a vast and complex make-believe world. She christened it Daisy-Caroline-Paul Island, or DCP for short. I put away the fishing gear. We’d been skunked. That didn’t seem to matter as we explored the island, playing little games that Caroline made up. Daisy splashed around and ate a lot of grass. The sun was out. We were both laughing at Daisy, at our nonsense jokes, at the sheer giddiness of going sleepless in Severance. After a couple hours, I reluctantly told Caroline it was time to head back.
As we rowed away from DCP Island, Caroline looked back longingly and made up a little song about the place. We pulled up the boat, returned the oars and life preservers and packed up the tent and our gear at the campsite. As I toweled off Daisy and stuffed the last of our stuff into the car, the dog burrowed into the back seat next to Caroline. My daughter blurted out the unexpected: “Can we come back next year, Daddy? Back to DCP Island?”
I just nodded. Who knows when a love of the outdoors takes root in a child? It hadn’t been a textbook camping trip. Despite the lack of Jiffy Pop, the Adirondack adventure apparently struck a chord in Caroline. I chalked it up to the improbably powers of DCP island.
And a lake called Paradox.
The 1,900-foot summit of Peaked Hill makes an excellent destination for those who want to combine a paddle with a short hike. The trail is little used, and the mountain offers good views of the Pharaoh Mountain Wilderness and Schroon Lake.
From the boat launch at the Paradox Lake State Campground, paddle north to the lake’s narrows and look for the trailhead on the north shore. It’s 1 mile to Peaked Hill Pond and 2.2 miles to the summit. The total ascent is about 1,100 feet.
When the trip is over, you can take a refreshing dip at the campground beach.
The campground, which closes for the season Oct. 9, charges $4 for a day pass and $14 for an overnight stay. After the campground closes, paddlers can still carry their boats to the lake.
The Paradox Lake campground is located on NY 74, about 4 miles east of Schroon Lake (Northway Exit 28).