PROBABLY THE MOST interesting fact in No Place I’d Rather Be: Wit and Wisdom from Adirondack Lean-to Journals is buried in the back under Forest Preserve camping regulations. First among the state’s five rules for the backcountry log structures is this: “Must be shared by groups up to the capacity (eight persons) of the shelter.”
Stuart F. Mesinger writes early in his book, published by the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK), that this regulation “oddly” isn’t posted on the walls of the 212 or so shelters found in the Adirondack Park. Occasionally, that has led to uncivilized behavior in the Old North Woods.
Consider this journal entry: “Maybe I’m just whining but we arrived at Ward Brook Lean-to in the midst of a downpour to find two individuals sprawled out using every inch of the lean-to. . . . In conversation between themselves one had the gall to talk about how tough it is to dry out.”
The unnamed writer of this jeremiad said the pair didn’t even offer them a place to sit in what turned out to be a half-hour rainstorm. Instead, they gave the impression that they wished the visitors would simply go away.
“I’ve never run into this before. Hikers are a courteous lot. I’m blowing off steam but also asking those few who are unaware of what they are doing or just plain selfish to get with the program.”
Of all the lean-tos in all the Adirondacks, why do the boors have to turn up at mine? That’s a question many have asked. An entry in the Wolf Pond lean-to complains about two jerks who “came and acted like site was theirs. Ate lunch and threw food around, moved my stuff and hung out. Two named Sam and Adrian. I don’t know about law but courtesy says ask to stop at taken site. The whole damn forest and they can’t move 100 yards away to eat lunch. If I wanted company I’d visit relatives, not come here.”
The lesson here is that if you return to nature to escape the annoyances of civilization, seeking cover in readymade three-sided shelters seems to decrease your chances a little.
Of course, as the title of Mesinger’s book suggests, Adirondack lean-tos more often than not provide a positive experience as well as a measure of comfort in a wild setting. My own favorite moment came at Lake Colden, where an early-morning squall came up. While two companions slept, I sat up in a warm sleeping bag, listened to the wind, and watched the snow blow past in the pale light before dawn. I can relate to the hiker who wrote in one of the lean-to journals: “The wind cleansed my ear of voices.”
The book reproduces lean-to diagrams from the Conservation Department in the 1930s. They’re built mainly of sixteen- and twelve-foot logs, with shingled roofs. The design is believed to be based on a lean-to constructed in the 1890s by the Lyon family on Deer Island in Upper Saranac Lake, Mesinger writes. Before that, temporary lean-tos were built by Adirondack guides to shelter their “sports” from the frequent Adirondack rain.
In 1984, ADK began an Adopt-a-Lean-to initiative with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Now volunteers at least once a year do cleanups and general maintenance and report conditions back to the state. They also maintain the registers, grammar-school composition books left in plastic bags. The official purpose is safety, so hikers can record where they were should rangers come looking for them later.
But as this book shows, the registers are more entertaining than anything else. Mesinger, a planning and environmental consultant from South Glens Falls, doesn’t include the names of the writers of journal entries but merely identifies the location of the lean-to in question. There are many riffs about bad weather, bears and other animals, mosquitoes and black flies, drinking parties at shelters close to roads, love stories, hunting and fishing stories, adventure stories, tall tales, religious insights, and moments of solitude. There are passages of humor and others of sheer poetry. Some continue for a page or two. Others are short.
We’ll close with three samples:
- This is not our first outdoor experience but it is the first time that we were able to have sex without being stopped by rangers or sudden newcomers. Actually, the black flies tried, but they were not persuasive enough! –High Falls East
- We watched a red squirrel trying to get to a rock in the middle of the stream. It was too far to jump so he went out on an overhanging limb and dropped down on the rock. He got the beech nut that was on the rock. After he ate the nut he tried to jump back on the limb but it had sprung back up out of his reach. So as we were watching to see what his next move would be, a huge fish jumped out of the water and cleaned the poor squirrel right off the rock. We all agreed that seeing that was worth the trip here. About five minutes later Jim yelled at us that the fish was putting another nut on the rock. –Cold River
- Loons and beaver on lake in the cold A.M. The coyotes howled at the full moon all night And the grouse drummed a melody. – Stephens Pond