So this August I spent about a week at Rollins Pond in the upper Adirondacks in New York with a friend. Just down the road from Lake Clear Junction, near Saranac Lake, Rollins Pond is a quiet and rustic addition to the Fish Creek Pond Campground built by the young men of the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC was a sentimental, and some on the political right might say socialist, New Deal stimulus program, but I think FDR was on to something.
Driving through both campgrounds (at a strict 15-m.p.h. pace), I saw middle- and working-class families in every manner of tent and RV enjoying the pond, the trees, and everything else that goes with being out of the humid city and in the boreal forest and mountain air. Kayaks pulled up on the undeveloped shoreline waited to be launched at a moment's whim. Children waded and chased a mother and her ducklings swimming just out of reach. Human mothers laughed and called out admonitions of every sort to their kids. Squint a bit and the scene became a snapshot of Algonquin families cooling off in some long ago summer; blink to be transported back.
While picking up ice and firewood at the local trading post, I met former reading teacher and local historian Martin Podskoch. He was sitting out front on a sun-dappled afternoon, a card table before him buried in books. Selling his newest self-published history, Adirondack Civilian Conservation Corps Camps: History, Memories & Legacy of the CCC, he explained how he collected stories from the surviving men who built recreational facilities, constructed miles of nature trails, and worked in forest conservation. Of course I bought his book. Later on, he gave a talk in a small amphitheater in a stand of forest within the campground to a smiling crowd bathed in Deet.
One of the memories he gathered was of brothers Harold and Francis Barcomb, who worked at Fish Creek Camp in November 1933 when they were 18 and 19. "My brother and I took the CCC job because we got $30 a month and $25 went home to our family. We got $5 spending money but we really didn't have to buy anything. We got our food, clothing, and a place to stay," Harold says in the book.
The men at the camp also took classes in reading, writing, and vocational skills, taught by out-of-work teachers. They had basketball and bowling teams that competed with the Tupper Lake and Lake Placid camps. Sadly, such a public works program couldn't even be suggested in Congress today, even though millions of Americans still enjoy the legacy of the CCC in many state and national parks every summer. It seems impossible for Americans to build on past successes, to remember lessons well learned, and to move confidently forward.
Geologists describe the Adirondacks as "new mountains from old rocks." Because a unique dome formation rose about five million years ago in the area, old rocks (formed over a billion years ago) were exposed from that upwarp of strata long ago - these old rocks helped build the new formation.
This old place. This dreamy, Leatherstocking tale of a place had me thinking about that rainfly on the last night I was there. Maybe it was the wine or the campfire. The soft sounds of a tent door being unzipped and then zipped from a site nearby. It could have been the loon or the old devil moon. But I wanted to fall asleep looking at the stars. Off came the rainfly. Then I settled back comfy on my air mattress, looked up through the top of my tent, and fell into the sky.
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