The Adirondack mountains in upstate New York. Some of the oldest mountains in the world. I had just returned from Southeast Asia, and the world had changed while I was gone. Changed without forwarning me. I needed to make a connection to the world I had left, so, I went back to the Adirondacks to a place I had spent an important part of my younger years. In that place, surrounded by towering 150 foot pines, I came upon a small tavern, one I remembered from those younger years. At first sight, I felt all those old, dusty, warm and wonderful memories of the old world flood over me. Could it be, I wondered, that the same old gentleman who used to run that place in years gone by was still the proprietor? It was a wish almost too good to possibly be true . This story, like so many that life gives us, was a gift. I was searching very hard that October day for a bit of my past that I could anchor to and get on with my life. What I found was was a gift that showed me once and for all that the past is never gone, as the present is not, as the future is not; I found my first true glimpse of that magnificant interconnectedness of all of us and of all things. I put it down here to pass it on to you and yours. Be at peace, if you will. Every single thing truly is connected.
"You mentioned fishin, and I'll tell ya, I could get goin on that.
"Use ta be evergreens that ran thick right down ta the lake so ya had ta wedge through em like a worm just ta get a shot at the water with your fishin pole. Not too many fisherman then----just a few local boys----an they'd stop in my place here for a few on their way back from the lake.
"Course, the road wasn't there then----was in the rumor stages, ya might say----an I use ta keep a few bottles on hand for the boys, cause I knew they'd be comin by once the worsta the winter was gone. They'd leave their homes with the idea a fishin, but they'd end up spendin mosta their time visitin with me, sittin aroun the livin room----this bar area was my livin room then----them days when ya said livin room, ya really meant it. Anyway, we'd sit aroun an have a few slow ones, an, course, that'd get us talkin even more, an someone ud stick a few pieces a wood in the stove we was sittin by, an there we'd stay, talkin an laughin.
"Sometimes the wind would come up, an those evergreens ud set ta hissin an scrapin the side a the place like the Lord Himself was in em, wantin ta come set with us awhile. The kerosene lights hangin from the ceilin rafters ud stir a bit, flicker some, pretty-like, sending wavy-gold shades a light aroun the place, an sombody'd look outside an say somethin bout it gettin dark already out over the water----you always had ta look past the trees out over the water ta find when it was really gettin toward evenin, cause a good cloud would make it seem like the middle a the night in a forest like this was----anyway, they'd say it was gettin dark out over the water an how it was turnin all silver-gray, an then sombody ud stick another log or two in the stove, an everyone looked like they knew they should get to walkin back home before too long, but nobody ud make the first move. We'd just sit there, talkin an laughin.
"Jeees, when I think about fishin, I think about so many things that used ta be back then.
"Few years after what I been tellin you about, in came the crews an the saws an the trucks, an they cut that new road through the woods, right by my front door, right down ta the lake an straight away acrost it on a fool bridge. Damdest thing I ever saw. One spring the water came up high an proud an free, an by the next spring, it was saddled by that fool bridge----same bridge that's there now. Looked funny.
"Course, after that, more people got ta this area here, puttin in camps on the lake an such. Rich people, some of em. Some of em never did get made too welcome, with their wantin ta cut down and build up everythin in sight. I swear, they was like kids with new toys, some of em. Used ta wanna tell em how the boys an I use ta look out over those trees ta the water and how it'd be all silver-gray sometime----like I told you----but I'd just keep quiet. They wouldn't a wanted ta listen anyway, most of em. So, they'd just stay away from me an me from them, and they knew why, deep down inside, an I knew why.
"Can't save the past, anyway, leastways anywhere but inside yourself. People an happenins just plow right over the top a ya an keep on goin like you wasn't there. Damndest thing.
"Anyway, more people was comin in an passin through, an that's when I decided ta move into the back rooms here, fix the place up a bit, put a few cabins out in the back lot, an change this area here where we're sittin into a bar an a small place ta eat. Hell, I was in my forties by then, an I knew I couldn't be a lumberman forever, so I borrowed a little money, an the boys an I----same boys usta stop by I been tellin ya about----went ta work, quiet sometimes, cause we knew somethin good was passin, but laughin others, cause we knew we'd make somethin good outa it anyway.
"That was in the early summer, an toward the end a it, we was done. Hasn't changed a bit since then. Everythin ya see aroun ya now's just the way it was on that August afternoon when all a us set our tools down an stepped back ta get a good look at what in heaven's name we'd done.
"Traffic picked up a bit on the road, which was still dirt an stone, an dusty cars ud pull up in front a my place here once in awhile, an cough two or three people out of em. At first, mostly young people. City folks out for a Sunday drive.
"You shoulda seen em sometimes. We'd laugh like hell, the boys an I, when we'd see somethin like a young fella, all spiked out ta beat the band, in his Sunday suit, get out of a car an half walk, half stumble through the dirt an stones aroun the car ta open the door for his girl. Course, she'd be all dressed up too, an she'd step down into that dirt so careful that you'd think she had sworn ta the guy that she'd follow him ta hell, an that all of a sudden, he'd taken her up on it.
"We wasn't bein mean, mindja, the boys an me. We just couldn't help ourselves. It was so easy ta see that mosta these folks just didn't belong here.
"Some a those people ud look up at the evergreens, way up towards the tops, an then scurry inside here like they was afraid one of em was gonna talk at any minute, or at least fall on em. Course, the boys an I ud get ourselves straigntened out an stop laughin before they'd get inside. Hell, most of em was nice people, but you knew right off that they didn't know what ta do with the country.
"Well, winter set in early that year----round mid-November, it was when the first snow came rushin quiet-like down the hill an stayed for about three days. First, the sand on the road turned white, leavin the stones shiny gray dots----like little islands----then everythin covered up. Trees looked like angels with their wings swirled out----like you see in those religious pictures. It was beautiful. All the rollin land aroun the place got softer an softer lookin....
"Hell, I never kidded myself bout why I settled here, or stayed. Was always things like that where ya feel good an warm inside just breathin, an ya can't say just why, an don't care why, really, just soas ya feel that way.
"Anyway, it snowed like crazy. Lookin out the window, all you'd see uz white, like a solid wall, comin down.
"Couple a people was out in one a the cabins out back when it started snowin----young kids on their honeymoon. Jeees. The fella came in here the first night a the storm----awful nice young fella----an he was all blushin an everythin. I guess he was nervous cause he was on his honeymoon, an he knew we knew it, an it just made him embarassed. Hell, we wasn't about ta kid him over it, but he was red as a summer tomato when he came through the back door, brushin the snow outa his hair an off his clothes.
"He was worried bout gettin snowed in---I guess he had ta be back in the city in a coupla days----an the fellas an I just sat him down with a drink an calmed him all down an told him there wasn't a thing any of us could do about it, him included, an that he should relax an wait it out----even enjoy it----an that we'd make sure him an his new wife had all they needed until they could drive on out. Well, he was all smiles then, an you could tell he was relieved, an that he felt better bout bein there with us like that that night with the kerosene lights low an the snow hissin against the windows, an his new wife waitin for him ta return..
"Fore they got outa here, he brought his wife over with him for a coupla evenins, an we----me, the fellas, an that young couple----sat right over there at that table by the window an talked about the snow an the mountains an how beautiful an soft everythin was, an all of us found out how much alike we were. It was like a special magic that I think only happens at a place like this, in a time like that, even then, maybe only once or twice in a lifetime.
"Was a bad winter, that one. Lookin back, I swear it seemed it snowed most every day. Course, it didn't, but close enough, I guess. Wasn't any trafic on the road, either, with all that snow. I heard tell of special plows for snow bein attached ta some a the Highway Department's new trucks, an that they were tryin ta work out a way ta start plowin all the country roads.
"You gotta remember that back then ya didn't see too many plowed roads in the winter in places like this. Most of us livin here then had no cause ta go anywhere our feet wouldn't take us. Even if we did, no one had a car. We just didn't need em or want em. Hell, when you live in the woods mosta your life whatarya gonna do with somethin like a car? Only thing we could see em doin for us would be for them to take us away from what we loved. Made no sense.
"The fellas an I was sittin right over there one night----black as hell outside, it was, an cold, too----an we was just together like I been tellin ya we used ta be----when alluva sudden we hear this awful godamn loud roarin noise comin from toward the top a the hill. The ground was shakin, I tell ya, and I speck mosta us thought we was about ta meet our maker, counta some terrible thing we'd did in our lives. I was scared enough ta crawl under the bar, but I'm bout as damned curious as eight cats, an I reackon that's what made me go outside, shirtsleeves an all, ta see what was gonna get us all.
"I swear, I never seen nothin like it. I looked up the hill above the place, an there are these two lights, way the hell up in the air, bout ten feet above the road an six feet apart, comin down that hill through the black night an all that snow comin down. Hell's bells, it was a truck! A truck with a plow on it, an that thing was spitin snow every which way-----mostly mine----snow an sand, an the stones were shootin off long, yellow-white sparks when the plow blade hit em. I jumped back, soas not to get altogether buried in the mess, an the thing roared by, certain as it could be bout what it was doin. I swear, it coulda passed for some kinda dream, some kinda nightmare. It just seemed hard ta believe that a man coulda been sittin in such a thing, drivin it.
"That was the first time they ever plowed the road, an after that, they did it every time it snowed. Not accordin ta any particular schedule, mindja, but whenever they could keep those things together an movin at the same time. It may sound silly, but it was never quite the same livin here after they started plowin in the winter.
"When I think of it, I spoze I should laugh. Just one year before, there we was in the middle a the woods, mindin our own business an happy doin it, an all of a sudden, the whole world busted in.
"That spring, the State Troopers started makin regular rounds by my place, an after awhile I got to know some of em real well. They was some good men.
"One time, some kids broke inta two, three a those camps down by the water the other side a the bridge. Stole a buncha little things. One of em got a chain saw, an when the troopers caught his worthless butt, the kid says he threw the saw off the bridge. Bout sixty feet a water there. One a the deepest parts a the lake.
"Trooper by the name a Mac comes in ta my place bout then----old Mac, Jeees, what a strappin man. He was a real trooper back when they usta leave em on one patrol. They wasn't afraid ta let em get ta know ya, then.
"Sam was another. Usta pull up in fronta my place bout one in the mornin after he'd finished his patrol, put his car round back, an come in for a few. Good guy. Bout your size, maybe a bit bigger. Usta like his drinkin----not a heavy drinkin man----just usta like it.
"And Red. Red was a good man, too. Blazin red hair, as ya mighta guessed. Never said much, Red didn't, but he liked to come in when we was all together here. Sat right there on that stool at the enda the bar most times, an just stayed there, smilin off an on, tossin in a few words here an there, but most always kinda quiet. Mac once told me that if he was in a tight spot, Red would be the man he'd want with him. Good man, Red. Put his twenty in on the force, an last I heard was livin down aroun Baltimore, somewhere aroun where he was brought up.
"An then there was Mac, an he comes in one day bout the time a all the trouble I was tellin ya about---ya gotta understand about Mac. He didn't give a damn for mucha nothin when it came to formalities. He'd just sorta burst into a room, takin up the whole doorway on his way in, then havin ta bend over ta miss hittin his head, an all at once, somehow, everyone in the whole room was aware of his presence. Sorta like when he came into a room, he took it over, without really tryin ta. Anyway, he comes in one day bout then, as I said three times already, fillin up the whole doorway an bendin over, an he says ta me:'Charlie, you got camps out back, don't you? I got three cars outside, and there's two troopers with their gear in each one of em. Think it's a bunch of nonsense crap, but we've all been told that we've gotta find that chain saw the kid says he threw into the water. So, we've got some diving to do.'
"An I told him that I had the three camps back there an he was welcome to em all, an he said he'd take em. That was bout three in the afternoon, which made it too late for any divin.
"That night Mac an his men came on in an Mac asked me when they could eat breakfast next mornin. I told em that I'd have it for em bout nine an for them to come right in through the back door. I was stayin open till bout two or three in the mornin them days, so that was the earliest I could make it, an he said that was good with him, an all of us started in with havin a few an talkin. Was quite a night.
"Fixed em a good breakfast next mornin----eggs, potatoes, ham----then they set out with three a my boats. Usta have more boats, but that was bout the time when they came out with all the regulations on life preservers, motor size an all that, so I got rida all the things, cept three, an Mac an his men used all of em that mornin.
"Fella bout your size an one a bit bigger was the divers. Had their fins an their wet suits on, and they went out in the boat to bout the fourth pier a the bridge, bout where the kid says he threw the chain saw in. Then they started divin.
"Well, I wasn't there to see it----course I was up here mindin the place----but, bout a couple hours after the men started divin, Mac comes stormin through the door, there, bendin over soas not to smack his head, an the way he was comin, I knew somethin was up.
"'What the hell kind of fish are down there,' he booms. 'Lord Almighty, my men shot to the surface of that water like the devil was on their tails and bit them once or twice.'
"Ya know, I hadda laugh. I knew I shouldn't, what with Mac standin there,all puffed up an carryin on, but I hadda, so I did, an I laughed so hard that it sounded like I rattled the roof rafters.
"'What?' Mac says, 'what the hell are you laughing at? "I'm sorry," I says, "I'm sorry, Mac, but I just couldn't help it. I know that there are big ones in the lake----Northern Pike, mostly. I mean, I've heard tell that there are bigger ones down there than the fifty-eight incher that was pulled out last year, but how could I know your men would see somethin like that?
"Mac just stood there for a minute, thinkin, I suppose. Then, he bursts out loud laughin an says 'Charlie, I've never seen my men so scared. When they came to the top of that water, I thought they were gonna keep right on going.'
"So, we both had a good laugh then, an Mac went back to supervisin the divers. Mosta the men spent the resta the day out there lookin till bout three. Then they all called it a day an hauled the bouts outa the water.
"Musta been bout four, four-thirty when Mac an the men came back in here an sat down at the bar ta have a few. They was all pretty bushed----coats an hats off. They was talkin bout how foolish it was for all this effort ta be put inta findin a chain saw an about how it was because of somebody tryin ta get elected ta office or somethin. Jeees, you shoulda seem Mac. Sets in his t-shirt right here at this bar stool; his pants all rolled up ta his knees. Didn't give a damn for nothin right then cept that drink in fronta him. So, they were all sitten there at the bar, when in pulls a car with the Chief a the Troopers drivin.
"Haaaa, what a sight. Mac's men started jumpin all aroun, grabbin their coats an ties an hats, tryin to get em on in bout three seconds, an Mac----Mac just sat there at the bar, with his dirty t-shirt on and his muddy pants rolled up to his knees an the men pokin him, tryin ta let him know that the Chief was comin, without lettin the Chief know they was lettin him know.
"Mac didn't give a damn for any Chief, though. 'To hell with the Chief,' he says, an just sits there, workin on that drink.
I was bout ta split, watchin Mac's men jumpin all over my place, bout to fall over each other an break their fool necks. When they seen that Chief, they just came all apart.
"'Find that saw?' the Chief says.
"All the men was so busy standin at attention, tryin ta look dignified, that they clean forgot how to talk. Cept Mac.
"'Hell no,' he says. 'Found a bunch of fish bigger than a man, but no chain saw.'
"Didn't move a bit from the stool. Just sat there, lookin that Chief right square in the eye. Tells him that they're gonna be there awhile, an that they'll call him when they find anythin besides fish, an the Chief looks aroun the room here for a minute, then goes out, gets in his car, an drives away.
"It's not that they didn't like each other, Mac an the Chief. Just that Mac didn't like anyone tellin em how to run a job he knew he was already runnin the right way, an the Chief knew he felt that way, an they just kept a sorta agreeable distance between themselves. The other men never could figure it, I guess.
"That's the way it went for six straight days. Fish an mud an work, but no chain saw. Finally, Mac says ta one a the men: 'go get that kid out of jail, and bring him down here. We're gonna find that saw, and he's gonna show us where to look.'
"So, they went an got the kid, brought em in here where Mac was sittin, an Mac sits him down on the stool next ta him.
"'Want a drink?' he says. 'Want a smoke?'
"The kid didn't know what ta make of it, but he said yes ta both questions, an he got his drink an smoke an sat there, lookin like a spot on the stool next to Mac. Didn't say another word. Just sat there, stiff.
"'Threw that saw into the water about four piers out, huh?' Mac asked him.
"'Yessir,' the kid answered, real fast.
"' Well, I got a rope out there on the bridge, and there's a rock tied to the end of that rope, and that rock is just about as heavy as a chain saw. What you're gonna do is go out to the part of that bridge you say you threw the saw from, and you're gonna throw that rock the same way. And if we don't find that saw the same place the rock hits bottom, then we're gonna put you on that rope and throw you in. Now, I have a real nice wife at home, who's just waiting for me, and, tell you the truth, I'd just as soon be there, instead of chasing after some fool chain saw, trying to solve a ten cent robbery. Do you understand that?'
"Kid couldn't say nothin but 'yessir' an 'nosir' an he musta said that bout a hundred times, not knowin whether ta smoke his drink, or drink his cigarette, or what.
"Course, Mac wouldn'ta done what he told the kid. I knew that. Hell, he'd hurt himself before he'd hurt anyone else, if he had a choice. One a the main things that made em the trooper he was, was his way of makin people believe that he'd do all the terrible things he threatened ta do. He had a way a gettin people's respect or fear, whichever he wanted, real quick. Worked every time.
"So, they all went down ta the bridge, an the kid threw the rock, an, sure enough, they found the saw not more n four feet from where the rock hit bottom. Stedda goin straight down, the saw had gone down an away from the bridge. The rock did the same thing, an up the divers came a few minutes later with the rope tied ta the saw.
"They took the kid back, then, an the men came in for dinner. That was Saturday night, an Mac says they're gonna relax on Sunday, maybe get in a little fishin, pull the boats out on Monday, an go home. He asked me what time they could come in for breakfast, an I told him bout the earliest I could make it would be ten. Mac nods his head an says ten is just fine.
"When I told Mac bout ten, I just plain forgot that we had Mass said here every Sunday mornin at ten. The Catholic church had burned, an the priest had asked me if he could use my place for Mass on Sundays until the church had been rebuilt, an I had said yes. Jeees, what happened then was probly as funny as anythin that's happened since.
"There it was, ten Sunday mornin, with a whole mess a people sittin in here----the whole place just about full----an right then I realized what I'd done, and it was too late ta do anythin bout it, cause I was helpin the priest get ready, an I just couldn't excuse myself. Ida started laughin right then when the thought hit me a Mac comin in through the back door an aroun the bar an alluva sudden seein all those people dressed up, but I couldn't. How the hell could I have explained why, when Mass was just about ta start, I went bustin ta beat hell out-loud laughin? So, I held it in, an just then I heard the back door open.
"Mac comes aroun the corner by the doorway, no shirt on, a pair a pants that looked like he'd got em outa the Salvation Army, no shoes, an half asleep, bendin over soas not to hit his head on the door frame, an just as he straightens up, he comes face-ta-face with Mildred Johnson. Poor Mildred. Don't know what she musta thought, seein the half-naked size a him come squeezin through the doorway, stoppin close enough ta breathe on her. Anyway, Mac sees old Mildred an everyone else sittin there, an he stops, quiet for a minute, looks aroun the corner an slowly up an down the bar, an says 'Am I late?' An he walks right over ta that stool there an sits down, not knowin what the heck's goin on, but actin like he planned the whole thing....That was Mac.
"Monday came, an by the time Mac an his men finished pullin in the boats an squarin their equipment all away, it was bout three, so he says there was no sense in goin back then, an that they'd stay over, catch some breakfast, an leave Tuesday mornin.
"Tuesday, after breakfast, he says ta me 'Make me up a bill, Charlie,' an I did. Gave em a real good price----came to eight hundred some-odd dollars for all the time they was there an meals an boats an such. He looks at it, rips it up, an says 'Make me up a bill,' an I says 'What's wrong with that one?' Mac says 'don't forget that the State's making us do this foolishness, Charlie. I know you gave us a break, and I appreciate it, but they don't deserve it. Now, why don't you try it again?' So I did, an it came ta just over eleven hundred dollars, an he looks at it an says 'That's better.'
"Just before he left, I slipped a bottle a good scotch in a bag an gave it ta him when no one else was aroun. He wanted ta know what it was for an said he didn't need it, but I told him I wanted him ta have it, an he finally agreed. He sat there, quiet for a few moments, like he was thinkin. Then he turns ta me an he says 'Charlie, you're a good man, and the both of us have had some times together----good times----and I'm not going to forget them or you. I just wanted you to know that.'
"Then he turned an went out the door, bendin over an takin up the whole thing, just like always.
"I never saw Mac again after that.
"He was suppose ta take his retirement fore too long an settle up here in these mountains close ta here. That was a dream a his. See, I know he had the same feelin for em all of us spent any time here have. But he never did make it, exactly.
"Sam an Red came in one afternoon late in November, an I gave em a big hello like always, an I asked em where the hell Mac was an told them to give em hell for not stoppin in ta say hi more often.
"Neither one of em said nothin for a minute, just looked at me an at each other. Then Sam walked over here an sat down at the bar, an Red followed him.
"'What the hell's wrong with you two?' I says, tryin ta be funny, but deep down inside, I knew somethin was real wrong.
"' Charlie,' Sam says, 'Mac, well,' an I could see his eyes gettin kinda wet, an I knew for sure what he was gonna tell me.
"'Mac was up north of here a few days ago,' he starts out, 'on his patrol up near North Lake, and, when the end of the day came, everyone was back in the barracks checking their equipment, except him. We were all a little worried, but we also knew that he probably just got held up by something small and figured we'd see him raising some kind of hell there the next morning before we went out. When we came in, though, the Chief called us into his office----all of us----and he told us that a farmer found Mac in his car late that night. Said that he was sitting there, peaceful, behind the wheel, facing out over the lake, and that he was already dead. The doctor in town said that it was a heart attack.'
"I just looked at Sam for awhile----didn't say nothin. Thinkin bout Mac comin in through the back door that Sunday, or hearin em talkin ta that kid here at the bar that day they found the saw. It was terrible.
"An all at once, I got ta thinkin bout how it was here before the road an the bridge came through. I don't know what got inta me. Felt the years passin all at once. Remembered how one a the fellas usta get up from his chair by the stove, go over ta the window an say how it was gettin all dark out over the water already, an how the wind usta sound in the trees, an how the kerosene lights looked hangin from the ceilin rafters....All of it seemed so good then, when I stood there behind the bar, lookin down at Sam sittin there, his eyes all wet, an Red with his head down, an at the empty stool beside them. All of it seemed like it happened a thousand years ago.
"Over the next few years Sam an Red an the boys ud come in from time ta time, an we'd sit aroun havin a few, talkin bout times, an sooner or later someone ud mention Mac, an we'd all get quiet for a second, then someone ud burst out loud, bumpin, trippin, laughin crost the floor an sayin somethin bout somethin he remembered Mac doin, like when he sat glued ta the bar stool the day the Chief came in, or somethin like that.
"That was it, though, ya know? Lookin back, now, I remember Mac an all the good times, an all of it seems like yesterday, but like it was a thousand years ago at the same time. An I think that what Mac was was a hero. Really. Not like the ones they try ta make in a book or on television----nothin like that----but a real hero. Because he was a simple man, an cause he made no bones bout what he liked an what he didn't like. Because he lived kinda like he might not get another chance at it, an because he wasn't afraid ta make a mistake. because, deep down under his toughness, he liked most everyone an treated em good. An because he loved these mountains so much an knew why he loved em.
"Yessir, Mac was a hero, an that's the trouble, or at least one of the biggest troubles in the world today; no heroes. Everyone seems too much like everyone else, an they're all scared as hell of tryin ta be what they want ta be. Damdest thing.
"Sometimes I wonder a lot bout what's goin on.
"Anyway, I'm seventy-three years old now. Too old ta run the place anymore, so I'm sellin out. Closin up for the winter in a coupla weeks. First time in thirty years I won't be open for winter. Closin up, an never openin up again.
"But, we had this talk, you an I, an I told you bout the way it was, an maybe you understand an can share it with someone, so that this place an me an these memories of things that happened will never really go away. I hope so.
"Cause, it was good, real good."
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