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Big Moose Adirondack Camp

Labor Day weekend and the end of summer. I have motored to the Adirondacks.

Generally unknown outside of the States, the Adirondack park covers over 6 million acres and includes more than 10,000 lakes and 30,000 miles of mountain rivers and streams. For almost two centuries it has welcomed flocks of visitors. An oasis in summer, it is between now and Columbus Day that it is most spectacular. The leaves of the wilderness forests are luxuriantly draped in radiant russets and vermilion.

Adirondacks from the air

Its strange name is ascribed to its native American inhabitants, the Algonquins and the Mohawks. The Jesuit missionary, Joseph-Francois Lafitau believed the name derived from Rontaks and referred to the Algonquin as tree eaters. Adirondack, however, is also the Mohawk word for porcupine whose diet can include bark in wintertime.

The native Americans hunted beaver here. The first colonialists did much the same. They travelled in lightweight guide boats, essentially canoes with wide girths to accommodate pelts. These were perfect vehicles for shallow rivers and for carting through the woods from lake to lake. Their precise purpose was beaver, since Medieval times the makings of fashionably warm head-gear including toppers to bonnets.

The Romantic movement changed this: James Fennimore Cooper and Ralph Waldo Emerson emphasized the positive values of the wilderness in their novels. Novelists pose the thought but invariably as ever it is guidebook writers who lead the way. Joel Tyler Headley’s Adirondack; or, Life in the Woods (1849) proved to be the catalyst for the so-called Adirondack Great Camps and the first stage coach lines through the region. Twenty years late the clergyman, William (Adirondack) Murray’s (1840-1904) guidebook to this wilderness depicted the lakes and mountains as a place of relaxation and pleasure. As the Wild West was being won, Murray’s guidebook encouraged the colonization of the region by early Gilded Age entrepreneurs and their vacationing entourages. Their invention was the Adirondack Great Camp.

Covewood Lodge, Big Moose

My “Great Camp” is the venerable Covewood Lodge at Big Moose Lake ( Here, in 1924 beside an inlet surrounded by deciduous forest Earl Covey erected a three-storey wooden hotel and small version of a Great Camp. The wizardry of the rustic architecture is its timelessness. Covey had known the lake since he was a boy in the 1880s and used the woodland resources to make a quintessential Adirondack escape for the Depression era.

Covewood Lodge, Big Moose

Little has changed. The old lodge with stuffed moose heads, bears and beavers as well as its feeding hummingbirds has the affecting aroma of an old home. Only the lapping waters, unsettling the boats tied at the docks, as well as the piercing cries of loons interrupt the boreal serenity. For dinner this Labor Day weekend, after hiking or waterskiing, I venture out over the annealed pewter waters on one of the aluminum canoes down to the Big Moose Inn for prime rib and a pint of Saranac beer. Returning over the still waters under a canopy of stars, the smell of fall drifting over the stilled waters spells the end of summer.

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