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Learning inside the Blue Line

November 20, 2011
By DON WILLIAMS , The Leader Herald

Growing up with the somewhat original Adirondackers, I have one foot in the past and one in the present. I loved to listen to my uncles, to the old-timers who came into the general stores, to those who sat and visited at the church suppers, and to the merchants in our town. They all had stories to tell. Learning from our Adirondack elders helped to pass on and to preserve much of the culture of those days. My "selective" memory serves me well; my mind still raises up those Adirondack memories.

Some of the Adirondack happenstances may seem strange or perhaps misunderstood. It began when the Mohawks called the Algonquins, "Haderondacks" (barkeaters). They did not know that they ate the inner bark of the pine trees to get the Vitamin C to prevent scurvy. The northern tribes did not have the vitamin-rich gardens of the Mohawk Valley.

Native Americans also drank a lot of water before going to bed; it got them up early for whatever they needed to do the next day. It became known as the "Indians' alarm clock." Native Americans and Adirondack hikers also traveled the woodlands with pebbles in their mouths; it kept them from getting thirsty on the trail.

Old Adirondack lumbermen and guides were known to wear their long underwear in both summer and winter. They found that "if it kept the cold out in winter, it was sure to keep the heat out in summer." It also held up their socks!

My mother put "bluing" in her laundry to make the white clothes, whiter. I never could figure that one out. She also spread clothing out on the grass to make it cleaner!

The clever Adirondack guides slept with their bare feet sticking out of the bedding toward the fire; they would wake up with cold feet when the fire died down, getting them up to add more firewood. They wore their hats with the brim in front to keep the sun off and with the brim in back to keep the rain out of their necks. It also was known to confuse the pesky mosquitoes who did not know which way they were going! Anything, such as tobacco, a pipe, or a can of worms in their shirt pockets was tied to their suspenders to keep from losing them in the water.

Many of the Adirondack guides who worked on the log drives wore pants that were rolled up or cut off just below the knee. Some thought that it was because they were poor and could not afford a new pair of pants. Not so; it kept them from catching the cleats of their logging boots in the cloth and thereby falling in the river when driving the logs down the Adirondack waterways to the downstream mills.

When fishing from the guideboat with a wealthy client and the guide was offered a drink, he refused, not because he was against drinking, it was because "one drunk in the boat was enough!" Wearing a belt as well as suspenders was important because the guides found that when taking off the packbasket straps, they sometimes, accidently, also removed the suspender straps, and their pants fell down.

Some asked why the Adirondackers ate their apples with their pocket knives, possibly somewhat unsanitary. They explained that it was the best way to avoid eating a hidden worm. And final word of Adirondack wisdom: When caught with a string of small fish tied to his boat, the old guide explained to the game protector that he had to tie them up so they would leave his worm alone while he fished for the big ones!



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