My weekly deadline decrees I write this the evening before the most interesting presidential election day in my lifetime, and you will be reading it after that big day — although, to judge from many warnings, the vote count may not yet be over by then, and there may be other complications too numerous, or even threatening, to mention. All of it will be covered ad nauseam by news anchors and pundits, so there’s no reason to talk about it here.
Instead, as I look to my right out the office window, snow blows lustily between the house and barn. The weather forecast tells me it’s just a little cat’s paw swipe of the coming winter, and my son-in-law predicts it’ll all be sunny and mild by this afternoon. But I’m less sanguine than I once was about venturing out onto the highways in lousy weather, and I’m supposed to be in Lebanon just after lunch. So I called ahead — phone’s still working — to let them know I’d decide by 11 a.m., and settled at the computer — electricity’s still on, too — to remember past Novembers.
After we moved from northern New York State to New Hampshire in 1968, we still had ties that drew us west on holidays, which meant braving whatever weather Lake Ontario threw at us over Thanksgiving and Christmas. One Sunday morning in Syracuse, our Volkswagen Squareback had several inches of fresh, wet snow on it, and snow was still coming down. My wife went outside to do something in the car. I said, very clearly, “The windshield wipers may still be on. If you start the car, be sure to turn them off first.” A few minutes later, she came back in to tell me only one of the wipers was working. Yep, the gear to the driver’s side wiper had stripped. The stress of that return trip — eight hours of reaching out the window every 30 seconds or so to work the wiper by hand — can, as the 19th-century explorers used to say, be better imagined than described.
But most of my trips back were pretty pleasant. The very best of them, now only a memory, were right at this time of year, during deer season. I spent 50 years, with only a few breaks, with the same gang of rough, lovable customers in a camp about a mile up Hopkins Mountain in the Adirondacks. After my family’s move to Hanover, I worked a five-day week; so my Friday evening drive over the Green Mountains and across the Champlain Valley had more the feel of a pilgrimage than just a nuisance. And the shrine at the end — a warm, lamp-lit camp full of good friends, great conversation and world-class cooking — helped the miles fly by in the cold, early darkness.
All fall, my office held the distinctive aroma of Hoppe’s #9, as I got ready. Then, leaving Hanover, I had a choice of notches: Mendon, Brandon or Middlebury. Each had its charms, but the greatest charm was that I could choose. Brandon usually won, for its lack of traffic on the other side. All three converged at Bridport, where I could see the lights of the Crown Point bridge in the distance. Across the bridge; north along Bulwagga Bay into Port Henry, where, for years, I bought Irish Setter boots and Pendleton shirts that I still have; and finally up through Witherbee and onto the old Tracy Road that snaked for 11 miles through unpeopled woods to U.S. Route 9.
A turn to the north, and left at Underwood toward Lake Placid. The highway climbs there to a post-glacial phenomenon so obscure that just knowing about it tickles me: a deposit of terminal moraine between the Dix Range and the giant massif that divides the valley into two watersheds, one flowing south into the Hudson, and the other north into Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence.
A few minutes later, I paused at the tiny truss bridge over the infant Ausable and made my annual contribution to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. I had reached the scene of many adventures going back decades. A shift into four-wheel drive and low range, and a bouncing ride, foot off the gas, at a walking pace up the old woods road, my truck so quiet that one year, in daylight, I drove right up behind a nice buck before he thought to look behind him. Finally, the lights of camp gleamed through the bare trees, and I could tell by the trucks who was there.
As I got out, the smell of maplewood smoke filled the icy air. Packbasket, boots and rifle, and up the three steps to the porch. Open the door — they’d heard me coming, but nobody came to open it. Then the usual insults, without which I wouldn’t have known that I was again truly home.
Willem Lange is a regular contributor to Weekend magazine. He lives in East Montpelier.