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Cedar Log Surgery

Lean-to Life in the Adirondack Outback

Those Cedar Logs

Standing Silent and Strong

My Refuge, My Sanctuary

My Soul’s Sacred Home

I Feel Your Wounds Bleeding

Anguished Tears Scar My Heart


I had planned on staying Sunday night, June 25th, after my brother Ray & I rendezvoused at Bull Rush Bay for our first day in camp. However, once I saw the wounds our beloved lean-to’s deacon’s log had suffered, my course altered immediately. Once Ray & I finished unloading gear, pitching tents, and procuring a base load of firewood,

I threw my go pack back in my Zen boat and prepared to head home.

“We can’t leave this lean-to like this Ray. These cuts are too deep. Whoever did this meant business. They did real permanent damage. Rot’s begun to set in. The wound’s edges are already waterlogged, turning black.”

Ray nodded agreement.

“Do you think it’s fixable?”

“Fixable? I guess that depends on what you mean by the term “fixable”. These cuts are so deep. I can’t make it like it was before. That’s way beyond my skill set. I’m not sure anyone can, at this point, quite frankly, but I think I can at least mitigate any further deterioration and make it look better. I’m going home to get the tools I think I will need. I’ll get another load of supplies while I’m out. I’ll row back in on Wednesday.”

With that I was off. Ray gave me a tow up past Shaw Island, then I rowed my Zen boat back out through South Creek.

I got home to Watertown late Sunday night, collapsed in my recliner, hooked up to my feeding tube and drifted off to sleep, letting my subconscious mind formulate plans for the morrow.

Monday morning, fully awake and refreshed, I put together another camp supply packing list, gathered together my set of wood chisels, various grades of sandpaper, and a hammer. Then I got in my truck and headed for Lowe’s.

I had intended to buy a small can of MINWAX Ipswich Pine exterior stain. My mind’s eye told me that would be the most likely best color match. I also planned to purchase a can of exterior polyurethane, and some brushes. Those were the products I was most familiar with, working in my basement shop.

However, once I got to Lowe’s and began perusing the shelves, I spotted a product that changed my whole plan. Something called “Australian Timber Oil”. It came in a variety of colors, in a spray can.

I read the back label directions. It said it was for use on exterior wood. While I had no previous experience with “Australian Timber Oil”, I had some with Australians. My battalion had once done a joint training mission with an Australian unit back when I was with 10th Mountain. Tough as nails, those soldiers were. I’d fight alongside them anytime. Rank them right there with the Canadians.

So, I figured, “If this Australian Timber Oil is anywhere near as good as their soldiers, it’s exactly what I need for my cedar log surgical kit.” I eyeball color matched from the choices available, choosing “Honey Teak”. I returned home, went down to my shop, shook and spray color tested my choice on a cedar log piece I had in my basement. It was a near perfect lean-to log color match.

I spent the remainder of Monday and Tuesday packing to go back into camp, including everything I would need in my cedar log surgical kit. I packed heavy. Once I got back to camp, I planned to be there for the long haul.

I drove back up to South Creek on Wednesday, calling Ray before I left Watertown to let him know I was enroute. However, there is no cell phone service at the South Creek launch site, so once my Zen boat was geared up and underway, we were temporarily incommunicado.

It appeared the lake was a manageable medium chop as I neared the mouth of South Creek. “I’ve sure encountered far worse.” I thought to myself as I entered the lake. “Medium chop? I’ll take it.”

“Medium Chop”
Middle Saranac Lake view from South Creek

It soon turned out I had no worries though. I ran into my brother Ray shortly after clearing Gull Island, stationed off the lower end of Ship Island on standby in his pontoon boat.

“Wanna lift?”

“Well! G’day mate!

Yeah! I ain’t got nothin’ left to prove to nobody. Sure, I’ll take a lift!”

So, I threw my brother Ray a tow line and, using one oar as a rudder, crossed the lake and made camp in no time.

“G’day Mate!”
Nothing like a little ferry boat tow service to camp.
Maybe little brothers are really good for something after all!

Once in camp I unloaded my Zen boat and went directly to work. There were clouds overhead and rain in the forecast. I wanted to complete my lean-to surgery and get that Australian Timber Oil applied while those cedar logs were still dry. I’d decided at home that since I was going Australian, might as well wear the authentic Australian bush hat my brother had brought back as a souvenir for me from his trip to Australia.

My Authentic Australian Bush Hat.
I treated it with mink oil.

I began by slowly and carefully removing the bad wood with my wood chisels. I worked from left to right, one letter at a time, following the deacon log’s grain, working down to good wood, trying to go no deeper than I had to. The lean-to’s wounds were deeper, and more waterlogged, as I moved right. I kept checking with my brother Ray,

“I’m making it better & not worse, right?”

The entire endeavor was emotionaly painful, tedious, and nerve wracking.

Once I finished surgically removing all of the bad wood, I gently planed the incision with one of my my wood chisels.

I sanded the exposed good wood down smooth.

Then once Ray & I agreed it looked finished to the best we could make it so,

I sprayed it in accordance with the directions on the can with Australian Timber Oil.

My brother Ray and nephew Forrest, who had joined us in camp while I was working, both had seen the lean-to’s wounds before surgery and agreed that my efforts, while admittedly imperfectly rustic, had made things better, and not worse.

I know there are likely cedar log surgical specialists out there who probably could do a far more professional job, but not having direct line contact to anyone, or knowing when someone might be available, I wanted to triage these wounds as best I could before further rot permanently set in. I hope I accomplished that task in a manner that honors the lean-to, and to the satisfaction of others who cherish it.

Over the course of the weekend, the remainder of the family joined Ray & I in camp.

Including my one-year-old granddaughter Ari Rae,

who was baptized at Bull Rush Bay last year.

This year, Ari Rae took her first steps in camp!

She also climbed her 1st tree.

Made Middle Saranac Lake sandcastles with “Umpa”.

Helped gather firewood.

Then supervised while Uncle RJ cut some.

I don’t think Uncle RJ is doing it right!”

This is our family’s fifty first year of camping at the Bull Rush Bay lean-to. Five generations of our family have now experienced its comfort.

I know there are many other families out there similar to our own, with their own history, their own stories, their own unique attachments to Bull Rush Bay’s cedar log home.

I can only wish, hope and pray that those who venture into Middle Saranac Lake to use it appreciate that fact, how special this place is to so many, and how important it is to maintain it and not carelessly wound it by unnecessarily gouging it with thoughtless, cruel wounds.

These cedar logs are a treasure.

If we all work together to care for them properly, they will be there for generations to come.

Our Adirondack Outback tradition.

Our legacy.

Our Bull Rush Bay cedar log home.


Until Our Trails Cross Again:


(Author’s Endnote: This story appeared in the 7/20/23 online edition of The Adirondack Almanack.)