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My Farewell to Colden

Author’s Introductory Note: Originally drafted in 2011, “My Farewell to Colden” became my first professionally published piece. It appeared in Adirondack Life Magazine’s 2014 “Annual Guide to the Great Outdoors” issue, beginning on page 8, under the title “A Place In Time”. They paid me $540.00 for the piece. My first “paycheck” as a writer.

Adirondack Life Magazine chose to publish it without the poem. I decided to post it here as I originally submitted it, with the poem, without edit. All of the photos are from that trip. They were either taken by RJ, or my friend Emilio who accompanied us on the trip, and gave RJ and I invaluable support and assistance in successfully completing our journey.

So, without further ado, here it is.

I sincerely hope folks enjoy reading it.


“My Farewell To Colden”

(Original version)

Ghost Lake

 It happens in the evening when everything’s still

 Pungent marsh air mist settles low on the water

 Aged mountains close everything in

 Headstones marking an industrial grave

Ghostly bubbles rise silently to the surface

Rippling a pristine looking glass world

Close your eyes

Listen quietly


A hungry trout’s ripples echo the water

Absorbed by shadowy cedar tree shore

Solitary hypnosis of a cool mountain lake

Far from civilization, I piece together my battle worn rod

Eyelets scarred, reel dented and scratched

Calloused hands gently caress each spoon

Carefully choosing the evening’s first warrior

My ancient rowboat groans softly

Memory’s journey begins

Red squirrels scold from the shoreline

A single loon wails eerily

A vain search for food

Its condemnation burns in my ears

Oars creaking rhythmically, I slide through the mist

 “Hey old man!”

 “Gonna catch a big one tonight?!”

Giggles rain across the lake

Acid ignorance echoing off Colden’s shoulder

They don’t understand

They come and camp

Bringing saws and soap

Taking trees

Leaving garbage

Their life is electric

Their God is green

I smile softly at their ignorance

Men of knowledge

Conquering nature

What is it worth when the vanquished have died?

I cast out towards my favorite rock

The spoon darts teasingly back towards the boat

Reflecting dim twinkles of light from below

Suddenly, the line goes taut

A flash of silver grabs the spoon

My heart races, the drag whines in response

Rod tip up, I reel against the struggling trout

It breaks the surface ten feet from the boat – a beauty!

Net ready, I skillfully let the fish play itself out

A deft scoop snatches my trophy from the water

A pound and a half, maybe two

The trout flops loudly in the bottom of the boat

Protesting – gasping for life

I admire its beauty for a moment

Then gently release it

The trout flips its tail

Darting back into memory’s depths

It gets harder

Each time out, casting a little deeper

It’s futile, I know

But old love dies hard

Memories so vivid

My mind won’t let me rest

I cry sometimes

Sad, angry tears

Knowing that someday my charade must end

Rowing back across the lake, I reach again for the past

Reliving a time

When ripples were more than illusions

Trout more than dreams 


     I first penned “Ghost Lake” in 1991, six years after I’d graduated from Cornell and left my family’s home in Saranac Lake for a stint in the Army and life as an adult.  The poem was inspired by the two summers I spent in the early 1980’s working for the DEC trail crew out of the Lake Colden Interior Outpost as the caretaker’s assistant.  Jim, a Paul Smith’s graduate, was the caretaker at the time.  I believe he is a Forest Ranger now.

     I got that job, no doubt, as the son of my father, Tom Monroe, who was Regional Director for DEC’s Region 5 at the time.  My father and I had previously hiked into Colden together numerous times during my teen years.  The caretaker then was a man I was only introduced to as “Brownie”, a nickname received in deference to his prominent beard.

     As with many Adirondack boys, I was always an avid fisherman, spending summers on my bike and on foot exploring every north country stream and pond within reach or trolling with my father by boat or canoe on one of the lakes.  So, as we hiked back to Colden, it was especially disheartening to me to learn that acid rain had devastated the lakes, leaving them fishless.

     I was fascinated when, on our first visit up past Marcy Dam to Colden’s Interior Outpost, Brownie told me stories and showed me photos of guided fishing trips into Avalanche Lake and Lake Colden.  Those photos and stories stayed with me, haunted me even, during my tenure on the trail crew working out of that cabin.  So much so that, despite knowing that the lakes were dead, I would still carry a rod with me when I went back there to work, and in the evenings, after dinner, I would sometimes take one of our boats or canoes out onto the lakes and cast in hopes of catching that “one last lunker” who’d survived the devastation.  That was the inspiration for “Ghost Lake”, which in its essence, is a true, autobiographical poem.

     Jim used to poke fun at my fishing expeditions, but must have taken pity, as sometime during my second season, while we were doing some work around the Flowed Lands cleaning up an old lean-to site at Livingston Point, he offered to take me back into Livingston Pond to catch some trout.  The afternoon we spent back there on that pond is one I’ll never forget.  After bushwacking our way, dragging a canoe, back to the pond through the alders, following a small outlet stream, we spent the afternoon catching one brook trout after another, trolling the pond with Lake Clear Wobblers and night crawlers.  None of the trout was much over ten inches.  We only kept a few, as that pond is so small that it could have been very easily fished out.

     Once I graduated college and was commissioned into the Army, I never got back to Colden or Livingston Pond. My father retired in 1994.  Shortly thereafter, my parents sold our family home in Saranac Lake.  Despite my brother and his wife moving back there several years later, life being what it is, I never seemed to find the time to make the trek back up into the High Peaks.

     As life would have it, I encountered some serious health problems along the way, testicular cancer in 2000, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2004, cancer again in 2008, this time oral cancer, and a fight for my life.  After a year of chemo and radiation with no success, the local oncologists in Watertown, where I’d come to reside, advised my wife and I that they had done all they could do, and it was time to call Hospice.

     As a 45-year-old man with a wife and three children, the oldest 16 and the youngest only 9, this was very sobering news to hear.  My wife and children implored me not to give up. So, through a friend, I was put in contact with an oral surgeon at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in NYC, who, after some convincing, agreed to take me as a patient and perform radical surgery in an attempt to save my life.

     The surgeon, Dr. Richard Wong, was very straightforward.  The surgery was risky, an extensive procedure that involved removing my tongue and parts of my jaw, then rebuilding my face, after a fashion, with tissue from my leg.  There was no guarantee that I would even survive the procedure, and if I did, only a fifty –fifty chance of successful eradication of my cancer.  A return of the disease was a certain death sentence.  Dr. Wong also told that I would never eat or drink by mouth again, and would likely never speak.  At the urging of my family, we decided to proceed.

     Thankfully, I survived the operation and am now in my third year post-surgery.  Dr. Wong was correct about eating and drinking.  I am completely tube fed.  I have not consumed food or drink by mouth in nearly three years.  Fortunately, he was less correct about speech, as I have successfully taught myself to speak without a tongue, and although I am difficult to understand at times, have learned to manage fairly well.

     While life post cancer is a daily struggle, it has been well worthwhile.  I have been able to spend precious time with my wife, children and family that we would not otherwise have had.  One thing that has given me strength is my background in Tae Kwon Do, in which I hold a 3rd degree black belt.  While I no longer actively practice due to my physical limitations, the spiritual and mental discipline developed through the art is with me every day.  “Living in the day that you are in”, and “Chop wood -Carry water” are two pieces of martial arts philosophy that help get me through each day.

     One of my best friends from my 10 years in Tae Kwon Do,  Mr. Emilio D’Argenio, a 4th degree black belt in his own right,  is also an avid hiker and fisherman who has spent time in the Adirondacks and the Lake Colden region.  During my convalescence he visited me regularly.  One thing we discussed was our love of that area and our desire to return.  We agreed that as soon as I was healthy enough, we would hike back into the high peaks together, to see Marcy Dam, Lake Colden, and maybe even do some fishing on Livingston Pond.

     Finally, in August 2011, we both found time to make the trip a reality.  We picked August 24th as the date, as the weather would be a bit cooler, and the bugs not so bad.  We arranged to travel up on Tuesday night, stay with my brother, and hike in the next day.

  We planned it as a day hike.  My dietary and medical needs almost preclude an overnight trip that far into the wilderness.  My thirteen-year-old son RJ would accompany us.  I wanted so much to share this piece of me with him.  My father had wanted to go, but was having some serious knee problems, and knew realistically that it was a trip he couldn’t make.  I did not know how far I would be able to make it, so we agreed that we would only go as far as I was comfortable.  Our minimum goal was to get to Marcy Dam, but I was secretly hoping to somehow make it all the way back to Livingston Pond and cast a line.

     We drove up to my brother’s on Tuesday evening as planned, and had an excellent dinner at Casa Del Sol.  Well, Emilio and the others had an excellent dinner.  As always, I was limited to my tube fed liquid diet.  I did, however, take the opportunity to experience a couple of exceptional margaritas via my feeding tube, and thus was in an excellent mood for our hike the next day.

     We awoke bright and early.  Each of us filled a day pack with enough provisions to weather the night in the event of emergency.  I packed my feeding tube, pole, and supplies as well.  I also carried a spinning rod and a small box of tackle with a few select Mepps spinners and some Lake Clear Wobblers, just in case.

August 24 2011
My friend Emilio & I
Without his assistance & support the trip would have never been possible

      We chose the South Meadows trail to Marcy Dam, as that was my most frequently used route as a youth.  I used to hunt that area extensively.  At the age of 16, I killed my first buck, an eight point , off the ridges of Phelps Mountain there and dragged it back down to South Meadows along that trail.

      I had not been there in over 25 years, but the DEC’s South Meadows trail was much as I had remembered, except at the trailhead, where a barrier had been installed preventing cars from parking down near the register.  Emilio, RJ and I made our way up the trail in good time.  My energy and stamina surprised me.  We reached Marcy Dam by 10am. 

August 24, 2011
RJ & I as we reached Marcy Dam & prepared for some fishing

It was so exhilarating to be there, after all I’d been through and all those years.  It was like a dream, walking across the dam bridge and taking in the view.  RJ and I decided to try our luck and cast a line, first down below the dam, then in the pond.

August 24, 2011
RJ & I
Fishing just below Marcy Dam

     I tried a Lake Clear Wobbler trailing a worm with no luck, either below the dam, or off the bridge over the dam.  We then decided to work our way around the pond towards the inlet stream.  I decided to change tackle, thinking that maybe the wobbler was simply too large for any trout that might be there.  I chose a tiny Mepps spinner in silver, blue and pink.

     RJ and I were on a small sandbar.  On my first cast with the Mepps- Bam!!  I had a hard strike.  We were elated!  RJ and I proceeded to catch and release three brook trout, the biggest about eight inches. 

August 24 2011
My son RJ fishing in the Marcy Dam Pond

Emilio took several pictures of our “trophies”.

August 24, 2011
Possibly the last brook trout ever caught in the Marcy Dam Pond

     Energized by our fishing success (and my son by a snack), we agreed to continue our hike up to Avalanche Lake.  I was still feeling fairly good, having achieved my minimum goal of reaching Marcy Dam, with the unexpected bonus of catching some trout.  I had to be careful. Dehydration for me is a real concern, as I am unable to take in fluids on the move.  We made our way up past Avalanche camps and negotiated the “Misery Mile” that I had traveled so cavalierly as a young man.  Somewhere along the way, RJ turned his ankle a bit, which slowed us down.  While Emilio cut him a walking stick, we made a brief assessment, and decided to continue.

August 24, 2011
RJ & I working our way along the trail while Emilio snapped photos

      The trail was much as I remembered it, until we neared the top of Avalanche Pass, where a huge slide had come down off Colden at some point, judging by the decomposition of the tree rubble, within the past 5-10 years.

August 24,2011
Fresh slides on Colden
(Since the last time I’d been there)

 We ran into the current caretaker of Colden’s Interior Outpost, a woman, and another female trail crew member, just past the slide.  They were laying stringers along a muddy section of trail.

August 24, 2011
Trailside flora near where we ran into Lake Colden’s caretaker

  We spoke with them for a few moments.  I remarked to my son about how this was what I had done during the summers while I was in college.

August 24, 2011
RJ munching blueberries on the trail

      The caretaker saw my fishing rod and remarked “You know there aren’t any fish up here”.  I smiled, nodded, and said, “Oh, yes there are, if you know where to go.”  She lowered her voice and her eyes looked away briefly.  “Oh, you’re going to Livingston Pond.”  She replied.  I told her about our success at the dam, and our plans to hit Livingston, if we had time.

     We made Avalanche Lake at almost noon on the dot.  The lake had changed significantly since I had last been there.  The water was down a good three feet, with much exposed mud and old tree stumps.  We stopped for lunch.  There were several other hiking parties moving through the area.

August 24, 2011
RJ & I along the shore of Avalanche Lake
Where we took a lunch break

     We could not have picked a better day.  It was sunny, warm, but not hot, about 70 degrees, with a good breeze, and not a black fly, mosquito, or deerfly in sight.  Emilio and RJ ate their lunch while I hooked up my feeding tube and took in some nourishment.

We all sat there admiring the view, the sheer face of Colden to our left, the lake, and Avalanche and Algonquin on our right.

August 24, 2011
Mount Colden’s Trap Dike

  Emilio took some photos while RJ rested his ankle.  We decided that since we had come that far, we were going to make the trip to Colden and the interior headquarters.

Avalanche Lake
August 24, 2011

     It was already after 1pm, my son’s ankle was bothering him, and while I had done surprisingly well to that point, I wasn’t sure how much I truly had in my tank.  It might not have been the wisest decision, but I knew that it was likely that I would never make the trek that far again, and I desperately wanted to see Colden once more.  I knew I would regret it if we did not at least try.

     We packed our gear and headed out around Avalanche Lake.  It had been over twenty- five years since I had last been there, twenty-seven, to be exact.  When I had worked up there, we had the luxury of DEC’s rowboat to get us across the lake.  I had completely forgotten how challenging it was negotiating the trail around Avalanche Lake.  My son’s bum ankle and my health and physical issues made it an arduous trek.  I would not have made it on my own.  Emilio patiently helped me negotiate some of the steep ladders and rocks along the lake’s shore.

August 24 2011
My son RJ & I taking a break along the shore of Avalanche Lake
The Trap Dike visibles behind us

     We stopped along the way to rest, admire the Trap Dike, and take photos.  During one of our stops, I pulled out my spinning rod and spent about ten minutes casting into the lake’s tannin-stained waters.  I knew it was folly but didn’t care.  Just as I had done as a young man, I just cast and dreamed of a different time, a time before industry and the devastation of acid rain.  It was something I felt compelled to do. 

August 24, 2011
Casting a line in Avalanche Lake

     With no fish, but a dream revisited, I stowed my rod, and we completed our journey around the lake.  Along the way, RJ and Emilio ate handfuls of wild blueberries and raspberries, which were surprisingly abundant in spots.

August 24, 2011
Picking wild mountain blueberries along Avalanche Lake

 We made jokes about how the bears would feel about sharing their harvest although, judging from a couple of piles of scat we saw nearby and my previous experiences in that area, I’m certain there were really a bear or two around.

Fresh Scat near our blueberry harvest
August 24, 2011
Avalanche Pass

     As we reached the far side of Avalanche Lake, One of the reasons for the lake’s low level became apparent.  When I had worked there in the 80’s, there had been an extensive beaver dam system at the far end of the lake, on the Colden end.  This dam system kept the lake level up, which at times raised hell with the nearby trail system.  As a result, some DEC staff were prone to breaching the dam.  I remember my father catching Brownie doing just that on one of my childhood excursions into Colden, and raising holy hell about it.  As a result, while my father was in charge, the beaver dam stayed.  The dam was now completely gone, and clearly had been for some time. 

     RJ really began hobbling as we finished our journey to the caretaker’s cabin.

August 24, 2011
The Lake Colden Caretaker’s Cabin
It had been replaced since I worked up there in the early 1980’s

  I could tell he was in some discomfort.  He was not really an experienced hiker and we had just finished a challenging course for any 13-year-old.  Emilio and I had taken his pack and redistributed it between us to ease his load.  Other than that, he had hung in there well.  I was proud of him for that.

Lake Colden’s Interior Outpost
August 24, 2011

       It was just after 3 pm when we finally reached the Lake Colden Interior Outpost.  No one was at the cabin, which had been replaced since my tenure there.  I read on a plaque that the new cabin had been built in 1998.  It had taken us two hours to negotiate the lake, slowed by RJ’s ankle.

August 24, 2011
Rendering a little first aide

  We decided to sit down by the lake, where a dock had once been.  The water on Colden was much lower too.  When I had worked there, a boat and canoe were tied to the dock, which we would occasionally jump off for a swim in the lake. The dock was gone, but the boat was still there on the shore.  While we sat by the water RJ and Emilio ate sandwiches and candy bars. I went through another feeding tube session.  I gave RJ some ibuprofen. He took off his wet socks and soaked his feet in the lake.  We sat admiring the view of Colden while I reminisced about the time I had spent living and working at the outpost.

Mount Colden
August 24, 2011

     By the time we finished eating, it was nearly four o’clock.  While I knew we didn’t have time to reach Livingston Pond, we had gotten farther than I had realistically hoped, and I was happy.  RJ said his foot was feeling better. We figured it would be faster going back, so we hoped to reach Marcy Dam by 6pm.  We packed up and made our way back around the lake.

      The going was a little faster for a while, but by the time we had traversed the lake and begun our descent, my son’s ankle was throbbing again.  He hobbled on though, an enjoyable hike turned into an exercise in perseverance for him.  We made our way down the trail.

  As we passed Avalanche camps, I decided to try my luck with the spinning rod in a couple of pools along Marcy Brook.  Much to my delight, on one of my first casts, a nice little brook trout darted out from under a root overhang and hit my spinner.  I hadn’t really expected to encounter any fish that far above the dam pond.  I didn’t manage to hook him, although he hit a couple of times more on succeeding casts.  He then darted back in under the overhang.  I was unable to coax him back out. 

     I quickly caught up to my hobbling son and Emilio. We made it back to Marcy Dam shortly after six.  Despite his ankle, RJ wanted to fish some more.

August 24, 2011
RJ & I fishing along the Marcy Dam Pond
(I think I’m holding a little brook trout in my hand)

  He again removed his shoes and socks.  We waded back into the dam pond near the sandbar, where we caught another trout about eight inches long.  This one we decided to keep, as RJ had never eaten fresh brook trout before.  I quickly cleaned it and stowed it in a baggie left from someone’s sandwich.  I could tell from the pale color of its flesh that it was likely a stocked trout, but that didn’t really matter to me.

     We crossed the dam bridge and rested on the Adirondack Loj trail side of the pond.  RJ and Emilio had something to eat and I took in another tube feeding.  We felt safe at that point, as even with RJ’s ankle, we knew we could negotiate the trail back down to South Meadows if it got dark.  RJ and I both tried fishing some more, with no further success.  That didn’t matter.  We packed up at about seven o’clock and headed back down the old truck trail to South Meadows.  It had been a grand day, beyond my wildest hopes, a trip I am going to remember for the rest of my life.  I was glad I was able to share it with my son and with my friend.

August 24, 2011
Standing on the Marcy Dam Bridge with my friend Emilio

     That was on Wednesday, August 24, 2011.  That Sunday, Hurricane Irene hit.  I read in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise about the devastation the hurricane caused in the high peaks region; the bridge over Marcy Dam gone, the dam damaged, the dam pond slowly draining. 

August 24, 2011
The Marcy Dam Bridge
Just before Hurricane Irene washed the dam out

According to the paper, the truck trail from South Meadows was apparently badly damaged, and the Klondike Bridge was washed down stream.  There is a new slide off Colden, and that entire portion of the high peaks trail system was closed until further notice.

     I immediately called my friend Emilio when I heard the news.  If we had waited even a few more days before making our trip, we never would have made it.  I told RJ, we are likely the last people to have ever fished the Marcy Dam pond.  Environmental politics being what they are, I can only wonder how long it will be, if ever, before any of those structures are rebuilt.  I don’t imagine any of those little brook trout were able to withstand the torrent of water that must have come through there.  More than likely, they were all flushed downstream.  I doubt there are any left in whatever water remains.

     I remarked several times to Emilio along our journey that this was probably the last time I would ever make it up there.  Despite the fact that I did better than expected on this trip, I must face reality.  I am still just recovering from the massive physical effort expended to complete the journey.  I am now in my third year of post cancer recovery.  The five year survival rate for cancer patients like me is less than fifty percent.

      That’s okay.  I was able to make this trip with my son and my friend Emilio.  Maybe at some point in the future, RJ will decide to share the same experience with his own son.  In the meantime, our adventure will live all my days in my memory; a journey back into Lake Colden, on a sunny August day, when ripples were more than illusions, and trout more than dreams.

August 24, 2011
My son RJ & I
Sharing My Farewell to Colden


Post Script: On January 27, 2014 the Watertown Daily Times reported that the decision had been made not to replace the Marcy Dam bridge wiped out by Hurricane Irene in 2011.  This decision inspired me to pen “My Farewell to Colden” and submit it to Adirondack Life Magazine, where it was purchased and published, in edited form,  in their “2014 Annual guide to The Great Outdoors” under the title “A Place In Time”, thus becoming my first professionally published piece. 

One Final Note: Since writing this story, I have never returned to Lake Colden. Life being what it is, in all likelihood, I never will.


May Life Fare Thee Well

In Each Day You Are In

Until Our Trails Cross Again:


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