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Scarred Cedar Logs

Bull Rush Bay Lean-to Desecration!

Discoveries, Musings, Encounters & Memories on My Journey to Zen

I suppose folks could consider this the fourth in my ongoing series of Bull Rush Bay lean-to life stories.

For the past fifty-one years I’ve been canoeing in to Middle Saranac Lake’s site 63 lean-to site via South Creek to camp with my family.

My brother Ray owns a house on Lake Flower. Two boats sit conveniently moored at his own private dock, including both a pontoon boat and Dad’s reliable old Starcraft, the boat we both grew up with.

My son RJ and I bought a boat of our own last year at Fogarty’s Marina, a sixteen-foot Lund SSV with a 30 horse, four stroke Honda. RJ and I aptly named our boat “Outlaw”.

Despite lifelong access to Monroe family boats on the lake, the truth of the matter is, I’ve just never really been a boat guy. I guess I’m still not. My brother inherited Dad’s Starcraft. RJ’s name is on the title to “Outlaw”. They are in charge of the boats. I got Dad’s canoes.

For several years, while I was sick with and during the early years of my recovery from cancer, I relied on my brother Ray and his boats for my time spent in camp. However, about ten or twelve years ago, as I regained strength, I realized that in doing so I was slowly losing an integral part of myself.

It also dawned on me that by driving from Watertown to rendezvous with my brother’s boats at his Lake Flower dock, then wind our way up through Lake Flower, Oseetah, Lower Saranac Lake, the river & two sets of locks, even with a younger brother who drives like a speed boat incarnation of Kyle Andretti, I had been living one of my favorite Supertramp tunes: “Take the Long Way Home.”

I thought to myself, “This just doesn’t make sense. You drive right past Middle Saranac Lake, all the way through town, wait around for two hours while your younger brother diddle daddles around, then spend another two hours helping him load the boats, THEN spend the better part of two MORE hours boating back up to the very same place you drove right by six hours ago! “

I realized the answer had been stored right there behind my garage all along. I could cut at least four hours off of each trip in and out if I once again began canoeing in on my own via South Creek. So, I dug out my father’s old twelve-foot aluminum Grumman canoe and cleaned off the cobwebs.

Dad had installed a set of pintle mount oar locks on that canoe years ago. I’d grown up rowing it. I’d sit backwards in the front seat to row. Man! Could I ever make that thing go! As a young teen growing up, I rowed all up and down the Saranac Chain of Lakes in that thing.

So, I dug Dad’s old wooden oars out of the basement, along with his favorite paddle. I spray painted the canoe, oars, and paddle all in camo. I added some sayings.

I dubbed it my “Zen Boat.”

I’ve been rowing my way in and out of camp ever since.

My “Zen Boat” canoe, posted up at South Creek, fully loaded for my recent journey to camp.

So, there I was, ready once again to head in to Bull Rush Bay, where I would link up with my brother to spend the day setting up this year’s Monroe camp.

As I rowed my way down South Creek, Zen Boat canoe fully loaded, facing backwards towards Stony Creek Mountain, I quietly said a brief prayer “Please Lord, please. I beg you. Just this once. Please let the lake greet me with something less than gale force winds. Amen.”

My backwards view towards Stony Creek Mountain, as I row my fully loaded Zen Boat down South Creek.

It was 10am late June Middle Saranac Lake hot in the sun.

I made several attempts to snap photos as I passed painted turtles posing on logs. Each time I failed. By the time I spotted a turtle, slowed my canoe, propped oar handles on my legs, raised my camera, removed the lens cap…my quarry grew wise to my scheme, slid off its log perch, and into the water.

I‘m not sure how professional wildlife photographers do it. Do folks realize just how hard it is to photograph live critters, alone, facing backwards, from the front seat of a fully loaded Zen Boat canoe?!

So, in the end, I settled for a nice picture of one of South Creek’s many beaver huts. I had a great deal more success in that effort, as my subject was cooperatively stationary. I have no idea where the beaver was. (Not that it would have mattered.)

South Creek Beaver Hut
My substitute turtle

I always hold my breath as I near open water at the mouth of South Creek. Were my prayers answered? Or will I once again have to devil’s dance my way down the lake dodging whitecaps?

“Whew!” I could exhale a sigh of relief.

My fears were allayed. The lake was dead calm.

It looked like for this trip, at least, I would be shown mercy.

Entering Middle Saranac Lake
via South Creek
(I spun my Zen Boat around for this pic)

I wasn’t out of the woods yet though. Many a time those winds have come up fast, whipping the lake into a whitecap frenzy as they blow down through the wind tunnel above Bartlett Carry.

Generally, I have to make my decision immediately upon clearing the mouth of South Creek. The straightest shot to Bull Rush Bay is to “shoot the gap” between the little unnamed island my dad always called “Gull Island” and Shaw Island and make a beeline for the lower point of First Island.

“Shooting the Gap”
The little Island we call “Gull Island” to the left
Shaw Island below on the right
Whiteface Mountain shrouded in clouds in the distance.

On whitecap days, the safer route is to skirt to the right along the shoreline, shielded to some degree from the winds by Shaw Island. That, however, substantially lengthens the route.

There have also been days where I’ve made the wrong choice & had to surrender, using my body as a sail, my oars as rudders, simply riding the wind to the far end of the lake, where the water is shallow, the shores nice & sandy, and from there simply debarking, fording the river, then wading my way into camp, Zen Boat in tow.

Beach lined lower Middle Saranac Shoreline
Ampersand Mountain beyond

This day wasn’t one of those days though. This day the water was mirrorlike calm. My biggest problem was, my Zen Boat was so full of gear, there was no room for my feet! So, my legs dangled over the sides like two barefoot outriggers.

“Outrigger Feet”
The water was super warm for this time of year!
Zen Boat view facing backwards towards South Creek

I made my way down past Second Island.

Almost home!

Second Island
A family favorite “Triple S” (Sunbathing/Snorkling/Swimming) spot!

I always feel a little sense of excitement when I finally round First Island and make my way across the channel into Bull Rush Bay.

Site 63
“Bull Rush Bay”
View after rounding First Island
(I spun my Zen Boat around for this one)

I put in at South Creek at 10am.

I made Bull Rush Bay in my fully loaded Zen boat canoe before noon.

Even after my failed efforts at photographing uncooperative turtles.

Bull Rush Bay
My Zen Boat’s Home
I beat my brother into camp(again)!
Bragging rights safe for another camping season.

Just as I was getting out of my boat, a bald eagle came swooping down across the bay in front of me! Right on the deck! It was being chased by two smaller birds. There’s an eagle’s nest not far from camp. It’s high up in a pine tree, visible from the water.

Last year eaglets were raised in that nest. Ray & I checked it out. We could see activity and heads, so it looks like there are (or soon will be) eaglets in that nest again this year.

Bull Rush Bay Eagles Nest
Camping Prohibited
Reserved for the Season

Bull Rush Bay
First Island in the background

Bragging right secured, I began unloading my gear. Right about that time my brother text messaged me:

“I’m leaving the dock.”

I had a good hour and a half in camp to myself. I grabbed my backpack and headed up towards the lean-to. The site looked in order as I approached.

Then I stopped in my tracks.

I just stood there.



Staring at the nearly brand-new lean-to’s badly defaced deacon’s log.

Recently gouged into the Bull Rush Bay lean-to deacon’s log

I felt a lot of emotions flow through me in that moment. None of them positive. Whoever commited this atrocity may as well have carved their name into my forehead.

I decided to finish unloading my gear, hook up to my feeding tube, and wait for my brother.

Ray and his dog Pepper arrived not too long thereafter. He came up and inspected the front of the lean-to. “Yeah, that’s ugly. My boys were in here last week and saw it. They told me about it when they got home. ” “Dad, you & Uncle Dick are REALLY not gonna like that one!”

My brother Ray was in camp April 15th for the day. This ugly, gouged, act of vandalism was not there then. I took the above photo on Sunday, June 25th, the 1st day of our 2023 camping reservation.

Apparently, sometime between April 15th and June 25th, someone most likely named “Davies” decided they had the right to gouge and deface the deacon’s log of Bull Rush Bay’s one year old lean-to. I’m not quite sure what implement they used, but this cedar log wound is both ugly and deep.

Author’s Note: My brother Ray called me from camp.
There is a date next to the name that we did not see earlier:
This atrocious act of vandalism was perpetrated on Memorial Day weekend!

Someone out there knows who “DAVIES” is.

Someone out there knows who did this. It appears it happened over Memorial Day weekend.

Maybe “Davies” had a camp reservation.

If they did, all their info is on file in the DEC camping reservation system.

In any event, I hope and pray the NYSDEC sees this desecration, finds out who was responsible, and arrests them!

My brother and I finished unloading our gear and setting up camp.

Our 2023 Monroe Bull Rush Bay Camp
Pepper Tested & Approved

Ray & I set up two tents.

I have my own private tent accommodations up on the hill.

But when I’m in camp alone,

I sleep in the lean-to.

“Camp Kitchen”

One task we always have to accomplish is cleaning all the accumulated ashes out of the fire pit. I honestly believe we are the only ones who ever do that.

Fireplace Ashes
“Before” Photo
This year I brought an ash bucket.

“Ash Mountain”
Double Black Diamond Trail
Ski at Your Own Risk
Experts Only
This year I added ten buckets

Fireplace Clean-up
“After” Photo
Just in case anyone else who ever camps here was wondering,
THIS is what Bull Rush Bay’s fireplace ACTUALLY looks like!

In past years, we’ve used an old metal garbage can lid to clean the ashes out of the fireplace. That lid had been in camp for the past fifty plus years. I don’t know where it came from, but I remember it being there when I was a kid.

We used that lid for EVERYTHING in camp! When we arrived, it got used to clean ashes. If it rained, we used it to cover our firewood. If it was windy, we need more heat or wanted to smoke something over the fire when we cooked, we put that old garbage can lid over the grate. It made a great camp dutch oven. In addition to all that, I used it as a drum for my “Bear Dances”.

Last year, just before the old Bull Rush Bay lean-to got torn down, my brother salvaged that garbage can lid and took it home to his garage for safe keeping. Once the new lean-to was built, he brought the lid back when we first set up camp and restored it to its rightful spot.

Sometime shortly after we broke camp, what happened? Somebody stole it! Or maybe they thought it was garbage and hauled it away. In any event, no one will clean the ashes out of the fireplace, but somebody went to the trouble of making off with the rusty old garbage can lid.

So, this year, I replaced it.

One for my brother Ray for his birthday.

(Yes! My brother Ray’s birthday present this year was a metal garbage can lid!)

Plus, one for me, as a back-up garbage can lid. Just in case.

In any event, I made an emergency trip back out of camp. I came home to get my wood chisel, some stain (I think Ipswich Pine will probably match closest), and some exterior polyurethane.

I’m going to as carefully and professionally as I am able, triage our lean-to’s deep, ugly wound, undo DAVIES disfiguring damage, and erase these cruelly inflicted new cedar log scars.

On my way back past Gull Island, just as my Zen boat canoe entered the channel into South Creek, a pair of loons swam up alongside and greeted me. I don’t know a lot about loons, but for the past several years, there’s been a pair of loons on the lake who often come up and accompany me on my journeys.

I practiced my loon hails and calls. They introduced their new chicks. I think there were three. It was hard to count bobbing loon chick heads in the water though, as the lake had picked up a slight chop.

My loon friends on the water.
I think they recognize my Zen boat.
When I’m on the lake, they often swim alongside me.

To top the day’s Bull Rush Bay camp set-up trip off, when I got back to the South Creek parking lot to load up my Zen boat and return home for a cedar log triage kit, there was a fancy little green hybrid SUV with Massachusetts plates parked all cock-eyed katy-corners sideways in the lot, taking up two spaces so no one could park next to it.

I’ve heard lots of commentary and complaints lately about the lack of sufficient parking at trailheads in the Adirondacks. I heard momentary whispers from my lesser angels, suggesting I unsheathe my buck knife and puncture all four of fancy car’s out of state sidewalls.

I vetoed those voices, left my knife sheathed, and chastised my somewhat less civilized inner self.

“Hey! You’re an outlaw, not a criminal.”

Besides, I’ve already got more than my fair share of outstanding warrants.

Instead, I’ve got an idea that might help solve that problem. We should start issuing tickets and towing vehicles who park like they own the place!

In the meantime,

If anyone know something, say something!

I’d love to see whoever perpetrated this recent lean-to atrocity identified & held accountable.


Until Our Trails Cross Again:


(Author’s Endnote: This story appeared in the 7/4/23 online edition of The Adirondack Almanack.)