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Wild Goose Chase

“A memorable rescue – or robbery? – on Middle Saranac Lake”


Author’s Note: Originally written and submitted for publication under the title “Turtle Soup”, this true-life vignette was the fourth of a series five I have had published in Adirondack Life Magazine over the past several years.

It first appeared in their April 2018 Issue, page 54, as their “Barkeater” selection.

It is posted here in it’s original unedited format, with Adirondack Life’s edited title and subtitle. The photos are my own.


     First light in camp. My favorite awakening.  Zipper alarm clocks- my son RJ’s sleeping bag, then the tent flap, twice.  A yawn, a stretch, one half open eye- breathing the morning from snuggled half sleep, waking slowly to familiar camp morning sounds. 

Snapping twigs- the strike of a match- a crackling fire.  Coolers opening, coffee pot noises, that Coleman stove hiss.  RJ rummaging the food bag, laying claim, no doubt, to the last powdered doughnut on his way down to shore.

     I lay contentedly reminiscing the moment; RJ loading his gear, the rhythm and creak as canoe oars splash- then silence once more.  I smile.  What was once me, is now him.  A young man alone with a canoe and his thoughts, off to fish the lake’s morning calm.

     My morning begins as each morning does- with this prayer:  “Thank you Lord, for yesterday, today, and each and every day of life.  Amen.”  Then I unzip my bag, don camp shoes and hoodie, and exit our tent to shake off morning’s chill by the fire.

     Cancer is humbling.  With RJ off fishing, and the coffee now perked, I make preparations to take on the day.  Days for me are no easy task.  No tongue, half a jaw, I barely recognize what remains of the face in the mirror. 

I’ve seen death’s doorstep. Twice.  I eat solely through a tube in my stomach.  I haven’t tasted human food in nearly nine years.  Breathing and swallowing are primary concerns.  But I am here.  In this moment.  With family around me.  In this day I am in.

     Simple things allow me these nights in camp.  A reclining camp chair bed to incline my head so I don’t choke in my sleep. 

Gravity feeding bags to tree branch hang my home-made concoction of prescription formula- fortified with a generous dose of camp java and sugar. 

Camp coffee may not be prescribed, but it connects me to life- to something human that was.  I do what I must.  My Doc’s were all brilliant.  They kept me alive.  Now it’s my job to live. 

     On this particular trip, as usual, my brother Ray had ferried me in the day before on Dad’s old Star Craft.  During the trip upriver, we passed a man and his wife.  They were in kayaks.  The man’s kayak was set up to accommodate his wheelchair.  When I see others who overcome, it gives me strength.  I’m inspired.  I’m not alone on these waters.

     While I finished my coffee concoction by the fire, Ray rustled up a Coleman Stove breakfast of cheese smothered bacon, steak, potato and eggs.

 RJ returned to regale us with morning fish tales.

  After breakfast we tidied up camp and went off to gather more wood. 

By the time we had finished replenishing the woodpile, noon was upon us.

     Ray had errands in town.  So after running him across the lake to the Ampersand walk in- RJ and I found ourselves alone with the Star Craft, an afternoon, and no chores.  We went fishing.

     There are lots of good spots to fish on Middle Saranac.  Without giving away secrets, our favorite fishing is on the river above the locks.  RJ and I geared up and set out.  I drove and trolled while RJ stood at the bow casting along the weed beds with poppers.  We meandered slowly downstream towards the locks.

     As we neared one of our favorite casting spots at a point about halfway downriver between the lake and the locks, I cut the engine so we could drift.  There, several cedar spurs jut out from the shoreline above and below water.  With overhanging maples, and framed by lily pads, it’s a great spot to pick up a nice bass or pike.

     On this day, however, there was a commotion up ahead.  A mother Canada goose and three goslings were splashing and raising a ruckus near shore, foiling our planned casts.  As they honked and flapped their wings on the water, we speculated that Momma was teaching her kids how to fly.  Intrigued, we watched.

     Something, however, seemed not quite right.  The mother goose and two of the goslings splashed their way through the weeds, but one poor gosling was getting left behind.  It appeared to be stuck, honking and flapping to no avail.

     “Hey RJ!  That one’s leg must be caught in some fishing line or something,” I surmised as we surveyed the scene.  RJ agreed.

     “I’ll bring the boat around towards shore and we’ll see if we can’t get that poor bird untangled.  Grab a canoe paddle and watch out for logs.”

  RJ leaped into action.  We brought the boat around and in towards the struggling bird.

     “Be careful”  I cautioned.  We grounded the boat in the shallows and both disembarked.  Armed with a canoe paddle and a boat hook, we began probing gently in the water around the desperate gosling, trying to catch the invisible fishing line that seemed to hold its leg captive.

   While Momma and siblings watched from the safety of the far shore, I somewhat gingerly approached the hafling goose.  It was clearly exhausted now, and sort of lay with its wings half spread on the water, giving only an occasional tug, flap or weak honk.

     Unable to come up with the offending line, I stabbed the boat hook into the water right under the bird’s leg and tugged,  hoping to catch the line from underneath.  Unexpectedly, my boat hook grabbed something heavy.

     “Hey RJ- I don’t think it’s fishing line- think she’s somehow got her leg caught in a log.”

  Just then, I felt something give way, like I had freed the offending log, and was bringing it towards the surface, gosling’s leg still attached.

    “Wait a minute- HOLY CRAP!

  At that moment, the whole bottom seemed to rise from the swirling mud in front of me.  I suddenly understood.  It wasn’t a log- or fishing line.  A large snapping turtle was the culprit!  Not just large- prehistorically large!  Head the size of a small grapefruit large!  It had the gosling’s leg in its jaws, my boat hook around its neck, and my bare feet beneath it.


     Apparently unhappy with the sudden turn of events, the snapper simultaneously released the gosling, escaped my boat hook, and disappeared in the murk.  Fearing imminent turtle counter attack,  RJ and I quickly skee-daddled back to the relative safety of the boat.

      Free at last, the gosling made for the far side of the river. Momma and siblings had apparently already fled.  Somewhat stunned, RJ and I sat there for a moment in the boat, collecting our thoughts.

The gosling seemed okay- alive, at least, and mobile.  We had all toes intact.  The dinosaur turtle was nowhere to be seen.  Fishing on seemed moot, at that point- so we stowed our rods, shoved back from the mud, started the engine, and headed for camp.

    On the way upstream, we once again encountered Momma Goose and the siblings.  In a show of international good will, I addressed Madame Goose in my best classroom French:

 “Pardon Madame- mais votre enfant est la!”

I pointed downstream. My instincts were right-a French -Canadian goose family, apparently.  Or maybe it was just my imagination- but Madame Goose seemed to understand.  At any rate, she and her goslings turned and headed back down stream towards their just rescued sibling.

     My brother Ray returned to camp later that evening.  He had my nephew Forrest in tow.  We related our adventure over fire roasted hunter’s stew. A lively fireside debate ensued. 

Were we HEROES


  RJ and I put forth our defense.  Forrest vigorously prosecuted the snapping turtle’s case.  Apparently, in the minds of some campfire court jurists, RJ and I are now wanted dinner felons who owe one prehistorically large snapping turtle a fois gras buffet. 

     Regardless, that day, that moment, that RESCUE (sorry Forrest), shared with my son- It’s ours now, to keep.  One moment we were both  most definitely in.

     That night, as I retired to my tent, my sleeping bag,  and my reclining Cabella’s camp chair cot, I once again recited my prayer:

 “Thank you, Lord, for yesterday, today, and each and every day of life, Amen.”


     And to those who struggle with Cancer- those in wheelchair kayaks- those who struggle to find a reason to face the day…. I say:


    For you just never know…

You may someday be called upon

To rescue goslings from snapping turtles.


Until Our Trails Cross Again