Welcome everyone, to my little corner of the woods. Join me on a chilly night, sitting ‘round the fire pit? We’ll have hot drinks and grill something delicious. Or perhaps you’d rather come with me on an early summer morning some weekend, to spend the day working with our hands, building this old-fashioned retreat.
This is Salamander City. Two little acres of forest in the Adirondacks I secured ownership of on May 1, 2015. The home of one of the most important dreams in my life.
You can reach it by way of Northville, New York. You’ll leave the interstate a long time before you get there. You’ll drive a bridge over the Great Sacandaga Lake, and get a glimpse of its vast blue, reflecting the sun and the character of today’s wind in its surface. Careful not to let it pull you to one of its beaches for a swim, or you may not arrive at my place for hours more. Especially if you find one of the lesser known swimming holes, where it may feel you’ve got the whole lake to yourself.
Careful also not to stop at one of many fishing spots. They pull largemouth and smallmouth bass out of the lake every day throughout the season, but you can hook brown trout, walleye, or northern pike as well. Hit the shallows to pull yellow perch or black crappie. Or drop your line to the deeps to lure channel cats or brown bullhead. Did you bring your boat?
A few miles out of Northville, you’ll be in the hills that cradle the village. These are rocky slopes, pocked by natural springs. On one of these lower mountains is your destination, but to get there you’ll have to grapple with a rough, inclined path. It’s an old logging road, with no numbers, no mailboxes, no plowing or grading, that eventually dwindles to nothing and nowhere. You won’t be getting up there in your streetcar. Time to park it, shoulder your supplies, and hike.
Depending on the time of year you’ll be in for a different shade of forest. The evergreens hold their deep, dark green all year, but the maples turn yellow and red in the late fall and blanket the ground with brilliant leaves. The larches and other pines turn sooner.
The colors change quick in autumn and the beginning of winter, but the path to your destination changes every summer with the rains. A constantly shifting surface that sometimes bares deep valleys, holes, or large stones. The people who live at the bottom of the mountain try to groom the first few thousand feet of the road so that they have less headaches from perplexed nature-goers during the hiking season, and to make room for hunters in the fall. But those who know the road use four-wheel drive and watch for obstructions. Better yet, all-terrain vehicles.
You’ll hear birdcalls, and they may change day to day. The avian diversity is considerable. You may also see fox, raccoon, turkey, deer, or one of the other native species running about. What you will almost certainly see, is Salamander City’s namesake. Eastern newts, distinguishable in their eft stage by their orange color and red spots, dominate the nooks and crannies that form in the soil where it meets rock clusters and root systems.
You may also see red-backed salamanders, hiding under a rock or log at the entrance to their communal homes made of tunnel networks.
Once your heart has started beating harder and your legs have warmed up from climbing the path, you’ll see your destination on the right, through the trees. A humble, but not tiny, log cabin facing toward you, overlooking the downslope, nestled in the trees. It looks cozy from where you are, but you see when you arrive that it is unfinished. A work in progress, and what a rewarding work it is. What is not yet complete exists only in imagination. The hike has gotten your breathing up, and the smell of the trees, soil, and gentle mountain streams permeate your senses.
The cabin’s face greets and welcomes you as you step onto the level ground at the foot of Salamander City. Welcome, stay a while. No point in trekking back out of here before you’ve had a chance to relax and let go of your concerns, for a brief time at least.
Sit with me by the fire. Let’s dream about what to make of this place in years to come.
Click to read entries in the Salamander City story: