About a year ago, I wrote a piece, set in the Adirondacks, describing the search some friends and I had made for a mysterious Mercury dime that had disappeared somehow from under a rock where I’d hidden it over 60 years ago. It was in a difficult and almost-never-visited gap the old-timers called Will Martin’s Notch. Some years later, I had gone back, picked up the rock and found the dime missing. To shorten a long story, it had been moved by a shadowy character, who has hinted, but never admitted to it, to another rock not far from another little-known spot.
This one was at an abandoned cast-iron cauldron used probably 100 years ago by Jim Hays, a local old-timer who somehow hauled his gear up onto the mountainside and boiled maple sap each spring. We found the dime last year, bright and shiny and right where it had lain for about 40 years.
Flushed with success, and remembering how wonderful it was to get together again with long-ago friends from hunting camp, I suggested a reprise. Though decreasing mobility among our group made it unlikely, it was not impossible that during the year the dime had again migrated.
My son came up from Arkansas for the occasion; Bill drove up from southern New York with a friend, Charlie; my daughter, who for decades had heard tales of the characters in hunting camp, wanted finally to meet them, and came with her husband and their new puppy, a rangy medley of enthusiasm named Maui. Kiki is always with me, if possible. With Spen and Polecat, local friends, we were eight.
With increasing age and decrepitude, I’m never quite sure if my body will take the stress of this quest. It’s not just the climbing and descending; it’s the tangles of fallen branches and tumbled boulders that wait to trip up elderly shufflers. But I had four things going for me: first, my pair of trusty hiking poles that substitute for fading balance; second, my son-in-law, Todd, pushing with both hands on the seat of my pants whenever he sensed me struggling; third, my son, Will, who wrapped a mesh belt around my waist and held me back on the steep downhills; and fourth, the knowledge I probably wasn’t the only one in the posse who was wondering how he’d measure up.
Off we went in a line, Polecat leading at a gentle pace, Todd sweeping, and Kiki and Maui patrolling the perimeter, covering at least 10 times as much ground as we were. We passed the ruins of the old camp, just a moss-covered tangle of old boards, a kerosene stove and a thousand memories. Next, the faint traces of Theriault’s logging camp, last used in 1927 — abandoned only 30 years when I first hunted here, and now approaching 100. Then the climbing began: up a still-visible logging road rising above the brook, looking for the break in the hill to our left that would be Hummingbird Notch.
Kiki, loping ahead of Polecat, suddenly yipped in pain — something I’d never heard her do before — and came running back toward us, biting at her side. Maui wanted in on the excitement, and ran toward the action. She came back, too, shaking her ears. Ground hornets — you could hear them hum if you stood still — with their nest smack in the middle of the trail. We made a large semi-circular detour and kept climbing, Kiki stopping every dozen steps to lick her side and Maui sliding the side of her head through the leaves.
Through the notch at last to the Old Beech Log, a famous watch spot now long moldered into duff, where I spent many a freezing hour waiting for either a deer to come to me or the rising sun to edge out from behind the mountain and warm my back. From there, we tromped downhill through a mature forest protected for over 100 years by the Forever Wild clause in the legislation that created this huge forest preserve. The forest may never again realize the wilderness it once was, but you could imagine how the old settlers once could drive horses and wagons right through the woods for lack of underbrush.
Finally, there was the kettle, like a great Galapagos tortoise turned up on its side and almost the same dark color of the boulder against which it rested. “Go ahead,” said Polecat. “You first. It’s your dime.”
I crept gingerly toward it, hoping to see that familiar gleam when I turned over the rock; but almost hoping, too, for a surprise and the beginning of a new quest. I scraped away a few rotting leaves, picked up the rock and looked.
There were two Mercury dimes lying there. Was this a case of primitive cell division? Or had an outsider who knew about old Jim Hays, crept mischievously in? Or was it one of my dear old friends? I scanned their faces. Pure innocence on every visage. Then I remembered why I loved them so much.
Willem Lange is a regular contributor to Weekend Magazine. He lives in East Montpelier.