The wild turkey walked down the slope behind our house this morning, right up to the kitchen windows, and peered in. I first noted him while lying in bed, staring out the back window of our camp on Tongue Mountain from the second floor, warm under an ancient wool blanket and wondering what I might glimpse in the woods at that hour. I was looking for signs of wildlife and the turkey appeared to be doing the same.
I’d been rewarded on the Fourth of July with a glimpse of my first bald eagle flying past our front porch overlooking Lake George. Bald eagles had built a nest in Deer Leap further north of our place on Tongue Mountain point, I’d been told years earlier. But I had yet to see one. I’d heard, too, of a return of bob cats and even mountain lions. I wanted to see those, as well as moose, of which there had been several sightings.
Strangely, I’d discovered that Tongue Mountain was a favorite of deer hunters, without ever once seeing a deer at camp. Just rattlesnakes, which occasionally climbed the steps and came into the house; raccoons that fed off the corn cobs we tossed under the trees; chipmunks, squirrels, muskrats; crows, seagulls, swallows, and hummingbirds.
I’d seen my first bear cub in the fall—all critters you could see in the suburbs near New York City, where I live. But there was something different about seeing them here.
Here, there are no roads. There is occasional boat traffic. There are a few other camps like ours, but where our property ends, and it does not extend far, the land is forever wild.
I don’t know what my great grandfather had in mind when he bought this place and built our cottage in 1904. Photographs from that time show the mountain was nothing but stumps, the lake brown from run-off caused by over logging. Somehow, he envisioned an escape from the paint and varnish business. He’d founded the Brooklyn Paint and Varnish Company; traveled the West, collecting rugs and objects from Indian reservations and somehow found this property, bought it, and built the camp. He named it Tongue Eyrie.
The materials were hauled across the frozen lake in winter by a team of horses. The furnishings came from a Sears catalogue and his guests, judging by photos, were mostly chorus girls. He built a small cottage off to the side for his servants, Max and Emma. He brought over a piano, long since gone.
Two weeks ago, I swam the small bay next to our dock. I went to check out what looked to be a muskrat swimming in the water, but was really just a fallen tree sticking out of the water, and examined a large rock with six map turtles sunning themselves. I met three mergansers that had stopped by the island where my great-grandfather built a gazebo and, to access it, a small stone arched footbridge that had since fallen into the water and had been reformed by tree roots into a natural bridge between the island and the shore.
As I sat high on the rocks, I noticed two kayakers in the bay and asked them, when they were close to shore, to not disturb the turtles. They said they were only in the bay, picking up garbage blown or tossed overboard by boaters who anchor there on hot summer days. I invited them up for a visit. What I heard during our hour-long conversation cheered me.
They’d been camping on Lake George for decades, and traveled the U.S. as well. The waters of Lake George, they said, were unsurpassed in terms of clarity. You could see the rocks deep down, but in other noted lakes, you couldn’t see the bottom. There was too much sediment in the water, or invasive plant growth, or species like Zebra mussels.
They went on to tell me of watching a rattlesnake eating a chipmunk on a recent hike. The subject of rattlers always came up when discussing Tongue Mountain. The dens were up the mountain from our house and I’d seen maybe 15 in my life, mostly on the path to the house, in several woodpiles, and one living under our gazebo (and long since removed by a local biologist), just feet from where I sunned on the rocks with guests and small children.
I’d since, though, stopped being afraid of them, as I had been of the many spiders that lived in our house. I knew they were doing their part; the spiders ate the mosquitos and other bugs. The snakes ate the mice.
My two visitors who arrived by kayak told me of a hiker that had recently been reported for shooting rattlers he found along the Tongue Mountain trail—using a revolver.
Isn’t the purpose of forever wild to walk softly, at most to carry a stick—and nothing but a stick? Frankly, I prefer a rattler in the kitchen.
August 18, 2013
I wrote these lyrics a couple of years ago when I was channeling my inner dude. They desperately need to be set to music. Any brave guitar-pickers out there?
LET’S GET PERSONAL
My girlfriend left me for another guy, she said I’d waited too long. So I called up a friend with a wife and kids and asked him what went wrong. He said “make a long list of what you like—now don’t leave off a thing. You can get what you want if you know what you want and if won’t cost a goddam ring.”
So I put my list together, it took five minutes—it came straight from my heart. Don’t need a piece of paper to prove my intentions, to show we’ll never part. I know there’s a girl, who’s just my type, a girl who’s off the charts. Then I joined a dating service, it made me nervous, and this is how it starts:
“I want a drop dead, beautiful, purely indisputable, red head with double D’s. Doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, doesn’t tell me what to think, and stands only five foot three. She’s sharp, prodigious, and not too religious, a babe with a PhD. She’s anti-marriage and baby carriage — now this is the girl for me.”
I got a few answers on the second day, but none of them were right. Some were nice, some were sassy, and only one seemed bright. so I picked up the phone and called her number and said, “Can I see you tonight?” She said maybe I could if I looked real good, and could help her solve her plight.
She wants a handsome, charming, super disarming, A-list movie star. He’s manly, intellectual — not a metrosexual — a man who will really go far. He’s talented, arty, knows how to party —he’ll let her drive his car. He’s smart, he’s happy, he dresses snappy, and knows how to play guitar.
I said, “I’m your man, I’ll see you at seven, say could you meet me downtown? My Benz is in the shop, hit a deer in the Hamptons and the engine completely shut down.” She said “I’ll come over, fix you a meal, let’s cut right to the chase. If you’re a movie star with a talent for guitar then I’ll meet you at your place.”
Well she wasn’t pretty, she wasn’t busty and she didn’t have red hair. She smelled like smoke, I thought it was a joke, and she said “Honey, au contraire.” She said “You’re not handsome, your tie’s too wide, But you’re strangely debonair. I’ll overlook the car, and even the guitar,” and on the spot we became a pair.
I told her: “You wanted handsome and I’m not handsome” and she said, “honey yes, I know. And you wanted busty and pretty and small” and I said, “Indubitably so.” “We’re not made for each other but we found each other, so please, hon, don’t lose your nerve. You might not get what you ask God for but you get what you deserve.”
I knew my Uncle Bennett by small mementos: the photo of him in uniform in the library of our summer cottage; letters my mom received when his plane was shot down; my grandmother’s poetry when he died; his purple heart; a fraternity mug from Williams college, which he attended before enlisting.
I also knew him from a photo album that showed him, horsing around as a teenager in summer, swimming in the lake and his tombstone in the local cemetery, on which my grandparents had inscribed a few lines from a Robert Louis Stevenson poem:
Here he lies where he longed to be, home is the sailor, home from the sea and the hunter home from the hill.
My dad said Bennett was the co-pilot of a plane with 16 guys on it shot down over Marcus Island on May 9, 1945, just before the end of World War II.
My grandparents found out on their anniversary. Everyone on the plane died and no one was found. The plane was seen going down and is now likely disintegrated on the ocean floor. It was so long ago. I wasn’t born then.
Nina, my older sister, dug up that his squadron was called the Reluctant Dragons and that he flew a Liberator. Here is a photo she found, too.
I like to think of the reluctant dragon that was my uncle and not the one who got lost at sea and became a phantom to me and my four sisters. But the latter is sharper in that way that absences have.
My mother never spoke about Bennett to me. I don’t know why. I’d like to replace my memory of him with something living, not just a photo or small objects and lines of verse. But I don’t know how.
It’s been a busy week in equine America.
The racing community’s been debating the breakdown of horses at Aqueduct, on the set of “Luck” and in general. Separately, the equine welfare community’s been fighting new legislation and proposals to open horse slaughterhouses in Tennessee, Missouri and Oregon, while consumer and humane watchdog groups are fighting “ag-gag” rules, one of which was just signed into law by Utah’s Governor.
I hope those interested in fixing what’s broken in horse racing will focus on the larger humane and agribusiness issues, because they are all related. Unfortunately, ag-gag and horse slaughter aren’t on racing’s radar pretty much because racing’s focus is nearly always inward-facing. This is especially true of people and industries whose fortunes are tightly tied to how they’re publically perceived.
Racing’s image is tarnished right now as is PETA’s, the insular animal rights group that is often mistaken as the only group in America with a voice on issues relating to animal welfare, legislation and advocacy.
This has a lot to do with Ingrid Newkirk’s talent for creating spectacles (like her statement about bringing horse slaughter back to the U.S.) but also the manner in which PETA exposes things that do, in fact, need exposing. As it turns out, PETA provoked the racing industry and race fans to fury, first by asking questions about two horses that died on the set of HBO’s “Luck” series, then by demanding changes and third, by dragging the producer, trainer and a vet associated with “Luck” in front of the Los Angeles DA on what many in the racing community say are false and misleading charges of violating a California humane statute.
There are more wild horses and burros living in long-term holding pens today than roaming free. Who thinks that’s a good idea?
Who would have even imagined that 40 years after the passage of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, that we would even be having this conversation? And yet that’s the state of things today, thanks to the Bureau of Land Management.
Don’t spread this around, but I remember when that legislation was passed. I was a seventh-grader, an avid pony clubber, and I was outraged by what was being done to the mustangs. I was also rabidly anti-Nixon, mostly because of the Vietnam War and also because my dad liked him and I decided that whatever my dad stood for politically, I was against.
Still, the legislation passed while Nixon was in office and even if I didn’t like him as a president, the passage of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act made me feel as though our government stood for some of the right things. It stood for wild horses and it stood for the will of the American people who overwhelmingly called for the mustangs to be protected. For a moment, I thought it also stood for me because, you know, I was a seventh-grader and a horse lover. And who pays seventh-graders and horse lovers any mind?
I used to love horse racing. I grew up with horses, did Pony Club, mucked out stalls with a pair of rubber gloves and bucket and dreamed about horses, horse shows, horse anything. I even went to college in Saratoga.
Then, the summer before my freshman year, the unthinkable happened: Ruffian broke both sesamoid bones in her foreleg racing Kentucky Derby winner, Foolish Pleasure, at Belmont Park.
I remember the race, the day, the sight of Jacinto Vasquez trying to pull her up as she galloped on her pulverized leg and later, the news she’d come out of surgery only to smash her cast while thrashing in her stall. The news she was gone was unfathomable. An estimated 20 million people watched the race. I can’t imagine that anyone wasn’t affected.
Ruffian was the second horse I’d love, but the first I’d lose. She had every gift in life, but length of years, as the late Ted Kennedy would say in his eulogy for JFK Jr. Ruffian, the hope of horses and of one college-bound, horse-obsessed girl, was no more.
College in Saratoga was grand. I lived off campus my last two years in a Victorian townhouse at 176 Regent Street and dated a bartender at the famed racing hangout, Siro’s. We went to the track a lot. It was exciting and then, I saw another horse break down. Not a big horse, not a famous one. An anonymous one.
It lay on the track as the crowd watched a van drive up, erect a screen, and then, minutes later, drive away.
Friends, I’m happy to announce a departure from my regular grim programming with a new Forbes.com post: Is Your K-Y Jelly Cruelty-Free? Do You Care?
Apparently, the topic is resonating with a lot of people. Are they K-Y users? I think not. Mostly, they’re people like me who caught a glimpse of how much animal testing is still going on. If you haven’t, check out these products from Procter & Gamble that are all tested on animals:
Always, Aussie, Braun, Christina Aguilera Perfumes, Clairol, Downy, Crest, DDF, Dolce & Gabbana, Dunhill Fragrances, Escada Fragrances, Febreze, Fekkai, Gillette Co., Gucci Fragrances, Halo, Head & Shoulders, Herbal Essences, Hugo Boss, Iams, Ivory, Joy, Lacoste Fragrances, Max Factor, Mr. Clean, Natural Instincts, Nice n Easy, Olay, Old Spice, Oral-B, Pampers, Pantene, Physique, Puffs, Scope, Sebastian Professional , Secret, SK-II, Swiffer, Tide, Vicks, Vidal Sasson, Zest
Have you bought any? I have. Lots of them.
As it happens, Forbes conducted a survey last year asking consumers to rate CPG companies on a range of attributes, including “trust.” Guess who’s considered among the most trusted companies in America? You got it. P&G. And they’re in good company.
Incredulous, I asked an editor if the subject of animal-testing came up in the survey, and she said “no.” They hadn’t thought about it. This made sense and yet it seemed ridiculously dumb. Consumers care deeply about animals. That they didn’t know what they were buying also made sense to me. How would they? And yet, I felt as though I should have known. The Forbes editors should have known. The companies should have been transparent.
It’s a new day and I’m sharing this experience in the hopes of shaking things up. Please share if you want to join me. Thanks!
You almost never hear people described as “gutsy,” anymore. Ballsy is popular. Brazen. But neither accurately describes Paula Bacon, the former Mayor of Kaufman, Texas.
Paula Bacon, a two-term mayor of Kaufman, is gutsy. In her last year in office, she managed to rid the town of a plague it had suffered for two decades: the Dallas Crown horse slaughter plant, which had been dumping horse guts, tainted blood, manure and legal expenses on the town since the ’80’s.
Today’s post on Forbes.com, “Texas Mayor Paula Bacon Kicks Some Tail,” is about that fight. It’s also about what life is like in a slaughter town: the costly sewage problems, foul smells, legal battles, vermin and falling property values. It’s about the sights and sounds of slaughter, the horses, the humane issues and outspoken residents like Jualine and Robert Eldridge, a nurse and a respiratory therapist, who lived with Dallas Crown in their backyard, preventing them and their neighbors from using their backyards for two decades because the stench was so overpowering.
War Horse opened this week, an event chronicled in today’s Forbes.com blog post, “Can War Horse Beat Clooney For Golden Globe”?
I sure hope so, not just because I’m a sucker for a good horse movie and fine film making, but because of War Horse’s ability to elevate a simple moral message so easily lost on the red carpet: compassion’s ability to neutralize brutality, compassion’s essence to survival.
Horses are recipients of both compassion and brutality, perhaps no more so than today, when there are people who actually say such things on Facebook as, “For so long feeding a horse for a month was under $50, and now within the last two years it has escalated to over $100 per month per horse. I am so tired of every horse out there being called a rescue. My wish for Christmas this year was that every rescue horse was taken for slaughter reducing the demand for hay. It is now getting so hard to feed the remaining horses I have that I am getting angry at the mere thought of Un-Wanted Horses not being slaughtered.”
It got 13 “likes.” Worse, this is someone’s Christmas wish.