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Love in the Adirondacks

by Karl Kunz

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It just doesn't get any better than this! My wife Joann and I were enjoying a gourmet backpacking dinner overlooking beautiful Crab Pond in Adirondack Park. Across the water, the progress of the setting sun was marked by shadows crawling up the side of craggy Pharaoh Mountain. The calm lapping of waves along the shore 100 feet below, was interrupted occasionally by the haunting duet of the loon couple that "owned" this small pond. Red wine from a polystyrene water bottle did not diminish the romantic mood as we snuggled together enjoying the view. The nearest people were probably 2 miles distant: our private camping paradise would be undisturbed for the rest of the evening as we anticipated the arrival of a full moon over the pond. It was almost too perfect for words.

Joann was the first to hear the sounds, a distant woooh….wu-wu-wooooh. Had to be an owl we both thought, adding its voice to nature's soundtrack. As the sound became louder and closer, a second voice joined the first, then a third. "Do you think those are really owls?" Joann asked nervously. We both knew the answer and decided to retreat the 50 yards back to the clearing where our tent was pitched.

As we built a fire in the growing darkness, the sounds intensified. "Maybe it's wolves", Joann suggested ominously. "It has to be coyotes, there aren't supposed to be any wolves here", I said reassuringly. But they didn't really sound like coyotes. Joann was agitated and I tried to distract our rising fear, "This is unique and we should really try to enjoy the experience." I continued to rationalize without much success, as Joann added wood to the fire.

The noise became deafening. Frightful bursts hurtled at us like spears from all directions and became increasingly frenetic. The once pleasant woooh….wu-wu-wooooh was punctuated with sharp screeches and howls. Whoever was making this racket was clearly a predator, unafraid of attracting attention. And whatever they were, they were close. Too close!

Yet we could not see a thing. Our friendly campfire illuminated the clearing, but its warm flickering light was quickly suffocated to blackness by the thick foliage beyond. We were a well-lit stage for an invisible and hostile audience, but climbing into a thin nylon tent was unthinkable. Despite thick underbrush and dead leaves, we heard not a rustle. The number of beasts and their movements were left to our imaginations. The "attack" had been going on for at least 45 minutes.

As Joann went over to the tent to retrieve a knife, there was a particularly loud screech. She looked up and there, about 30 feet away were two unblinking red eyes caught in the beam of her flashlight. She shrieked. By the time I joined her, it was gone. Slowly and emphatically she explained, "Just two red eyes…but those eyes were not close together and not close to the ground".

Almost as quickly as they began, the sounds started to dissipate and drift away. Within another 30 minutes they were coming from the next lake, about a half-mile distant. We decided it was safe to go back down to our overlook, watch the rising full moon and try to relax with a few sips of bourbon. We were huddled together on a small stone, just starting to enjoy the renewed quiet when:

The still night amplified all sounds, so maybe it was just a small rock tipped over by some small animal. Maybe. I whispered, "Was that really loud?" The look on Joann's face was my answer. This noise deserved our full attention. I carefully looked over the ledge, but the well-lit scene revealed nothing.

I filled my lungs and let loose with a loud "Yoh Bear!" The voice that reverberated back from the mountain was deep and menacing. We listened intently. Nothing but the sound of shallow rapid breathing and pulsing blood. Whatever was in the woods that night moved silently. I belted out a couple more "Yoh Bears" for good measure and we just sat still for a long time. Quietly, we convinced ourselves that whatever caused the noise (and everything else for miles around) knew we were here and was not going to bother us.

Totally fatigued, we crawled into our tent knowing a fitful sleep waited. The "whooing" returned in the middle of the night, but was much more subdued, not nearly as close, and faded away fairly quickly. Sunlight streaming into our tent woke us to a quiet, peaceful morning, and the rest of the weekend passed without incident or clues to the identity of our night visitors.

Two months later, we were back in the Adirondacks searching for Bill, a local fly fishing guru. After driving back roads for miles, we found his garage-cum-tackle shop next to his home deep in the woods. Friendly and helpful, Bill sprinkled his descriptions of the best fishing spots with the considerable knowledge he gained from 30 years as an active forest ranger.

As luck or fate would have it, Pharaoh Mountain was his old district, and he was familiar with our campsite on Crab Pond, a fisherman's favorite. As we related our story, Joan told him excitedly, "We heard a lot of noises, they sounded like owls." Bill nodded with recognition and asked, "Did they sound like this? Woooh….wu-wu-wooooh.."

"Yes! Yes! That's it exactly, were they Coyotes?

"Oh no, those weren't coyotes. People often mistake them for owls. Those sounds were made by black bears. That's their mating call and you were very lucky to have heard them."

About the Author

Karl Kunz (karlkunz@inyc.com) and his wife Joann reside in Brooklyn, NY. They have been weekend and holiday hiking and backpacking for years in the Northeas


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