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There was one visitor from the city that I really didn’t mind. The fact that he wrote and published things about the North Woods should have made me hate him. I am sure that he brought in more city folk than Wallace and Murray put together.
That man called himself “Nessmuk” after an Indian friend he met as a young boy. Nessmuk was, in the flesh, a writer named George Washington Sears.
Nessmuk wrote for “Forest and Stream”, a sporting magazine. His articles brought people to the Adirondacks by the hundreds if not thousands.
Like I said, I should have hated him for that. But the problem of my not being able to hate him, no matter how hard I tried, was that I had met him.
How can you hate a man who spends months in these North Woods and does not leave a trace of himself; other than in print. Nessmuk was like that. His footprints were in the water and hardly ever on land. If he did leave footprints anywhere they were only on islands or on the terra-firma between two lakes, or a lake and a river, or around a rapids.
Nessmuk carried nothing into the forest that he did not need and he left nothing in the forest when he departed. That is why I liked him. He traveled light, his transport was a leaf on the water and he disappeared as mysteriously as he had originally appeared.
Which brings me to his leaf on the water. That was the “Sairy Gamp.” That was the name he gave his canoe. Nessmuk had another love besides the forest. It was Charles Dickens’ writing.
Nessmuk had spent some time in the Adirondacks before he obtained Sairy Gamp from a canoe builder by the name of Rushton. It was built by Rushton in Canton, New York and it was built to Nessmuk’s specifications. Rushton told Nessmuk “I won’t guarantee this canoe for more than an hour.” The canoe served him well for a whole season. It was cedar lap-strake and only weighed ten and one-half pounds.
The reason I mention that Nessmuk had previously spent time in these North Woods was that it must have reminded him of his reading of Dickens’ “Martin Chuzzlewit.” There are too many coincidences tied into the name Sairy Gamp.
These near coincidences all seem to stem from an analogy of the book “Martin Chuzzlewit” and the Adirondacks. I think Nessmuk’s previous visits to the Adirondacks colored his thinking. Sairy Gamp was a character in Dickens’ “Chuzzlewit.” She was a parasol carrying nurse who preferred alcohol to water.
And Martin himself was a transplant of England to the United States. Dickens constructed Martin’s character to be a greedy scion from a greedy family. Martin went to the United States to buy property and make a fortune. It probably reminded Nessmuk of some of the father and son combinations that had turned the Adirondacks into what it has unfortunately become.
That was probably another reason that I had a fondness for Nessmuk. He saw the Adirondacks as I did – – – exploited.
There I go again, putting thoughts in people’s heads and words in their mouths. I have no idea what Nessmuk was really thinking. I just imagined that he had these overlapping thoughts about Dickens’ book and the Adirondack Mountains. I should just let Nessmuk speak for himself.
As you can see, George Washington Sears, known to us as Nessmuk, was very careful about how he treated nature.
And any friend of Alvah Dunning was a friend of mine.
I don’t think there is much more for me to add to this story other than Nessmuk was sixty-two years old, asthmatic and consumptive. Yet he struggled through the miles long canoe carries and, yes, accidentally through rapids and over water falls.
He had faith in the Sairy Gamp. As you read his writings in Forest and Stream you begin to realize that his relationship to this canoe was more than just mere transportation. Again, I let him speak for himself as he was about to embark on a summer in the Adirondacks with his new love.
The Sairy Gamp has been on display three times since that summer. The first time it was at a “Forest and Stream” display in New York. The next display was at an exhibition in New Orleans in 1884. The final display was at the Columbian exposition of 1893 in Chicago.
I hope Sairy Gamp is taken in during her old age. Somebody needs to give her the love that Nessmuk did.
Today, in honor of catching the second murderer that escaped from Dannemora Prison, I give you this bonus.
Click on the following title page, “Forty Days and Forty Nights” to read the first installment of two men whose lives depend on their ability to read the deep woods of the Adirondack Mountains.
Then to continue you must use the following instructions found at the bottom of each post.
Forty Days and Forty Nights – Post #n