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Right there is “Old Mountain” Phelps as he is today. He is the epitome of Adirondack guides. I have met him several times and can say that he knows his area, the high mountain peaks, better than any man. He knows them geographically, naturally and intimately. They belong to him and he belongs to them. It is a love affair and a marriage without contract.

Old Mountain Phelps

Phelps is a mountain man first, a guide second. His world IS the Adirondacks. He loved the mountains before he met the city visitors. He knew the mountains before he met the city visitors. He scratched the mountains for sustenance and peace before the city visitors came. He wrote about the mountains. The city visitors wrote about Phelps.

How does a man who lived in the woods all his life deal with the visitors from Boston and New York? Not all that well, at times. He knows the woods and what they demand of man. He cherishes the woods as well as respects them. He is the woods, he is the Adirondacks.

The well-heeled visitors do not understand that. They grouse when he sits back to rest or contemplate leaves shuddering on a tree. They think it is time for him to build a fire and cook for them. Time for Phelps is not something to be measured. It is something to be used for whatever the moment of nature demands. And Phelps strongly believes that nature, at times, demands that a man stop and contemplate shuddering leaves.

But something has happened to old Phelps. He is, at this moment, thrown into the world of traveled minds, educated minds, minds of leisure, minds of pleasure, minds that he cannot understand how they work; let alone exist. But Phelps needs and wants to understand everything he encounters. So he studies these minds and the ways of visitors from Boston and New York.

Phelps is self-sufficient and confident that he can deal with whatever nature throws at him.

Charles Dudley Warner has set aside an entire chapter of his new book to deal with Phelps.

Charles Dudley Warner wants to investigate what this new world is doing to Phelps.

Charles Dudley Warner released his book “In the Wilderness” just last year; 1878.

I think some of Warner’s book speaks better to Phelps than I could. Let me see if I can remember a few words from Warner’s book.

“Phelps loves his profession; and yet it very soon appears that he exercises it with reluctance for those who have neither ideality, nor love for the woods. Their presence is a profanation amid the scenery he loves.”

Apparently Phelps is conflicted. Just as Dunning, Sabbatis and I are about all these city visitors. They bring in the money but they really should not be here; for their own good as well as ours.

Warner continues;

“Phelps guides into his private and secret haunts a party that has no appreciation of their loveliness, it disgusts him. It is a waste of his time to conduct flippant young men and giddy girls who make a noisy and irreverent lark of the expedition.”

You can see Warner’s perception of what Phelps is thinking “These city folks have no reverence for the woods. The noises of nature are all that should be heard.” But I am putting words into Phelps’ mouth. Warner seems to do a better job at allowing Phelps to speak for himself;

To a lady whom Phelps has taken to Chapel Pond (a retired but rather uninteresting spot), and who expressed a little disappointment at its tameness, saying, of this – – –

‘Why, Mr. Phelps, the principal charm of this place seems to be its loneliness.’

‘Yes,’ Phelps replied in gentle and lingering tones, ‘It lies here just where it was born.’”

Warner makes a few more observations about Phelps;

“Starting out for a day’s tramp in the woods, he would ask whether we wanted to take a “reg’lar walk, or a random scoot,”—the latter being a plunge into the pathless forest.

“There is no conceit, we are apt to say, like that born of isolation from the world, and there are no such conceited people as those who have lived all their lives in the woods. Phelps was, however, unsophisticated in his conceit until the advent of strangers into his life, who brought in literature and various other disturbing influences.”

I think that Warner is using the word “conceit” in a way that we from the Adirondacks are not familiar with. I think he means “self-confidence” so I will put that question to Mr. Warner the next time I see him.

There is not much more that I could add to Old Phelps’ ways other than to say he spends a lot of his spare time writing. I know he keeps track of all the types of trees and rocks and fish and animals in these North Woods. His wife says he writes poems and other such. But I will not burden Old Phelps by asking him about private things.

Knowing Phelps, he will share them when he is good and ready.


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