It was in late May that I met him.
The leaves on the bushes had just poked their ears out a bit, and, of course, the Robins had been making their way down from Canada; it wasn’t that far, possibly four or five miles. I was at the Chateaugay dam just south of Brainardsville. My waders were on and my fishing vest and net were hanging off my shoulders.
They seem to get heavier each time I visit Franklin County rivers and streams.
I passed the marble bench that some kind soul had paid for – and probably paid extra to have it delivered to the dam and properly mounted on a concrete base. No one was sitting on the bench (which is normally the case when I visit that location).
I had stopped at the Seventh Day Adventist Church to inspect it. At one time I seriously considered purchasing it along with the triangular patch of earth that sat between Blow Road and route 374. There remained beautiful stained-glass windows on both sides of the church and a real belfry. I often wished to ring the bell but hesitated for fear that the old structure would not hold up – and I would be wearing the bell for a hat.
However; as usual, my thought processes drift.
I was about to tell you about him – you know – the fellow I met on that fine spring day. He wasn’t on the marble bench by the dam – where I had, only once before, seen him. I walked the path between the old Catalan furnace site and the Chateaugay River. The furnace was gone; however, the iron bars that were planted in the earth to hold up the river bank — reinforced with large boulders — remained as the sentinels that they had always been. The bricks scattered here and there – and everywhere – remained in place. And the remnants of charcoal blackened the path as they always had.
I had covered about a quarter mile when he appeared. He wasn’t on the river but rather back in the woods sitting on an oversize boulder – much like a king of his territory – which he certainly was. An old gentleman; sometimes sixty years old – sometimes 140 years old. Always changeable.
He waved to me and I walked over to him. I had nick-named him “Old Grayscale.” That was a proper name because he always shared information with me in grey scale; as per the picture of the furnace above.
“Have you seen the inside of the Catalan furnace?” he asked.
“Only in my imagination.’ I answered.
With that he offered me another grayscale imagination.
“But” I said, “how do I get a real picture of Popeville without some words?”
And I continued with my interrogation – yet fearful that he would become quiet and petulant — “Do you have any words or documentation that you could help me out with? I may need to explain this furnace business to someone.”
“Oh!” he responded, “You are looking for some personal interest stories; aren’t you?”
I answered in the affirmative. “Yes, I can well imagine what the furnace looked like and I see all the old bricks and remnants of charcoal laying around. But who were the people that worked and lived in Popeville?”
Old Grayscale lit up like the dozens of fires that made the furnace light up the night sky.
“Well”, he continued “I will do my best. Continue your fishing and I will help you imagine what Popeville was like back in the late 1800’s. However, be careful of the roots of the cedar trees. They will try to trip you up every chance they get. They are good friends with the black flies who will distract your attention – then the cedar roots will grab your feet.”
And so, I waved goodbye as I thanked him for his sage advice on the wiles of the Adirondack trees and insects.
This is what he told me ——