A Short Hike at Debar Pond in Duane, NY

Debar 06b Pond_View_2

Debar Pond, a public natural resource in Duane, NY

Each phase of nature, while not invisible, is yet not too distinct and obtrusive. It is there to be found when we look for it, but not demanding our attention. It is like a silent but sympathizing companion in whose company we retain most of the advantages of solitude … –Henry David Thoreau, Journal, November 8, 1858

Warning: this article is 3,200 words; not a bloggism; a blogASM.
I warned you.  Now enjoy.

As the beautiful old song from The Sound of Music says:  “Climb every mountain / ford every stream / follow every rainbow / ’til you find your” swamp.

Copyright-2013-Image-119x108We are blessed with really unimaginable quantities of fresh water in my region.  It gives us some of the most amazing habitats on earth; things you don’t want to miss if you want to be a true Adirondacker … or Balsamean.

Thus, Balsamea has a law saying that wilderness hikes must have at least one muddy or boggy area, if only a minor, easy one.  Sadly, too many easy ones are made hard to navigate because ATV drivers rip apart the trail, leaving ditches permanently filled with water and surrounded by muck instead of just a wet area easy to walk through — even in flip-flops (they just splatter mud up the backs of your legs).

Our little trek down the west side of Debar Pond complied with the bog law in small ways, and they were gorgeous ones, and worth every mucky step, because they were gateways to the thrones of the forest gods.Man Moon Welcome

Even though the official start date of my preferred warm weather hiking season is August 19 (coincidentally, it’s the date luck caught this picture at a pond under a hazy full moon, several years ago), this year we did a pre-season wild forest walk at Debar Pond on August 3rd, from 4pm to 6pm.

Mid-August usually brings my “preferred warm weather,” when the bugs and temperatures come way down from July’s highs, but the water is still warm enough for a plunge or a creek-walk (up or down a creek in sneakers, in and out of the water as obstacles allow, but trying to stay in the water).

Debar Pond is in the Debar Mountain Wild Forest Unit of the NY State Forest Preserve.  It is so remote, so sparsely populated, and so relatively unused that even the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which manages — or tries to manage — all NY wild forest lands, does not have a unit management plan for this unit.  They don’t even tell you the acreage of the Debar unit on its very briefly worded web page, where they make no mention of Debar Pond, though they have done some formal work there, such as a nice sign.

Debar 01 Sign

This is where Debar Pond parks itself.  (Throughout this article, click any picture to see it enlarged and to post your comments on it.)

On this sign, the statement, “No motorized vehicles beyond this point” includes motorboats.  Even non-motorized boats must be carried about two tenths of a mile over a winding, narrow boardwalk through a bog to get to the pond.  So if you don’t have a light-weight kayak or canoe, how about a truck tire inner tube or equivalent?

Debar 05 Beach

You have to leave your pants and socks on those rocks.

There is no beach, just a couple of little muddy openings in the dense brush on the shore, big enough for one person to stand right at the water’s edge.  Two, if their relationship allows the contact.  The rocks are your beach.  And mud between your toes is not a bad thing.

Tube Floating

Got my dearly needed sunscreen on. Old picture; the kind where you crop out somebody floating next to you.  She wouldn’t want to be here anyway, even with her clothes on.

When I saw this sandy-bottomed shallow entry to the pond, I considered going into hock to get a good float tube to keep in the car all summer, for when I find such enticing waters.  Trouble is, I don’t know how that’s going to work with a 70-pound claw-clad dog aboard.

I’m not talking about tube-water-skiing.  I mean just floating around, soaking up the place, joining it as a member of its habitat … mindful of the water, not mastering it … being there for peace, not power.

I have a secret alternative.  I sadly confess that I have not used it in a long time.  I will remedy such foolishness.  I will put our PFD’s in the car today and leave them there until Columbus Day.

Yep, my PFD (Personal Floatation Device).  I guess some manufacturer got their pants sued off by somebody who died wearing their “life-jacket” or “life-preserver.”  Hence, PFD.

It makes a great water travel aid.  To get around the pond easily, instead of flapping arms in the water, I wore swim fins.  Like pedal power, but in water.  Great stuff.  So I’ll dig out the fins, too.  (I think I’ve had them now for 40 years.  Good ones.)  But they aren’t suitable for backpacking, while the PFD is easy to accommodate on a hike.

Cargo capacity while traveling in water on a PFD?  No problem.  Tie your pack up carefully in a waterproof bag with its own PFD, and float it with you on a tether.

Then somebody gave me a canoe as a wedding present, from whence many things started going downhill, or got left behind, or became joyless, and the PFD became just another piece of canoeing gear, like paddles and the roof rack and the dry bag.

Buddy has a PFD, made for his kind.  I bought it a long time ago.  He hasn’t tried it yet, except in the living room, to make sure it fit.  I suspect he won’t like swimming in it at first.  I wonder if he will realize (or learn) that he can just relax and float without paddling.

There are many nice things about this kind of “boat:”

  • Very light and portable – you can easily clip it to your backpack
  • Far less expensive than a boat
  • Won’t get punctured and deflate
  • You’re IN the water, not ON it, which is the best way for those oppressively hot summer days
  • Makes swimming like sauntering
  • You can leave your hat on

This is a fun Joe Cocker song used in a fun scene in the 1986 movie Nine and a Half Weeks, starring Philip Andre “Mickey” Rourke, Jr. in one of his best performances, and Kim Basinger in two of hers … acting, and … um … dancing.  I’m going to leave my evaluative description at “fun.”  That’s all you need to know about my feelings on it.  (Joe Cocker is always a lot of fun to watch, too.)

Returning from art to its inspiration …


Walking stick handle. Custom made to fit my hand perfectly.  Click for a good look.

This trail had rugged parts that like to challenge ankles, and places where it disappeared in a field of ferns up to four feet tall.  There were the requisite giant dead fallen trees, besieged at both ends within fight-density forest undergrowth or tangled gangs of other dead-falls.  So I scrambled up the bank that the tree fell from, and slinked down the other side, aided by my strong home-made maple walking stick.  Buddy just slipped under the tree between its branches and waited for me on the other side.

These “obstacles,” just as much as the beautiful fruits and flowers greeting us there, are some of the things that make it all worthwhile.  The challenging parts make it more of an adventure.

When it’s not easy to get to the most wonderful places on the trail, they are all the more glorious to your senses, more fulfilling to your heart, and saved all to yourself because most people making casual visits won’t persist that far on the trail, and serious distance hikers need a bigger pond or a mountain, so they aren’t here, either.

This pond is a small lake, about 0.75 mile long and 0.25 wide (about a mile long on foot via the west side trail).  I estimate about 85 – 90 acres of main water surface.  I have been unable to find out how deep it is.  One unofficial source said it averages 9 feet with a maximum of 29, but I don’t trust their information.

Beavers reign over it.  At the south end of the lake, where we turned home after visiting and exploring a while, there is a series of several cascading or tiered beaver dams on Debar Brook.  One of them appears to be a couple hundred feet wide.

I followed the stream as far as only four dams, but the satellite views show more, and I could see part of the overall expanse of their domain (the broad scene in this slideshow).  Maps show their water world extending a mile or so upstream, and after a little dry ground, there’s another bog beginning beyond that, too.  Not suitable for a creek walk.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

New York adopted the beaver as its Official State Animal in 1975.  The critters must be proud.  They are very busy all over the state.

The DEC and County Federated Sportsmen make this a fisherman’s paradise, too.  In 2012 they stocked it with 130 landlocked salmon sized about 6.5 inches, and 240 8.5″ splake (a kind of trout, so I hear).  They list the pond as one of the best for catching those species.

If I were an angler, they’d be the ones I’d want, because I’d cook it and eat it right there where I caught it.  That is the only way I want to go fishing; to eat it as fresh as it can be.  Take what you can eat that day.  Buddy would assure no leftovers.

Debar Pond is on the official list of waters where live bait fish are prohibited.  Suits me fine, since I’d rather carry an inanimate lure in my pack instead of a box of frozen bait fish.

Debar 06a Pond_View

There’s just about enough room at this pond for me and this kayaker.

The pond is in the outback, way out back, where, as I observed on my Saturday visit in peak tourist season, even mid-day on such a weekend, when I arrived, I found the parking area had only one other car, that of a lone kayaker you’ll see in the middle of this picture, way out there, a third of a mile away.  When I left, there was one more car, a young couple just returning.  I met no humanimals on the trail.

When I go out for recreation on a tourist weekend and there’s nobody else there, but it’s a wonderful place, I know I’ve found a jewel.  I thought about keeping it to myself and those other few people, but everybody needs some of this kind of medicine, if humanity is to survive.  So this blog post is a contribution to the survival of humanity.  Yay for me.

When I stumble into a storybook place that no camera and not even Hemingway or Faulkner could do justice describing, I feel very wealthy.  When the breeze cools me by the refrigerating effect of sweat, and sometimes carries a pleasant, mesmerizing aroma that I’ve never smelled before, as a loon lets out a cry, then two more, echoing off the water into the mountains, and the low sun sends beams angling through the trees for my amusement, then I know there’s a reason to live that goes beyond the meanings we’re supposed to build into our lives.

Debar 11 Pond_South_Trees

A minute after leaving the beaver dams on our return walk, the loon calls rolled up to our ears from the pond below, in the bright area beyond these trees. Their voices were as strong as if we were down there with them. Every time I hear loons, it’s always as it was the first time, always pulling cords attached to unknown depths of being. It is also that way with the cooing of mourning doves in the early morning, often the first thing I hear drifting through the window when I wake up.

The most logical response is gratitude, so with reverence I thank the trees and the wind, the plants and the sky, the rocks and the water, all the things and conditions all around me, including both dead and living things, my legs and lungs, all in this web that sometimes catches my attention firmly and shows me I am one of its own, not separate from it.  That knowledge, or awareness, is fulfilling enough that it’s okay to stop there, to return to the earth forever.  That’s where I’ll go when I’m ready to die.  To the wild, the beginning of everything, and the living end.

… in Wildness is the preservation of the World.  — Thoreau

That’s Thoreau in his essay, Walking.  Download it to your poddy thingy.  But you might find it nicer to get the book and pass it back and forth with somebody or somebodies, reading it aloud to each other around a campfire.  I have it in a book with an Emerson essay, Nature.

Wildness.  Not just wilderness, a kind of place.  Wildness, he said.  A state of being.  Of freedom.  Of naturalness.  Of realization, imagination, inspiration.  And yes, exhilaration.  Emerson said it:

The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood. His intercourse with heaven and earth, becomes part of his daily food. In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows. Nature says, — he is my creature, and maugre [in spite of, notwithstanding] all his impertinent griefs, he shall be glad with me. Not the sun or the summer alone, but every hour and season yields its tribute of delight; for every hour and change corresponds to and authorizes a different state of the mind, from breathless noon to grimmest midnight. Nature is a setting that fits equally well a comic or a mourning piece. In good health, the air is a cordial of incredible virtue. Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear. In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, — no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. The name of the nearest friend sounds then foreign and accidental: to be brothers, to be acquaintances, — master or servant, is then a trifle and a disturbance. I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty. In the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages. In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature.  — Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

Like I said, exhilaration.  So there.  Don’t peg me merely Pagan.

“Glad to the brink of fear.”

But they make kids memorize the Gettysburg Address?

Let’s go back to Debar Pond …

I found one crude campsite along the trail.  It is not a DEC designated campsite.  Being less than 150 feet from the trail, it’s not legal as a back country site, either.  Although, in this kind of place, I can’t imagine a ranger strolling by telling me to pack up my pup-tent and move out.

True story: it actually happened to me once.  A ranger ran me off a site.  High Peaks Wilderness Area South Meadow, DEC-designated campsites (free, back-country, no registration), south of Lake Placid.

He said the rules allowed me to stay only 3 nights and I’d been there a week.

So he says, “But you can move just a quarter-mile down the road and use a site there for three more days.  No law against that.”  So I did.  It was a better site, too.

This rogue campsite at Debar Pond is surprisingly clean.  I didn’t have to do a beer can and bottle haul this time, as at too many such sites.

From the campsite, it’s a steep drop, down through forest to the water.  I didn’t go down because I was busy trying to get good pictures of a couple of plants, until several persistent mosquitoes started talking about carrying me off to their lair.  I’ll have to go down to see if there’s a good canoe landing (or PFD landing) or a nice diving rock.  I’ll be back to investigate this and some other things.

Debar 07 Campsite

“Yeah, yeah, okay. We came, we saw.
It’s got a fireplace. Good
So what’s next? Let’s go.”

Of course, I always have to consult with the Prince of Balsamea on everything, because he knows woods like I can never know them.

A nice thing about the tough spots along the trail: they are rarely as daunting or complex on the return trip.  So you can look forward to that while struggling on the way in.

Loops are another story.  Once I get past the half-way point of a trail loop, I’m not turning back, even if the trail turns into a bushwhack.  I do make an exception for trails that have been completely inundated with a deep, wide span of beaver domain.  I surrender and turn back from those.  They are the state animal, after all.

I prefer a trail that lets me loop back to base; that is, not go back the same way I went in, for more variety.  Still, without a loop the return route may be the same, but the trail is not.  It is seen another way, not only from another physical angle, but by a traveler in a different state.

When I stop to take another close look at something I enjoyed on the way in, we are not strangers as when meeting the first time.  Then again, maybe we are, because I’m different, changed by that day’s experience of unity with a reality that not enough people know.  If they did, it would be a better world.

Debar 16 Barrier_AheadD’ya think?


In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows.  — Emerson

It’s true.

Copyright © 2013 The Balsamean

Of Interest:

  • Algonquin Sunrise 2.0 (ronpleban.wordpress.com) – Ron shares the experience of sunrise on summit of Algonquin Mt, for the second time, with great pictures.  He started the hike at 2:30 AM to catch the sunrise.  It did something to/for him other than a pretty scene and a workout: “… sitting on the top of the mountain watching the sunrise forced me to relax for a minute and think about everything from a different angle.”
  • Adirondack Adventure Swimming: The Swim of No Return (missadventureswim.wordpress.com) – Now HERE are folks who don’t need a boat, a float, or a PFD … “We were in the 65° river [West Branch of Sacandaga] for a 9 am start, anticipating approximately 8.8 miles of swimming and to be done in about four hours with the current.”  Read their well written and photographed adventure report on “The Swim of No Return,” including challenges like a log jam and a marsh!