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Humorous look at backwoods lifestyle

October 6, 2010
By MIKE LYNCH, News Outdoors Writer
From 1979 to 1981, a young Larry Weill roamed the West Canada Lakes Wilderness as an assistant ranger, encountering everything from streaking hikers to gun-toting campers.

Many of these experiences are captured in his book, “Excuse Me, Sir ... Your Socks Are On Fire, The Life and Times of a Wilderness Park Ranger in the Adirondack Mountains.”

The book, published in 2005 by North Country Press in Utica, is a humorous look at the backwoods lifestyle and is the first of three that Weill wrote on the subject. The book also includes stories about Weill’s time working as a fire tower observer on Pillsbury Mountain.

For those who enjoy spending time in the Adirondack backcountry, this book is a worthwhile and very easy, straightforward read. It’s also timely again because the assistant forest ranger program was ended this year by the state Department of Environmental Conservation due to a shortage of funding.

The book features appearances by people whom Adirondackers should be familiar with, including retired High Peaks ranger Pete Fish and former assistant forest ranger and interior caretaker Ben Woodard.

Fish was instrumental in getting the assistant forest ranger program off the ground in the late 1970s and Woodard was Weill’s predecessor in the West Canada Lakes Wilderness.

At the time, Weill started the job he was a struggling graduate student in forest biology at the SUNY college of Environmental Science and Forestry at Syracuse. Although he withdrew from ESF, Weill was able to secure the assistant ranger job with the DEC.

In the book, Weill describes the various characters he encounters in the woods, everyone from naive hikers and campers to experienced fishermen. His style is to exaggerate certain circumstances and people.

One of the more interesting characters Weill describes in his book is the late John Remias, who was the interior caretaker in the West Canada Lakes Wilderness.

At the time, Remias had worked seven years as an interior caretaker at the West Canada lakes, 13 at Cedar Lakes and six years as the forest fire observer on Tomaney Mountain.

“In other words, he had ‘been there,’ and I valued his opinions as much as I enjoyed listening to his stories,” Weill wrote.

Because of this experience, Weill often spent hours listening to Remias stories about the backwoods.

“I leaned back in my chair while John spoke, listening to his bit of anti-hiker sentiment,” Weill wrote. “I had heard it before, and I could understand where most of it came from. After so many break-ins, and so much time spent repairing senseless damage to lean-tos and outhouses, John had had enough. Not that he was antagonistic toward any one individual or group. On the contrary, he was extremely helpful and friendly whenever assistance was needed. But he often commented on the types of people in the woods ‘these days,’ and how they had gone downhill over the past twenty years.”

In another chapter called, “Long Island Folks,” Weill describes some of the campers who may have stoked Remias’ skepticism and who also inspired the book’s title.

Weill describes these campers as being “dressed in the latest combat-camping apparel, which evidently mandated a minimum of three army-style survival items, along with a machete which must have exceeded two feet in length. ... They all spoke with a pronounced Long Island accent, which I detected while overhearing two of them arguing over who should’ve brought the toilet paper.”

The men, strangely enough, had also staked out their campsite by putting a string border around it. That was to ensure that their terrority wasn’t encroached upon by other campers because they had heard that the sites could get crowded.

Eventually, though, the men decided their tent was inadequate and joined Weill in spending the night in a nearby lean-to. That night much of the conversation revolved around the local bear population, something that was of concern to them.

But the Long Islanders were prepared, having brought a rather large gun to defend themselves.

That night, as they were sleeping, that sound of that same gun awoke them, including Weill.

“I awoke in mid-air, perhaps two or three feet above the floor of the lean-to,” Weill wrote. “My eardrums were numb, my eyes were popping, and my heartbeat was somewhere up in the 250-300 bpm range. It was 2 a.m.”

“Yee-haa! I got rid of that bear in a hurry!” Paul screamed from the front of the lean-to.

Fortunately, Paul didn’t hit what he was said was a bear. Instead, he missed what actually was a beaver heading for its nearby lodge.

It is stories like this, full of hyperbole but based on reality, that make the book worth reading.

For more information about Weill’s books, visit larryweill.com.

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