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Nature brings it all back home

June 2, 2012
By JOE HACKETT - Outdoors Columnist ( , Lake Placid News

Last weekend, I received a phone call from a young lady who was looking for a local river to run with her new kayak. She was planning a trip "up north" with a friend and wanted to paddle a gentle flowing stream with no serious rapids. She was also concerned about getting back upriver to her vehicle, especially since she didn't have a shuttle vehicle.

There are many local rivers that could accommodate such a request, however, I suggested the Boquet River above Elizabethtown. I instructed her to get off Exit 31 on the Northway and travel 4 miles west to Elizabethtown, where they could stash some mountain bikes in the brush near the takeout at Fisher Bridge, by the entrance to town.

After stashing the bikes, they drove south on state Route 9 to a put-in site near the Otis Bridge. Their float trip covered nearly 8 miles of a flatwater river that winds and bends through open meadows, thick hardwoods and past grand stands of tall white pines and hemlock.

Article Photos

A mallard rests on a rock along this waterway in the Cranberry Lake area.
Photo by Joe Hackett

River otter are a common sight, as are beaver, muskrat, whitetail deer and a variety of waterfowl, including Canada geese, mergansers and a steadily increasing population of cormorants. The lazy, winding Boquet River runs gin clear almost the entire year, except for days following a heavy rain.

But the Boquet River is not the only such area waterway available for an easy downriver float. The list of such rivers would have to include sections of the Schroon, Saranac, Raquette, as well as the East and West Branches of the AuSable River. There are also long flatwater sections available on the Osgood River, Dead Creek, the Bog River as well as the numerous branches of both the St. Regis River and the Grasse River.

A simple float on a flowing river or a meandering stream is a great way to spend a day, whether fishing, bird watching, or just taking an opportunity to escape the hubris of the human race. Bob Marshall, a co-founder of the Wilderness Society and part-time Adirondack resident, explained it best when he claimed, "Swift or smooth, broad as the Hudson or narrow enough to scrape your gunwales, every river is a world of its own, unique in pattern and personality. Each mile on a river will take you further from home than a hundred miles on a road."

It is easy to understand Marshall's reasoning, for it is obvious that the woods have a positive affect on humans. We are comfortable in nature because, in a sense, we are at home.

But it doesn't always happen that way. We aren't simply born with a love and respect for the woods. It is something that is instilled into us, usually by example. There are those who have learned it from a mentor, and there are those who were fortunate to have learned it from their father. Either way, life lessons were learned and the outdoor tradition was passed on. It is a job that's best suited for an old man.

It's not that younger men can't handle it, but such duties require a certain degree of gruffness and a personality that is equal parts teacher, tormentor and friend. But in the end, it always boils down to being a friend, and that's what old woodsmen are made for.

When Bob Hagar of Saranac Lake passed away earlier this week, I lost both a good friend and a great mentor. Bob, aka "Beak" to his family and friends was an old school outdoorsman. He was a sportsman and an angler, a skier and an explorer who enjoyed fresh venison, wild brook trout and, mostly, the places they could be found.

He graduated the Syracuse College of Forestry in 1950, and following a short stint in the US Navy, he began a career as a forester with the state of New York. Prior to his retirement in 1982, he had spent decades cruising the timberlands of the Adirondacks, often alone in the deep woods.

Although he grew up in New Jersey trapping muskrat in the Meadowlands and catching brook trout in the small streams, his heart was firmly planted in the Adirondacks when he first visited the family compound in The Glen, near Jay Mountain.

Bob was a consummate birder who took up the sport as a kid, well before birding was considered fashionable. He watched the great migrations of hawks and raptors passing over the hills of New Jersey at a time when hunters still shot the "damn chicken hawks."

He knew all the characters and most of the players in the great Adirondack debates, and he was a friend to many, including the naturalist Greenie Chase. After Greenie passed on, Bob continued their annual bird count together, using his own binoculars as well as Greenie's to record the sightings. He kept meticulous records and was a fountain of knowledge of all things natural, trees, plants, wild flowers and more.

Next to his family, birds were his life. Bob married Joan Vollmers on Dec. 13, 1952, in Rutherford, N.J., who predeceased him in 1968. He later married the local forest ranger's daughter, Jacklyn Hickey of Keene, on Sept. 27, 1969. Together, they had a son, David, who predeceased them. Hagar is survived by his wife and three sons, Bob of Jay, Bill of Ticonderoga and Tom of Saranac Lake.

In a fitting natural tribute, as friends and family gathered at the cemetery in Jay where Bob was laid to rest, a red-tailed hawk shrieked from a perch high in a tall white pine. It was a send-off that Bob would have liked, and I'm willing to bet a red-tail now sits atop his bird list for the sweet hereafter.



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