The road between Long Lake and Tupper Lake (Rte. 30) runs through 22 miles of beautiful wilderness. This sinuous stretch of two-lane blacktop crosses marshes and cuts through small mountains, exposing the ancient bedrock. Deep forest shrouds both sides. The Raquette River brackets each end of this road, forming the broad expanse of Long Lake to the east and feeding into and through massive Tupper Lake, also the reservoir of the Bog River and numerous other streams. With so much wilderness crowding this thin artery, it’s not unusual to see the true inhabitants of this region frequently: abundant deer, wild turkey, pheasants, hawks, even an occasional black bear.
Driving east on Rte. 30 yesterday, about half a mile ahead I observed vehicles swerving all over the road. I approached cautiously, thinking there must be a piece of debris on the ground. But lo and behold, when I got closer, I saw the cause of all the commotion: a turtle about the size of a dinner plate ambling across the street from one marsh to another.
Now, growing up in Philadelphia, our vacations took us to South Jersey along the Black Horse Pike. We used to see a lot of turtles crossing the road along the way — or the remnants thereof. It’s where I first heard the term “roadkill.” You got points for hitting, fingers raised for swerving to save a turtle life.
Up here in the Adirondacks, I don’t see much roadkill. Instead, there’s a distinctive effort to preserve wildlife, including the turtle crawling across Rte. 30. Those swerving cars weren’t citified environmental lawyers in their Navigators. No, they were lumberjacks and fishermen in 4×4’s. Everyone understands the rules of the wilderness. Humans and wild things living side-by-side, warily respecting each other’s space. Nobody got hurt in all that swerving. No fingers waved out of car windows. Even the turtle made it home for dinner safely.
Later that evening, as dusk deepened, I was on a back road near Rte. 30 when I came upon a baby bear calmly foraging along the side of the road. Very cute. I raised my camera but the light was too low. As I moved past, the bear kept looking at me. I thought better of getting out of the car, mindful that Mama Bear was probably just a few feet away in the forest. I didn’t want to invite myself for dinner!
A different kind of wildlife this morning on Rte. 30, as I was approaching Tupper Lake which is the only place I can find an Internet connection (thanks to the local public library): I came upon traffic backed up at a roadblock right where there’s a scenic overlook for the lake. Strange, I thought, the 4th of July was yesterday, why are they doing DUI checks at 10 am? Moving closer, I saw the reason: the roadblock was for the Border Patrol.
The Canadian border is about 60 miles away. This seemed a strange place for the Border Patrol to set up shop, and yet, Rte. 30 is the only road through this part of the Adirondacks. The agents were looking closely into each car and asking, “Are you a U.S. citizen?” My backseat was crammed with my paddles and life vest and other assorted vacation stuff, with the kayak strapped on top of the car. The agent smiled and waved me on, once I agreed that I was, yes, a U.S. citizen. But across the way, on the eastern lane, the agents were grilling some guy in an old beat-up car. He had wild hair, a red baseball cap, and companions. “Where are you going? Who are you seeing?” I could hear them asking.
Yesterday was Independence Day. Today, the Border Patrol peers into our cars in the middle of this wilderness road, where yesterday we swerved to avoid hitting a turtle. A cold breeze is blowing through the Adirondacks this morning.