Mar 10

stalking the snowsnake

Had a call the other day from Mikey, my barber, at the popular Log Cabin Barber Shop in North Syracuse, NY, about Snow Snakes. We had been discussing the snow snake recently, and he brought up the subject in his shop among a number of his customers. Now most of those guys are hunters, ice fishermen, snowmobilers, and such, but they insisted that the snow snake did not exist. Perhaps they will learn the truth the hard way.

My experience with the elusive snowsnake goes ‘way back to when I grew up on the Tug Hill.  You could always find signs of their passing in the snow covered forests.  Then we spent a lot of time snowmobiling the Tug in the ’60′s and ’70′s, and tracks of the snake were everywhere.  I think they were drawn to the trails of the snowmobilers, maybe by the garbage and empty containers.  Or maybe it was just that more and more humans were invading their wintry lair with those noisy machines.  And at our Montague hunting camp, there was usually snow on the ground, and you always saw the snow snake tunnels near camp in the mornings.  Were they searching for food scraps, or perhaps lurking to accost the unwary hunter who stepped outside in his longjohns to look at the stars?

For those who have never encountered the snowsnake, let me tell you that you are very unlikely to see one, but you may see evidence of his passage.  Look near the trails for a round or near-round hole in the deep snow, surrounded by a yellowish border.  If it is very fresh, you may detect a faint sulpher odor.  The elusive snow snake has been and gone.  This tunnel may be his trail thru the snow as he hunts for food, or the entrance to his undersnow lair: I have never stuck a hand in to explore it.

What does this mysterious reptile look like, you may ask?  I am not sure that I ever actually seen one, but those who claim to know describe it as being anywhere from 1 to 6 feet long, and covered in a shiny fur of white or pale yellow.  You will see his beady black eyes, and perhaps a black tip on his tail.  It is easy to see that the snake could easily be mistaken for an ermine or weasel in his winter phase.  Do not be fooled.

I have read reports of the snow snake in many of our northern regions, including Manitoba, Michigan, Northern Ontario, and of course, Northern New York.  No doubt they also inhabit New England as well.  Early Native American tribes , such as the Abenacki and Haudenosaunee, apparently knew of the snake, and even had a winter game that involved throwing a 6-foot sharpened stick or spear thru the snow.  Or were they actually throwing it AT the snowsnake to drive him from his snowy tunnel?

I have read other reports, and seen vague photos, of alleged snowsnakes lurking in trees, coiled around snowy branches, perhaps basking in the sparse winter sun, or waiting for an unsuspecting victim to pass underneath.

Is the snow snake dangerous, you may well ask?  I can find no record of human fatalities involving this reptile, but over the years there have been any number of snowmobilers, snowshoers, skiiers, trappers, and such, found frozen in the snow in remote areas.  Did they freeze to death, were they victims of physical ailments, or perhaps victims of snakebite?  Who can say?

With so many more snowmobilers and other outdoor adventurers out in the forests today, I am surprised that there are not more reports of snowsnakes coming in, maybe even some photos.  (I did have a photo of a snowsnake tunnel somewhere in my 35mm slide files, but don’t seem to be able to find it.  Hmmmm.)  My theory is that everyone seems to be traveling so much further and faster these days, with the 100 mph snowmobiles and all, that they just don’t notice all that goes on around them.  Or is the snow snake no longer there?  Perhaps a victim of global warming?  Perhaps this elusive critter does not exist at all.  Like the mythical Saskquatch and the mysterious black panther, we want to believe he is out there, even if there is no hard evidence that he exists.  This demands further studies.  I would love to hear from anyone with experience with these mysterious reptiles.

Sep 5

Adirondack Buck

Adirondack Buck


The other day I was doing some wandering on Google, wasting time, and I came across this great piece of poetry. Brought back some memories of one of our most memorable deer hunts, gosh, some 50 years ago now. I remember like it was last year.

My brothers Lee and Jim were still teens, and I was just back from the Cold War. Deer were scarce on Tug Hill after a few tough winters, and we had been exploring some promising hunting grounds in the Adirondacks. We borrowed a neighbor’s WWII jeep, and Brother Dick’s ’52 Chevy pickup with his homemade camper, and set out for a November hunt. More about that later, maybe.

We were camped near Pico Mountain, and to get there one had to drive about 10 miles of gravel road beyond Brantingham Lake, then 4 or 5 miles of log roads into the woods. Lee and I had been in camp for a few days, and came out to pick up Jim at Brantingham. On our journey back to camp, we were ambushed by a jolly group of hunters on the Partridgeville Road, who insisted we join them in their camp, where a little party was going on. Their senior camper-he seemed ancient, but surely wasn’t much older than I am now-stood on a chair, bourbon in hand, and recited for us verbatim this very funny poem-we thought at the time he was making it up-and it has stayed with us all this years. I have never found it in print until now. Not sure who the author was.


A farmer’s dog came into town,
His Christian name was Tige;
His mother showed her pedigree,
It was noblesse oblige.
And as he trotted down the street,
It was wonderful to see
Him piss against each corner,
And Diss against each tree.
He pissed against each gateway,
And pissed against each post;
For pissing was his specialty,
And pissing was his boast.
The city dogs looked on amazed,
In growing helpless rage;
To see a simple country dog,
The pisser of his age.

Some thought that he a king might be,
Of legend long forgot;
Whose asshole shone like burnished gold,
And smelled like berganot.
Then each one smelled him critically,
They smelled him two by two;
But the country dog in high disdain,
Stood still until they were through.
Then just to show his mettle,
That he did not care a damn,
He trotted to a grocery store,
And pissed upon a ham.
He pissed upon a child’s bare leg,
He pissed upon the floor;
Till the grocer with a bull’s-eye kick,
Sent him pissing through the door.
Behind him all the city dogs
Lined up with instinct true,
To start a pissing carnival,
And see the stranger through.

They showed him every pissing place
They had about the town,
And started in with many a wink
To piss the stranger down,
They sent for champion pissers
In training and condition,
Who sometimes did a pissing stunt,
Or pissed for exhibition.
But Tige was pissing merrily,
With hind leg hoisted high;
When most were hoisting legs in bluff,
But pissing mighty dry,
Then Tige sought out new pissing ground,
By piles of scrap and rust;
Till even the boldest pissers there
Pissed a little spurt of dust.
Then followed free hand pissing,
With fancy flirts and flings,
Like “double drop” and “gimlet twist,”
And all those graceful things*

So on and on went the pissing dog,
With shining amber rill,
Till the boldest pisser of them all
Was pissed to a dead standstill.
But never a wink gave the country dog,
Nor bark, nor growl, nor grin;
But pissed his journey out of town
As he came pissing in,

Jul 27
The good ol' days on the tug

The good ol' days on the tug

I have always felt a strong tie to The Tug that keeps calling me back.  My Dad and Mom were both born there, operated a dairy farm for 50 years or so, and raised a large family.  Eleven of us grew up there; working on the farm, rambling the forests, fields, and backroads; fishing, hunting, exploring, picking berries. Not a bad life.

Now that I am retired and have the time, I don’t get back much; it’s dangerous to be out there alone where the cell phone doesn’t work-a few trips in Summer and a couple of hunting trips with my bros in the Fall.  I just spent a few days in Montague, doing some painting and fixin’ on the camp, and wandering around.  I love to travel the old roads with my camera, remembering the farms and homes and stores and people that once were-all gone now.  All those hardy immigrants who took their turn in trying to tame The Tug: Irish, Polish, Hungarians.  Most of the farmland has gone back to forest, and it is hard to tell where the homes were unless you know what to look for.  Most everyone had a few huge maple trees in the yard, and they are still there.  There is probably the remains of a cellar nearby.  Now there are more and more summer homes and hunting camps, with some great new neighbors, most of whom know little about the history of the region and people.  People like Charlie Kempa, who was attacked by a lynx and killed it with his ax.  Or Amby Williams, who almost hosted a Woodstock concert on the Tug.  Or George “The Runner” Jacunski.  And the snowmobilers and ATVers ride the roads at high speeds, unaware that here where a sports bar now sits was once a thriving village of over 300 people-even a broom factory- and former home of “Running George”.  Just to the south was the beginning of the Glenfield & Western Railroad, over its icy tracks moved thousands of Tug Hill logs to the mills in the valley below.  This little creek, nearly every little creek, powered a cheese factory or sawmill or both.  And nearly every intersection boasted a church, schoolhouse, grange, or general store to serve the many farms.  All gone now, but for some of the cemeteries.  Nothing but memories.  Here at Mud Creek we fished for trout.  Near the former Pat Vaugh farm we chased a nice buck out for my dad on Thanksgiving morning.  Here on Pitcher Road the whole family went picking huckleberries on summer sundays.  There lived Mrs Nefsey, who had the only phone in the neighborhood, and gladly shared it, in exchange for some local gossip.  It was a harder but friendlier time then.  Memories.

For those who may be interested in history of Tug Hill, Harold E. Samson wrote 2 very good books.  “Tug Hill Country” Tales from the Big Woods, and “The Other Side of the Hill”, which covered our east and north side.  I believe both have been reprinted recently in paperback.  I knew many of the people he tells about, and some of the stories were local legend.  John Golden’s “Northern Drift” has some good stories on Tug Hill people, and Louis Mihalyi of Glenfield did a couple of “Nature, Nurture, and Nostalgia” books with the best from his Black River Journal in the Watertown Times.  And last year, I found on ebay a copy of the “History of the Town of Harrisburg”.  Great reading.  Maybe someday I will do one.  There aren’t a million stories out there, but quite a few.  Some good ones.

For those not familiar with Montague, here is some interesting reading:

Montague History

Nov 4

Here is a look at our farm on Tug Hill from outer space. Big Brother is keeping a close eye on us. Comforting, no? As you can see, the windmills stand out clearly. We are looking into using these maps for deer hunting. The deer don’t show up (that would be helpful), but it gives a good look at the terrain.,-75.609455&spn=0.018248,0.036349&z=15

Sep 27


(or Flat Rock Wind Farm, or even Tug Hill Windmill Farm, if you will.)

The Windmills of Lewis County:

Took a ride up to the Tug yesterday to the Eagle Factory Road for the official dedication of the great Maple Ridge Wind Farm, finally nearing completion. It was a beautiful sunny fall day, but a bit breezy. Those windmill folks did it up right, as they do everything, with a great program, excellent lunch, thanks to all who were involved for a job well done, and souvenirs for everyone.

It really was an amazing project to see built, and once all the red tape was out of the way, those huge windmills were popping up overnite, it seemed. Awesome. One of the largest such projects in the world, so they say, and just a sign of things to come.

I was somewhat surprised that some of our politicians were not there to take credit, being an election year and all. Well, not so surprising, I guess. George W. and his crowd are seriously tied up in fossil fuels. Hilly and George P. are busy with more lofty goals somewhere in the Midwest. And I am sure Spitzer and Faso have not located Tug Hill on their GPS maps yet.

The folks who did speak were heavily into pointing out the long-term benefits of clean, renewable energy, and the long-term cash benefits of the windmills to an area that pretty much had nothing before. True, I guess. And one can put up with a few inconveniences, like the tourists, for the extra income, improved roads, and such. We got a chuckle out of one speaker going on about how the local dairy farmers would now find it easier to keep the family farms going with the extra income. Many of the Tug Hill farmers we know who are still in operation have been selling their herds as soon as the wind checks actually started coming in, and have gone on to other projects, or retired to watch the blades turn. But I guess the government’s agenda for years has been to put the small dairy farmer out of business, even to buying out their herds, so I guess it all works out.

One thing that does puzzle me is that now the project is completed, they are paving many of the roads in the area. That in itself is worth the hassle, as it seems those roads are paved maybe once every 40-50 years. But, we are only paving those roads that were paved before this all began, none of the gravel roads. Now it seems that if the windmill maintenance folks are going to be driving those roads, every day for the next 25 years, they would want to travel on paved roads. It would be nice for the residents too. Maybe when the towns start getting all that extra annual income, they will see to that.

Anyway, it appears to be a win-win project for everyone involved, and we are glad to see it finally completed. Great job, Maple Ridge, Flat Rock, Horizon, and all you other folks.