For many years, my younger sister occupied the back seat of the car, occasionally passing an open box of Snyder’s sourdough hard pretzels to my father, relentlessly offering radio station suggestions to my mother. With the advent of the SONY Walkman, car travel was forever changed, a blissful dome of silence hovering between the front and back seats.
Their destination was White Pine Road and the elusive Northbrook Lodge, tucked away on a 10-mile peninsula somewhere between Saranac Lake and Paul Smiths, New York. Built in the 1920s in the style of the Great Adirondack Camps, Northbrook was a vast property, situated smack dab along Osgood Pond. Everyone referred to the pond as a lake, a body of water ample enough for a handful of canoes, a few rowboats, a solitary kayak. My father was one of the occasional fishermen circumnavigating the lake, his signature bucket hat just visible from the screened in porch of the boathouse. Ducks bobbed along the glassine surface of the water while in the distance, a pair of devoted loons conversed.
The boathouse/lodge cozied up to the edge of the water, its stone foundation steadying high-beamed ceilings and an airy porch. In the evenings, my father and sister enjoyed spirited games of Scrabble, often in hot debate over the authenticity of words. The threat of delving into Webster’s Universal Unabridged two-volume dictionary was a constant. If it wasn’t in ‘A to Pocket Veto’ then it wasn’t a word, my father insisted. My sister remained skeptical, watching him add up his double word scores with a dull Dixon-Ticonderoga pencil.
My visits to Northbrook were far less frequent than my sister’s. My inaugural visit was in the 1980s, as a party of two. In the 1990’s, we were a party of four, preserving the dome of silence in the car with a VCR player strapped precariously between the front and back seats. Our days started early and ended late. We hiked nearby Whiteface Mountain, taking in vistas of green worthy of their own box of Crayolas; fern, forest, pine, mountain, and meadow. We ran the winding trails of White Pine Road, soft trails underfoot framed by white paper birch. On more than one fishing expedition, Master/Master and Blondilocks enthusiastically cast-off, contributing their fishing poles to the lake. In the afternoons we swam, jumping from a less-than-seaworthy dock into the bracing water, trying desperately not to touch the questionable lake bottom with our toes.
We fortified ourselves between lunch and dinner with soft ice cream from Donnelly’s, a Saranac Lake institution. Waiting our turn, we watched swirls of soft-serve cascade from a vintage machine purchased in 1953. The Donnelly’s unusual business model dictated that they would choose the flavor and we would choose the size. Standing in the parking lot, we tackled the precarious swirls, catching the drips with paper napkins that stuck to our fingers. A panoramic view of Whiteface Mountain stretched beyond the fields opposite the ice cream stand. Returning to Northbrook, we burned up the calories with an energetic game of shuffleboard.
Northbrook Lodge was sold a few years ago, probably to a developer with grand plans to monetize his investment. On a recent holiday to Lower Saranac Lake, we attempted to find our way back to Northbrook, now on the National Register of Historical Places. When Google Maps disappointed, a local pointed us in the right direction.
Turning onto White Pine Road, the air was still heady with balsam, the ground generously cushioned with pine needles. In the distance, Osgood Pond sparkled, but the sound of the loons was drowned out by a drill. Trucks dotted the grounds, workmen diligently installing upgrades and alarm systems. We crept along the grounds like undercover spies, working our way to the boathouse. My father was always one to admonish my sense of nostalgia with the adage, “You can never go back; things change, life goes on.” He would have been disappointed with the sale of Northbrook, the contemporizing of the old Adirondack camp. He would however, have been happy to know that on Wednesdays, Donnelly’s still serves chocolate twisted with vanilla.