What’s the deal with forts? As a wee kid, back in the day, it was all Davy Crockett and coon-skin caps and standing guard at a fort. We made them out of cardboard boxes or couch bolsters and pillows. Kids love forts, and I’m one of them.
Forts figure in the history of the US and get a romanticized treatment in countless movies. Cavalrymen ride in to forts with their hats on (one brim pinned up), yellow scarves, white gloves with those cool cuffs that come halfway up the forearm. Other guys hold open these huge doors to the fort while they come in breathlessly giving a report on the enemy. John Wayne’s accommodation in heaven has got to be a fort.
Days 15 and 16 were book-ended with forts: Fort Niagara at the beginning of one, Fort Ticonderoga at the end of the other. In between was the blessed and thoughtful quiet. I’ll sketch the quiet in-between, and then I’ll ride back in with a report on the forts.
The GPS lady inside our dashboard sent us onto a thing called the Lake Ontario Parkway, an odd concrete-paved old kind of proto-freeway. It made our rig bound up and down, so we disobeyed the GPS lady and cut our own route. She’s from Google Maps, this lady, and at least she does not say “recalculating” when we assert a different road than she wants. She just adjusts and says where to turn next, though I detect a passive-aggressive tone in her next instruction. I think I heard her say “fine. Make the next left.”
East Rochester gave us a very cool home-town eatery, New Yorkers Pancake and Grill. Great brunch and we spent some moments going online to register our “EZ Pass.” This little gizmo on our windshield will allow us to pay road tolls all over the east, subtracting from our account as we zoom by the booth.
The Adirondack Mountains are confident in their old age, they do not jut and posture sharply like the younger peaks out west. Rounded and bristling with forest, pine mixed with the faint colors of early fall, and without need to brag of 5-digit elevation, they can still twist a road or give way to a spectacular valley with the best of them. We had angled away from I-90 near Rome, NY, to enter this proud terrain on fine roads, sustaining 55 mph for much of them, despite the terrain.
Paradox Lake reminds this westerner of On Golden Pond or any of the other pictures ever seen of this region—still in the morning, blurred and lacey fog visiting above the surface, soon to vanish with the sun. The campground was virtually abandoned. Out of 58 campsites, only 6 or 8 were occupied the first night, and we were only one of three the next. This has got to be one of the best things about September travel.
The forts: Historically, the common theme is that these were territorial stakes-in-the-ground for competing nations. Both Forts Niagara and Ticonderoga figure in the French and Indian War as well as the American Revolution. The French, English, American and Native American forces used these bastions to control strategic water-highways and to assert claims to territory.
Both forts are reconstructed and are maintained by private foundations. This was a new bit for me—historic landmarks not run by a government agency—and they did a great job of representing the history at the forts, and showed eloquently the life of those who fought there.
These scenes, at the beginning and end of these two days, gave much on which to reflect. Though textbooks can give the overview, being there allows us to picture real people on that real terrain, aiming cannon over Lakes Ontario or Champlain. Kings and nations bicker, and some causes have merit (like the American Revolution) and others you’re not sure, but it’s the ordinary soldier, likely cold and afraid, who lights the fuse or fires the musket.
Those we have imagined at the ramparts fought to protect a fort. But taken together, all this bravery has achieved a larger “fortress” built on ideals of liberty, and which provides the life we live, now much warmer and less afraid than they.