Table of Contents
THE DEER PONDS
Almost beneath the beetling crags of Green's Cliff, and at the base of the gentle northeastern slope of Sugar Hill, lie two little ponds, called the Deer Ponds. The larger of these, and the one which lies the nearer to the town road, is called Church Pond, or Church's Pond, probably in memory of Charles Church, a former inhabitant of Albany Intervale.
Church Pond is a natural beauty spot. With artistically curved outlines, dotted with gray rocks and fringed with dark firs, this little sheet of water is a veritable gem set in the dark recesses of the wilderness. From a distance this pond, which is enclosed by trees on three sides, appears like a blue mirror, sometimes reflecting a fleecy cloud; but only one-half of its beauty usually is seen, for one arm is invisible from such a vantage-point as Potash or Hedgehog. Running east and west, Church’s Pond is divided into eastern and western sections; the former is much smaller than the latter, but contains the outlet, which is Church's or Pond Brook; the western section of the pond is wider, longer, and deeper, and it is all that is visible from the summits lying to the southward.
Parallel with the eastern arm of the pond, southeast of and opposite the place where the two parts of the pond join, there rises a long monadnock. This hillock―"The Knoll," we call it―begins to rise gradually near the outlet of the pond, and, running westward, gently slopes upward until, just opposite the junction of the arms of the pond, it drops off sharply to the water on its northern side and western end. This knoll, having been burnt over a few years ago, is covered with birches, pines, charred and prostrate logs, blueberry bushes and rocks. Its extreme western end is covered with a fine grove of tall trees. The crest, thus shaded by the grove and carpeted with pine needles, offers an unexcelled vantage-point.
South of the knoll and pond there lies a large area of burnt-over, marshy land, which bears the appropriate name of "the bog." This bog is nearly as large as the cleared area of our intervale and is so marshy that even in the height of drought one is fortunate indeed if he traverses it dry-shod. Carpeted with brilliant reddish-brown bushes, dotted and steepled with dark shafts of charred and weathered stubs, with here and there a considerable cluster of these upright ruins, the bog presents a marked contrast to the long sheet of water with its symmetrical dark green background. The bog is a famous place for pitcher-plants.
From the knoll not only may a commanding view of bog, pond, and surrounding forests be had, but also the Sandwich Range looms up steeper and more imposing than from any other viewpoint in the Albany Valley. Even little Potash and Hedgehog appear lofty and precipitous; Passaconaway and Tripyramid seem more gigantic than ever; and Green's Cliff defiantly raises its oblong redoubt far above us, and, from here, is a mountain worthy of respect and admiration―a truly magnificent and imposing rampart. One of the chief attractions in the entire valley to me is the wilderness solitude and romance of this secluded knoll at Church's Pond.
Centuries ago, probably when the ice melted after the last glacial period, the entire valley―the Swift River or Albany Intervale―was covered by the rippling waters of an intermontane lake. This fact is proved by the deep deposits of rich loam throughout the intervale, and by the absence of stones, so common in most New England fields. As we have already said, the innumerable rocks and boulders on Sugar Hill prove that this eminence was either an island or the termination of the lake, if we may take Frank Bolles as an authority.1 After years and probably centuries of pounding and drilling, the Swift River finally bored and reamed its way through the rocky gorge between Bear and Bald Mountains, and thus in time drained off most of the water. Still the lake did not give up without resistance. Repeatedly it braced itself for a struggle and made stand after stand, but all in vain. On the hill at Mrs. Colbath's, ridge after ridge was formed, showing how resolutely the lake postponed its ultimate defeat. But finally, the last barrier gave way. All that remains of the original lake is this pair of twin Deer Ponds and the bog.
The red man was a great lover of beauty; we find Passaconaway referring to his "beautiful island of Naticot." It is a noticeable fact that the Indians lived in the most beautiful spots and made their paths along the most picturesque routes.2 We read in the early history of a great abundance of beaver in the Albany valley, and it is highly probable that hundreds of these industrious little workers lived along these very shores. The later records also tell of vast quantities of beaver killed in the intervale. Such a country the Indian would prize highly. Taking everything into consideration therefore, we should not go very far astray were we to guess that, centuries before a white man ever tickled this pond with a pickerel hook, the Indians were building their fires on the very knoll which we love so well. That the Indians used to trap in the intervale is proved by the Russell Manuscript, from which we shall quote later.
Not until the lumbermen built a camp on its very shores, did we ever fail to see deer whenever we visited this pond. Generally we had but to sit quietly upon the knoll for a few minutes, when we would be rewarded by seeing a deer step gracefully from the forest to the water's edge, and then slowly proceed into the water. These innocent and beautiful creatures always excite my admiration. With their yellowish brown and white coats, and standing knee-deep in water, they are prettier than any picture that can be painted. While feasting our gaze upon these creatures we are lost in admiration, only being brought back to earth by the soft splashing or rippling of the water as a buck wades slowly about, or by the whispering of a gentle breeze. We have watched the deer scores of times, when their proximity made field-glasses unnecessary; and so long as nothing startled them, they would feed on the lily-roots, for half an hour or more, before stalking off into the woods.
One cloudy afternoon, in July, 1912, my father and I came here planning to try for pickerel; but we did not catch any, nor did we even try for them. It was our custom to approach cautiously across the bog. Thinking that our chances for seeing game were exceptionally good on that day, we skirted the southern ridge of the knoll until the western end had been reached. The semi-darkness of a threatening sky concealed us perfectly. Straightening up behind some bushes near the shore, we saw two groups or families of deer standing directly opposite us in the water. One family, the nearer to the western end of the pond, consisted of a doe and a fawn; the second group, of a mother and two fawns; making a total of five deer seen at once. The cute little speckled fawns ate as industriously and seriously as their elders. Every detail was distinctly visible, even to the tiny spots on the youngsters' sides. From one side to the other the nervous "white flags" of the mothers perpetually twitched. Slowly, and with the dignified tread of a "Scotch Highlander," they marched from one lily-pad to another. Time was nothing to them, and, no doubt, standing there as undisturbed and as independent as one could desire, they were enjoying a real "Thanksgiving dinner." For over an hour we watched their graceful movements. Not until we emptied our revolver into a vicious snake, did the deer vanish.
One hot July forenoon, my attention was attracted by some enormous birds not far away. On their long legs they stood fully four feet high. At first sight I thought they must be storks, but they proved to be great blue herons. I had seen marsh hens, but these birds almost could have swallowed the ones with which I had been familiar. All four flew, from their original position near the knoll, directly over our heads and off over the bog. They were not fifty feet above us when they passed over. They rushed by with a great beating of wings, their pipe-stem legs folded against their bodies and their feet sticking far out behind. The wings of these birds seemed to be as broad as any eagle's I had ever seen, and I shall not venture a guess at their length. Never had I viewed such winged creatures to one accustomed to seeing hen-hawks, mud-hens, owls and crows, the appearance of these great birds is not only startling but somewhat awe-inspiring. Their grandeur lies in stature and length of limb, rather than in fineness of feature, or grace of movement.
That same afternoon a friend of ours, while crossing the bog, met an old mother bear coming with her two cubs from Green's Cliff. Being unarmed, he deemed discretion to be the better part of valor; for experience had taught him to give a wide berth to Madame Bear, which he promptly proceeded to do.
Some years ago, our neighbor, S―, was rapidly crossing the tumbledown between the pond and Green's Cliff. One exceptionally large windfall lay right in his path. Clearing this at one leap, his foot descended on something which yielded somewhat under his weight, something surprisingly soft. And no wonder, for it was a bear that had been sleeping close to the log. The woodsman did not hesitate as to what course to pursue. Upon relating his experience he was asked what he did next, whereupon he immediately replied, "I think I did a mile in two minutes."
Another friend of ours was fishing in Church's Pond about dusk. He was after pickerel and, as the raft was unavailable, he was wading about knee-deep in water. "Crack, snap!" He looked around, for the noise came from the brush near the water's edge. He slowly fished down the pond, but the occasional breaking of twigs kept pace with him on the shore. In the gathering twilight he was beset with many fancies. Once he thought he saw the savage face of a lynx peering towards him. And perhaps it was not all imagination either, for, on going ashore and following his trail back across the bog, he saw paw-prints deeply imprinted in the mud, the prints of a wild-cat, tracks larger than a man's clenched fist. Further search revealed that the cat had tramped up and down the bank, probably changing his position as often as the man changed his. Evidently the cat coveted the contents of a somewhat heavy fish-basket. With darkness rapidly closing in and with the knowledge of having been tracked, H― did not stand upon the order of his going, but departed for civilization with all speed. Later it was found that all the time he was searching for the tracks and even for quite a distance on his way home he was being followed. This was shown by the paw-prints in the soft mud which the man discovered next day. The lynx, though eager for the fish, evidently lacked the nerve to attack the fisherman.
One of our former neighbors, X―, was returning, I think from the pond, on the other side of the river, when he felt that something was following him. The farther he went the stronger this feeling became. At last he was sure he heard a twig snap behind him. At least he would satisfy his curiosity so he concealed himself behind a big tree a few rods from and commanding the path. Nor had he long to wait, for within a few seconds afterwards a Canadian lynx, with nose sniffing the air, came trotting down the path. Drawing bead carefully, X― fired. The cat sprang into the air and, with a frantic kick or two, expired―shot through the heart. Mr. Povall had the trophy stuffed and it was on exhibition at the Passaconaway House until February 13, 1916, when the hotel burned. It is now in the present writer's possession.
Scores of these little anecdotes might be narrated―of deer shot on the ice, of a silver fox seen here, of the moose which treed some boys on the knoll (narrated in the chapter on Albany in this work) and of the bears, shot or trapped here at Church's Pond, but space does not permit. Suffice it to say that, within a year or two, now, as soon as the lumber fiends shall have left, its wild and lawful tenants will return, and then new experiences will thrill the visitor.
The second Deer Pond is even more secluded than is Church Pond. A sense of utter loneliness and desolation sweeps over one as he gazes upon this tiny sheet of water so completely buried in the great wilderness. Consequently it offers a paradise to wood folk and is a popular summer and winter resort among the beasts of the forest.
One need not take the trouble to press his way through to the second Deer Pond in order to see game. You can see it at Church's Pond. But remember one thing, you can't see game if you telegraph to it the fact of your approach when you are a half mile away. Once we were watching a beautiful buck feeding near the base of the knoll; when a sudden peal of laughter at the western end of the pond startled us. As quick as thought, Mr. Deer bounded away among the trees, and almost before we knew it he was gone. Shortly after, a party of hotel guests appeared on the shore and their dog took up the fresh scent of the buck, but soon returned unsuccessful. Upon joining our party they said they had seen no deer and not in all their trips here had they ever seen any. In my opinion their only chance to see deer is that the deer may become stone-deaf from the fall shooting. So, when going to a quiet secluded spot like this, don't go like a human megaphone, but as a listener and spectator. Those who keep silent, move quietly and look, are seldom disappointed. Remember the sage observation of the old stage-driver who said: "I've driven hundreds of people over this very road, and most of them hear nothin', see nothin', and just talk on and on about nothin'."