Ausable Chasm

With the world all Covidy in the summer of 2020 I was furloughed from work for nearly 3 months, downtown Burlington was a ghost town with every business shuttered for the foreseeable future. So it was a good summer to drive around and teach my partner to shoot film. This day I loaded up my Nikon F4 while my partner packed my Minolta x700 and we drove over to Ausable Chasm, in upstate NY. She had never been here, it was a place that held some significance to me.

My Dad, his mom and sisters, July 1950

I have a photo in my family album dated July 16, 1950, of my Dad as a teenager with his mom and his twin sisters sightseeing at Ausable Chasm, NY. As it turned out, 30 years later he would move upstate and buy a house there. Fast forward 70 years to July 12, 2020, my partner and I get a photo standing on the exact spot as he and his family. I lived here for a few years as a pre-teen, then would spend summers and holidays here throughout my teenage years. My father would live in that house for the rest of his life, he is buried in a small cemetery up the hill from his house, and every so many years I like to go back and visit. It’s a beautiful area.

My partner and I, July 2020

Ausable Chasm is a sandstone gorge, the Ausable River runs through it before emptying into Lake Champlain, a natural tourist attraction that has been operating yearly since 1870. When we moved there it was a tiny town of maybe three roads called Ausable Chasm (of course), zip code 12911. Eventually the tiny hamlet would be incorporated into the slightly larger hamlet of Keeseville, NY. It’s also one of the most boring places to spend summers as a teenager.

There aren’t a lot of other kids around to hang out with, the only business in the area is a bar, and there were maybe 10 channels of cable TV. So my summers were spent reading, fishing in the stretch of the Ausable River behind my dad’s house, hustling tourists for spare money, and waiting for the summer to end so I can go back to my regular home and my regular friends. I’ve learned that I prefer living closer to the action, but that I also adore spending time in those remote rural places I’d never want to live in full-time.

The official tour tells you about the carving of the gorge during the Pleistocene Epoch, the mid-Cambrian fossil they found of a jellyfish, the black & white movies filmed there and the famous people who visited. The tour I gave my partner was much different. “See that opening in the stone bridge column? We would dare each other to climb in there and explore the two dark chambers inside.” “See that dirt road? It leads to a waterfall area where I once saw a dead guy getting pulled out.” “See that hill right there? Way up into the trees? Your sled would go insane speeds down the side past all the trees that will fuck you up if you veer off course.” Sure, it was a boring place for kids much of the time, but it had its moments.

A time will come when I get restless and move from the far Northeast to pursue an opportunity or a dream, and might never again walk through this place and its associated memories. So I try to forget the adolescent feelings of isolation and loneliness, the redneck bullies who occasionally picked on me and all the other negative aspects, and replace them with memories of making tree houses in the woods, finding tranquility in a secret fishing spot, or riding my bike down a dirt road just to see where it goes.