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Cover detail: <i>An Adirondack Passage, the Cruise of the Canoe Sairy Gamp</i>
Cover detail: An Adirondack Passage, the Cruise of the Canoe Sairy Gamp

How a canoe sparked a trek and a book

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Almost twenty years ago, Christine Jerome and her husband paddled a weeks-long canoe route through the Adirondacks. They followed the path of a nineteenth-century writer and outdoorsman, George Washington Sears, known as Nessmuk to his readers. Our book reviewer, Betsy Kepes, spoke to Chris about the new edition of her book An Adirondack Passage, the Cruise of the Canoe Sairy Gamp.

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Betsy Kepes
Book Reviewer

Interview summary:

Christine Jerome’s new edition of An Adirondack Passage, The Cruise of the Canoe Sairy Gamp is more than just a memoir; her book is a combination a travel book, history book, and a biography. In the interview, Jerome says that the inspiration from her story stemmed from the ten-and-a-half pound Rushton canoe originally built for "Nessmuk" (aka George Washington Sears) which she saw in the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. This was during her first visit to the Adirondacks in 1988, and she describes her immediate connection to the boat and Nessmuk’s story as “intriguing.”

 “When we went home, I just could not get her out of my mind, Jerome says. "It just kept bubbling up to my consciousness, this wonderful voyage this man had taken. And I really wanted to see if you could do it again.” A few weeks later, she returned to the museum and purchased books on Nessmuk, trying to understand the route of the voyage and to learn more about it. She tells Betsy, “The more I read, the more I got hooked. I just wanted to write that book.”

Jerome’s book chronicles her personal journey through the Adirondacks in 1990 as well as Nessmuk’s experience in 1883. Jerome’s trip followed the path Nessmuk originally took in 1883. While she emphasizes the challenges of such an expedition during that time, paradoxically, the trip was less of a wilderness journey in 1883 than it was during her excursion in 1990, following the creation of the forest preserve.

Jerome calls Nessmuk “a remarkable character.” Although environmentalism was not coined during the time of Nessmuk, Jerome believed him to be an early voice of the environmentalist. He spent the majority of his life in the woods and witnessed the decimination of game and fish from overhunting, as well as the depredation of various industries such as tanning. Jerome believed that Nessmuk was acutely aware of what was being lost.

Nessmuk was an notable traveler for a man that lived as a little shoemaker in western Pennsylvania. He traveled to Michigan, Wisconsin, Ontario, Florida (twice), and successfully made two trips to the Amazon, a remarkable undertaking at that time.

Kepes says the story has a bittersweet feeling that lingers within the text. Through Nessmuk’s writing, the reader gathers that his health was on the decline and this would ultimately be Nessmuk’s last trip.

Nessmuk’s writings have a beautifully flowery Nineteenth-Century feel to them, which contrasts well with Jerome’s casual style of writing. However, Jerome feels that his writing is wonderfully contemporary, too. He wrote a great deal on subjects other than the Adirondacks. Currently, Christine Jerome is working on a collection of Nessmuk’s travel writings called The Nessmuk Reader.

She says Nessmuk’s writings are easily readable by today’s audiences, and are not saturated with slang and camp language that would puzzle today’s readers.

With the profusion of supporting characters and the detailed descriptions of the Adirondacks, reading An Adirondack Passage gives one the feeling of paddling right next to Jerome.

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