Loading the canoe in the traditional manner—on the beach and overly full—this small frog hopped out to lend a hand. It wasn't much help. After I took this glamour shot, it hopped over and into a cinder block.

Meanwhile, on the other side of that floating dock...

Otis rediscovers the joys of riding in the back of a pickup truck. The red Ford Ranger was recently purchased and driven up from Long Island. It's sole job is to pull the other new acquisition: this sweet little aluminum Starcraft power boat. It is unclear whether Oma purchased the truck to tow the boat or if she bought the boat to justify the purchase of a truck. Either way, the family is now in possession of two new (to us) motorized and mostly reliable means of transportation.

I suppose I can't be 100% sure, but I don't think my son is licensed to drive this thing. (Oh, right, you don't need a license to drive these things!)

This year, we returned to Halfway Island, the site of our first venture to the Saranac Lake Islands. This was not our original intention, though. We made a strong effort to reserve sites #19 and #20 on Hatchet Island (visible behind the tree in the center of this photo). With those two sites we'd have the run of an entire island! However, due to the ridiculously flawed reservation system, we got cheated out of our dreams once again! (I think I've got the system down now. Fingers crossed for next year!)

The good news is that so far we haven't seen any less-than-amazing sites in the whole lake and we already knew that this year's destination was a winner. Anticipating a large crowd (more on that later), we also reserved site #15 (pictured here). This turned out to be a nice quiet haven for the grand-folks.

First item of business: set up the mansion.

Our Walmart-special 12-person tent is holding up nicely. We pitched it in the exact same spot as three years earlier.

Second item of business: set up the hammock.

This turned out to be slightly more challenging than expected. An angry little maritime garter snake was guarding what I determined to be the perfect hammock site. At first it was a little shy and slithered away, but when I ran to grab my camera and five-year-old it tensed up and started snapping at us. (Turns out they're harmless.)

We gave it some space.

But not for long!

When I went back five minutes later the serpent had dispersed and I slung my hammock up between two nice trees.

Note the recently purchased camo Crocs! Stay calm, ladies.

Twilight at Site #14, Halfway Island.

Perhaps the finest of Site #14's assets is a gently sloping rock that dips down into the water at the northeast corner of the island. The rock is perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and, as demonstrated here, observing the lake sparkles as the sun comes up over neighboring Green Island.

This little windswept islet is called Otter Island. We were glad to hear that Pops had inquired about recent bear activities and found that there were no reports to suggest the necessity of paddling our food out every morning (a daily ritual last year). Had bears been about, this pile of rocks and trees would have been re-dubbed Pantry Island II.

Instead of a pantry, Otter Island served as a swimming destination. Pops had instructed me to bring the fancy Barracuda goggles he had previously instructed me to buy so that he could observe my freestyle stroke and offer pointers. I complied, but when I put them on he burst out laughing, wondering aloud if he, too, looked so ridiculous when he wore his. I'd never looked at myself modeling the goggles, so I took a picture instead.

(Also, swimming is hard.)

"A boat! A boat!" cried June, interrupting her daily nude romp around the rock.

With both of the kids old enough to walk and talk, they tend to keep each other pretty entertained. "How nice," we thought, from the comfort of our nearby chairs, "the kids are having a great time playing in the tent!" When I did eventually meander over, I paused to look at a sheet of stamps on the ground outside the tent door along with a number of other curiously random items strewn about the forest floor. The stamps had previously resided deep inside Sarah's wallet, itself nestled deep inside one of the side pockets of her suitcase—an indication of just how thoroughly our offspring had trashed our home away from home. (Juniper's squeals of delight, it seems, were inspired by ripping her parents' possessions from their tidy organization; Otis's were inspired by egging on his sister.) The horrible children were sent away and Sarah set into cleaning up. (Andre took pictures.)

The rest of the gang were due to arrive at the marina on Friday, Day 2. Pops and Oma took one kid in the power boat (now named "Scampi" or "Skippy" or "Prancer" or "Vixen" or something) and we took the other in the canoe. Our kid dragged the yellow kid paddle in the water for a while...

...but when I saw the paddle drift past me, I grabbed it and noticed said kid had fallen asleep in a sitting position with her hand dragging in the water. (She'd spent much of the night screaming and kicking her parents in the face.)

Refueling and chit-chatting.

Another boat joins the race! The brave Long Island Maccos had never been camping before and they'd never been canoing before either. They trusted us enough to make this their maiden voyage in both respects. Here, Aunt Liz and Uncle Cooper deftly maneuver their Grumman away from the dock in reverse as Mikey watches the other kids cruise away with Pops and Oma in Scrimpy the Power Boat.

(I just looked it up: Grumman started making canoes in 1944, as World War II was ending.)

Super Grandma Oma always comes prepared with plenty of awesome kid activities. Here, three quarters of the children apply glow-in-the-dark puffy paint to T-shirts. (Unfortunately, the damp weather would prevent the shirts from fully drying before the end of the trip. But there were other glowing nighttime antics instead...)

The kid activity of choice, however, was dog-piling into Oma's hammock!

"Higher! Higher! Faster! Faster!" That's Liz on swing duty in the lower right corner.

Take it easy there, Mom!

Glowstick mayhem. Added to the arsenal this year: glowing rings and glowing eyeglasses. (The glasses looked cool, but made it impossible to see anything.)

Seeing a bit of rain in the forecast, Pops proposed bringing a tarp or two. (I, in denial, had convinced myself that the forecast rain would never materialize.)

Pops was right.

We set a rain tent up over the table by first tying opposite corners up high and then stretching the remaining corners and tying them down a little lower for maximum drainage. The technique worked flawlessly and kept us from having to pack up all our shit every night!

(Note, too, the gigantic pile of firewood in the background, courtesy of the grandparents who brought two cars for fear the poor old truck couldn't pull a boat and a load of logs.)

One of the lower tie-downs was right at choking height and brown so as to blend in with the environs. We hung a bright orange swimmy floaty on it to help prevent folks getting clotheslined. Then we realized it could also function as a clothesline!

Jamie lurks under the tarp near the big blue water bottle.

Pops proposed a brief excursion to nearby Otter Island and we hopped in the canoe with the two Mount kids. Many interesting artifacts were encountered, including:

...a tire (Otis was impressed by how black it was)...

...a mossy disc with a stick poking through it...

...and a no-camping sign (though it did seem like a nice little spot to pitch a tipi).

It had rained during the night. Quite a little storm, in fact! The same would happen the next night, too. In fact, while it did rain several times on this trip, all of the precipitation was timed perfectly with when we were all already in the tents. (And I mean perfectly: the first drops started falling almost immediately after we zipped up for the night!)

During the day, however, the worked hard to dry up the clouds. Here it is making its first appearance of the day.

Returning from No-Tipi Island, we saw a couple of gulls land on our rock. One of them grabbed something and made a break for it and we realized Otis had left a sizable chunk of campfire blueberry muffin behind.

(Bass) Master Otis practices his casting...

...while his sister makes sure her shirt is well-tucked.

The Big Excursion.

Not surprisingly, all the kids preferred the smelly luxury of Oma's two-stroke to riding around in a boring old canoe. (Cooper joined them as Liz and Jamie had fallen ill and remained in the tent to recuperate.) As soon as they cast off, the flock of life-jacketed kids started chanting "Can we go fast? Can we go fast?!"

Bluff Island is the perfect picnic destination. We brought a delicious lunch (minus the giant tub of pasta salad) and explored.

My one goal for the trip was to try climbing up out of the water to jump off the smaller of several cliffs. We hiked up to the top of the cliff and I climbed down the path to the small canoe landing at the bottom. Then I swam around looking for a suitable exit and did the Mount Maneuver for good luck.

I kept it simple. The little fern, below and to the left of the tree growing out of the crack, was were I began. I followed the diagonal crack up and to the left and found plenty of nice hand-holds and level spots to put my feet. The scary part came when I got to the horizontal crack leading to the right. I had to get high enough to get my toes in the crack and then shimmy across to the jumping ledge. This wasn't so bad except that once I got high enough to get my feet at crack level, said crack was no longer visible. Roll over the image to see the route.

But I made it! I took my victory jump and climbed back up to the family.

(Side note: I'd read that this same cliff once featured prominently in an episode of The Perils of Pauline, a 1914 silent adventure serial. In the concluding scene of Episode 13, "The Serpent Under the Flowers," Pauline and Harry are chased up the cliff by a band of bloodthirsty gypsies. With no place else to run, they leap from the top of the bluff and swim to safety. Unfortunately, several of the scenes were apparently lost. Those that survived were resequenced and rearranged and here's what remains of this episode. You can see Harry and Pauline start begin their escape up the cliff at the 9:00 minute mark. Some reports suggest that the stunt was executed on a horse, but this does not appear to have been the case.)

Post PB&Js and crackers, Old Man Mikey enjoys a snooze on the picnic table bench.

Later that day...

Otis found his way into the water for a bit of swimming with Oma as his dad took a 1.5 hour nap in the hammock. (Bliss.) Sarah and the other kid were napping in the tent, so he was given an Oma shirt instead of his own dry clothes.

A little loose, but it did the trick.

"Sarah, look majestic!"

JuJo wasn't having any of this sleeping-in-tents business the first two nights. Although she's starting to talk, she wasn't having much luck communicating the problem to her sleep-deprived parents.

We decided that there were probably two problems:

1. Too hot/constricted in her too-small fleece PJs.

2. A little freaked out about sleeping in a weird place.

Rather than take any chances, we eliminated both of these possible causes. We put her in comfy cotton PJs and had her nap in the tent during the daytime to see how there was nothing to fear. This was bad science since we addressed two factors simultaneously, but whatever it was it worked and the kid straight through night three in the big tent.

Pops spotted a bald eagle during his daily swim. He saw it swoop down and grab a big fish right out of the lake. We could hear it arguing over the fish with another eagle nearby, but when we went down to the rock to take a look they were nowhere to be seen.

Dusk on the rock, a campfire is spotted across the lake.

There were always a bunch of water skimmers scooting around on the surface of the lake. We wondered how they did it and wished for a slow-mo close-up video explaining the mechanism. I just found one and it's as cool as you'd expect! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E2unnSK7WTE)

Sarah and I enjoyed a glass of wine down on the rock as the sun approached the horizon. Then we realized that the kids had all gone off to "Golden Woods" and that this would be our last opportunity to see it!

Otis had done a thorough survey of the lands surrounding Site #15, where Pops and Oma had pitched their tent. As it turns out, there were several enchanted areas.

Here is Golden Woods, where the trees turn to gold with the setting sun reflecting off the water.

And here's the Rock Palace, where several Mikey-sized stumps have been cut into thrones under the shadow of a large (and precariously balanced) boulder.

Uncle Cooper turned thirty-three on this trip. His mom baked him a delicious (if crumbly) cake in the Dutch oven. We brought a piñata.

We went in age order, whacking the poor little colored donkey with a special stick that had been prepared earlier in the day.

Kids didn't have to wear the blindfold and apparently neither did the grandparents. Some of us managed to knock out an occasional piece of candy, but it wasn't until Oma sent these three lollipops flying that things really got underway.

With the piñata thoroughly eviscerated, the children devour its innards...

...while its carcass was unceremoniously cast into the fire-pit.

June on her favorite pillow.

The LI Maccos departed on Saturday morning. Here they are with Oma, towing the garbage barge back to the marina where their waiting truck would take them on the long drive back down to Long Island.

Oma and Pops were planning on leaving later that day and the third shift was due to arrive in the afternoon. The forecast called for a thunderstorm later in the afternoon, however, and the two families that had planned on joining decided to pull the plug. This brought the total of last-minute cancellations to thirteen people and feeling a little dejected, we were faced with the classic dilemma: should we stay or should we go?

Our first instinct was to tough it out. After all, a triumphantly sunny morning was forecast for Sunday morning and we already had the tarp and tent all set up. Then we decided that might feel a little anticlimactic since our companions for the trip would all be gone for the last night. In the end, we decided to do a day trip and then pack it up with the grandparents. Oh well.

The day trip, however, turned out to be top notch. We hopped in Scrimshaw the Power Boat and headed down the river towards Oseetah Lake.

The windshield is in desperate need of replacing...

...so Pops and Oma prefer to stand and just look over it instead.

Juniper watches as Bluff Island recedes into the distance and the boat enters the channel.

Cap'n Pops and documentarian Andre, reflected in the ship's unintimidating horn.

We'd never been this far downstream before. The boat ramp at the lower end of First Pond was as far as we'd ever ventured. After Second Pond, though, things got interesting. The terrain turned much more river-y and the rocks posed some navigational challenges.

(Also pictured here: the red fish at the end of the Spider Man fishing pole!)

The real highlight of our river trip (aside from the gigantic snapping turtle we almost ran over) was the locks! There are two sets, one between Middle and Lower Saranac Lakes and another (this one) at the edge of Oseetah Lake. The lock operated had a magnificent beer gut which was later explained when we headed back up river, sharing the lock with several other upstream-bound boats who offered cans of Busch Light as thanks.

Check out that view across the lake! We cut the engine and drifted with the wind so that we could try catching a couple fish. Oma buys a license every year, but in five years of fishing has yet to land a single catch. We got a couple nibbles (we could see that bastards with our polarized glasses!), but no firm commitments. Oh well. Stomachs started rumbling and we decided to head back for lunch before these clouds decided to get organized and start raining.

On our way back to Halfway Island, we noticed this speedo-ed gentlemen debating a cliff jump. (His friend, down in the lower right, had done just done it so he didn't have much of a choice.) We waited and watched for a few minutes and then decided he probably didn't want the extra audience.

We turned to leave and I saw him go for it. His ledge was probably twice as high as the one I'd leapt from the day before. And check out how much horizontal distance he got!

Here's the lay of the land with Halfway and Bluff on the left-hand side and Oseetah in the lower right. (Roll over for our route down the river.)

Post lunch, we packed up and headed out. We managed to squeeze the kids and grandparents into Scrappy the Power Boat along with some of our less waterproof gear and put the rest in the canoe with Andre and Sarah. In the end, the rain never really did materialize. Oh well.

Gigantic melty cones at Mountain Mist Ice Cream bookended another successful voyage to the Saranac Lake Islands!