I was sure it was over, I was done. The winds had picked up out of nowhere, I had lost control and simply didn’t possess the strength to regain it, and for the first time in my life I was overcome by the sense of calm that comes with embracing a fate that is obviously at the hands of something far greater than one’s own capabilities. The quick change from initial panic to euphoria happened fast, as my senses came alive and the “lap lap” of choppy waters and roar of racing winds sang together in the most beautiful tune. It completely drowned out the sounds of panicked family members who were standing helplessly on shore as they watched their 9-year-old daughter being rushed out from a protected cove into open water with no motorboat to come to the rescue on her first solo canoe expedition.
Clearly, I survived. And it’s laughable to look back as an adult and see the relative danger of those waters surrounded by the Saranac Lake Wild Forest that I thought I might be lost in forever (until my father managed to track down a second canoe and come to my rescue in what was probably a five-minute time span). Nevertheless, the moment was a formative one as the first of many moments of connectedness and calm acceptance at the hands of the wild Adirondacks, from watching thunderstorms roll in from the bare summits of the high peaks, to slipping down the Whiteface slide in the winter and catching a rock just in time, and rushing up Cascade for a New Year’s sunrise hike with temperatures of -35 degrees on the summit.
We all have our love stories with the Adirondacks. We all know the feeling of crossing the blue line and watching the deep green trees turn magical against crisp blue skies, the mountain air filling our lungs with a deeper kind of life, the excited anticipation of sharing the woods with moose and black bears, and the feeling of elation upon hearing a loon call across glass-smooth waters. Even in the charming towns of our dear Adirondack Park, there’s a cozy feeling that can only come from the knowledge of being surrounded by mysterious wilderness. It’s what draws millions of people back every year: even if you never leave the safety of Adirondack chairs on boat docks or streets lined with gift shops smelling of spruce and maple syrup, you know the wilderness is out there, and it pulls you back every time.
Like many folks, I’ve been forced into a long-distance relationship with the Adirondacks (although my experiences within the blue line are what continuously inspire my work in other places). I’m constantly amazed to discover the essence of the Adirondacks throughout the country, from being stopped on a Moab trail run through the red rock desert because I was wearing an Adirondack Mountain Club hat, to meeting Adirondack bush pilots on remote islands in south-central Alaska and raving about the High Peaks Wilderness over fresh-caught crab. The Adirondacks inspire us, they give us refuge, they remind us, in a quickly developing world, who we are and where we come from.
For good reason, more and more people travel to the Adirondacks every year. The downside is that our trails are becoming ruts in the ground due to overuse, our trailhead parking lots look like shopping malls, and our wildlife populations struggle to adjust to habitat fragmentation. With the addition of the Boreas Ponds Tract, we have the incredible gift of adding to the protected areas where people can discover moments of connection and inspiration. Wilderness is a socially defined construct: everything that happens in the Adirondacks shapes what the next generations are going to view as “forever wild.” The question is really quite simple, what do we want our kids and grandkids to see as wild? Is it waiting in line to get on a trail? Is it the buzz of snowmobiles and roads that provide quicker access to recreation? Or, is it stretches of land reached by the power of our own bodies where you have the opportunity to be removed and at the hands of something greater than us?
We need places where everyone can go and where motorized recreation can happen, but we also need wilderness. We need it more than ever. “Forever wild” is not a clever catchphrase that exists to look good on a postcard, it’s the essence of the place, and the essence of us by extension. The Adirondacks are not “forever wild sometimes,” or “forever wild, kind of,” they are forever wild! So I encourage you – if you feel the same connection to the Adirondacks, get involved in the political processes that shape our park. Attend a public hearing, write a letter, talk to your friends and family, educate yourself on the decisions being made that shape the place we know and love.
Thank you for your time. I wish you many moments of finding yourself by getting lost, and being connected in the realest way in places where your cell phone doesn’t work. Happy trails!