I am lucky to live with wild places right outside my front door. I have local trails on which I can hike, ski, or take my dog for a walk, and there is a place where I can go for a swim that is only blocks away. Not everyone is so fortunate. In this pandemic, I’m reminded how necessary large tracts of land are and how essential Wilderness and wild places are to our mental and physical health.
The pileated woodpecker loudly announces its presence. There are several different species of woodpeckers that enjoy my wooded yard. I admire the holes they make on the dead trees and the piles of shavings they leave at the base. At night I reply to the local barred owl, repeating its mnemonic call, “who cooks for you?” They are the neighbors I always engage with at a distance.
Lately I’ve become even more grateful to live in the Adirondack Park. Six million acres comprised of half private and half public land. That is a large area to roam. With approximately 137,000 residents living inside the blue line, there are many places where people can go and experience solitude. Even on the busiest mountains, you can enjoy the summit to yourself depending on the time of day, season, or route you take.
I have noticed my local trails becoming busier lately. This means I might see a handful of people instead of none at all. These trails are old logging roads, a history woven into the Park, which make them wide enough to give distance to anyone walking by. Spring is getting warmer and everything is coming alive. The maple sap just stopped flowing. No more carrying heavy pails of sap, but all of my clothes still smell of wood smoke. The time I take outdoors is precious and connects me to the land. It reminds me of who I truly am.
I huff and puff trying to reach the top of a small mountain. Just the push I need to get back into shape for the summer. Some of my most difficult hikes can be contributed to me overestimating my level of fitness at the time. No matter how trying the hike is I always come back for more. Wilderness makes you stronger, not only physically but mentally. You get used to being uncomfortable. Black flies, hail, freezing wind or the blazing hot sun can all make your hike challenging in different ways. I have found my Zen in the rain. I appreciate the mental fortitude that wild places have given me, especially now.
We need more Wilderness everywhere. We need large remote tracts of land for people to explore while maintaining their distance from one another; this is something megafauna have known for centuries. As our lives are becoming less normal, more people are returning to the wild places that make them feel whole. Wilderness is a necessity that we mustn’t take for granted. Now more than ever we must fight to expand Wilderness and wild places while also protecting what’s still left on this planet.