The Adirondacks as Place and Idea

When I have been thinking lately of the Adirondacks, the words of two famous writers have been surfacing.
The first are from Wallace Stegner, who states about wilderness, “The reminder and the reassurance that it is still there is good for our spiritual health even if we never once in ten years set foot in it.”
I agree wholeheartedly with Stegner. I have returned to the Adirondacks many times since my first childhood visit, when I dipped a waterlogged wooden paddle into Lake George from a Grumman canoe. The bulk of my visits inside the Blue Line came when I was in my twenties and thirties, when I lived in upstate New York. The Adirondacks were my regular outdoor playground, where friends and I hiked and climbed and paddled and skied, camping in all seasons.
I now live a six-hour drive from the Park, and my visits are less frequent than they were twenty years ago. I have climbed only one High Peak during those two decades. I do, however, continue to derive “spiritual health” from the idea of the Adirondacks, a place whose immense landscape of woods, mountains and waters always stands ready to be explored and enjoyed with no notice required. The Adirondacks are an idea in our minds as well as a place, and turning that idea over to consider all of its facets brings pleasure almost as tangible as the feeling of boots on the trail.
The second words I have been contemplating are Henry David Thoreau’s advice in Walden: “I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
I was recently getting breakfast in Lake Placid with friends who have a second home in the region. We have often expressed the wish to spend more time in the Adirondacks than we do, and have jointly considered how to find the time to visit more often.
“Could you live here?” one of my friends asked.
“I could live here for a year,” I replied, voicing a longstanding wish to engage in my own Walden-like Adirondack experiment.
I then enthusiastically described what I would do during such a year and, on my drive back home from Lake Placid, ruminated on that idea.

I would bring to the Adirondacks cross country and downhill skis, snowshoes, a canoe, bicycles, birding binoculars, a camera and a fly rod. A wide assortment of camping gear, of course, would also make the trip with me. Ensconced in simple fashion at some modest base camp, I would enjoy each season to the hilt and never miss that “perfect” day. A foot of fresh snow overnight? Whether weekend or weekday, I’d be waxed and ready for skiing. Reports of birds migrating through? Spotting scope and bird guide would be at arm’s reach. Trout rising somewhere? I’d throw the waders on and take a stab at a stream. Some local plant that I’ve never had the chance to see blooming in profusion is showing off? I’d grab the camera and click away. I would head off with tent and sleeping bag to some backcountry spot, tantalizingly familiar or alluringly new, at a moment’s notice. Mountains Algonquin and Ampersand, Lakes Lila and Little Tupper, the comfortable lean-tos at Queer Lake and St. Regis Pond—I’d visit all of these places and many more whenever I felt like it. I’d even climb the two-dozen peaks I’d need to become a 46er.

And I wouldn’t be outdoors every minute. The portable library that would serve me during my year-long sojourn would be decidedly Adirondack, from William H.H. Murray to Philip Terrie, with lots in between. I’d have all the time in the world to visit towns and museums and galleries and attend talks and conferences. Always free for coffee or lunch at everyone’s convenience, I’d meet the people who love the Park and love living in it.
As you’ve obviously gathered, I wouldn’t be working during this year in the Park. This would be a sabbatical, an extended vacation, a self-indulgent spree. The key point is that, if I had a free year, I would spend it in the Adirondacks, because I know them well and don’t know them anywhere near well enough. I would spend it in the Adirondacks because, although I will always take pleasure in the fact it exists, the life I’d like to walk confidently toward definitely includes more time there. Imagine that!