Praise the fates! Throw your arms skyward! Since we last got together I have undergone one of the greatest miracles of this or any other life, a staggering experience, a profoundly humbling event, a happening that left me weeping with joy and gratefulness, trembling with disbelief and awe almost beyond description: I just spent three days on Lost Brook Tract, in late May, with unseasonably warm, sunny, humid and windless conditions and as far as I can tell I suffered two black fly bites.
Those of you who do not understand why I am raving about that should forget the Almanack and go peruse the Perez Hilton website instead.
Anxious to have total mastery over my environment, to tame and conquer my savage, ugly wilderness I brought in a lot of equipment with me this time. However in what is likely to be a confusing disappointment to some of my more erudite and insightful commenters, this equipment did not include concrete with which to pave a road to the summit, chainsaws with which to cut down the big trees interfering with my tan or hedge trimmers just to neaten the place up a bit. No, other than my usual spare pack (per the previous few Dispatches), my equipment this time consisted of a forester and mapping expert from SUNY-ESF, a leading Adirondack environmental advocate with great expertise in the ecology of the park, a higher-up in one of the northeast chapters of the Nature Conservancy with a prodigious knowledge of flora and fauna, and a psychotherapist on her inaugural wilderness backpacking trip (this last one not so helpful to the birds and bees of Lost Brook Tract, but pretty good at working through my issues).
We didn’t get a lot of work done on the condo and miniature golf course. But we did marvel together at the sublimity of nature in balance, of the harmony of a piece of primeval land so healthy and so whole. The lack of invasive species was noted; trees were cored for age calculations; twenty species of native or migrating birds were cataloged; the trail to the privy was improved to minimize its impact; a strategy for limiting our human disturbance zone on the land was discussed; a wildlife study was contemplated and agreed to. This place, this tract, is sacred to me. I want my relationship with it to be as right as I can practically make it.
The log, the fire ring, the lean-to showed no visitors since my last visit. The birch had not yet leafed-out. The summit was ethereal, the brook bracing, cold and crystal. In the deeper recesses of the stream’s course there were still places with several feet of ice. The night sky was a dazzling celestial field. Everyone slept under the stars, even our backpacking newcomer, who evinced an at-home aura that was most impressive. We ate well, we laughed, we talked, we sat in quiet. We shared our surprise at the lack of black flies. I snuck off early in the morning and scoped the boundaries of a moss field partway up our slope, coming up with a guess of somewhere around six thousand square feet.
By virtue of exploring what and where we felt in various combinations, we ventured into parts I had not yet visited, much of it State Wilderness contiguous to our land. We followed Lost Brook to near its source. We ventured below the tract to spruce groves with hundred-foot trees that exceed any red spruces I have seen in the Adirondacks. Although we made no effort to map or estimate the extent of the virgin forest, by informally having found boundaries between virgin and logged or burned forest on three sides I can say with confidence that there are several hundred acres of old growth forest extending from Lost Brook Tract in at least two directions. It would be an interesting project to render a more exact estimate; I hope that my ESF friends will do this with me.
What was especially gratifying to me was to be an observer on my own land to the wealth of knowledge there is to be had about such a place. On the one hand, Lost Brook Tract contains a relatively simple ecosystem. As an intact, pristine montane boreal forest it is composed of relatively few species; for example there are only four different kinds of trees (plus an occasional, opportunistic mountain ash) and the groundcover is dominated by ferns and moss. Yet to hear my ESF friend Steve and Jon from the Nature Conservancy stop every few feet with their wealth of knowledge and go back and forth about this wood sorrel or that warbler, note disturbed areas and excitedly discuss fir waves was to glimpse a deeper understanding, that no ecosystem with its brilliant, self-managing synergy is simple. The perfect complexity of it is a miracle, a harmony that is palpable. You can feel it.
I come from a tradition of skeptical humanism and I fully embrace it. I do not cotton to crystals, astrology, great spirits, psi energy, ghosts, or a conscious version of Gaia. But when I am on this land I experience it healing what ails me. I can feel it permeate me, feel it repair the damage civilization and its attendant stresses have inflicted. I feel a pull, a subconscious need to be a part of the harmonious whole, to not disrupt its balanced perfection. I literally wish to be one with the forest. I am at my best with it when I sit quietly where there is nothing but untouched woods: no lean-to, no privy, not even a trail. Luckily Lost Brook Tract has dozens of acres like that.
My friends wrote wonderful entries in our posted log book. I cooked for them, a deeply felt action for me, a human ritual of great significance. I reveled in the company of people who belong to the woods as completely as I do, each establishing their space according to the dictates of their harmony with this place I love.
In turn they graced me with their wit, their knowledge, their good will and their shared love for something wild and perfect which, simple and reverently, we all aspired merely to inhabit.
Photo: A Mosaic of Ferns Above Lost Brook.