Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Thanks For The Adirondack Park

Sitz PondThanksgiving Day is upon us, and those fortunate enough are gathering with family and friends to gorge themselves on a hearty meal, giving thanks for the bounty enjoyed throughout the year. Tomorrow, many of us will turn around and venture  into the shopping wilderness to forage for the best deal on things few of us need, in celebration of the birth of a man who lived over two thousand years ago when people got by with so little.

Just appreciating what we already have seems to be out of vogue these days. Our appetite for stuff appears more insatiable with each passing year. The simple things in life, such as family, friends, and the beauty of the great outdoors are no longer satisfying enough, and hardly a substitute for the newest smart phone, tablet, or new-fangled whatchamacallit.

This Thanksgiving Day, and during the holidays that follow, I will spend at least a little time thinking about all the wonderful gifts the Adirondack State Park provides, many absolutely free of charge, others requiring a small blood donation. There will be plenty of time for the obligatory gobbling down of turkey and all the fixing, but I will skip the dull football games and as much of the shopping as I can get away with. As an alternative, my mind will drift back to the Adirondack Park, contemplating all the wonderful things about this magical place for which I am thankful.

The following is my list of ten items pertinent to the Adirondacks that I am most thankful. Feel free to add your own in the comments below. And because no list would be complete without them, mine includes both turkey AND stuffing, but you will have to bring your own vegetables.

I am thankful for all the non-human denizens of the Adirondacks, be they animal, plant or fungi. Despite the resources we humans constantly rob from them, their homes we continuously mow over, or even the climate that we change right out from under them, they never cease to amuse, enthrall and amaze as they go about their business of living, reproducing and dying. I tip my proverbial cap to them all, especially those that through no fault of their own, are already heading out the backdoor of extirpation from the Adirondacks, like the poor spruce grouse.

Beaver dam across Sitz Pond outletI am thankful that I did not sustain a bushwhacking-ending injury this year, as I did in 2012. Few things are worse than itching to get out and do some serious off-trail exploration in the remote backcountry of the Adirondacks, but having to sit home and convalescing some annoying injury instead. In 2012, I would have gladly traded the unscratchable bushwhacking itch for one blessed upon me by black flies, mosquitoes or deer flies. Okay, maybe not the deer flies – THEY HURT!

I am thankful that I have still not seen my second Adirondack moose. Other than the single moose I saw at Gee Lake way back in 2002, my search for a moose in the backcountry has come up with a big goose egg, despite the massive amount of poop and the infinite tracks encountered throughout the Five Ponds Wilderness the last two years. Thankfully, the moose population is on the increase in the Adirondacks, unlike in most of the rest of its range in North America. The quest to see another large ungulate continues to inspire me to explore further into the wilderness, seeking such out of the way places like Oven Lake and the Carpet Spruce Swamp.

I am thankful that I continue to make it back home safely and without injury from my many arduous bushwhacking trips in the Five Ponds and Pepperbox Wildernesses. Well, relatively injury free, as my gangrenous-looking legs will attest after my last adventure between the South Ponds and Crooked Lake. Although getting lost is mostly just a mental state, my luck continues to hold out and no ranger, rescue worker or volunteer has risked his or her life to extract me from some self-induced and embarrassing situation. But, I do diligently continue to pay my taxes, just in case they ever need to do so.

I am thankful that the voters of New York State, in their infinite wisdom did NOT give away the entire State Preserve to private interests. Instead, they only gave away some prime forested peninsulas on the Raquette Lake and an unappreciated two-hundred acres of the Jay Mountain Wilderness. Let us hope in the future that convoluted land swap proposals, that few voters ever read, are a thing of the past, although I seriously doubt it.

I am thankful for seeing a black bear in the remote backcountry for the very first time ever. I am even more grateful that it did not chase me, or even physically interrupt my breakfast that I was eating at the time. It was a thrill to watch the large bruin saunter along Cropsey Pond’s northern shore, even though it did distract me from my primary purpose of participating in the Birdathon in the Pepperbox Wilderness, albeit for only a few brief moments.

Beaver slapping tail in agitationI am thankful for the new land acquisitions that took place in the Adirondacks his year. The former Finch, Pruyn lands include up to 69,000 acres newly added to the Park, the largest addition to the State Forest Preserve in the last 117 years. Let us continue to hope that the vast majority of these lands, especially the Essex Chain of Lakes will be designated Wilderness, and thus afforded the strictest protection for current generations of New Yorkers to enjoy, human and non-human alike.

I am thankful that the beaver population remains stable, if not growing, in the Adirondacks despite their rude habit of slapping the water with their flat tails to show that my presence is unwelcome. Without these busy rodents, I would need to endure countless wet and potentially dangerous crossings, not to mention the lack of nicely cleared campsites with scenic views and abundant wildlife.

I am thankful for finally obtaining my New York State Guides License this year. Now, I can share my love of the remote Adirondack backcountry with other intrepid souls foolish enough to ever hire me. Now all I need to do is set up a business, get insurance and create a brand new website for the entire enterprise this winter. I wish I could be thankful for more hours in the day too.

Finally, I am thankful for the incredible comeback of the wild turkey, without whose existence the Thanksgiving holiday would lack its timeless and universal symbol. It was with great joy that I spotted some of these majestic birds crossing both the Necessary Dam Road in Stillwater Reservoir and Bear Pond Road in the Watsons East Triangle Wild Forest this year. Gobble on, regal birds!

I hope everyone has a wonderful and filling Thanksgiving Day, whether actually spending it inside the Blue Line or simply imagining doing so.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Photos: Sitz Pond, a beaver dam and beaver slapping tail in agitation by Dan Crane.

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Dan Crane writes regularly about bushwhacking and backcountry camping, including providing insights on equipment and his observations as a veteran backcountry explorer. He has been visiting the Adirondacks since childhood and actively exploring its backcountry for almost two decades. He is also life-long naturalist with a Master of Science in Ecology from SUNY ESF and 10+ seasons working as a field biologist, five inside the Blue Line.

Dan has hiked the Northville-Placid Trail twice and climbed all 46 High Peaks but currently spends his backpacking time exploring the northwestern portion of the Adirondacks. He is also the creator of the blog Bushwhacking Fool where he details his bushwhacking adventures.

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