If I had to pick a side, I suppose I would cast my lot with the older and wiser set who are cheering the APA’s decision to classify the sublime Boreas Ponds tract as a road-accessible wilderness, balanced by an adjoining swath of Wild Forest offering sucor to wielders of mountain bikes, snowmobiles, Falcon Heavy rocketships and any other toy that might strike their fancy.
I say “APA’s decision” in the same sense that Maryland “decided” to remain with the Union during the Civil War after Lincoln called for the arrest of the state’s assemblymen. I did appreciate the drama, though. The board met one day, with a lot of serious discussion, then adjourned to go home and sleep on it overnight, at which point they came back and voted the way that everyone knew they were going to vote to begin with. You felt like a kid who’d just been told “Let me talk it over with your father,” knowing full well the answer was still going to be no.
I forget which half of the brain is the practical side, but it’s telling me that the governor, er, the APA, threaded the needle on an exceedingly difficult issue. Public land belongs to all people, it is not the domain of a select few who wish it to be this or that. Nor is it desirable to obtain a great work of art and then lock it away in a vault, accessible only to those who know the combination.
Indeed, we might be grateful that we have a governor who sees the value of these forests and works to ensure that they will be saved and loved and enjoyed by as many people as possible.
So to all lawmakers and bureaucrats who had a hand in this decision, well done. The Adirondacks is a better place today because of you, and you have done a service to the people — all people — of this state and country.
But now that my head has had its say, my heart would like a word.
I don’t ever listen to kids, because what do they know? But I must have let my guard down for a bit, because somehow their argument on Boreas infected my soul. I am speaking, of course, about the group of young activists who not only wanted Boreas to be classified as wilderness, but also vehemently opposed any semblance of an access road.
Their argument is that there are scant places left in the East that are inaccessible, places that are truly worthy of the name wilderness. We have chewed up the wilderness and spit it out, sucking up its resources for profit, and penetrating its riches with scenic byways and campgrounds and overlooks and stinkin’ nature trails with their stinkin’ notations, viz., “No. 4 Black Alder: This deciduous shrub primarily thrives in…”.
We have all this now, and it’s great that we do, it really is. What we lack are spiritual sanctuaries in nature that can be accessed only with grit and determination, work that at the end of the day leaves us exhausted, but resplendent with awe at the bounty of wilderness that we know few others will have the fortitude to explore.
It is human nature, perhaps, to believe that everything with a view ought to have a road leading up to it. That scenery isn’t going to appreciate itself. It is also human nature to assume, somewhat bizarrely, that nature owes us something. In this age of analytics, we measure the forest either by how many tourists are hauled in or how many logs are hauled out. If it does neither, it is somehow “wasted.”
But does a landscape that is never gazed upon have value? Well, to begin with, we are not the only creatures that inhabit this planet. Given a voice, a bobcat or a bear might take great umbrage with the notion that a wilderness that does not benefit people is unproductive. And those who like to tramp alone, off-trail, into the trackless woods, might offer that there is no such thing as charming vistas that have not been gazed upon. There are only charming vistas that have not been gazed upon yet. There is value, great value, in maintaining, through these wilderness scavenger hunts, the opportunity for personal discovery — stumbling upon something magical, like an emerald pool or window to a peak that few if anyone has ever experienced.
Wilderness gives us that, specifically because it is exclusive and inaccessible. Inaccessibility in that sense is a priceless asset, not a problem to be solved. Not everything needs to be Whiteface, where — if driving up it were not enough — there is a freaking elevator for those who cannot haul that extra bowl of Frosted Flakes they had for breakfast up those last few hundred feet. But then, these are the people who buy the gas, the dinners, the hotel rooms and the souvenirs that at times seem to be even more precious to us than the forest itself.
So in a similar vein is it worth selling Boreas for a bowl of economic-development potage? I don’t feel particularly qualified to answer, since it is a question that affects many lives.
But I do know this. It felt great to see a band of (primarily) young men and women passionately defending the wilderness and seeing things, understanding things, that maybe not enough of us take the time to stop and think about. Through them, and some of their older cohorts, the forest would appear to have the watchdogs it deserves.
I realize — had they carried the day, and had the road to Boreas been closed for its length — it would have cut by maybe four-fifths the number of times I could ever have hoped to see the ponds myself. And I believe I would have been OK with that, knowing that someone who has not yet been born might one day discover, deep in the untrammeled forest, an everlasting dream.
Photo by Phil Brown 2016. View of Gothics from Boreas Ponds.