In March 1848 a colleague of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harrison Gray Otis Blake, sought out Henry David Thoreau to help him on his spiritual pilgrimage, recognizing Thoreau’s need to live a “fresh, simple life with God.”
Thoreau wanted to live his life free from the trappings of the commercial world, enabling him to enrich his inner life. He escaped to his Walden Pond to experience “nature as goodness crystalized.”
These two gentlemen corresponded for thirteen years. Letters to a Spiritual Seeker, published in 2004, contains 45 of Thoreau’s letters to Blake. Thoreau writes about the practicality of financially supporting himself, with references to the role of nature in his spiritual quest.
Today we are living in a different century, tied to our beloved Adirondacks. Historian Philip Terrie writes of Adirondack issues, and offers that Ed Kanze “gets as close as any local writer has in many a year to describing our corner of the continent in the spirit of Thoreau and Leopold.”
In the Adirondack Park we classify 1.16 million acres as Wilderness that sets aside an area in the Northeast to provide outstanding opportunities for solitude and an experience of wildness in nature. No mechanized vehicles, not even bicycles, are allowed on these public lands.
The Adirondack Explorer in the January/February 2019 issue features articles on classifying more Wilderness areas in the Park. A number of people were asked what wilderness meant to them. Kathy Dougherty said:
“Wilderness means communing with nature in the highest of aesthetic planes, akin to wrapping oneself in the glory of a Beethoven symphony, a Van Gogh painting or a Dickens masterpiece.”
Erik Schlimmer is quoted as saying:
“Wilderness is something that provides a feeling of timelessness. In real wilderness you can look around and not be sure if it’s 1154, 2018, or 2267 because it’s all nature with no trace of man.”
I use wilderness as a tool to help experience an inner peace. As Thoreau says, “nature is imbued with divinity.” Let’s honor that divinity.
We encourage visitors to come to the Adirondacks; to ski at Whiteface and various nordic centers, hike our mountains, fish in our lakes and streams, and engage in athletic endeavors and competitions, some quite extreme like Iron Man. We encourage them with golfing packages, an expanding network of snowmobile trails, and through posting our adventures on social media. To a large degree, missing in all the ads, postings, and articles is promoting the healing benefits of being out in nature; the spiritual side our environmental bounty.
Back in Thoreau’s time, and a bit later through the work of Dr. Livingston Trudeau, the Adirondacks were primarily visited for their wellness benefits, resulting in an economic boon for the region. Today, wellness travel is the fasted growing segment of tourism, and we don’t make the top fifty sites in a Google search. As Duvall well knows, and as articulated in her books, lectures, and writings, the spiritual and healing benefits of this region remain strong as ever. Every hamlet and village in every part of the region has healing and spiritually uplifting assets, and people trained in the healing arts be it a fly fishing guide or a masseuse.
What’s not needed is huge investments in facilities, we already have several terrific spas, golf course, lots of forests, mountains, and streams, and stars to lay back and see and night.
The opportunity for us is to first identify how many come to this region for its healing benefits and what activities the pursue; and then determine what we can do to protect and promote those assets.