Thursday, September 3, 2020

Commentary: The healing power of the forest

Denuding the Adirondack Woods.

There is in the previous sentence a title of a book. There are many reasons why we go into the Wilderness. I go to be away from people and visit my church, if you will excuse the expression.

The natural wonder of nature and of being in a wild place calms my nerves and feeds my soul more than anything else I can do in my day to day life. The Adirondacks feel timeless, and throwback to an early period in American history. Trees, water, rocks, sand, wildlife, all of this profoundly changed during the many periods of ice advancement from Canada almost down to Virginia. Advance and retreat, then repeat and repeat again.

Most people do not realize that it wasn’t one ice but many that carved the valleys and ground the mountains, formed the lakes, rivers and ponds all over the region. The last ice age ended arguably around 11-12,000 years ago, leaving the spectacular remnants behind that make the park what it is today. Gravel borrow pits to paddle recreation, tourism, hunting, fishing, paddle sports, camping, mining, and yes, logging. Before it was a park it ended up being a patchwork of clear cut patches from loggers that fed the logging boom of the 1800’s. Logging is as much of Upstate New York as is frozen custard stands and trail heads.

Verplank Colvin spent many years surveying and creating the original boundaries of what would become the Blue Line that sketched out the original size of the Adirondack Park back in the late 1800’s. Driven by the need to reduce Spring run-off and flooding downstream of large and small rivers heading South, it was also a brilliant move fed by the Transcendental movement of the age.

In Nature there is the answer to life’s woes and troubles. Peace and the eternal promise of renewal were one of the reasons why people would flock to the Adirondacks even back before it was a state park, it was a mecca for people from metropolitan areas to come and take the waters, breathe the clean fresh mountain air, ski the slopes or come to be cured from TB. This is so true today, minus the TB cure. Frantic and bombastic over use and abuse of the Adirondack Park will do as much damage than did over logging in the 1800’s.

How can I fault people from wanting to be in the forest, on a canoe or boat, camping or skiing and wanting to experience the same things I may want? Of course I can if they leave trash, cut down trees they shouldn’t abuse and use the locals as inferior to them, as so many native Adirondackers endure year in and year out when the tourists come visit and, not so infrequently, stay. So many of the people I knew growing up were long time residents of the Park and surrounding area, and some were from transplants from downstate, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Nobody minded. Respect the land, respect the people as they want to be respected, and we all get along. Disrespect any part of that equation and suffer the consequences.

In short, please do not cut down trees for a fire while camping. Use downed trees and wood that has fallen.

Do not unwrap living paper Birch trees to start your fire.

Leave nothing behind but memories so we all can return the timeless beauty of the Adirondack Park.

David P Medici  is an Adirondack native currently living in Ashland, VA.

Almanack file photo by Ed Kanze


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The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with an interest in the Adirondack Park. Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor Melissa Hart at

7 Responses

  1. Pete says:

    Don’t make a ‘campfire’ at all unless it is absolutely necessary. If you feel you need one for cooking or even just for ‘atmosphere’ make it as small as possible. When it’s 80° you certainly do not need a bonfire for anything.

    Way too many people think they are out in the ‘wilderness’ when in fact they are at an established and well-used campsite even if it is a “primitive’ campsite or picnic spot or beach. There is no abundance of fire wood at these sites. It’s obvious, isn’t it? Typically there isn’t a dead tree branch to be found and the forest floor is clear for several hundred feet around these sites. Denuding the woods, for sure.

    If you come in a car or boat and you “need” a fire, bring your own (locally-sourced) firewood.

    There is always a fire ring. Use it. Don’t make a fire somewhere else. And make sure it is out before you leave.

    Leave your boom box at home. We don’t want to hear your music.

    If you carry it in, carry it out.

    And please, learn how to properly ‘go to the bathroom’ in the woods. It’s not rocket science. Nothing more disgusting than toilet paper and human waste on the ground, especially right at a campsite or along a trail.

  2. Joan Grabe says:

    The truth is that the Blue Line encompasses all sorts of hermits and misanthropes. Either they are having a mythical misty experience of being in the wilderness “church” or they are sneering at people who don’t properly poop in the woods. There are a lot of us who love to look at the beauty, swim in the lakes, fish, eat out, shop and never lose sight of our cars. Your experience is not any more valid than mine and frankly, I am getting a little bored with all these Thoreau like commentaries.

    • Boreas says:


      Don’t read the commentaries if they may depart from your personal views. Usually the title will give you a clue as to what the article contains. The AA is not here for your eyes only.

  3. Jim S. says:

    Lots of crabapples in and around the woods it seems.

  4. Pete –
    I can’t agree more with what you said about camping and making fires other than the designated locations. I hate coming upon a heavily used camping site that has multiple rings with evidence of multiple fires with some level of trash left in all of them. I am the Boyscout type and clean up and leave the site better than when arrived. Its respect for the place and the next one to hopefully see a nice neat natural as you can make it setting. Paying forward !
    David Medici

  5. geogymn says:

    Make a campfire. The forest has healing powers and so does a campfire. There can be primal mystery whilst traipsing in the woods and if you stare into a fire some of said mysteries will be revealed.
    You can hike, which is cool. You can camp, which is cool. You can become one with the spiritual element of the woods. A fire might help you reach an understanding.
    Get away from designated camp areas, to find wood, to find effort, to find remoteness, to connect. That’s what you are really looking for, no?

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