I have this T-shirt that says “COLUMNIST:” Because Badass Miracle Worker Isn’t An Official Job Title.”
I didn’t say I was proud of it, I said that I have it.
Anyhow, when visiting the Sugar House Creamery in Upper Jay last spring, the shirt caught the attention of Mike Hirsch, the opinion page editor of The Morning Call newspaper in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
The Morning Call and my paper, The Herald-Mail in Hagerstown, Md., had one specific thing in common: Mack Trucks plants. In those glory days of plants and papers, we covered the trucking industry and the tens of thousands of people it employed with uncommon intensity. Though we didn’t know each other, Mike and I were both on the Mack Trucks beat in the ’80s and ’90s — probably attended the same press conferences — destined to meet on a small dairy farm in the Adirondacks decades later.
Mike, who has ALS, is in a wheelchair today, but it is wrong to say he is wheelchair-bound. He is bound by nothing. It is also wrong to say that the Adironcdacks, where so much is measured in terms of verticality, is not accessible to people with physical challenges.
This year, slinging too many bales of hay and too many sacks of feed left me with a hernia the size of a goat’s head. Following surgery this week, I have been under strict doctor’s orders to refrain from lifting anything heavier than a gallon of milk (fine) and to scale way back on hiking (gulp).
These orders, along with the inspiration I found in Mike’s story, got me out of the house to a blissful little fairyland known as the Clintonville Pine Barrens in Black Brook. The barrens are owned and protected by The Nature Conservancy, and there is little else in the Adirondack Park that is like them.
Twelve hundred years ago, as the planet warmed, a wash of glacial melt deposited a deep sand delta north of the Ausable River. Sand not being the best potting soil, only the least demanding species from a nutrient standpoint took root. Today that translates most abundantly into pitch pine and blueberries, filled in with mosses, lichen, fern, wintergreen, bearberry and other interesting stuff to create a feathery green groundcover studded with ruddy pitch pine and a smattering of white pine and oak.
The blueberry and pitch thrive on fire, and from here north to the Altona Flatrock berry pickers would set the ground ablaze to rejuvenate the crop.
The Clintonville Pine Barrens trail is short, scarcely a mile and a quarter. Solitude is all but guaranteed. As we grow older and less firm on our feet, I suspect trails such as this one will have their day — an easy, soothing stroll packed with interesting species, along with rich natural and human history. Don’t wait for a hernia to come visit.
Pine Barrens photo by Tim Rowland
Editor’s note: This first appeared in Adirondack Explorer’s weekly “Explore More” newsletter. Click here to sign up.