Posts Tagged ‘wilderness’

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Adirondack Land Trust Sells Mays Pond Tract

The Adirondack Land Trust has announced that it sold to a private buyer a 340-acre parcel for $1.3 million in the towns of Webb and Long Lake. As part of the transaction, the property, which borders the 50,000-acre Pigeon Lake Wilderness, is now protected by a conservation easement, a legally-binding, permanent land preservation agreement.

Known as the “Mays Pond tract” and offered for sale on the open market through real estate broker LandVest, the property includes a rustic cabin and will continue to be used as a private wilderness retreat, as it has for more than 70 years. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Adirondack Family Activities: Adirondack Birding Festival

The 8th annual Adirondack Birding Festival will take place this weekend throughout Hamilton County, June 8-10, with numerous scheduled guided walks and hikes exploring boreal birds from the hermit thrush to bald eagles.

Dean Nervik, Adirondack Birding Festival promoter says, “I’ve been with this festival since its beginning eight years ago. We have boreal birds you can’t find in Albany or even nearby Johnstown. We are always promoting the open space in Hamilton County. We have hikes, walks, canoes and even a car safari to get people out and exploring this birding destination.”

According to Nervik all the guided hikes happening during the Adirondack Birding Festival are free and open to the public. He is quick to remind everyone that pre-registration is required for all events, even the free evening lecture at the Adirondack Museum. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Philosophy: Solitude And The New Age of Privacy

I wouldn’t call myself a “morning person” but I do like the way the day has a kind of endless feel when I get up with the sun.  This time of year the world around this little house is alive with the spring song of rushing brook water, birds, and that subtle sound of bloom rubbing against bloom that is quieted in winter.  So, I follow my cat’s lead and stretch into the day in response to the sounds of the outside waking up.  Click on NCPR, draw a dark roast, pour some granola, gather pen and paper, settle into a soft chair and begin.

It was on such a morning recently when a report came over NCPR that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had declared privacy was passé.  “People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.” » Continue Reading.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Cabin Life: The Woods Offer Time to Think

With no TV or internet to distract me, I spend a lot of time thinking. Just thinking. One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is how crippled I used to be by my depression. I also think a lot about the sea change in my own personality and life since I sought out treatment. My therapist in Jacksonville was good, she was no Freud or anything like that, but I didn’t really need someone to tell me that all my problems were somehow related to sex. A cigar is just a cigar. I needed someone to unload my problems on.

During our first session, she asked what I wanted out of the therapy. I told her I wanted to say what was making me angry (always a strong byproduct of my depression) and that I needed an independent person to tell me when I was right to be upset and when I was being a baby. I can’t begin to describe the weight that was lifted as I gained some perspective on my feelings.

I heard an interview with a famous person the other day, and she said that her depression was never gone, but it felt like a train that was coming, and all you could do was hop on and hope that you survived the ride. I couldn’t agree more. It’s not that I don’t get depressed anymore or that a couple years of therapy was a magic pill. But the lows are a lot more shallow and the train is easier to hold on to.

I’ve always found solace in nature, which is why I’ve basically spent my life outdoors. The sounds, smells, and colors of the woods are very soothing, and I can honestly say that I have never been depressed during a hike or camping trip. Going through therapy and addressing my issues led me to the conclusion that if I was happiest outside, then I needed to spend as much time in nature as I could. Hence my leaving Florida to come back to the Adirondacks.

It’s my way of making my lifestyle my therapy. The other major thing I learned in therapy was that I was really exceedingly normal. I am open to discussing my problems because I think that many people suffer day to day from mental demons or whatever you want to call it, and I hope that others can buck the stigma of needing to talk to a therapist. It took me about five sessions to realize that I had nothing to be ashamed of. But as I sat in the waiting room twice a week, I saw dozens of people come in and immediately put their eyes to the ground out of shame. I noticed it because I was one of them for a while. And how silly, to be ashamed of seeing a therapist when you know for an absolute fact that I am also there to see a therapist.

As I sit here writing this, the snow is falling again, and there’s about an inch on the ground. It started raining around four this morning, and changed to snow sometime after I fell back to sleep. The new porch roof did well in the rain, and the new floor makes the porch feel much, much larger. It’s a gray and dreary day, cold, windy and wet. And I couldn’t be happier.

Justin Levine is living off the grid in a cabin in the Adirondacks with his dog Pico and blogging at Middle of the Trail.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Dave Gibson: Remembering Harold Jerry

A columnist from the Old Forge area, Mart Allen, recently wrote for the Adirondack Express about the late Harold A. Jerry, Jr., and he inspired me to do the same. Judging from his experiences with Harold along a trap line during the winter in Herkimer County, Mart Allen concluded that Harold Jerry displayed a depth and integrity of character that should be the measure we take of all our fellow human beings, but often isn’t. That observation about Harold rang very true for me. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, March 31, 2012

Lost Brook Dispatches: How is Lost Brook Still Wild?

As a boy in the Adirondacks I would explore the undeveloped woods on or near Blue Mountain Lake with all sorts of wilderness fantasies as my companions. Being as imaginative as the next kid I was certain that most of the islands and shoreline were akin to the Yukon. I particularly relished imagining that my footfalls were landing when no human foot had trod before.

A few years ago as a man in my forties I enjoyed the same kind of fantasy on a bushwhack to Redfield Mountain with my son Adam. After navigating blowdown too horrible to describe we came to a small streamlet with green, grassy banks that fed the gorgeous tarn at Redfield’s southern base. It was so far away from anything, so isolated and difficult to get to that it was easy to imagine we had stopped to eat a sandwich where no one had ever stopped before. Given that this basin was logged, the water courses mapped long ago and – as it turns out – there was even a trail to Redfield from this direction early in the twentieth century, that imagination was certainly fiction. But such fantasies are not easily outgrown. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Lost Brook Dispatches: Lost Brook in March

I just returned from an impromptu March visit to Lost Brook Tract, having had a reason to come to New York State on business. Short but sweet, the visit began in winter and ended in spring. Given the winter weather the Adirondacks have had I was happy to encounter any significant snow at all.

Accompanying me was my brother Michael. Michael is roughly my age and is actually my nephew but we call each other brothers; that’s the kind of relationship we have. .. and despite the tough slog in, still have, thankfully.

We began the trip on a property owned by a friend where we are allowed to park our cars. We strapped our snowshoes to our packs as there was little more than a dusting. It was sunny and crystal clear but cool and crisp; the forecast had promised winter temperatures that day and night. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Lost Brook Dispatches: The Essential Wilderness

Over the last two weeks I have been involved in quite a discussion in another venue about wilderness as a matter of subjective point of view versus wilderness as an objective designation. Simply put is wilderness only a matter of opinion? Are we left with one person’s wilderness being another’s spoiled back country Grand Central?

At the same time in my last Dispatch I explored Joe Hackett’s point of view about the “stamp of man” being unavoidable in the Adirondacks. The vehicle for that exploration was a trip to Flowed Lands which, for all its seeming primeval beauty and remoteness, has been thoroughly altered by industry of one kind or another. There is no doubt that the imprint of humanity is omnipresent in the Adirondacks, if not always noticed. But does that mean that wilderness is nothing more than an idea in the mind? » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sandy Hildreth: Exploring Adirondack Landscape Art

As a former high school Art and Humanities teacher, one of my favorite time periods of American history was the mid-nineteenth century when the Hudson River School of Painting was at its peak. Thomas Cole had sparked the whole movement with his first paintings of Katerskill Falls and other Catskill wilderness scenes in 1825. Prior to that time, only one of every ten paintings was a landscape, but by the 1850’s, nine of every ten were paintings of wild American places.

At the very same time that our country was on the path to fulfill the charge of Manifest Destiny! Settlers were cutting down trees, damming rivers, clearing fields and building roads. The Erie Canal had just opened and railroads were pushing farther and farther into the remote areas of the continent. From a limited number of landscapes that were merely backdrops for pastoral farm, military encampment, or village scenes to an abundance of masterful paintings of unspoiled wilderness was quite a development and it had more of an impact than many people realize.

The popularity of American wilderness landscapes in the 19th century is partly due to the new, young Republic’s search for a heritage that was not linked to Europe. The political break of the Revolution had left America a newly born nation without a past. European painting was based on tradition and history. They had mythology, ancient Greek and Roman ruins, medieval castles, Gothic cathedrals, and centuries of civilization to glorify or refer to in their various art forms. America had the heroes of the Revolution, but not much more. In “Fair Wilderness: American Paintings in the Collection of the Adirondack Museum” Thomas Cole is quoted as saying that the most distinctive characteristic of the region was its wildness, “distinctive because in civilized Europe the primitive features of scenery have long since been destroyed or modified – the extensive forests that once over shadowed a great part of it have been felled – rugged mountains have been smoothed, and impetuous rivers turned from their courses… the once tangled wood is now a grassy lawn…”.

Cole’s biographer wrote that in the spring of 1823 “It was now that a great thought came to Cole, and told him he had gone to work wrong. Hitherto he had been trying mainly to make up nature from his own mind, instead of making up his mind from nature. This now flashed on him as a radical mistake. He must not only muse abroad in nature, and catch her spirit, but gain for his eye and hand a mastery over all that was visible in her outward, material form, if he would have his pictures breathe of her spirit.”

In 1825 Cole moved with his family to New York City and a painting placed in a store window sold for $10 and financed a sketching trip up the Hudson River that autumn. That trip, which corresponded to the 10 day celebration marking the opening of the Erie Canal, resulted in 3 new paintings, which sold immediately after being put on display in New York city, and the era of the Hudson River School began. The name was coined because most of the paintings were produced within the Hudson River watershed – the river valley itself, the Catskills, and the Adirondacks.

Popular philosophy of the early 19th century associated nature with virtue and civilization with degeneracy and evil. Artists like Thomas Cole, and writers like Emerson and Cooper believed nature to be synonymous with both personal and national health and viewed the city, the bank, and the railroad as producing sickness by encroaching upon nature and finally by destroying it. Cole illustrated these beliefs in several of his allegorical series of paintings like “The Course of Empire”. It showed that the replacement of nature by civilization results in the ultimate collapse of civilization. When combined with the growing national pride, it seems that Cole’s wilderness paintings became “an effective substitute for a missing national tradition. America was thus both new and old”. ‘New’ in being previously undiscovered, with unsettled, wild territories, and ‘old’ in terms of the ancient wild mountains, older than mankind.

Our wilderness became a substitute for the European historical past. It also became linked directly with the divine destiny believed to belong to Americans – that the continent was there for us. In a nation founded on concepts of religious freedom, and whose Protestant colonists practiced their religion in environments devoid of religious art, 19th century landscape painting almost becomes our religious art, the essence of the spiritual beliefs of the country. We proclaimed separation of church and state, yet never abandoned the belief in “God on our side” as we conquered the wilderness and the virgin bounty of the continent.

The spiritual message contained in many of the landscapes of the Hudson River era was repeatedly mentioned in the literature of the era. From “The Knickerbocker”, in 1835: “God has promised us a renowned existence, if we will but deserve it. He speaks of this promise in the sublimity of Nature. It resounds all along the crags of the Alleghenies. It is uttered in the thunder of the Niagara. It is heard in the roar of two oceans, from the great Pacific to the rocky ramparts of the Bay of Fundy. His finger has written it in the broad expanse of our Inland Seas, and traced it out by the mighty Father of the Waters! The august TEMPLE in which we dwell was built for lofty purposes. Oh! that we may consecrate it to LIBERTY and CONCORD, and be found fit worshipers within its holy wall!” America’s Transcendentalists, like Emerson and Thoreau, believed that bonding with nature’s solitude and silence nurtured spiritual development and character. The paintings mirrored these beliefs.

Tied to the spiritual message was current aesthetic philosophy. Landscape painting was usually classified as sublime or beautiful and picturesque. European landscapes were generally considered picturesque, with their ancient ruins and craggy, snow-capped Alps. Because America was lacking in the picturesque, and also since much of the known landscape consisted of split rail fences and burnt or hacked off trees, the unknown, wilderness scenery, vast and diverse, was easily accepted, once artists began painting it.

The sublime aspect of the wilderness landscape was also apparently well discussed in artistic circles. While scenes could easily be rendered beautiful and picturesque, to evoke the sublime, was uniquely special. Sublime is the addition of something terrifying, fear or awe-inspiring in its power or potential – bringing to the viewer a feeling for Divine authority or design. Many of the Hudson River artists intentionally included the sublime in their paintings – the distant threatening storm clouds, dramatic sunsets, the rushing, over-powering torrent of a cascading waterfall, or the gnarled and broken tree, evidence of the awesome power of nature (God).

In “Kindred Spirits”, the strong connection between the artists and writers of the Hudson River region was exposed. The rawness of the American landscape, with its lack of polish and historic ruins, came to be ignored by both artists and writers who focused on the wildness and freshness of the New World. The writers created and publicized the legends and folklore in characters like Rip Van Winkle, Ichabod Crane and Natty Bumppo. The lack of a past was replaced with the unlimited potential for the future and the relatively new historical sites, like Fort Ticonderoga could substitute for the missing ancient ruins. So while the writers were supporting and describing a positive, patriotic recognition of the assets of the continent, the artists capitalized on this with their paintings. In response, they received public praise from the writers, and the artists also published their own poems and essays in support of their work. For nearly 50 years, the Hudson River School painters and the Knickerbocker writers enjoyed common and self-supporting popularity. It is interesting to note that this mutual focus on the uniqueness of America extended right through and past the Civil War, almost totally ignoring it.

Paintings: “Katerskill Falls”, by Thomas Cole and “Twilight in the Wilderness” by Frederic Church.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Lost Brook Dispatches: The Wilderness Experience

In these dispatches and in other Almanack posts over the last two weeks there has been quite debate going about wilderness. Is there really such a thing in the Adirondacks? It is only in the eye of the beholder? Has it been defined primarily by 19th-century aesthetic paradigms? Would a more substantial version of wilderness be “rescue-free?” These and other issues illustrate the complexity of how we experience our park.

In last week’s dispatch I suggested three different ways to frame the question: the ecological, the anecdotal and the experiential. I devoted most of that post to the anecdotal perspective, having as I do a predilection for good stories, of which there is no shortage in the Adirondacks. Whatever the truths about wilderness, our experience of it is deeply engaging, romantic in a broad sense. I think that’s why the anecdotal perspective is valuable. Stories of the wilderness feed our romantic notions, inspire us, remind us of our own stories and evoke memories and images that are part of our history, both real and imagined. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lost Brook Dispatches: Building Shay’s Privy

It was early June in 2011 and we were planning our first extended visit to Lost Brook Tract, to take place over most of July. Our plan was to explore part of the land, try to find at least one side of our property lines, evaluate different bushwhack routes in, haul enough gear back to establish a permanent base camp and rebuild the lean-to which was on the verge of collapse, its roof having long ago caved in.

Another part of the plan was to make camp ready for visitors. We expected a couple of my relatives to maybe come up for two or three days. We expected a dinner date on the land with Vinny McClelland. And then we expected Shay.

Amy has a brother, Dan. Shay is his wife. They have two young children, Sofie and Jonah. Dan, Shay and family are not hard core hikers and bushwhackers like we are. With Lost Brook Tract being a bona fide wilderness experience it was incumbent upon us to give some thought about how to best accommodate and provide for the needs of more ordinary campers like them.

To be honest my concern had a narrow focus. Dan is not exactly a wallflower. He is a triathlete and marathon runner who has hiked in the Adirondacks with us before. Three years ago I sent Dan and Amy on a two-day hike from The Garden to the Upper Works via the Great Range. One of Dan’s boots fell apart on the way up Pyramid and he completed the hike with a boot on one foot and a collection of leather and rubber held together with duct tape on the other. Dan’s charitable, warm and loving references to me during his descent of Saddleback have become treasured family lore, although sadly they cannot be repeated here. Meanwhile if I have learned anything over the years of being a parent it is that there is no bipedal creature better equipped to thrive in the Adirondack back country than your average small kid, so Jonah and Sofie were no concern either.

That left Shay. Now I don’t want to mislead anyone. I wasn’t really worried about Shay. She may not be an avid hiker and camper but she has chutzpah. Shay typically tends to doubt herself more than anyone else does, denying that she can or will do something. But more often than not she eventually does it anyhow. Summiting a High Peak was a “No” until she did Giant. Winter camping has always been an unequivocal “No,” accompanied by a whiff of tone that suggests she thinks Amy and I are disturbed. But now I notice a “maybe one night” in her lexicon. There are, however, some hard lines in the sand.

As one gets to know Shay she becomes more and more precious, a primary reason being that she is one of those extremely rare people who is completely authentic. There is never any nonsense or posing with Shay. This is coupled with a lovely, self-effacing verbosity. Shay has a remarkably innocent way of just coming out and saying whatever she is feeling. If there happens to be a line in the sand related to any potential adventure under discussion, Shay will state it succinctly and unquestionably. So for example when Dan and Shay were planning to car camp in the Central Adirondacks not too far from our new property and I was talking to them about spending a couple of nights in the wild with us, Shay’s denial of any interest in using a hole in the ground to take care of her business was laid out in clear terms.

Already having charged myself with considering the welfare and comforts of potential guests of Lost Brook Tract, I reassured Shay – perhaps a little too reflexively – that we would have a lovely, cozy, clean privy with a real seat waiting for her when her family arrived. As I recall this assurance was met with a “heh heh,” but I could be misremembering. In any case I’d said it and so there it was, left in the air, needing to be fulfilled.

Considering that the closest one can get a car to Lost Brook Tract is something over four miles away and two thousand feet down, I had made a non-trivial promise. But I was damned if I was going to break it, so I began to sketch out a design. I wanted to come up with a privy that was light, yet strong enough and private enough to do the job. Amy and I also added a requirement that it be a composting privy.

With Amy’s help I arrived at a design that seemed clever enough. The bottom two feet and the roof would be reasonably canonical but made with light pine waterproofed to within an inch of its life. The whole top of the seat area would hinge off for composting purposes and an opening in the back would facilitate air flow. Between the bottom and the roof there would be nothing but four 2 x 2 posts with screening stapled between them. The door would be a lightly framed screen door. At the top on each side, nestled under the roof, we would have red and blue waterproof tatami-style mats rolled up that could be rolled down between the posts for privacy, creating an ambient purple lighting effect not unlike a fortune telling parlor.

This level of thinking began to move the project target from functional-and-not-unbearably-heavy to downright toney; the whole thing evolved into an intentional testament of my love for Shay, a deep and affecting love that has quite frankly grown to immense proportions. So we really went for it. Amy added a Japanese pattern fabric for the bottom half of the door and a neat battery-powered LED light. We rounded it out with various hooks and niceties, candles and a laminated Hebrew prayer about healthy orifices. The final design… well, we’re talking a Taj Mahal of back country privies. All that was left was to get the materials back there and actually build the thing.

Discretion being the better part of valor I decided to pre-build Shay’s privy to see if the design made any sense. I cut the wood, sank a few screws, held the rest together with duct tape and erected most of it. Now, our neighbors have learned to give us a wide berth. For example we design and operate an elaborate haunted house every year for the Green Bay Packers (don’t ask) and we typically build, stage and test new props, devices and scene elements in our driveway starting in late summer. It’s usually quite a mess. I’ll never forget the time our next-door neighbors, desperate to sell their home after months of trying, held an open house on the same afternoon we were perfecting our exploding walking dead effect in a front yard littered with body parts, blood and clown suits. The grateful look in their eyes spoke volumes. But I honestly think that watching a full-sized outhouse go up out in front of our garage was the last straw for a few of them.

The design seemed to work; so far so good. But then came the dis-assembly and as the parts piled up it became evident that my clever weight-saving strategy had left us with only a couple hundred pounds to haul miles into the middle of nowhere. And that was before the waterproofing changed the light pine into not-as-light-pine.

Haul it we did. Including the hand tools and other gear we needed five trips and brought in an estimated six hundred pounds of camping supplies and privy components (thank goodness we had three adult teenage boys to help). My first pack load was close to ninety pounds and left me propped against the lean-to, near death. The second trip was worse. In addition to another fifty pounds of boards on my pack and about the same weight in hardware and tools in Amy’s pack we each took one end of a bundle holding all the seven foot lengths of wood. I hope by now that readers, recognizing my unqualified expertise and sage wisdom, will believe me when I tell them that there is nothing more pleasant than bushwhacking four miles uphill with a thirty-pound collection of seven-foot-long lumber. My affection for a certain young woman to whom I am not related by blood – and who I hope is reading this – was given a proper and thorough test that day.

Tribulations or not, at last we had all the materials back on our land. We found a perfect spot, elevated, in good soil and sheltered by a large rock wall. Amy dug the hole, leveled the ground and we assembled Shay’s palace with hand tools (those of you who possess the latest power drill really need to feel the wonderful sensation of a screw grabbing into wood under the influence of a big, beautiful hand auger). It was a joyful experience and we were very proud of our labors. The second picture you see accompanying this dispatch is our youngest son staring with what I hope is amazement at the result (sans roof).

A few days later Dan, Shay, Jonah and Sofie arrived, hiking in with us on a beautiful day. Our triumph in revealing the privy was somewhat overshadowed by Shay’s discovery that a statement I had apparently made assuring her that the camping area was “open,” perhaps evoking a nice big Wisconsin prairie field in her mind, was patently false. This was an understandable miscommunication on my part; after all I am an Adirondack type and so “open” to me means I found a twenty-square-foot area in the woods for a tent that is actually sort of flat and sort of clear of trees. You can find such openness on Lost Brook Tract if you look very hard. But despite the fact that Dan and Shay spent an afternoon terraforming a tent site, the visit was perfect. The kids had a great time throughout, the weather was spot on and the privy was a star performer – as was Shay, who in all seriousness was wonderful throughout a truly wild back country experience.

I know you are reading this dear… be careful: these kinds of adventures are catching.

Photos: Assembling Shay’s Privy, and the The Finished Product.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Adirondack Maps: Evolving Land Classifications

The other day at a recreation planning meeting in Lake Placid, I participated in a time-honored Adirondack meeting ritual. It goes like this: someone at the table brings up the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (SLMP), the document that defines land classifications (wilderness, wild forest, etc.) and lists the guidelines for their use. Next, nearly every stakeholder at the table agrees that the SLMP is outdated and that a major review is long overdue. The ritual concludes with everyone agreeing that meaningful review of the SLMP is unlikely, and probably not worth pursuing. The conversation then moves on to other topics.

The SLMP states “Major reviews of the master plan will take place every five years by the [Adirondack Park] Agency in consultation with the Department of Environmental Conservation, as required by statute…” but the last review was in 1987. I wondered how implementation of the relatively static SLMP has evolved over the years, and how these changes have manifested themselves on maps. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Lost Brook Dispatches: The Primeval Boreal Forest

The wonderful thing about entering the primeval forest is that you feel it before you really see it. This has been my experience in old growth forests in other places but it is heightened at Lost Brook Tract because of the elevation gain and the remoteness, both having their own attendant sensations that add to the overall effect. Or perhaps it is heightened because I love the Adirondacks more than any place I’ve ever been. Whatever the underlying reasons, it is a powerful feeling.

I haven’t noted exactly where it happens, but somewhere on the way up the bushwhack route the forest changes as one moves beyond the territory that was logged in the early part of the twentieth century. Continuing on into the virgin forest a completely immersive feeling descends. I can’t put it into words very well but I want to say that it is a weight, an immensity, some combination of sight, sound and smell that presses in. Every time I come into the area of Lost Brook Tract I experience a sense of awe, of hushed breathing, even a tiny spark of fear. This is followed by a distinct and exquisite sense of beauty. My wife Amy describes it as being swallowed up. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Philosophy: The Culture of Adirondack Lean-tos

It’s funny the questions people ask me these days. Earlier this week some colleagues were talking about whether or not to restore a dilapidated lean-to that sits on private land somewhat accessible from a new recreation corridor. The issue was debated around whether the lean-to would become an “attractive nuisance” encouraging travelers to camp at the site. If so, perhaps it should be left to go back to nature, as it were. As the conversation wore on someone turned to me and asked “why do people travel distances and sometimes even risk trespassing on private property just to stay in a lean-to, when they could simply camp elsewhere?”

I understand in years past the Department of Environmental Conservation organized lean-tos in clusters at backcountry campsites. This would have encouraged a sense of community, society and for the faint of heart: safety in numbers. Lean-tos are also often situated at strategic locations to encourage camping in a certain spot. I’m told that many experienced campers find lean-tos cold and buggy compared to the warmth and shelter of a tent. While other backcountry wayfarers may be traveling without a tent, in which case a lean-to is essential in certain conditions.

This begins to address the practical reasons ‘why’ in response to the initial question. However if you know me, you know that I am not the intuitive choice to answer questions about backcountry preferences. And so my response to a question concerning the appeal of a lean-to comes from culture and from story. The Adirondack region, particularly its “wilderness” areas are as rhetorical as they are physical. Their geography is narrative and their landscapes follow a mythological contour. This is what is meant when poets talk of “entering” the world. They’re talking about going in, in philosophical sense.

When we enter a physical landscape this way, we cross over into one or another meandering corner of its identity. I was reminded of this when Steve Signell joined the Almanack team to write about mapping. In his first post he mentions an early description of the region as “parts but little known” with “drowned lands” that are “impassable & uninhabited.” As a romantic I am hopelessly drawn to these tentative descriptions more so than the main content of his fine essay, of databases and downloadable files. I believe that while modern maps tell us how to get to a place and how to navigate around once we’re there, it is through the lore of the landscape that we enter that world and that we follow a path through its terrain of cultural descriptions.

I think travelers in every season continue to seek out lean-tos for more than a dry floor and a partial roof. That names and dates will forever be carved into the rounded walls as a declaration, as evidence, that the ribbon of time opened up and someone slipped in to hear Emerson’s wood-god murmer through the leaves.

Photo: A lean-to near the summit of Mount Marcy (above and beyond in photo) in 1973 (EPA Photo by Anne LaBastille).

Marianne Patinelli-Dubay is a philosopher, writing and teaching in the Adirondack Park.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

From Howling Wilderness to Vacation Destination

The Adirondack Museum third 2012 Cabin Fever Sunday series, “Nature: From Howling Wilderness to Vacation Destination” will be held on Sunday, February 12, 2012. The event will be offered free of charge.

Drawing on landscape painting, photography, traveler’s accounts, and other sources, this presentation by Dr. Charles Mitchell will explore the evolution of American attitudes towards nature. Beginning with perceptions of the American landscape as a howling wilderness, a wasteland to be tamed and transformed, the lecture will trace the social, cultural and economic forces that led to the perception of wild nature as something of value to be experienced and preserved. Key topics and figures along the way include the sublime, romanticism, Henry David Thoreau, Thomas Cole and the Hudson River School, John Muir, Ansel Adams, and the Lorax.

Dr. Charles Mitchell is Associate Professor of American Studies at Elmira College. Mitchell has been on the faculty of Elmira College since 1993. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Lynbrook (on Long Island) he still occasionally refers to everything north of Yonkers as “upstate.” He teaches a side variety of courses in American cultural history, with specific
interests in environmental history, the history of ideas about nature, and the representation of the landscape in literature and art.

This program will be held at the Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts at Blue Mountain Lake, and will begin at 1:30 p.m. For additional information, please call (518) 352-7311, ext. 128 or visit www.adirondackmuseum.org.