It’s no secret to anyone who has followed my posts for awhile, that I have a soft spot for the Adirondacks and that I spent my childhood hiking in her woods, climbing her peaks and swimming in her waters. For those who haven’t followed my travels and may not even know where the Adirondacks are, it refers to the Adirondack Mountains, a mountain range in upstate New York, roughly a 3-4 hour drive from New York City.
The Adirondacks are not that close to get to for urban travelers nor for those who only have a short window to see a few major highlights when they come to the states. If you have a car, it’s a fairly easy shot up the New York Thruway but if not, you’re stuck on a not so stellar Trailways bus which I had the misfortune of taking this past summer.
That said, if you give the Adirondacks your time, you’ll experience a serene spirit and sense of peace you’ve never known before.
Does that serenity and peace come from the Mohawk Indians of yesteryear? The Hudson River with her long history and roots? Or, does it come from the pine trees? Perhaps it’s the loons who wake you up in the morning and sooth your weary soul as the sun sets? I’m sure it’s a combination of all of them and more, or perhaps its merely the remoteness of the place combined with the fact that people are about as genuine as they get.
I rarely get back to the Adirondacks for a myriad of reasons. Family have passed or those who are still alive, feel as if they have. The place brings me as much sadness as it does joy for many of the same reasons that Richard Russo writes about in Elsewhere, also his old stomping ground. A few friends and family felt that he was a bit “harsh” about the area, and yet I felt he spoke his truth, which is all there is really…
Deep down, I recognize that his truth resonates with countless people I know in the area, even if they never dare say so. For as vocal as I am, I rarely ever dare say so either. Why? Because doing so may come across as attacking your hood rather than supporting it as many point out of Russo’s writings.
As I get older, I’d rather take the approach I take with everything in my life even if it backfires: speak up about what matters in the most authentic way possible. It goes a bit like this: if there’s something positive you can take from a person, place, experience or thing, embrace what works and integrate it into your life. If it doesn’t, learn what the blockage was or why there was a failure and even what caused it and either try to improve upon it or simply let it go. Letting go is so hard isn’t it? Hard, but oh so necessary if we want to move forward in our lives and…heal. Even those among us who tout no dysfunction in their family upbringing, need healing.
While my views and memories are not quite as harsh as those of Richard Russo, there are haunting memories of redneck towns and boroughs, all of which are surrounded by some of the most beautiful natural beauty I have ever known.
When the industries that supported American small towns collapsed, (in the case of the Adirondacks, it was leather), so did people’s hopes, dreams and aspirations. With that collapse came a sense of desolation, depression, anger and for those who supported the troops, post war traumatic stress. This is the world I grew up with and knew.
Some people’s anger or perhaps a softer way of putting it is disappointment that they didn’t get what they wanted or felt they deserved in life, turned to drugs, alcohol or the unemployment line. I saw it around me growing up. For those who didn’t end up any of those categories, they either thrived at their profession and generally remained happy or did okay at their profession — enough to have a decent life — and complained bitterly about things around them on a daily basis. Why should it be any surprise that old mill towns like Gloversville, Johnstown, Amsterdam, Fonda, which faced harsh economic and social times, wouldn’t get hit with a sorrowful axe?
I try to go to a place of empathy or sympathy when the chips are down although truth be told, it’s not always easy. In the work environment where I placed my cards now more than twenty years ago, negativity rarely sees the time of day. There’s no time for it. In Silicon Valley, they simply rise above it or they don’t survive. But that doesn’t work for everyone. And, I get it and understand it….I’ve been to both sides and back again.
This isn’t meant to be a rant, but rather a reflection on what is – you know, understanding and knowing what we can control and what we can’t control. I am sure that I resonate with thousands of Americans when I say this: you love your family and close friends even if there are a few who are not in alignment with the positive life choices you’re now making as an adult. Yet, from time-to-time, their pull drags you through the ringer at times, even when it’s not healthy for you to go there. Perhaps that comment isn’t addressing thousands, but everyone I know, for all of us have hidden fears, dark secrets and a portion of our past we’d rather keep hidden. All of us have people who have torn at our heart strings and done it so often that we can barely breathe if we think about embracing it one more time knowing we’ll only get smacked if we do.
The Adirondacks is that place for me and yet I love her as much as I fear her, for the memories she serves me on every visit are mixed with the pure joy of an innocent childhood and a dysfunctional environment that kicked far too many families in the but.
So, while the authenticity of the people is as pure as the water that comes down from the mountains above the winding Benson Road, it’s sometimes hard to hear the voices. It’s not because we don’t love those voices, but because we do.
Richard Russo, I understand, painfully so and yet what you miss in your memoir is the sheer beauty of the nature that surrounds Adirondack State Park. Is it because you never had an opportunity to sleep under her stars? If not, walk with me and I will show you her beauty.
For those of us who were blessed enough to grow up inside her woods and among her lakes, rivers and ponds, perhaps we were saved from the misery that crippled so many others who didn’t get her joy. Like Thoreau who was healed by Walden Pond’s waters, the nature we know best heals our deepest wounds if we only allow it.
When I go back, despite the fact that I love people and anyone who knows me knows this to be true, all I want to do is spend time with HER, the Adirondack mountains. For within her natural beauty, there’s no pain, resentment, pity, misunderstanding, frustration, jealousy or all the things I get hit with from external forces, like so many of us do. She dishes me nothing but pure joy and frankly, we all need a place like that.
We may all have someone — a family member, a friend or a boss — who make us feel as if “we’re not good enough or simply enough”. It’s that other parallel universe and all the negative voices in it that we need less of in our lives, not more. Make positive choices that serve you in your life as you march on, not hurt you or hold you back from a purer destiny….
Nature doesn’t have an ax to grind or something to settle. The lake doesn’t tell me I should have done something else, become someone else, lived somewhere else or married someone else. It simply is. And while I’ve been witness to some of the most stunning natural settings across four continents in the last couple of years, there’s nothing like your childhood soil. And, this is mine…..
All the photos I took above are of East Caroga Lake. Be sure to read my latest blog post which includes more stunning photos of the region – The Adirondack Loop, which was done in mid-October of this year.
Also read other posts I wrote about the area and while there are several, start with The Allure of an Adirondack Summer and Lake George, The Queen of American Lakes. Thanks to my childhood friend Bob who opened his camp and heart this summer, where I had some time to reflect upon all the things that make Adirondack’s lakes so great and in particular the one where we first learned how to fish — Caroga Lake.