Lucky people have Happy Places, those spots on the planet to which they go for fun, fellowship and restoration. Among my friends, Camden Yards, Cape May and their own front porches hold this singular status. I was born in California, grew up mostly in Philadelphia, spent a portion of my youth, all of college and the first two years of adulthood in New England, and now live in Virginia. So of course my Happy Place is in New York.
Almost every summer of my life I’ve headed north (it has always been north of wherever I have been, way north) up I-87 into the Adirondack Mountains. For some of the oldest mountains in the country, the Adirondacks are oddly unfamiliar to most Americans. You might know them as the home of the Lake Placid Winter Olympics (1932 & 1980) or the setting for the creepy climax of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy but other than that, I mostly get blank, polite stares when I mention my beloved range.
It was not always so. In the late 19th century, the area played an important role in the early environmental movement (Thank you, “Seneca Ray” Stoddard) and bringing Americans back into the wilderness for fun — pioneering being a whole 50 years behind them at that point. Outdoor enthusiasts flocked to the area for hiking, climbing, boating, hunting and fishing. William Henry Harrison Murray, a clergyman from Boston, was so persuasive in the humor and charm of his narrative Adventures in the Wilderness, that the place was flooded with what were dubbed “Murray’s Fools” as city slickers headed out to get a piece of the action.
I suppose my great-great-grandfather was no different. A school teacher, he believed in the healthy body/healthy mind and took his students into the wilderness for their betterment. Perhaps Murray is why my great-great-grandfather, a mid-Atlantic gent, found his way to upstate New York and eventually to my favorite piece of real estate – which he bought in the dead of winter for back taxes owed by the logging company that held it. Or something like that.
Which may or may not have anything to do with why the region speaks to me so profoundly.
There’s something about the sight of the mountains as they come into view as we head up the Northway. Something about the view from the lodge porch on a clear day, the sight of the sun on the mist on the lake from the dock in the morning.
Something about the smell, the earthy duff aroma that gets sharper with rain, softer at night.
Something about the feel of the lake, whose waters are always cold, but caressing, capable of washing away every sort of insult and injury.
Something about the sounds of the wind coming across the back ridge, and the loon, and the innumerable young cousins who may be there with me.
Something about soot on marshmallows, the urge to eat large quantities of Wheatena and chocolate. (True Fact: There is a Cadbury bar at the top of every mountain in the Adirondacks. Ask my kids.)
My spiritual homeland, in every sense. I go for my fix as often as I can.