Essays on how we live.
People often visit the Adirondacks because of what it is not. It is not crowded. It is not loud. And it is not full of big-box chain stores. But people choose to make the Adirondacks their home because of what this place is. It is beautiful. It has a deeply connected community. One can find true wilderness if she so seeks.
Like many others, I began as a visitor. I found myself returning again and again to visit family and friends. Eventually, at a crossroads in life, I came for what I believed would be an extended stay of a few months. I have now been here several years. Adirondack Reflections brought home to me what the Park means to people who live here.
The book is a collection of thirteen essays about life inside the Blue Line, penned by some of the region’s finest writers and edited by Neal Burdick and Maurice Kenny. A second volume, North Country Reflections, contains essays about small-town and rural life just outside the Park. In both books, the writing is complemented by a gallery of fetching color photographs.
The essays in Adirondack Reflections are divided into three sections: “The Land,” “The People,” and “The Flora and The Fauna.” There is a harmony to the anthology. In one way or another, each personal account underscores the relationship between people and their surroundings. As Burdick notes in the afterword, “In all the world there is only one river, and we are a part of it.”
In the second essay, “We Came, We Stayed: Building an Adirondack Life,” Ed Kanze reflects upon the trials and tribulations that he and his wife joyfully endured after purchasing a home along a wild stretch of the Saranac River. His tales of bathing by woodstove and digging a six-foot-deep trench for a water line reveal the resourcefulness and self-sufficiency often needed to make a go of it in these mountains. “Life is often hard in our corner of the North Country. Yet it’s rich beyond imagining,”Kanze writes.
Adirondackers tend to like a lot of elbow room. That doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to pitch in and help their neighbors when needed. They also like telling stories—as well as figuring in them. Adirondack Reflections is full of colorful characters. Dan Berggren writes of Cecil Butler, an eighty-nine-year- old fiddler who ”grew up in a time when neighbors traded work, when a kitchen could hold four couples for a square dance, when birthdays and holidays were celebrated with family stories and a hymn sung around a pipe organ.”
Fast-forward fifty years or so, and we have Jonathon Collier, known, much to his dismay, as “Goat Boy” in school. Collier writes of his upbringing on a goat farm: “I’m fairly certain that I complained a lot when I was younger. … But after twenty-one years growing up with, raising and caring for my animals, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
The stories in this collection made me want to talk to my neighbors more.
We share this wonderful landscape with other species, too. So much Adirondack writing describes delightful encounters with wildlife. Adirondack Reflections adds some riveting tales to the canon. In “Sightings,” Maurice Kenny tells of seeing a wolf on a winter’s night on Owls Head Mountain. He later wrote a poem, which reads, in part:
on the snow
I follow between
tamarack and birch
cross the frozen creek
with broken arms
stand in shadows
tracks move uphill
deeper into snowed conifers
I hurry to catch up
with his hunger
The wolf, fisher, gray fox, field mouse, red squirrel, bear—they are all here. Kenny gives voice to a common ethos of the people who live in the mountains. “For now I believe the region’s ecology is safe within the minds of various local habitants, and so it should be. The deer that ate my yellow lily buds, sweet tender though they might well have been, was here first.”
The companion book, North Country Reflections, is a celebration of life in the foothills and valleys. While Adirondackers love their lakes, rivers, and mountains, the lowlands offer gifts of their own. Reading the second volume made me realize how much of the North Country I have yet to explore. Many of the essays describe a hardy agrarian life in hamlets surrounded by open countryside. Still, there is wilderness to be found. Betsy Kepes writes of her father and his legacy, “I’ve inherited that reverence for wild places and the composure they can bring to a mind that is fretting.”
What started as a one book project grew and developed over time into two wonderful collections. The essays chosen are evocative and well crafted. The North Country is lucky to have so many fine writers. While we all need to get away from time to time, these essays will remind you why it always feels so good to come home again. ■