Contemplating the spiritual connection that comes from walking a storied trail
By Klarisse Torriente
I had never hiked any of the Northville-Placid Trail’s 135 miles before the morning of Nov. 15. I had no expectations. I was coming back from two weeks of traveling, and I was excited to get back to the land I call home, upstate New York. What better way to acclimate to the world around you, than literally grounding yourself on the earth underneath? I woke up late and rushed to the trailhead.
Once out of the car at the parking area at Benson, I immediately felt enamored by the wide trees around me that opened to Woods Lake. The trees looked strong and older than what I am used to in the High Peaks Region. The lake beckoned me and my hiking partner. The sun glistened on its cascading, welcoming ripples within which rested a whimsical, fallen tree. Still living, its long trunk stretched into the water and its roots snaked around a mossy bed of a tree rooted into the ground where I stood. I wandered around the bank. I felt like a kid adventuring on a mission to acclimate myself to what is new around me—curious and comfortable.
In that same moment I remembered the only history I knew of this trail. The Northville-Placid Trail dates to 1922. It was the first of the newly formed Adirondack Mountain Club and one of the earliest developed anywhere. The section I was walking on is relatively new, added when the trail was rerouted to avoid roads.
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I thought about what I was seeing and contemplated the past and the present. What did this very same place look like a century ago? What was the world like then? Where is it heading? With possible climate doom, what will this trail look like in 100 years? What was this land like for those indigenous to it? What history is missed? These thoughts motivated me to take in what was around me, reinforcing a presence practice, being steeped in the moment.
I thought about the Honorable Harvest, which I learned from reading Robin Ward
Kimmerer’s “Braiding Sweetgrass.” And I remembered that November is Indigenous American Heritage Month. This part of the NPT is on land of the Haudenosaunee, the “people of the longhouse.” Their Thanksgiving Address reinforces the practice of a symbiotic relationship between humans and what the Earth provides for our sustained lives.
The Honorable Harvest reminds us that “The actions of today will affect future generations.” What I was seeing in front of me at Woods Lake and the subsequent five miles of the trail I explored thereafter, felt like what I always feel throughout the Adirondacks—precious gratitude.
My gratitude for this forever wild space is immeasurable. I want to take the lessons I have learned from the Honorable Harvest and implement them into my daily living practice. This land gives us resources, recreation, motivation, and support. I want to give it gifts of conservation, care, and love in return.
Heading north on the trail, Woods Lake is visible for much of the first mile as you gradually ascend and descend short rolling hills. The path is bordered by budding holly plants, making the hike feel like a gentle stroll into the next season. It is not long into the walk when the trail takes you through and around large, glacial boulders. These boulders are big enough to look like shelters. I imagined humans or gnomes and trolls dwelling here if they existed and thrived along the NPT.
When researching this land, its people, and history I learned about hermits living alongside this trail and wondered if any of them had resided in these ancient stone remnants.
We crossed four or five streams, the peaceful burble of running water carrying away leaves freshly dusted with snow. I thought about how welcomed, calm and nourished I felt. I thought about how so many other people could benefit from this experience if given the opportunity. I felt privileged.
The five miles I walked in and the five miles I walked out were easy. This section of the popular through-hike offers many beautiful natural features without any significant elevation gain. This section deserves more attention. The history of the trail and this land is fascinating. Accessibility to this hike is paramount. I hope the Adirondack Mountain Club offers greater education during its next 100 years so that more people are aware of the land it sees as its mission to preserve, who is native to it, and how to care for it in a way that is respectful and sustaining.
I think many folks have preconceived notions about the Adirondacks, or very little information about the diversity of the hikes unless their life experiences have exposed them to the park. I think a lot of people think of the Adirondacks as the High Peaks Region and get easily intimidated by the elevation gain and difficulty of those trails.
The Adirondack Mountain Club can promote and market to marginalized populations of hikers walks like this section so that they can feel confident and empowered in the woods. By promoting opportunities to people who do not already have a relationship with the land, they may build on their conservation efforts.
My people are not the Haudenosaunee. But most of the land I inhabit is their ancestral territory. Taking their practices and living symbiotically with the land is one of the ways I believe we can ensure that trails like NPT thrive beyond the next 100 years. I honor that philosophy of looking out for future inhabitants: “The actions of today will affect future generations.”
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This column first appears in the Jan/Feb 2022 issue of Adirondack Explorer magazine.
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