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Spring uncovers curative powers of Adirondacks

April 3, 2010
Joe Hackett, Enterprise Outdoors Columnist

Last weekend, I returned from the 29th annual NYS Outdoor Guides Association Rendezvous to find a maelstrom of messages on my answering machine.

A number of disgruntled readers left clever, yet stinging rebukes regarding a photograph that had accompanied my column in last weekend's paper.

In the photo, I was pulling on the oars of a fully-laden guideboat, which to my disbelief was identified as a "canoe" in the caption.

Article Photos

Buttermilk Falls, on the Raquette River is a favorite location for enthusiasts of quiet, remote areas. Although it is frequently busy on summer weekends, it is easy to find solitude at the site during the spring and fall.
(Photo by Joe Hackett)

Many Saranac Lakers considered the error an affront, and they let me know with calls, e-mails and a few appropriate pokes in the ribs. They even called my editor to sound the alarm.

Even my old friend, Carl Hathaway, a venerable old school guideboat builder, weighed in with a call.It was great to hear from him, regardless of the shot over my bow.

The history of Saranac Lake is indelibly linked to guides and guideboats, and obviously the local population takes a great deal of pride in their hometown boat builders.

Considered a waterborne Stradivarius, these hand-hewn, 75-pound boats can haul loads nearly 10 times their weight.Outfitted with oars, which provide a 7:1 mechanical advantage over paddles, the guideboat remains the ideal boat for Adirondack waters.

While no single builder can be credited with the invention of the guideboat, the design was perfected by local craftsmen such as Hanmer, Martin, Billings, Rice, Vassar, Morrow and Hathaway. It is a tradition that continues with local builders such as Woodward, Frenette, Doyle, Duprey, Cameron, Reynolds and Spadaro.

Despite the photo's caption, I actually do know the difference between a canoe and a guideboat, however many reader's wanted to impress the point with me.

Comments included: "Thirty years of pulling on the oars and you still think you're in a canoe."

"It was a good thing you were in a guideboat, because that load would have sunk a canoe."

"No wonder nobody would ride with you, you don't even know what kinda' boat you're using."

As always, I appreciate the feedback and if weather forecasts hold true, I'll be settling into the comfortable seat of my guideboat to troll the ponds for brook trout this weekend.

Natural local treasures

In addition to the region's vast collection of guideboats, the Adirondack region can lay claim to a host of other local treasures, but few are as captivating as our numerous waterfalls.

A 1950s-era tourism brochure proclaimed that Essex County contains more waterfalls than any county in the state, yet I can find no source to verify the statement.

However, it's reasonable to argue that as the snow melts and water pours off the vast dome of the High Peaks, there is an amazing amount of cascading water. Early spring is an ideal time to view it.

The snowmelt typically occurs at a time when the woods remain open, before the foliage of the forests secrets the flows from view and blackflies cloud the scene.

Across the region, ribbons of white, frothy waters grace the mountainsides as they caress the cliffs and line the ledges of the soaring peaks.

In the valleys, torrential waters sweep away massive blocks of ice, timber and other debris. In particularly heavy water, a thunderous sound can be heard, as huge boulders roll down the streambed.

The scars of this scouring process remain evident on the trees and ledges that line the river banks. It provides a record that measures the corridor's volume, a watermark.

The majesty of the flows is matched only by the water's power as gravity draws it to the lower reaches of the valleys below.

During the first few weeks of the spring season, as the weather warms and the rains arrive, the woods come alive with an untold number of waterfalls.

These are good days to be outdoors, with the sight of water cascading off exposed rock, or snaking along a forested floor.

Spring signals the rebirth of the earth, as wildflowers peak through the decaying leaves and birds and wildlife venture out. The first subtle sounds, sights and smells of spring bring out something almost primal in us.

It is a peaceful and exciting time to be in the wild and it can actually be good for your health.

Science is finally getting around to validating what mothers have known for generations: Going outside is actually good for your health and never is it so apparent as in the spring.

The incredibly fresh, crisp clean air that is available in the Adirondacks is the result of the ongoing process of photosynthesis that occurs throughout six million acres of forest of balsam, spruce, pine and hardwoods.

In fact, these vast forests are virtual fresh-air factories that are fired by the photosynthesis of millions of plants and trees. Our air is refreshened by the flowing water of 30,000 miles of streams and rivers.

We breathe this freshly-manufactured sweetened air at its source.Is it any wonder that physicians have started to make formal "park prescriptions?"

Nature is a great healer and the growing hours of sunlight, the increasingly fresh air and the splendor of natural settings are all powerfully restorative.

In addition to their mesmerizing qualities, churning rivers and cascading streams provide additional health benefits by releasing negative ions that serve to purify the environment.

Natural ionization occurs near waterfalls and can also be experienced after a rainstorm.It is the reason the air always smells so great after a rainstorm passes and why we feel so invigorated.

The spring flows serve to increase humidity levels and decrease levels of dust, pollens and other pollutants. The Adirondacks are graced with a multitude of giant built-in ionizers.

It has been scientifically proven that negative ions have a positive affect on humans. Waterfall can affect our moods, stress levels and our general outlook on life.

Studies have documented that up to 10,000 negative ions can be found at the base of a waterfall, while the number of negative ions found in major capital cities at rush hour rarely exceeds 100.

Water is one of the most widely recognized, and perhaps the most powerful, of nature's healing agents. It stands to reason, as water makes up nearly two-thirds of the human body.

Researchers believe that through control of the electrical charges in the air we breathe, our moods, energy level, and health can be markedly improved.

The influences of flowing waters, air quality, mountains and other landscape features of our region create a natural energy that is particularly renewing for people. It can serve to recharge the human battery, reduce fatigue and provide a greater mental clarity and physical vigor. All it takes is just a simple walk in the woods.

Waterfalls are captivating. In technical terms, the process is known as "involuntary attention." For children with ADHD, autism or similar afflictions, waterfalls can provide remarkable benefits.

Due to the awe-inspiring, blank-stare-inducing qualities of the ever-changing scene of falling water, these children naturally pay attention. They are almost magically stuck on the scene, much in the same manner the coals of a fire command our attention. This is known as involuntary attention, a fancy word for fascination.

Natural elements like moving water, a flickering flame or a whirling wind can transfix a person's attention and capture it indefinitely.

As a result of this unending concentration, they learn to focus and exercise a portion of their brain that directs this attention. The process can actually expand their attention span, which allows them to learn to direct their focus.

Spring is the time to discover your own personal waterfall. Throughout the Adirondacks, there are literally thousands of falls waiting to be found.Get out and do it today, and take a kid long as well; they always appreciate a new discovery.



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