Summer weekends in the Adirondacks can be peaceful and serene. Or not. Our weather this summer has been dramatically warm, and our thunderstorms have been powerful and sometimes brutal. Take note of the number of downed trees, and you'll be reminded that even Mother Nature's residents of the forest can be knocked around.
We've had weddings and gatherings and guests sprinkled throughout this dramatic summer. With these new faces and opportunities for conversation, I've learned anew what people see when they visit us in our own natural habitat.
Challenge the comfort zone
One, guests and visitors are more game for experimenting with activities outside their everyday comfort zones. They climb mountains, paddle long rivers, and sleep under forest canopies, really getting away from it all. Right now a group of 20-somethings is in my side yard playing croquet. In their "real" lives they live in major metropolitan areas, where big lawns are nearly non-existent. They are laughing and having fun without their phones, surrounded by tall trees, green grass and a babbling brook. Croquet is an old fashioned lawn game brought into the present tense, and reminds us of what fun can be had without batteries or satellites or cell phone reception. I always remember how tightly interconnected city folks are with their cyber-toys, how their sense of "normal" is tied to that connectedness. I enjoy watching them get closer to nature and to one another face to face instead.
Long stretches of highway
Secondly, city visitors have noticed a big difference in how a person drives around here, compared with downtown Los Angeles or Manhattan. A remarkable comment was, "I can't believe how far you can drive without having to stop!" We would scarcely notice the fifteen minute stretches, the twenty minutes in deep woods or along a river's edge ... look how far some of our communities are away from one another, and how sometimes you don't even have to stop to get through those villages. We really ought to appreciate our easy drives over postcard-lovely roads more often.
A world of greenery
Third, take a look around at any hillside or panorama. What color is predominant? In most major urban areas, the dominant colors are of cement and glass. Living in a green world with nature visible from almost every spot brings us a lifestyle many city folks envy. Our lives are richer for this gift, which many of us rarely take the time to appreciate. Easily noticeable too is the beginning of our leaf-changing season. City folks are always eager to see our natural autumnal phenomenon, trees being somewhat scarce in their worlds of cement and blacktop.
Other observations I heard include the fact that we seem to dress more comfortably than lots of folks who live in more urban settings. Women generally do not wear high heels as often or wear makeup as seriously as high level fashionistas in the cities. Stores sell things like worms and life jackets and bug dope. People are friendly. There should be a movie theater, and more taxis, and the Hotel Saranac ought to be brought back to its glory days.
They noticed that we also have a lot of recreational equipment on top of our cars and trucks. Kayaks and canoes and bikes travel with the guests and congregate in small Adirondack towns; most of us scarcely notice, in part because our vehicles also sport the same forms of equipment themselves.
Next to Mother Nature
They also notice how close humans can be to wildlife. We are used to having frogs jump in the garden, snakes curl in the woodpile, and turtles lay eggs by the side of the road. Not so on Broadway or the Sunset Strip. Deer are our neighbors, even for many who live in town. Some of us know where we could spot a moose, or where a friend saw one. We might know where a family of ducks was being raised. We can see baby loons riding on the backs of adults on quiet ponds. Overhead bald eagles soar, looking for food. A fox will dart across the road. Raccoons climb apple trees and wake us up at night. Owls hoot outside my back door, making me feel lucky. A family of great blue herons learns the ropes right in my backyard every year. This access to genuine wildlife observation is exciting for our visitors, and for the child full of wonder still inside of us all.
So what I learned from all the people I spoke with over the past few weeks shakes out like this: we should all remember to be grateful for living where others dream of being, where they long to escape and feel the natural wonders we get to sample every day. Gratitude offers respect for being here alongside some of the planet's most natural landscapes. And summertime is rich with chances to do just that.
Randy Lewis lives in Paul Smiths, and is the author of "Actively Adirondack: Reflections of Mountain Life in the 21st Century," Adirondack Center for Writing's People's Choice Award for Best Book 2007.