Saturday’s warmth and sunshine, following the ceaseless rain and gloom of Friday, buoyed our spirit as we set out on a road trip.
We packed the car with a few essentials — a blanket, birthday candles and the dog.
Our destination ostensibly was Potsdam in St. Lawrence County but, for me, it was also the Adirondacks in autumn, though admittedly the season was on the wane. It was a long trip — four hours not counting little stops along the way — and we drove in and out of peak foliage shows where the golden Tamaracks, resplendent in the bright sunshine, took out breath away.
Part of our route shadowed the Northville-Lake Placid Trail in the High Peaks, where cellphone and GPS service can be tenuous.
Along the edge of the wilderness, where the road passes by lakes and rivers every few miles, we pulled onto a country lane to allow Maggie to stretch her legs and do what dogs do which in her case is to thoroughly sniff every square inch of grass, tree and rock that her leash allows her to reach.
I stood by the car and surveyed the woods, starting where wife Beverly had pointed out a beautiful patch of ferns and moss. I thought about those who live in such surroundings and wondered if they are aware of the natural beauty that surrounds them every day.
I could live here, deep in the woods, though perhaps not like Noah John Rondeau, the famous hermit of the Adirondacks. He dropped out of society altogether in the late 1920s and didn’t re-emerge permanently until he was forced out by the state’s closure of “his” woods in 1950.
But maybe I could manage a little time-out like Thoreau’s, living only a couple of miles from hearth and home or friends and family but isolated enough to encourage deeply philosophical insights.
Rondeau withdrew in disgust over creeping commercialism and the inability of the common man to find work that was satisfying on a personal level and lucrative enough to provide a comfortable life.
Thoreau was an adherent of the transcendental movement that developed in the 19th century and held that real individuals are corrupted by institutions like organized religion and political parties. It is through self-reliance that people are at their best, as Thoreau sought to demonstrate at Walden.
Both he and Rondeau embodied, for different reasons and in different ways, the philosophy that is articulated in the federal Wilderness Act of 1964.
“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”
We arrived at Potsdam in mid-afternoon and had a pleasurable reunion with my son who is a college student there. The birthday candles we brought with us were for him though we never lit them because we invited him to choose where we would lunch. He picked a Chinese buffet in town that evidently is getting good reviews among the college population. Hard to stick a candle in a wonton, though.
A sliver of moon helped to light our way home as we navigated the serpentine curves of routes 28 and 30 while keeping an eye out for deer. For her part, Maggie fell asleep in the back seat, like most kids her age (in human years she’s a young teen), exhausted after a day of excitement.
Back in Schenectady, we had to circle the block three times to find a parking spot, not unusual on a weekend night.
I love city living, I thought to myself on my third revolution, but I could live in the woods, at least part of the time.
Irv Dean is the Gazette’s city editor. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily those of the newspaper. Reach him at P.O.Box 1090, Schenectady, N.Y. 12301 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.