Book review: Author takes readers on 2-week hike in woods
Let’s say Henry David Thoreau hiked the Northville-Placid Trail and decided to write about that experience, instead of life at Walden Pond. If he had, the result would be an awful lot like “The Allure of Deep Woods.”
This is the 10th book by Walt McLaughlin, a Vermont native and frequent visitor to the Adirondacks. It chronicles two weeks in a recent September when he hiked the Northville-Placid Trail from its southern beginning near Benson, in Hamilton County, to Lake Placid, 122 miles to the north.
While he stops to get supplies at hamlets where the trail meets highways, nearly the entire book is set in the woods.
Thoreau’s “Walden” remains popular over 150 years after it was published because of his beautiful descriptions of the outdoors, his insights on society and the strong organization he brought to the book.
“The Allure of Deep Woods” has all of these traits. Every page has at least one delightful or vivid view of the outdoors.
On the first day, after several hours in the deep woods and rain, McLaughlin comes to Meco Lake. As he emerges from the woods onto the lakeshore, he observes, “The cloud-grey light washing over the placid water is a welcome break from the forest gloom.”
Halfway into the trip, after hiking through a thunderstorm, he writes of reaching his evening destination: “The Cedar River lean-to is an outpost of dryness in a vast, dripping universe.”
Near hike’s end, he camps at a lean-to by the Cold River. The river, which flows into Long Lake, is one of the few in the United States that starts and ends in wilderness.
When McLaughlin stops for supplies, he mails his dirty clothes home. It seems like a person who can plan a twoweek hike should be able to use a laundromat.
Early in the book, he tells readers that his trip is not for beginners. However, he acknowledges that the wilderness experience is balanced by civilizing influences. A strong part of the narrative is his discussion of the effort it taks to preserve something that is untrammeled.
Throughout, he compares his experience on the Northville-Placid Trail in middle age with hikes he took when he was younger. On some nights, he shares a lean-to with other hikers his age, getting a chance to reflect on life and the choices he has made.
The organizing structure is his account of the hike. But, just as Adirondack hikes have side trails, McLaughlin leaves the main trail to consider other matters. Along with wilderness, civilization and aging, he takes side trips to explore the region’s history and the benefi ts and challenges of living in the Adirondacks year round.
McLaughlin offers enough details about his hike to capture the sense of place or entice people into the woods. He provides many insights and lots of history. But he knows exactly when to stop and move the story forward.
Whether you plan to hike the Northville-Placid Trail or just want to read a great book about being in the woods in the fall, you are sure to enjoy “The Allure of Deep Woods.”
McLaughlin has the following appearances scheduled:
7 p.m. Tuesday, Hoss’s Country Corner 1142 Main St., Long Lake
11 a.m to 1 p.m. Wednesday at The Adirondack Reader, 156 Main St., Inlet.