How the Adirondacks Gives Us Hope in Hard Times

by Annie Stoltie | October 2022

photograph courtesy of Brian Mann

He’d fallen from his nest in the bell tower of Adirondack Life’s brick church office. It’s a pigeon haven up there, evident by the feathers that drift past our tall, arched windows. He perched awkwardly on a branch beside our front door, gazing back and forth, taking it all in. His hooked beak, dark eyes and tufty feathers, like he’d just had a bath, indicated he was a fledgling—a toddler too young to be alone. So we fed him seeds, checked on him when we walked past, and texted each other with updates. We even named him—Pudgy ’Dacks.

A pigeon.        

In all the years I’ve stepped through this office door I’ve had mostly tunnel vision, focused on the day’s tasks. Maybe I’d register a red-tailed hawk—they hungrily hang around the church because of the pigeons. But lately I want distractions. I spend more time at the Jay rapids by the covered bridge. I study the black veins that slice through ancient boulders polished smooth by rushing water. Or the chubby tadpoles that collide in pools in the rocks’ pocks, stranded until rain washes them downstream.

During what feels like mounting tumult beyond the Blue Line, I need the Adirondacks. And I’m not alone.    

My friend Brian Mann, who for years covered the Adirondack Park for North Country Public Radio and today is a correspondent for National Public Radio, told me he thinks a lot about why the Adirondacks feels so important to him in this moment. Brian reports on our country’s opioid crisis, natural disasters, mass shootings and the war in Ukraine—work that he describes as “extraordinarily dark.” But when he’s home in Westport, trekking the Adirondacks, he posts pictures on social media of trillium and caterpillars and dreamy peak-strewn vistas.    

Our region is known for its healing properties—its crisp, clean air was an elixir back when people with tuberculosis were fighting for their lives. But there’s more to the power of this place. “When you see photos of me out on a mountaintop or with a field of flowers,” says Brian, “sometimes you’re seeing a little boy playing in the woods, goofy and laughing. Other times I’m walking in grief, recovery and loss. These mountains have the capacity to give me a full range of human experience. I haven’t found another place like it.”

And it works both ways. What can heal us has, itself, risen from devastation. The Adirondacks “was a ravaged landscape,” Brian explains. It was a war zone—the blood of Indigenous people and French and British soldiers soaked its soil. It suffered industrial destruction—hills pitted by mining, rivers dammed and ripped apart for logging. Fires sparked by locomotives burned thousands and thousands of acres, leveling forests into lunar-looking plains, just spindly fingers of scorched trees poking from the ground. “I walk through woods and I see the bones of all that,” he says. “I know healing of that scale is possible and it’s a thing that we have the agency to do.”

The Adirondacks, he adds, is far from perfect. But what’s happened here gives him “profound hope.”    

Today, as I write, Brian is flying back to Ukraine. His work will bring him through a scarred, bleeding country, talking with people living the horrors of war. He will share these stories with the rest of the world, likely dreaming of the Adirondacks when he needs comfort, seeing all that’s possible.      

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