A&E Columns

This must be the place: And a man must forfeit all he owns for a glimpse at the reason why

Bloomingdale Bog Trail. (Garret K. Woodward photo) Bloomingdale Bog Trail. (Garret K. Woodward photo)

I was about an hour behind schedule leaving my native Plattsburgh, New York, the truck aimed for Waynesville and greater Western North Carolina. Some 1,100 miles in one direction, and yet it was already 1 p.m. on Thursday when I finally embarked from my folks’ farmhouse. 

My mother made me promise I’d swing by my little’s sister home and say goodbye to our matriarch as she watched my niece and nephew while my younger sibling was teaching in the next school district over. Kiss my mom and wave goodbye, two honks of solidarity as the truck left the driveway and made its way down Route 3.

A widespread late fall snowstorm was quickly rolling into the northeast, with upwards of six feet of accumulation expected for the Buffalo and Western New York region, several inches for the North Country and Route 3. And, right as I started to climb up Route 3 into the depths of the Adirondack Mountains, the sunshine disappeared, with dark clouds hovering above, thick snowflakes soon hitting the windshield.

Before passing through Saranac Lake, I pulled off the road and parked at the Bloomingdale Bog Trail. An old railroad line now recreational trail in the middle of nowhere, I find myself there as often as I can while back in the North Country. The trail goes for miles and miles, with usually nobody around. 

Emerging from the truck, I was met with a harsh wind from the early stages of the snowstorm. The ground was already covered with ankle-deep snow from a couple days prior. Heavy snowflakes and frigid air. Add another layer underneath the windbreaker and make sure the shoe laces are tightened. Thick gloves and a fleece beanie. Onward into the snowy abyss.

The beauty of the Bloomingdale Bog Trail is how immediate the sense of isolation is, how you’re automatically immersed in Mother Nature as soon as you disappear into the tree line from the parking lot. About a mile or so in, there’s a lone pond, now frozen over. I stopped for a moment to admire it, and to howl for a hot second in an effort to hear the echo boom across the pond and into the forest on the other side. A moment later, silence. Pure, blissful silence.

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Another half-mile further down, you find yourself in this pine grove, the massive tree canopy you run under with a simple, childlike glee, this sense of wonder and awe only found and reclaimed in moments like that. I again stopped to take it all in, the only sound being the snowflakes hitting the tree branches above, slowly cascading down upon my face and current position.

Pushing through the snow and making my way back to the truck, I couldn’t help but soak in anything and everything surrounding me. Although winter was just settling in to the Adirondacks, I probably won’t be back up through here until next June. At least, that’s the plan as of now, with plans always changing in the face of whatever the universe has in mind for you and me, and all of us kind souls.

Since the pandemic and shutdown, I made it a personal mission to be more present in the North Country moving forward. And, this past year, I’ve been lucky enough to be home a handful of times, and to be in attendance for several family occasions that, normally, I’d not be around for — either on the road on assignment or just unable to head north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

But, this go-round, I watched my eight-year-old niece blowout her birthday candles, toast my parents on their 50th anniversary, and countless bouts of deep laughter and memories rehashed on an old porch, alongside a quiet lake or at a dive bar with old friends that I’ve dearly missed — those who know you the best and love you the most, truth be told.

And, in the furthest depths of my heart and soul, are all of those moments of solitude amid desolation. For me, the ancient Adirondacks are a constant urge that tugs at the beating muscle in my chest. These peaks and valleys, small communities and genuinely good folk nurture my state of being — true nourishment for anything that ails you. Try it for yourself, you’ll see in due time. 

I recall all of those mountain trails and backwoods treks throughout the Adirondacks during this year, where I was somehow able to slip my southern collar and bolt for the North Country. A full tank of gas, windows rolled down, a warm breeze swirling into the truck, the vehicle holding steady along Interstate 40 to I-81, onward to I-88 and I-87. 

Leave I-87 at the Beekmantown exit, head towards Route 374, merge onto Route 22, a quick shot to the farmhouse with the stone walls, small pond, father’s woodpile, and those dozens of types of flowers my mother constantly tends to. The family dog barks and runs around the backyard when I put the truck in park and make my way inside the farmhouse, the smell of a home-cooked meal wafting from the kitchen.

One may never know how long those moments and visions in the previous paragraph will again occur in real time, seeing as nothing is forever. But, the moments are eternally etched in the walls of my memory, those instances of time and place that are held close, especially when the truck nose is aimed below the Mason-Dixon Line, back to the mountains of Southern Appalachia, back to that small apartment in downtown Waynesville, the one filled with books, vinyl records and fridge with good beer, the walls decorated with photos, posters and trinkets from the North Country, the centerpiece an old painting of the fall foliage.

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

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