The winding road cuts through immense forests of pine, and hardwoods. The towering trees almost touching the gray, fading sky. Tiny log cabins dotting the wilderness landscape, homesteads in the middle of a forest.
Those that dwell here, in the Adirondacks, are a hardy people. It is here that the elements drive life. There is no farming in this region, hunting is the means to survival, small gardens produce what you need for the winter. And survival means giving in to the demands of the elements.
While mid-November snow caps the sides of Cascade Mountain, the trees are standing bleaky leafless in the wind. Nearby on a forest homestead there’s a man splitting firewood, the motor of the splitter humming along, humming more intensely as he pulls down the handle, engaging the hydraulic mechanism. This man is a symbol of these lands, industrious, steady, unbroken. He works hard in this worn land, providing himself with life’s basic necessities. Food. Shelter. Water.
On this land handed down to him from his father, and his father before, he built this homestead of logs, he harvested himself, hand hewn in Adirondack style. The rough log siding and the log beam porch tell the tale of how man can conquer nature, but if only fleeting. This woodsman’s ancestors were the original homesteaders, making something out of nothing in this northern land. It is here they decided on settling. Facing the challenges of mountain life, leaving a legacy.
The pale blue light of dawn reflects dimly off the barrel of the Remington. The leafy floor crunches as he walks the tree line bordering a meadow. He decides the spot that shall conceal this hunter – the thick lower boughs of a young spruce. Turning up the collar of his canvas jacket, he tucks himself into place under the thick branches. This man, the bear; the dear; the elk; fear. For he brings upon them the laws of man. Life, death and lead.
About ten yards out he spies an animal rising up from the floor of the meadow, through his evergreen camouflage. A whitetail deer. Estimating, he thinks he sees four points on the young animal’s sleek head. Wandering, the buck occasionally slahes its hoof to the ground, blowing out a nasally breath of air.
Within seconds our man instinctually raises up. Sights. And blasts. With that the buck bolts about a yard. His front legs losing life, suddenly he tumbles, flipping end over end. The animal lay on the ground, feeling the dampness of the air hanging over him. Looking upward, the early morning sky is a frightful gray, the deer’s shallow breath is his last. His eyes shut. No longer is he in this world.
People of mountain forests do not choose this life, it is ingrained in them. For now our hunter will have meat to ration in the depths of the long winter. In this country life is of harsh reality. Life is true here.
The homestead garden has long since past by November. In this environment, where an autumn-like frost can come on in August, homesteaders not only fall prey to the temperature, but to their soil.
Beads of sweat form on the man’s scalp, dripping down to his brow, through his eyebrows, and into his eyes, stinging. He shuts his eyes and rubs them with his dirty hand. He works the hoe back and forth through several rows of beets, small rocks panging the blade of the hoe as it drags.The dark greens of the beets are a telling sign of what’s only a few inches below the soil. The rocky soil of this mountain region, has the potential to build character in the local gardeners.
Like the rocks of his garden, the homesteader hardens. Adapting, changing, and eventually welcoming adversity. He works harder to solve problems. Rocky soil? He builds raised garden beds. He understands there will be less competition for nutrients if he plants stock farther apart.
He did not read these ideas online, or in a DIY book. These notions were handed down to him as a means for survival. The right idea for the right time.
This man is the archetypical idea of whom we decend from. To our ancestors time was cyclical, a definite ebb and flow of life and time brought routines. These routines were following the path of the changing seasons. What was done in one season, would have an affect on the following season. Killing a buck in autumn, provides meat through the winter. As does growing beets in the summer, then preserving them.
Now I am affraid we may be out of syncopation with that cycle. I wonder, are we knowing of our mother the earth? Or harvesting from her? Taking life from her so another may go on. Do we know how it is to be truly cold? Warm? Or of harvesting wood from the earth to provide that warmth, to dive into a cool mountain lake to refresh not only body, but mind.
The people of the Adirondack mountains have answers. Answers to life, answers of truth, answers of who we really are. For as long as you are to dwell there, you will never forget the way of the mountains.