We Cast Off — Again
After completing the laborious task of reformatting and uploading nearly 1,000 previously published columns, we wrote the first new article for this site just one year ago today. At the time, it was our settled intention to continue a tradition of weekly columns that began in 1999, when our debut piece for what was then Paddling.net appeared. But as someone — Churchill, perhaps, or was it Keynes? — once observed, sensible people change their minds whenever circumstances change. And since we like to think we’re sensible people, we’ve done just that. So this will be our last new Back in the Same Boat column. If you’d like to know why, read on.
The summer just past was preternaturally hot and humid, a harbinger of summers yet to come in our New Model Climate. It was also preternaturally lifeless. We saw no bats, few warblers or flycatchers, and even fewer butterflies. As for the once-ubiquitous blackflies and mosquitoes, they’ve long been absent from nearby woods and waters, victims of a publicly funded poisoning campaign that began before our first column appeared in 1999. The local chambers of commerce see this as something to celebrate, of course, though the ever-diminishing populations of insect-eating birds likely wouldn’t agree. But at least we’ll always be able to download their pictures on our smartphones.
And now? The first snow of winter has come and gone, melting away almost as soon as it settled. It will be interesting to see what surprises lie in store for us in the months to come. Week-long ice storms? Torrential rains? Or a succession of lake-effect blizzards? The caprices of the New Model Climate are a source of constant wonderment.
That said, the summer heat and humidity did nothing to discourage flash mobs from frequenting Adirondack rivers and summits. Rangers were kept busy escorting clueless or foot-sore trippers back to their cars, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) ultimately closed trailhead parking areas in a predictably futile scheme to lessen congestion on several trophy peaks. At the same time, however, DEC pressed ahead with its efforts to increase traffic in those few remaining enclaves where a walker or paddler might once have hoped to find solitude. Nor were conservation NGOs immune from such institutional doublethink. One local environmental group began recruiting “stewardship ambassadors” to lure more trippers into the hills. It wasn’t a job for just anyone, mind. Successful candidates had to be “passionate” to “share their adventures” on social media, though they must also be “able to … see things in a broader context” and (naturally) be “passionate about the environment.” Conclusion? In the brave new world of mass backcountry tourism, you can’t have too much passion.
It’s anyone’s guess whether Canoe Country woods and waters, let alone the wild creatures who call them home, will survive both the social media-driven swarms of trippers and the climatic extremes that lie ahead, but one thing at least is clear: There’s no place in today’s world for the leisurely, low-budget, no-octane exploration that our column has long celebrated. Independent, self-directed travelers are too thin on the ground and too tight-fisted to excite the chambers of commerce, and they’re also too… well… independent to find favor with the proliferating bureaucracies that now govern most public lands. The future of outdoor recreation clearly lies with organized, permit-holding, professionally shepherded throngs of free-spending bucket-listers.
You can include us out. We’ve always striven to avoid the madding crowd, and we’ve certainly no wish to add to its numbers. Like the temperate Old Model Climate, our season has past. We’ll continue to write, but this is our last piece for Back in the Same Boat. Which isn’t to say that we’re happy to be abandoning our new mooring after so short a stay. We’re not. But though we’ll leave the site online for a little while longer, it’s now a monument, not a work in progress. This day had to come eventually, after all. It’s simply arrived a little earlier than we’d anticipated.
What’s next? Good question. Like the two sightless beggars in Hakuin Ekaku’s painting, we find ourselves groping our way blindly over a yawning abyss, balanced on a precarious log span of unknown length, taking care not to put a foot wrong and hoping that the log won’t suddenly roll out from under us. You could call this a fool’s errand, of course — or the trip of a lifetime. Or it could be both. But we’ll leave that call to you.
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