If there is one thing about the Adirondack Mountains that I am constantly awed by, it is the way that the outer edges of forest near the road hide an Edenic wildwood that fosters a sense of magnificent solitude and peace completely unknown and unobserved by passers-by. For many years I've driven by the entrance to Bloomingdale Bog, never thinking for a moment that the simple gate offered, in a way, transit to another world. I've heard about the bog for years, but I'm an Irish girl and I've been in bogs before. Because I am also a city girl, born and raised, traversing through the Adirondack version of Ireland's peaty quagmire has never held much appeal to me before. This year, however, I've been drawn to the wilderness and new experiences in general.
When I arrived at the entrance to Bloomingdale Bog to meet seventh-generation Adirondack resident Guide nonpareil (according to Forbes Life magazine), Ed Kanze, it was 7:30 AM and still early enough that there was an otherworldly quiet lingering in the morning air. County Route 55 is one of my favorite roads to appreciate nature without actually being in it. I've often pulled over to take a photograph of some mystical thicket taken out of a Ridley Scott film or a maple tree decked out in magnificent red during the fall foliage season, and I admit, I was a little excited to no longer be an observer of that world but a participant in it. You, no doubt, have a picture in mind of an Adirondack Naturalist and that picture probably includes a wide-brimmed hat, a well-worn and much-loved woolen sweater, sensible boots, and binoculars - and you would be right. I am of the firm belief that an escape in the Adirondacks is as much a pastoral respite as it is an adventure and I relish in the sense of atmosphere intrinsically linked to Adirondack culture.
We embarked on our journey straight away and I was immediately struck that this was not what I was expecting when Bloomingdale Bog was selected as the site of our escapade. The trail does not run directly through the marsh, but rather on an elevated bit of earth, once the home of the Delaware and Hudson railroad (or D&H). A few short feet in and you find that this truly is the ideal area for our purpose; bird watching. The quiet afforded by the protection of the trees allows you to immerse yourself in the birdsong of Bloomingdale Bog; the rush of high, thin, whistled notes of the Golden-crowned Kinglet, the amusing "free-beer" of the Alder Flycatcher, the trill of a Dark-eyed Junco, the "first gear, second gear" of the Nashville Warbler, the jingle-bell-like trill of Cedar Waxwings. While I'm told that many serious birders go to places like Texas, where the Houston Audubon Society has erected bleacher-like seating on their properties from which you can observe the migrating birds, the opportunity to take a step into the bird's world and become a part of it for a morning was profound; I can't imagine being affected in the same way or taking away with me what I did were I sitting in bleachers among a throng of other spectators.
When I was little - say four or five - there was only one thing I wanted to be when I grew up. While some children want to be doctors or astronauts or dancers, I used to wish on dandelions that "someday my prince will come" and I would be a princess (not a queen, never a queen); thanks, in no small part, to Cinderella and Snow White and the flock of woodland animals who loved them so very, very much and birds who would eat right out of their hands. Well, that part of my dream I can check off my list. Armed with a tempting piece of organic breakfast sausage, the bold Gray Jay parents would fly down and land, gracefully, on my fingers, taking my tasty offering back for themselves and their fledgling. Even more a privilege - we visited with them just after their new baby was entering young-adulthood; not yet feeding itself, but attempting to land on a moving target, not quite ready but making valiant and inspiring attempts. To have the chance to interact with something wild like this was a singularly touching moment that could never have occurred in another locale.
When we began our walk I asked Ed, "what is it about bird watching that people find so fulfilling?" I was both surprised and intrigued by his answer at first, but when we left the bog I understood completely. He said, "Bird watching is mostly about the hunt; in fact, it is another form of hunting. Bird watchers and hunters talk about their pursuits in the same way. It's about being out in nature, in the wild places; about stalking, or waiting in quiet anticipation for something to come into view. Sometimes you lose, but always you win because every day is different, and Adirondack birds live in beautiful places. You never know what you're going to find. Birding is about knowing habitats and the birds that live in them, but it's also a game of chance. Today will be the day! That's our hope."