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A Day in the Woods: An Elixir for the Soul

In 1845, Henry David Thoreau went into the woods. The memoir of his time "living deliberately" on Walden Pond would become an American classic, an example of the healing, fortifying, and restorative power of nature. But as Lori, former Director of Sales and Marketing at High Peaks Resort and NYC native can attest, you do not need to spend two years, two months, and two days seeking solace in the woods. If you're open to the woods amazing things can happen in only an afternoon.

Published: 10/24/2018

Have you ever been so tired that no matter how much sleep you get, you are exhausted? Not physically exhausted, but emotionally and intellectually exhausted? So tired you can barely lift your head from the pillow and a nap seems possible at any moment? A couple of weeks ago, that is exactly how I felt. My soul was exhausted, my entire being had no energy to recover. Then I saw a meme on Facebook that moved me:

Henry David Thoreau Quote Over Photo of Saranac River: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Transcendental Adirondacks

Yes; nature. The magic of nature; its freedom, its stillness – that was what I needed! And I live in the Adirondack Park, how had I not seen this before? What I needed was a complete break from the day to day, from the noise of my daily existence. I needed to hear birds chirping, chipmunks scurrying, leaves rustling in the autumn breeze. But with six million acres surrounding me, where would I go?

I didn't have a week or a weekend, I had an afternoon, so it had to be relatively close by. I also was not looking for a physical challenge, so no 46er for this trip. I just wanted to walk in the woods. So I choose the Visitor's Interpretive Center at Paul Smith's College and I couldn't have made a better choice. I'd always heard about the Visitors Interpretive Center (VIC, as we call it) but had never taken the time to experience it. I am so glad that I did. Just what the doctor ordered!

The VIC exists to create a connection between people and nature, as well as to provide experiential education through their year-round art exhibits. There are 25 miles of hiking and snowshoeing along nine trails, over 3000 acres. Whether you are looking for mountains, marshes, forests, or streams – it's all there.

I wanted a gentle walk, great views, maybe some water and places to sit and soak it all in. Based on all of that, I chose to walk the Heron Marsh trail. This trail has easy wooded paths, joined by boardwalks for easy navigation. I saw one family with a stroller along the way, so quite easily accessible. Within the first hundred feet or so I came across a boardwalk that leads to the marsh and a view of the mountains. Drawn like a magnet, that's where I headed. This is where my healing began.

Sitting on the edge of the marsh, the stillness and serenity of the woods instantly began to overtake me. My nerves calmed, my shoulders relaxed, the clouds of exhaustion began to lift. I stayed at the end of this boardwalk for several minutes, savoring the healing powers of nature. Then it was time to move on.

Each time there was an observation platform or view; I stopped and spent a few minutes. With each stop, the relaxation and healing powers of nature took greater hold.

I was in no hurry, darkness was hours away (the VIC is open from dawn to dusk daily), so I took the time to be sure that all of what there was to see, hear, smell, and experience was absorbed. It was a spectacular fall day, bright blue sky, a gentle breeze, temperatures in the 60s. I stopped all along the way to listen to the rustle of leaves in the breeze. That sound has a particularly calming effect on me and has since my days in the woods outside NYC after 9/11. It just lowers my blood pressure, it gives me peace.

I'd forgotten that and was thrilled to have been reminded.

Chipmunks darted across my path, dragonflies landed on my shoulder to hitch a ride. It gave me joy. I always tell others that they should seek what gives them joy. I should listen to my own advice. This was a joyful afternoon.

The trail is only 3 miles. I can do that in less than an hour when walking around Mirror Lake. But on this day, surrounded by nature, it took nearly 3 hours to arrive back at the entrance and my car. Now feeling relaxed, at peace, alive. Mission accomplished. At the end of the afternoon, I began the ride home a different person than when I'd arrived. I was awake now, I remembered what it is to live.

On your next visit to Lake Placid and the Adirondacks, I urge you to take the time to visit the VIC. It is a special place, a gift to the Adirondacks and to everyone who visits. It is open year-round and free (in the winter there is a trail fee for cross-country skiing to cover the cost of grooming). Bring the kids, bring your grandma, there is something for everyone.

The drive to the VIC is 36 minutes from the High Peaks Resort and offers amazing roadside views of the Adirondacks, especially on the return ride to Lake Placid. If you visit during summer, consider stopping at Donnally's for a soft-serve cone.  

Large breakfast plate with eggs, bacon and toast
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