Into the Woods
I spent the last two days and two nights without wifi or cell-phone service (or land-line service, either).
You’re wincing, aren’t you? You’re trying to imagine being out of range for one day; half a day; a few hours. I was the same way. I was really kind of dreading this trip. I was sure something terrible was doing to happen, and I wouldn’t be able to get help in time.
Where exactly was I? My husband Dan and I stayed in a hunting lodge on a lake in the Adirondacks. On a pristine body of water called Boreas Pond. The property is part of a 161,000-acre tract that the Nature Conservancy purchased from a local paper company and is in the process of selling to the state of New York as protected public land.
Dan is head of the board of the New York State chapter of the Nature Conservancy. That’s the kind of volunteer job that leads to a chance to spend two days magnificently alone in the Adirondack wilderness with your wife. Alone in this case meaning seven miles of dirt road away from other humans (and cell-phone service).
I was awed at the thought of such isolation, even as it gave me acute anxiety. I was channeling Woody Allen. There I was, marveling at the beauty of the lake—in color nearly black, from tannins—and at the same time having visions of disaster, principally: Dan having a heart attack on a trail. A bear, mauling him. A strange upstate bug giving him a serious allergy attack (He gets horrifically large bug bites). I can’t tell you my relief when a TNC staffer showed me the satellite phone and and a kind of emergency pager connecting us to rangers who would descent on us like ants on a picnic.
So we’d be all right. We had life lines. But what about bears? Moose? Snakes? Mike Carr,
head of TNC’s Adirondacks chapter, assuaged my fears. Bears—he couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen one. Moose—not interested in humans. Snakes—no poisonous ones, anyway. I started to relax. A little. Then a bit more.
After a turkey sandwich and a Shiner Bock on the front porch, clouds rolled in. When the rain began, our choice was clear. We stretched out on the leathery hunting-lodge couch and napped. It was delightful. I can’t remember the last time I took a nap in the afternoon. Who has time? There, we did.
We had the time to paddle on the lake and consider that we were the only humans there. I imagined I were a native American, surveying the forest where I would late hunt white-tailed deer. The Last of Mohicans, with Daniel-Day Lewis, was filmed in the Adirondacks. Remember how DDL ran in the woods, swiftly, gorgeously, his hair flowing behind him? The film crew had to have bushwhacked a path for him. There’s just no way he could’ve run in these woods. We didn’t even try to walk in them. The pines and aspens and fir trees (and others) compete for how closely they can grow together, and whatever space remains is clogged with dead branches and stumps. (Kudos to the hunters, who come in the fall to shoot deer. I don’t know how they get through the thicket. I’m not sure how the deer do, either.) We hiked up a dirt road that was once used as a logging route, wondering what creatures might be hearing or seeing us. We saw moose and deer tracks, but the creatures themselves kept their distance.
When did more reading than we usually do. Dan inched closer to finishing David Foster Wallace’s behemoth, Infinite Jest. I devoured two 1950s paperback westerns I’d picked up for 50 cents each at a local store. We talked—or didn’t. When you have all kinds of time to talk, you find you don’t always need to. We made burgers and drank beer and struggled to stay awake long enough to see the stars in a sky without any ambient light. (We missed out; a night haze obscured the stars.) When we rolled onto the paved road and the bars on my phone appeared, I felt a pang of regret. A life without the unending buzz of texts and calls and emails: It was wonderful.