Over the course of the past week, I've had the opportunity to enjoy a number of winter's recreational, pleasures, from skiing to skating to snowshoeing to sledding and more. Regardless of the deep freeze that settled in last week, skiers and skaters, sledders and anglers were out in force. While snow depths still vary considerably depending on the location, there remains plenty of the white stuff to go around.
In fact, in the Champlain Valley, a new record was established as January's accumulated snowfall of 48.5 inches set an historic standard for the month. But before the climate change naysayers attempt to use the new record as evidence to refute global warming; it is important to note that 28.5 inches of the snowfall was delivered in just one storm.
We should not forget that the oddball weather also delivered over two inches of rain, flash floods, 50 mph gale force winds and 55-degree days, in January. Such extremes provide an alarming indication of the weather we can expect in the future. It is a more reliable index than the freak snowstorm that dumped over two feet of snow.
The experts agree that with continued climate change, such extremes in weather will no longer be considered extreme. In fact, such oddities are likely to become the norm as thaws and heavy rains, soaring heat and extended droughts combine with bitter cold, biting winds and deep snows in an escalating, seesaw pattern of variations in weather.
The Adirondacks will experience earlier ice outs and fewer ski days, wetter summers and hunting seasons that pass with little or no snow cover. Drier springs and searing summers will bring lower water levels and deplete oxygen content. Oxygen deficient fish will become sluggish and algae growth will flourish. The effects of climate change will bring major affects to our traditional patterns of outdoor recreation.
The decade of the 1990's delivered the warmest weather in recorded history, following on the tail of the 1980's and the '70's. The changes will occur in our lifetime and will impact everything from tourism to transportation and flood control to home heating. We may actually be living in a time that will be known as "the good old days."
Such thoughts were on my mind last week, as I snowshoed through a mixed hardwood forest on my way to visit some old familiar, childhood haunts located on Cobble Hill in Elizabethtown. Elizabeth Lee, a local guide, naturalist and outdoor writer from Westport accompanied me on the trip.
The purpose of the trek, beyond the simple pleasures of enjoying the winter woods, was to revisit the site of the many boyhood adventures I had experienced in a wild, boulder strewn, landscape located at the base of Cobble Hill's sheer cliffs.
Although it is considered just a mere hill, Cobble dominates the local landscape and looms large over the village, in the valley below. In the eyes of the local kids, it was huge. It was our Mount Marcy and every climb was an adventure. Wood Hill, set on the opposite side of town, was by comparison, a pipsqueak.
Although snowshoes weren't necessary to navigate the limited snow cover in the lower elevations of the Boquet Valley, the 'shoes proved beneficial the higher we went. The climb was short but steep and we were at the base of the cliffs in less than an hour's time.
Memories from boyhood days bounced around in my noggin as we crested a small rise overlooking the village of Elizabethtown and the Pleasant Valley beyond.
I winced with the realization that my last visit had occurred when my daughter was just six years old and it was hard to swallow the fact that she'll soon be graduating college in the spring.
The climb to Cobble was always one of my favorites. Peering down on the valley below, you couldn't see many people, and if you did; they were very small and far away and they didn't much matter.
We were boys then, without the cares, responsibilities and common grievances of grown men. We played among the boulders and in caves, which sheltered ice all summer long. The place offered mystery and an escape from the summer's heat.
There was Hollow Rock, a towering, forty-foot monolith with a small cave in the pitted stone and a short distance beyond laid the Buffalo Stone, a near perfect, natural sculpture that resembled a buffalo at rest.
This was a playground in my youth, and it looked the same, with forests, cliffs and caves. As I negotiated my way over, through and around the vast expanse of snow-covered boulders, it became difficult to disguise my delight.
I had the sensation of viewing the scene through a child's eyes. Though the hollowed cave was much smaller than I remembered, in retrospect, it was likely because I'd grown so much larger. But Buffalo Rock, it was still huge!
It was enjoyable to share the journey with a friend and to recall those younger days, which often feel so far away. Yet on such familiar ground, it was easy to recapture the mood, the excitement of discovery and the sheer pleasure of again sharing a 'secret spot' with someone for the first time. And I will admit, it was encouraging to know that I can still make it back up there.
Amid the hustle and bustle of everyday life, adults often forget the definition of recreation, a process of re-creating and re-learning how to play. It is a vital exercise that is restorative of self and spirit and when practiced in a woodland setting; it can be especially effective in enabling one to recapture their youth.
The famed psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, once a visitor to the Adirondacks, defined wilderness as "a special place, where a man can become lost and yet find himself in the process."
It's good for the soul to become lost on occasion, even if it is difficult to erase that wide grin from your face upon being found.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org