This weekend, as I snowshoed along the state's "new" Raymond Brook trail from the North Creek end, it did not take long before the sound of passing cars on Route 28 faded away.
After making the first series of ascents up the slopes of the old ski trails, the crunch of my snowshoes in the frigid air became the only perceptible sound.
As often happens when exposed to cold temperatures, the mind starts to slow down and thoughts become less hectic. With each step I found myself gaining more distance from my normal "mental chatter" and a sort of calm gently settled in.
As any outdoor enthusiast can attest - this is the lure of spending time alone in the woods. If you are open to it, you can easily leave behind the dozens of things that constantly occupy your mind day in and day out.
There among the frozen landscape is peace, natural beauty, and the simple act of putting one foot ahead of the other. Within that primordial rhythm lies the question of whether you are leaving something behind or seeking a new element of what makes us uniquely human.
Last week a reader sent me an article by Wilfred M. McClay entitled; "The Burden and Beauty of the Humanities," written in response to a recent New York Times blog by Stanley Fish.
Mr. Fish had apparently challenged the value of the humanities, that field of literature concerned with human culture, attesting that it's worth was best defined in terms of human pleasure and little more.
I considered this as I snowshoed along - feeling a bit more physically removed from my fellow humans with each step. Where would we be without a world of knights and dragons I wondered? Without Ahab and the whale? Or Bedouin's wandering across endless deserts?
If you read about the humanities, you will invariably comes across the term "human condition." It strikes me as a kind of cosmic marker for human beings that basically says "you are here" without the benefit of any real point of reference.
In my view, reading great literature and trying to plumb the depths of our own existence is quite similar to wandering through the wilderness on a cold winter day.
You start the journey by leaving the relative warmth and safety of your human companions. The noise that emanates from their daily activity gradually fades away as you become part of a new (yet familiar) environment.
While parted you reconnect with the earth, with nature, and with yourself. Invariably you will begin to find answers to questions that could never have occurred "down below" with its multitude of distractions.
Eventually, as the body grows weary and the mind becomes satiated, you gradually return to the familiar sound of traffic on the highway and the comfort of humanity. Your tracks lead you back to the point where you started but it's clear that the world you left is not the one you have returned to.
Of what value is a walk in the woods on a cold and snowy winter day? Does it enhance the value of our lives in any measurable way or is it simply a distraction from all of the things that we should be doing?
For me, the real determination of value lies in what we are left with at the end of the day. If there is something in our lives that adds substance to the quality of who we are, and in turn who we all are, then it's probably a good thing.
There will be people who do not agree with you, like Mr. Fish, and then again you might find someone that wants to borrow a pair of snowshoes and come along next time. That's the beauty of being human - sometimes you don't know why you are doing something until it's all over.
Brett Hagadorn is editor of the North Creek News Enterprise. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org