Released on April Fools Day in 1869, William H. H. Murray’s book, Adventures in the Wilderness proved to be both an inspirational rant and a solid ‘How To’ manual for beginning campers.
Within a year of its publication, the wilderness rush of Murray’s Fools was on. The novice campers were greatly aided by the convenience of a new railroad link, which delivered city dwellers from either New York or Boston into the wilderness in less than a day and a half.
Unfortunately, those early Adirondack vacationers encountered tough travel during the summer of ’69, as a result of record-setting rains and unseasonably cold weather. Of course the one constant was blackflies, the region’s particularly notorious “flying teeth” which even tinctures of pin tar, citronella and balsam oil couldn’t chase away.
However, despite the horror of blackflies, unending crowds of newcomers and a few ‘rascally, scoundrelous guides’ most of Murray’s Fools survived their experience. Soon, they were singing praises about time spent in the wilderness where “the antiseptic quality of the balsam scented air made it all worthwhile to be on campaign and roughing it for a spell.”
Within five years time, more than 200 hotels and public camps had sprouted up across the Adirondack region. By the turn of the century, the summer population of the region swelled with more than 25,000 visitors, a sevenfold increase from the 3,000 or so travelers who had first invaded the region in 1869.
Murray’s book has been credited with “kindling a thousand campfires” and his widely published advice made “roughing it easy,” a task that could be undertaken by the common man.
A century and score beyond, campers continue to flock to the Adirondack region for such seasonal delicacies as the dark skies, the cool nights, the wail of the loon and the chance to just get away from it all for a while.
Humans are born with an innate sense of discovery, which often results in an inexplicable need to explore our environment. In our efforts to return to our roots, we often recognize the need to simplify our daily existence.
In camp, we learn to slow down. Every day life is slowly reduced to a just a few basic needs such as food, water and hopefully some toilet paper.
Camping teaches us the concept that less is more, and we learn to make due without all of the whiz-bang toys and convenient conveniences of life at home. There are a lot of electronic items we can take off the list. Books, the type made of real paper products provide an excellent substitute for a computer. A ‘Kindle’ becomes a chore you do to start a fire at the end of each day.
For thousands of years, mankind lived in a primitive state and subsisted as hunter/gatherers. Men hunted, fished and foraged for food, and lived a nomadic life, which involved shifting and moving with the game throughout the seasons. Man was attached to the land in order to survive, and it was a very seasonal existence.
Scientists have claimed it was the eventual domestication of dogs, which aided in the herding and hunting of animals, as well as protection of their masters camp; that allowed humans to advance beyond the hunter/gatherer existence.
Camping allows us to return to that nomadic lifestyle if only for a while. It provides a place where we can learn to reduce our dependence on modern tools and recapture a unique piece of our past that remains ingrained deep in our psyche. We are humans mostly in the wild. The built environment of cities and town is most unnatural to our heritage and health.
Undoubtedly, camping is one of the most family oriented experiences ever invented. However, it wasn’t really invented, it was simply rediscovered. We don’t learn how to camp, we camp to learn how to live, and having a dog in camp provides a real bonus.
In the woods, we are more human, and we become more connected to our roots. We are alive! It happens as we learn to again live a simple existence. Whether it involves staring at the night sky or at the coals of a fire; listening to the call of a loon or the croak of a frog; the time we spend in camp is both restorative and relaxing.
Camp is a unique setting with a remarkable capacity to make men out of boys, and boys out of men, regardless of gender. It is a place where risks can be taken, fears can be shaken and our spirit is constantly refreshed and awakened. I know this from experience.
However it has also been confirmed by a national survey, which indicates outdoor recreation, leads to a higher quality of life for both children and adults.
According to the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Related Recreation conducted by the US Census Bureau: “Outdoor recreation leads to improved physical and mental health, and children from recreationally active families become adults who are more satisfied with their lives, families, friends, and careers. Outdoor recreation promotes stronger families and shared family values and it provides people with greater appreciation of nature and the environment.
Camping is by far the most popular outdoor activity and it is enjoyed at an equal rate among men and women. And it’s not likely to become just another fad; as the people surveyed who camped in tents last year indicated they plan on camping even more this year, Industry experts believe this trend will continue.
Most Adirondack kids are raised with a solid connection to the environment. In many cases, it was camp traditions that helped to shape their character and to foster a firm understanding of nature’s processes. Such activities remain a vital component of our regional culture and the North Country heritage, and it is important that we pass them on to the next generation!
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.