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In Cold Type | The Nation

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In Cold Type

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As summer winds down, retreats and vacations come to an end (no more
toasted marshmallows) and regular life begins again, with everyday
chores like buying new shoes for children and paying long-ignored bills
and getting files back in order--the whole workaday schedule.

Usually the end of summer has its own bittersweet cyclical comforts, but
this year I've been feeling more than the ordinary stress of returning
to tall stacks of unread mail and to the zip and chaos of subways and
traffic lights and elevators and buses. I realized the other day that
much of my extra angst is about September 11, and starting up life again
in New York (otherwise known as Targettown).

I'd been up in the Adirondacks, where we try to spend a week every
summer, and attempting to figure out which was reality, this--the lake
spread out before me, distant pines, a couple of ducks diving, a canoe
gliding by, the gas station that sells sub sandwiches, the ice-cream
shop with the "Pies Today" sign, the campfires and the cold nights--or
New York City; in the same state, the two places seem to exist on such
separate planes.

As a New Yorker, I've joined in the general quest for stress relief (we
did this pre-9/11, too, but the answer was usually Prozac or yoga or a
Manhattan, not an inflatable lifeboat or a lifetime supply of instant
milk and potassium iodide), to little avail. Still haven't got the ten
gas masks, one set for home and one for school and work...

The latest step I've taken in the quest for inner peace--while "ongoing
police investigations" in my city cause traffic jams and mini-panics and
nightmares for overactive imaginations--is to sit back with a few issues
of Adirondack Life. Eight times a year it hides a happily
provincial interior behind a handsome, sophisticated cover, and provides
a perfect escape from real troubles but is not escapist in its
intentions: Life doesn't feel compelled to paper over the
troubles of the region it's covering, it just doesn't happen to be
covering Manhattan or Iraq, and its own ground zero is the Adirondack
Park, not Ground Zero. Like many regional magazines, it contains
puffery. The October cover story, "Hunting Wild Elk," is little more
than a paean to the resplendent Elk Lake--hence no final beauty shot of
an actual wild elk, but plenty of pictures of canoes and swimming
platforms and autumn foliage. (Indeed, an issue of Adirondack Life
without a single image of a canoe would be like an issue of
Rolling Stone--at least, the old Rolling Stone--with no
reference, even glancing, to the Beatles.) Even when puffing, though,
Adirondack Life is not as touristy as some regionals, and it
feels less provincial, less like the local section of a small newspaper.
(Yankee and Hudson Valley magazines come to mind.)

It's a more important magazine, closer to the heart of the country, or
what's good about it, than most others of its type. For me, and many
others, the Adirondacks are a throwback to what American life was or
could have been--at some idealized moment of pioneering and small camp
settlements, of fur trading and logging and fishing, all on a small
scale; a paradigm of man and nature together in the East among pines and
hills and lakes. Though there is nothing left of the wild in Manhattan
and only about a square block of it remaining on Long Island, in the
Adirondacks there are places where you can imagine the continent before
the advent of the white man, and how rich, promising, altogether
stupendous and just plain big it must have seemed to the settlers. You
can see how the sheer sweep of the land was predictive of the future of
the nation.

Over and over Adirondack Life captures that sweep, as well as the
idiosyncrasies of the citizens of what is self-consciously called the
"North Country" but might as well be called America. In another October
article, called "First Estate," Lynn Woods presents the utopia of
Brandreth Park, a huge piece of land bought in 1851 by Dr. Benjamin
Brandreth with proceeds from the fortune he made as the maker of
Life-Addition and Vegetable Universal pills and remedies. (Along with
quackery, Dr. Brandreth could boast of a gift for Bible-thumping
advertising.) After he lost the then 24,038-acre park in 1873 for
failing to pay taxes, his wife bought it back from the state for $5,091
at public auction. The 12,500 remaining acres of Dr. Brandreth's park
are still held by ninety of his descendants--offshoots of his thirteen
children--and their families. Paulina Brandreth, a granddaughter, was a
fabled Adirondack iconoclast who dressed as a man and who in photographs
barely differs from her wilderness guide, Reuben Cary, except for her
beardlessness. Boozers, cross-dressers, big-gamesmen, Presidents,
madwomen and steely-eyed, bear-shooting great aunts--all the material is
here.

Today, that flinty, eccentric spirit remains at Brandreth Park, which is
like a dream of Adirondack perfection. No motorboats allowed here, no
noise pollution except for the generator that powers Brandreth's water
pump, the main road rerouted so that headlights won't play across the
pristine face of the lake. The architecture is utilitarian, not
twig-bedecked and touristy.

It would be splendid to visit the Brandreths of old; to drive down a
dirt road to a wooden camp and live off the lake with the help of a
Reuben or Paulina. The best way to get a sense of what that visit would
provide is to read Adirondack Life. You won't learn only about
quacks and scenic lakes, though. You'll also read Bill McKibben on how
the changing global environment is affecting the Adirondacks, and Amy
Godine on the summer at Saratoga.

I tried to get other magazines up in the North Country, but the best
periodical I could find other than Adirondack Life was a consumer
shopper on trucks for purchase at public auction (call Mrs.
Brandreth...). There was, however, no shortage of Adirondack
Life
. No sense of timeliness or, worse yet, "news," mars the
unchanging, eternal stasis here. At Hoss's Country Corner in Long Lake
you can buy about two years' worth of back issues.

One more thing: I failed to mention the photographs, which alone can
soothe the terror-tried breast. Barns in the snow. Mist coming off a
pond in early morning. Purple ice cracking at sunset. Green grasses in
the blue Cedar River. Another world.

Now back to the 111th Street newsstand.

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