STORIES OF OUR ADIRONDACKS
Forgotten Voices of the North Woods : Revisiting historic literature of the Adirondacks
Stanton Davis Kirkham (1868 - 1944) was a naturalist, philosopher, ornithologist and author. Born in Nice, France, his primary residence was Canandaigua, Ontario County, New York. He was the only child of Major Murray S. Davis and Julia Edith Kirkham Davis, daughter of Gen. Ralph Wilson Kirkham, Union Army general. He attended public schools in California and later graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During his life he wrote numerous books on nature and philosophy.
His book, East and West contains two chapters about the Adirondacks, The Wilderness and Still-Paddling, in this article I am sharing a portion of the latter, as the descriptions of the boats used and the places visited in this chapter give a wonderful view of the Adirondack experience, as well as Kirkham's very expressive style of writing.
As one gradually becomes domiciled in the wilderness, the native tendency to walk gives way to an acquired tendency to row and paddle, until this largely supplants the natural method of locomotion; just as in the South West one becomes so habituated to riding that he no longer feels at home on foot. Of the three, walking is the slower and more difficult process. It is surprising how the arms become toughened by this constant paddling and the energy flows into them rather than into the legs, so that in the course of time, five miles seems far on land, but no distance at all by water. This is the peculiar influence of the wilderness: one becomes amphibious, whereas in most mountain regions the tendency is quite the reverse and the energy all goes to climbing.
The result of this constant association with water is not alone a modification of habit, but an increased sense of companionship with the lakes. With its inlet and outlet and contiguous swamps, a pond is an unexplored sea upon which to make many a voyage of discovery. There is, perhaps, nothing more companionable in Nature. It is alive and had moods, changing day by day and hour by hour: an eye in the wilderness, expressive when all else is uncommunicative, It is so different from different points of view, at different seasons and times of day, that you may be years exploring it and then not feel you have come to the end. A pond whose shores are unindented, all parts of which can be see at any one point, is like a commonplace personality not difficult to read, though even such one borrows divine moods from the sky. But a lake dotted with islands and with a diversified shore, with bays and straits, smiling beaches and grim cliffs descending to dark silent pools, is a very complex personality, full of surprises and delights. Perhaps we cannot fully explore such a lake in the course of a lifetime. It has not one, but many shores, remote from each other. More than once I have seen some faint outline in the distance, entirely new and unknown to me, destined for ever to remain a true terra incognita; for though I paddled all day, as I advanced it receded, and disappeared at length. These are the lands of Morning, seen only by early light, which gradually fade as the day wanes. We set out for them in the dawn- in the morning of life- but when by afternoon we arrive where they appeared to be, they have vanished.