Over the weekend I had the privilege of working at the 14th annual Arts and Healing Retreat held at Great Camp Sagamore. Sponsored by the nonprofit Creative Healing Connections Inc., this annual retreat is for women who have dealt with cancer and chronic illness as well as female veterans from our armed forces. Some women traveled a long physical distance to be able to join us deep in the Adirondacks near Raquette Lake. Others traveled far in emotional distance, to be somewhere safe and far away from the difficulties of everyday life. In any case, we offered these women workshops to inspire their creativity, connection, and confidence, and we held them in an amazing historical setting, a beautiful place sure to soothe life's angry beasts. There was no cell phone reception, and no television to distract any of us from relaxing, getting to know one another and enjoying the beauty of the deep woods.
Wildlife at Sagamore
Wild turkeys wandered about the grounds of the historical site, and at night, a couple of deer waited for the women to get to bed before openly wandering around the complex. A pair of barred owls hooted outside my window both nights I was there. A pair of loons swam quietly on Sagamore Lake, their haunting echo rising overhead in the early morning before activity for the day began. It was a long distance from a hospital room with chemotherapy drugs dripping into an arm. It was a long distance from the battlegrounds of Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam. And over the course of the weekend, Sagamore became home away from home for us all.
Colors of mountains
One of the advantages of holding this retreat in Raquette Lake in September is what every woman sees by the time she drives down that long dirt road to Sagamore. Whether driving north from Brooklyn or Syracuse, or south from Saranac Lake, the roads to the center of the Adirondacks are lined with late greenery, and a little of everything else. During one stretch of about 5 miles I saw a field of tall orange grasses with bright red maples creating a contrasting backdrop. And nearby was a small meadow of deep yellow grasses surrounded by bright orange trees. I felt it was decidedly other-worldly to see what traditionally is green in summer and white in winter looking as though it were colored by an artiste extraordinaire.
The hillsides and mountains were colored in a variety of shades of autumn some mountains seeming to be nearly all green as I drove by. But others? I was shocked, even after a lifetime of being a fall groupie, by the amazing combination of Life-Saver colors red, orange, yellow, green shouting hello as my little red car putted by. Each woman who attended the retreat saw her own version of autumn beauty. Each woman took those images of peace home with her when the retreat was over. It was an experience shared by us all.
When I got back to the northern Adirondacks, the colors were totally different. Here there was a subtle bronzing of the hillsides. Gold is taking hold here, and some red is beginning to tip its hat and there is a yellow-green hue which indicates more change is to come. Seeing both realms of coloration on this drive was a learning experience. I learned that what I see every day in my own world is not the totality of Adirondack autumn. I loved going around every corner of parts of the winding Adirondack Trail, on Route 30 north. I got to see a swath of Adirondack living at a glorious time of the year.
Taking a drive
I think every Adirondack resident owes it to himself or herself to take a drive through a different part of the Adirondacks than where he or she lives. Make it be a gift to yourself. Instead of going to the movies one day, take the money you would have spent on a film to buy gas, and give yourself a few hours to explore the visions of beauty that Mother Nature is offering every one of us. Take a side road, and drive slowly. Stop at a rest stop or two. Listen for the sounds of Canada geese flying overhead. See how many turkeys you can find walking by the side of the road. Listen to the crickets chirping in the sun. Find some fresh apples for sale and eat one while the colors of a beautiful fall day enter your psyche.
I don't think I would have done this drive without a purpose, but now that I have, I've realized once again that these gifts of nature are nearly free, and are ours for the taking. We merely need to make a decision to appreciate them. Ask the women who drove for hours, drove for miles from their busy lives to a sanctuary deep in the woods. Each one took home the gifts of multi-colored leaves and cool quiet air, as well as the benefits from being at a retreat that was soul-soothing. Gifts. The pine-scented air, sparkling lakes and rivers, and ancient mountains rising in majesty against a blue sky all remind us of why it can be fabulous to live and work and retreat in the wilds of the Adirondack mountains.
Randy Lewis lives in Paul Smiths and is the author of "Actively Adirondack: Reflections of Mountain Life in the 21st Century," Adirondack Center for Writing's People's Choice Award for Best Book 2007.