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Exploring waterways in solitude

“In Praise of Quiet Waters: Finding Solitude and Adventure in the Wild Adirondacks,” By Lorraine M. Duvall

This book is part memoir of an avid paddler, part informational guide to the history of protecting water and waterways in the Adirondacks, and part guide book to some nice paddles on quiet waters in the region. The author states her intentions with this braided approach this way: “My aspiration is that the telling of my experiences on the waters of the Adirondacks, interlaced with summaries of the history of the restoration, will add to the initiatives advocating for the continued protection of this environmental treasure.”

Much of the informational sections are quite familiar to anyone with any knowledge of Adirondack history, retracing the legislative history of the park and the work accomplished around protecting land and water, and guaranteeing access. The book comes alive when the author tells of her personal experiences paddling, particularly with her group of able and willing women friends, who range in age from their 60s to 90.

The author is frank about the fact that she and her friends are aging, and about making accommodations for the kinds of limitations aging often introduces. Long portages are no longer possible, so often they stick to more accessible waters, but sometimes they hire help. To gain access to the recently acquired Essex chain, they hired a local outfitter who met them at the parking area, helped unload the boats, transport them down the mile-long road, and even helped hoist them out of their boats at day’s end. (A good chance for paddling is no time to be concerned about a little dignity.) It is quite moving to read how these women seem to handle it all with grace and humor, while still determinedly getting their much-valued time on the water. At the end of the Essex chain day, one 87-year-old companion said, “This is my last adventure … An easy day trip is all I can do. And lunch.”

The book is divided into five sections, each a measure of history and advocacy, with descriptions of trips. One section, for example, discusses the public land/private land mosaic that is the Park, and the families and organizations that have bridged the public and private, including, for example, Great Camp Sagamore, Brandreth Park, and the Santanoni Preserve. The trips include descriptions of some special access the author was provided through participating in guided tours.

The book covers a wide variety of slow rivers, large lakes, small ponds all across the Adirondack Park. By describing her own adventures on various waters, Duvall enables the reader to pick up some hints for future paddles, or to sit comfortably at home and live vicariously through her explorations. But more important for the author is that we be aware and actively supportive of efforts to preserve our waters, and our quiet, where we can.