Heilman’s photos, others’ concise writing appeal to residents as well as visitors

An impressive new compendium of photo work entitled “The Trails of the Adirondacks: Hiking America’s Original Wilderness,” by Carl Heilman, has just become available. It’s accompanied by thoughtful commentary from Neil Burdick and others, and published by Rizzoli International Publications in conjunction with the Adirondack Mountain Club.

To the surprise of no one familiar with his work, Carl Heilman’s photographs are terrific. As skilled as he is in photographing panoramas of the Great Range and views from above Lake George, he pays attention to the ground in front of him, too. Sure, it’s hard to miss a boulder erratic the size of a Greyhound bus, but Heilman also captures such tiny details as a red-orange eft and the blue eggs of a wood thrush. He fulfills my fascination for tree roots encompassing huge rocks, looking almost like the talons of a raptor gripping its prey.

Whether with broad vistas from mountain tops or close-up detail of a stream or forest floor, Heilman captures images you’ll want to savor again and again. I’m especially grateful for the inclusion of sunrise scenes, including brilliant red landscapes caught from places like the tops of Goodnow Mountain, Mount Jo and Hurricane. My chances of rising early enough and getting to the proper vantage points are slim, so I’m happy to have an experienced photographer like Heilman do the task for me.

To my surprise, I’ve been to the majority of the places depicted — though not the Red Truck Trail, which Burdick dubs the “Adirondacks’ least known famous trail.” Such familiarity is a major benefit of long-term residency in the region. Yet Heilman finds details I’d never noticed and manages to offer new ideas for exploration.

The book’s text is concise enough to pre-empt any excuse for not reading every word. Well-organized summaries, primarily by Neal Burdick and with contributions from Christine Jerome and Stuart Mesinger, cover a lot of ground. There are interesting nuggets of history — for instance, a brief summary of fire tower construction, and the fact that those ubiquitous round trail markers were an Adirondack invention. And readers will learn a bit more about legendary figures like George Washington Sears, better known as “Nessmuk.”

The writers highlight how forests and waterways are at least as important as the mountains in making this region unique, and remind us that the Adirondacks are among the world’s significant ecological success stories. Bill McKibben wrote the forward; few people as articulately make the case for preserving our environment. Neil Woodworth’s afterword calls for simple steps each of us can take to better protect this habitat.

Once people came here to “cure” tuberculosis. Now our reasons are more complex, but in some ways just as acute. Wilderness can be restorative to our increasingly hectic lives. Add the fact that exercise improves health, and you’ve got a combination just calling out for experiencing the Adirondacks. Granted, there may be crowding in certain areas, but Heilman’s pictures will remind you there are many spots within the Blue Line where you’re still able to enjoy some solitude.

The volume opens with this quote by Verplanck Colvin: “Few fully understand what the Adirondack wilderness really is. It is a mystery even to those who have crossed and recrossed it by boats along its avenues — the lakes — and on foot through its vast and silent recesses.” This book both confirms this assertion and provides plenty of reasons to know the region better.

By the way, at first I couldn’t find the copyright page of the book. Maybe, I thought, there’s no symbol of ownership, as the Adirondacks belong to all of us. Plus, the Adirondacks are timeless. Who needs a date of publication?

Later I realized the copyright page was at the back rather than the front. Didn’t matter. The Adirondacks are timeless, and they do belong to us all. This wonderful volume vividly reminds us why we should appreciate what we have so close and all around us. And why we should want the region to remain a source of renewal and rejuvenation for generations to come.


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