Unfolding the Map
We are now climbing into the Adirondacks with William Least Heat-Moon (LHM), Ghost Dancing straining, and we will again reflect on mountains, their majesty, their age, their wisdom, and our admiration of them. At least I will. To see where Alder Creek is located, start climbing toward the map.
"I went up into the Adirondacks at a point where they form a virtual wall, and Ghost Dancing labored making the ascent. No sun in the forest and twelve degrees cooler. The ancient Adirondack Mountains are much older than the old Appalachians they merge with; consequently, they tend toward roundness with few sharp outcroppings. Adirondack ('bark eaters') was a contemptuous epithet Mohawks gave to some degenerated tribe so poor it had to eat trees.
"I bought gas in Alder Creek and asked the pumpman what winter was like in the mountains. 'This,' he said and held up the stump of a little finger. 'Frostbite. Snowfall of a hundred forty-two inches last year, forty-five below, wind chill seventy below. That's what we call winter.'"
Blue Highways: Part 8, Chapter 6
Alder Creek, New York
Never having been to the Adirondacks - I've only really skirted them as I drove through New York - I can't comment on their beauty or the effects of their great age upon them. But I love mountains, both young and old, and for different reasons. I grew up in the California Coast Ranges, which are relatively young mountains, about 3-4 million years old, that range near the coast of Northern California. The immense forces that raised these mountains are tied in with the plate tectonics of the west coast of North America, and where near my hometown the Mendocino Triple Junction of the North American, Pacific, and Gorda, as well as the meeting place for the San Andreas and Mendocino faults with the Cascadia subduction zone. In other words, it is a cauldron of plate tectonics and this cauldron has created forces which has heaved up the mountains in which I played and explored when I was young.
I'm trying to think of what might be the oldest mountains that I've visited? The Appalachians would certainly qualify. The forces that built the mountains may have begun as early as a billion years ago, though 540 million years ago is a good midpoint to think about in terms of when they began to take their present shape. However, one person disputes this, writing that they are really very young mountains. I am in no position to agree or disagree. However, on the gut feeling side which is totally unscientific, they seem to be old mountains to me. Though my visit in them reminded me of home, I still felt that they were different in some way, that if they could talk they would be older, wiser, and full of stories that my young coastal mountains could not know. Another mountain range, the Blue Ridge Mountains, which I drove along for a while, might be about 400 million years old, which would put them a close second. These old ranges, with their wooded sides, eroded and gentle slopes, are beautiful and home to a history as varied as the people who have trod, hunted, fished and settled on and in them over time.
The Sierra Nevada, another mountain range with which I'm quite familiar, is a mystery to geologists. There is a camp that claims that they are relatively old, at 40-80 million years old, or almost an infant, at 3 million years old. I have always thought of them as young mountains, given that they are so stark and craggy, and perception is everything, I guess. If you look at a person and think that he or she is young, then for all intents and purposes he or she is until the truth is revealed.
The mountain ranges I currently live near, the Sandias and Manzanos, formed about 10 million years ago, the result of the geological forces associated with one of only two continental rift valleys (the Rio Grande Valley - the other is the Great Rift Valley in Africa). These certainly make them older than the mountains I grew up in, but younger than most of the other mountains I've frequented.
From what I've read, the Adirondacks are much more complex than LHM imagined. The Adirondacks can be considered ancient, because they are made of ancient rock that was created and buried 30 miles below the earth's surface. The age of the rocks are anywhere from 1-2 billion years old. However, the forces that pushed them to the surface and created the Adirondacks is much more recent. Sometime around 65 million years ago, the land began to rise, pushing those ancient rocks to the surface. Then erosion began to form the Adirondacks, leading to the mountains that are familiar to those in that part of the country.
I love mountains, whether they are old or young. When camping out at my property in the Irmulco Valley, some of my most serene and sublime moments have come while traversing a mountain ridge and hearing the wind through the evergreens overhead. The vistas that can be seen from a mountaintop are those that can stay with one forever. While driving along the Blue Ridge Mountains, just looking down over the fields far below almost gave me a feeling of flying, even though my car wheels were held fast to the road.
On the other hand, just looking at a craggy mountain vista, such as when one approaches the Rockies or the Sierra Nevadas, gives one such a perspective. When I've gazed upon these mountains looming in the distance, there are times that I feel small and appreciative of the wonders that God or gods, Nature, the Universe, or whatever one might believe in, put on this earth. I sometimes wonder if they were put here for me to admire, or whether it doesn't matter.
I think the gift of a mountain is simply that we ARE here to admire it, to let the mountain free our minds to imagine what it would be like at the top, or if we are at the top, to wonder what might be going on to those unseen down below. I believe that whether the mountains speak to us from the ages when the earth was young, or in the blink of a couple of million years, they speak truth. Their truth is that they are there, fixed and permanent, as marker and metaphor in our lives.
Mountains put me in a reflective mood, and so does Stevie Nicks' song Landslide, which uses the mountain both as a metaphor for a change in life, and the potential pitfalls that can occur. Right now my wife and I are in a place of change, and she has a mountain to climb and is concerned about the potential landslides.
If you want to know more about Alder Creek
I'm sorry, Littourati, but there just isn't anything of substance on Alder Creek. It might be that the community is just too small. Here's some links on the Adirondacks in general.
Next up: Forest House Lodge, New York