Saranac Lake has a long history as a wellness center. Both ordinary folk and celebrities flocked to the town after Dr. Edward Trudeau researched and implemented his "fresh air" cure for tuberculosis. When a drug cure was developed after WWII, this devastating disease no longer shaped the town. But we did not abandon our interest in helping people.
Today, there are venues for zero-balancing, massage, yoga, meditation, healthy cooking, organic food from local farms, and healing products from local artisans. We've even come up with wild ways to create fun combinations.
Boat ride for both sides of the soul
Getting a massage during a boat trip through some of the most scenic lakes in the Adirondacks... It sounds heavenly! And, it is.
The pontoon boat leaves from a dock on Lake Flower, a popular spot to launch from for all kinds of watercraft. Across this part of the lake is the Adirondack Obscura, a delightful little house that holds an amazing secret. When we see the OPEN sign outside, we are free to enter and watch the outside world reflected on the table inside.
It can look like magic as we turn the table, and move it up and down, to see the moving images change and shift perspective. It isn't magic, though. Simply a very old art, still operating on the lovely views across the lake.
Once underway, we quickly move out of the area close to town where Camps tend to be small and numerous. This is the Adirondack term for "that place on the lake where you stay for the summer." As we get to less accessible parts of the shoreline, the scenery becomes more dramatic, the Camps scarcer and more elaborate.
"Camp" is an ironic term from the Gilded Age, when the very rich would tell their friends they were going camping in the Adirondacks. They would be headed for their multi-building Great Camps with crates of fine china and silver, gourmet foodstuffs, a complete wardrobe, and a small army of servants.
Now, with grocery stores, roads, and other elements of modern life reaching Camp, it's only a little less ironic to use this Adirondack nickname. But the history, and tradition, continues.
a long and lovely history
As we cruise through Lake Flower, Captain Dan is full of stories; how Honeymoon Island got its name, why there's a big house anchored to a big rock, the names of the mountains, and the creation of Lake Flower. While we are in a motorized boat, and stick to the deep channel in the center, all around us are canoeists and kayakers enjoying the increasingly complicated shoreline.
The middle third of Lake Flower becomes a narrow, river-like channel before dramatically expanding into a mass of many peninsulas. The convoluted paths are delightful for smaller craft, as I know from following it in my own kayak. From the boat channel, it creates some picturesque vistas with stone bluffs and craggy hills. Many of the taller trees now show signs of being shaped by wind.
Lake Flower is more than a convenient and enjoyable body of water. It's also the entrance to the Saranac Chain of Lakes, which moves from Lake Flower, Oseetah Lake, and Kiwassa Lake, into Lower, Middle, and Upper Saranac. And that's only the last leg of the famous 90 Miler, a paddling route which stretches all the way to Old Forge.
We have reached a point where, most of the time and for most of the compass, the land is still wilderness. Many of these Camps are only accessible by water. A boat of some sort is the only way to get these views.
Centered above and below
When the boat looked somewhat centered in the middle of Oseetah Lake, Captain Dan put down the anchor and got out the massage table.
Zero Balancing is a relative newcomer to the massage arts. It was developed in the early 1970's by Dr. Fritz Smith, a medical doctor with such an interest in acupuncture he traveled to London to study it. He became the the first American to receive a Diploma from the College of Traditional Chinese Acupuncture. This became the foundation for the Zero Balancing treatment modality, which has been described as "acupuncture without the needles and massage without undressing."
By having certain points on the body gently pressed, and having appendages gently stretched and moved, the body is guided back into proper alignment. When the treatment releases tension from muscles which have been under stress, the muscular structure goes back to operating in harmony with its design.
I found the process to be amazingly effective, considering how gentle and undramatic the movements were. We start with a discussion of how my body is feeling, and whether anything is bothering me. In my case, it's the tendency for the right side of my neck to get a "crick" in it without a lot of prompting.
While Captain Dan pays some special attention to my neck, he also does a little extra stretching on that side's shoulder and hip, explaining that our bodies "compensate" when there is pain in one area. But this often overworks other parts of the body. This creates a ripple effect of dysfunction even if the original pain clears up. I feel the tension draining away... especially from my neck.
I am coached into sitting up, then standing, at a slow pace. This gives my body time to rev up and re-engage. The session was as delightful an experience as a more assertive style of massage. The setting enhances it wonderfully. Many spas play nature sounds, but we have the real thing, from the slap of waves on the hull to the birdsong riding the wind. The sun on the water and the pine trees in the breeze can be our aromatherapy.
The Locks is our turn-around point for this trip. They are a scenic spot in their own right, but also serve to allow powerboats access to further down the chain of lakes. There is a carry path for handpowered watercraft to reach the same waters.
Retracing our route creates a new perspective on the scenery we had seen before. The shoreline has a different shape, the clouds have shifted, the trees have a new profile. I am rejuvenated and refreshed by the entire experience. Quite an accomplishment for one boat ride.
Back in 1887, the famous author Robert Louis Stevenson rented a cottage in Saranac Lake so the "healing air" would help his lifelong lung condition. In 1943, Bela Bartok, a major composer of the 20th century, arrived to encourage his own fragile health. In the 21st century, we remain a special spot for anyone who wishes to get back in touch with nature, to revitalize their body and their spirits, and experience the charm and hospitality of this little village which has long been welcoming visitors with its healing touch.
Like the Adirondack Obscura, it only feels like magic.
There are many ways to celebrate Saranac Lake's wellness tradition. Find out the tourboat schedule from Adirondack Massage Therapy. It makes for a wonderful group outing! Back at the dock, we are only steps away from enjoying the delights of Saranac Lake's galleries, dining, and shopping.