How to pick your path
Saranac Lake is on the edge of a great lake wilderness, and offers many short and scenic hikes. Our gentle terrain means lots of lovely woods to walk in.
When we are spoiled for choice there is another dilemma. Which path is best, right now? Each season brings a different joy.
Consider the season
As the weather shifts, so do my favorites. An early winter snowfall is my signal to explore the Lake Flower Loop. On a bright day, this trail has many advantages. The first part of the trail skirts the railroad tracks, so sun shines through the trees and adds texture. It has a complex forest floor which is at its best when its is not buried by a heavy snowfall.
This path has a lot of blown down trees which provide food and shelter for mushrooms, moss, and lichens. These various levels of "returning to nature" create a lot of texture for photographic studies, too. Later in the season, when the snow is deep and buries all the interesting details, this trail becomes popular for snowmobiling. Then, a different path will be a better pick for a stroll.
Consider the weather
While this path shows off on sunny days, we can take a different tactic on cloudier ones. If we are sheltered from the wind, this keeps us warmer than an open path. Some trails are so thickly wooded it can make it difficult to tell if it is snowing, while others are open enough to showcase the delicate flakes drifting down.
While today's trail ends in water access on Lake Flower, the path there does not offer much scenic variety. A lot of people choose Haystack Mountain for the climb to the wonderful views. But I don’t always get that far when I want the woods walk with the many stream crossings, elevation changes, and dramatic expanses of rock.
Many of our mountain approaches begin with a delightful walk in the woods. We don't have to climb the mountain at the end. We don't even have to get to the end.
We can fall into a rut with a “favorite” path, forgetting that absence will help the heart grow fonder. Saranac Lake has many wonderful short trails, but we might not realize that we can choose for shorter, any time, by changing our purpose.
Consider the goal
Just as we can enjoy the path without the mountain it leads to, so we can enjoy our walk for the variety it does hold. Our camera may long for sweeping views, but there is just as much interest in what we can see close up.
Yes, we are in a big forest, but it is made up of some tiny things. The incredible texture of the moss that grows on the fallen trees, the wisps of snow which cling to the dead leaves, the footprints of birds and deer. Birches look “white” until we have an even whiter shade to compare it to.
We tend to look down when we walk, yet looking up when the leaves have fallen gives us a whole new perspective. We might see bird’s nests abandoned for winter, or a few stubborn leaves making fantastic shapes. Did we expect that stripe of blue sky above our heads? Is the sun overhead, or slanting low through the trees, or at just enough of an angle to turn the forest into a cathedral?
We can also change our view with something as simple as stopping... so we can look back. This is especially important when we are hiking a loop like the Boreal Life Trail. Looking back will be our only chance to see the trail in a new way. Or when we decide to hike to and from, our path becomes two different snowshoe treks.
This part of the trail looked not that different from any other bunch of trees when I approached. But from the other side, it was distinctive. The other side of the tree is marked from deer rubbing the velvet from their horns, and to mark territory. From the looks of things, many deer have used this tree over the years. It's a deer community bulletin board.
Our presence in the woods is often enough to keep the forest creatures quiet or scarce. But that does not mean they cannot leave traces of their own presence. From footprints in fresh snow to to distant birdsong, we are reminded of who we are sharing the forest, with.
It was an impulse to turn around when I did. I was rewarded with the discovery of a tree of amazing layers. This is a journey, not a destination. If we hear a bird singing, we should stop and listen. If we see the wind blowing, we should turn all the way around and see what is moving, now. Then, we can see it, stop.
There are also short hikes that go up, instead of out. Mount Baker is right in the heart of Saranac Lake, offers the choice of gentle inclines vs more rugged climbing, and we can combine both of them into a loop. At the end, we get an incredible snowy vista, framed by frosty trees, which combines distant lakes with misty mountains.
Consider our feelings
Why do we walk in the woods? Isn't it to feel good? After all, this is a path that doesn't have to take us anywhere but where we are, right now.
When I want to walk in the woods, creatively, I am not efficient. I am open to the unexpected, both in the outer world, and my own, inner, one. Since the goal is to have a fun woods walk, I do not have to complete any task to "get there."
One of the best reasons to walk in the woods, in winter, is the quiet. Many animals are asleep or away. The snow itself can muffle sound, especially when it is still falling. So when we close our eyes, we let our body know were are not in the moment to listen. We are not in the moment to see. We are here, at this moment, to feel.
One trick I enjoy is to set my watch or iPod for half the time I have for my wanderings. When the chime sounds, I turn around. Then I can enjoy the way back as much as the way forward. Then, I can choose any path. Pick one from our snowshoe page!
By creating a situation that has no set ending, I am free… to simply be.