The Wild Center: Up close with nature
Learning from Nature: The white pine snag.

The Wild Center: Up close with nature

Edu Jarque (The Philippine Star) - December 1, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Travel gives one a different perspective, and the Adirondack Mountains in northeastern New York offer a rare and valuable glimpse at our natural world. The Adirondacks spans over six million acres of mountain ranges of plateaus, cliffs and ridges, parks and forests, lakes and rivers, which makes it the largest protected natural area of the US mainland, excluding Alaska and Hawaii. It is home to over a hundred different individual communities.

Planet Adirondack

Folklore has it that the name originated from a Mohawk word meaning “eaters of trees,” which described the then-dwellers non-practitioners of agriculture who had to eat tree barks to survive the cold and harsh winters.

The region extends from the St. Lawrence River Valley in the North Country and the Mohawk River Valley near Albany, both in the state of New York, till Lake Champlain in the US-Canadian borders of New York, Vermont and Quebec.

We drove northeast to Adirondack Park, the pioneering forest reserve of the nation, which formed a rough circular dome approximately 160 miles in diameter and one mile high, to arrive at The Wild Center, a 115-acre campus.

The Wild Walk

The original idea for this reserve was brought about by a severe ice storm. A year after, in 1999, the 31-acre Natural History Museum opened its doors to the general public to an overwhelmingly positive reception.

After several renovations and innovations, in 2006, it adopted a more hip name, The Wild Center, which aptly described living experiences through immersion. This park has become a focal point in rallying environmental concerns.

We headed to the Hall of the Adirondacks, the venue for exhibits and shows. We were amazed by the various fish, otters, porcupines, owls, snakes, turtles and even varieties of plants, all exclusive to the region, housed in aquariums and terraces during animal encounters supervised by in-house naturalists.

Our jaws dropped at the Planet Adirondack, a futuristic chamber which utilized modern technology for daily runs of a space-eye view of the Earth, visible landmarks that can be spotted from space and then suddenly zooming into airplanes that take off and land within a span of 24 hours. A heart-stopper was a live feed of magnified storms brewing over oceans and lands in real time.

The Bald Eagle’s Nest

There were continuous screenings of feature films at the Flammer Theater. These included A Matter of Degrees, a 2008 Banff Mountain Film Festival finalist narrated by actress and environmentalist Sigourney Weaver, which is an eye-opener restrospective of what life was before humans settled in this territory.

Meanwhile, the Wild Adirondacks boasted of dramatic images of internationally published photographer Carl Heilman who, together with the original score written and recorded by Crane School of Music graduate Lance Day, presented the magic of the district, specially the remote places where very few have been.

The Ways of Knowing, a collection of three exhibits on traditional ecological knowledge, served as a wake-up call.

First, the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address was a new interpretation of a living wetland which made us reflect on how our lives are actually truly connected with nature. The work of the director of The Six Nations Indian Museum and artist David Fadden offered a view on the culture of the indigenous Haudenosaunee who have inhabited these lands for thousands of years – for after all, this territory was initially theirs.

Up next was The Sacred Foods, a short documentary about the longevity of traditional Haudenosaunee fare. It investigated the agricultural systems of old, their forage tools and the plants they used to consume.

Last was We Are All Related, a spotlight on the indigenous expression of the Akwesasne community’s link with the natural world through art. The showcased pieces were an ode and a thank you to the environment as it supported them with nourishment and shelter every single day.

We then ascended outdoors to the Wild Walk, a science-based complex of bridges and walkways across the treetops 30 feet above land, composed of inner and outer trails and elevated attractions reminiscent of houses on stilts.

This offered us the opportunity to amble above the evergreens and experience a point of view we have yet to see. In every sense of the word, it was a heaven and a haven on earth.

We may have climbed trees in our youth and have enjoyed picturesque sights outside our stories-high hotel windows, but being one with the wild, moving and seeing the world through the height of towers is an altogether new sensation.

It reminded us of Brooklyn’s High Line, which is likewise an alternative to appreciate the urban jungle through a carefully designed walkway that challenges common conventions.

Connected to these pathways were white pine snags, trunks which have aged and have eventually become barren, a symbol of life after death. Due to their towering heights, they soared over other neighboring trees. However, acts of nature such as lightning have destroyed these wonders of nature.

They were considered the tallest in New York and eclipsed the Statue of Liberty when measured from its feet to torch. 

We took a peek in these barren torsos and spotted a stairwell within this four-story figure. We realized the snags still served a noble purpose even after their lifespan, as they became a place of solace for much of the forest life.

Nestled on top of one of these thick trunks was the Bald Eagles’ Nest, a ten-foot-wide roost which is considered the highest point of the entire vicinity.

We were in complete awe at all the details we could see, small animals and big insects, forests and flowers – all living their own lives, oblivious to the others’ presence.

Another fascinating spectacle was the Silk Road, a made-to-order spider web. We saw elderly pairs relaxed by its edges, groups of teenagers who behaved like spiders crawling through the woven mesh and excited children bouncing on the nets.

As humans, our ancestors used to search for food, waited for prey to come by them, scouted and built shelters for protection. The Wild Walk made us relive the early inhabitants’ existence and gave us a peek into their ancient world and how animals still see nature up to this day.

We rode back to our rustic cabin at the end of an old dirt road by the river, contemplating how this venue has offered a touching perspective on the infinite possibilities of life and yet presented the harsh reality of a fleeting existence.

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