Our Determination to Change

High in the north of New York state, America’s largest temperate deciduous forest sets its leaves ablaze with color before they denude themselves for winter.  Against this backdrop, and led by TNC staff from the Adirondack chapter, I traveled with three TNC China colleagues around Adirondack Park (in whose boundaries live 130,000 residents) and learned about how this incredible conservation story came to be.     

In the 1870s, New York’s government power brokers began to wonder why the Hudson was starting to run so brown. Over time, they realized that when after the Civil War hundreds of lumber companies descended on this pristine region to strip the hillsides of their trees, the watersheds were also being destroyed. They moved to establish a forest preserve, and to amend the NY State Constitution, creating the Adirondack Park, which established precedent by not removing the inhabitants of the park’s boundaries (unlike many of our National Parks which forcibly ejected its indigenous communities post-establishment). Today you can stand at the top of Whiteface Mountain, or the Wild Walk at the amazing WILD Center in Tupper Lake, NY, and gaze out over endless forest.    

TNC in the Adirondacks works to maintain the high quality of forest both on private and public land, while also seeking ways to connect it to other important forests. In this way, five watersheds for places like NYC and the Great Lakes flow with clean water. In many precious lands around the world (including in China), people make their living from those lands; for them, the Adirondack Park is a famous example of how to achieve conservation hand in hand with communities and policy makers.     

It was also a joy to spend so much time with the China team; they are so warm and welcoming, eager for connection. I could feel my brain exhausting itself to understand and to speak Chinese. I am sorely out of shape. I remembered too all the wonderful moments of having lived there, and allowed myself to miss that life. 

I also got the opportunity to fish a little bit. I wasn’t very good, but it was fun to try. We waded in the 60-degree lake, treading over the loamy rippled sand. Ate lunch by the shore, slapping at “Texash flies” (according to Tom, the creaky, calm caretaker of TNC’s lake property, who speaks with what I assume is an ancient Adirondack accent).     

These days have been so full of new experience. I am constantly awed by the achievements of my colleagues, and I feel lucky every day to have been invited to work with them.    

And we must feel grateful. I’ve been reading the obituaries of the people who were murdered in Las Vegas. They are devastatingly familiar – music-lovers, the people-next-door. How easily, how quickly, our days here might suddenly end. How can we do anything but live every day to its fullest? If we too are cut short, we ought to be remembered for having been kind and loving, and for having found joy, for striving. When our loved ones die, we try to remember them to life by carrying forward the best qualities that they embodied. It is our human instinct to want to resurrect them in this way, to remember them with sorrow and the determination to change. 

I write this from an Amtrak, hurtling through a landscape gone dark with twilight, the tracks bordered by lakes and marshes and small towns. The sun is long sunk, but the sky glows like warm embers. The train car is quiet, we are all in this together. Around us, the trees change. 


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