When I first started doing wildlife photography, I’d set off into the wilderness thinking that today I’d photograph a bear, a fox, a deer, or maybe a cute red squirrel (photo opposite). Invariably, I’d come away from the day’s excursion into the woods disappointed because the wildlife do not perform on human schedules. I had to learn to be patient, to understand the routines and rhythms of the wild things, and to be open to their instincts and movements, forgetting about my own pre-determined ideas about what they should be doing so I could get a good picture. I also learned something else that has served me well not only in photography but in so many other ways: I had to be still, observant, and open to what the forest wants to reveal, which may be far different from what I think I am looking for.
What does the forest want to tell me? That question has become the central idea of every excursion I make when looking for some wildlife subjects.
Adirondack forests are dense and tangled, dark and secret. Every tree seems to bear scars of old storms, fires, deadfalls and rotted cavities that once were nests for birds or insects. The forest is a vibrant ecosystem, alive with all kinds of life that may appear to be still and silent to the casual observer, but that contributes to the health of the land, the nourishment of animals, the cleanliness of the air.
The ancient Adirondack forest was once mostly evergreens, huge towering pines, spruce, fir, fragrant balsam. Human settlement in the 18th and 19th centuries began to degrade and threaten the forest. Logging stripped the hillsides of the beautiful canopies that also protected the ground from flooding and that provided habitat for a remarkable diversity of wildlife. The introduction of railroads proved particularly deadly to the forest; sparks from passing trains led to massive wildfires that destroyed large swaths of the evergreen forest.
Over time, the forest healed itself, and new life grew with hardwood trees like maple and birch replacing much of the evergreens. In 1892, recognizing the ongoing dangers that human development posed to the magnificent northern forest, the New York State Legislature passed what continues to be one of the strongest and most transformative environmental protection laws in the world, the law that created the Adirondack Preserve dictating that the land owned by the state within the Adirondack park would remain “forever wild.” Over time, as the state acquired more and more of the land and nature continued to reclaim itself.
I’ve been coming to this beautiful place for about 30 years, and what I find most fascinating and encouraging is the resilience of the forest, the ability of nature to heal itself. In 1995, I was here when a great derecho, like a tornado, swept through the central forest and destroyed thousands of acres of trees. Today, a new forest has grown atop the ruins of the old and the ability of nature to repair itself is clear.
Protecting the forest, streams, lakes and the wild creatures that inhabit these beautiful places should be a significant priority for all of us. Our lives and ability to flourish depend on the health of the environment, and our stewardship of the environment is a responsibility we owe to future generations. These beautiful wild places are more than peaceful retreats for vacation and rest. The forests scrub the air, the lakes and rivers provide clean water, the animal life sustains the ecosystem on which human life depends. Listen to what the forest is saying to us. The health and life of this beautiful place is essential for our own.