Once upon a time there was an old woman who believed in the magic of books. In the days of folk and fairy tales, she would have been called a crone, a character type in literature that was rarely included in the epics of the male heroes and adventurers. A crone was a female long passed her prime, sometimes nasty and sometimes bitter. But there were also times when she celebrated and encouraged the loveliness of coincidences, the blessings of chance, and the power of heartfelt wishing.
The woman in this story knew full well she would never be the slim and wrinkle free girl she had once been. Her midsection resembled a melting wax candle, bulging in various spots because of the the pull of gravity. She also had many lines around eyes and mouth from too many smiles and too much laughing.
Her summer had long passed but she looked forward to the last bit of a glorious autumn, a time to go out in a blaze of color before the cold and dark of winter. With age comes wisdom and an economy of effort. She learned to direct her resources to experiences and not things. She dressed in practical and comfortable clothes from thrift stores and clearance racks. Health was her main concern and she took pride in the fact that she had no pain, could walk miles and could still carry her own luggage. She loved being a grandmother and also, that in this chapter of her life, she no longer had to give a damn about what other people thought about her. She finally understood the importance of establishing personal boundaries, saying ” no” to the things that displeased her, and learning to walk away from bad situations and letting things go. She now had the freedom to be her true self. She was energetic, talkative, and loved to make people laugh. In her early life, when girls and women were required to tone it down, such behavior would have been seen as deviant. But she had broken through the painful shyness and self conscientiousness of her childhood. She was now an unencumbered adventurer, a hero in her own story. The world was finally hers!
She packed for her next adventure, a long handwritten list next to her chair. Things were too easily forgotten. Many times the purpose of a short journey into different rooms could not be recalled. But the packing was accomplished and she was finally ready to go to the mountains. Free from all the restraints of meetings, occasions and obligations, she looked forward to running away one last time before the snow came.
In Tupper Lake, at an antique shop among the old treasures, she met a man who loved taking pictures as much as she did. She had a Canon Powershot , he had a Kodak swaddled in a blanket to protect it from the rain and soil. His name was Seneca Ray Stoddard born in 1843, a sketch artist and photographer. He had no formal training but had always had been interested in art since his first job painting ornamental features on railroad trains. He later made his living promoting The Adirondacks through sketches and pictures. His work encouraged the people of his time to go to those mountains for relaxation and recreation..
He became the woman’s companion during her week in and around Lake Placid. He sat next to her on the passenger’s seat in her car and told her wonderful stories whenever she stopped to grab a cup of coffee or when she was able to find an empty bench or Adirondack chair in the sun.
As they traveled they noted the different coloration of the late autumn season. The reds and oranges were gone but an evergreen provided glorious shining gold along their path. The trees were tamaracks, their remaining “fingers” were as soft as silk.
At a rest stop at picnic table, Mr. Stoddard told her about the various ways he had traversed in the ADK, boat, canoe, by foot and horseback, and, also, by stagecoach. He said his lodging varied from tents and cabins to grand hotels and boarding houses.
In North Elba, he was able to give her a glimpse of the early days of John Brown’s Homestead.
Stoddard had pictures of Avalanche Lake and The Keene Valley and off they drove to find these places in real time.
The woman created her own images.
And they backtracked to the Ausable River and Whiteface Mountain that he had once climbed.
As they traveled together, the old woman thought about Seneca’s heavy camera equipment and hoped she wasn’t hurting his feelings by flaunting the ease of her picture taking. But she took comfort in knowing the essence of their quests were the same, to capture the lovely spirit and glory of The Adirondacks and to share that with others. That the hunt, the purpose, the process was a gift , not only for the witnesses of the photos, but also for the people who were lucky enough to exist in the exact moment of the breathtaking captures.
He let her inside the lives of the people of the mountains.
And he told her some of their stories.
The old woman had taken many trips to The Adirondacks but this was one of her best.
She thanked Seneca Ray Stoddard for giving her new eyes and just before she started home, Stoddard gave her this final farewell. “Glad to go back but sad at the thought of leaving the mountains, over which we saw the storm-clouds gather, break and roll away, leaving them, kissed by the loving sunshine, clean, grand, strong and eternal as the hand that made them.”
And at that moment, the old woman knew that she was very much a character in a beautiful story. Always was and always will be.
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