Tuesday, December 05, 2006

To All Our Friends and Critics

Whatever you think our viewpoint is, we think it's pretty clear that we love the Adirondacks. We have spent time there every year for the past 37 years. Our family has been there for more than 53 years. We spend about 40 hours a month in an old Toyota driving back and forth to our camp from New York just to get a day or two of Adirondack splendor. And we spend everything we earn to make that possible.

We live in a small rental apartment in New York and fantasize about living the life that we seem to espouse in some of our posts. We think that fantasy is an important aspect of the Adirondacks. It invites dreaming and dreamers and indulges fantasies of all kinds. Anyone who has witnessed an Adirondack sunrise or sunset knows what we mean. And our fantasies are not just about wealthy Adirondack families, but about good design, good books, the stories of the houses and places that populate the park, beautiful artwork, photography and scenery. Plain old beauty, in all its forms.

Our interests range from alabaster lamps to antique boats, Adirondack sunsets to global warming and the effect on our environment. When we write about beautiful things, we are writing about how we see the world and how we define "home". We aren't being elitist.

We don't have any animosity toward local Adirondackers. We appreciate them and we are curious about their lives, but we can write only about what we know. We don't know a lot about how locals live and what they think, except based on what we observe when we interact with them. And our observation is that there is a significant divide between locals and "summer people", for better or for worse. It is a fact, not a put down.

Our blog is meant to celebrate not only all the fabulous things in the Adirondacks, but the things that we think make life, and home, beautiful.

We can't find a thing wrong with that. And we hope our readers won't either.

1 comment:

  1. I tossed and turned in my bed last night mulling over the questions raised by these posts and comments (yes, I know that I need to get a life... but at least it was more 'real' than some of the 19th century anthropological theories I spend my days memorizing). What exactly raised my hackles about the Adirondack Boy's site and what did I see in the Almanack's post that inspired me to join the fray? After all, York Staters has featured pictures of beautiful Adirondack sunsets, examples of old architecture and regional dishes. We certainly don't shy away from celebrating the beauty of this land--in fact we would post ourselves many (if not the majority) of the posts on Adirondack Boys if they were submitted to us. In fact, I applaud the global warming post.

    The conclusion that I came to was that I was disturbed by two inter-related, but distinct aspects of this question: the selected celebration of history and the presentation of the present.

    Any presentation of history is always selective--because we are always constrained (by time, space, resources), we can never present all of history, or even all that we know of history. Instead, what all historians (at least the good historians) do is synthesize historical events and convey them to others. My problem with the Boys' celebration of the Gilded Age of Adirondack History (very roughly 1890-1929) is that their selection emphasizes certain elements of the story while ignoring others--in particular the stories of the working people of the Adirondacks.

    Let me give an example, one that I know well. On Sunday, the Boys posted a picture of Great Camp Sagamore, a beautiful Great Camp near Raquette Lake that was owned by the Vanderbilt Family; I have worked there for three summers as a historic interpretor and archivist. The story of Sagamore can (and has) been told of one of rustic luxury, summer fun, Christmases with roaring fires, men in fine suits and ladies in beautiful dresses. This is one of the stories of this place, a legitimate and important one.

    But Sagamore has other stories to tell. The land on which it sits was first acquired by the developer William West Durant via money he inherited from his father, Thomas Clark Durant, the infamous architect of the Credit Mobilier scandal. The money used to buy the land was either stolen openly from the railway investors (both private and the US government), extorted from farming communities along western rail-lines or beaten out of the backs of the Irish, Chinese and Black laborers along the lines. Closer to home, William took control of the Adirondack land through shady dealings with Lt. Governor Timothy Woodruff--he was paid the highest price ever given for Adirondack land by the state, retained isolated lake parcels for his camps...and Woodruff was given nearby Kamp Kil Kare. Durant proceeded to chain off 'his' outlet to Raquette Lake---and when locals continued to fish there (remember this is for sustinance, not entertainment), Durant posted snipers on the rocks to shoot them. Neighbor JP Morgan had armed men and dogs patrolling his property lines to drive out locals who had hunted there for generations (and probably didn't have a clue where boundary lines were found). Another neighbor, a Rockefeller, used goon squads to intimidate locals into selling their land.

    Is this also a legitimate story of the Adirondacks? Yes. Is it as pretty? Of course not. But to completely ignore it in some 200+ posts is to show either a complete ignorance or a lack of concern (perhaps the later leads to the former) of these abuses. In fact to completely ignore the vibrant, interesting and often beautiful stories of these working people (working life isn't always hardship, loneliness, poverty and grief), is to systematically continue the same marginalization and oppression that the great industrialists began in the region 110 years ago.

    I have lived and worked in the Adirondacks for close to 12 months over the period of the last three years. During that time, I found the locals to often be suspicious and cautious with outsiders. I also found the same in several other small, rural communities in which I've worked (Walsenburg CO, Argyll NY, Mexico NY), despite their lack of 'Summer People.' Those communities don't even have the thriving oral history of systemic Gilded Age oppression that the Adirondacks have. At the same time, I have found the people of all four communities to be warm and welcoming... if you come to the situation right. To come to the Adirondacks and to go to tourist-only bars and restaurants (you can thell them not only by clientele, but price, ambiance) will get you marked as not interested in their lives as them as people---understandable given the generations of experience. But, on the other hand, when you start going to local bars, talking to people at libraries, laundrimats or--perhaps ideally--working with them cleaning the bedrooms, bathrooms of tourists or serving them food or chopping their firewood--you'll find them to be as open and friendly as people anywhere else in the world.

    How we treat the past is how we treat the present. When you continously gloss over the fiscal scandals and systemic oppression of the Gilded Age, I am not surprised to find your interactions with those same phemonena today to be lacking profundity.

    I believe in fantasy, dreaming and the un-real... but my flights of fantasy always have their launching pad from the real world. I love and celebrate beauty and whimsy, but I believe that if they were paid for in blood and sweat, that to ignore that history is to commit an injustice against those who sacrificed.

    [This comment has also been posted on the York Staters]