The following article by Mohonk Preserve President Glenn Hoagland comes from the Spring 1995 issue of Ridgelines (№ 105).
Mohonk Preserve is a place that awakens the senses. More than that, many people describe it as a “center for the soul” — a place of human preservation and renewal, as much as a sanctuary for other creatures.
What is it about the Preserve that satisfies so many people’s yearning for connectedness between society, landscape and mind? Part of the answer lies in the dilemma of our 20th century western civilization. As geographer Joel Garreau describes in his 1992 book, Edge City, most people no longer live in the countryside. Centers of civilization may be where levels of enterprise are most high, but with an ever-accelerated pace comes a pervasive feeling of dislocation, alienation, conflict, and loss. We mourn the severing of those direct ties to the land that our ancestors once had.
When farsighted conservationists set aside the Preserve, they were hardly denying our society’s desire to put it to enterprising use. Rather they had found its most ingenious use as a place integrally tied to re-creation of mind, body and spirit.
Author Tony Hiss helps us to understand how we can be profoundly affected by a place that surrounds us. What we experience there is deeply personal, intricate in nature, neither abstract or remote — a reflection of our sense of self and our ability to function as citizens in democracy. In his 1990 book, The Experience of Place, Hiss points out that we have a built-in ability to experience our surroundings meaningfully.
But this is an era where many of our cultural values, livable places, and unique landscapes face extinction. The Preserve’s landscape offers the kind of experience that, as Hiss would describe it, “seems to amplify our perceptive reach, that… if we are wide open to perceive it can sometimes give us a mental lift.”
The curve of a path, the mystery that leads to another path you cannot yet see, the striking contrasts of distant mountains, valley vistas, and shimmering white cliffs, close-in views of serene meadows, cool mossy glades, jagged rock ledges, crags, and crevasses — you feel at times exalted, at other times dwarfed. And you are reminded of how this land has evolved over 500,000 million years of geologic time. Our lifetime, our society, is barely measureable as a split-second along this continuum.
How many sensory delights can you remember from your last trip to the Preserve? How many quiet places did you find that invited you to redistribute your attention, and stimulated awareness of your place in the natural world? Did you feel renewed, ready to face civilization again?
If you did, invest your consciousness in protecting this place that sustains us. If not, come again, and let it tug at your attention.