John Muir, a 19th-century naturalist known as the Father of the National Parks, once said, “Keep close to nature’s heart . . . and break clear away once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” Fortunately for us, there are thousands of beauty spots around New England — secluded coves, watery bogs, mountaintops, even our own backyards. We interviewed seven people who spend a lot of time outdoors to find out where they go to find peace and beauty.
“In the face of uncertainty, spending time in the environment helps to reinforce the perspective that humans are part of nature and not separate,” says Steve Tatko, the director of Maine Conservation and Land Management for the Appalachian Mountain Club. “Nothing could be more reassuring than to see a feeble wildflower emerge from the snows of winter. We will recover; we will blossom in the sun once again.”
Being outdoors is how Tatko has spent much of his life. He currently works on conservation land in the heart of the 100-Mile Wilderness region in northern Maine, a sprawling undeveloped landscape of mountains, lakes, and streams.
“There’s a spot on the Gorman Loop Trail in the 100-Mile Wilderness that continues to captivate me,” he says. “It’s a small vista that has a sweeping view of mountains, rivers, lakes, and valleys — all undeveloped and wild. It’s breathtaking; it’s humbling and leaves you with a thoughtful reverence for having seen it.”
Kristen Sykes, director of Southern New England Conservation Projects and Partnerships/AMC, also likes the 100-Mile Wilderness. “It is so wild and beautiful and you really feel like you’ve gotten away from it all,” she says. “Sometimes I am skiing down a trail nestled in between trees, next to a river, and I feel absolutely blissful.” Other favorite spots for Sykes include the Quabbin Reservoir and the Holyoke Range in Massachusetts, and the Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge in New Hampshire.
Doug Hitchcox, a staff naturalist with Maine Audubon, is biased toward locations in Maine. “I think the Downeast region of Maine is especially stunning and really underappreciated,” he says. “So many people only go as far east as Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, but beyond that lies the Bold Coast, which has lots of publicly accessible trails running through picturesque spruce forests on the edge of jagged rock cliffs.”
But Hitchcox’s favorite beauty spot? “Monhegan Island is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been,” he says. “A large portion of the small island is protected forest; extensive trails traverse variable terrain, and the ability to connect with nature is endless. Migrant birds make this a top destination for birders in the spring and fall. At times butterflies will cover every flower.”
Michael Boardman is a wildlife artist and Maine Master Naturalist, an avid birder, and has served artist residencies in several wilderness areas, including Baxter State Park and Acadia National Park in Maine, and Glacier Bay and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
“I believe getting outdoors is essential anytime, but absolutely in times of stress or worry,” he says.
He’s drawn to wildlife refuges, like Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Newburyport, with its range of habitats, and Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge and Scarborough Marsh in Maine. But when pushed to name his favorite beauty spot in New England, he says this, “It would have to be Chimney Pond in [Maine’s] Baxter State Park. It’s a small alpine tarn surrounded by the bowl of Mount Katahdin, often reflecting the scree slopes and rocky outcrops of Baxter peak.”
Sally Stockwell, director of conservation with Maine Audubon, says that outdoors is the first place she goes to calm her worries and “soothe and feed my soul.” The White Mountains of New Hampshire and Maine are often where she heads. “It’s a mix of mountain streams, jumbled rock, trees, and flowers that change in shape and character from the low foothills to alpine summits, hidden mountain ponds, expansive open granite ledges, and stunning vistas.”
Bridget Likely, a New England National Scenic Trail Planner for the AMC, spent time as a member of AmeriCorps and the Student Conservation Association living and working in Kenneth Dubuque Memorial State Forest in Hawley, and says that “the pond and pretty forested trails there will always feel like home to me.” She also finds comfort next to rivers and streams.
“I love going anywhere with flowing water and find the sound very soothing. And with spring rains and snowmelt, now is the best time to find it. It can be simple as the tiny creek in your backyard,” she says. Some of her favorite places to visit are Royalston Falls on the New England Trail, Bash Bish Falls in Mount Washington, and Chesterfield Gorge in Chesterfield.
Phillip Brown, director of land management and staff naturalist with New Hampshire Audubon, is drawn “to the land of pointy trees in northern New England, with its spruce and fir forests, boreal bogs, and associated habitats and wildlife.” The Connecticut Lakes region of northern New Hampshire and Lake Umbagog are the most beautiful to him.
But even a simple walk in your own backyard can bring comfort and consolation.
“I would be lost without a grounding in the natural world and the woods and streams in my own backyard,” says Brown, who lives in southwest New Hampshire. “Whether a simple walk to clear my mind or a scavenger hunt in the woods with my young kids, being in nature provides me with a strong sense of connection, tranquillity, and purpose.”
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org